Monday, May 07, 2012

Face-Lift 1025

Guess the Plot

Threads of Control

1. Saylor dreams of being a fashion designer, but to break in she must untangle the cords of cronyism, unzip the bags of investor cash, and cut through the layers of bullshit. Is Saylor's dream sewn up, or will she be trimmed?

2. When the Puppetmaster threatens to wipe out the human trees on the planet Ulfitron, Earth teenager Jimmy Ranfaz is chosen as their savior.

3. When the body of fashion mogul Jonny Street is found under a mountain of bolts at his Downtown LA sweatshop, detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, this year's fashions are damned ugly, and two, Jonny wasn't simply killed by a bolt from the blue.

4. Needlework expert Alice Bobbin only wanted to see if that new craft store in town had embroidery floss in Dusky Rose. Little did she know that the sign meant a different kind of "craft." Now her cross stitches of houses and flowers have the power to harvest souls.

5. Jane is a seamstress who tailors clothes for her husband Dan. But when she notices Dan ogling her best friend, she secretly cinches the crotch of Dan's pants tighter and tighter.

6. All Janet wanted was to open a nice little quilting store. But monolithic sewing chain SewItUp! will not tolerate any competition. Sabotage, arson, and murder ensue.

7. Mayhem breaks out at Mary's Merry Marionette Show when her wooden puppets rebel, massacring three puppeteers and half the attendees of the Kanoma County Fair.

Original Version

Dear [Literary Agent],

AVERAGE – the word burned him. Superpowers had not changed the one thing he hated; Jimmy Ranfaz [, alias Aquaman,] was still average.

Jimmy, a daydreaming teenager from Earth, thinks he has been given a new lease of [on] life when the tree-descendant humans from Ulfitron [Hang on. They're humans whose ancestors were trees? Just because they have limbs doesn't make them humans.] pick him to be their new saviour from a returning nemesis [, the supervillain known as . . . Lumberjack]. But his training in cranial abilities [He's being trained by trees? When you're choosing a champion to lead you against your arch nemesis, it's a good idea to choose someone who's already smarter than a tree.] is rudely interrupted by an attack which also wipes out everyone he knows on the planet, [How many people did he know on the planet? He just got there.] all except Juvall Spelding – a powerful native whose determination to save his race is only outstripped by his disdain of Jimmy’s powers. [So . . . Jimmy is Aqualad?] [It's bad enough when you're a kid who wants to be a superhero and you get your wish, except you get stuck with the same powers as Aquaman. But to make it even more humiliating, instead of Shark or Barracuda, they call you Aqualad.] [I suppose Robin was always a little pissed that Batman didn't give him a cool name like Condor or Raven.]

Outmatched by the might of their foe, their only hope of saving Ulfitron lies in tracking down a legendary source of knowledge. [Unfortunately, this source of knowledge is a book and its owner refuses to give it up, believing it's his grandfather.]  But within the journey lies a deception so deep, it rocks the very beliefs of the Ulfitronians about the previous battle and also questions Jimmy’s own true origins. With limitless power within his grasp, Jimmy must decide where his priorities lie; the heroism in saving countless people or finally emerging from the shadows of mediocrity he has always been consigned to. [I don't see how that's an either/or decision. Saving countless people leaves him in the shadow of mediocrity?]

EVOLUTION: THREADS OF CONTROL is a 90,000 word YA high fantasy novel with a scientific flavour.

The complete manuscript is available on request. [I have attached the first five pages for your perusal.]

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

Kind Regards,

Author's note: The title is chosen because of the nature of the MC's journey and the hidden puppetmaster.


If Jimmy fails the willows will never stop weeping. If he succeeds he'll be the most poplar person on Ulfitron.

There's too much vagueness. Who is the nemesis? Why is Jimmy chosen as the savior? What are Jimmy's powers? What is this deep deception? What is this legendary source of knowledge? What is Jimmy's superhero name? (I suggest Treehugger.)

Who is this hidden puppetmaster? Is he the nemesis? "Puppetmaster" is a cooler-sounding name for the villain than "returning nemesis."

It's not clear why Jimmy is still considered average after he has superpowers. Or why using his superpowers to save countless people still leaves him average. What does he have to do to be above average?

What's with the title? Is Evolution part of the book's title, or is that the series name? I don't like anything about the title.


Tk said...

OK, the tree thing was so funny it was hard to read the query.

I liked the burning hatred of averageness. It's a strong emotion, which is good. But it can't work in isolation. You have to tie it into the query - show (clearly - I understand the last paragraph attempts to do this) how this motivates him.

