Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Face-Lift 878

Guess the Plot

The Four Prophecy

1. If the Buddha has three lotus blossoms and our collective unconscious dreams up another, how many lotus blossoms will there be? I predict there will be four. A new age counting book for esoteric infants.

2. The user known as Beelzebub objects to the sunset of his favorite MMO game. When he turns out to be the actual Lord of Flies, consultant Death (pronounced Deeth) breaks a few rules to bring in his three buddies for an end-of-the-world takedown.

3. Galeeka has lived her whole life in the Temple, learning to be a Priestess to the Goddess. When the High Priestess of Halfard singles her out as the embodiment of the Four Prophecy, will it mean eternal damnation--or being sent to a High School in New York?

4. Takisha and Bud learn their credit cards have all been canceled, the phone goes dead, and the zombie who lives next door leaves a mess on their sidewalk. Bad luck comes in 4's, so . . . What's next?

5. As Todd prepares his "Shoe Shoppe" business plan, he smokes too much of the wrong stuff. Three days later he emerges from the basement with red glowing eyes and a 600-page manifesto predicting a quartet of malevolent spirits will take over the world in 2015 unless precautions are taken now. Everyone laughs until the eerie happenings he says will precede the takeover begin to occur. Can Janine and Max help him save the world?

6. The Four Prophecy says that Mard and his three friends will defeat the evil tyrant known as Armoth. But two of his friends have better things to do, so it's down to Mard and Malia. Can Malia talk Mard out of taking on Armoth? Or will Mard convince her that it was really the Two Prophecy?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Prophecies don't always come true. [Stop the presses! We've got a scoop!]

Standing beside the smoldering remnants of Crayden, Mard, Malia, and two others hear an ancient prophecy from a dying old man. [Until we get to the word "hear," we're thinking the "smoldering remnants" are the smoldering remnants of Crayden, Mard, Malia and two others. When we then get to the word "hear," we realize that either we screwed up the reading or you screwed up the writing, so we either go back to read more carefully, or we ball up the query and pretend we're playing the Paper Toss app. Life imitating art imitating life. Those few who choose to reread the sentence and decipher its meaning can't tell if Crayden is a person or a place, and if Crayden is a person, we can't tell if he's the dying old man or if he's ashes and there's a dying old man also present who wasn't in the inferno, or if the dying old man died centuries ago, and someone else is quoting his prophecy. We could try to figure it out, but we've already put so much work into this query that we cut our losses by balling it up and pretending we're playing the Paper Toss app.] Four heroes? Sole survivors of an inferno? His eerie words describe their situation perfectly. [Amazing. How could he possibly know their situation? Oh, right, he's there.] [Actually, if they were truly heroes, wouldn't they have rescued some of the people who died in the inferno?]

The prophecy says the Four can attain the power to vanquish the darkness, and to Mard, that means one thing: defeating the tyrant Armoth. [To Malia, it means she must locate her flashlight.]

When Mard discovers darkness guards, Armoth's servants, murdered his parents, he uses the prophecy to justify vengeance. [Another sentence that will stop some readers cold. We aren't familiar with the term "darkness guards" so we try to read the word "guards" as a verb, but this doesn't help, so we assume you screwed up again. Maybe you should capitalize Darkness Guards. Or maybe you should delete it and just go with Armoth's servants. Or his minions or henchmen.] The other two pursue different goals, but Malia joins Mard in his quest because she cares for him and knows he can't succeed on his own. That, and deep down, Malia wants a little vengeance of her own; darkness guards destroyed everything she knew when they torched her city.

But Armoth's magical obstacles stand between them and their destination, Darkness Mountain. Buffeted by whirlwinds, blasted by sandstorms, enveloped by a forest of sheer darkness, Malia must use her resourcefulness, and Mard his strength, just to survive the journey. [Two stalwart heroes making their way to the mountain of prophecy, where they will attempt to recover the lost Ring of Power with which they can destroy the evil villain.]

