Friday, January 25, 2013

Face-Lift 1098

Guess the Plot

Wild Hunt

1. Two college roommates meet a girl on spring break, and take her camping to impress her. Turns out she's a crazy murderer who drugs them and hunts them down for sport. Best spring break ever.

2. It’s the late 1960s and four coeds from Northwestern head to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. They’ll meet half a dozen frat boys from various colleges. It’s a frolicking sexual romp until young Ted Bundy arrives with a different hunt in mind.

3. Marine biologist Shane Staller discovers the ruins of Atlantis. Wait, they aren't ruins--Atlantis is a thriving civilization whose favorite pastime is the Wild Hunt, and Shane is the latest target.

4. Jill wakes in a strange forest and discovers she's being hunted by the undead. She escapes, but then finds that a bunch of thugs are trying to kill her. Has she stumbled out of one Wild Hunt and into another?

5. 16 year old Kenley Gingerbloom knew a summer on her uncle's Texas ranch would be a social disaster--rodeos, line dancing, cattle roundups. But when feral hogs injure Uncle Joe, can she and hunky cowboy Alex hunt them down before they overwhelm the ranch? Also, cute Mexicans.

6. Every spring the Wild Hunt meets in Napa, and the prey is a disgraced programmer who has to outrun the dogs and horses or suffer death, skinning and dismemberment, not necessarily in that order. Can Chaz Pacheco survive, or will his 'tail' end up on Anita Cho's wall--with all the others?

7. Nathan Gordon runs a canned hunt operation in Ararat, Texas, where his clients "hunt" surplus zoo animals and cast-off exotic pets. But when a shipment of animals arrives from a bankrupt genetic engineering company, Nathan discovers karma ain't a bitch, it's a beast.

8. A survey suggests that Bluegrass musicians Harriet, Hannah, and Henrietta Hunt are sliding in popularity. But when their wild little pole-dancing sister Heidi joins the group and adds some swang to the twang, poles immediately begin to rise!

9. In a well-armed dystopia, every public gathering place becomes a target for crazed killers. Can a well-meaning but overly-placating president face down a powerful lobby of nutty gun-strokers to save the day?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Jillian Nicnevin wakes up in the middle of a forest, no memory of how she got there, but doesn’t have the time to worry about that. A girl identical to her, [Is she a clone? If she's a clone, call her a clone. A clone is a major hook.] and a host of undead fairies known as the Wild Hunt are in the forest, trying to kill her. [If they couldn't kill her while she was sleeping, they're never gonna pull it off now that she's awake.] She barely escapes the forest, [See?] and soon after a group of thugs make another attempt on her life. [The average thug is convinced he can take out one girl on his own; needing help from other thugs would be humiliating.] [Though not as humiliating as teaming up with other thugs and still failing to kill the girl.]

A human private investigator, Randall Caldwell, [Normally we don't bother declaring the species of a character unless he isn't human.] helps her escape, but his assistance wasn’t random. He is investigating the disappearance of Nancy Landry, the lookalike [clone] from the forest, whose disappearance may have been Jill’s fault.

To make matters worse, Randall’s son Taylor finds out she’s half-elven and wants in on the adventure, [When thugs and undead fairies are trying to kill you for no discernible reason, the degree to which Taylor wanting in on the adventure makes matters worse is negligible.] but this isn’t the place for an inexperienced human. [Inexperienced at what? It's not like Jill is experienced at being a target of thugs and undead fairies.] Attempts are made on her life from every direction, while the person responsible remains in the shadows. Her girlfriend betrays her, her family disowns her, [Why?] and the one person willing to help her is kidnapped, the ransom her life for his. A price that, if she can’t figure out how to save him, she’ll have to pay. [Why? It's not like it's her fault he's been kidnapped. As you said, his assistance wasn't random.]

Wild Hunt is a YA urban fantasy novel of 85,000 words, and the first in a planned series, but it could stand alone.

I am a member of the SCBWI living in Dallas, TX.

