Thursday, April 26, 2012

Face-Lift 1021

Guess the Plot


1. In the mystyc land of Faeyrynn a young fey must fight to reclaim his throne and . . . oh, hell. You've already stopped reading, haven't you?

2. Remus Longbow is a plucky orphan destined to find a sword, become a mighty warrior, and then die in combat with the dragon Illuvica before the real hero shows up.

3. When Dr. Shortbread synthesizes a new molecule he calls Illuvica, he has no idea that he has created a substance making people irresistible to the opposite sex. Which is useless to him because he's gay. Can he destroy the substance before his boyfriends all defect?

4. Archeologist Len Bianchi, exploring Rome’s oldest catacombs dating from the third century B.C., opens a crypt releasing Illuvica, the demigod vampire of felines. The Romans sealed her off over two thousand years ago. Now she’s really pissed--especially about that stupid dog thing--and wants revenge on all Italy.

5. Andi Smirnov, the only human still living on a generational starship, survives alone, becomes a cyborg, and finds happiness with the ghost of the ship on a new world.

6. Parry goes to Illuvica to sell pumpkins. But war suddenly breaks out and Parry's big brother Leo is jailed for murdering the king. Can Parry save Leo and Illuvica? More importantly, can he do so without magic, which is a no-no?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Parry Vine can’t wait to travel to a nearby kingdom to help his brother and sister sell pumpkins from their family farm. [Yes, selling pumpkins does sound exciting.] [Basically it means standing next to a pile of pumpkins all day and occasionally someone takes one and gives you five dollars. Though in olden days it was more like five cents.] But when they arrive in Pierceland [So named because all the inhabitants have piercings], excitement quickly turns to despair. Parry’s brother Leo is thrown in jail and falsely accused of poisoning King Radkor. [Kings generally have enough bodyguards around them to prevent pumpkin merchants from slipping poison into their mead. Plus they have food tasters. Plus, even if the king's chef bought a pumpkin, he wouldn't feed it to the king raw, so how quickly could the king have been poisoned by Leo?] 

The beloved king’s death throws all three kingdoms of Illuvica into chaos, [What is Illuvica? A planet? A continent? A video game?] with the Vine siblings in the middle of it all. Parry gets his hands on an important artifact that could buy Leo’s freedom, as long as he can deliver it to the right person.

[Parry: They think my brother murdered the king. I need to get him out of jail before they hang him.

The Right Person: I hear you have the fabled Scissors of Endor. Perhaps we can work out a deal.]

War breaks out, and Nora is caught in the crossfire, [Nora? Who's Nora? Ah, is that the sister mentioned way back in the first sentence? If you name the siblings in sentence 1 it'll save having to later identify them.] searching for a way to help the soldiers without getting in the way herself. [Drop Nora from the query. She's only there for eye candy.] Meanwhile, Leo attempts to escape from prison with no help from his cellmate, a clever princess with a sharp mind but a cold shoulder. [They lock the guy suspected of poisoning the king in a cell with the princess?] [There's a reason men and women aren't put in the same cell: jail is supposed to be punishment.]

And beyond the battlefield, someone is plotting another murder and scheming to break the bonds that have kept magic out of Illuvica for over a century.

If the Vine siblings ever want to return safely to their hometown, they must reunite and work together to stop magic from being released. [The place is at war. And releasing magic would worsen the situation?] But in spite of what he has been told about the dangers of magic, letting it loose might be the only way for Parry to emerge from the shadow of his older siblings. Will Parry put everyone he loves in danger to achieve his dreams? [What has been told about the dangers of magic?] [What are these dreams Parry wants to achieve?]

ILLUVICA, a young adult fantasy novel, is complete at 65,000 words and would work as a stand-alone novel or as the first installment in a series. [How old is Parry? As the youngest of the siblings, and the star of the show, I assumed this was middle grade. Are high school kids gonna want to read about Parry the pumpkinmonger?] [Parry the Pumpkinmonger would be a good title if you convert it to a children's picture book.]

I am an award-winning composer of choral music and a middle school band teacher. [Please buy my book for six figures and set me free.] When I’m not teaching seventh graders to play “Hot Cross Buns” [If you'd teach them something by Maroon 5 or Gaga they might stop hating you.] I am usually blogging about the books I read or sewing costumes for comic book conventions and renaissance faires.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



The main issue here is the release of magic. Apparently the release of magic will help Leo get out of jail and help Parry achieve his dream. But . . . But what? What's the downside of releasing magic? How does it put everyone in danger?

