Friday, June 18, 2010

Face-Lift 785

Guess the Plot

Born to Die

1. The most cynical retelling of the life of Christ ever.

2. Rock legend Jimmy Owen has led a remarkable life full of money, power and intense drug fueled orgies . But here we look only at his unremarkable birth and untimely death from a bowel obstruction.

3. Sentenced to die in a concentration camp run by magicians, 16-year old Nayla escapes and joins an underground group seeking a plan to defeat the oppressors. When Nayla suggests attacking them with guns, she lifts the spirits of the citizenry and changes the course of history.

4. I want to live/I want to fly/But all I am is/Born to die. The cliched poem left in a pink notebook on the bus intrigues struggling singer Barry. Setting it to music, he soon has a hot record. But can he find the original writer--and will she be who--or what--he hopes?

5. Min Ki, the last mortal, searches for a storied fountain that will grant eternal life and let her live with her tribe of immortals forever. But her plans are complicated when she meets and falls in love with Xie, a young man on a quest to become mortal.

6. Phillip was born with a curse on his head: everyone around him dies horribly. When the government finds out, they stuff him in a uniform and send him overseas to be captured by enemy troops. Hilarity ensues.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Nayla Ebriony [Anagram: brainy alien] is a sixteen-year-old Yeeod [Anagram: yodelayheehoo], born without magical powers, and sent to the concentration camps where the powerless are worked to death. [When they were deciding what to call anagrams, shouldn't they have come up with a word that actually had an anagram?] [Is it worth the cost of keeping a girl alive for sixteen years if your plan is to then work her to death?]

Her hair is shaved off and the brand of the powerless Yeeods is burned into her scalp. [Shouldn't they brand her somewhere it'll be visible after her hair grows back? If she somehow manages to escape, the only way to find her is to shave everyone's head.] Determined to save herself from forever losing her identity and sanity, Nayla manages to escape after being drugged, beaten and forced to work in the coal mines. [A sixteen-year-old girl wouldn't last a day in a coal mine. For one thing, there's no cell phone reception down there.] Presumed dead by her captors,

[Concentration camp guard: Lois Smith?
Lois: Here.
Concentration camp guard: Jane Martin?
Jane: Here.
Concentration camp guard: Nayla Ebriony? . . . Nayla Ebriony? . . . Hmm, must be dead. Mary Jones?]

Nayla has a choice: run or turn back and bite the hand that hit her. [Creating a new idiom out of an old one doesn't work. Go with the tried and true: "Settle the score." Or (thank you "Pluck the crow" or "Pickle the rod."]

Choosing the tougher path, Nayla joins the Liberators, an underground society preparing for war against the government. She earns respect in the male dominated rebel clan, when she presents a plan that they believe will topple the magicians' regime. Pitting stolen assault rifles and hand grenades against the power of magic, [A male-dominated army needs a sixteen-year-old girl to suggest using guns and grenades to win a war?] Nayla and the rebels declare war on the place they once called home. [Proper etiquette requires that even an underground rebel group taking on evil slavers actually declare war before engaging in battle.] Nayla knows this might turn into a suicide mission, but as she lifts the spirits and the sympathy of regular magical citizens, even the magicians start to fear the uprising that will change the course of history. [Until they remember that they're magicians and turn everyone except themselves into daisies.]

BORN TO DIE is a fast-paced, 90,000 word YA Urban Fantasy novel. Thank you for your time and your consideration.


Why don't the magicians just kill the Yeeods and use magic to create coal? Powerful magicians must have something better to do than run concentration camps.

Try reducing everything before Nayla joins the Liberators to two sentences, leaving more room for Nayla's plan and how things go in the war. Something like: Drugged, beaten and forced to work in the coal mines, 16-year old Nayla Ebriony escapes the evil magicians who rule Yaya IV. She joins the Liberators and pickles the rod.


LSimon said...

See, now this doesn't appear to be Urban Fantasy to me.

Seems to me that the MC must have found a way to get the guns and grenades- which would definitely raise her street cred amongst the warrior clan types.