Echoing EE, what *are* Jimmy's powers? What the heck is a cranial ability? And if he has superpowers, why is he average?

Third, the whole thing feels Avatar-derivative. I'm sure it's not, but this is an example of where more specifics would really help. Specifics unique to your world would prevent the reader from seeing "trees", "human", "planet" and "native" and instantly thinking of Avatar.

BTW, calling people "native" is something that always burns me, personally. The word is so loaded with privilege and its distancing and makes your MC unsympathetic. What's wrong with "Ulfitronian" or "general" or "janitor" or "skull-polisher"?

PLaF said...

Superpowers had not changed the one thing he hated: (insert new dilemma here).
Average is too vague a description. What’s Jimmy’s real problem. Why does he think he’s average?
I thought of Peter Parker as he first became Spiderman. For him, superpowers did not change the fact that he still couldn’t get up enough nerve to ask Mary Jane out. Superpowers did not win him any friends and ultimately could not bring back Uncle Ben.
What about Jimmy is interesting enough to catch my attention? And what fun stuff will he do with his superpowers?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I wanna read #4.

Fun with language dept.: People with a "determination to save [their] race" tend to end up in armed standoffs with the Feds. ("Race" and "native" are both fairly laden. You can find less loaded words easily. I suggest "people" and "local".)

Fun with science dept.: I assume you explain in the book how humans can evolve from trees. But the query just raises the question and doesn't answer it. Trees are plants. Humans are critters.

And yeah, the whole paragraph beginning with "Outmatched" is very, very vague. Vague with a side of superlatives. And it does beg the whole "average" question.

(Would not personally start a query with "AVERAGE". It invites the agent to think "I'm not looking for

sarahhawthorne said...

I am concerned about your word choices. How can you describe a boy plucked off Earth and trained to be a superhero as "average"? He may not be a good superhero, but he is definitely not normal.

Also, this sentence:
With limitless power within his grasp, Jimmy must decide where his priorities lie; the heroism in saving countless people or finally emerging from the shadows of mediocrity he has always been consigned to.

1. The phrasing is awkward ("the heroism"?) and it ends in a preposition.
2. Again, word choice. Jimmy has been chosen as the future savior of Ulfitron. He may be mediocre, but he certainly has not "been consigned to mediocrity."
3. This is a false dilemma - the stakes are so wildly uneven that it's obvious Jimmy will choose to save Ulfitron.

Weirdly enough, Facelift 1021 from a couple weeks ago also ended with the same choice: save the world or get magic powers. Is this a new thing, protagonists willing to let the world be destroyed in exchange for being special?

khazar-khum said...

I lost it at EE's Aquaman reference.

The elimination of an entire planet full of life seems kind of--casual.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Sarah, at the risk of offending the Anonymouse who doesn't want us to talk to each other: A preposition is a fine thing to end a sentence with! The rule that we can't (like the rule that it is wrong to occasionally split an infinitive) comes to us from classical Latin, where you really can't, apparently.

The earliest English grammar books took their rules straight from Latin, willy-nilly, on the theory that Latin was somehow purer than English or whatever. And it wasn't till the last generation or so that anyone went in for a second look at the situation.

/fun with prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar

Besides, if J.K. Rowling can mix up lay and lie then there ain't no rules no more.

arhooley said...

I've got problems with the writing overall.

AVERAGE – the word burned him. Superpowers had not changed the one thing he hated; Jimmy Ranfaz was still average.

"AVERAGE" looks to me like a dateline. For instance, BAGHDAD - Iraqi leaders are debating whether to etc.

Also, I wasn't sure the "he" in "he hated" is Jimmy. Maybe "he" is Jimmy's creator and he's burned that after he's imbued Jimmy with superpowers, Jimmy is still average?

I went snagging through the whole query like that.

Other examples:

- wasn't sure whether Jimmy was still on earth or another planet

- he's only a teenager but he needs a new lease on life?

- humans from Ulfitron? Humans are from earth

- Jimmy is the new saviour. Was there an old saviour?

- who trains Jimmy? If someone could train him to beat the nemesis, couldn't that trainer beat the nemesis themselves?

- cranial abilities?

- the foe is unbeatable because of its "might," but the key to beating it is "knowledge."

That's just a little bit. I really think you need to look at every word and phrase and ask if it's the right one.

JimmyRanfaz said...

The author here! Sigh....back to the drawing board...again (millionth time)..

Anyways, EE's comments were just plain hilarious. I might do a spoof on my own novel if it ever gets famous (or published for that matter).