Why does the death of Pierceland's king throw the other kingdoms into chaos?

This is mainly a list of a few things that happen. We don't need to know what Nora's doing or that Leo tries to escape from prison or who his cellmate is. Focus on Parry's goals (to free Leo and achieve the dream of emerging from his siblings' shadow?), his plan, and what's at stake if his plan backfires.

Somehow saying Parry can't wait to help his brother and sister sell the pumpkins doesn't sound like the same kid who's trying to emerge from their shadows. Or maybe it sounds like the same kid but not at the same age.


BuffySquirrel said...

I tried rewriting this query but I didn't get far. Not enough information. But if the release of magic is the pivotal plot point, it probably needs to appear earlier.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Fake plot #1: lol.

As for the actual plot-- dammit, it's the exact same plot as my WIP.

Seriously, though, writer, I hate to quote Orson Scott Card, but in this instance I gotta. And remember this is coming from him, not me: "So what?"

Why should we care about Illuvica or Pumpkinland or the king? Even if he's a good king, wouldn't a democratically elected leader be better?

What is Parry's dream? First it seems to be selling pumpkins for his siblings, then later it's getting out from under his siblings' thumbs.

Rewrite: Parry Pumpkinmonger dreams of achieving X, but Y gets in his way. To overcome Y, he must Z, but when he does, W happens.

In other words, focus on Parry and his struggle and make us care about that. Screw Leo, and hope he's not screwing the princess, pace EE.

PLaF said...

You lost me at “sell pumpkins.” I can believe he wants to travel, to go to the kingdom, etc. but if the height of his ambition is to sell pumpkins, well, I’m just not that into it.
I read the “king’s death throws” as “king’s death throes.”
Why would Parry want to return safely to his hometown when he can’t wait to travel? Why not just stay in the shire?
His relationship with his brother and sister is confusing. He can’t wait to go with them and wants to help Leo get out of jail, but then he’s trying to get out from under their shadows and considering putting them in danger to further his ambitions.
More importantly, is any of this what motivates him or is he carried along by events?

PLaF said...

You lost me at “sell pumpkins.” I can believe he wants to travel, to go to the kingdom, etc. but if the height of his ambition is to sell pumpkins, well, I’m just not that into it.
I read the “king’s death throws” as “king’s death throes.”
Why would Parry want to return safely to his hometown when he can’t wait to travel? Why not just stay in the shire?
His relationship with his brother and sister is confusing. He can’t wait to go with them and wants to help Leo get out of jail, but then he’s trying to get out from under their shadows and considering putting them in danger to further his ambitions.
More importantly, is any of this what motivates him or is he carried along by events?

BuffySquirrel said...

Benevolent dictatorship is better than democracy, right up until the time to change rulers arrives. Then disaster. Sad, really.

AA said...

I was just about to skip to #2 when I caught that "oh, hell. You've already stopped reading, haven't you?" I almost had stopped reading.
#3 is hilarious. I HOPED it would be #4, but I knew it would really be #6.

arhooley said...

>>Will Parry put everyone he loves in danger to achieve his dreams?

So Parry's temptation is to endanger "everyone he loves," whoever that is, along with the population of the entire land, so he can show his siblings who's boss. What a guy.

AA said...

When I got to "Parry’s brother Leo is thrown in jail and falsely accused of poisoning King Radkor," all of the things EE mentioned went through my mind just before I read his comments. No way this happened, unless 1) The king was somehow caught out at a pumpkin stand without his bodyguards, a la Vito Corleone, and for some strange reason wanted to see what raw pumpkin tasted like, OR 2) Leo was grabbed at random as a convenient scapegoat. Only 2) seems plausible.

I don't believe Leo was put in the same cell as a princess, but kids might.

I have to agree that all the stuff about emerging from the shadows and the part about magic are too vague.

Leo seems like he should be the MC unless you're trying to pull a Chronicles of Narnia, which only really works when the author is as good as C.S. Lewis. (This is the first query I've read that starts out all Godfather and ends up in Narnia.) Calling the MC (a pumpkin seller) Parry makes it sound like you're going for an Elementary School readership but the storyline with Leo could easily be High School level. Are you sure you aren't trying to cover too much ground at once?

sarahhawthorne said...