EE brings up a good point- How do the Liberators neutralize the magic?

150 said...

Wait, Urban Fantasy? Either your query isn't presenting the setting accurately, or you're calling it the wrong thing.

I'm going to go read your old versions on Nathan Bransford's blog and get back to you. There must be enough detail if we put them all together.

Word ver is "bants". That delights me.

Anonymous said...

I know a query isn't the place to get into niggling details, but if logic holes open up, one gets to scratching one's head . . . From whom were the assault rifles and hand grenades stolen? I can't think why magicians would need them. I also can't think why magicians would fear them.

Once again, I'm not clear on the social strata, but I think I've got:

1 Yeeods, who are for all intents and purposes human

2 Regular magical citizens, who are oppressed

3 Magicians, who are the oppressors. Presumably, the 3's magic is stronger than the 2's.

The Liberators are made up of 1 and 2? Are they really "a clan," which implies blood ties?

I don't want to get beyond the query and into the novel, but, well, here goes anyway. That a 16-year-old girl could concoct the plan that the male-dominated rebels never thought of is not quite credible. But it might be if she got some inside dope on the magicians' vulnerabilities while she was in the concentration camp.

150 said...

Okay, Author. Here's the thing. Does the book begin before Nayla is imprisoned? Because I get the strong feeling that it shouldn't. And the frequent SPAG errors worry me. Think about getting an additional beta-read before you send it out.

But you're here for query advice, so here you go. Try this:

Sixteen-year-old Nayla has no magic, and she has the brand on her scalp to prove it. Her father is dead, her magical mother has disowned her, and the government has sent her packing to a concentration camp for nonmagical folk so that she can work herself to death as fast as possible.

Then a mining accident gives her the unimaginably rare chance to escape. So she does.

In days, she learns that she's not the only nonmagical person to escape the camps, or the only one that wants revenge. Handsome, driven Daimo and his underground army are planning to overthrow the oppressive magical ruling class with good old-fashioned nonmagical artillery. But when Nayla learns that Daimo may have deceived them all, she must lead the fight for their rights, no matter how hopeless--or how far it takes her from the traitor she has come to love.

I Was A Teenage Yeeod is YA Fantasy, complete at 90,000 words.

Think about alternatives to the word "Yeeod." "Muggle" is already taken.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I think you need a few words up front to set the scene, i.e. "In a world where a person's worth is measured by her magic, Nayla Ebriony is the lowest of the low. Born without magical powers entirely, at 16 she is sent as a slave to a mining camp to work until she dies."

Then just cut ahead to:

"Determined to save herself from forever losing her identity and sanity, Nayla manages to escape and joins the Liberators, an underground society preparing for war against the government."

And you can't just tell us Nayla earns respect, you need to show us why the Liberators are willing to follow her on a suicide mission. Is she sneaky and able to get in places the other Liberators can't? Has her mining background made her stronger than all the guys? Has living by her wits made her a brilliant tactition?

Also, if this is a world ruled by magic, why do they even have assault rifles and grenades? That just seems like the magicians are asking for trouble.

Kings Falcon said...

"Pickle the rod" - OMG. That's great.

If your story is anything like 150's version of it, use that instead of this version.

From your query it doesn't sound like Urban fantasy and the only thing YA about it, is well, the age of your MC. Tell me what makes her special - i.e. why does an army of presumably older guys decide to follow her. Does she know how to sneak into the mine from where she escaped? If so, how does attacking the mine undermine the magicians' hold on the world.

Give me some concrete details about the world and how her actions can change it.

batgirl said...

Joining the chorus, I ask Urban Fantasy? Sounds like a good old epic quest fantasy to me. Guns do not make something urban. Steampunk, maybe, depending on the tech level of the guns.

It's rare to say 'too much detail', but I think we need less about Nayla's personal suffering - why would magicians need to brand someone, by the way? - and more on what she's trying to do and what stands in her way.

