Monday, July 09, 2012

Face-Lift 1046


Guess the Plot

Where Wolves Be

1. . . . werewolves be! Snarl, snarl, OWOOOooooo.

2. There be a damsel in distress hoping for rescue from the scary forest. Also, there be an evil elf disguised as a prince. Plus, there be a witch's cottage sitting empty, for the witch be gone to London on a quest for newt-eyes. But the handsome knight be not there, for he be stuck in the Adriatic with a boatload of drunken sailors.

3. A shy biologist who can't get a grant reluctantly takes a job at his stepfather's investment firm - and discovers his expertise in predator behavior gives him some interesting advantages on Wall Street.

4. Xan vowed to always protect his wife, but when the wolves were at the door he failed her. Now, years later, he must decide whether to travel halfway around the world to find her or return to his former life in Greenwich Village.

5. Time traveler Wilson Puddle realizes the 14th century wasn't so bad. He resolves to leave 1967 as soon as he can gather modern inventions that will make short business of the plague, highway bandits, royal madmen, and most importantly, rabid wolves.

6. When the body of notoriously dictatorial director Jack Frankel is found scattered around the set of his latest werewolf film, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, when the cast and crew hate you, there's no lack of suspects; and two, werewolves aren't real--are they?

7. Moldavia, 1634: After the crowning of the year's third prince, Vasile Lupu has had enough. Enlisting the aid of an army of wolfmen, he engages in a series of complicated intrigues designed to secure the throne for himself. But will the people ever accept the man they call "The Wolf" as their leader?



Original Version

Dear Ms./Mr. Agent,

“I will always protect you, ‘til the day I die,” was the vow Xan made to Kerinna, his wife, his queen, his sun and earth, [his stars, his universe, his main squeeze,] his reason for being, while she, after years of running from the hun who pursued her, at last found refuge in the arms of her man. [If you're a hun who's been chasing the same woman for years and you still haven't caught her, you're single-handedly destroying the hun brand.] Yet, when a band of mercenaries tracked her down and invaded their home, Xan failed in his vow – he didn’t protect her nor did he die. [Men. They'll say anything to get you in the sack, but when the chips are down, where are they?] [Did the hun hire the mercenaries or is this someone else who wants this woman? Why is she in such demand?] Though he tried, [But did he try?] he most certainly tried, having killed, tortured and maimed, still they got away with his wife, while the brutality he inflicted on one captured man led to his arrest. [Judge: "Did you kill, torture and maim this man?" Xan: "Guilty . . . with an explanation."] He even escaped police custody after a judge denied his bail, but was caught soon after [You're wasting space. We don't need to know he escaped if he was recaptured ten minutes later.] and sentenced to seven years in prison, where his mind dangled on insanity [Flirted with insanity?] and his soul withered with time, seven years to wallow, to brood on the unknown fate of his wife, until another calamity rekindled the warrior within. And now, having served his time, [the story begins.] Xan will embark on an odyssey halfway around the world, along with a group of talented men, either to bring home his queen, if she’s still alive, or to execute everyone involved in her death. No, he never did protect her, though much to the demise of his wife’s abductors, nor did he die. [Come again?]

WHERE WOLVES BE is an adventurous epic that spans the last twenty years of Xan’s life, from his fall and rise in Sing Sing Prison to his feral teen years living in Greenwich Village, [Is he living his life backwards like that Benjamin Button guy?] from his military conquests across the Mid East [Is that the Middle East? Because usually Greenwich Village teenagers don't go on to conquer vast regions of the world.] to the unusual courtship with his inamorata that evolves into an indelible bond. This intricately woven tale of love, loyalty and rebirth can be dark and intense with thrilling crescendos, yet also buoyant and amusing with wisps of erotica. [Are you talking about the story or the vocabulary?]

Not until several years ago had I discovered the joy of writing. [Now if you would just develop some empathy for those of us who've discovered the joy of reading.] Yet, mindful to the literary agent’s disdain for fledgling authors, I will refrain from mentioning that this is my first novel. As per your submission guidelines, I’ve included below the first (whatever) to the completed manuscript. I thank you Ms./Mr. Agent for your consideration and look forward to your response.


Notes

Your sentence construction and word choice are distracting. This isn't your book, it's a business letter. Talk about your book as if you're talking to the agent in a bar after a couple tankards of mead, not as if your brain is jacked into Thesaurus.com.