Within the first two sentences, I'm going, "huh?" Everyone else has pointed out how odd it would be for a farmer to have access to poison a king. But on top of that, in a quasi-medieval society travel would be long, dangerous, and very expensive. Yet a kid is on the road between kingdoms - just to help his siblings harvest pumpkins? And for that matter, how does a peasant family get split up over two kingdoms anyway?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

AA, yes, kids might believe it, but you can't sell a book for kids without going through a helluvalotta adults.
Said the broken record.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Oh dear. Now that I see that even sarahhawthorne didn't come up with a positive comment, I feel bad for the writer.

Writer, I couldn't compose choral music to save my life, let alone award-winning same. So mad props to you for that. /insert tired joke about heart surgeon and children's author here

Either the query doesn't reflect your story well, or you're new to children's literature. Go to the library and check out a stack of what the kids are reading these days. Ask your students what they read, too.

Read the stuff. Focus on what's been published recently-- say since 2007. Sort out what you like and what you don't like. Note the elements that make you like a story. Note the kinds of challenges characters are facing.

Good luck...

Laurie said...

This definitely reads like a middle grade, not YA. And, as everyone has said, the opening line isn't intriguing enough. I can see a kid getting excited about his first trip to the big city, so you might want to word it more along those lines. I can even see him excited about selling pumpkins, and that would be fine in the story, but maybe not for the query. More relevant are his feelings of living in the shadow of his older siblings and his dreams of greatness.

And, as has also been said, we need some more about the consequences. What is this magic artifact and what happens if he uses it? What are his temptations? Who are the candidates for the right person and what's at stake if he picks the wrong one? Rescuing his brother is a good goal (and yes, we do need a bit more on why his brother is a suspect in the King's death because it's so unlikely), but it sounds like there's much higher things at stake for the kingdom that we need to see if the kid has a role in it.

In general, this sounds like it could be a fun story and the query is a good start. Just needs some tweaking. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Better plot would be: your ragtag bumpkins actually murder the damn king with a poisoned pumpkin, while Princess Daring disguises herself as a lad in order to flee the castle in time to avoid marrying Prince Jerkass from the next kingdom, but OH NO! gets caught in the ladies' room by Duke Idiot! And tossed in the dungeon where Bob & Billy Pumpkinmonger are chained up, and they join forces to take over the world, using wits and fast action.

AA said...

AlaskaRavenclaw: Yes, I know, and I know you've said same many times before. I was wondering about a know princess being tossed in some dungeon along with your average peasant. Maybe that happened a lot, I don't know. I have my doubts. I don't think I would have thought of that when I was younger, though. So maybe it is considered plausible.

As far as the gender thing is concerned, I wasn't really commenting on that.

And now that Sarah H. brought it up, I do see the implausibility of kids traveling to an entirely different KINGDOM to sell pumpkins. I was focusing on the other implausibilities.

AA said...

So, this is what I'm getting so far:

Three kids, whose parents have died from a mysterious pumpkin-related illness, decide their last hope is to sell off their current pumpkin crop. The local market in Pumpkinvania is glutted with pumpkins, but they can get a premium price in the neighboring kingdom of Corleone, which is undergoing a pumpkin famine. They risk their lives and travel by oxcart to Corleone, which takes a few months, but luckily pumpkins last that long.

When they get to Corleone they have one lone pumpkin left, since they've eaten all the others. Luckily the king of Corleone, Vito, is out for a stroll and buys the pumpkin for a hefty price. Later, when the king dies, the royal family need a scapegoat so they take Leo and throw him in a dungeon with a mysterious stranger who has an unusually high voice for a guy.

Meanwhile, the king's death throws the Five Families- I mean, the Three Kingdoms- into chaos. The royal family meant to hang Leo as an example in a public display, but somehow in all this chaos they forget about him. He doesn't really mind, because this dude he's in prison with is hotter than he first appeared to be. And he has boobs.

Parry finds the fabled Lucky Charm of Radkor, cleverly hidden in a cereal box, and looks for someone important to sell it to. His sister Nora makes a brief appearance, gets caught in some crossfire, and never appears in the story again.

A mysterious somebody is plotting something involving murder and magic, but nobody knows who he is or even how he got into this story. Maybe he's in the wrong story. Anyway, turns out magic exists, and can be used to stop the insanity, but it is evil magic and only Parry can wield it. Seems he's actually okay with becoming Parry the Evil Warlock. No one will ever call him Parry, Parry, Pumpkin Eater again!

