Monday, February 02, 2015

Face-Lift 1248


Guess the Plot

Chalk Circles

1. Wayward Collins has no magical abilities, which means he has to stay hidden from all the magicians and wizards and sorcerers vying for control of London. Will a wizard trap Wayward and enlist him to investigate a murder, or will Wayward escape by standing in a chalk circle?

2, Three years ago, before the bad witch pulled a Rip Van Winkle, she bound Eloise's sister in black circles underground. Eloise must find her grimoire in the tangles of the witch's hair, and rescue her sister before the witch wakes up and releases her legions of bat demons.

3. Pappy Chalk founds Chalk's Ocean Airways in 1917 and it operates until it's eventual obsolescence in 2007. Ninety years of adventures with sea plane passenger service between south Florida and the Bahamas are detailed in this true life saga. Chalk's was the oldest continuously operating airline in the world. The passengers included the rich and the famous from the roaring twenties to the high tech twenty-first century.

4. Demons are ready to invade your world and there is only one thing stopping them: Chalk Circles. Every time a teacher drew an "O" on their chalk board, a demon lost his portal. But with the advent of digital technology, fewer chalk "O's" have been obliterating the demon portals. Now a coalition of hipster teachers, led by Dexter Kale Haven (Dexter to his students), is all that stands between Earth and a demon invasion.

5. Every day after school, 14 year old Paisley Plottz takes Grandpa's strange old book into the yard and tries to make magic come alive. She burns her fingers, knocks over the fence, and makes the cat go bald, but nothing exciting really happens--until the day she draws the chalk circle.

6. It started with simple chalk squiggles. Then, they became drawings of children. Who were playing in fields--fields of corn. Circles started to appear. Was it ... aliens? 




Original Version

Dear Evilness,

London, 1867. The city is full of magical communities, all with their own agendas, [each with its own agenda?] all determined to own the streets. Those without magic are expendable, and for Wayward Collins, a man with no magic, no money, and no power, remaining hidden is the only way to be safe. [What about moving to Liverpool? Can't he move to Liverpool?] Magical politics are cutthroat even for magic users—Wayward getting involved would be suicide. He stays hidden, he stays neutral, and he stays alive. [I would drop those last two sentences; they either repeat what's been said or state the obvious.] But a miscalculation one night has tragic consequences, and he is trapped into the service of the wizard Lord Cadogan.

Rich, powerful and well bred, Cadogan is everything Wayward despises, and he immediately starts planning his escape. [Moving to Liverpool would have been easier than escaping from Cadogan will be. Plus once he escapes from Cadogan, he's still gonna have to move to Liverpool because he's right back in the same boat.] [Now that you've dropped a couple sentences from Paragraph 1, you can tack that sentences onto the end. It makes more sense there than here with the following sentence.] For his part, Cadogan sees Wayward as a coward without moral code or good manners—but even cowards can be useful, and when one of Cadogan’s footmen is murdered by magical means, Cadogan drags Wayward along with him into the ensuing investigation. [My footman's been murdered and I need someone to work the investigation with me. Should I use one of my trusted apprentices or . . . this coward with no moral code who slurps his soup?]

Although determined to drag his heels [while being dragged,] out of pure principle, Wayward’s attitude of studied isolation is shaken by unexpected events in the household, and suddenly everything becomes more complicated. [That was all pretty vague. If you don't have room to be specific about the "unexpected events" and "everything," just drop the sentence. ] The dead footman had his own secrets, certain magical factions are suddenly interested in the whole affair, and one particular police inspector [named Lestrade] just won’t leave the matter alone. Dogged by forces magical and mundane, Wayward is unwillingly entangled in the magic and power brewing in the heart of the city. Even if he manages to escape Cadogan, he must play very carefully to ensure he doesn’t end up as a pawn in the magical plots he’s spent his whole life trying to avoid. [Exactly. He's in the same boat. Explain what he's got against Liverpool.] [Also, why is it Liverpudlian instead of Liverpoolian? They do that with Blackpudlian too, but my question is, if they made a movie about a monster who rises from a toxic cesspool, would it be a cesspoolian monster or a cesspudlian monster?]

CHALK CIRCLES is a historical fantasy novel complete at 75,000 words. It is the first of a planned series, but will also work as a standalone novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Notes

Not badly written, but I'm sure your main character must have a more intriguing goal than to fade back into anonymity. Escaping from Lord Cadogan and going back into hiding is nothing. Maybe the unexpected events in the household that you fail to tell us about should be the crux of the query. Maybe Wayward wants to save London from its current chaotic state. What's he got going for him? Can Cadogan grant him magical powers? If he doesn't get involved in the magical plots he’s spent his whole life trying to avoid, wouldn't we rather read about someone who does?

Lord Cadogan caring about a dead footman is like Darth Vader caring about a dead storm trooper. Explain why he and other factions and Lestrade are so interested in this case.


Enjoy the first film in this double feature; it involves a chalk circle:

video



14 comments:

IMHO said...

I want specifics. Not a plethora of details, but specifics to replace the bland generic phrases in this query. I can't figure out if the book is light-hearted fantasy or grimdark gruesome.