Someone write #5? Please? That sounds like a heartbreaker, plus I love Chinese-set fantasy.

Phoenix said...

Ooh, nice rewrite 150! If the author is working through revisions elsewhere, too, then it gives me hope they will pay attention to what you've done to circumvent disbelief, up the ante, and assure the reader there's a hottie in the story, too.

And author, while those of us who read fantasy know one of the hallowed conventions is that all magic is somehow limited and magicians/wizards/mages are not gods, perhaps you should mention in passing just what that limitation is in your world.

Evil Editor said...

Or at least mention something the magicians CAN do. If their magic leaves them vulnerable to guns, how'd they get to be in charge to begin with? I'm not laying down my weapons for some guy just because he can pull a bird out of his sleeve.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Pretty much what everyone else said. Urban Fantasy? When was the last time you were in Chicago, LA or NYC and saw a working mine???

Man in business suit: Where should we go for lunch.

His boss: Ohhh. Let's try that new place that opened across from the mine.

Nuff said.

As for the story...either the plot isn't being explained very well or there are huge leaps of logic that will make the story unreadable. Remember author that in Fantasy you're already stretching the reader's willing suspension of disbelief on the fantastical elements. Character decisions and the natural progression of the story from point to point must be TIGHT. And the query must convey that it is.

_*rachel*_ said...

Do what EE says, especially the part about cutting down the camp in favor of the fight.

I would pay to read #6.

This isn't urban fantasy; it's either fantasy or epic fantasy. Unless you suddenly tell us it's set in Philadelphia.

Joe G said...

Is she a squib or a muggle? I'm darkly suspicious that this entire novel is a labored metaphor for Obama's America ;P

Does she acquire a vampire boyfriend at any point? I don't read novels without long descriptive passages about the MC's vampire boyfriend's glistening hair and perfect body.

LSimon said...

There are actually mines in Philadelphia. Dirty filthy mines filled with Dwarves-- that's actually where the meat from Gino's comes from.

True story.

Dave F. said...

There are still mines near cities...
If you go to "Thomas, PA" in Google, turn on the satellite view, and zoom out, you will find that point is about halfway between Pittsburgh and Washington PA. It's close to Canonsburg (home of Perry Como for those who like old music).

There used to be an active mine very near that intersection. Back in the early 1990's, an underground mine fire wiped out about 30 maybe 40 years of coal. So don't think that mines are located in out of the way places. Thomas PA is very suburban and I drive past the Thomas Presbyterian Church about once a week to go food shopping.

That was "contract" coal. By that I mean that a powerplant had bought the coal and the miners had guaranteed jobs as long as the coal lasted.

batgirl said...

According to the Internet Anagram Server (I, Rearrangement Servant) anagram has 16 anagrams, including Raga Man, Agar Man, arm a nag, nag a ram, a rag man, and am a rang.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Um. Near is not "in."

ur·ban   /ˈɜrbən/ Show Spelled[ur-buhn] Show IPA
1. of, pertaining to, or designating a city or town.
2. living in a city.
3. characteristic of or accustomed to cities;

Urban = in cities, not the rural space between cities. Sorry.

Nice try tho!

Stephen Prosapio said...

But Dave...

The way publishing genre-fication is heading, Suburban Fantasy is likely to be a genre as soon as someone writes a YA Vampire novel set in the burbs.

LSimon said...

Have you been to the suburbs? Terrifying.

Anonymous said...

150 you are my hero/ine.
re: coal mines - about 80 - 90 men die each day in illegal coal mines in my former home, PRC. In Turner Valley, Aberta, Hell's Half Acre has been burning for decades and no one knows how to put it out. Such an interesting subject.
What Evil says and AWESOME comments from you guys. Man, you guys take my breath away. Humble bumble Bibi

M. G. E. said...

Wow, seems like such a thematic mismatch. But could be radical enough to be memorable, maybe.

I would question how magicians ever achieved hegemony if guns and 'nades are even a threat to them.