Thank you for your time

Evil Editor –

I have a few questions. Should I mention that my main character is a lesbian? It’s a fairly minor plot point, but maybe it would be more important to an agent (a couple other, hopefully well-meaning, people have told me gay young adult fiction doesn’t sell)? [Minor plot points don't need to be in the query. The fact that Jill is half-elven seems important. But it would sound weird to open the query, Half-elven lesbian Jillian Nicnevin wakes up in the middle of a forest. And admitting that you've named your main character Jillian Nicnevin is enough weirdness.)] 

Also, I’m sixteen. Should I mention that in a query letter? My parents thino so, and I’ll be the first to admit that admitting I’m a kid is a pretty fast way of getting special treatment, but maybe I should let the work stand alone? [Telling the agent you are sixteen will have one of three possible results:

1. I was going to request the manuscript/send a rejection slip, and learning that the author is sixteen changes nothing.

2. I was going to reject this because it isn't exciting me, but now that I know the author is sixteen, I will take it on because hey, it's a kid. Surely I can convince some publishing company to spend tens of thousands of dollars publishing it for that reason alone.

3. I loved this query so much I was planning to request the manuscript, but now that I know the author is sixteen, what are the chances the book is any good? Heck, I reject 99% of manuscripts from people with college educations and decades of life experience, and even if the kid can write, she'll be going off to college in a year or two, where she'll discover boys and never meet another deadline. Her parents probably wrote the query letter anyway.


We need the plot. The story. You've provided the main character's situation. She wakes up in a strange place and discovers that everyone and his brother are trying to kill her. Who is she? What does she plan to do about her situation? Who is the villain in the shadows? Does the detective give her any idea what's going on? Does everyone trying to kill her think she's Nancy Landry?

That Nancy Landry is identical to her is an interesting point, in that Randall knew of Nancy's existence before he ran into Jill, while Jill's family is now disowning her. If Nancy/Jill is the main plot, focus on that. Running into a private investigator who insists that she's someone named Nancy Landry is more intriguing than being hunted by one group and escaping only to be hunted by another.

How does Randall come to believe Jill isn't Nancy? If I'm searching a specific area for Nancy Landry, and I find her, and she says, There must be some mistake; my name's Jill Nicnevin, not Nancy Landry, I'm not taking her word for it. I'm taking her to the person who hired me to find her.

Establish the situation quickly, and then take us through what happens.


Veronica Rundell said...

Hey Teen Author--congrats on completing a novel! I can't get my 16 y/o son to complete a 5-paragraph essay...

A few comments on the query:
I've read a lot of YA (and Adult) Fantasy. I have never come across undead fairies. Most of the genre insists that Fae are extremely long-lived, if not immortal, so this twist is fresh, but I'm not sure how believeable.

Also, unless the lesbian theme is really explored in the story, I'd leave it out of the query.

The clone idea is intriguing. Is Nancy the other-half of Jill's elf-ness?

Are you aware that (in Fairy fic) the Wild Hunt is a term for male Fae having an orgy with human women on the full moon? Because Fae-fans are...and it was the first thing I considered when writing my 'guess the plot.' If you were going for that, it works. If not, consider a title tweak.

150 said...

Hi, author!

Your character's orientation is only important to the degree her love interest is mentioned in the query letter. (In this query, none. If there's a romance element, that's probably worth including.)

Your age isn't a selling point for agents and editors, whose only author criteria is that the author has written a good book and will probably not melt down over edits, publicity, deadlines, or whatever. It might help in marketing, but you're still two big steps from that (and in the best-case scenario, by the time you get to that point, you'd probably be over 18 anyway).

"Wakes up with no memory" is a bit of an overused (or badly-used) trope, so try starting the query at the point she knows what's going on.

EE's right that this is mostly setup, so take another swing at it. Your last paragraph seems fine. Good luck!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Dear writer-- I was 16 when I queried my first novel. I did tell editors (agents weren't so much in the picture back then) my age, but that was a kinder, gentler world. Nowadays, it might bring out the agents' maternal instincts, but their maternal instincts don't sell books.

One thing it *might* get you is more interesting and informative rejection slips. But there are so many teenagers submitting YA novels now that you may not even get that. And anyway rejection slips are not your goal.

