Thursday, February 27, 2014

Face-Lift 1188


Guess the Plot

A Song of Steel

1. A stranger has arrived, and no one knows his name or where he's from. He could be a singer or even a steelworker. No one knows. What is known is that if no one stops him, he'll crush the entire country, and if anyone tries to stop him, they'll be crushed. Perhaps we'll call him . . . The Crusher!

2. Tired of constantly being tasked to save the world, superman hangs up his cape and turns to lyrical composition.

3. It was the forbidden song. Throughout the ages its words were sung surreptitiously wherever there was oppression and hearts longed for revolution and freedom. So the wizard overlord cursed the song so that its lyrics now invoke the dreaded steel vampire.

4. In the middle of an international performance, a violinist discovers his bow has turned into an arrow. He promptly changes professions, becoming an assassin who musics people to death.

5. In ancient Japan, a samurai went everywhere with his sword. Of course, only Haribo took it to extremes. This is the untold story of the samurai who forsakes all others for love of his sword.

6. What did Jesus really do? In this memoir based on recently found scrolls, get the true story of Christ's few years of turning water into wine and drinking it, spending too much time "saving" prostitutes, and carving obscene figurines out of olive wood. And steel.



Original Version

Greetings Evil Editor,

Civil war sets Valzyr on the path to destruction. The work of one man brings it crumbling down. No one knows who he is, and for their own good, no one ever should. [I can't tell if Valzyr is a country, a planet, a religion, or a super robot. A couple extra words in the first sentence would clear it up.]

There are those who try to unveil him. Let them, if they can see past the corpses on the battlefield to the true enemy.

There are those who try to stop him. Let them, if they think they can outmatch him in his game of shadows and blood.

Stay silent and watch him crush the Republic; [Him and what army?] interfere, and be crushed as well. [I choose to stay silent.] He will destroy Valzyr and build his kingdom on the ruins. The only unknown is: whom will he kill? [Actually, that's not the only unknown. Other unknowns include: 
  • Who is he? (True, you did warn me that for my own good I shouldn't know that, but it is, technically, unknown.)
  • Will we be better off if the Republic is crushed and this guy builds his kingdom on the ruins? Or worse off? Things aren't exactly going well at the moment, what with the civil war and all.
  • What are this guy's superpowers, and do we have any super-powered guys on our side?
  • Is his "game of shadows and blood" available as an app? It sounds pretty good.]
[My unknowns were better than your unknown. I don't really care who the guy kills, as you haven't mentioned any characters.]

A SONG OF STEEL, 100K words, showcases the tragic fall of the Republic and its heroes in the shadowy politics of Valzyr. It sets the political intrigue and grey morality of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen in a failing democracy reminiscent of Rome. [Is that the failing democracy of Rome in ancient times or the failing democracy of Rome in 2014?] I am 15 years old [What the-? Okay, unless you can convert this into a book that sets the political intrigue and grey morality of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen in a middle school, revealing that you're 15 won't work in your favor.] [On the other hand, it's amusing to imagine someone finishing your gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, emotional roller coaster of a book, sighing with satisfaction, and turning to the author bio only to find that you're a 10th grader who enjoys hanging out at the mall, Biebs, and talking on the phone with your BFF.] and this is my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours Sincerely,


Notes 

After your book gets made into a blockbuster movie this can be the script the voice-over actor reads during the trailer. First things first. You've told us the situation that exists as the story opens. We also want to know what happens.

The only character important enough to be mentioned in the query is a guy whose identity no one knows, and no one ever should know? I assume he isn't referred to in the book as the man whose identity no one knows, and no one ever should know. What's his name?

Is he the main character? If so, why is he out to crush the Republic and how can he manage such a Herculean task? If not, you need to choose a character (who presumably is trying to stop the man whose identity no one knows, and no one ever should know) and tell us his/her story. How does this person plan to stop a guy capable of crushing the Republic? What happens if the Republic is crushed? Readers need a character to get behind and cheer to victory. The query needs to focus on that person, their goal, the obstacles keeping them from succeeding.

Your writing is excellent, but what you've written is vague and doesn't even begin to tell us your story. Start over and take us far enough so that we simply must know what happens to whomever.