However, strange symbols in the desert indicate it is not yet time to confront Armoth. Malia needs no more convincing, but despite the bond between she [her] and Mard, her well-reasoned arguments fall on deaf ears. Mard won't change his mind. [That sentence says the same thing the previous phrase said.] [Which one of them deciphered the strange symbols? If the symbols are so strange, how can they have any confidence that they mean anything or that they were intended for them? I'm surprised any symbols remain intact after sandstorms and whirlwinds.]

According to the prophecy, only together can the Four vanquish the darkness. Can Malia bring Mard to his senses before it's too late? [So the big closing cliffhanger question isn't Can Malia and Mard defeat Armoth? It's Can Malia talk Mard out of even trying?]

THE FOUR PROPHECY is a fantasy novel, complete at 90,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.



If Mard is truly using the prophecy to justify vengeance, and the prophecy says only with all four can they win, he should be spending his time recruiting the other two instead of crossing deserts and forests.

No one would name their kid Mard, and if they did, he would go by his middle name.

Based on the query, Mard was ready to take on Armoth as soon as he heard the prophecy. Yet in the next sentence it's declared that he goes after Armoth only after discovering Armoth's behind his parents' death. Which is it?


arhooley said...

According to the prophecy, only together can the Four vanquish the darkness. So why did "the two others" split off? Will Malia have to round them up, too? I'm surprised there's any diversity of opinion on what to do about a smoldering world (?). If the tyrant Armoth was responsible, you'd think everyone would agree that he's the #1 target and that obliterating his guards would be a necessary step in stopping him.

I growled a little when the foursome recognized themselves in the prophecy. Heroes famously don't consider themselves such ("I was only doing what anyone would have done"), and anyway as EE points out, these four are more like survivors than heroes.

And yeah, unless these names are querynyms that you don't use in your book, ditch "Mard." It sounds too much like "merde."

Joe G said...

Where can I download the rom for this mid-90s SNES RPG?

But seriously, folks...

I think you could stand to read more books and play less video games. At least, vary your reading. Even the title is awkwardly constructed.

Anonymous said...

What EE said. Definitely needs more clarity. One suspects a writer's group might be helpful.

I'm hoping all the described action happens in chapter one and then the rest of the book = reuniting the 4 and squelching the bad guy. I'm afraid this action takes up the entire book and you require many sequels to get the deed done. Multiple volumes would definitely exceed my attention span.

vkw said...

"Malia joins Mard in his quest because she cares for him and knows he can't succeed on his own. That, and deep down, Malia wants a little vengeance of her own; darkness guards destroyed everything she knew when they torched her city."

For the part above - most well-developed characters and people have multiple reasons and motivations to do something. In real life there is usually a "real" reason to do something, "I am too lazy to walk across the parking lot" and the reason we give everyone else and ourselves to overcome our regrets, "Aww officer, please don't give me a ticket for parking in a handicap spot - I was only gone a minute and my knee really does hurt."

My suggestion for your query is to tell us the "real" reason Malia does what she does and leave the left overs for the novel.

I think it's a mistake to tell us there is a prophesy built for four and then just to focus on two. It's illogical. If I heard the prophesy, "Four people will be needed to destroy the ring in the Moutain of Doom," then I would naturally assume that going it alone or with wishy-washy Malia, who has no confidence in me but loves me anyway, will not work. Unless I was really an egomaniac and the book would be disappointing because the quest should fail.

The mysterious symbols is a problem. They are no more mysterious than a stop sign if the MCs know what they mean. If they don't know then they wouldn't recognize their meaning. "Looks like stupid old pictographs to me . . keep going." Unless the MCs have special knowledge or abilities to know otherwise. If the later is the case, let the reader know.


and other than being in a myth . . . what makes your MCs' special anyway? Can any old character do what they are doing? If so. . . then find a character than can only be a hero and right about that character

alaskaravenclaw said...

I think just different names would increase clarity. The name Arnoth I could hang onto, with difficulty, because it sounded very post-apocalypty. The name Malia, no prob, 'cause the President has a child by that name... unfortunately, I automatically picture said child when I see the name. I think the whole thing would read more smoothly with different names:

Standing beside the smoldering remnants of Detroit, Steve, Angie, and two others hear an ancient prophecy from a dying old man.