The same advice applies to your book. Until you mentioned Sing Sing and Greenwich Village I was thinking we were on another planet or in ancient times. Forget about the joy of writing and just tell a story in language people use.

Be there any wolves in this story?

27 comments:

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writer, put your hands in the air and step away from the thesaurus.

arhooley said...

So this is a modern mashup of the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer? Good concept for your plot and characters, but Author, have you ever read a novel that reads like your query (and presumably your novel)? There are lots of things that haven't been done -- for a reason.

Now, if my presumption is wrong and you actually have written this thing like an epic, hard-boiled thriller, make your query match. Otherwise, I think you should read a ton of similar contemporary books and give yours a thorough going-over.

Maureen said...

I also thought this was set in a different dimension/time, what with the huns and the vows and all. Also, the writing style seems to imply an epic scope – but not a very modern one. It's hard to follow your query. I have no idea what the story is about, except that some guy has his wife stolen and then gets arrested and escapes but his wife is still gone, or something? It's hard to read, and if something is hard to read, a busy agent will discard it.


Also, I was reaaally hoping it'd be GTP#3...

sarahhawthorne said...

Okay. It's good that you've got a lot of passion for your work.

Now it's time to take a step back and look at this story not from your perspective but from a reader's perspective.

You're trying to convey passion and scope but by going over the top with the vocabulary you're actually drawing attention away from your characters and plot and putting the attention on yourself, the writer, as we try to figure out what exactly is going on here.

Trust your story. Trust your characters. Rewrite. Good luck!

PLaF said...

What kind of hero wallows in jail for seven years while his reason for living is abducted?

Besides vowing, maiming, and languishing, what does Xan do? (Is he a king, woodcutter, poet?)

You give us a lot of preliminary set up but don't really give us the story.

khazar-khum said...

Once the Hun brand is demolished, it's all over.

Until I saw Greenwich Village, I thought this was a fantasy/historic epic. When is this set? Now? 1973? 1827? It makes a huge difference for the reader's expectations to know when it's set.

Eric said...

Xan: "I love you so much, I would die for you!"
Kerrina: "You're always saying that, but you never do it."

Author, do yourself a big favor: take that purple pen of yours and BURN IT. You are too much in love with the sound of your own words (or the joy of writing them?). For a query you need to be in love with your story, or more exactly, make the reader fall in love with it.

I suggest starting your revision by trying to describe what happens in your book with the most boring sentence structure and word choice possible. "A guy named Xan goes to jail because he killed one of the huns who kidnapped his wife Kerinna. He gets out seven years later and--" (I can't go on because that's all the plot information you gave, but you get the idea.)

Also, put some wolves in it.

"For the last twenty years of Xan's life, he was a teenager" is not a bad opening sentence, assuming it makes some kind of sense in your story.

Welcome to the joy of rewriting!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

One other thing...

Yet, mindful to the literary agent’s disdain for fledgling authors, I will refrain from mentioning that this is my first novel.

Writer, do you realize this is insulting to the agent to whom you're addressing the letter? She'll read it and think, "Hmph. I've launched plenty of debut authors, FYI." As any agent who's been around for a while has.

I assume the self-contradiction is meant as a joke... avoid jokes in query letters. A humorous tone is okay if it suits the novel (sounds like it doesn't in your case) but actual jokes are too likely to backfire in the limited context of a business letter.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding rude, author, as I read this I wondered whether English was your first language.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Nah, I don't get a non-native speaker vibe, and I've taught tons of 'em.

I do get a beginner vibe. Purple prose is a stage writers go through. It usually doesn't last long. If the writer's own inner sense doesn't tell them they're barking up the wrong tree, then helpful critics such as ourselves do.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to be a jerk but it is highly unlikely you'll ever find an interested agent with that word count. I intern for an agent and he's already told me to outright reject if it gets much over 100,000 words, let alone 200,000!

As for the query, everything up to "the story starts with him out of prison" is backstory, which means you need to START with him already out of prison.

Example: "Xan was just released from prison, where he spent seven years paying for the murder of one of his wife's kidnappers. Now he's out and ready to finish the job..."

Blah, blah, that stinks cause I just wrote it off the top of my head but you get the idea. Start your query where the story starts. We don't need the entire backstory spelled out, that's what a synopsis is for! :)

Anonymous said...

You can cut your novel down to a publishable length (under 100,000, for your genre). Have a read of these links:

http://poewar.com/get-rid-of-ugly-wordiness-how-to-cut-your-novel-down-to-size/
http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/04/how-to-cut-thousands-of-words/

Story point: What's so special about Kerinna that armed bandits would be sent halfway around the world to kidnap her? If she's that kick-ass, perhaps she's fought her own way out by now?

