Saturday, February 23, 2013

Evil Editor Classics


Guess the Plot

Martin Mason and the Man in the Crystal Prison

1. Not at all based on Harry Potter. Not in the slightest. Honest.

2. J.K. Rowling's lovechild by Evil Editor pens a scathing tell-all in the tradition of Mommy Dearest.

3. In the prison is the iron-fisted tyrant Samuel Wade, who just happens to be Martin Mason's father. Martin has the ability to turn invisible, but should he use this power to break his father out, or should he hang out in the women's locker room at the local gym? Or should he just stare at a blank wall?

4. Martin Mason, middle aged Irishman, tumbles into a rabbit hole on his way home from a pub in Limerick and discovers he's actually a wizard with a very important mission in life: guard the wee evil elf in the crystal prison on Fiona's key ring and don't let him out until the ransom has been negotiated with Glimmerella. But Martin accidentally lets the elf go. Hilarity ensues.

5. Martin Mason, teen-aged musical prodigy, learns that his music teacher/mentor has been unjustly incarcerated in the Crystal Prison and sets out to free him by smuggling in a high-F# tuning fork with which to shatter the walls.

6. Mild-mannered accounting clerk Martin Mason is troubled by a recurring dream of a man confined in a prison with crystal windows and bars. He takes an hallucinogenic herb to deepen his dream state, and finds himself in a crystal prison where he dreams of a mild-mannered accounting clerk.



Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Thirteen-year-old Martin Mason spends his evenings staring at a blank wall in his school’s basement. [A fascinating character about whom I would like to read an entire novel.

Chapter 12

Man, I still can't get enough of staring at this blank wall. It's like a giant canvas for my imagination. Hey, I never noticed this, but the wall isn't quite white. More of an off-white. Egg shell, maybe.

I wonder if they'd mind if I brought in a poster to hang on the wall. Just to break up the monotony. Nothing gaudy, of course, maybe a photograph of Tolkien or a still life of a fruit bowl with no apples, just Kiwi fruit and limes and prunes. Not that the wall is that monotonous. It is slightly brighter in the middle and darker in the corners. Though that could be a trick of the lighting.

Someone should paint a mural on this wall. A mural of characters from Dr. Suess and Looney Toons. I wonder if the Cat in the Hat would have as much trouble catching the Roadrunner as Wile E. Coyote does. The Cat's pretty smart, and the Roadrunner isn't necessarily smart, he just survives because the coyote keeps buying his contraptions from Acme, which makes crap. How does that place stay in business?

Whoa, what's that spot? Was that little spot there yesterday? I couldn't have missed that, could I? It looks like someone came in and drew a little dot with a Sharpie. Someone . . . lefthanded. Who walks with a limp. But why? Wait . . . IT'S MOVING!!! What the-- Oh. It's a spider. Shit, I'm losing it. Hey, I never thought about it, but I wonder . . . what's behind this wall?]

Behind this wall lies a device designed to free tyrant Samuel Wade from an impenetrable prison. [Whattaya mean, "tyrant"? Are we talking Stalin or the Vice Principal?] [Is this supposedly impenetrable prison the crystal prison of the title? Gimme a sledge hammer and stand back. I'll show you impenetrable.] Though Martin doesn’t know about this device, he does know three teachers who used to work behind that wall have mysteriously disappeared. Well, that, and he’s the prime suspect. [Why?]

To solve these disappearances and clear his name, Martin must first master his mind’s rare ability to manipulate its surroundings. Turning invisible was great for playing pranks at his old school back home. But sneaking around unseen at night tends to arouse suspicion at a school where Martin’s talent isn’t so unique. [If he's unseen, and others have the same ability, why is he the one they suspect?]

Martin must then decide who deserves his trust in this secret, seemingly idyllic world of self-driving cars and death-defying medical technology. His best bet is the teacher who supposedly saved him from life as some government lab rat by dragging him to this school in the first place. But Martin suspects him in the disappearances. [If Martin suspects him, then why is he the best bet?] There’s also the school Director. But he suspects Martin. [Why?] As for the police, they weren’t much help during Samuel Wade’s iron-fisted rule five years ago. [Rule of the school? Usually impenetrable prisons are reserved for the worst criminals. What did Wade do?]

