Thursday, May 30, 2013

Face-Lift 1131


Guess the Plot

Turning Good

1. Fenalda, apprentice of evil wizard Malvario, decides to turn good. Normally this would require Malvario to turn her into a bug, but he has developed a soft spot for her, so he lets her off the hook, hoping the League of Evil Magic never finds out he did something nice.

2. Lucifer never expected to be disappointed in his child, but it seems God just has to up the ante. If Lu doesn't act fast his hell spawn will be welcomed into Heaven for . . . Turning Good.

3. Nothing grows at Camp Yellow Pond. Not even the shadows at sunset. At least that's what everyone believes until a single sprout erupts from the putrid water. Could it be the lake is . . . Turning Good?

4. Fletcher Donahue has played a villain in 64 movies, and he's sick of it. His agent tells him no audience will ever believe he's good--he exudes evil from his raspy voice to his hawk-like eyes to his strange mannerisms. But Fletcher won't give in. He'll stop at nothing to play the hero.

5. Assassin Alison MacDuff just got engaged to the love of her life, an evangelical pastor. She's ready to reform for his sake, but now her old compatriots are threatening to tell him about her past. There's only one solution. She has to kill them all, and fast.

6. Teen rebel Dan Greely pulled one stunt too many. He's been sent to 180 Degrees Reformatory which claims to turn the worst delinquents into model citizens. Dan thought nothing could change him, but after one day of "special tutorials," he realizes he’s got to escape while he’s still in control enough to warn the world.




Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When Malvario’s thirteen-year-old apprentice, Fenalda, decides to turn good, he’s faced with an embarrassing dilemma. As an evil wizard, he ought to destroy Fenalda or at least transform her into something nasty, but Malvario can’t bear to harm her. Instead, they agree on a ruse. She pretends to escape his clutches, and he publicly swears vengeance on her. [I'd start a new paragraph here.] If the League of Evil Magic learns that Malvario helped Fenalda change sides, they’ll have his head for consorting with good. And if Fenalda’s new mentors at the Guild of Good Magic learn she’s still in regular contact with Malvario, they’ll blacklist her for consorting with evil. She shares her secret only with her new friend Briarwood the Disenchanter, a wizard who has dedicated his life to rescuing people transformed by evil spells. He warns her to be careful—Malvario really is evil and there’s no telling what he might do. [Dump that last sentence.]

Two years later, Fenalda, now fifteen, [Got it. 13 + 2 = 15] discovers that Briarwood has a consorting secret of his own, and it just went sour. [That makes it sound like the secret is consorting with someone. "...Briarwood has been doing some consorting of his own, and it's coming back to bite him." is better, but better still is to tell us what happened. His consorting went sour is vague.] Now Tanis, a beautiful evil enchantress, is out to wreak vengeance [No, no, you wreak havoc. You take vengeance.] on him and, through some twisted reasoning, on Fenalda, too. [What's Tanis's beef?] When Malvario learns about the threat to Fenalda, he rushes to her rescue. Briarwood reluctantly agrees to accept Malvario's help in tracking Tanis. But Malvario has neglected to mention that his plan to save Fenalda involves sacrificing Briarwood as well as any of Fenalda's other Guild friends who happen to get in the way. [Furthermore, Tanis knows that Malvaria and Briarwood are tracking her, but Malvaria and Briarwood know that she knows, and she knows this. When Malvaria contracts malaria in Moldova, Fenalda cures him with a potion of fennel and tannis root, infuriating Tanis.]

Meanwhile, Fenalda joins a new study group and discovers that the Guild of Good Magic hides a secret that could shortly cause the destruction of Guild and League alike. [We don't need this. We care what happens to Fenalda, not to the Guild and the League.]

Turning Good, a YA fantasy adventure novel, is complete at 143,000 words. [It's too long. Make it two books or take a chainsaw to it.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Notes

Fenalda has a secret, Malvario has two secrets, Briarwood has a secret, and the Guild of Good Magic has a secret. Malvario and Briarwood know Fenalda's secret, Fenalda and Briarwood know Malvario's first secret, Fenalda knows Briarwood's and the Guild's secrets. I assume Tanis knows Briarwood's secret, and that's why she's out for vengeance. Only Malvario's 2nd secret, that he's planning to sacrifice Briarwood, is really a secret, and I'm betting Briarwood suspects it.

Is it really necessary to track Tanis? If she wants vengeance on Malvario and Fenaldo, she's tracking them. Wait around and she'll show up. Or is her quest for vengeance another secret?