22 comments:

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writer, congratulations on finishing your novel. Your writing is good, and I have no doubt that you'll eventually succeed in getting published if you stick with it.

People sometimes assume that a query should be modeled on the descriptions written on book jacket flaps. The trouble is that flap copy tries to entice while concealing. A query should entice while revealing. You need to give the agent very specific info about your story.

And that info should focus on a character trying to overcome a challenge. We read fiction largely to experience the world through someone else's eyes, to occupy someone else's brain, a thing we can't do in real life. So give us a protagonist we can identify with, show us the challenge he or she is up against, and what he or she is going to have to do to overcome it.

Good luck!

Veronica Rundell said...

Author!
The query is bad, but the book sounds intriguing.
So, fix the query--as instructed by EE and Alaska and sell that book!
Best of luck!

Starlight said...

Hi, original querier here. Thank you so much for your feedback, Evil Editor! And thanks to Alaska for the tip on 'entice while revealing'. I'm rewriting the query now, but am wondering if I'm allowed to resubmit?

P.S.: If I ever switch to app designing, I'll remember to credit you.

Evil Editor said...

Resubmit as a comment to this post, and I'll alert the minions when it's there.

Starlight said...

Rewritten query:

Dear Evil Editor and minions,

When Serilda is hired to kill the Prime Minister of Valzyr, she couldn’t care less that she’s sparking a rebellion. Assassins can’t afford to care.

However, when she botches the job, her client decides to silence her permanently. On the run for her life, Serilda discovers she’s not up against your ordinary rebel. Her client plans to dismantle the Republic from within.

The idiots who are supposed to care are blind to his schemes. Serilda isn’t about to tip them off, but then her client kills the rebel leader — the father who left her for dead years ago.

An assassin would turn her back on all this. But if Serilda doesn’t expose this traitor, her client will destroy the Republic and leave her father’s rebellion in tatters. Even though her father abandoned her, Serilda is still enough of a daughter to care.

But against a politician hell-bent on power, caring is death.

A SONG OF STEEL, 100K words, details the fall of the Republic amidst civil war. It sets the political intrigue and grey morality of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen in a failing democracy reminiscent of ancient Rome. This is my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours Sincerely,
Slushpile Seal

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This is much better. We now have a character with her back to the wall, which is what we need. Now, I wonder if you can make it clearer still?

Paragraph 2: who's her client? This is important throughout the query. Remember, the query is not a place to conceal.

Paragraph 3: Left her for dead? How?

Paragraph 4: You know, my father abandoned me, and I wouldn't give a hoot about his rebellion if he had one. We need some stronger reason why Serilda does other than "enough of a daughter". Or maybe abandon this line of motivation? Saving the Republic should be enough of a motive.

In fact, I'd probably toss dad from the query altogether and focus instead on the mysterious client. Then again, I don't know how central the whole rebellion thing is to Serilda's story. Where does Serilda's real conflict lie?

Don't say it's your debut novel. That's understood. And don't bother to comp (compare your title to others) unless the similarity is very strong. Also, I'd suggest the term "moral ambiguity" instead of "grey morality".

Once again, your writing skills are excellent. If this story doesn't sell, I have no doubt something in the future will. Keep grindin' away.

January said...

Assassins can't afford to care about a republic, but they'll stop at nothing when the father that left them for dead is threatened - because they care?
This sounds too contrived, and your readers won't care to keep reading.
What's really in it for Serilda? She has to have legit personal stakes.

Evil Editor said...

The client wants the Prime Minister killed, which suggests the client is on the side of the rebels or is one of them. Then the client kills the rebel leader? Having read the 1st version, I assume the client is the super villain who wants to run the show. But those who haven't read the 1st version may think it makes no sense to be opposed to both the Republic and the rebels. Possibly the client wants a war, but usually when there's a government and a bunch of rebels you're gonna get a war, and you don't have to instigate it.

If the reason you call the people who are supposed to care "idiots" is because they are "blind to his schemes," then saying they are blind to his schemes is enough. You can call them who they are (Prime Minister and his loyal staff, or whatever) rather than idiots.

Starlight said...