What’s really getting to Martin, though, is the discovery that Wade is his biological father. [Aha! It's Star Wars. Martin is Luke, Wade is Vader, and the blank wall is the Force.] Despite Martin’s affection for the adoptive parents who raised him, he feels drawn to his own flesh and blood. If Martin is to stop Wade’s return, [If he doesn't know about the device designed to free Wade, and Wade is in an impenetrable prison, why does he think he needs to stop Wade's return?] solving the mystery of the blank wall won’t be enough; he must also resist his father’s temptations. [Wouldn't it be more accurate to refer to the mystery of the missing teachers than the mystery of the blank wall?]

MARTIN MASON AND THE MAN IN THE CRYSTAL PRISON is an upper middle
grade fantasy, complete at 73,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Notes

Martin is trying to stop Wade's return? Meaning if the device is used to free Wade, he will regain his power?

What is Martin trying to do, mentally create a door in the wall? There must be some way into that room besides manipulating matter.

Once you get to Martin must master his mind's ability etc. you lose the main plot thread. Dump the pranks and self-driving cars and focus on what Martin plans to do once he masters his ability. Instead of listing those who don't deserve his trust, tell us whom he does trust to help him, assuming there is someone. What, specifically, is the danger, and what can Martin do about it?

Anonymous said...I'm confused. What is this query is authorial info and what does Martin himself know? Here's what I'm getting out of it:

* Martin. He's 13 and telekinetic. He was adopted. He would like to connect with his biological dad, who he may or may not know is this society's ex-tyrant, and may or may not want to free from prison if he did know. He feels a little alone-against-the-world.

* The world: Technology is advanced. Life seems idyllic. But the police are corrupt. There used to be a tyrant, who is now in prison. A plot to free said tyrant is taking place at Martin's school. Martin may or may not know this.

* The school: All the kids have weird powers. Three teachers have disappeared. The other teachers suspect Martin of vanishing their colleagues. He didn't. One teacher scouted Martin for the school. A plot to free the tyrant is taking place. Martin may or may not know this.

That's a lot of info for a query. Are you in the stage where you are trying to answer everyone's questions? Don't worry. If you can focus on the important stakes and hook the reader, it'll be okay to have a detail or two dangling.

You might also want to look at the tone. The title is jokey, and Martin is 13 and plays pranks with his cool powers. But staring at a wall is boring and disappearing people and a menacing tyrant are pretty dark, massive stakes.


vkw said...I've see this query in a couple forms now and each time I keep asking myself - why does the author like this sentence:

"Thirteen-year-old Martin Mason spends his evenings staring at a blank wall in his school’s basement."

It's not that interesting and doesn't tell us a thing about the story.

If you insist on using it tell us why he is doing it.

"Martin spends his evenings staring at a blank wall which he believes hides the mystery of an imprisoned man or where he thinks his father is being held in a crystal prison or hides the whereabouts of three missing teachers."

My suggestion is to dump it completely.

The query is scattered. It's like a shotgun blast at a target. You've hit the target with a lot of pellets but it's missing connections.

It's like its been over-written or lost in the telling.

Then this happened, and this and did I mention the talking horse and flying cars?


The Spicy Cupcake said...Wait, what's with the wall? Was something walled up? Or is there another room on the otherside of the wall? When I read that teachers dissapeared from the other side of the wall, etc, I'm wondering why they were inside a wall.


arhooley said...Wow, I have no sense of how this story reads. All I see Martin doing is staring at a blank wall and sneaking around at night -- although he's suspected of making no less than three teachers disappear. (Why isn't he locked up himself?) (Why would he sneak around at night if he can make himself invisible?) It seems as if the plot consists of Martin trying to make a decision and solve a mystery by just thinking about it.

Also: Martin must first master his mind’s rare ability to manipulate its surroundings. You can take Martin's mind out of this sentence. "Martin must master his rare ability to manipulate his surroundings." Presumably, he and his mind stick together. And as usual, if he can manipulate his surroundings, why doesn't he melt the blank wall?