Four heroes? Sole survivors of an inferno? His eerie words describe their situation perfectly.

The prophecy says the Four can attain the power to vanquish the darkness, and to Steve, that means one thing: defeating the tyrant Max.

When Steve discovers Darkness Guards, Max's servants, murdered his parents, he uses the prophecy to justify vengeance. The other two pursue different goals, but Angie joins Steve in his quest because she cares for him and knows he can't succeed on his own. That, and deep down, Angie wants a little vengeance of her own; darkness guards destroyed everything she knew when they torched her city.

At least this way it's easier to tell where the gaps are.

Anonymous said...

Strategic use of 'the' would be so helpful: the darkness guards did x, the darkness guards did y, the darkness guards were everyone's enemies...

Ryan Mueller said...

First off, I would really like to thank everybody for their scathing criticisms. It really helps to have people unfamiliar with the book comment on the query letter.


The basic premise is that the other two have no desire to be heroes. They're selfish and just want to return to their normal lives after the destruction of the city.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can make this clear without making the query too long?

Somebody in my writing group has also commented on Mard's name, so I think I will try to fix that.

@Joe G

The reason for the RPG-like story is that I'm trying to do just what you said: get that group of people to read more. I've had people who are fans of that genre read parts of my book, and they've all loved it.

What is so awkward about the title?


This is actually about my ninth or tenth revision using feedback I've received from my writing group. The problem is they've all read portions of the book, so it seems clear to them.

You probably won't like to hear this, but this is actually intended to be a four book series. There's just way too much plot to fit into one book.


Going by your example, Malia's real motivation is probably vengeance. She does care for Mard, but she wouldn't have gone on the quest without other motivation.

In previous versions, I included the other two, but my writing group told me to take them out because they aren't important to the main story.

The central idea in this book is that prophecies don't necessarily come true. That's where I tried to break from the whole cliche prophecy idea.

I have also been concerned about the quest ending in what appears to be failure. I've thought of another point where I could end the book with Mard and Malia deciding against confronting Armoth.

Concerning the symbols, many of them are worn from the sandstorms as Evil Editor pointed out, but Malia knows the ancient language and is able to decipher what few they can read.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

If I am reading a query for a book entitled "The Four Prophecy" and I learn that the title refers to a prophecy stating that four heroes can vanquish the darkness, I expect that the book will be about those four heroes. I find it baffling that you only seem to be interested in Mard and Malia, to the point where the other two characters aren't even named and the goals that they choose to pursue are left completely unexplained. If you don't want to change the title to "The Two Prophecy" suggested in EE's summary, the other two characters need to have more than a passing mention in your query.

I'm afraid I'm not seeing anything in this query that I haven't seen many times before. Big bad guy with seemingly limitless power and minions? Check. Prophecy decreeing that only certain people can destroy the big bad guy? Check. Hero who wants to avenge his parents' death by killing the big bad guy? Check. Heroine who follows the hero out of love and concern for his safety? Check. A perilous journey across a multitude of different terrains and climates? Joe G is right; this is sounding like an old SNES game.

Prophecies can be a weak story gimmick if the only reason anyone is doing anything is because of the prophecy. The fact that Mard is possibly named in a prophecy is not enough to make him interesting and his "the bad guy's troops killed my parents" backstory doesn't make him stand out in a crowd of fantasy heroes either. Pressing on with his mission to defeat Armoth with only Malia when he's been told that all four heroes are required to accomplish the task makes him seem more dumb than stubborn or determined. The strange symbols in the desert are equally problematic, if not more so. Since we have no clue what they actually say, we don't know why Malia would believe them. (If they say "Go get the other two guys like the prophecy told you to or you're dead," I'd buy it.)

