Thursday, August 09, 2012

Face-Lift 1061

Guess the Plot

The Waking Mountain

1. Returning from a tour in Afghanistan, John Pratt discovers that his Appalachian home has been overrun by Yankee backpackers. Can he shame his kinfolk into spurning the tourist dollar, and reawaken them to the way of the mountain? 

2. Volcanologist Dr. Autumn Brown is doing a survey on Mt. Ranier when she discovers the horrible truth: a catastrophic eruption is only days away. Can she alert Seattle and Tacoma so they can be evacuated without mass panic, or will those idiot hackers broadcast the information first, killing thousands in the ensuing panic?

3. Chronic sleep-in Matt is always late for school. His parents have tried nearly everything: loud alarm clock, rooster chorus, baby Mary shouting in his ear... nothing works. Their last resort is hiring the services of The Waking Mountain. Will its thunderous bellows help Matt's attendance records? 

4. Swept away by strong currents, Querrl is finally rescued by soldiers. She is raised in her new home, but eventually longs to go home. However, a nearby volcano is about to erupt. Even if she knew how to swim, which she doesn't, swimming through molten lava probably wouldn't be a good idea.

5. Unaware she is the daughter of Vulcan and Venus, failing geology student Latasha Minsk hopes to redeem herself on the class field trip to Mt. St. Helens, but once again, her interest in pillow lava is totally eclipsed by the abs of hunky Joe Mars. They sneak off to make out on the flanks of the volcano and eruptions ensue. 

6. In 1995, soon after marrying 700 pound chess champ Wayne Forbush, Linda took up hypnotism and tried it on Wayne. He kept snoring in a trance and didn't wake up for 23 years. Now he calls himself The Mountain, and thinks he's a superhero who smites Martians, but there aren't any -- until a giant spaceship lands behind the shed!

7. Volcanologist Clair Wentworth visits her friend Jim Urban, who runs the seismographic station on Saba, a volcanic island in the Lesser Antilles. After her arrival, the island is hit with a 6.9 earthquake that destroys the runway. The next morning, the dormant volcano begins to smoke. With no ships in the harbor, a thousand people are at the mercy of nature, and it's up to Jim and Clair to save them.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Querrl is a girl that can't swim, judged useless by a people that raise their infants underwater. [If I'm an infant and they want to raise me underwater, swimming is the least of my concerns. Breathing is gonna top the list.] She thinks she has it bad. But when she ventures away from home to be fostered, [Not clear to me what that means. She's looking for a foster family on her own? Her own family doesn't want her? How old is she?] an accident sweeps her downstream to a distant civilization. [Actually, it's probably the current that sweeps her downstream.]

When the soldiers drag her from the river, she is mistaken for a drudge, the sterile caste, and lumped in with a group of Ehillen war orphans. [In an orphanage? Gulag? Prison?] Querrl grows to adulthood under the thumb of the conquering Julagnan. [I think I'm safe in saying that if you want anyone to read beyond this point, you need to remove the words Ehillen and Julagnan from the query.] She learns of things her own culture never invented: writing, math, [daycare,] engineering, and powerful guns able to kill at a distance.

Querrl wants to return home, but there is no shortcut past the war between the Julagnan and Ehillen. The Julagnan military offers her an education, so she enlists. But she never forgets that only the Ehillen stand between the Julagnan and her homeland, [Geographically? Militarily? Metaphorically?] or that if Querrl's true caste is found out, her dreams of bringing engineering back to her people will never be realized. [If she can bring them the plans to build a submarine, they won't think she's useless just because she can't swim.] [By the way, did anyone ever try teaching her to swim?] Females are the rarest of the three castes, and the Julagnan imprison all they find. [Are you saying they can't tell she's a female?] [If all the females are in prison, I'll bet there's a waiting list for the job of prison guard.]

Worse, an ancient volcano that once nearly exterminated both the Ehillen and Julagnan may be about to return. [Return? You mean erupt. And change "may be" to "is." If you name your book The Waking Mountain, and it sleeps through the whole book, you're gonna have a lot of pissed-off readers.] Querrl must find a way back to her family, conceal her true caste until then, and decide whose side she is on without getting herself killed or compromising her principles. [What are these principles she won't compromise?]

"The Waking Mountain" is a work of science fiction complete at 110,000 words. [Science fiction? Do space aliens emerge from the volcano?]

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Were you writing your query when you came up with the name Querrl?

There's too much unnecessary information. Here's what we need:

Six-year-old Querrl, playing by the river, falls in and is swept away. Eventually she's pulled from the water by Julagnan soldiers and sent to a Junior Julag with other war orphans. There she is raised and taught about things her own culture never invented: writing, math, engineering...

As Querrl grows to adulthood she yearns to return to her home with her new-found knowledge. But travel is dangerous, not only because the Julagnans are at war, but because an ancient volcano that once nearly exterminated the Julagnans shows signs of an imminent eruption.

Now you have room for a paragraph about what happens when Q works up the courage to make her move.


BuffySquirrel said...