Andy (The Author) said...

Thank you for your advice, though you've confirmed my fears about the word count.

150 said...

Two hundred thirty thousand. I wasn't going to bother commenting, since everyone seemed to have this well in hand, but: your query is three times longer than it has to be, just because of the exhaustingly lavish style. Which makes me certain that the book is overlong in exactly the same way. The word count just confirms it.

My advice to new writers is always the same: put this down and go write your next book.

Andy (The Author) said...

Actually, I've cut more than 40,000 words from the original manuscript, and have rewritten several times. It's not that it's wordy, but rather that it spans many years with lots of sub-stories.

As for your story point, when you say kick-ass, I'm assuming you mean hot. How would her being hot enable her to fight her way out? And if you mean badass, that she is, and without giving too much away, she had come awfully close. I don't believe there's much in this story that'll have people scratching their heads asking, what're the odds of that happening? Or, how come he/she didn't do such and such? I went through great lengths to avoid convenient coincidences. The biggest one might be that his father was once a general and in the position to help him.

Evil Editor said...

The language problem is much improved, but the whole thing is setup. Try this: Give yourself 9 sentences distributed over 3 paragraphs. The first 3-sentence paragraph is the setup. Something like:

Xan, a former Navy Seal, has spent the past seven years in state prison. When armed men broke into his home and abducted his wife, [who is his wife?] he captured one intruder, torturing him until he revealed Xan's wife was being taken to Turkey. But when the police arrived to see the man’s hands bound at the time of death, Xan was arrested.

We don't need to know he was denied bail or temporarily escaped.

Now three sentences on Xan's plan, whom he recruits, who the bad guy is.

Then a closing paragraph in which we learn what goes wrong, why it's so difficult to rescue her, what's at stake if he fails. (Clearly there must be a reason they came after this specific woman, and rescuing her will save the world.}

Your book is going to be 900+ pages. Guy gets out of jail, flies to Turkey, kills bad guys, rescues wife: 80,000 words tops. Cut everything that isn't directly related to that story.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Andy, now that the purpleness has been taken away, we can get a much better feel for what your book's actually about. But I agree with the anonymice: nothing is getting sold at that word length. So you have some serious editing to do on your manuscript before you're ready to query.


Xan, a former Marine who once belonged to an elite covert military program, has spent the past seven years in state prison. When armed men broke into his home and abducted his wife, he, after capturing one intruder, tortured him until he received an answer on where they were taking her. But when the police arrived to see the man’s hands bound at the time of death, Xan was arrested, and two days later denied bail as a judge rightfully deemed him a flight risk. With little help from the authorities in rescuing his wife, who by then had been taken to Turkey, he was determined to save her, and so, during his transfer to the county jail, attacked two cops and escaped, but was caught soon after.

In the above paragraph, we don't need to know what the judge thought. (In fact, it's a POV slip.) We don't need to know the elapsed time between his arrest and bail hearing. We don't even need to know that he escaped and was recaptured. None of that.

All we need to know is that he exists and he wants to rescue his wife.

Bear that in mind for when you are ready to query.

But first, revise your manuscript.

A. M. Perkins said...

230,000? Dude...

The problem is, not only is that prohibitively long, your query seems to indicate why it's that long.

"Xan, a former Marine who once belonged to an elite covert military program"

The "who once belonged to an elite covert military program" is extraneous. "Marine" = "tough" all on its own.

"When armed men broke into his home and abducted his wife, he, after capturing one intruder, tortured him until he received an answer on where they were taking her."

"Broke into his home and" is extraneous. "Tortured him until he received an answer on where they were taking her" feels ungainly and slightly mellow for such a violent event.

But when the police arrived to see the man’s hands bound at the time of death, Xan was arrested, and two days later denied bail as a judge rightfully deemed him a flight risk. With little help from the authorities in rescuing his wife, who by then had been taken to Turkey, he was determined to save her, and so, during his transfer to the county jail, attacked two cops and escaped, but was caught soon after.

You could delete everything after "Xan was arrested."

"The story opens with Xan just released from prison"

Which immediately makes me think "you spent 130 words on things that happen before the story even begins."