I think what you need to focus on is why the story and characters are interesting outside of the prophecies that decree what they can do. Who are Mard and Malia? Why are they heroes? What qualities do they have that make them potentially capable of defeating Armoth? Wgo is Armoth and why should we want to see him defeated? What kind of obstacles is he going to toss in our heroes' path? (It's actually a lot more interesting if the bad guys is powerful, but not omnipotent; if there are clear limits to what he can do.) Who are the other two heroes and what are they doing?

arhooley said...


Ah. So Crayden is a city.

As for the Four, you've revealed some perplexing info. It seems none of them believes in the prophecy -- certainly the two others don't, and Mard and Malia apparently figure they can proceed on their own. Is this a story of a mission that fails (in volume I anyway) because the foursome won't congeal? Is it a story of a hero who no longer gives a damn about Crayden but who wants to settle a personal debt? Does anyone in this story believe in the prophecy?

And this leads us to a bigger problem: what's at risk if the prophecy isn't fulfilled? The land of X will remain under the reign of Armoth? I don't know anything about this land except that its physical geography is hostile and weird. It seems to be uninhabited except for Armoth and his Dark Guards and our handful of heroes. I don't care whether the place goes up in smoke.

By the way, I'd call the "two others" warriors, not heroes.

Anonymous said...

Structure matters. A scheme to do 4 volumes does not mean you don't need a beginning middle and end for each volume. To you, Volume 1 exists to introduce lots of characters, do world building, and initiate numerous gripping plots & subplots without needing to resolve anything. Alas, that = the structure of the infamous 'wandering mess'.

This plot description sounds like your heros are farther from success at the end of the book than they were at the beginning which makes me wonder -- why start there? Why end there? Is this just all so much backstory? These are not questions a query letter should inspire.

BuffySquirrel said...

The title is awkward because the reader expects 'four' to be a number modifying a noun, but then runs smack up against a singular noun and has to reread and rethink. 'The Prophecy of Four' would make more sense and would be the kind of title that readers apparently prefer.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Encouraging reading among those who don't read much is a laudable goal. But it kinda sucks from a marketing perspective. And publishers think about marketing a lot.

Adele said...

The repetition of the word 'darkness' is making this sound like satire. The Darkness Guards of the Tyrant Armoth [do dark deeds] while Armoth's [dark] magic stands in the way of our ragtag band of heroes as they try to reach Mount ... wait for it ... Darkness.

Tyrants don't call themselves tyrants and they don't call their minions the Darkness Guards. They call them the National Socialist Party or the Friendly Society. References to darkness and tyranny are bestowed by the populace behind the tyrant's back - usually after he has been defeated.

Another problem: The euphemism "pursue different goals" sounds like what the manager tells their former co-workers when Tammy and DeeDee get fired from McDonald's. Doesn't sound heroic.

You say your novel is complete but what I get from your query is that your novel peters out in indecision. Four heroes hear the Prophecy of Four, setting up a classic action/adventure scenario - and then two wander off and then the last two start to think maybe this isn't such a good idea. The End.

Make sure your query communicates that you have got a complete novel here - one that has growing tension and a climax.

mb said...

I actually like the idea of the prophecy not coming true, but then we need to know how much people believe in it. Are the two MCs trying really hard to make it come true, or are they defying the prophecy? Right now seems like both. If the prophecy's reliability is the issue, the characters' relationship with it becomes important. Seems like they would be constantly trying to make it work -- or they would just throw it out, in which case it's not much of a motivation. Maybe this is all clearer in your book, but it's muddled in the query.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the trope of the prophecy that doesn't come true is a good one with a lot of play in it. Susan Carroll used it nicely in one of her books; I forget which one.

The problem with the trope is it's not working in the query. That doesn't mean it can't work in the story. But for the query, you need to convince us that something happens that satisfies readers' idea of what a story does.

Phoenix said...

If I'm not a reader to begin, why would I read about an RPG campaign rather than just playing another one out? What's the appeal? There are plenty of epic fantasy choices out there that mimic RPG campaigns already. That means your story has to appeal to a mass audience. And right now, I'm afraid it does sound rather conventional. What makes your story stand out? If it's the idea that folk can manipulate prophecy to suit their needs and goals, that could be enough to lift the idea out of the slush. But I'm not convinced that's what YOUR story is about.