Why is she so anxious to return home? They didn't even like her. Does she plan to go back brandishing guns and take over? That would make some sense....

If (fertile) females are so rare (and they really must be if nobody can recognise one when they see one), how have these people survived at all? Especially if they're fond of warfare. How do they keep their numbers up? Multiple births? How do the ffs even have babies if they're all locked up in prisons? WHY are they all locked up in prisons? How does that help? Do men visit them there or something? Are the prisons actually brothels?

I think you might need to give us a little setup at the beginning, about the world and the war and the people. It's not even clear to me if Querrl is an Ehillen, a Julagnan, or something else entirely.

Anonymous said...

What EE said. Read a few hundred of the queries here and you too will consider gibberish names a handicap.

A character that paradoxically survives in deadly conditions [these people raise infants underwater but this one can't swim, whatever that means] might be quite intriguing in the book, but here it seems to be an unnecessary complication. Tribes at war post their mutual extermination by a volcano is also a paradox. Ghost armies? Just kidding about them being exterminated? Or what? The 'extermination' history seems like another unnecessary complication. Maybe it works in the book, but you don't need to mention it here.

Seems like your choice of words is designed to maximize dramatic impact, but you don't really mean what they say. Much as I love novels with unreliable narrators, I don't think unreliability works in a query.

I like the goal of introducing engineering to her homeland. The obstacles don't seem to match.

Stephanie Bittner said...

Thanks, EE and readers! This is the first query I've written, and I wasn't sure how much information to include, or how to pick out which information was most important. So this was very helpful! And the guess the plots made me laugh.

About the name, I'm not sure it was clear in the query, but these are not humans. They're eusocial aliens. There are no humans in the entire story. Therefore, having someone named, say, "Amanda", would be much odder than Querrl. However, although Querrl is quite pronouncable to me, I'm the author, with all the blinders that implies. Would Kurrel or Kurel seem more approachable to you guys? Also, should I clearly state that she's an alien upfront? Would it make the query make more sense to you?

Another piece of information that maybe should have gone somewhere in the query is that the "drudges" are actually sterile females, which are physically different from the fertile females, and Querrl (or Kurel or whatever ) is defective in that she looks very much like one, even though she's not. That's why they couldn't tell her apart from one, unless they did a full physical, and why she can't swim. She's physically not built for it. The reason the fertile females are locked up (yes, in brothels, essentially) has to do entirely with current politics and an enviromental disaster that's wiped out most of the breeding grounds in one particular nation, and I didn't see a way to discuss that without loading the query down with backstory. Should I add something on either point in, or will it just confuse things? I know that EE cut out a lot on this matter, anyway, but the story isn't actually about her getting home. When she makes her move, it isn't to leave. It's about dealing with the Ehillen and Julagnan conflict and the gender issues in Julagnan society, and being torn between the family she feels obligated to return to and people in the culture that raised her, and dealing with a looming natural disaster that most of the Julagnan refuse to acknowledge, due to the loss of most historical data and the fact that they don't take archeologists seriously. So I have too much detail, but I'm not sure what the right details to include is.

Arrgg, I'm having trouble summarizing the story. That was probably obvious from the query.


Rachel6 said...

The difference between "drudge" and "mother material" seems pretty key to your story, since it explains why she can't swim and what she has to conceal. The brothel explains why she's concealing her true nature, too. Bottom line: yes, work all of that in.

I like the idea of explaining she's an alien; that, to me, would make the politics more believable. And I liked Kurel. :)

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, they're like ants? I get it!

At the core of your query should be the conflict that's at the core of the novel. So if that's trying to get the Republicans to acknowledge anthropomorphic climate change, I mean, getting the Julagnans to realise that Vesuvius is about to go critical, tell us about that. If it's Querrl (and the name doesn't bother me btw) dealing with her gender issues, tell us about that. If it's Querrl saving the world BY dealing with her gender issues, then tell us about *that*.

What's Querrl's goal? What's at stake? What's preventing her achieving her goal? What will go horribly wrong (and for whom) if she fails? What's her dilemma? Focus on those issues.

Anonymous said...

I already put in the time to get a degree in biology. When I read a novel it's never because the characters have a fascinating sort of digestive tract, odd lungs, a curious arrangement of limbs, or a surprising life history.

This biology-talk about your aliens makes my eyes glaze over. Save it for the book, or, better yet, follow Elmore Leonard's rule and don't 'splain nothing.

Focus on the story's plot here: your main character's goals & obstacles. Everything else you include should enlighten us about those same goals or obstacles. The rest can wait.

Evil Editor said...

Calling Querrl a girl and her people people is sure to lead readers to think they're human. So we should be told if they aren't.

No one complained about the name Querrl.

You may as well start the query when Q is an adult if the main plot isn't going back to her childhood home. You can simply introduce her as a woman who was raised in an orphanage (or whatever).

That she was born in a culture that is apparently primitive, and got her education from the Julagnans makes me wonder how she is more knowledgeable about the volcano danger than the Julagnans.

BuffySquirrel said...

Not complained exactly, no. More sideswiped.