Thursday, July 08, 2010

Face-Lift 793


Guess the Plot

Ancient Magic

1. Some magic is pure energy, other pure art. Then there's pure love, the oldest magic of all, the hardest to master, and . . . do I have to tell you what a heap of cliches this book is?

2. Gwyn has been abducted by the Go'el Kadien, and only the sorceress Arowen can help him master the magic of the Ancients and save the Ryhzan king from a nefarious plot. Also, other names and places created from random letters and apostrophes.

3. JEOPARDY! Betty knows it's in the bag when she sees the Daily Double answer under the "Literature" category: Ancient Magic. "What is the plot device for every YA novel known to man, Alex?!" A rags-to-riches story about a woman who utilizes the knowledge she has gained from her time in a cult called "the Minions."

4. Timmy always thought that all magic was, well, magic. However, here he was, researching book after book looking for what the old sage called 'ancient magic'. Within a translation of Babylonian text, a simple number progression puzzle produces a riddle: a loud voice saying, to Timmy’s amusement, “Knock, knock”.

5. At Happyvale Assisted Living Center, retired wizard Milton Hardcastle takes up Tai Chi, watercolor, and crossword puzzles. Then ancient magic rises up to threaten the Earth, and Milton alone knows how to fight it. But he needs the help of Fran across the hall, whose memory is fading fast.

6. All you young whippersnappers with your Harry Potters and your expellariamuses. In my day we got magic the old fashioned way, with live sacrifices and selling our souls to the devils and that was good enough for us, gosh darnit. Err, kids these days.


Original Version

For the last thousand years, the tranquil Kingdom of Ryhzan has been protected by the Go'el, an elite team of peace-keeping warriors who adhere to the highest moral code, accept only those who can withstand the years of training, and answer only to the King.

Unfortunately, the King has lately been too distracted by the illness of his beloved Queen to realize there is evil encroaching into his Kingdom's borders, reaching all the way to his Court. And while the Go'el are trying their best to keep peace and order, they are, in the end, still human, bound by their code. [This seems to imply that being bound by their code makes it impossible to effectively fight evil. Being bound by the highest moral code should give free reign to evil fighters.]

Fifteen year old Gwyn doesn't know about any of that. All he cares about is he's been taken away from his remote forest hut by Kadien, an eighth-degree member of the Royal Go'el, [I've always wondered whether the apostrophes in fantasy names stand for letters, the way the one in "they've" stands for "ha" or the one in "you'll" stands for "wi." Does the apostrophe in "Go'el stand for "og"? Because if your hero is abducted by Googel, you've got a winner.] who sees Gwyn's potential and takes him to be schooled inside the Palace. [The trouble with being schooled by Googel is that you can't separate the knowledge from the advertising propaganda.] Now Gwyn must learn his place inside the King's Court and answer to people who don't necessarily care about his happiness.

But Gwyn's got a bigger problem: there's magic within him, a power not seen since the time of the Ancients, the supernatural predecessors to the Go'el. [So the potential Kadian saw in Gwyn wasn't magic, but just potential to work for Googel?] But they mysteriously disappeared over a thousand years ago, and now the only one who can help Gwyn control his power before it drives him mad is Arowen, the Royal Sorceress, who dresses like a child's glitter-and-glue project gone wrong and is perhaps not quite sane herself.

With his magical abilities, Gwyn is called upon to find a way to save the dying Queen. Only it's not a cure he finds, but a nefarious plot to take over the entire Kingdom, and it's up to Gwyn to find out who's behind it all and stop him before it's too late.

Ancient Magic is a YA Fantasy novel, complete at 89,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,


Notes

After the setup, I would reorganize the next three paragraphs into something like these two:

Fifteen year old Gwyn doesn't know about any of that. All he knows is he's been abducted by Googel, who sees Gwyn's potential and takes him to be schooled inside the Palace. There's magic within Gwyn, a power not seen since the time of the Ancients.

Gwyn is called upon to save the dying Queen and to defeat the evil threatening to destroy the kingdom. There's just problem: the only one who can teach Gwyn to control his power before it drives him mad is Arowen, the Royal Sorceress--who may be mad herself.


It sounds like standard fantasy, and the one thing you've given us that might set it apart is the sorcerer being trained by a mad sorceress, so ending with that gives you more oomph than ending with the boring He must find out who's behind it all and stop him before it's too late.

The name Arowyn sounds a lot like Eowyn from Lord of the Rings.

11 comments:

150 said...

Hi, author. I think your query format is relatively competent (although I'd start with Gwyn being taken away and fill in the background later). In your next draft you have a much greater challenge: Why should we read this book when we can re-read Prydain or Circle of Magic or any other of the billions of similar stories? What has this book got to offer that makes it exciting and different? Don't be afraid to show your trump card. That's the one that agents need to see.

For example: if someone were to write GTP #5, I would buy that book with a quickness.

Amy said...

My reaction is similar to 150's. It almost doesn't matter how well the query is or isn't written if the novel doesn't come across as sounding unique. What makes this book different from the other fantasy novels out there?

Eric said...

Actually, it would be pretty cool if Arowen turned out to be the secret love child of Eowyn and Aragorn.

Agree with 150. A teenager is Chosen with a secret ancient magical power to protect a kingdom from a mysterious evil threat? Yawn. A possibly loony magician who "dresses like a child's glitter-and-glue project gone wrong"? Now I'm interested.

Becca C. said...

Arowyn sounds like Eowyn crossed with Arwen, the other female character from LOTR. Not a good combination, in a high fantasy -- makes it sound like a cheap rip-off.

Ancient Magic is a very bland title.

arhooley said...

Author, have you considered other titles? The first three Guess The Plots -- including the real one -- indicate that "Ancient Magic" dampens anticipations rather than excites them.

Also, what's your reason for naming and IDing Kadien in the query? I don't know whether this Go'el is male or female, young or old -- when I first saw him/her, I thought he/she might be Gwyn's love interest. I would just state that Gwyn is abducted by the Go'el and leave out Kadien.

_*rachel*_ said...

There's enough long names and backstory in here that my eyes are glazing over. (Though it is the middle of a sleepy afternoon, so who knows.) Can you cut the backstory and tell us more about what happens to Gwyn (which is, I'd say, short for Gwendolyn, which is definitely a girl's name)?

I do like this: "who dresses like a child's glitter-and-glue project gone wrong," and I'd keep it unless glitter and glue don't exist in-universe.

The description above is unique and interesting. Your whole query has to sound like that.

I'd buy GTP 5.

Dave F. said...

Sybill Trelawney

It took me a while to remember the name.

Sybill Trelawney

Arowen, the Royal Sorceress, who dresses like a child's glitter-and-glue project gone wrong and is perhaps not quite sane herself.

a well-crazed Emma Thompson sets the standard!

Anonymous said...

Author here.
First of all, thank you guys.
Second of all, ow. Ow ow. But thanks all the same. (Imagine my tone being the same I reserve for the doc after he gives me a tetanus shot.)
Third thing: must change names. Characters, title, etc, all must be re-evaluated.
Fourth: must find the "oomph factor" of the story and spell it out clearly in the query. (And if I can't do that, I clearly have a much bigger problem.)

Thanks again.

M. G. E. said...

I have a problem with your choice of analogy here: "...who dresses like a child's glitter-and-glue project gone wrong..."

You're referencing a decidedly non-fantasy experience, a modern-day experience, to describe a fantasy character. That should be avoided since your world has no connection to our world.

If the book went on to commit this sin as well, that would be a problem. You should choose an analogy appropriate to that world, to that frame.

I mean, how funny would it be if Tolkien described the One Ring as being as shiny as the chrome bumper on a '57 Chevy. That's what I'm talking about. Find an appropriate analogy.

Ellie said...

You're referencing a decidedly non-fantasy experience, a modern-day experience, to describe a fantasy character. That should be avoided since your world has no connection to our world.

It's the Moss-Troll Problem!

"[Marissa Lingen] was talking yesterday about the thing that I have dubbed, in consequence of her post, the Moss-Troll Problem, which is that moment in your writing when you reach for a description, only to have the horrible realization that you can't use it. You can't say the sea-serpent's eyes are the color of NyQuil in a world that doesn't have NyQuil in it. You have to come up with something that's in your narrative's frame of reference, and that often involves, yes, inventing moss-trolls. With all that that leads to.

I had this problem t'other day, because you can't call it the missionary position in a world without missionaries." - Sarah Monette

Incidentally, I think a reference like that is fine in a query; one is not trying to create the kind of immersion that the anachronism breaks, and vividly concise descriptions are jewels to be treasured.

Re'ds't'ars'ix said...

The apostrophe in fantasy names indicates a glottal stop rather than a lazy way to make names look less English.

At least that's the excuse I've heard.