The plot-point of the 16 y.o. creating the plan needs to go because it just doesn't pass the sniff test. Why is it so important for her to have come up with this plan? Just because she's the protagonist isn't a great answer. Why not have her join in on an existing plan?

There's a danger that the illusion of fiction will be unmaintainable when trying to mix such opposed genres, modern warfare and fantasy magic.

Most fictitious universes I've experienced where magic exists and characters have a modern sensibility also end up pretending guns don't exist, or simply aren't important anymore because of magic.

I remember one manga in particular that has a similar theme as your story here, but in it the main character not only couldn't do magic, but his magic was anti-magic (passive, always on, unintentional). All magic failed in his presence. This also explained why he was unable to do any magic actively. His love interest was, of course, a lady'gician.

Phoenix said...

Ooh, this could be a fun debate shaping up.

Notwithstanding that the author -- in this query -- has not left me feeling they have confidently and deftly created a fully realized world where guns and magic can exist side by side, what precludes that possibility?

Wars with conventional weapons such as swords and spears, longbows and crossbows, catapults and siege machines abound in worlds where magic is prevalent. If these crude weapons are effective enough to have been developed, honed and used, why would the evolution of weaponry stop there?

I don't think this is an issue that solid world-building can't overcome in the hands of the right writers.

Perhaps it's more an issue of whether the reader looking for magic in their books also WANTS to see modern weaponry. The convention of NOT juxtaposing the two sells, why mess with a good thing, those stories don't get published, so that's why they aren't on the shelves.

Maybe as steampunk gains a larger following and books like The Dresden Files that place wizards in the modern world gain in popularity, the next new trend will be the clash of old magic and modern weaponry.

Envisioned well and done right, why not?

batgirl said...

I think it was a series by Joel Rosenberg, where the protagonists fell into their D&D-type FRP campaign, and at one point a character in the game argued that if he could boil a kettle in the magical lands, he could run a steam engine - and behold, his steam engine chugged into life.
S.M. Stirling, in his post-tech series of which I've only read the first, has characters arguing that the tech collapse must be directed by intelligent entities, because the physical laws underlying the technology still work.
There's no logical reason why magic should automatically rule out technology, (or vice versa) and a great deal of fun could be had with imagining the ways they'd interact.

M. G. E. said...

Actually there is a direct contradiction between magic and technology.

Technology works because the underlying rules of reality--physics and all that, cannot be changed.

But magic is predicated on the idea that one's will can trump the laws of reality--bending the rules of physics, breaking them even.

In a world where magic -and- technology exists, the people who are intelligent, bright, ambitious, etc., would most likely pursue magic, thus tech languishes.

And, weapons which rely on reality to function are easily trumped by magic-users capable of changing reality.

Ex: So you shoot a bullet at a mage but he turns the bullet into marshmallow. Now what?

This is why I scoffed at Thor's hammer at the end of Iron Man 2. Iron man is a scifi hero, whose powers have been rationalized, explained.

Thor is a magical hero whose powers cannot be rationalized. The two should not mix, it's cognitive dissonance.

Or if they do, the bar is that much higher to do it right. Harry Potter took the magic existing in secret route. So do many other fantasy stories set in the modern world.

For this query, if magic has already gained a hegemony on political power, what changes that allows regular humans to again compete with magical beings?

Phoenix said...

Ah, but that's why I like to see what the rules of magic in the world are. Most magic wielders don't bend the laws of physics willy-nilly. At least not ALL the laws. At once.

For examples of modern-day "magicians" just look at the X-Men. Magneto can influence anything with metal. Storm controls weather. Bobby can manipulate water. Rogue and Jean Grey as the Dark Phoenix are perhaps closest to all-powerful wizards.

But all-powerful wizards are really few in fantasy. Most magicians have specific limits and powers very similar to most of the X-Men, who exist happily in the modern world, facing -- but generally not using -- modern weaponry.

If faced with an army of Magnetos, then neopropylene bullets and guns are likely invented before steel-based ones. The evolution of weapons would be predicated on the enemy's susceptibility to or influence over them. All that has to be worked out in careful world building.