AlaskaRavenclaw said...Though Martin doesn’t know about this device, he does know three teachers who used to work behind that wall have mysteriously disappeared.

See, if three teachers have disappeared, that's interesting. It's a problem, an issue, a challenge if you will. How will your protag rise to meet this challenge?

He'll... stare at the wall said teachers used to work behind?

Madrecita.

Would Martin's godfather, Harry Potter, stare at the wall? Hell no. He'd tear it down with his fingernails if he had to. He'd get Hermione to read every book in the library about that wall. He'd spy on everyone and his mother. He'd figure out how the teachers got behind the wall... maybe that door over there in the corner?

He'd kick that wall's ass.

Your character needs gumption.


Ryan Mueller said...Thank you for the comments everybody. They've been really helpful.

@Evil Editor

Chapter 12 was hilarious. I'll have to make sure to replace the beginning of my chapter 12 with that.

Tyrant?

We're talking a whole lot closer to Stalin than the Vice Principal. Hundreds of thousands of people "disappeared" during Wade's rule. He also intended to take over the entire world (not just the little place where people with these special abilities have isolated themselves) and rule it by force with his powers.

Why is Martin suspected?

He has had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time whenever one of the disappearances has occurred.

Most of the questions you raised I've managed to work into my newest version of the query letter. I took out nearly all the extraneous stuff about the world.

Can we submit a revised query in the comments now? I know we couldn't when Phoenix was still doing query critiques.

@Anonymous

Thank you for your comments about there being too much information. I actually had a version of the query I liked before, but people kept telling me to put more into it. In doing that, I think I ended up losing the plot amidst all the irrelevant details.

As for the tone, I would say the actual story is more mysterious than dark. However, it is intended for a relatively young audience, so I do include comedic bits. Personally, I like the title, which is strange because I always hate my titles.

@vkw

Rejoice! I have now taken the blank wall references out of the query. I had thought it would be strange enough to grab people's attention. Apparently, it was just annoying.

Thanks for the shotgun blast analogy. I've tried to cut down on the stuff not essential to the plot.

@Spicy Cupcake

The wall is gone now. Well, it's still there in the story, but in the story, I have more words to make it make sense.

@Alaska Ravenclaw

Your post made me laugh. Now, I'm imagining Martin kicking the wall's ass.

Thanks for letting me know that my character was coming across as pathetic and wimpy in the query. I've now added to my new query the actions he takes to solve the mystery (which aren't just staring at a wall).

For everyone confused about the wall, I'll try to explain it without giving away too many of the plot details.

At one point, Martin notices a teacher go through the wall by muttering a password. He finds this suspicious, so he starts watching the wall while invisible. He wants to know what's going on behind that wall. He is suspected when teacher's disappear because of the fact that he was unaccounted for at the time of each disappearance.

Since the wall was so difficult to fit concisely into a query letter, I realized I could still get the plot across without it. Thanks everyone for helping me realize that.


Ryan Mueller said...Here's a new version of the query. Does this work better? Is it less confusing? I tried to simplify everything chronologically.

Dear Agent,

At thirteen-year-old Martin Mason’s new school, life isn’t exactly going as planned. Three teachers have mysteriously vanished, and Martin’s knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time has made him the prime suspect.

To solve these disappearances and clear his name, Martin must master the rare abilities that landed him a spot at this school in the first place. Invisibility to watch the entrance to the secret lab where those teachers used to work. Night vision to spot the culprit as he attempts to kidnap a fourth victim. Mind defense to lie when the school Director interrogates him about his suspicious behavior.

When Martin’s most likely ally in his investigation turns out to be the kidnapper, he looks to the only people he can really count on: his new thirteen-year-old friends. Together, they soon discover there’s more to this mystery than meets the eye. Those teachers who disappeared were working on a device to free brutal tyrant Samuel Wade from a seemingly impenetrable crystal prison. And the plot’s mastermind is the school Director himself.

Most horrifying, though, is the discovery that Wade is Martin’s biological father. Intrigued as he is by his own flesh and blood, Martin knows his true parents are the loving people who raised him. When he finally meets Wade, however, Martin’s loyalties waver under the influence of his father’s formidable mind control. Preventing Samuel Wade from renewing his reign of terror will require every bit of mind defense Martin possesses, and then some.