So yeah, let the work stand on its own. You're right and your parents are wrong, but don't tell 'em so. Alas, very few young writers luck onto a set of parents with publishing world savvy.

The overwhelming question your query leaves me with is "But what does Jill do?"

As an exercise, try rewriting the query with "Jill" as the subject of every sentence. Obviously that will be rhythmically annoying, but it will help you focus on Jill as your protagonist. Stay away from what other characters are trying to accomplish... this query needs to be all about Jill.

EE asked about the plot. Basically the plot is likely to be something along the lines of "Jill must overcome obstacle X, so she does Y, but that doesn't work, and so she must Z."

Good luck! I think you're off to a great start.

Tk said...

1. Not revealing why so many people want Jillian dead is creating too many questions in the mind of the reader. Spill, and the logic should hold together a lot better.

2. What Alaska said re don't say what other characters do, say what Jillian does.

3. How old is Jillian? What did she do before becoming a professional assassination target? I don't get a sense of who she is, other than a person with very weird karma. And what's her personality like?

4. Who gets kidnapped? If not Taylor, I'd leave him out of the query.

5. You're 16 and you've finished a novel and write this well? That's really rather awesome.

Anonymous said...

(blogger having issues - please delete if this comment is a repeat)

The Wild Hunt as an orgy might be a fan-fic meme but it's not standard in SFF. I've most often seen it as a mysterious procession or group of hunters (hunting humans with the intent to kill/capture) consisting of fae/supernatural creatures, dead/undead, or lost souls (in a non-undead sense).

Is the clone part of the Hunt or separate from it? More information about why there's a clone might help (changeling of some kind?)

The thugs' attack seems a bit random.

Why can the mysterious bad guy successfully attack the experienced person who has a clue and yet can't touch the inexperienced teen with no support network?

Kelsey said...

I'm only chiming in to encourage the author to post a revised version, once you've had a few days to soak in the comments.

There's a big difference between understanding the valid points EE makes and then actually executing the right changes. But there are many people here who'd love to help : )

Anonymous said...

Hi, author speaking

Okay, sorry it took me awhile to get back here (Procrastination, thy name is teenager), and thanks a lot for all the comments. They've been incredibly helpful, although it's a little late to tell me not to tell my parents they were wrong. That's the first thing I did after I finished reading the comments.

I thought the Wild Hunt orgy thing was a modern addition to the myth. None of the older texts I've read on the subject mention it. Was I wrong? If so, I'll rename them.

That's also basically what I thought about the lesbian angle, but several members of my writer's seemed to think it was pretty important, and all of them are much older than me.

So, query letter round two. You'll have to be patient--I'm not all that great at making changes to stuff until the third time around.

How's this:

Half-elven Jillian Nicnevin wakes up in the middle of a forest, no memory of how she got there, but doesn’t have the time to worry about that. A girl identical to her, and a host of undead fairies known as the Wild Hunt are in the forest, trying to kill her. She barely escapes the forest, and soon after a group of thugs make another attempt on her life.

A human private investigator, Randall Caldwell, helps her escape, but his assistance wasn’t random. He is investigating the disappearance of Nancy Landry, the lookalike from the forest, whose disappearance may have been Jill’s fault.

Unfortunately, the person after her hasn’t given up yet, and neither has Nancy, who is one murder away from becoming the Wild Hunt’s newest member. When she tries to go home, she finds that the queen of the Nicnevin family has already replaced her, and her girlfriend and friends don’t care enough to help. Her main suspect, her brother Dylan, was also in on it, but didn’t act alone, and whoever wants her dead doesn’t seem to have any motivation to kill her.

The only person willing to help her is an old friend she hadn’t spoken to in years, and when he’s kidnapped, the ransom her life for his, she knows she won’t be able to find her killer in time to do anything. The only way to save her friend is to give herself up.

Wild Hunt is a YA urban fantasy novel of 85,000 words, and the first in a planned series, but it could stand alone.

I am a member of the SCBWI living in Dallas, TX.

Evil Editor said...