Assuming THIS book can stand on its own and provide a fairly satisfying ending, then the job of the query is to focus on the story arc of book one and maybe give a hint that there's a larger story in the making too.

So, if prophecies not always coming true is your hook, how does THIS book deal uniquely with that? Does it mean that the whole prophecy thing might be a lie? That it could mean two people are enough to fulfill it? That no matter what folk do to achieve the prophecy, they can't? Or shouldn't even try? That the purpose of a prophecy shadows some other deeper life meaning? That the prophecy is propogated from the "evil" side rather the "good" side? That the prophecy is a decoy while the real action is going on elsewhere?

The query should play to the hook. It should focus the story and the characters around that hook. So the two guys who don't jump at the chance to play hero become important to the hook.

If, however, everyone and every action leads to the prophecy being true in book one, then your hook here ISN'T that prophecies don't always come true. So what elevates book one out of the slush?

Ink and Pixel Club said...

@Ryan Mueller

Thanks for stopping by and responding to the comments you've received.

I agree with pretty much everything you've been told. The idea that prophecies don't always come true in a fantasy setting could be quite interesting. But the impression I get from your query is that the prophecy falls apart almost immediately. I had thought that you were using the opening sentence to inject a little uncertainty about whether the prophecy would be fulfilled so readers would be more surprised when it eventually was. As other minions have advised you, you need to make it clear how prophecies are regarded in this world, which of the characters believe in it, and which don't.

I'm actually a lot more interested in the other two characters and their motivations than you seem to be. Are they really just "selfish"? Maybe if the prophecy indicates that they will defeat Armoth at little or no cost to themselves. But the prophecy is already highly dubious. Plenty of people decide against taking heroic actions for reasons other than selfishness. Do these characters have families? Do they honestly think the prophecy is just the dazed ramblings of a dying man and that confronting Armoth means certain death? Additionally, there's the problem that if Mard and Malia do believe in the prophecy and the prophecy clearly requires all four characters to band together in order to defeat Armoth, then everything Mard and Malia do that isn't trying to convince the other two to join them is a waste of time.

I have to agree with alaskaravenclaw on your justification for why the story is so reminiscent of a 90s RPG video game. There was a query a while back that said the book in question was a mystery for people who don't normally read mysteries, which raises the question of how these people will end up in the mystery section of a bookstore or website. If you tell an agent that your book is aimed at gamers who don't read much, he or she is going to wonder how much work it's going to take to inform your target audience that they will like this book and should buy it.

As one of the Anons noted, your story still needs to work on its own, especially in the first novel of a series. If you look at most film trilogies, the first movie is always a self-contained story. If one of the films leaves major plot threads completely unresolved, it's the second one. This doesn't mean you have to resolve everything in your first book and set up completely new problems in the second one. But you do have to leave readers with the feeling that the characters have achieved something, even if its not the ultimate victory. If you're building up the idea of a big confrontation with Armoth all through the book, an ending where Mard says "You're right, Malia; now's not a good time to confront Armoth, especially since we left those other two guys three climate zones back" is going to be a tough sell. I know some writers think that if they leave a ton of the plot unresolved at the end of their first book, their readers will think "Wow, there's so much the characters still have to do! I can't wait for the next book!" But you're equally - if not more- likely to get a reaction closer to "That was so boring! Nothing happened and it's all just setup for the next book, which I don't want to read in case it's just setup for a third book."

Adele makes a good point. The word "darkness" seems overused here, especially because it seems to substitue for any real information about why Armoth is a horrible guy who we want to see defeated. Yes, his troops killed Mard's parents and torched Malia's city, but for all we know, Mard's parents could have been eating babies and Malia's city could have been the city of puppy kickers. If Armoth is a ruthless tyrant who cruelly oppresses the people of wherever this is, say that. Don't just decorate his room in the Martha Stewart Darkness collection and assume that we'll get it.

Ryan Mueller said...


