Thursday, April 25, 2013

Face-Lift 1122

Guess the Plot

Law of the Pack

1. All liquids must be 3oz or less. No explosives, sharp items, tools greater than seven inches in length, firearms (or realistic firearm replicas), or snow globes larger than a tennis ball. Checked bags weighing more than 50 lbs will incur a surcharge.

2. . . . 103.b.6: Notwithstanding the circumstances in 103.b.5, an omega who proceeds to consume an elk carcass without first waiting for the alpha to eat his fill shall be subject to any combination of the following punishments at the alpha's discretion: growling, snarling, nipping, biting of the ankles, biting of the tail . . .

3. Originally, there were two laws of the pack, but the governing committee felt oversight was too onerous. So, the bylaws were reorganized into a single law from which all rights and responsibilities, stated or implied, were immediately granted, forthwith.....
4. Both candidates for the position of adviser to the king and queen want the help of 13-year-old Dara. But Dara doesn't care about court politics. She's more interested in her pack of dogs.

5. When a large midwestern state places severe limits on cigarette purchases, smuggling begins and a new black market is born. Soon bloody turf wars break out between rival dealers.

6. Rolfe endangers himself when he breaks the first law of the pack: don't talk about the pack. Then, he narrowly escapes having his throat ripped out after breaking the second law of the pack (don't talk about the pack!). Also, a lot of pack-talk.

7. After witnessing a tryst between high-priestess and pack-leader, Unbar is shunned. Now, he must break the law of the pack, risking his life to save his abandoned family from impending volcanic eruption.

8. On his way to a shoplifting deposition, unlucky lawyer Larry Futz gets bitten by a werewolf. Soon he's sharpening his fangs on chew toys and howling at the moon. Can he still win the trial...and the heart of the hot paralegal?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor

Summer is drawing to a close, and with the end of the season, the fey are making their preparations for the changing over to the Winter Courts. Even for a small town in the middle of nowhere, the changing of a court is a pretty big deal; old jobs are terminated, [Yawn.] new positions introduced, and the King and Queen of each district take a personal interest in their staff for the new season. [Snore.] Even though she's required to entertain at court, thirteen-year old Dara [Finally. A character.] has no interest in politics. Her priorities are her Pack of fey-linked dogs, trying to tame her unstable and fluctuating magics, annoying her social worker Elise, avoiding the bullies at school—but most of all, trying to find a way to escape from the care home and find her birth family. [Usually "priorities" are listed in order from top to bottom, so finding the top one at the bottom threw me a bit. Possibly that's just me. If not, you could call them her main concerns or her main pursuits.]

Elise insists they have no record of Dara’s history—half-fey babies get dumped all the time and the best thing for everyone is for Dara to give up, move on and behave herself. [That sounds a bit harsh coming from a social worker. Is this a different kind of social worker?] Especially with the reshuffling of the courts coming up, which Elise sees as the perfect opportunity to gain the coveted position of advisor to King and Queen Fey. [Those are the names they go by? King Fey and Queen Fey? Isn't that like the queen of England calling herself Queen Human?] [Besides which, kings and queens go by their first names.] Dara is set to perform in the Folk Week festival at the end of summer, and her presence before Queen Fey could make all the difference in Elise’s job application—if Dara co-operates. [Co-operates in some way other than performing? What does Elise want her to do?]

Dara sees no reason why she should help Elise get anything. Besides, Elise’s rival Druth offers a tempting proposition—help him keep his job [As current adviser, I assume?] and he’ll help Dara escape the social care system and finance her search for her family. She just has to run one or two errands for him first. [Not clear if the errands are in addition to helping him keep his job (by not cooperating with Elise) or if all he wants from her is the errands. With his job at stake he wouldn't pile on demands to the point she might say No.] Dara doesn’t trust Druth anymore than she likes Elise, but with her latest escape attempt leaving her officially grounded, she doesn’t have any choice but to accept his help. [Does he have any other choice if he doesn't get her help?] But Druth’s errands prove far more dangerous than expected, [What are they?] and with Elise constantly breathing down her neck and Folk Week looming, it’ll be a miracle if Dara ever manages to escape at all.

LAW OF THE PACK is an 80,000 word urban fantasy novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.


The word "reshuffling" suggests a randomness to who gets which job, that they shuffle the jobs and deal them out. If the applications and the Folk Week festival are major determinants, it doesn't seem anything is shuffled.

What is the "care home"? Some kind of orphanage? Why is Dara "required" to entertain at court?

It seems to me that running away is Dara's goal. "Escaping" would apply if she were a prisoner. Is she? Obviously they don't want her running away, but is she locked up?