For example, London is filled with magical communities. OK, like who? (Werewolves, vampires and zombies sets a different tone than elves, fairies and talking bunnies).

Who is this Cadogan? He's magic and powerful --but is he more Penn Gillette or Severus Snape?

"dogged by forces magical and mundane" -- like what? Has Cadogen turned Wayward into a newt? Is he a terrible klutz?

Right now the query tastes bland. spice it up!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The first two sentences (well, fragment plus sentence) intrigued me. Sounds like a fascinating world.

The last story we want to hear about a fascinating story is the story of someone who's trying to avoid it.

Rewrite so that your protagonist sounds like a likeable character trying to overcome difficulties to achieve a worthwhile goala. That may mean ditching those first two sentences.

khazarkhum said...

Is Wayward a minority, or are there lots of muggles in London? Is he one of the few who know about the magic communities, and is that what puts him in danger? Or is he just a shlub who pissed off Cadogan?

Chicory said...

Is this a buddy comedy, with Wayward and Codogan eventually coming to be partners in crime-solving? Or is Codogan a dark and evil being Wayward must escape at all costs?

AA said...

I had the same problem as IMHO with "magical communities." And I can't figure out why they are determined to "own the streets." To start a lucrative toll road business, no doubt.

"Wayward getting involved would be suicide." I loathe this sentence. "Wayward would have to be suicidal to get involved."


"Rich, powerful and well bred, Cadogan is everything Wayward despises..." I'm not sure I can get behind an MC who despises these qualities on principle. Can't there be some personal reason he dislikes the wizard? Bad hygiene, maybe?

"When one of Cadogan’s footmen is murdered by magical means, Cadogan drags Wayward along with him into the ensuing investigation..." I'm not sure I believe this. Wouldn't someone with magic be more helpful? They aren't in short supply. Come to think of it, how does a wizard not KNOW who did this? You wouldn't play Clue with a wizard.

"Dogged by forces magical and mundane, Wayward is unwillingly entangled in the magic and power brewing in the heart of the city." This sounds good, but it doesn't really mean anything.

"...he must play very carefully to ensure he doesn’t end up as a pawn in the magical plots he’s spent his whole life trying to avoid." WHAT plots? Why won't you tell us anything?!

AS Olivier said...

Author here - thanks everyone for your comments! Also that short film, EE, it was a gripping masterpiece.

I'm working on revisions, so I hope my next draft will be slightly less awful.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Spoken like a true writer!a

CavalierdeNuit said...

Finally, something I'd read. Keep working please!

AS Olivier said...

Thanks for your comments everyone! I posted a draft of this query on Agent Query Connect, but whereas you guys told me to be more specific, most of the comments there told me not to reveal so much... I hope this draft reaches a happy medium.



London, 1867, a city of ghosts, werebeasts, and magic gangs. Those without magic are pawns and targets, and Wayward Collins—a man with no magic, money, or power—has built his entire life around remaining in the shadows. But staying hidden and neutral isn’t enough anymore, and he’s almost ready to start a new life far away from the city and its magic. But a single miscalculation one night has tragic consequences, and with the threat of the police hanging over his head, Wayward is blackmailed into the service of the wizard Lord Cadogan.

Powerful, aristocratic, and utterly unconcerned over Wayward’s ruined plans, Cadogan is everything Wayward despises. But a servant without magic is a safe commodity for a wizard, and when one of Cadogan’s footmen is murdered by magical means, he drags Wayward dragged into the ensuing investigation to assist him in his proprietary demand for vengeance.

Haunted by his previous mistake, and with his escape plans complicated by the police presence, Wayward is resolutely uncooperative. But each step of the investigation stirs up further trouble; the dead footman had his own secrets, a demon attack indicates that other magical powers might be involved, and one police inspector just won’t leave the matter alone. Even Cadogan might not be the arrogant braggart that Wayward initially expected. As events progress, Wayward is forced to face the consequences of his past actions, and realise what he must sacrifice in order to escape. But Wayward’s one mistake has changed everything, and now the city isn’t willing to let him go.

Complete at 80,000 words, CHALK CIRCLES is the first of a planned series, but will also work as a standalone.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Evil Editor said...

I don't think it's a big improvement. Changing he was trapped to he is blackmailed doesn't remove the vagueness. What did Wayward miscalculate, and what were the tragic consequences? I wouldn't press this point if you tossed it off as trivial, but you bring it up again two or three times. I don't think your first paragraph will be any longer if it goes:

London, 1867, a city of wizards and sorcerers. Those without magic are pawns and targets, and Wayward Collins—a man with no magic, money, or power—has built his entire life around staying hidden and neutral. He’s preparing to start a new life far away from the city and its magic. But when he accidentally X, Y happens.

Now you can introduce Lord Cadogan, the wizard who knows Wayward Xed, and, wanting a safe, non-magical servant, blackmails Wayward into taking the position. His first assignment: find out which sorcerer murdered Cadogan's favorite footman.


To me it seems more likely Cadogan would demand that Wayward take the footman position than that he investigate a murder. What was so special about this footman (something less vague than he had his own secrets) that a wizard must have revenge? And what qualifies Wayward to investigate anything?

