Monday, April 09, 2012

Face-Lift 1015


Guess the Plot

Black and White

1. A history of the newspaper industry and its fall from black and white and read all over to black and white and red all over.

2. After numerous demonstrations and complaints from the NAACP and White Anglo-Saxon activists about his divisive song titles, presidential front-runner Michael Jackson decides to re-record his hit single "Black or White."

3. After crushing his witchy opponent, chess genius Filbert Daggleson indulges in wild celebration. In the morning he's black and white all over. Not checkered, more like plaid. Now he must find the witch and get her to lift this curse, or else look like an idiot forever.

4. Pakistani Sayeed Kamila, a frustrated cab driver, quits his job with Yellow Taxi and starts his own company, Black and White Taxi. Starting with one cab, he builds a taxi empire but ultimately goes bankrupt and ends up driving a Checker cab.

5. On a world with two races (Flyons, who are white, and Dhellions, who are black), a race war has lasted for centuries. Then a God shows up and decrees that everyone must play nice together or die. The killing stops as the Flyons and Dhellions unite in an effort to get rid of the God.

6. It's the biggest long shot in history when a zebra is entered in the Kentucky Derby--until jockey Louie Falcone replaces all the thoroughbreds' water with vodka.


Original Version

[Note: the author couldn't decide which character's POV to focus the query on, so there are two versions here.]

1.
Dear Evil Editor,

Fallen, an eighteen-year-old Dhellion, wishes his father would leave him alone. The ghost has been following him for ten years, saying he needs a Flyon named Zata dead before he can rest in peace.

Just when Fallen finds her, a celestial being named Auris appears. Claiming to be a God, Auris bans killing, ending the centuries-long war between Flyon and Dhellion. Fallen isn't sure what a God is, but disobedience means death by lightening, [Interesting. I take it Dhellions are black, and they die if they get lightened? And Flyons are white and they die when darkened?] so killing Zata will have to wait.

Not wanting to lose track of her, Fallen sticks to Zata like a shadow. She's bound by the God's rules, too, so all she can do is grit her teeth and try to ignore him – something Fallen delights in making as difficult as possible. [Do these people ever sleep? She ought to be able to lose him at some point.] But the longer he's with her, the more she seems, well, normal, and a lot more likeable than any Flyon should be. [And the more he seems, well, annoying, and a lot less likeable than any Dhallion should be.]

Auris continues making Decrees, [No calling each other the R word or the Q word, or it's death by dyeing.] forcing Dhellions and Flyons to play nice, live interspersed and talk to each other – or die. Fallen obeys, until he learns the God plans to marry off Flyons and Dhellions, then re-distribute all the children to “save the next generation” from their parents' racism. The entire planet wants the God gone and their freedom back. Mortals can't hurt Auris, but Fallen's father says he might be able to drag the God to the farthest corner of the universe and hold it there. Maybe.

But before he tries, he wants Zata dead. [Why?]

BLACK AND WHITE is a 69,000-word standalone YA fantasy novel with series potential. It is told from the perspectives of Auris, Fallen and Zata.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!



2.

Dear Evil Editor,

The rules in Zata's world have always been simple: Flyons kill Dhellions on sight, and vice versa. She's spent years training for the day she's old enough to fight on the front lines. But when she catches a Dhellion named Fallen sneaking around, Zata can't bring herself to kill him.

Then a god named Auris appears and bans killing. Zata isn't sure what a god is, but anyone to disobey Auris's rules is fried by lightning. To complicate matters more, Fallen decides to hang around.

No matter what Zata does, she just can't get rid of him. The more time Zata spends with Fallen, the more he seems, well, normal. Maybe even likeable – no, that's going too far. After all, everyone knows Dhellions are monsters.

Auris's rules grow increasingly restrictive, controlling everyone's actions, speech and lifestyles. Zata grits her teeth and obeys – until she learns the God plans to marry off Flyons and Dhellions, and re-distribute children to “save the next generation” from their parents' racism.

The God has to go, but Zata's training didn't cover killing immortals. Besides, if Auris leaves, Flyons and Dhellions will start fighting again. [If that's true, it seems the experiment is over. The races won't get along unless the alternative is death, and the marriage/redistribution plan is the way to go.] That means no more Fallen - which, Zata keeps reminding herself, is what she wants. Isn't it?

BLACK AND WHITE is a 69,000 word standalone YA fantasy with series potential. It is told from Fallen, Zata, and Auris's perspectives.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!


[Authors note to EE: the novel is called Black and White because Dhellions are black and Flyons are white. And the main characters start out seeing things in black and white - both literally and figuratively.]


Notes

If I had to choose I'd go with the second version. It's clearer.

Maybe the races should be purple and green. It might seem slightly less heavy-handed. Probably not. Either way, teens aren't going to go for something this obvious. In fact, if it were a childrens' picture book with kittens and puppies the kids would say, Just tell a story and quit with the moralistic symbolism.

This is the same plot we did last year in Face-Lift 934.

This would be better if it were an alternate history set on Earth in which black Africa developed advanced transportation and weaponry first and conquered Europe, and the races have been at war ever since.

Have you tried a query from Auris's POV?

What you have is a Romeo and Juliet story. The query, like the book, needs to focus on Romeo and Juliet, not the Montagues and Capulets.

25 comments:

arhooley said...

Yup, go with #2. But change "anyone to disobey Auris's rules is fried by lightning" to "anyone who disobeys Auris's rules is fried by lightning."

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Claiming to be a God, Auris bans killing...

Mm. Our planet also features a God who has banned killing. Wanna know how that's working out?

I think the market for overt fictional allegories of racism began and ended with Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches And Other Stories.

You can certainly write about racism-- I do-- but it's way more interesting if you either keep it real, ie set in our world, or else fictionalize it way more than you've done, a la Terry Pratchett, so that the readers needn't notice the allegory unless they feel like it and can just enjoy the story.

I agree that the second query works better than the first but everything I see here screams trunk story. Sorry.

BuffySquirrel said...

I do like the irony of a god who enforces a ban on killing by use of the death penalty. Or I would, if I thought I was meant to find it ironic.

This query makes the novel seem very heavy handed. Bit like that episode of Star Trek with the half-black, half-white people where the black-on-the-left people hated the black-on-the-right ones and vice versa, but hey, our noble STrekkers couldn't see the difference between the two sets of aliens.

If you want to sell a message story we need less message and more story. But go with Zata's version. Apparently she can spell.

sarahhawthorne said...

I think you're burying the lede. Your hook isn't the revenge aspect or even the forbidden romance - those have been done before. Your hook is the idea that after centuries on their own, the Dhellions and Flyons suddenly find themselves saddled with a pushy, homicidal deity determined to bend their entire world to his (her?) will. In order to get rid of Aeris, one Dhellion and one Flyon will have to do the unthinkable: work together.

Also, I don't usually say this, but I would really, really, really strongly recommend you consider changing your title. It's just so very on the nose and obvious.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Even w/our local big guy, the whole "Thou shalt not kill" thing kinda smacks of do as I say, not as I do.

TheAuthor said...

The funny thing is that the main characters aren't racist. Sure, the two races have been fighting for who-knows-how-long, but it's for reasons other than skin colour; more to do with culture and moral choices than physicality. The God comes down, knowing nothing about the planet or their culture, sees the fight, goes "you racist bastards" and reacts accordingly.

Fallen's query didn't even mention the races, originally. But I was told by many people that I had to be specific about what Auris was banning, which meant bringing up the whole racism-thing, because that's what most of his bans revolve around.

So basically, this was all just a long, drawn-out way of asking you guys which was the lesser evil: the heavy racism theme that isn't really there, or being vague about what the God does.

Sarahhawthorne is right on the money about what the novel is about. Thank you :) I shall try to figure out a way to focus on that in the query. And change the title.

Thanks everybody - especially Evil Editor - for your feedback.

BuffySquirrel said...

Yeah, don't tell us the book is about racism if it isn't. Good tip there.

Rashad Pharaon said...

Hmm, the only advice I have is that the query should describe the actual book. If it is about enemies working (and doing other fun stuff) together, then your query should focus on that, no? Who cares if your friends tell you to focus on the racism issue. If the focus of the book is on Auris' polka-dot underwear and not racism, then stay true to his underwear.

Anonymous said...

I had a long post that disappeared.

The author defined racism. It's not about skin color but rather the belief your culture or belief system is superior to others or someone's elses is inferior to yours.

anyway - if you sledgehammer someone with your beliefs then you lose an audience, especially the young because they are rebels.

AA said...

It isn't really a great query, whether it's about racism or not. That does need to be straightened out, but heavy-handed or not, it lacks the punch that would make it interesting to a reader like me.

I liked that Star Trek episode that was mentioned earlier, not because it was about racism (and that was very obvious) but because I liked Star Trek. In other words, the characters, setting and world of Star Trek was something I already knew I liked, so I knew I would enjoy that episode.

You'll have to do something similar here. Set up a world and characters we like, and then we'll read the story because we like the story, not really for the moral message.

Anonymous said...

What the heck is it with you people and Star Trek?







Big tribble fan, myself...

BuffySquirrel said...

The sad thing about that Star Trek episode is ST already had characters whose race just wasn't an issue. It didn't need to beat its anti-racism message into us with a shovel.

So the characters aren't racist. They just think that someone from the other culture should die for no other reason than they're from the other culture. Right.

TheAuthor said...

Here is a query from Auris's perspective - well, combination Auris and Fallen. The problem with doing a pure Auris one is that Auris doesn't know the main character's names until they try to kill it.

Dear Agent,

The god Auris has been on numerous pantheons, but this is its first time controlling its own world. Auris plans to spend a couple years getting to know the beings and their culture, then introduce itself and guide the world to a better place.

That plan lasts all of ten seconds. The first thing Auris sees is two races, Flyons and Dhellions, locked in battle. Auris announces its presence, stops the fight and sets to work sculpting the world into a utopia. First step: no killing. Disobey, and be fried by lightning on the spot.

For Fallen, an eighteen-year-old Dhellion, this is a problem. His father's ghost has been haunting him, claiming to need a Flyon named Zata dead to rest in pace. It took Fallen a decade to find Zata – and then Auris appeared. Fallen isn't sure what a god is, but it can call lightning out of clear sky. There's not much he can do but stick close to Zata and hope Auris leaves.

The god is controlling and homicidal. It keeps making new rules, trying to force the two races together. Soon, Auris has made so many rules, Fallen can't even keep track of them all. He's willing to do anything to get rid of the god. Anything.

Even betray his race, trick his father, and work with Zata.

FREEDOM is a 69,000 word YA fantasy novel with series potential. It is told through the points of view of Auris, Fallen and Zata.




Better? Worse? Thoughts?

Rachel6 said...

Everybody else has covered the heavy bits, so I'll stick to what I liked.

I loved the idea of a god showing up and randomly messing with everyone. I also really enjoyed Zata's reaction of "what's a god?" And the line "Maybe even likeable – no, that's going too far." made me laugh out loud.

Definitely stick with Zata's query, and let me know when you're published!

BuffySquirrel said...

So does anyone actually have to make a difficult choice? Because it looks as if although the things they have to do are hard, choosing to do them is easy.

thieleas said...

I'm personally not feeling Auris's version. It's hard to connect with such a superior being. Or maybe it's just that his voice isn't working. Examples that don't work in my opinion: 'getting to know' and 'fried on the spot'. He just doesn't sound Godly in my opinion.

While Zata's is better for now, I'm still sticking with my initial response... If you can fix Fallen's you should. From what I've read, agents are looking for more male POVs in YA. I'm not saying it'll make or break your chances of getting a request, but it may give it that something extra.

In the end you should go with the stronger query or what represents your ms better, but consider who you're looking to query and their personal preferences aswell.

thieleas said...

I'm personally not feeling Auris's version. It's hard to connect with such a superior being. Or maybe it's just that his voice isn't working. Examples that don't work in my opinion: 'getting to know' and 'fried on the spot'. He just doesn't sound Godly in my opinion.

While Zata's is better than Fallen's at the moment, I'm still sticking with my initial response... If you can fix Fallen's you should. From what I've read, agents are looking for more male POVs in YA. I'm not saying that it will make or break your chances of getting a request, but it may give you that something extra.

In the end you should go with the stronger query or what represents your ms better, but consider who you're looking to query and their personal preferences aswell.

Anonymous said...

I see this more as a fascist thing from the third version. Authoritarian dictator with more new policies/rules than waves in the sea.

I don't get a love or racist thing from this one. I get a rather weak mc because there's not much F can do but stick close to Zata and hope Auris leaves. Normal reaction to dictatorial governance.

Even betray his race, trick his father, and work with Zata. This line does work for me because of the hopelessness from the not much he can do line.

Suggest refocusing on 1 pov. This could be Zata's tale if she's got grit.

Hard to tell where this could end up. Good luck.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, Auris's version did make the story's center a lot clearer. Actually, I was down with it except for the "it" (it's hard to root for a character called it) and the sudden switch to Fallen's pov. Other than that, the story kind of reminded me of working at a school that gets a new principal when the staff have all been there for years.

Rashad, "Stay True To His Underwear" would be a great title for a country song.

AA said...

"So does anyone actually have to make a difficult choice?"

This is the crux of the problem for me, also. It seems every important decision is taken out of the MCs' hands, and it all comes down to a supernatural fight between F's dead dad and this god.

And you still haven't told us what happens to F if he doesn't kill Z like his dad told him to. His ghost dad kills him? Doesn't seem to be such a big handicap to be dead on this planet, since you can still hang around, talk to the living and do important plot stuff.

So the worst that can happen is that F and Z both die and become cool, really active ghosts who can fight gods? Big deal.

There seems to be very little incentive to fight the god or its rules, considering any attempt at rebellion would just bring on the lightning bolts. And F can't kill Z yet, even if he wanted to. So this is just a whole book of two very different people sniping at each other because they're bored, or what?

The MCs have little or nothing to do with resolving the plot, anyway, and that's bad.

This may not be what the book is really like but this is the way it's coming across at this point.

sarahhawthorne said...

Oh yay, I guessed the theme right!

However, I didn't mean you need more exposition about who Auris is. What I meant is that you need to spend more of the query showing us how Fallen and Zata INTERACT with Auris and the changes he makes to their world.

Every version of this query makes it sound like the plot is about one kid trudging around after another kid, until they talk and realize they aren't so different. Your book might be thrilling and tense - but you phrase it in a way that makes Fallen and Zata seem passive and rather dull. You drop a god on their planet, and then you mostly use him to PREVENT the characters from acting instead of INCITING the characters to action.

Hope this is helpful!

batgirl said...

Author, adjust my comments for ignorance of your actual story. I'm just wondering if it would work better to pitch the big no-no as War rather than Racism? The Ds and the Fs have been happily killing each other for centuries/decades, right? Blood-feuding away like Sicilian Appalachians, even beyond the grave. So both of them presumably have warrior cultures that aren't squeamish about killing.
It sounds as if Auris bans killing between the Ds and the Fs, rather than, say, killing in self-defence, killing meat animals, killing stinging insects. So the god wants to stop the war, first by making the whole world a no-killing zone, then by forcing hereditary enemies to intermarry.
That offends the warrior cultures of both sides (For some reason I remember when the RSPCA tried to ban halal and kosher animal slaughter, and the Jewish and Muslim populations of London united to fight back) so the god ends up uniting them, but against him/it.

Much of this query is intriguing - if you can bring across the unusual aspects more clearly, this could be a winner.

TheAuthor said...

Thank you, all. I have much food for thought.

There is a lot happening to the two MCs. Zata's kicked out of her Tribe for not killing Fallen when she had the chance (before Auris came). She's trying to find a new Tribe to join, but no one will take her with Fallen in tow. So she tries to get rid of him, he tries to keep track of her, they both (and everyone else on the planet) try to find ways around the god's rules (for example, Auris banned killing - but not giving permanently disabling injuries. Or tying someone to a tree (then wild animals kill them). Or or or), which forces the God to make more and more bans to cover all its bases.

Auris is an "it" for a very specific reason - it intended to figure out what the "dominant" race/gender/look was, but didn't have time, so it just melded everything together.

Batgirl, creating peace is a huge issue in my book and what Auris is ultimately attempting to do.

Ghosts are very rare and not just anyone can choose to hang around. The threat of death is very real for Fallen and Zata. It's... their world is complicated.

I shall try to get this query working out properly! Thank you all.

BuffySquirrel said...

So Auris has about the same level of plan we had when we invaded Iraq. And--amazingly--is having the same degree of success.

Maybe Auris should have studied law before taking up godship.

"When you tied the Dhellion to the tree, did you intend that wild animals should kill them?"

Wilkins MacQueen said...

With Sarah H.author, wish you well.