The main plot seems to be the Tanis threat. You could remove the two sentences about the Guild and the League from paragraph 1 (I know, I suggested you make them paragraph 2, but that was before I knew Tanis even existed). That gives you plenty of room to tell us what Briarwood did to bring on the wrath of Tanis, and what the Bri/Fen/Mal team plans to do about her. Possibly it'll be easier to follow if you focus on the main plot.

That the villain is more interested in Briarwood than in your protagonist could be bothersome. Tanis's "twisted reasoning" is all that puts Fenalda in danger? Was Fen involved in any way in Briarwood's consorting? If not, how does Tanis even know Fen exists?

20 comments:

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author!

Sounds like fun story, however, I can't figure out what the two year gap is all about. Why not simply start at the two year mark? This may help you lop a chunk off the word count immediately--which EE mentioned is problematic.

(Most of the info out there marks an upper limit to 1st title YA fantasy at 110,000 words. Though there are exceptions you can't put all your hope into being the one who made it...)

Tania hunting Fenalda doesn't make sense here. There must be a reason for it, even if it's crackpot logic, so include it. Otherwise it sounds like the book is full of psychopaths.

How old is Malvario? Creepy old dude old? Or relatively close to Fenadla's age? I'd like to know what is special about her that a sworn baddie would risk life and limb to protect her, privately and publicly.

Just some thoughts. Best of luck!

150 said...

My instinct tells me the query should start with:

When Fenalda decided to turn good, her mentor-in-evil Malvario agreed to a ruse for both their reputations: she'd pretend to escape his clutches, and he'd pretend to hold a grudge. Two years later, there's an evil sorceress after her, and Malvario insists on coming to her aid. But he might have his own agenda.

My instinct is also guessing that you spent several thousand words showing Fenalda at age thirteen, and my instinct says kill it, kill it dead, and start with the current problem and save the backstory to be revealed gradually in interesting ways. Plus it'd help your 143k-problem.

Komal J Verma said...

Yes, as Veronica said about Fenalda and why Malvario would risk himself - it would work if they were father/daughter.

PLaF said...

The beginning of the query suggests Malvario is the MC. Then Fenalda dances around the title before it's handed off to someone else.
I suspect the reason for the large word count is because there are too many main characters.

Secondly, you only tell us there are a bunch of secrets. Ya gotta tell us at least one of 'em.

150 said...

I always hope the author turns up in the comments and confirms our guesses. Queries are just so short.

For the record, I totally buy a deep mentor/mentee relationship that would act like family.

Jo Antareau said...

Hi author. I think you've got a potential for a fun story, but a few things stood out. Firstly, Malvario sounded like an anagram for Voldemort gone wrong.
Secondly, the use of the word evil. This tends to be how others describe a group or person, nobody refers to themself as evil unless they're an editor with a senseof humour. People are great at justifying their acts of evil as being neccesary for some reason or another, ultimately related to increasing their bank balances or their egos/ power.
Go and read up on Nazi history for some wonderful examples of self-serving spin doctory. For example, it being harsh but neccesary for them to kill Jewish babies, in order to save the next generation from the burden of doing so. They were doing their own kids a favour. Pardon me while I gag. But my point is, their motivations were not simply "to be evil".
So back to your dark wizards: please try to find some more believable motivations for their evil deeds then just being evil for its own sake.

ttanner said...

Hi, this is the author, I'll answer some questions here, and I've sent a revised query which should answer the rest of the questions.

As far as word count goes, I think the best way to fix that was to follow EE's first suggestion and cut the book in two. The story arcs allow for it without much alteration.

Malvario is in his mid-forties, but don't worry, his relationship with Fenalda will never be remotely romantic. It's all parent/child, mentor/student, friend/friend between them.

What's special about Fenalda--well, she's the kind of girl who, when cornered by a smooth-talking villain, will smile and nod like a naïve idiot until said villain gets momentarily distracted, at which point she will quietly disappear, only to reappear shortly afterwards in the form of a gigantic, venomous, jumping spider on the attack. Moments like this make Malvario very proud.

To 150, that is a very impressive summary, and I was tempted to use it. The trouble is, since I've cut the book in half, there's not much more plot to tell about. No, that's not true. There's a lot more plot, but I couldn't tell about it without introducing more characters into the query, and some people apparently think four is too many already.

Yes, there are a lot of main characters. I like stories with a lot of main characters as long as they're added in such a way that I'm already interested in them as minor characters before I'm asked to delve deeper into their point of view.

