Monday, February 11, 2013

Face-Lift 1103

Guess the Plot

Under a Fading Moon

1. A talking cat offers Shadasa the ability to become a panther at will, but she won't get this power until the moon goes dark--if she lives that long, which is unlikely since an evil alchemist has summoned powerful spirits to hunt her down so he can sacrifice her to the Dark Realms.

2. It's the year 3021. The wealthy have relocated to an artificial environment on the moon, and now call Earth "The Moon." By the time planetwide natural disasters destroy the surface of Earth, the colony is just barely self-sufficient. Can the colonists learn to survive in a society where money has no meaning?

3. Molly the mole is anxious. There’s been a dearth worms lately. Robins have taken over topside because cats are kept indoors due to Valley Fever. She calls Acme Exterminators to spray mold poison but they misunderstand and spray mole poison. The other moles banish her to the light where she can only hunt under a fading moon. Also, a rockin’ robin.

4. In the land of Lunaria, the werewolves are getting worried. The moon, the source of their power, is starting to fade. If Lyca Greeneyes and her inner wolf don't find the answer before the next blood-moon, all the werewolves will lose their powers and those blasted sparkly vampires will take over.

5. 30 years ago, Brenda Nadsly was a headliner at gentlemen's clubs. But that was four divorces, one daughter, and three grandsons ago. Can she take the stage at the Angel's Club and show them that she still has what it takes, even though she's over fifty?

6. Life on Eldora is in turmoil as its constant illumination by full moon is waning. Crops across the planet languish bringing widespread famine to the population. Can chief agropologist, Shia LaGrume, perfect his incandescent device, or will all Eldoran's perish...Under a Fading Moon?

Original Version

Dear Most Exalted Evil Editor, [Or Agent of My Choice]

A cat named NightShade gave Shadasa the second form of a panther. [Not one of my favorite opening sentences.] NightShade isn’t an ordinary cat -- she’s a NightPanther, a powerful, intelligent shifter. Once Shadasa and NightShade pass their first Dark-Moon together, both can become full-sized panthers at will. [So the second form of a panther, which NightShade gave to Shadasa, currently lets her shift into a less-than-full-size panther? Is that why you specify full-sized panther instead of just saying panther? Are you saying NightShade can't currently shift into a panther, that she too must wait for the Dark-Moon?] Her former Alchemist master chose Shadasa as the blood sacrifice that will give him control over the most powerful spirit in the Dark Realms. [Not clear how that relates to the rest of the paragraph. Nor in what way she was sacrificed.] Virtually helpless without the power to shift, Shadasa and NightShade travel with Velpheron, a kindly and capable nobleman. [Where are they traveling to?] [Also, Shadasa has never had the power to shift, so why is she suddenly helpless?]

Staying with Velpheron until the proper moon-phase seems prudent, especially after he saves Shadasa from a slavehunter. As she begins to long for darkness and blood becomes her ambrosia, [Whose blood?] she increasingly fears his rejection. She nearly abandons him the night he takes an arrow to the shoulder -- one meant for her. Though she manages to save Velpheron without revealing her secret, Shadasa further entangles herself by using her Imbued blood as a medicine to save his life. [Why is "Imbued" capitalized? Why was "Alchemist" capitalized? What about "NightPanther"? You didn't capitalize "cat" even though NightShade isn't an ordinary cat. We don't spell it "WereWolf."]

Velpheron’s delirium reveals his royal lineage. Having her blood inside him gives Shadasa access to the Prince’s [Velpheron is the Prince? Of what?] thoughts and passions, [Seems like it would be he who has access to her thoughts, but whatever.] making her feel unbelievably close to him while haunting her with guilt. Struggling to understand her relationship with Velpheron, who still thinks she’s only a slave, [I was thinking she was more a student or apprentice of her Alchemist master, not his slave. Guess I should have taken "slavehunter" literally, instead of thinking it was someone trying to capture her to make her a slave.] [Did she escape from her master? Hard to believe your Alchemist master would choose you for his blood sacrifice and then be careless enough to let you escape before he establishes control over the most powerful spirit in the Dark Realms. ] Shadasa knows he must soon discover what she is. She convinces herself he won’t be angry -- until he tells her of the NightPanther assassins who tried to kill his father, and how, in hatred, he killed one of them himself.