It's well-written, but it's all setup. You can set it up in one paragraph, something like:

Thirteen-year-old Dara has no interest in the politics of the Fey court. However, her social worker Elise and Elise's rival Druth both want Dara's help to gain the coveted position of adviser to the king and queen. Druth has a bargaining chip: he'll help Dara escape the social care system and search for her family--if she'll steal the magical scissors of Endor for him.

Now there's plenty of room to tell us what happens. Does Dara take on the dangerous errands? Does Druth betray her? If not, does she go after her family and does Elise try to stop her? This is your story; it needs to be in the query. And it needs specificity.

Based on the title and the fact that the word "Pack" was inexplicably capitalized, I assume the dogs play a more crucial role than you've let on.

Dara enters the 1st paragraph late, and Elise feels like the main character in the 2nd paragraph. Keep us focused on Dara, start to finish.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Okay. My first assumption was that this was middle grade, because the protagonist is thirteen. Of course you can have an adult fantasy with a 13-year-old protagonist, but I can tell you from experience it is an extremely hard sell.

So I was looking at the query with my middle grade eyeballs, and thinking Okay... social workers and foster care in a world with fairies in it is kinda cool. That has definitely not been done to death.

But if it's middle grade, it needs a bit more pep in its step, voicewise. Less background detail and more focus on our protagonist.

If it's not middle grade... who is the protagonist? Pick one character, and focus on her, what she wants to accomplish, and what stands in her way. Leave out what other characters want to accomplish, etc.

Veronica Rundell said...

I was sold on MG until your last paragraph. Frankly, I didn't see one element of urban fantasy--young protag, mostly set in small (maybe Fey occupied) village...of course, I got lambasted a couple months ago for saying a 13 yo protag = MG, so I'll stay mum on that, for now.

What's up with the Pack? The supposed protag likes 'fey-linked dogs' (PS. What does fey-linked mean?)--and they form the title, and yet we have no sense of the Pack's importance in the query.

Is the birth family fey or human--because it seems one of her parents is within the fey realm--why is she an orphan? Maybe its me, but most of the fairy lit I've read writes it "fae", not "fey." Though I'm sure there are variants it caught my eye.

It Folk Week like the school pageant? Why would the performance of some orphan half-breed have any impact on the course of an adult's career--I find it unrealistic that Dara's behavior wouldn't be overlooked/explained away like the proverbial red-headed stepchild if she doesn't comply.

Listen to EE, make this about the MC, and reveal her stakes at the outset. Let us know what she wants, or risks losing, if she doesn't get her magic under control.

I love MG fantasy. It seems this story falls within that genre. If it's urban fantasy, give us something urban in this fantasy.

Mister Furkles said...

Author, here is what I get from your query:

- Dara is uninterested in politics – and does no politics
- Dara wants to escape from home care and find her family – but doesn’t
- Dara is supposed to perform in the festival – but doesn’t
- Dara doesn’t want to help Elise – and she doesn’t
- Dara must run errands for Druth – but doesn’t get around to it
- Dara doesn’t trust Druth – or anybody else
- If Dara escapes, it’s a miracle – hell, if she gets off her duff to do anything, it’s miracle

This can't be your book. What does Dara do? What risks does she take? Who tries to stop her?

Also, trim 100 words.

AA said...

Let's see now.

"Summer is drawing to a close, and with the end of the season, the fey are making their preparations for the changing over to the Winter Courts. Even for a small town in the middle of nowhere, the changing of a court is a pretty big deal; old jobs are terminated, new positions introduced, and the King and Queen of each district take a personal interest in their staff for the new season."

If this is a city council meeting, I'd like to propose a new stoplight.

"fey-linked dogs" I do not know what this means.

"which Elise sees as the perfect opportunity to gain the coveted position of advisor to King and Queen Fey."

I thought an adviser was an old friend or family member with similar political ideals that could definitely be trusted to give advice and also keep all the court's secrets. Sort of like the consigliori in The Godfather. Is this a position royals would give to a stranger?

"Dara is set to perform in the Folk Week festival at the end of summer, and her presence before Queen Fey could make all the difference in Elise’s job application..."

Why? She's a thirteen-year-old half-fey who doesn't even know the queen. I'm assuming her magic isn't as good as an adult full-fey's.

"help him keep his job..." Again, how is a half-fey teen supposed to do this? Why wouldn't he ask an adult with political clout?

When I see Folk Week, I think of the movie "A Mighty Wind." Aging folk musicians put on a PBS special in memoriam of their late mentor. If what you're thinking of is more like Topsy-Turvy day or even Cirque De Soliel it isn't coming across here.

You mention the dogs and then they don't seem to come into the plot.

I don't see why a teen is even in this story. It seems to be about political goings-on between adults.

AA said...

LOL Veronica- Just posted my comment, then saw yours. See, author, I'm not the only one who notices these things!

Kelsey said...

I also like the idea of social workers having to take care of the half-human, half-fey babies etc -- that kind of plugging a fantasy element into our kind of government and then following its logical consequences. But then also being in court, with a King and Queen...that threw me. Is this our world with faeries or a whole different world with some urbanized elements? Given a choice, I'd go with the first option.

And I agree with Veronica that the plot connection between the MC and the King and Queen is too weak. I really struggle to understand how the heck a 13-yr-old foster child's performance in a fair will determine who gets the highly-coveted (and I imagine, pretty damn important) role of advisor to the royals. The only connection I can think of is if she turns out to be one of the monarch's bastard children, which is why they even know she exists, but there's no hint of that in the query.

And as an aside: I'm loving not having to type in those little numbers anymore. Thanks, EE.

CavalierdeNuit said...

This very loosely reminds me of a fantasy spin on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and that would be a cool read). But Lisbeth, the protagonist, was 24, and there were adult issues like rape and murder in that book.

If it's meant for an adult market I think your protagonist should be older, and the story should perhaps cover more adult issues (inspired by a little Brothers Grimm?). I think even fairy kingdoms have bad inhabitants.

I am not a Middle Grade or YA expert, but it sounds like it would be more appropriate for a YA approach.

AA said...

Ah, yes! The capchas! I am also enjoying capcha-free posting.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yes, thanks for taking off the captchas.

Re 13-year-old protags, of course adult novels can have 'em. But they usually don't, so the way the query's structured we are being prepared for middle grade right up until we find out at the end that it isn't.

And it is a tough sell. Uphill battle.

Writer, the old advice: Try to cut the whole story down to one sentence, no more than 20 words in length. Build your query out of that sentence.

Veronica Rundell said...

LOL AA--read yours and thought...yeah! At least I'm not off the mark...

BuffySquirrel said...

From social worker to royal advisor is quite a leap. I don't believe it.

Jo-Ann said...

I like the idea of a social worker who looks out for Number One as an antagonist in a story; they"re often portrayed as ineffectual do-gooders. And as Alaska said, the welfare systemis often a neglected aspect of fantasy.
However, Fantasy worlds have their own rules and customs, sure, but unless they follow the folks-is-folls rule, readers wont buy the premise.
as I understand it, Elise the ambitious social worker thinks that if she can demonstrate to the court that she can train a feral child into being a performing seal for the royals, she puts herself in the running for a plum role as royal adviser.
was that your intent, author? Because if it was, it sounds like a long shot. My suggestion is to either rewrite the query so motivations are clearer, or look back to the plot.

Evil Editor said...

If the positions in the court are reshuffled twice a year, then perhaps anyone can move from any position to any other position. (If the Fey are immortal, they may as well learn to do every job, just to avoid boredom.) So it seems the question isn't how can she qualify as an adviser to the king, but why is she any more likely to become adviser than anyone else? Does someone decide who gets each job, or is it random? It can't be both.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'm going to chime in on the age issue since I'm heavily involved with SCBWI and I've been reading fantasy most of my life. Having a young MC in adult fantasy is done all the time, so that's not a problem if this is meant for the adult market. Ender's Game is a prime example of a middle grade crossover book. You can find it in both the children and adult sections of your local bookstore (providing you still have one of those.)

The tone comes across, to me, as middle grade. You have a child with no parents (that she knows of) and she's being controlled by the wicked step mother (hey, is this Disney?). She could make a bargain with the devil to get out of her situation, but there's a lot more to that than what it seemed at first (Faust!).

The difference between middle grade and adult might be in how she works things out in the end. If she saves herself, then you're in line with middle grade. If an adult saves her, you're not.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we all know it's not unheard of to have a child protagonist in an adult novel.

As for that not being a problem, anything that makes a book a harder sell is a problem from the point of view of selling it, and a child protag does make the book a harder sell.

But the problem in terms of the query is that the writer doesn't tell us the book's not MG until the end of the query, and with a 13-y-o protag, most agents will assume it's MG. If they don't handle MG, it's quite likely they'll stop reading.


AA said...

"If the positions in the court are reshuffled twice a year, then perhaps anyone can move from any position to any other position."

Well, yeah. This also means there aren't big stakes here.

If this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it would mean something, but it sounds like everyone is going to have this job eventually.

I'll reiterate that I don't think the job of royal adviser should go to anyone not well versed in politics and well known to the royals.

Evil Editor said...

But perhaps everyone's well-versed in politics and well-known to the royals. Perhaps Elise, like everyone else in the royal court, has had the position of royal adviser twenty times in the past 500 years.