I confess that Malvario and Voldemort both got their names in similar ways in that they both made them up completely in order to support the persona they'd created for themselves. Other than that, I don't see much similarity. It always made me think more of Malvolio from Twelfth Night, which has nothing to do with anything.

As to calling themselves evil, possibly my world isn't as grittily realistic as the real one. But then, in this society wizards, and sorceresses are very rare, very powerful, and very slippery and thus have a very low chance of getting caught, so maybe they can afford to be a bit more honest and cavalier about what they are. What evil means to Malvario is that he doesn't have to follow anyone else's rules. And if breaking rules causes society to slap a label on him, then fine. He'll embrace that label. He rejected society before it rejected him (which possibly goes a way to explain why his one positive relationship with Fenalda is so important to him). And while Malvario isn't an editor, he does have a sense of humor.

Author said...

Dear EE,

Thank you for the helpful comments. And especially thank you for the certainty with which you recommended cutting the book in half. I'd been too nervous to make the decision on my own. Here's a revised version of my query.



When Malvario’s teenage apprentice, Fenalda, decides to turn good, he’s faced with an embarrassing dilemma. As an evil wizard, he ought to destroy Fenalda or at least transform her into something nasty, but Malvario can’t bring himself to harm the girl he’s come to love as a daughter. Instead, they agree on a ruse. She pretends to escape his clutches, and he publicly swears vengeance on her.

Fenalda finds a new friend and mentor in Briarwood the Disenchanter, a young wizard who has dedicated his life to rescuing people transformed by evil spells. Unknown to Fenalda, Briarwood has for several years had a turbulent romance with Tanis, a beautiful evil enchantress. Finally accepting that he can never convince Tanis to turn good, Briarwood breaks off their relationship. Tanis suspects an ulterior motive. She spies on Briarwood, catches part of a conversation between him and Fenalda, and completely misconstrues their friendship. In a paroxysm of jealousy, Tanis hits Briarwood with an excruciating curse, and sets a death-trap for Fenalda which she only narrowly avoids.

Frustrated, Tanis tries to recruit Malvario to help her destroy Fenalda. He works a deal with her, then works a separate deal with Fenalda and Briarwood. If everything goes as Malvario plans, Briarwood will die, Malvario will be free to woo Tanis himself, and Fenalda will be perfectly safe and none the wiser.

Turning Good, a YA fantasy adventure novel is complete at 65,500 words. The sequel, Consorting With Evil, is complete at 77,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Evil Editor said...

Can't tell whether it's Malvario or Fenalda who's faced with a dilemma in sentence 1, because I don't know Fanalda is a female name. You could change the structure to:

When his thirteen-year-old apprentice, Fenalda, decides to turn good, Malvario is faced with...

Or you could change Fenalda's name to Elizabeth.


Is there a less blah way of saying "turning good"? Maybe instead of deciding to turn good she can decide to join the Guild of Benevolent Magicians.

Does the first book have a satisfying conclusion? If so, say so, so the reader doesn't think she is required to take on both books.

PLaF said...

"What's special about Fenalda--well, she's the kind of girl who, ... only to reappear shortly afterwards in the form of a gigantic, venomous, jumping spider on the attack. Moments like this make Malvario very proud."
That, my friend, is a hook.

Kelsey said...

This feels like you started to tell one story, and then veered off into another. From comparing the first query with your revisions this might be a result of splitting it in two. Just because the wordcount math works well to split doesn't mean it works for the story.

The first paragraph of your query talks about the conflict between good and evil, and an "evil" wizard being not-so-evil after all, and maybe the same for the "good" sorceress being not so good. Cool! I find this hook light-hearted and charming.

But then everything after that feels like it could belong in any fantasy book. MC meets a guy named Briarwood, he has a jealous ex-girlfriend, she lays a trap, MC's old friend tries to save her... yes, the query tells us these characters are Good and Evil, but they could just as easily be regular wizards and sorceresses. Regular people are also jealous of their exs, wander in the woods, lay traps for each other... see what I mean? After reading the first paragraph I thought the whole book would focus on the tension between what makes the characters in your world uniquely Good (rather than the regular kind of good that describe most fiction heroes) or uniquely Evil (again, not using behaviour that characterize most fantasy villains.)

If your overall story involves a Guild, and other story points that make your fantasy world unique, I'd take out (or at least drastically minimize) this jealous ex-girlfriend subplot and keep the two halves as one story with a reasonable word count.

This is why we writers are told to murder our darlings.

Good luck!

Komal J Verma said...

I think the third paragraph is where is gets a little messy and focusses far too much on Tanis, as if we switch to her as the main character.

'Unknown to Fenalda, Briarwood has for several years had a turbulent romance with Tanis, a beautiful evil enchantress. TRY: After breaking up with her, a suspicious Tanis spies on him, catching a conversation between Briarwood and Fenalda - which Tanis completely misconstrues. She hits....'

Or better keep it Fenalda-centric, e.g. 'Unknown to Fenalda, Briarwood has for several years had a turbulent romance with Tanis, a beautiful evil enchantress. So she also doesn't know that Briarwood broke up with Tanis, and that the enchantress has overheard a conversation she had with Briarwood...

150 said...

I can't help noticing that practically everyone in the second query is making decisions that shape the story, except Fenalda.

ttanner said...

I think I liked this better when more people agreed what was wrong with the query. As it is, I'm having a hard time telling which are individual opinions and which are serious problems to which any publisher would object. Would you mind telling if you think the second query is (a) better than the first one (b) worse than the first one (c) no better or worse because it fixes some problems but introduces others?

Evil Editor said...

I think it's clearer. That solves the biggest problem. It doesn't feel focused on one main character however, and you don't have enough space to focus on 4 people.

Mister Furkles said...

The plot is clearer in the second query. But it makes Malvario sound like the main character; he seem to be driving the action.

I really like the hook that PLaF pointed out. Maybe start with that then tell us (1) what Fenalda wants to accomplish, (2) who tries to stop her, and (3) what she does about it.

First, try to write it as one 15 to 25 word sentence. It helps you to focus. (Or faux'kaus as fantasy writers might put it.)

So, why do the guys get regular names while the gals have strange names?

Mister Furkles said...

The plot is clearer in the second query. But it makes Malvario sound like the main character; he seem to be driving the action.

I really like the hook that PLaF pointed out. Maybe start with that then tell us (1) what Fenalda wants to accomplish, (2) who tries to stop her, and (3) what she does about it.

First, try to write it as one 15 to 25 word sentence. It helps you to focus. (Or faux'kaus as fantasy writers might put it.)

So, why do the guys get regular names while the gals have strange names?

Veronica Rundell said...

In the second query I cannot tell which is the MAIN character. Also, it is rather blah. It reads like a synopsis. I absolutely love the transfiguration bit you discuss in your comments and think that if Fenalda is the true MC the query should center on her.

We should learn how she controls her action in this story, and what she risks in making the decisions that she faces.

So, IMHO, neither query is good, but the first one had a bit more oomph. Also, cutting the book into two books leaves you with the issue of a too-short fantasy.

One example:friend writes paranormal YA romance book at 60,000 words. Publisher buys it on the condition that she add 10,000 words. Why? Too short--for paranormal YA romance. YA fantasy at just over 63,000 words MAY be too short. YMMV...

CavalierdeNuit said...

Cutting one's book in half does not mean it was a whole book before the cut. If you need to write a new ending, do it. If you need to cut 8k words off the beginning, and write an ending with 10k, then do that. Edit that entirely; sew it together seamlessly. Ignore it for a few days. Revise again, etc.

Please tell me what dreadful thing is going to happen. It sounds like a bizarre love triangle right now. Your characters are powerful, and their actions should reflect this. Unless you're writing soft porn with Tanis and Briarwood (Fenalda gets turned on while peeping in the window), or Fenalda and Briarwood (Tanis gets turned while peeping in the window). I don't see why anyone would care about your first book.

The last paragraph of your new query is not severe enough. Will Fenalda stop a villain from destroying the Guild and League, and save herself and her friends in the process? Do any of her friends die? Does she save Briarwood from dying, or need to kill Malvario to save all of her friends? Who dies, and what great choice will Fenalda need to make?

Dig into the hearts of your characters, and make them hurt.

My personal rule is to never let anyone look at my query until the book is ready to go. This way, you can revisit your work and connect it to your query. You can get some good editing in too.

I love this paragraph, and I want to read about Fenalda:

"What's special about Fenalda--well, she's the kind of girl who, when cornered by a smooth-talking villain, will smile and nod like a naïve idiot until said villain gets momentarily distracted, at which point she will quietly disappear, only to reappear shortly afterwards in the form of a gigantic, venomous, jumping spider on the attack. Moments like this make Malvario very proud."

Also, this sentence makes Fenalda sound like a guy:

"When Malvario’s teenage apprentice, Fenalda, decides to turn good, he’s faced with an embarrassing dilemma"

Please see EE's suggestion.

Good luck! I'd like to pick this off the shelf at Barnes & Noble one day...

ttanner said...

Thank you all. Your comments were very helpful, and your encouragement was very welcome.