Resisting her feline urges as well as NightShade’s cynical advice seems impossible. [What is she advising?] The summoned spirits of her power-hungry master and the Prince’s own enemies converge on them, forcing Shadasa to make an agonizing choice. If she maintains her hopeless devotion to Velpheron, she must withstand his anger and loathing when he learns the truth -- but if she leaves the man she has come to love, she will despise herself for the rest of her life. [I can see her fearing she'll be lonely or regretting it, but despise herself?] [Also, before worrying about the consequences of her choice, she might want to consider how to deal with the summoned spirits of her power-hungry master and the Prince’s own enemies, who are converging on them. The choice can come after they survive. Which they won't unless the moon goes dark real fast and she can pantherize everyone.]

Under A Fading Moon is a 100K-word fantasy, first in a projected trilogy. Thank you for your time and consideration.

[Note to EE: I submitted once before, with the same general story, under the title DarkMoon. [See Face-Lift 1057--EE.] I've since done a LOT of revising, changed the focus of the story, invented a different title, and, as per your suggestion, changed the names of both main characters.]


If he can tell her he's a nobleman when he's actually the Prince, he can hardly complain that she didn't reveal she will soon be able to morph into a deadly creature capable of ripping out his throat as payback for the NightPanther he murdered. After all, he was already the Prince, while she won't be a NightPanther until the moon does its thing. She's probably not even certain she will be a NightPanther. If someone told me that I would have the ability to turn into a panther after the next Dark-Moon, I think I'd be skeptical. Admittedly less skeptical if it were a talking cat telling me, but still...

I assume the Alchemist still needs Sha-na-na, as he'd have better things to do than hunt her down if he already controlled the Dark Realms.

Does she meet the cat after getting away from the Alchemist? I think this would be more clear if you told it chronologically. Possibly it goes:

Subaru, an alchemist's slave, escapes before he can make her his blood sacrifice.

She meets a magical cat who gives her panther power (but it won't take effect till the next moonless night) and a nobleman who offers to accompany her as she flees the alchemist.

Needing Shakira back in order to become emperor of the Dark Realms, the alchemist summons powerful spirits to hunt her down. Meanwhile, the nobleman, who is actually the prince, is being hunted by enemies of his own.

To fight off their attackers, S will have to shift into panther mode. But if she does, the prince, with whom she has fallen in love and who hates people who can shift into panther mode, may be lost to her forever.

Note that I told the story without the arrow and the blood and ambrosia and NightPanther assassins. Needless clutter. Just focus on Shadow: who is she, what's her situation, what does she want, who doesn't want her to get it, what does she plan to do about it, what happens if she fails.

Why does S have to convince herself the prince won't be angry, when she has access to his thoughts and passions? She can just say, "NightPanthers," and read whether he's thinking, I won't stop till they're all dead, or Like with humans, a few bad apples can spoil the bunch, but I'm sure there are lovable ones.


Khazar-khum said...

I had to read this a couple of times to determine just what Shadasa is. I initially thought she was a house cat who gained powers from the Night Panthers. I started thinking about a cat who morphs into a massive Night Panther, hunting those who harm animals throughout the city, bringing feline justice to them. I could imagine these fleet avengers masquerading as docile, purring pussies.

But that's not what you wrote.

John C. Updike said...

I actually thought the one about the Earth turning to the Moon was a pretty nifty story idea. Cheese with your whine?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

It's been a long, hard day. This is where my attention began to wander:

Her former Alchemist master chose Shadasa as the blood sacrifice that will give him control over the most powerful spirit in the Dark Realms.

At this point we're four sentences in, and you've introduced seven terms that I assume are proper nouns, because they're capitalized: three characters and four concepts, three of which are unfamiliar. (I know what an alchemist is, but don't know why this one is an Alchemist.) In the next sentence a fourth character arrives.

I tried to read on. I really did. But it's been such a crazy day, and I'm just so tired.

Streamline this puppy. Simple sentences. Anything outre (eg Dark-Moon) should probably be saved for the manuscript.

And avoid National Geographic sentences (ie sentences that begin with gerund phrases or clauses).

Mister Furkles said...