AS Olivier said...

New new new new new draft.



London, 1867, a city of ghosts, werebeasts, and magic gangs. Those without magic are pawns and targets, and Wayward Collins—a man with no magic, money, or power—has built his entire life around staying hidden and neutral. He’s almost ready to start a new life far away from the city and its magic. But when an unguarded moment leads to disaster, Wayward’s compulsive need to protect himself has tragic consequences and a young girl is savagely killed.

Enter Lord Cadogan, the wizard who witnessed the event, and, wanting a safe, non-magical servant, blackmails Wayward into taking the position. Wayward might not have any innate magical talent but he has enough arcane knowledge to be useful, and Cadogan enjoys having a dogsbody valet bow to his every whim. But events take a serious and bloody turn when one of Cadogan’s footmen is murdered by magical means and, affronted at the threat to his household, Cadogan drags Wayward into his proprietary demand for satisfaction.

Haunted by his previous mistake, and loathing every second of his enforced servitude, Wayward is resolutely uncooperative. But each step of the investigation stirs up further trouble; the dead footman had his own secrets, a demon attack indicates that other magical powers might be involved, and one police inspector just won’t leave the matter alone. Even Cadogan might not be the arrogant braggart that Wayward initially expected. As events progress, Wayward is forced to face the consequences of his past actions, and realise what he must sacrifice in order to escape. But Wayward’s one mistake has changed everything, and now the city isn’t willing to let him go.

Complete at 80,000 words, CHALK CIRCLES is the first of a planned series, but will also work as a standalone.

Anonymous said...

You can be specific without revealing much (believe it or not); the trick is what you are specific about. Generic descriptions don't attract attention when you're looking through 300 queries an hour.

You might want to spend some time looking through the archive's at Miss Snark's. I seem to remember her doing a COM on hooks or queries.

London, 1867, a city of ghosts, werebeasts, and magic gangs. Wayward Collins—a man with no magic, money, or power--has been impressed into the service of the wizard Lord Cadogan. When one of Cadogan’s footmen is murdered, Wayward is reluctantly dragged into the investigation [why?]. But, [what's the footman's secret?]. [How does the investigation start going wrong]. [What's plan A that's going to fail] [What's plan B that's going to make things worse]

If this all ties to Wayward's mistake, you might want to say what happened (he unbottled a genie?).

Hope this helps

InkAndPixelClub said...

You seem to be slowly creeping towards specificity with each draft rather than embracing it fully. Anything you choose to include in the query needs to be explained to the point where it makes sense and doesn't raise additional questions other than the ones you raise in the book, like who killed the footman and why.

If you can start the query with Wayward rather than the setting, do so. Your potential editor lor agent is likely looking for stories about characters, not settings, so get your character up front.

First specificity issue: "pawns and targets" doesn't really tell me what kind of fate Wayward is trying to escape. If you say something like "Those without magic are forced to do battle in magical turf wars, get used for frog transformation practice, or suffer fates even more horrible," I get a better sense of why he needs to get out of London.

Specifcity issue two is a not uncommon issue facing all kinds of narratives: why is this happening now? You say that Wayward is almost ready to leave Magic London and start a new life, but you don't explain why. Has he been saving up money doing whatever he does? Earning favors from less horrible magic users? What has he been doing to secure his escape from the city and what does he still need to do.

Specificty issue three: the girl who died. Sympathy for Wayward is a problem for me throughout the query and without knowing what Wayward did to cause the girl's death, I don't know how much he was really at fault or whether I still care about what happens to him.

You have a lot of overlong sentences, especially in paragraph two. Consider cutting some of them in half or losing unnecessary words.

I'm not sure what a "proprietary demand for satisfaction" is or if it's possible to drag someone into it. I'd rewrite this sentence.

Don't get too vague at the end. We need to know what challenge Wayward is facing and what will happen if he succeeds or if he fails. If the challenge is solving the mystery of who killed the footman, will he earn Cadogan's gratitude and help in escaping the city or making reparations for his mistake? If he can't solve the mystery, will Cadogan turn him in? Will someone kill him? Will something else bad happen?

AA said...

"But when an unguarded moment leads to disaster, Wayward’s compulsive need to protect himself has tragic consequences and a young girl is savagely killed."

This is only slightly less vague than previous versions. I bet you could give us the cliff notes version of what happened in about two sentences, if you really tried.

"Cadogan drags Wayward into his proprietary demand for satisfaction."

Have mercy. "If our proprietary blend Cadogan fails to give satisfaction, return the unused portion..." Just don't.

"a demon attack indicates that other magical powers might be involved"

Other than the ones that killed the footman, or the ones that the wizard has, or the ones that the city is full of, or...

"Wayward is forced to face the consequences of his past actions, and realise what he must sacrifice in order to escape."

What must he sacrifice? He doesn't have anything.

"But Wayward’s one mistake has changed everything, and now the city isn’t willing to let him go."

This doesn't seem to mean anything in particular.

You're a wordy author, Author. Learn to be succinct:

“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.”
― Robert Frost


“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe