Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Face-Lift 1241

Guess the Plot

Descendants of the Banished

1. As the great-granddaughter of the only couple ever banished from Atlantis, humiliation burns within Melloria on a daily basis. But when she watches as Atlantis sinks beneath the foaming waves, a new emotion surfaces. “Suck it, bitches!” she cries. Vengeance is so, so sweet.

2. With werewolves, vampires, and zombies taking over everything, and their grandparents all but forgotten, there wasn’t much call for banshees. So, their offspring use scientific demonology to get back in the ... say what? ... Descendants of the Banished? ... Oh, yeah, well ... well ... Descendants of the Banshees would sell lots better.

3. They were banished to an uninhabited island two centuries ago. They had children, and their children had children and so on. Now they number in the hundreds, and seeking revenge they sail with their swords and spears toward the land of their banishers, the United States of America.

4. Keenah and Oog live on the outskirts of the fishing settlement, as their families have for generations. When one of the Fishers rapes Keenah, Oog kills him to rally the others. The Neanderthals are now on the march--and with superior strength, bigger brains, and their oppressor's weapons, it doesn't look good for the Cro-Magnons.

5. Centuries ago, an ancestor of Hemlock was banished from the land. Now Hemlock has been named the supreme ruler. A remarkable comeback, though helped along by Hemlock's confessing to killing the previous supreme ruler. And by the ancient law that states anyone who accuses anyone of murder will be sentenced to death.

6. America's longest-running "reality" series, Big Brother, has survived 40 seasons by constantly upping the ante. This year the contestants will all be children and grandchildren of the most-hated D-List pseudo-celebrities ever to get kicked out in past seasons, plus one unassuming young man who only the producers know is a psychotic serial killer. Hilarity ensues. 

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Being required by law to marry her father's killer was not Princess Briar's idea of a happy ending. Nor is the fact that, without any rock solid evidence, a public accusation of murder would result in her own trial and death sentence. [None of that would be anyone's idea of a happy ending to anything, so no need to tell us that.]

In a land where Spirits can be summoned only by members of the four royal families, the strongest Summoner is called the Protector and becomes the supreme ruler. The unexpected death of the Protector, King Acacia, sets in motion a Summoning Ceremony which determines the new Protector. When Princess Briar attempts to win the ceremony and take her father's place as Protectress, she loses to a stranger no one has seen before and inadvertently invokes a law that requires she marry the new Protector. [Because she's the princess or because she came in second? If she wins, she can marry whomever she wants, but if he wins he is required by law to marry Briar?] [Whaddaya mean, "inadvertently invokes"? I don't see how a law can be inadvertently invoked. Doesn't this law come into play whenever a Protector dies?] [I don't like devoting so much space to the rules of succession.   In the land of Gonoria, the death of the supreme ruler is always followed by a ceremony in which the strongest Spirit Summoner wins the throne. When Princess Briar's father dies unexpectedly, she tries to take his place, but is out-summoned by a stranger, a stranger who invokes a long-forgotten law requiring the princess to marry him.

When the stranger confesses that the Spirit that won him the title also killed her father, Briar knows she must bring him to justice. [Him, meaning the stranger, or the spirit that killed her father?] However, in their land, [If you named the land in paragraph 2, you could now refer to it by name.] accusations are not taken lightly, [Confessions, on the other hand, are brushed off like dandruff from the shoulders of a carpet salesman.] and if made prematurely or without enough proof, can backfire on the accuser. If Briar is to live to see Lord Protector Hemlock receive his just due, she must play the part of a blushing bride while gathering evidence of his guilt. Meanwhile, the man that Briar had intended to marry after the ceremony turns his back on her just when she needs an ally the most. [If you're dumped by your fiancee at the last minute so she can marry a complete stranger, you can be forgiven for not wanting to hang out with her. But you've done nothing to earn your way into the query.]

In her quest for retribution against the man who stole her happiness, Briar will go on some perilous journeys, discover some startling truths, and come to realize that things are not always what they seem. [Vague. Either drop the paragraph or specify where she goes and what she discovers/realizes.]

Descendants of the Banished is a 75,000 word Fantasy that crosses elements with genres [Not clear to me what is meant by "elements."] such as suspense, action, mystery, and light romance. It is intended for the YA reader who loves plot twists. [It wasn't obvious to me that this was YA. Maybe this should be put up front.] Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours truly,

***The title comes from the backstory that Hemlock, the main antagonist, is a descendant of a forgotten Baron who was banished two centuries ago.*** [And "Descendants" is plural because someone else is also a descendant of someone who was once banished?]


So if a Spirit kills someone, it's the fault of whoever summoned the Spirit? Spirits don't do anything except follow their Summoners' orders?

So if Briar says, "I don't know if it's true or not, but Hemlock confessed to me that he's responsible for the king's death," she will be sentenced to death because she has no rock-solid evidence?

This is analogous to Queen Elizabeth being found murdered, so Prince Charles is expected to take the throne, but then Camilla announces that Charles confessed to her that he hired a hit man to kill the queen. But because Camilla doesn't have rock-solid evidence that Charles did so, she is sentenced to death. . . . . Now that I think about it, if that all happened it wouldn't even make the Top Ten List of the Most Scandalous Events Involving the British Throne.

Does Hemlock want to be married to Briar? Because it seems like confessing he's behind her father's death is likely to lead to one of them getting a death sentence. And even if it doesn't, it's likely to lead to him not getting a lot of action in the sack. Why does he confess?

Is the fact that centuries ago one of his ancestors was banished considered evidence that Hemlock is behind the king's death? Is that the evidence Briar is after? If so, the title gives it away. If not, why is it important enough to be the title?

There are some intriguing aspects to this, but I'd try rewriting it:

Paragraph 1: The setup: Princess Briar must suffer a forced marriage to the man who killed her father until she can gather evidence to prove his guilt.

P2: The Plot: What evidence exists, how does she go about gathering this evidence, and what threatens to defeat her plan?

P3: The wrap-up: What is Hemlock up to? What will happen to the kingdom and/or to Briar if she fails to bring him down?

Try to limit each paragraph to three sentences.


JRMosher said...

There's a bit of redundancy in the first few paragraphs (p1 says a public accusation would result in her own death and p3 says accusations are not taken lightly; p1 and p2 both say Briar is being forced to marry.) Queries don't leave room to say the same thing twice.

I think the biggest problem for me is in paragraph 4. A lot of words are wasted on setup, then a vague mention of "perilous journeys" and "startling truths". These journeys are, presumably, the meat of the book. Spend some time on that. Does she run away from her forced marriage? Or is she accompanying Hemlock on his journeys? Or something else? What's the peril? What is her goal and what, specifically, is in the way?

Frankly, if she can summon spirits just like Hemlock can (which the query suggests) and he summoned one to kill her father and got away with it, why doesn't she summon one to kill Hemlock? Problem solved, and if she's careful then no one will be able to accuse her of the crime because they will be put to death for it.

Kelsey Hutton said...

I love a good revenge tale, but the whole in-their-society-they-kill-people-who-make-accusations-without-proof strains credulity.

t would make more sense to me if the new Protector was simply more politically powerful and she was afraid to openly accuse him because his followers, who want to stay in his good graces, would find it more lucrative to quietly assasinate her than let her undermine a system they plan on benefiting from.

Basically, I like your set up but you don't need to try so hard for a fancy explanation to justify it.

And I'd also like to hear more about her "perilous journeys," especially because as a reader I'd want to make sure her journeys have a point and aren't her just wandered around getting in and out of trouble.

Good luck!

InkAndPixelClub said...

Is a name change for Briar possible? I can see a lot of editors who handle fantasy seeing that name and thinking "Sleeping Beauty retelling." Even if they don't, it's a bit overused.

The first paragraph - and most of the query - show Briar as a passive character. Things are happening to her, but she' snot doing much until the very end, where the description of what she's doing is too vague to be interesting. The faster you can get to Briar making choices and taking action, the more interesting she'll be.

Paragraph 2 is just too much exposition about how this society works and it gets way too confusing. You state that only members of the four royal family's can summon Spirits, but then a total stranger shows up and summons one good enough to make him the new king. So either this guy must be a member or the four ruling families and everyone in the kingdom would be aware of that fact, or he's not and your ur narrator credibility just took a major hit. If only members of the four royal families have been able to summon Spirits until now and everyone believes that they're the only ones who can, then say that. But if that's the case, seeing a guy whose not a royal summon a Spirit will probably have major repercussions in this kingdom that will likely be worth mentioning in the query.

I'm not against the idea of false accusation - or the appearance of it - being a capital crime in this land, but you have to make sure it's fully worked into the fabric of your world and not just a convenient reason why Briar can't just accuse her new husband of murder. What does this law mean for society in general? How does this kingdom look different from places where accusations can be made freely without fear of death? Is the crime rate extremely high?

This will probably become a nonissue when you revise the query and start talking about the perilous journeys and startling truths, but you don't want to use "some" to describe either of those. It makes what you're describing sound trivial and it doesn't add anything.

Cut everything for the first sentence of the last paragraph after "Fantasy." None of those elements are so rare in fantasy novels that you need to call them out. If there' suspense, action, mystery, and light romance in the book, show it in the query. I'd also combine the first and second sentences. And dump the reference to plot twists. I don't know that there' sa huge demographic of readers whose ideal book is "something with a plot twist." It feels like you just want to point out that there' sa plot twist or two in your book. Either mention some comps with suitably twisty plots or write the query so that it leads up to the plot twist and hints that it's there, assuming you don't want to give it away.

khazarkhum said...

Is there a compelling reason why they all have plant-based names?

The Author said...

Let me first say that the story itself is finished but it is currently in the revision process and my word count already is immensely different. I wanted to submit the query here now, however so that by the time my revisions are done, my query will also be ready to go.

To answer some of EE's questions:

Yes, Spirits do the bidding of their Summoners without question, it is part of the contract process. This is addressed in the books, as many times this is abused and the Spirits are made to things that they morally don't agree with... but there is a reason they accept the contracts in the first place... it's all there.

The "law of substantiation" which is questioned a couple of times on here is a very old law that is meant to "keep the peace within the kingdom". It actually has a darker reason and history that is also discovered in the book.

I don't think that it is the same as the example of the British Royals since they have an actual line of succession. There is no such thing in this book. So I think it would be more like the forklift driver in Australia that some historians said had a better claim to the British throne than the current royal family killed the Queen. Then Prince Charles had to battle it out with ALL of the other nobles to gain the throne instead of being next in line automatically. Technically Prince Andrew could be next and he is fifth in line in real life.

Hemlock did not compete in the Summoning Ceremony to marry the Princess and at first he actually sees it as an annoyance. He is very indifferent toward her and her feelings which leads to the issue of confessing about killing her father. This is also an "in depth" issue as he is explaining to her about the Spirit who defeated her in the SC. It is actually a misunderstanding, he never gets to tell her the full story at the time because their conversation is interrupted.

The banishment could be considered evidence since it could be seen as a motive (it is the motive for the real killer who is in fact another descendant of the banished noble...spoiler alert) and it is one of the things she discovers since Hemlock is keeping it all under wraps. However she does need more than that.


In answer to the vagueness, I was trying to be alluring seeing that I had very little room left after explaining the world. I now realize that was an error and I plan to fix it. Thank you.

Kelsey Hutton

I explained about the law above.

As for her journeys, they do have purpose and I thoroughly plan to convey that in my next query attempt.


A name change is actually in the works. I honestly just picked a name, any name, in the beginning but then after I created the "name theme" in my book I knew it had to be different. I haven't fully decided what it will be so I left it for this submission... my biggest candidate right now is Astra... it's a subphylum in the family of plants that "Briar's" family is named for.

I was under the impression that queries for fantasy novels required a full background of world knowledge. I even read a breakdown of a query from an agent that labeled the information as "necessary". I now plan to limit this.


Mostly the plant-based names are because I have a passion for biology and thought it would be fun. The last names of the royal families are actual plant families in classification. So the names of relatives in the book correspond accordingly. The males are named for trees and the females for shrubs and flowers. This aids in the allusion to Hemlock's name. A hemlock plant is poisonous but the tree isn't. The two often get mixed up however, just as Hemlock the character is confused for the killer who is actually someone else.

Thanks again to everyone who commented, I received some great advice and plan to take it to heart. I have several new drafts of my query already and plan to pick the best one to post on here. Hopefully you will all see some improvement.

Kelsey Hutton said...

Hi author,

I'm interested by this "darker reason" re: the law, but I still feel like it comes off as trying too hard--maybe best left for the synopsis.

I would understand why it's dangerous for anyone to accuse the sitting King of murder regardless of whether it's entrenched in law. Pretty much just common sense.

Glad to hear you're revising. Besk of luck!

Anonymous said...

From what I've seen, you only need to explain enough of the world for your plot to make sense, and you can gloss over with near equivalents to some of the unique terms

I'm not a fan of misunderstandings being a key plot element (especially as pertains to potential romance):
-they tend to be contrived
-they leave the characters seeming stupid/irresponsible
-it's a cop-out: having real disagreements/differences/challenges to overcome is more interesting, and more challenging to write

I am looking forward to a revision of the query. Good Luck

Author said...


After reading your comment I agree with the misunderstanding bit. The way I have the story set up is from Briar/ Astra's POV and Hemlock's as well. In the beginning Hemlock is angry when he first shows up and he is quite mean to the Princess. In fact there is no clue that he isn't the killer until midway through the story. I do that on purpose and she even finds a few clues that point to him. So I have decided that when he informs her of the Spirit that killed her father, it will be on purpose. He simply won't give her all of the facts, out of "pure meaness" as we say in the southern states. They both end up growing considerably before its over.

I have the revised query here it is....

Also this is present tense and I have read that the query should be the same tense as the book which is past tense. Is this an absolute rule?

Dear Literary Agent,

The mourning Princess Astra of the Kingdom of Leptana must suffer a forced marriage to her father’s killer while she gathers evidence of his guilt.

When Lord Hemlock participated in the Summoning Ceremony, he only wanted to return from his family's banishment and reclaim their former glory as rulers of the kingdom; he didn’t intend to gain a wife. When he willingly participates in a campaign of misinformation, Princess Astra labels him as a killer and will stop at nothing to have him put to death for his supposed crimes. But, he knows who the true killer is and as terrible things start happening to the villages near the castle and people continue to die, he questions if protecting his own sister is really worth the price of vengeance for a wrong done two centuries ago.

The Princess’ quest for irrefutable proof takes her to many places, from a dismal island inhabited by banished criminals to the hidden lair of a legendary being that knows all truths. Guided only by her resolve and a cryptic riddle, she discovers her own family’s dark history and questions everything she has come to believe. In the end she must endure a battle between the nobility, followed by her own trial and possible death sentence, before she can find justice and learn that Hemlock is not the enemy she thought he was.

Descendants of the Banished is a ##,### word fantasy adventure. It is my debut novel and while currently standing alone, has the potential to be the first book of a duology. Thank you for taking the time to read this query.

Yours truly,
####### #######

Evil Editor said...

The plot summary is almost always better in present tense no matter what tense the book is in. You're basically saying "Here's what happens in my book," not "Here's what happened long ago in a galaxy far away."

I don't find this version to be an improvement. You mention the Summoning Ceremony without telling us it determines the new ruler. You mention a campaign of misinformation without explaining what you're talking about. You mention Hemlock protecting his sister, without telling us what he's protecting her from. His sister was't even worth mentioning in the previous version. You say Hemlock only wants to reclaim his family's glory, but then you say he's out for vengeance. You need something like this:

When Lord Hemlock is proclaimed the new ruler of Leptana, Princess Astra is not happy. For one thing, she wanted the position. For another, she suspects that Hemlock was behind her father's murder. And worst of all, she is required by law to marry the new king.

Astra cannot accuse the king of murder without solid proof. Her search for this proof leads her to a dismal island inhabited by banished criminals and to a legendary being that knows all truths--including the truth about Astra's dark family history.

Returning to Leptana, Astra stubbornly accuses King Hemlock of murder. But Hemlock knows who the real killer is: his sister! No way is he letting his sister die for helping him take the throne when he can just have Astra executed for falsely accusing him. Christ. Is there any way this mess can be turned into a happily ever after for everyone?

Also, obedient spirits.

I probably got some of the facts wrong, but you can use this as a template.

Chicory said...

The viewpoint in your second query is a serious problem. The first and second paragraph sound like they are describing two completely different books. Honestly, I was more interested in the book about Hemlock then the one about Astra. In EE's template, the story belongs to Astra. It isn't stolen by Hemlock and then snatched back by Astra for the final paragraph.