I’ll confine myself to three snively complaints:

You rely too much on adjectives and adverbs which ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. For example:
“powerful, intelligent shifter” – but you show no power nor intelligence
“most powerful spirit” – can’t you tell us about this spirit in a few words?
“Virtually helpless” – as opposed to what? Figuratively helpless?
“kindly and capable nobleman” – so the Prince befriends them but what is he capable of? A masterful Parcheesi game? Championship Croquet? Open heart surgery?

Too many capitals and newly compound words. I doubt agents want you to invent new words in a query. Nothing wrong with new uses of old words or new compound words in a novel. But not in a query.

I don’t think Nightshade does anything in this query other than convert Shadasa. Either reduce her part of the query or make her a key action character.

Veronica Rundell said...

This is a long query...and while a lot is said, I'm not sure I understood much of the plot.

BTW--Where and When are we? This is fantasy, give me a view of the world here.

As EE noted, simplicity is best. Streamline.

Keep the names to a minimum. It's enough to call these beings shape-shifters, we'd get the idea without the "NightPanthers" moniker.

Does NightShade take a human form? Because I assumed he/she (?) didn't as this wasn't clear (to me)--and I've read it several times.

When confronted with a.) Death or b.) loss of a new love--I'm pretty sure 99.9% of creatures will opt for B--and be grateful they survived, even if love was lost. This choice seems falsely conflated.

Also, I'm kind of distracted by the odd caps--call me OldFashioned that way.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think agents who represent SFF might be accustomed to new words and new concepts, actually. Even in queries.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Veronica Rundell said:
...and I've read it several times.

Querier, take note of that.

My comment was based on my second reading of the query. On the first reading, I didn't understand anything. I was exhausted, and only got about halfway through the second reading. Veronica may also have been exhausted, but she was a trouper and kept on.

An agent (or the intern or assistant who reads the agent's slushpile) will not give the query multiple reads. S/he will spend about 30 seconds on a query before deciding whether to reject it. Maybe sixty if s/he's the methodical type.

Your best way of getting something across in 30 seconds: short, simple sentences, minimal proper nouns, and a focus on one character.

Shadow (the author) said...

Ack, it looked good until I saw it on Evil Editor. Then it looked like all the other poor, pathetic queries.

My problem (and I knew that) is the concept of NightPanthers, and having to explain them right off. NightShade is the NightPanther. Normally, she looks like an ordinary housecat. She has to share her power with a Mortal (who then becomes Imbued -- someone/thing with 'power in its blood'), and then NightShade can become a full-sized (as opposed to cat-sized) panther. After the initial bonding phase, NightShade can re-take her second form, and Shadasa will take it for the first time.

How did I let it appear that the shifting was ever in doubt?

I admit I don't know how to explain NightPanthers, introduce the characters, set the conflict, and so on, in one page. Note to Veronica: it wasn't actually that long. The body of the query was under 350 words, much shorter than most of the ones I see on here. And as for the setting... a modified Medieval feel. Swords and bows. Some magic, no technology beyond ballistae. Thought 'epic fantasy' kinda implied that...

Is the 'random' capitalization thing really such a problem? Because to go along with the Medieval feel I want for this thing, important concepts (King, Prince, Mortal, Imbued, Alchemist, etc) are capitalized in the MS -- kinda like we capitalize the days of the week, or German capitalizes every proper noun, and pronouns if there aren't any in the sentence.

The threat from her former master pushes Shadasa into becoming a NightPanther. Loyalty to Velpheron (and guilt at modifying him with her blood) makes her want to stay. Fear of his reaction makes her want to leave. NightShade just wants to run off with Shadasa and do whatever they want. Is this not enough tension?

Perhaps the query is too foreign-sounding. Too many adjectives? Perhaps, granted. However, I've read that the query should reflect, as much as possible, the tone of the book. And while I don't utilize old English or anything of the sort, I strive for a tinge of Old-World flavor.

Mister Furkles: Yes, NightShade kinda got lost in the query... She IS important, but I'm finding it hard to convey that in 350 words or less. Or, as QueryShark advocates, 250 or less. :|

Khazar-khum... well, close. The NightPanthers DO masquerade as kitties until they go panther. But they're usually thieves, mercenaries, or assassins, not protectors of animalkind.

Any more suggestions, guys? I've been working on the query for over a year. Thanks for the help.