I've never read anything about orgies being involved with the Wild Hunt. I have read books in which it involved hunters from Faerie crossing into the human realm to hunt humans for sport.

Anonymous said...

I like this query better. Several comments:
1. You don't give much attention to who your main character is or the setting of the novel. In fact the main characteristic of your MC is that she's "half-elven" and I don't think that is really her most defining feature.
2. I'm confused by the thugs appearing -- maybe that is intentional, but are they related to the undead faeries?
3. Consider using the term "look-alike" all the way through the query instead of "Nancy". It is just another name to keep straight and in a query, the fewer the better.
4. I'd drop the whole sentence that has "neither has Nancy." It doesn't add tension, sort of re-states the conflict, and confuses me regarding Nancy's role.
5. I really like the "one murder away from becoming..." line.
6. I think your goal should be show main character, show setting, show main problem, and then give just a bit of a teaser. Your query is heavy on problem, and seems a bit out of proportion.

The book sounds interesting.

Veronica Rundell said...

Perhaps Fae romances have mutated the term--I only speculate that people who like Fairy fiction might be familiar with it as an idea. Given the surge in erotica I wondered if the title would be problematic. Also, from the query as written it seems the Wild Hunt scene is an inciting incident, not really the main thrust of the plot. Do the undead fairies continue to plague her?

As to the query, I think you have too many too long sentances. It is hard to follow.

Consider this: Half-elven Jillian Nicnevin sensed danger the second she woke in a strange forest. Confronted by a girl who could be her twin, and hunted by undead Fae, Jillian barely escapes--only to learn she's the target of another hunt altogether.

Randall Caldwell, a human private investigator, is convinced Jillian is the mysterious lookalike, Nancy Landry, until (here you could insert some detail as to how Jillian proves her identity. Hopefully it's some sort of fun detail that gets at her inner elvish-ness!)

Once back in the Fae realm, Jillian learns she's not only been replaced, but no one--not even her girlfriend--seems to care. [This is what you wrote, however it seems unlikely that NO ONE would care. Also: what was she replaced with? Another lookalike? Nancy? Add detail here to make it make sense to the rest of us.] And her brother seems to be the mastermind behind the whole affair.

I never got the sense of Jillian's stakes--why is she being hunted? Is there some family secret she's only becoming aware of due tot he threat on her life? You may want to sneak that in. What happens to Nancy? Why is she one murder away from becoming a Wild Hunt member? I thought, once the Hunt got her, she'd be a casualty, not an inductee.

Also, ending on 'turning herself in' is kind of a downer. It makes it seems as if--after all this running and escaping--she's going to end up dead anyway--and likely without the answers she was seeking. I'd definitely hint that she'd going to outwit whomever has been hunting her all this time.

Just some of luck! It sounds very fun.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yeah, I had never heard the Wild Hunt associated with orgies either. It's probably specific to a genre that's not the genre you're writing in, so I think you're okay there. Plenty of middle grade books (my genre) include the Wild Hunt.

Writer, this query is better, but you're still talking a lot about other characters and what they want. From what you've given us here, I could see Nancy being the protagonist. She has a goal: to kill Jill and earn a place in the Wild Hunt. It could be Randall's story: He's an investigator with something to investigate.

But what makes it Jill's story? You're not telling us enough about what she does.

I repeat... make it all about Jill.
Jill is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. She doesn't know why. But Jill's no passive victim: she knows that in order to survive, she must X before Y happens.

(Surviving, by the way, is okay stakes, but if you can give her an even bigger goal --eg putting paid to the Wild Hunt permanently-- so much the better.)

There's no rush to revise around these parts. Let our comments settle for a few days. Do a few revisions and find the one you like best. EE will alert us to your revision no matter how far down the board this post has slid. He's real good about that.

With regard to the character being a lesbian: leave it out of the query because it's not important. A query needs to have three things:

1. A hero(ine)
2. in an interesting situation
3. who makes an agent (or anybody) say "Oh wow, I have GOT to read this story."

Anonymous said...

Hi, author here again

Okay, round two (or is that three? I forget). Sorry it took me so long to get up, especially since it'll probably be just as bad as the first.