A world ruled by a race of Superman wizards is one thing. A world ruled by a race of X-Men wizards, each with defined and finite power, is quite another.

Suppressed people have risen up and conquered those in power throughout history. Sometimes it's a technological invention that gives a people the advantage; oftentimes, it's simply a desire from within the people themselves...

M. G. E. said...

Right, but once you allow magic at all there's no inherent limit on what laws can or can't be broken and to what extent. And since it's fantasy, there's no way to rationalize it either.

As for the X-Men, you have something like psionics in operation. All powers in the X-Men universe are in-born abilities, neither the result of personal development or learning as with the traditional conception of true magic. Rather they operate on the sympathetic principle. Thus, it's inherently limited in scope, and well defined. Iceman will never control fire, no matter how hard he tries. There's no attempt at rationalization though it's couched in modern genetics.

But it's also not really magic. True magic is exerting your will on the world, your will overcomes the world's static reality. The X-Men's powers are utilized like you or I might use a limb. That's not a reality-changing expression of will, it's control of an asset we were given upon birth.

My favorite description of magic is from White Wolf's Mage RPG system, which creates a holistic magical system in which controlling every facet of reality truly is possible. So perhaps I'm just a purist in that regard.

Actually, the author might look into the Mage system, because the Technocracy are wizards who use the guise of technology to hide their true-magic, and use it to rule the world :P

I think we agree that how the author presents magic in the story is a huge factor here. The X-Men certainly don't refer to their powers as magic or call themselves wizards. If the author presents wizards as robe-wearing, pointy-hat, old men with beards, I think they'd be missing the point.

Evil Editor said...

I think it boils down to this: Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos wouldn't last a minute against Doctor Strange, but they'd easily wipe out a rebel group consisting of David Copperfield, David Blaine, Doug Henning, Harry Blackstone and Harry Houdini. Especially since three of them are dead.

sylvia said...

Right, but once you allow magic at all there's no inherent limit on what laws can or can't be broken and to what extent. And since it's fantasy, there's no way to rationalize it either.

Sorry but that's completely not true. World-building is all about setting limits and helping the reader to understand how things work.

Phoenix: have you read the Mistborn series? Brandon Sanderson does a great job of mixing magic and technology in his world, I think you might enjoy it.

Anenome said...

Sorry but that's completely not true. World-building is all about setting limits and helping the reader to understand how things work.

Sure, but that's world-building. My point was conceptual. The second you enter fantasy and drop the pretense of our real-world physical limits, all limits on magic you place on the narrative are purely arbitrary. If you can break one physical law you can break any of 'em.

During world-building you're going to set limits, but now you're choosing from an infinite variety of possibilities.

If you allow magic there's no -reason- why any particular physical law shouldn't be broken except that it's expedient to your story.

So, if you allow magic there's no -reason- why you can't have mages that simply nullify kinetic energy allowing bullets to bounce off them like popcorn.

How far a writer allows magic-users to go with magic in a fantasy setting is likely determined by the strength of the writer, with stronger, more experienced writers being able to control much more powerful characters.

batgirl said...

Another worldbuilding issue for magic (I am required by local bylaws to post a link to Patricia Wrede's worldbuilding questions, subsection on mages and magic: )
is whether everyone has magic ability and if so, to what degree. Those who don't have magic talent, or only weak magic talent, would have an incentive to develop technology. So, as it may be in this book, eventually there's a showdown.
Is the 'cost' of employing magic greater or lesser than the cost of employing technology? If it's easier to unlock a door and walk out than it is to dissolve into a mist and ooze through a wall, then even the most talented mage is likely to use the key.
If magic erases physical law, does it do so world-wide, or within a specific field? If a mage erases gravity so he can float, does everything not nailed down fall into the sky too? Or just him?
What are the limits? What are the rules?

batgirl said...

Oh, and I'm adding 'pickle the rod' to my list of things to never look up on Urban Dictionary.