Shadow (the author) said...

Actually, EE's summary was pretty good. Maybe I can work with that, though insulting my MC's name repeatedly was just a tad hurtful... :P

Evil Editor said...

You may create any rules you wish for calling something a proper noun in your world. In our world we capitalize specific members of a class. We capitalize the days of the week but not "day." King Henry but not "king." Doctor House, but not "doctor" or "house." The Joker, but not "joker."

In a world where there are kings and princes and alchemists and mortals, I'm not sure why those words would be considered more worthy of capitalization than we consider president, pope, chemist, or person, but to be honest, it's not the principle so much as the fact that I, as a reader, find excessive capitalization annoying. Maybe I'm the only one.

Just so we can help with the summary, has NightShade ever been a full-sized panther? ie can she bond with a new human every Dark-Moon, or is she looking for that one human to bond with forever?

150 said...

Hi, Shadow!

I thought your responses were thoughtful and useful, so here's my take on them.

The first time you sent this in, you also noted that this wasn't a typical werecreature, but I don't think it's all that far off, except for the bonding, which is familiar from vampire books. I think the key to getting this across is twofold. One: Who is your protagonist here? The cat, or the person? Whichever it is, write the query exclusively from their focus. (In the first sentence of this query, for example, the cat is the subject of the sentence. If the person is the main character, that shouldn't be.) And two: we only need to know the mechanics of the world to the extent that they relate to the protagonist's goals and choices. As it stands, I can't tell what point that might be. Possibly "After Protag is tapped to become a blood sacrifice, she lets her cat make her into a were-panther"? I don't think the problem is the complexity of the fantasy element, but the train of cause and effect. Try writing the query sentence by sentence backwards so that each sentence leads directly into the next, using exclusively cause-and-effect language. Proper tension should follow, because then it'll be clearer who's doing what and why.

The capitalization is annoying because it makes things harder to read, doesn't add enough atmosphere to make up for that, and (to me, anyway) it's a red flag for amateurs: I and all my middle-school friends thought things like Important Capitals and fancy talkin' made our stuff sound medieval-y, just like printing in Old English font. Sadly, all that only highlighted that our word and style choices were insufficient to get across the intended feel. The same goes for "a tinge of Old-World flavor". I have to note that Tolkien, king of the old-sounding epic fantasy, didn't go for a tinge of flavor. He had a doctorate in this stuff. That's why it worked for him, and why so many imitators sound like...imitators. I guess the sum of this paragraph is: beware this path unless you are damn sure of your footing.

For the record, I am not a fan of these names either (although I try not to actively mock).

Evil Editor said...

Hey, I wasn't mocking the name. It's just that if I'm typing notes and can't remember the character's name I can either guess at Shannara or Sinatra or Shamu, or I can go back and look. I always choose the easy road.

Shadow (the author) said...

Well, all of this was helpful in one very important regard. Just like with the previous query, I found that the book was hard to query because the plot itself was hard to condense. The solution: simplify!

MC has become Sabria instead of Shadasa. Hint of Saber in there, 'ia' to bring across a feminine flavor. OK? Maybe people can actually remember that... I hope. It's also shorter, but still has 3 syllables. Improvement?

Now for the plot/query. I admit the query WAS confusing because I was actually inaccurately summarizing the story to have it make more sense. (Cuing me to just change the story...) In the draft I queried this for, the girl named the cat and the cat named the girl AFTER they Bonded. Which left them, in the first two chapters, virtually nameless. Now they each have their names from the outset.

Maybe I should call them werepanthers, at least for the query; I actually did set out to reverse werewolves in every respect, from the moon phase that maddens them (Dark instead of Full) to the fact that it's feline, not canine. I looked online and in library for mainstream werecat/panther books, but couldn't find much of anything, so assumed I was in somewhat unique territory. Maybe not.

I admit that I'm not terribly into vampires, 150, but I thought I was pretty well informed as to the usual conventions. How is vampire-biting-to-convert-into-vampire like my Bonding idea? Then again,I didn't really explain it very well.