Giving it another stab:

Dear Evil Editor and minions,

When Serilda is hired to kill the Prime Minister of Valzyr, she couldn’t care less that she’s sparking a rebellion. Assassins can’t afford to care.

However, when she botches the job, her client tries to silence her permanently. On the run for her life, Serilda realizes she’s not up against your ordinary rebel. Her client is a politician hell-bent on power. If no one stops him, he will use the rebellion to destroy the Republic and ascend to dictatorship.

The politicians and the rebels are either his puppets, blind to his schemes, or marked for death. Serilda isn’t about to tip them off and land in the last category, until she chances upon the rebels.

An assassin would abandon their doomed insurrection. But the rebels teach Serilda to care, and care enough to help. Her knowledge could snip their strings and defeat her client.

Except, of course, that puppets without strings are destined to fall.

A SONG OF STEEL, 100K words, details the destruction of a failing Republic reminiscent of ancient Rome. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours Sincerely,
Slushpile Seal

Evil Editor said...

The politicians may be Mr. Big's puppets in the book, but in the interest of clarity in the query, I would paragraphs 3 and 4 into:

The rebels are his puppets, blind to his schemes, and Serilda isn’t about to tip them off. But the rebels teach Serilda to care, and care enough to help. Her knowledge could snip their strings and defeat her client.


Of course an assassin would have a lot more work under a dictatorship than a Republic, but having already botched a job for Mr. Big, Callie can't expect he'll be throwing that work her way.

Chicory said...

You're new query is a lot stronger, but the rebels are a bit too faceless. I seem to recall from the original query that the rebel leader is her brother. That might be worth a mention, though I wouldn't bring in that they're estranged. You don't want to make the query really long by over-explaining, just show that the stakes are very personal.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This is coming along really well, but you're still concealing things you should be revealing.

The first paragraph works fine. In the second paragraph, the confusion begins. I think you're calling the Client a rebel. Then you're calling him a politician. Not only does the latter word make readers' eyes glaze over, but it could mean a senator, the President, or the deputy county commissioner. Can you be more specific?

So, I'm getting:

Major external conflict: Someone wants to kill Serilda.

Major internal conflict: Uncaring Serilda learns to care.

Good enough. But can you clearly show us the situations/events/people that make these things happen?

Veronica Rundell said...

Definitely better. I like the substitute paragraph EE offered. And, I do think it's good to have her father mentioned, even if they are estranged...

January said...

You lost me at "the rebels teach Serilda to care."

PLaF said...

P1: change “sparking a rebellion” to “initiating a coup,” so as not to confuse it with the mention of the rebellion lead by her father.
P2: If assassins can’t afford to care about coups or rebellions in paragraph 1, they don’t care in paragraph 2, either, as suggested by “If no one stops him….”
How about: When she botches the job, an attempt is made on her life. Now on the run, Serilda vows to complete the job and restore her reputation. Before she can take another shot at redemption, she uncovers (plans for a powerful weapon of mass destruction).
But before she can locate (the weapon) she is captured by a band of rebels. While in custody, she learns that her original client is a power-hungry senator bent on becoming the first Czar of Valzyr. It’s not enough to make her care until she also learns her father abandoned her in order to lead the rebel effort to stop the would-be dictator.
But the rebels also want control of Valzyr, and Serilda begins to suspect they are merely the puppets of another dark alliance. Serilda knows the weapon will victory to anyone who gets their hands on it. It might remove the mark against her life, but depending on the recipient, it may also mark her as the greatest murderer the world has ever known.
Just my thoughts. Also, not sure where “song” and “steel” come into play.

Starlight said...

Dear Evil Editor and minions,

When Serilda is hired to kill the Prime Minister of Valzyr, she couldn’t care less that she’s sparking a rebellion. Assassins can’t afford to care.

She botches the job, though, and flees to the rebelling south. On the run, Serilda realizes her client is neither a rebel nor a republican. He’s manipulating the rebels, but he’s concealed in the ranks of the Republic. He will end the war as a dictator unless Serilda tracks him down.

She stays out of it. The rebels are his puppets, blind to his schemes, and Serilda isn’t about to tip them off. But when she hides in their army, she marches with them, fights with them, turns into them. And the rebels — even puppets can care with a fury. Frighteningly, Serilda begins to care for them. If she unmasks her client, she could save democracy and snip the rebels’ strings.

