Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Face-Lift 851

Guess the Plot

Song of the Nile

1. 1901. Elizabeth travels with her family to Egypt for her health. While in Giza she meets dashing archeologist Lionel Campbell, saving him from a deadly cobra. Will he return her affection--or is he a hopeless mummy's boy?

2. Doomed to a life of servitude, Merys goes down to Nile riverbank for some peace. There the Egyptian Crocodile god hears her singing and falls in love with her. Will these two profess their love for each other, or will they forever live in . . . denial?

3. Pollution has transformed the papyrus-rustling Nile into a sludgy toxic fart. Environmental guerilla Gaya Greene assembles a band of eco-warriors to put an end to the culprits. Can Gaya's compost and nightsoil bomb destroy the polluters, and restore the . . . Song of the Nile?

4. After Louise leaves him, Gerry spends the whole night drinking and sobbing and writing the best song ever, good enough to revive his career in Nashville and make him a star. But when he wakes up he can remember only a tiny bit. When a hypno-therapist fails to fix his memory and get the song back, Gerry turns to prophetic mummy in a tomb halfway up the Nile.

5. 1360 BC. Merit and Teti are singers at the Temple of Amun, pretty, and in love with young Prince Thutmose. But when Prince Thutmose is found dead, can they overcome their differences to help Prince Amenhotep find his brother's killer?

6. What a despondent banker really needs after bringing down the world economy is a new life full of hope and the love of a beautiful songstress. That's why Nigel chose the Nile cruise. Little did he know the boat would sink, the other passengers would turn against him, and he'd end up fleeing across the Sahara Desert in a desperate attempt to stow away on a Libyan barge going anywhere.

Original Version

Dear Editor,

I am seeking a publisher for “Song of the Nile,” a fast-paced story of forbidden love between the ancient Egyptian Crocodile God and a beautiful human woman. This novel is a romance with paranormal elements, complete at X words. [If I've said it once I've said it . . . once: don't give your word count in Roman numerals.]

Merys knows she will never marry. Though her father is a wealthy scribe, Merys' stepmother insists that Merys should remain unwed in order to care for her parents in their old age, [Her parents, meaning her father and mother? Where is her mother?] and the dowries should be saved for her more attractive half-sisters. [In the previous paragraph you describe Merys as a beautiful human woman. Now you make her sound like the ugly duckling.] [Also, how many dowries does Merys have?] Merys is resigned to living under her stepmother's dictates, but finds some small measure of solace when she can escape to the Nile's riverbank. On the quiet beach by the river she cares for an old abandoned temple of the Crocodile God Sobek, and sings the songs of praise to him that her mother taught her. Merys has never thought of another life until one day a handsome strange[r] catches her singing by the riverbank. ["Catches" makes it sound like a crime. I'd go with "hears."]

The stranger, Bek, is truly Sobek in human guise, [I already had that figured out. If your name is Sobek and you want to hide your identity, you can come up with a better name than Bek. That's like Thor changing his name to Hor or Uranus changing his name to Anus.] [Also, unless you're an unreliable narrator, no need to say "truly." We trust you.] and from the first moment he hears

Merys' beautiful voice he cannot resist his own strong feelings for the human girl. Unfortunately, love between a Great One and a human is strictly forbidden, and yet Merys means too much to him for Sobek to use her as a concubine. Sobek tries to hide his true self and resist his feelings, [You just said he couldn't resist his feelings.] while Merys fights her own blossoming hope that perhaps Bek wants more than mere friendship, that perhaps she can have more than a life of drudgery and servitude under her stepmother.

But when enemy raiders attack Merys' village, she is mortally injured. Sobek must now attempt to convince the ruler of the gods to save Merys, even if it means he must give her up for all time. [That makes it sound like saving her is the cause of having to give her up. I don't see that they're connected. And it's not like Bek has a difficult choice. No good comes from not saving Merys.] Or is there still some way to persuade the gods to allow Sobek and Merys to live together in the home of the Great Gods for all time?

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.



One could get the impression that Bek's attitude is, If I can't have her, she might as well die. I assume that's not correct, as it makes for a lousy hero. Bek wants Merys. The obstacle is that it's forbidden love. How they plan to overcome this obstacle seems like the plot's focus. If the injury affects the plan, show how. Otherwise we don't need the injury. I'm not sure we need the evil stepmother, either. Certainly we don't need so much about Merys's life before she meets Bek.

Sobek also may not be the perfect hero of a romance novel if he normally uses women as concubines unless they mean a lot to him.

Little-known fact I learned while researching the critique: Sobek was so popular in Arsinoe that the town was known as Crocodilopolis.


Anonymous said...

This sounds a little thin on plot. It also reminds me of Disney's Hercules (mortal girl in love with demi-god)...and even that had more plot than this.

It sounds like Merys just sees Bek as a ticket out of her drab life, rather than that there's some grand passion between them.

arhooley said...

Are you sure this Bek is a god? He doesn't even sound like a grown man. "He cannot resist his own strong feelings for the human girl. Unfortunately, love between a Great One and a human is strictly forbidden, and yet Merys means too much to him for Sobek to use her as a concubine. Sobek tries to hide his true self and resist his feelings . . . Sobek must now attempt to convince the ruler of the gods to save Merys, even if it means he must give her up for all time. Or is there still some way to persuade the gods to allow Sobek and Merys to live together in the home of the Great Gods for all time?"

I don't see this guy as heroic -- he wants to persuade mom and dad to let him move his girlfriend under their roof. She's a passive Cinderella who does nothing but hope that the new cute boy will like her enough to get her out of her unpleasant, but not desperate, home life.

If these two lovers are more active and in-charge in your book than they sound in your query, you must bring it out. What I'm getting is a pantheon of Great Old Ones vs. a rather pathetic couple. And I don't have a clear picture of these Old Ones either. I should -- they're the antagonists.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like epic melodrama. The Christians learned everything they knew about life after death from the Egyptians. Hello. Check out those tomb paintings, etc. Everybody in the Roman world expected to have another life in a better or worse place post mort, except the Jews. So I'm not seeing why they'll be separated if she dies. Also, that bit about Christian nuns being married to Jesus? Similar to Egyptian ladies who married gods, a long tradition in the Mediterranean, except among the Jews. Plus it was fairly common for Egyptian / Greek / Roman girls to get knocked up by one god or another, and for gods to do men the divine favor of impregnating the wife during long absences. The Jews would maybe kill such women for adultery, but the Egyptians would never. So I don't know, maybe you could get to some sort of happily ever after place a bit sooner, or else make the girl Jewish.

Karen said...

It's a basic Cinderella plot, really. Oppressed girl (by her stepmother, naturally), plus handsome hero (be he prince or deity) who falls in love with her and rescues her. While it's a classic and appears in many other folk traditions, modern readers want to see a more active heroine, one who works to free herself rather than going, "Ho, hum, I guess I'm enslaved for life." Believe me, sitting around waiting for your prince to come doesn't work in real life.

vkw said...

My first thought is there is too back story and we need to know why the Hor can't heal the girl without ticking off the rest of the gods.

Here's the problems with gods - they have entitlement problems. They feel they are entitled to many concubines and wives. Hor is not very godly or princely in your story. The second problem with gods is that tend to live forever .... literally. Hor, if he is worth his salt, should around have a godly wife. I always want to know this question, if your MC is so special that Hor falls for her, then how come no one ever noticed before.

Usually gods like the most devout worshippers because "they get them" or the ones that can't stand them, because they are playing hard to get and gods like ot take what they think they are due.

Dave F. said...

I don't have any trouble with the plot. This is a romance set in ancient Egypt. It's a forbidden relationship, taboo love, and the god-like being has to reveal the relationship when the human is about to die. All because he loves her and wants to save her... This all works for me.

What the query doesn't talk about is, is this a happy ending or a sad ending.

BuffySquirrel said...

Ah, yes, beautiful, because your average crocodile is so interested in human standards of beauty. Right.

Marissa Doyle said...

If it's a romance, Dave, it has by definition a happily-ever-after ending.

no-bull-steve said...

You lost me at "wealthy scribe" - who's her dad, JA Konrath?

Seriously though, I agree about the passivity of the leads. It's like they don't do anything in the story, just stuff happens around them. I know that "romance" tends to stretch the bounds of credulity on the "S/he was made for me" front, but an eternal being falling head-over-tail in love just on hearing her voice? Is she a singer at the opening of the story? Is anyone else in love with this amazing voice?

I also don't understand if he can have human concubines but can't fall in love with them. Is there some way his love would be known? Why not just hide it from everyone? Why risk the whole crocodile when you can get the boots for free?

Becca C. said...

"If your name is Sobek and you want to hide your identity, you can come up with a better name than Bek. That's like Thor changing his name to Hor or Uranus changing his name to Anus."

That was hilarious.

I agree with Anonymous - the plot isn't very plausible because according to legend, gods impregnated women and it wasn't really taboo or forbidden.

Joe G said...

Falling love with a beautiful singing voice is a time honored tradition in fairy tales!

What's with the guy who's obsessed with making her Jewish? What kind of Jewish? Are we resetting this in Brooklyn? Or maybe Russia? Perhaps she has excellent Dreidel spinning skills.

"Bethesda had a secret. When nobody was around, she would sit next to the empty chair after Seder and proclaim her love by singing from the Torah, which was strictly forbidden by the harsh patriarchal society that existed in said country X years ago. But what if, one day, Elijah was passing by, and he heard a beautiful singing voice...? Let's hope God doesn't find out."

I don't think it's a bad query but the plot is pretty predictable.

Anonymous said...

I must read too much fanfiction (or maybe it's the name you've chosen, Merys), but I kept thinking "Mary Sue" - especially once the beautiful voice followed the beautiful woman, quickly followed by the injury. You don't want to give this impression! Google "Mary Sue Litmus Test Original Fiction" to find out which red flags you're raising here, so you can get rid of them.

You also don't want to give the impression that the backstory is the whole story. Try taking it out, and enticing the agent with more about the conflicts after the couple have met, including (as others have said) what action Merys must take to resolve the situation.

Seeking a quiet moment away from her nagging stepmother, Merys sneaks away to worship at the old abandoned temple of the Crocodile God Sobek on banks of the Nile. A stranger, Bek, appears. He's been listening to her singing and appears smitten.

Merys sees Bek as her ticket out of a life of drudgery, but Bek is conflicted. He's really Sobek himself, but he's constrained by the rules of the Great Gods: no interactions with mortals; one-night stands excepted. Problem is, Sobek has really fallen in love.

That's all the setup you need - now you need to really explain the plot. Why can't the divine Sobek smite the raiders himself or instantly heal Merys himself? Or grant her immortality himself? (It could be a lot more interesting if he'd rather be mortal, IMO.) Why is it necessary to appeal to the Great Gods? What's the reason behind this rule of theirs? How does Merys' singing skill factor into them getting their happy ending (or is it some other thing she must do).

You need to explain a lot when you have an apparently omnipotent hero, but also rules, constraints and dilemmas.

(End with: Song of the Nile is a fast-paced romance with paranormal elements, complete at X words.)

Anonymous said...

The concept is odd. The protag is passive. Motivation looks weak all around.

I'm not sure the best writing in the world can save a deficient concept and plot.

10 words is a bit short for a novel as well @_@