I know my query is supposed to answer all the questions and hence I will rewrite it, but I just had to throw in some clarifications.

The part about Aqualad was bang on! I didn't think of him when creating the MC but he feels the same way. He's got superpowers (cranial abilities mean he can control a bunch of things with his brain) but he's average at using them as well. He was chosen because he looked like the Ulfitrons previous saviour, but that did not change the fact that he was in fact mediocre at everything he did.
His dilemma is that after he learns the truth about the deception, he feels less obligated towards the Ulfitronians. If he goes back to save them he might not get the power he desires. If he gets the powers he desires, he will no longer be ordinary.

I hope that clarifies things a bit. But again tons of thanks to EE and the helpful comments.I will redraft this one and maybe what I wanted to say will filter through better next time!

arhooley said...

And oh, yikes. I can easily believe that J.K. Rowling mixed up lay and lie, but her EDITOR?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Author, between you and me and Webster's Dictionary, "cranial abilities" would mean he could control things with his skull.

Arhooley, the lie/lay thing would have had to slip past several editors, and on two continents (since US and UK editions were coming out simultaneously).

I've seen lie/lay mixed up a lot in adult books too, but kids' books do seem to come in for more editorial scrutiny.

(Actually TTTT it's my HO that this is an example of language change in action, and in 50 years the difference between lie and lay will no longer be an issue.)

Faceless Minion said...

Controlling stuff with the brain usually gets classified as some form of psionics. Even if it's not referred to that way in the book, I would suggest using either 'psionics' (if the abilities are extremely varied) or 'psychokinesis' (if that's the type of powers you're talking about) or another of the normal terms for those type of abilities rather than 'cranial abilities' for ease of understanding by agent/editor in the query

AA said...

If you want to know what I'm getting stuck on, here they are in random order:

First of all, you just shouldn't say, "Superpowers had not changed the one thing he hated; Jimmy Ranfaz was still average." That's because it makes no sense. It's like saying, "Matilda, the dinosaur-egg-laying chicken, just couldn't stand being the most average hen in the barnyard." Any superpowers at all= above average.

"tree-descendant humans" Humans are us. You could say people or sentient beings.

Others have mentioned "cranial abilities."

Actually, all of these sentences are kind of awkward. I agree that the one Sarah picked is awkward, preposition notwithstanding. Then there's:

"But his training in cranial abilities is rudely interrupted by an attack which also wipes out everyone he knows on the planet, all except Juvall Spelding – a powerful native whose determination to save his race is only outstripped by his disdain of Jimmy’s powers."

This is very long. Also, I tend to be annoyed by the "everyone/everything except" phraseology. You wouldn't say, "I hate absolutely every kind of ice cream that was ever invented. Except Cherry Garcia." You would say, "The only kind of ice cream I like..."

I would write:
"But his training in psionic abilities is interrupted by an attack which wipes out almost everyone he knows on the planet. Only Juvall Spelding is left standing. A powerful Ulfitronian, Juvall is disdainful of Jimmy's powers and is determined to save his people without Jimmy's help."

This is clearer, and it sets up a sort of rivalry or conflict between the two characters which adds interest.

I'm not going to rewrite Sarah's favorite because it doesn't make sense. With limitless power, I'm sure I could save the Ulfitronians, show up that smart-ass Juvall, and never be average again. What dilemma, where?
I see what you mean in your response but not in the query.

Remember you're not fighting with the language, you're working WITH it. It's like the story about the tiger and the river.

Rework this and I'll come back and look again.

batgirl said...

What I noticed was a number of tired and not-quite-right phrases. The 'new lease on life' is a cliche, and usually refers to someone older having a new interest or improved health. For a teenager? Not so much.
Then 'rudely interrupted' is a tired phrase, and seems too trivial for an attack that results in tragic deaths.
The 'tree-descendant humans' - should be 'tree-descended' (unless their descendants will be trees?) and as others have observed, you don't want to use 'humans'. Try 'humanoids', or 'entities', or 'beings', or 'creatures'.
Some unnecessary words, too. Do you need 'the might of' their foe, or just Outmatched by their foe? Do you need 'very' before 'beliefs'?
Oh, and apparently it's not them that are outmatched, it's their only hope that's outmatched.

I know this is horribly picky, but if I were an agent, I'd worry that the awkwardness in the query reflected awkwardness in the writing.

Anonymous said...

Quid excedas in questio

Questio turned into qo which turned into this ? over time.

What did you step in?

Where are you going to? Acceptable language in Latin.

Anonymous said...

Quid ego iit in. See what I stepped in.
Volo ad. I want to.

Wilkins MacQueen