Dear Agent,

Half-elven Jillian Nicnevin wakes up in the middle of a forest, but doesn’t have time to wonder how she got there. A host of undead fairies known as the Wild Hunt, among them a girl who looks identical to her, are trying to kill her. Jill escapes only to walk into another attempt on her life, a group of thugs whose job it was to insure the Wild Hunt got her.

A human private investigator, Randall Caldwell, helps her escape, but his assistance wasn’t random. He is investigating the disappearance of Nancy Landry, the lookalike from the forest, whose disappearance may have been Jill’s fault.

Jill proves him right when she tries to return home and finds that her main suspect, her brother Dylan, was partially responsible for giving Nancy to the Wild Hunt and leaving her one murder—Jill’s—away from becoming the Wild Hunt’s newest member. But he didn’t act alone. Someone unknown convinced him to sell Jill out.

The only chance Jill has of saving herself is to find the person responsible, but she has no idea where to start. She can’t remember doing anything to make someone hate her bad enough to feed her to the Wild Hunt and then hunt her down once she escapes it. To make matters worse, the queen of the Nicnevin family has already replaced her, and no one—not even her girlfriend—cares enough to realize it, leaving her with virtually no allies.

The only reliable help is an old friend she hadn’t spoken to in years, and when he’s kidnapped, the ransom her life for his, Jill knows she won’t be able to find her killer in time to do anything. All she can do is turn herself in.

Hunt is a YA urban fantasy novel of 85,000 words, and the first in a planned series, but it could stand alone.

I am a member of the SCBWI living in Dallas, TX, and my short story, “B-Movie Monsters,” won a regional gold key in the 2013 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Congratulations on the Scholastic win! That's great.

This query reads more smoothly, but there are still two paragraphs in the center where you're concentrating on other people's tales, not Jillian's, and I still don't have a sense of what her story really is. She's still coming across as a victim, and victims don't capture a reader's attention and sympathy for long.

Jillian's being pursued by people who want to kill her, she doesn't know why, she has no one to help her, she... [turns herself in is not a heroic choice here!]

Show us Jillian kicking A and taking names. Both in the query and in the manuscript.

Veronica Rundell said...

I agree w/Alaska--too much victim, not enough heroine.

It's an improvement, but you have too many long sentences--it detracts from the urgency of Jill's life-and-death battle. Of the 13 plot sentences, 3 exceed 30 words; that is a lot of info between the periods, and I don't think they are all necessary.

On the upside: This version is the first to clearly define the lookalike as threat to Jillian, not just a random lost soul in the character soup. The court intrigue is still too amorphous, however.

What would happen if Jill just disappeared? No one seems worried that she's gone. Can't she just lay low and let the Hunt expire from boredom? What skills does she have (elf or human) that enable her to survive?

Please, please, hint that she'll somehow overcome and not simply turn herself in to be slaughtered. And, why is this the only outcome? Does she have no ability to discern her threat?

Right now, take a minute to write the back cover copy for this work. Discover what words would convince a reader to plunk down cash for your story. Then put them into the query.

Anonymous said...

Try this, just as an exercise (kind of building on everyone else's advice):

Disregard what actually happens in your novel. Write a query with kick-ass Jill in charge, rather than victim Jill. Give Jill a worthy goal (ex. finding the scumbag who fed her to the Wild Hunt), and show her pursuing that goal. Show a Jill who won’t let ANYTHING throw her off course. It’s okay for her to risk her life to save her kidnapped friend, but not to sacrifice her life. Whatever plan she concocts to save herself and her friend – and yes, she herself must concoct the plan – make sure it ultimately furthers her original goal, or else the entire kidnapping is irrelevant.

As suggested, keep your sentences concise. Keep your query active and focused. Make sure Jill’s goal drives the story, regardless of whether it actually does in the novel.

Remind yourself this is just an exercise, and have some fun.

Kelsey said...