MARTIN MASON AND THE MAN IN THE CRYSTAL PRISON is an upper middle grade fantasy, complete at 73,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Evil Editor said...Much better. It seems a bit long; you might be able to eliminate a few lines by cutting the following:

P1: life isn’t exactly going as planned.

P2: about his suspicious behavior

P3: thirteen-year-old

really

soon

P4:

Intrigued as he is by his own flesh and blood,

, and then some


first Anon from above said...Awesome revision Ryan! Far clearer and I really like that it's all about Martin. He's coming across as likeable now where he was a bit poor me before.


Jo-Ann said...Hi author. The revised version flows much better, particularly with all references to staring at the wall deleted.

It's probably just me, but the name is close enough to Marilyn Manson to give me an image of what this kid might look like - and I'm guessing your protag doesn't wear heavy make up (at least not in public!).

Also a crystal prison doesn't give the image of an impenetrable fortress. If you're trying to attract an audience that includes boys, my sense is that the word "crystal" in the title would be about as attractive to them as the words "ponies" or "mermaids".

As for the query - I like it! Succinct and clear, and I'd read it (or buy for my offspring).

I'd only pause to ask why Martin is a suspect rather than a key witness to the disappearances (is there any other evidence that incriminates him? I mean, he'd have to be quite a powerful sorcerer to overpower adults), and whether Martin knew his ally is the actual kidnapper (if not, the shift in POV in the query is uncomfortable).

Otherwise, good job!


Tamara said...I like your revised query. The one tiny thing that nettled me was paragraph 3: "his new thirteen-year-old friends." EE listed it as a potential space-saver, but I don't like it because I'm cantankerous. Surely they weren't all born at the same day (unless they came from the same batch of tubes in 'the lab'), and the story takes place over a reasonably substantial time span, so they wouldn't all be thirteen at the same time. And isn't it obvious that Martin's new friends would generally be the same age? Though it would be slightly more interesting if they weren't. You know, a genius 10-year-old there, a hot "older woman" from the eighth grade mind-readers there....


Beth said...The revision is a great improvement. It has a nice, logical flow, which the previous version lacked. But it's too long and I really think you should zap the part about Wade being his father, which tips the query over the edge into almost-farce. As a twist, it may work out well in the book, but in the query it's one plot development too many. It screams cliche and melodrama. You have plenty of plot and conflict there without it.

One final note: The name Samuel Wade just does not sound like a dictator's name. Not that dictators are born with specially pre-prepared names and certainly you don't want to go over the top with something obvious evil...but the name does need to have a little bite to it, I think. More hard consonants maybe?


Ryan Mueller said...Thanks for the additional comments everyone. I'm glad to see my query's moving in the right direction.

@Evil Editor On the length, I wonder if it looks longer in the comments than it really is. It's actually slightly shorter than the original query. Is the 250 words for the entire query letter (including title and word count) or just for the plot paragraphs? As it is now, my plot paragraphs go 249 words. @Jo-Ann I'll see if I can think of something to use instead of the word crystal. I won't worry about it too much, though, since titles often get changed during the publishing process. I didn't even think about the similarity to the name Marilyn Manson. If he looked like that, it would certainly put a different spin on the book. As to why Martin is considered a suspect and not a witness, he is actually considered both. The query presents a very much simplified version of events. Part of the reason he's suspected, though, is that the Director thinks Martin might be getting a little too close to his plot to free Wade. I'll change the sentence about the kidnapper to: "When Martin discovers his most likely ally is actually the kidnapper..." That way, I should be able to eliminate the POV shift. @Tamara Yeah, I think I'll change that. I was questioning it when I wrote the query. One of his friends does turn fourteen during the course of the book, so you're right. @Beth I'll have to think about whether I should keep the part about Wade being his father in there or not. Thanks for pointing that out. As for the name, I could try to think of something else. Part of me reason for choosing it was the idea of giving a tyrant a perfectly normal name. I was hoping it would actually break from cliche there. I'd also like to hear others' thoughts on what Beth brought up. Should I eliminate the part about Wade being Martin's father from the query? Again, thank you for your comments everyone. They've been very helpful.