Except, of course, that puppets without strings are destined to fall. Especially when their master is a politician hell-bent on power.

A SONG OF STEEL, 100K words, details the destruction of a failing Republic reminiscent of ancient Rome. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours Sincerely,
Slushpile Seal

P.S.: I'd just like to thank everyone who's commented and made suggestions, even if I couldn't implement all of them. Truly, from the bottom of my heart — thank you so much!

Evil Editor said...

I liked the previous version better. How about this:

When Serilda is hired to kill the Prime Minister of Valzyr, she couldn’t care less that she’s sparking a rebellion. Assassins can’t afford to care.

She botches the job, though, and flees to the rebelling south. On the run, Serilda realizes her client is actually a puppet master, manipulating the rebels, while concealed in the ranks of the Republic. He will end the war as dictator unless someone stops him.

Hiding in the ranks of the rebel army, Serilda sees how passionate they are about their cause. If she unmasks her client, she just might save democracy and snip the rebels’ puppet strings.

Of course, puppets without strings are destined to fall.


You haven't shown much of a downside to unmasking her client. Surely it thwarts her client's plans, whether the puppets fall or not.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I get that the writing is great, and the story interesting, but it feels thin to me. Something is missing, and I can't quite put my finger on it.

It's as though you've strung together a bunch of exciting sentences. This leaves me asking:

Is this a book for adults? What year is this set in? Where's Valzyr? What planet is this on? What's the Republic? How old is Serilda? Civil war against citizens of which country?

It also helps to let your query rest for a week or two before attacking it again.

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi there!
I'm chiming in to say this: would the rebels prefer to be embarrassed, or dead? Because that seems to be the one choice here, for Serilda. To humiliate (potentially) the freedom fighting rebels, or to continue withholding vital intel that would save the rebels from a costly battle.

To me, this seems a false choice--only a monster would withhold info that would stop a war and save lives. So, what is the REAL issue that Serilda must overcome?

I can't find it in this version, which makes me think we're too heavy on the set-up and need just a bit more plot/stakes for Serilda.

January said...

1. Why can’t assassins afford to care?
2. How can Serilda spark a rebellion when there is already a rebellion going on in the south?
3. How can her client be neither a rebel nor republican, yet he’s hiding in the ranks of the Republic and plotting a rebellion?
4. How does she suddenly realize this?
5. Why is it frightening for Serilda to care about the rebels? You tell us only what will happen to her client, the rebels, and the Republic, never what is at stake for her personally.
6. Why will the rebels fall if their puppet master is unmasked?

Mister Furkles said...

Here’s an example focusing on the main conflict and increasing tension:

Serilda is an assassin for hire. Her secret client, Minister of Offense Fred Mertz, pays her handsomely to murder Prime Minister Ricky Ricardo. She doesn’t care that it causes a bloody revolution. Societal inconvenience is not an assassin’s concern.

She botches the job, though, and flees to the rebel south. Serilda uncovers her client’s identity. And discovers he’s manipulating the rebels to become dictator regardless of how the revolution ends. She also learns Fred hired a gaggle of assassins to kill her.

By disguising herself and hiding in the rebel army, she hopes to avoid his henchmen. She marches with the rebels, fights with them, and begins to care about them. If she reveals all she knows, it will save the Republic but at the cost of her life. So, she plays Parcheesi with the rebel general’s entourage and lets the whole damn thing fall apart.


There’s plenty of room to add a little story color. It’s only 125 words if you cut the last sentence about Parcheesi--which is how I’d like it to end. Also, I love the word ‘gaggle’ and had to work it in somehow. Just console yourself that it isn’t loaded up with porcupines and coatis.

Veronica Rundell said...

Here's the funny thing about 'hiding' info about your book in a query--it's not intriguing, it's frustrating.

This isn't the back cover copy, so spoiling the mystery doesn't prevent a reader from buying/reading the book--it prevents an agent from understanding if the book is strong enough to sell.

Mr. F? Coatis and I LOVE LUCY would make for one incredible mash-up. I love the word "ointment" perhaps I should include that in my next query comment... ;)