Seriously, author, I doubt this is the way you wanted this to come across. I'd do a total rewrite of this query. Focus on the MC, what HE does, what choices he makes and what his MAIN moral dilemma is. Streamline and focus. Get rid of the princess and escape attempts. Put Nora's name in the first sentence, then leave her out. We need to know more about Parry and what he intends to do about all this.

Also, some questions really need to be cleared up. Where ARE their parents? Couldn't they just travel to the capital city of their own kingdom to sell pumpkins? I think this story could be interesting but the way the query reads now the story is full of holes.

BuffySquirrel said...

Going to the next kingdom makes sense if it's nearby and/or has a better market for pumpkins than other, less nearby places. Kingdoms have borders, after all.

Locking a princess up with Leo makes little sense unless 1. the authorities believe they're conspirators in the king's murder and are hoping to overhear confessions 2. they hope the princess will be raped or 3. all the above.

Cold shoulder? No, really, in that situation she's giving this strange man she can't escape from the cold shoulder? How inexplicable.

150 said...

I don't know, I get the feeling this is a bad query/okay book scenario, where the author has multiple POVs and is fumbling all over the query trying to show them. In which case: don't do that, author. Follow AK's rewrite outline.

It's worth noting implausibilities, but I can see them being erased with simple explanations (massive harvest festival just across the border; horrific prison overcrowding) so this is another case in which specificity is your friend.

Also, local tip: anonymice can be safely ignored.

If you post a rewrite in the comments, we'll look at it again. Good luck!

BuffySquirrel said...

Pumpkins don't last that long. Not even in the fridge.

I still shudder at the pumpkin-related clean-up incident.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

AA, that was very funny.

Writer, don't lose heart. But do lose the YA label. This is middle grade.

Any time you got pumpkins, you got middle grade. YA is all about teh teen zombie lust.

(Aside in re the imminent rape of the prisoner princess... come to think of it the rape of male prisoners is so axiomatic that I think even kids might notice the problem.

More axiomatic than real, according to Ted Conover in his book Newjack. Which is nice to know. People in online news chats always seem to get a thrill at the idea that punishment for drug possession or theft includes rape. Myself I've always felt rather squeamish about it.)

khazar-khum said...

Hey, fellow faire & con costumer minion!

They're close to a border, there's a big harvest festival, they load up & go to make bank. Parry has been itching to go ever since last year, when Leo & Nora told him about all the nifty goodies you can get, like trinkets, new clothes, and whores.

The king dies after eating poisoned pumpkin, and since they're foreigners, they're automatically guilty. Leo is thrown in jail with a funny-looking guy who never shaves. Well, OK, maybe shaves a little.

I know it seems like you have
to answer every question at once, but really the magic being "bad" & a problem does need to be outlined in the query.

AA said...

Buffy: Eeew. And when the pumpkin freezes outdoors and then the snow melts and it thaws out again...

Anyway, yeah, I thought of that kingdom/border thing. But then, even if they live on the border, what kingdom has its capital on a border? Even if it does, are they the only people from across the border selling produce at the market? It just gets unlikelier. (That a word?)

Anyway, just to show I'm not entirely hard-hearted, I remember my middle school band teacher. Her name was Miss Angela Chestnut, and we all thought she had a thing for the Selmer guy, because they spent WAY too much time in her office for him to just be selling stuff. We all pretty much liked her. We even had a song about her. We would sing:
"Miss Chestnut's roasting on an open fire-
We're all nipping at her nose."
Now, doesn't that warm the cockles of your heart?

PLaF said...

AA I would totally read the Poisoned King of Corleone based on that synopsis.

Author, please post an updated query. It may have pumpkins, but so did Cinderealla.

150 said...

Oh--and probably it's just because I'm a jaded, awful query-reader, but when you say "award-winning" without specifying the award, I assume the award you won is either imaginary or worthless. (Similarly: "I am a published author" always translates in my head to "published in my school newspaper for free" or something, which is why to always specify your publisher too.)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I always assume someone who calls themselves a published author is self-published. I back away slowly. Those folks can git ugly.

AA said...

My uncle gave himself an award so he could say in the back of his (self-published) book that he's "award-winning." If you think that's bad, try reading the book.