Evil Editor said...

One could argue that Hemlock should be the main character of the query and the book. As he't innocent, he's the rightful king. He has the difficult decision of whether to reveal the killer's identity. Astra seems to do nothing except search for proof of something that didn't happen, while Hemlock brings his wrongfully? banished family back to their deserved prominence.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Even if your book is told from two points of view, you're going to have to decide on who the main protagonist is and whose story you're telling in the query. The revision kicks off with a declaration of what the story is about and almost immediately backs away from it in the next paragraph.

Does Hemlock's POV enter the story early on, or not until that midway point where it becomes clear that he's not the killer? If his sections start early in the book, I'd stick with Hemlock as the POV character for the query since he knows more of what's going on. If the reader isn't going to know what Hemlock knows until fairly late in the book, write the query from Astra's perspective. You can suggest that the other character is doing a bunch of stuff as well, but actually having both viewpoints in the query is going to get confusing.

If this is Hemlock's story, start roughly where paragraph one begins. All he wanted was to reclaim his banished family's position in society by winning the throne with his summoning skills. But now there's a plot frame him for the old king's murder and Hemlock can't speak up to prove his innocence because (reason Hemlock can't speak up). Worse still, the princess he was forced to marry when he became king is convinced that Hemlock killed her father and is well on her way to assembling enough evidence to get him convicted and executed. Follow up with some things Hemlock does to try and solve his problem and leave off where he either has a choice to make or a chance to either succeed or fail in clearing his name, or whatever he's trying to do at this point.

If you go with Astra, you'll want something more similar to the first query draft, but with more plot and less exposition. Astra wanted to become queen by proving herself at the Summoning Ceremony. Instead, she ended up in a forced marriage to the winner, a complete stranger. As if this wasn't bad enough, Astra finds evidence that implicates her new husband as her father's killer. When he outright tells her that (he killed her father/the Spirit he summoned was the one that killed her father), Astra sets out to find incontrovertible evidence of her husband's guilt. But when she journeys to the island of banished criminals, what she finds leaves her questioning whether her husband is the real killer, or covering up a far more insidious plot. Follow up with the challenge she faces at the end, which I assume is trying to prove that the real killer did it.

JRMosher said...

To the question of whether the query needs to be in the same tense as the book, I would guess this is not a hard-and-fast rule. I'm with EE in thinking that queries are generally present-tense, but it's not carved in stone. For now, concentrate on being brief and focused, and above all entertaining. Don't sweat the smaller stuff.

As for the query, it's still a bit too long. I'd suggest leaving out the Summoning Ceremony. There isn't time to explain it fully in the query, and the mechanism of succession isn't really important here, just the consequences. The mention of Hemlock's sister comes out of left field, and then is dropped. For the sake of the query, maybe the best thing would be to concentrate only on Astra's story. She is the one going on the journeys, and she is the one who just lost a father, lost her bid for the throne, and is forced into marraige. Hemlock's story can wait for the book; in the query sprinkle in only what is needed as it relates to Astra. Something like:

After her father's death, Princess Astra loses her bid for the throne. Instead the crown goes to Lord Hemlock, whom she is now forced to marry and whom she believes may have murdered the former king. Her relationship with Hemlock is cold, filled with secrets and lies, and so she sets out to gather evidence of his guilt and have him put to death for the crime.

Her quest for vengeance starts on a dismal island inhabited by banished criminimals, and ultimately leads to the lair of a legendary being that knows all truths. Along the way she will discover more than she wanted know, including her own family's dark history and the possibility that Hemlock is not the enemy she thought he was.

Most of what was in your version is included there, with room to spare.

Note that I wrote the above before I read the comments posted after your revised query. Now that I read them, it seems most are suggesting the query should be Hemlock's story. I think we all agree that it should be one or the other. Brief and focused.

Anonymous said...

The 'her side' 'his side' format in query letters is generally used for romance novels: the point of the book is the two characters, what's keeping them apart, and how they get together.

Fantasy novels tend to be bigger on plot than a lot of other genres. That's what you need to focus on.
Brief setup->
plot developments (choices made)->
direction it's going (where the choices went wrong, the new choices that need to get made. The 'Or Else')

be specific, but don't summarize the book

hope this helps