Evil Editor said...It's not so much the word count as whether it'll fit on one page in the form of a business letter, which would include contact info, date, etc.

I suppose now that agents are happy with emailed queries, this is less of a concern unless it's obvious that it wouldn't fit on a page. I'm not gonna print off your query to see if it fits. And at least you aren't wasting space with credits. I'm used to the plot consisting of three paragraphs of about ten sentences, often in three paragraphs. As yours has four paragraphs and fourteen sentences, I expect it would be a tight fit. Thus (to answer your other question), I think you might lop off the final plot paragraph about the father. It would feel about right in length, and that info isn't needed. It wouldn't hurt to also lop off those bits I suggested earlier, as they aren't doing much for you.


Ryan Mueller said...I've taken everybody's advice on tightening this up just a little bit. I cut out the bits about Wade being Martin's father. Here is the new version of the query letter.

Dear Agent, At thirteen-year-old Martin Mason’s new school, three teachers have mysteriously vanished, and Martin’s knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time has made him the prime suspect. To solve these disappearances and clear his name, Martin must master the rare abilities that landed him a spot at this school in the first place. Invisibility to watch the entrance to the secret lab where those teachers used to work. Night vision to spot the culprit as he attempts to kidnap a fourth victim. Mind defense to lie when the school Director interrogates him. When Martin discovers his most likely ally in the investigation is actually the kidnapper, he turns to the only people he can count on: his new friends. Together, they realize there’s more to this mystery than meets the eye. Those teachers who disappeared were working on a device to free brutal tyrant Samuel Wade from a seemingly impenetrable crystal prison. And the plot’s mastermind is the school Director himself. In light of this startling revelation, Martin and his friends are the only chance of preventing Wade from renewing his reign of terror. But they’ll be taking on a task far beyond the abilities they’ve learned in school. A task that will require every bit of resourcefulness they possess. MARTIN MASON AND THE MAN IN THE CRYSTAL PRISON is an upper middle grade fantasy, complete at 73,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Beth said...Ryan,

Part of me reason for choosing it was the idea of giving a tyrant a perfectly normal name. I was hoping it would actually break from cliche there. He can have a normal name. But maybe it should be a less soft-sounding normal name. Samuel Wade sounds beta to me. Find an alpha name. [g] Third version is good. Made me want to read it and I'm not your target audience. :) Third version is good.


Ryan Mueller said...@Arhooley

I think my new versions of the query actually answered the questions you asked, so I guess that's good. @Beth I don't know if you're still reading this. But what about the name Marcus Wade? I know it shares the same three letter's as Martin's name, but when I refer to Wade in the book, I use only his last name. If I use the first name, I include the last name with it. I also like it because it is apparently derived from Mars, the Roman god of war, which makes it an appropriate name for a tyrant. Interestingly enough, the name Martin is also apparently derived from Mars.


Jo-Ann said...I think that half the fun of the fantasy genre is the evil sounding names of the bad guys. Think of the nasty giants in The BFG (Bone Crusher, et al); White Witch and King Miraz in the Narnia series; the loathsome Darth Vader; the irredeemably evil Lord Voldemort and so on.

The creators left no doubt that these people will use their formidable powers to crush those who stand in their way. But maybe such names have become cliche and it's time for the John Smiths of the fantasy worlds to rise up and claim their rightful place in the pantheon of evil dictators and dark lords. My thoughts are that Marcus (or Xavier) Wade could possibly be a bad guy. But he sounds more at home perhaps in a thriller - he could be the corrupt police commisioner behind the hits of investigators too close to his tail, or the nuclear power plant exec who realises there's good money to be made in handing over plutonium to shady terrorist groups. And so on. But I dont really see Marcus or Xavier as being either alpha or beta names.


Evil Editor said...You are welcome to use either of the names that have recurred on this blog throughout the ages, as long as Evil Editor is acknowledged, those names being Korlach, Lord of the Dark Realm, and Borgo the Disemboweler.

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