NightShade is a NightPanther, an Imbued -- the collective term for any creature that's 'magical'. She always has the latent power to transform, but is driven to seek out a Mortal Keeper (a master or mistress) in order to use it. This irks her, because she doesn't really like Mortals. She has had many Keepers in her thousand+ year life; no, EE, she doesn't get one every Dark Moon. She stays with them til they get themselves killed, or irritate her far enough (say, by abusing her) that she 'breaks away' (an official quasi-magical act) and leaves them Mortal again. In extreme cases, she might kill them herself. Her bond with the girl is supposed to be special -- based on trust instead of greed and fear.

I understand your concern, 150. Many who try to emulate Tolkien's genius, fail. I'm not -- I just want to introduce the barest shadow of that atmosphere. In point of fact, I always had a tendency to overcapitalize, and welcomed the opportunity to ensconce it in my world. It honestly doesn't look right to me UN-capitalized. I can't believe everyone hates it so much. :(

I've just been reading Brandon Sanderson again, and he capitalizes many important concepts, especially in Mistborn (my currect venture) where such 'magical' acts as Pushing and Pulling through Allomancy are capitalized every time. My only problem with it myself is that it subconsciously cues me to think the capitalized word begins a new sentence. He even has a double-cap name like NightShade -- OreSeur.

Surnames in my world will have it, too: GoldenSword, WarMace, DarkSlayer. Is it troublesome as an official naming custom? I could relent and tone down some of the capitalized concepts, but I really like the compound-capitals thing for names.

Oh, 150, I hear you. But I got over fancy fonts and the like when I started researching how to submit a MS. Everyone here might want to look up Anne Mini's blog -- an excellent adjunct to EE. Anyhow, I fell into the faux-Medievalism trap previously, and have been studiously trying to purge it ever since.

I almost want to submit a writing sample to prove it one way or the other, but the only means to do that seems to be through the 'New Beginning' feature and I just don't want to see anything of mine... mocked, I suppose, by strangers for the sake of humor. I just want to prove my flavor. Old World or not. But anyhow.

Shadow (the author) said...

Veronica, I thought seriously about what you said. You may not believe this, but it sparked a plot revolution. This is how it goes this time:

SHE doesn't give HIM her blood. When she fled her master, the creature he was trying to summon marked her as the sacrifice. It also gained access to her mind/dreams. Near the full moon, when NightPanthers are weakest and madness is strongest, it attacks her in her sleep, draining her slowly, trying to consume her soul so that the sacrifice can be completed. (The Alchemist cannot choose another victim after having chosen my heroine. It has to go forward or he loses everything. Rules of the summoning.)

So... I thought, what if the PRINCE had something she wanted? Or better yet, needed? If his blood were somehow alchemicallly potent, he could be the antidote to the spirit's attacks. This would leave her with two options: listen to mortal-hating NightShade and just kill the Prince, sucking him dry to save herself, or -- she could ask him (risking his refusal) to willingly give some of his blood. They don't necessarily know it, but there's something special about the royal lines that gives them the authority to banish or command the spirits, even without the proper alchemical adjuncts.

So Shadasa's (Sabria's) conflict becomes moral, not between love and death (you're right, that was kinda pushing it) but between murder to save herself or doing the right thing and risking that he won't help.

Kinda like, do you murder the person who has your transplant organ, or do you wait and hope it's all taken care of before you die?

So either way, she has to say, because only the Prince can save her. The dilemma becomes how she'll do it.


Ruth said...

I wasn't going to post a comment cos this was all written a few weeks ago, but then I saw Shadow asked for feedback and never got any! So I figured I would, in case you happen to check back again, Shadow. :)

My two cents:

- In the Mistborn books, Pushing and Pulling are capped for a very good reason - to differentiate them from normal pushing and pulling, giving a normal word a new meaning without having to make up a complicated "fantasy" word for them. NOT the same as capping random words because you feel like it. (The constant caps bug me, too.) But double-capped surnames seem fine - that seems more likely to be a feature of this world's culture.
- Sabria - MUCH better name imo, and for some reason, much easier to remember than Shadasa (which I kept forgetting, too).
- I really like the new conflict you're using re: the prince!

Your query seemed really wordy and over-complicated to me. Your explanation in the comments is much simpler.

I suggest you focus much more on Sabria throughout the letter, rather than starting with NightShade. List the plot points chronologically. Don't try to make it sound too fancy. Focus on making a simple, coherent query first.

Hope this helps somewhat!