But a slew of obstacles stand in his way, such as retrieving the trunk of weapons he buried long ago in the backyard of his old home

Did he not have a shovel? Doesn't seem like that big on an obstacle to me ;-)

small army that surround the man who kidnapped his wife

Seriously, the questions I'm asking myself are:

"Who is this mysterious man?"
"Why did he kidnap this woman?"
"Why does he think he needs an army protecting her after 7 years?"

I was not asking, "How was Xan denied bail?"

but rather that it spans many years with lots of sub-stories

And you have your answer - the sub-stories need to be truncated. It can be heart-breaking, I know, but it must be done. Cut them down like Xan would! ;-)

sarahhawthorne said...

Hi Andy,

The problem with the word count is that your story doesn't seem weighty enough to support it.

Right from the first, this reads like an edge-of-your-seat thriller: bad-ass dude gets out of prison, goes to save wife. Badabing, badaboom.

So... why does this have to be epic? Why do we have to know about Xan's prison years and his childhood in Greenwich? That's all backstory to the main event - getting the gang back together and going to rescue his wife.

Obviously I haven't read your book. But, sight unseen, I'm wondering what would happen to your word count if you cut all the chapters that take place before Xan gets out of prison and let the backstory be revealed in his interactions with the present day.

Again, trust your story. Trust your character. And don't be afraid to leave a little mystery for the audience to figure out.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7/11/12 8:43 AM

Andy, you misunderstand me. I mean the opposite. Your query gives no info about Kerinna at all, making her sound like a MacGuffin and a cliched "waiting to be rescued" damsel. Ie, hot and that's it. I'm suggesting you show her as a real character. Glad to hear she really is badass. Suggest you bring that out.

Anonymous said...

As the indubitable (indomitable? indefinable? indefatigable?) Miss Snark advises, a query should reveal: (a) your protagonist; (b) his or her goal; (c) the obstacle; and (d) the stakes.

If you can't state that premise in one or two concise sentences, chances are good to certain that your novel is not ready for prime time.

Andy (The Author) said...

I think the length of the synopsis was partly due to hearing all the cynics’ voices in my head. Such as, him retrieving the trunk in the backyard of his old home was an obstacle because old was the key word in that sentence, as Xan thought he had lost his home when going to prison. And to answer questions like who is the mysterious man, and why he kidnapped her, and his having a small army, would only further inflate an already bloated synopsis. I’m not getting snarky or anything (by the way, who is Miss Snarky,) as I truly appreciate your input, but I’m at a loss in how to cut down the length while answering all the questions people might have. My original synopsis was more along the lines of what EE suggested, a long single-sentence hook then about four more expanded sentences, but it did absolutely no justice to the story and received no bites.

I don’t doubt any of the advice given here, as most of you appear to be veterans of the institution, even those of you who belong to the ANONYMII ALUM (really, use a name, any name) know more about the industry than me. Not to break into a sob story here, but when I had discovered that writing could be enjoyable, free from the limitations of present day technology, or the lack of some college degree, or the laws of an industry, but confined only to the rules of grammar and my own imagination was a very liberating experience. And now, as you guys welcome me to the real world, to be learning that the industry of literature is no different from any other – a minefield of conformity and restraint, just another production line of profit that squashes art, where we must obey in order for our censored voices to be heard, is truly a heartbreaking revelation.

I have thought about intermingling the past with the present, as sarahhawthorne suggests, and though the flashbacks do have something to do with what’s happening in the present, they are each stories in themselves, with a beginning, middle and an end, and all have at least one climatic sequence. But to kill the backstories of this book would be to throw it in a pile with all the other Man meets woman, man loses woman books, where the reader is to be lost in a story no longer than 3.2 days, or whatever the industry standard is. The backstories are most of the book, they explain why Xan loves Kerinna the way he does, why she is hunted, why he is the dark creature he came to be, his violent campaign of retribution that spirals a prison into chaos, the moment he pops his homicidal cherry when barely a man, what separates him from the pack and what makes him human. The backstories are where most, though not all of the climatic scenes exist.

But I have always been, quite possibly, my worst enemy. I’ve been bucking the system from my earliest memories, and every time doing so, the system has won. I don’t do it because I’m some anarchist to authority, or an antagonist who thrives on confrontation, but rather that I don’t always agree with all the constraints the system imposes, and how it tends to smother freewill. And while I’m sincerely grateful for the generosity you people give with your time and expertise, but if the only way to get this book published is by dismembering it limb from limb, turning it into something it was never meant to be, than I’m afraid that I’ll probably buck once again, throwing it up on the internet for free and receiving not a dime for nine years of work.

Rachel6 said...

Hi Andy; yet another total stranger weighing in with good intentions.

As much as I love subplots and world-building, I love fast-paced thrillers more. Maybe you can take some of the subplots out of *this* particular book and combine or use them in another. It never hurts to set something aside for a while and look at it again later.

And on that note, perhaps it would be helpful for you if you started another project. For me personally, I find that the more I write, the better I write.

Good luck with this! The good news is that you have people saying, "The core story is interesting."

Evil Editor said...

Hundreds of artistic works get published despite the constraints of the industry. But getting a 240,000-word book published is like getting a six-hour movie or play produced when you have no credentials. It costs a lot more money, and it's harder to earn back that money. And it's someone else's money.

GillyB said...

I think you hit the nail on the head: you're your own worst enemy. You can clearly right, and you've got what seems like an interesting story that I would totally read. But to me it seems like you're too emotionally attached to your story. That can be a good thing, but that can also be a problem.

I had the same issue when I first started writing seriously. I never let ANYONE see it, because it felt too personal and I loved it too much and EEK. But then I joined a really great critique group, and it taught me to toughen up. My love of the story is what makes the writing good, and my ability to develop a thick skin made my revision even better.

My advice: step back. Maybe put the book and the query away for a little while. Start another story. Then when you come back to Xan and Kerinna, you can look at it more objectively. You forget that we the readers have no attachment to your characters yet, like you do. Your only job in a query is to entice us to read on by giving us the kernel of what the plot is.

GOOD LUCK. I feel like you could have a really strong story here, and you've gotten some excellent advice in the comments. Take a look at some of the rewrites people did for you. And have fun!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Andy, writing CAN be completely free of restraints.

Getting published can't.

When you seek publication, you're asking someone who doesn't know you to risk tens of thousands of dollars on the possibility that more people who don't know you will drop $25 each to read what you wrote.

So the question you have to ask yourself is whether you're writing for your own delight (a perfectly valid pursuit) or for other people's.

The latter requires a lot of discipline. If you choose the former, write with joy and don't worry about others' criticisms ...or complain about the fact that nobody wants to pay you for it.

This is not to say there isn't joy in writing for publication. But it's one part joy to 99 parts obsessing over details. I recently realized that my editor and I had just exchanged over 1000 words in emails with regard to changing two words in a manuscript. That's writing for publication.

And that's just one example.

The Author said...

The Author said...

I thank all of you for taking the time to provide critique, as I’m starving for feedback to improve my query letter. As for rewriting, the last submission was the twelfth version. After I hadn’t received any responses to previous query letters, which were bland in tone, I thought to spruce it up. With your feedback in mind, below is the thirteenth version. Because part of the query takes place in the past, I use this tense, though not sure if that’s the way to go.


Dear Mr./Mrs. Agent,

Xan, a former Marine who once belonged to an elite covert military program, has spent the past seven years in state prison. When armed men broke into his home and abducted his wife, he, after capturing one intruder, tortured him until he received an answer on where they were taking her. But when the police arrived to see the man’s hands bound at the time of death, Xan was arrested, and two days later denied bail as a judge rightfully deemed him a flight risk. With little help from the authorities in rescuing his wife, who by then had been taken to Turkey, he was determined to save her, and so, during his transfer to the county jail, attacked two cops and escaped, but was caught soon after.

The story opens with Xan just released from prison, about to embark on a mission halfway around the world, either to bring home his wife, if she’s still alive, or to kill everyone involved in her death. But a slew of obstacles stand in his way, such as retrieving the trunk of weapons he buried long ago in the backyard of his old home, and how to ship them overseas. There’s the reuniting of his former military brothers, some who are now family men reluctant to take part in this dangerous endeavor, others out of shape amidst their midlife. There’s also the hurdle of infiltrating the mountain fortress and small army that surround the man who kidnapped his wife. But overcoming all this means nothing without an exit strategy, and the only person who can help is his estranged father, a retired general of the United States Army he hasn’t seen in ten years. We learn about Xan’s past in subsequent chapters, from his wayward teen years living in Greenwich Village to his military years when he meets Kerinna, from his time in prison where his spirit breaks to his rise as a deadly convict.

WHERE WOLVES BE is an adventurous 230,000-word epic (this is why I omitted the word count in the previous version) that spans the last twenty years of Xan’s life, a tale about love, loyalty and rebirth.

This is my first novel. I thank you for your consideration and look forward to your response.