Here's a couple of clarity issues to think about:

1) Because you start your query right off the hop saying "Half-elven Jill wakes up...." etc. I assume Jill knows she's half-elven. I find this confusing, because later, when Jill is trying to figure out why they want her so badly, I can't believe she wouldn't think that her being half-elven has something to do with it (otherwise, what's the point of her being half-elven?) Unless...does she grow up in a world different from ours where elves openly live with humans and she knows all about fairies, etc.? From your query, I'm not sure. If this IS a different kind of society, let the reader know that up front.

If, on the other hand, Jill does NOT know about her heritage and she discovers this once she starts investigating the Wild Hunt, put it later in the query as well to prevent misunderstanding.

2) I don't understand the sentence "the queen of the Nicnevin family has already replaced her". This might be a world issue again. At first I read 'queen' as figurative (although I still didn't really know who you meant), but now I'm thinking you mean a fairie queen...?

3) I also don't buy that her family and girlfriend simply don't "care" about her. That's pretty harsh. Maybe if she'd grown up estranged from her birth family her whole life, or if they didn't believe her, OK; but to simply not "care" enough to help her makes the whole situation sound pretty angsty.

Congrats on the award, and kudos for working so hard at your writing! 85,000 words is a big accomplishment. Keep at it.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I strongly agree with Anonymous's advice in re rewriting your query.

Mister Furkles said...

Alaska and Anon have offered sound advice on structuring your query. Veronica and Kelsey have pointed to aspects that need fixing. My suggestions are less important.

You must trim and polish your prose to near perfection. Here are a few items:

P1: (a) in the middle of a forest -> in the forest (b) have time to wonder how she got there -> know how she got there (c) A host of undead fairies known as -> Undead fairies of (d) are trying -> try (e) whose job it was to insure the Wild Hunt got her -> delete, how would she know their job?

So, it may read something like:

“Half-elven Jill Nicnevin awakens in the forest and doesn't know how she got there. Undead fairies of the Wild Hunt, accompanied by a girl who looks like Jill, try to kill her. She escapes them and then a gang of thugs try to kill her.”

It needs more polish but it is 25 fewer words.

You need not explain minor details to an agent. Trust her imagination. Use your one page to explain major plot points.

Work on the other paragraphs too.

I would drop Randall Caldwell. He may be important in the book but he doesn't seem critical to the query.

“To make matters worse” -> Delete this trite cliché.

“and the first in a planned series, but it could stand alone” Delete this too.

Your bio is good.

Especially for fantasy: trust the reader’s imagination.

PLaF said...

The Bourne Identity movie did a good job opening with an amnesiac hero – shot, in the water, with full scuba gear. Mysterious tidbits are quickly revealed about the character and we’re hooked.
If you want to open with a half-elf waking up in the forest, what makes this time immediately different than all the others? Is she hanging upside down after stepping in a trap? Does she remember the Wild Hunters are after her? (BTW, how can she remember this but not how she got there?) What skills does she possess as a half-elf that help her escape this situation?
If the theme of Jillian’s character development (and your story) is that she has to give herself up, then show us how this is completely against her character initially and what she learns that leads her to this decision.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Hi author!! This story sounds really intriguing! I would definitely give the opening a read based on the description.

That said, I feel like you're purposefully withholding information (the ending/the twist/the big reveal) to keep us on the edges of our seats. And unfortunately, in this case, it's making us confused (sorry!) Throughout the course of the novel, all these mysteries can be uncovered slowly, but in the query I feel like there's one big piece of information missing that will really tie everything together.

After the opening paragraph about the forest and the look-alike and the Wild Hunt (which I too have read/written about as scary, never as sexy), consider something like this:

Turns out, Jillian's part of an elaborate plot by person X to do Big Thing Y, in order to achieve massive reward/world domination Z. Person X has targeted Jillian specifically because of reason Q.

(In other words, what is the bigger picture?)

I also get the sense that Jillian's family and gf are under some sort of enchantment/someone else's control (the Queen's?), but if that's the case, I'd like it to be hinted at, so they all don't come across as despicable (and unbelievable) people.

Fiction with queer protagonists is selling. It's not going to be your main selling point, but it's not going to destroy your chances either.

I think you've really got the makings of something great here! :)