I can see where changing the names helps. Using a real city like Detroit, it's much easier to tell people and places apart. Do you think it would work in a fantasy setting if I gave the characters normal names? It seems like it would be a little out of place to me.

Interesting note on the name Malia: I started writing this before anyone even knew who Barack Obama was. I thought it was really funny that one of my random names actually turned out to be real.

@Ink and Pixel Club

I have actually changed the title to A PROPHECY IGNORED. Does that work better?

I also added the other two characters to the query, but I still can't spend much time on them because they're not central to the story.

I would say vengeance is the motivation more than the prophecy. Mard (whose name I will change) initially uses the prophecy as justification, but if anything, the prophecy is what makes them second-guess their quest to defeat Armoth.

Regarding why we want to see Armoth killed, was I not clear enough in the query that Armoth was behind the destruction of the city of Crayden?


Thank you for pointing out the issues with structure. I've been debating changing the ending of the book for a long time, and now, I know I need to change it. I've changed the climax to an earlier point in the book, and I think it can stand alone better now.


Now that you pointed that out, I can see it. I kind of liked the title because I thought it was a play on words (Four Prophecy, Fore-Prophecy). I still might call the series as a whole THE PROPHECY OF FOUR, but the prophecy really isn't the central point of this novel. Thus, I changed the title.


Oddly enough, I actually do have a little bit of a satirical tone throughout the book. At one point, Mard actually pokes fun at some of these names. I've actually tried to balance the somewhat darker tone of much of the story with a comedic, satirical tone.

But do you think I should change the wording of the prophecy?

I've changed the phrase "pursue different goals," but I'm not all that concerned about it not sounding heroic. I don't intend for the other two to come across as heroic in this book.


At first, they believe in the prophecy, but due to their desire for vengeance, they don't understand it properly. Once they read the symbols, they come to their senses and realize they can't fulfill the prophecy. The central conflict is not so much the battle with Armoth, but rather the journey.

Again, I would like to thank everybody for their comments. They're not pleasant to read, but they have been very helpful.

Ryan Mueller said...

Looks like I missed a few comments while writing my last one.


What sets my book apart is the fact that the Four largely disregard the prophecy. Mard and Malia pick and choose only the parts they like, the parts that justify their motives. When they discover more about the prophecy from the symbols in the desert, they realize they can't defeat Armoth without the other two. But seeing as they are far from civilization, they have to continue their journey until they find another city.

This book deals uniquely with the idea that "prophecies don't always come true" in that you can't fulfill a prophecy when you only pay attention to the parts of it you like (or don't pay attention to it at all in the case of the other two). In some ways, it is a microcosm of how people only choose the evidence they like when making a point instead of paying attention to all the facts or how people choose to ignore the facts right in front of them in the case of the other two.

Does that make sense?

The prophecy doesn't come true in book one, so that hook should still work. But how can I show that the other two characters are important without taking up too much space in the query?

@Ink and Pixel Club

In this world, people are generally open to prophecies. Mard and Malia believe in the prophecy, but they choose to ignore parts of it. The other two, Berig and Tylen, don't believe in the prophecy, though Berig is more open to it.

Berig's motivation: Due to his life of crime, he has been banished from pretty much every city in the region, so he flees the region and ignored the prophecy.

Tylen's motivation: He was actually a former suitor to Malia, so he has no desire to travel alongside her and Mard. He also has very strong self-preservation instincts, to the point of actually becoming a Darkness Guard just to avoid death.

I've altered the point where the book ends so that Mard and Malia achieve victory in terms of making it through their journey and becoming heroes in a new city. Actually, throughout most of the book, I build up the idea that the confrontation with Armoth will end in failure, so I think readers will understand them deciding against it.

We want to see Armoth defeated because everyone in the region lives in fear of him and his Darkness Guards. Darkness Guards are essentially allowed free reign. They can imprison and kill people for no reason without any repercussions. They also collect exorbitant amounts of taxes and pilfer money from shopkeepers.

On a side note, I'd like to see the Martha Stewart Darkness collection.

Here's my question now: how do I fit all this information into a 250 word query letter? That's the major reason for lack of clarity. Describing five characters and a relatively complex plot in 250 words isn't so easy.

Evil Editor said...

Try summarizing the book in three sentences. Possibly these would be the setup, the plan and the follow-through, Or the setup, the follow-through and the obstacle. Whatever. Then elaborate on each of those sentences with two or three more.

Anonymous said...

Random names in novels are an irksome gimmick, not a plus. It's almost like putting up a neon sign that says MY FANTASY NOVEL IS SET NOWHERE NOWHEN! If you must invent random names, at least start them with different letters so we can keep track of them as A D G etc. Since they tend to be un-pronouncable and are devoid of context, that's what I usually do.

Adele said...

"But do you think I should change the wording of the prophecy?"

Actually I'm OK with the wording of the prophecy because the first thing that hit me is that the prophecy does not necessarily mean what Malia, Mard et al think it does.

The prophecy only says "the Four can attain the power to vanquish the darkness". No specification of what or who the Four is, and for all we know vanquishing darkness means somehow making the sun shine 24/7/365, kicking global warming into overdrive and frying the lot of us. I love an ambiguous prophecy.

No, I'd just change the people and place names, so the darkness references aren't overdone. But I wouldn't change the names to something bland - maybe have names that reference darkness but don't come out and say it. Montenegro, for example, means "Black Mountain", and it's more fun if I figure that out partway through the book than if you come right out and tell me on page one. Look up the words for black or darkness in foreign languages and see what works for you.

Phoenix said...

Forgive me, but from all your comments, here's my takeaway:

- There's a prophecy that 4 people will gain power to defeat a darkness, but it won't come true unless it's followed.
- Two people selectively decide to give it a shot.
- Two people ignore it.
- The two who try have a bunch of adventures.
- In the end they fail.
- Game over.

You mentioned it's more about the journey. That nebulous "bunch of adventures" above. Four books worth of monsters and spells and sandstorms and boulders to move around and random places to travel to and riddles to answer. And in the end, they lose.

What gamers are going to want to invest time in a Kobayashi Maru campaign that can't be won?

So, since your situation and plot are fairly standard, think about how you can elevate this query by focusing on the characters. You've given us some hints about the relationships. Make us care about the characters and their interactions as they confront all this stuff.

It also doesn't seem the two who don't go along have much to do in this book. That being the case, I'd leave them out of the query completely, along with the fact that it takes 4, etc. I was going to suggest starting here --

Using an ancient prophecy as a means to justify revenge, [devout / ninja-trained / elephant-riding / whatever] Mard vows to take down the the tryrant who murdered his parents and left his city in ashes. Joined in his vendetta by Malia, the woman he cares most about and who's looking for a little vengeance of her own, Mard sets out ...

-- but then images of Luke Skywalker materialized before my eyes.

I think you're going to have to dig deep into your notes to come up with something that doesn't sound derivative. As it stands, I don't think it's about shoehorning information into the query you have here, but stripping it down and building it anew.

Ryan Mueller said...

- There's a prophecy that 4 people will gain power to defeat a darkness, but it won't come true unless it's followed.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

- Two people selectively decide to give it a shot.

Two people selectively decide to give it a shot, for the wrong reasons. (comma for emphasis)
- Two people ignore it.

Pretty much.

- The two who try have a bunch of adventures.


- In the end they fail.

In the end, they realize they can't fulfill the prophecy alone. But before they can settle down, they have to save the town of Braren from a monster. In the process, they realize true heroism isn't a matter of prophecy or vengeance, but rather risking their lives to save people they don't know.

- Game over.

Well, in a video game, you would probably play through the whole series. I'd love to put the whole series in one book, but no publisher is going to accept a 400,000 word monstrosity.

In the end, they don't necessarily win (as in defeat Armoth), but they survive the journey and become town heroes.

Whether they win or lose the battle against Armoth is resolved in the 4th book, and during the intervening time, the Four have plenty of time to get back together.

The journey really is more about their development in this book. I think I'll write another query now where there is less focus on the prophecy and more on Mard (name to be changed) and Malia.

no-bull-steve said...

I had to skim the comments, so 4give me if I 4get something.

I have a problem with the whole Prophesy of 4 if the whole book/series is about a prophesy that won't come true...and it's obvious it won't come true the moment 2 of the Fab Four go off to pick daisies or whatever.

The Beatles were known as the Fab Four and they weren't John, Ring and two other guys.

The Atlanta Braves had a starting rotation known (I think) as the Fab Four and it wasn't Maddux, Glavine and two other guys. See where I'm going with this? It's distracting.

And before you say that some prophecies in fantasy don't come true, you're probably right...but they fail at the end so that the actual fiction is interesting.

Likewise I have a big problem with:
"In the end, they don't necessarily win (as in defeat Armoth), but they survive the journey and become town heroes."

For what????

If they fail in their quest and they still become heroes what are the stakes? And hence why should we bother reading it? If this is a coming of age novel where the journey is the reward as two characters grow up/wise along the way then THAT is your story, not some battle that they're "ultimately" going to lose and everyone familiar with the prophesy knows it from the get go.

batgirl said...

What struck me - leaving aside the question of whether to trust a prophecy, which is a question far more 'heroes' should consider - is that the opening catastrophe, the destruction of an entire city, only four survivors (not counting Dying Prophetic Guy), their homes and families and past lives burnt to ash ... seems brushed over. I think you're missing some serious emotional impact here, aka motivation for your characters.
Maybe emotional impact isn't what the gaming audience wants, but presumably you want some non-gamers to buy this as well, starting with a publisher.
Two of the characters decide to resume their normal lives - how? Didn't their normal lives just get smashed to atoms? The other two decide that well, seeing as their families were murdered, maybe they should do something - so what's the plot implication of destroying everything else? Was it just to set up the Prophecy?
Note to self, if becoming Evil Overlord - do not destroy cities by fire and the sword if so doing will fulfil any prophetic conditions. Try flooding instead.

I do like the idea of playing around with prophecies, but I think you need to clarify what you're doing with that convention of fantasy.

Joe G said...

Yes, obviously, some day they will defeat Amroth. That's neither here nor there. I am surprised that nobody has tried to impress upon you that the notion of a story about a prophecy that doesn't get fulfilled isn't dramatic. It is merely interesting.

There's nothing dramatic about Neville Longbottom almost having been the chosen one if Voldemort had gone after him instead of Harry. It's just interesting. The drama is what happens because Voldemort DID choose Harry, setting off the entire story.

There's nothing dramatic about the question of what life would have been like for Macbeth and his wife if he had never heard the witches' prophecy. The drama is what happened because he did.

In other words, your story is not about these characters choosing to ignore a prophecy, it's about the consequences of them choosing to ignore or pick and choose what they would follow. This is also not a very original conceit. It's a common trope in fantasy novels (see: Robert Jordan) and one of the oldest in the book. Man ignores word of God, Man suffers.

That's also a reason why I don't like the title. It's not very dramatic. "Ooooh a fantasy novel where a hero hears a prophecy predicting he will defeat an evil wizard monster. How original!"

Also, it just sounds weird. The Four Prophecy? Huh? Are there four prophecies? Is it the fourth prophecy? Is that a typo of some kind?

Again... The Prophecy of Four. What a dramatic and exciting name.

I think I'm being mean, but I'm just saying... there's a reason why the RPG genre has evolved from what it used to be. The simple stories of Lufia and Final Fantasy 1 & 2 become Xenogears and Final Fantasy 10 and the like. If you're going to be derivative, you have to do it in style.

Ryan Mueller said...

Thank you everyone for you comments. I've written a new query letter now, and it reads a lot better.

I took Phoenix's advice and shifted my focus to the characters. I changed Mard's name to Mardin (similar enough it doesn't bother me, but now it shouldn't be confused with the French word for shit).

By the way, how do I revise and request feedback at Phoenix's site?

Evil Editor said...

Send queries for critiquing to phoenixsullivan @ yahoo.com.