Monday, February 09, 2015

Face-Lift 1249

Guess the Plot

The Water Still Rules

1. That old maritime saying, "Ships might sail on the surface, but the water still rules" (which I made up) inspired this story about a 17-year-old female Spartacus (even though the book has no ships or water; it does, however, have a magic tree).

2. Joy and Rock want their daughter Sylvia to take over the family drug smuggling business, but all she wants is to read pulp fiction. They hire a former teen idle to seduce her … but the plan backfires when his decapitated body washes up on the shore of their beach bungalow.

3. When Olaf Ardnolfson wakes up on an island, he has nothing but his sword, his clothes, and a vague recollection of the longship going under. He's not alone; there's a beautiful woman with a black dress and a belt of sealskin with him. But is she real--or a selkie?

4. Chloe loves the wet climate she lives in, but realizes the water has a mind of its own when her dates start disappearing on rainy nights. Are they really not that into her, or is the water a jealous and evil lover?

5. Apocalyptic Venice is overrun by masked goblins. Pierro’s sister is determined to join the goblins as their pet assassin, and his mother is too busy with her cheese business to pay attention to the goblin threat. Pierro must defeat the goblins and save Venice – but Venice has its own ideas about that.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

My YA Fantasy at 75,000 words, THE WATER STILL RULES, [My YA fantasy THE WATER STILL RULES, complete at 75,000 words] is the story of a teenage girl with magical abilities who is forced to fight as a gladiator. Spartacus meets the rich world building of Rae Carson’s A Girl of Fire and Thorns and a fierce female lead like Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series. [When you say "a fierce female lead like..." you need to follow with the name of a fierce female lead, not the title of a series. You can then add the series title as in: . . . a fierce female lead like Celaena Sardothien from Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series.] [Personally, I'd rather you talk about your story than liken it to Spartacus but with the Kirk Douglas role being played by Miley Cyrus.] [There's not enough to like about that paragraph to justify starting the query with it. Put the title, word count and genre toward the end. And resist mentioning Spartacus.]

For seventeen-year-old Aelia, life is a play [game] of hide-and-seek to protect the last Soultree on Earth - and the magic inside it - in the hopes that one day it will grow strong enough to aid her in freeing her people. Not like [that] she minds; hiding is better than being a slave to the Marasans – the people who took over their kingdom, enslaving or killing anyone with the ability to draw magic from the tree. [How is she protecting the tree if she's hiding? Is she the only one who knows where the tree is?] [In any case, I don't like the hide and seek analogy. 

But when she gets captured by the owner of a famous gladiator school, Saro, being a slave becomes the least of her worries. [The least? I would put it pretty close to the top of her list, right below the fact that her first match is against Borgo the Disemboweler.] Saro intends to make [back] every last [piece of] gold he spent on capturing her back by making her fight in the arena. [Why is he spending his gold capturing seventeen-year-old girl slaves who probably won't last two minutes in the arena? He should be capturing linebackers and lumberjacks.] With her family dead, her tree far away, she cannot rely on anybody but herself. To her surprise, though, she finds friends at the house. [The house? You haven't mentioned a house. I assume you mean the school?] People who make the endless days of work and training endurable. Especially Zenon, who trains Aelia for her first fight, and who - with his mischievous smile and honesty - starts to feel more than just a friend. But with that first fight coming up, she has to decide - they say escaping is impossible, but staying means hurting the very people she swore to protect. [Or getting killed without hurting anyone. Do they fight to the death?] [Escaping won't help the people she swore to protect. Even if she could get to her tree, the tree isn't strong enough yet to aid in freeing her people. Plus, how will she know the Marasans didn't let her escape so they could follow her to the last Soultree on Earth and destroy it?

Thank you for your time and consideration.


P.S.: My title comes from a saying "Ships might sail on the surface, but the water still rules." There's a revolution at the end of my book. The saying refers to the slaves as the water and the masters as the ships. [In other words, the masters sail on the surface but the slaves still rule? That doesn't hold water. I think it means that we may think we've conquered Mother Nature with our titanic ships, but one big storm at sea will show us that she still rules.]


While I realize that some men get off on watching girls fight, if you want to fill an entire arena, you need athletic gladiators who are juicing. Not teenage girls. A T-ball game isn't gonna fill Yankee Stadium.

Your fierce female lead spends her youth hiding, then gets captured. We want to know something she does that's useful. Get beyond the setup of her hopeless situation and tell us what her plan is, what goes wrong, what will happen if she fails to overcome the odds stacked against her.


InkAndPixelClub said...

Kill most of paragraph one and put what's left at the end. Word count and comps generally go at the end of a query. Comps usually take the form of "This will appeal to readers of (x), (y), and (z).” If it's more "My story mixes the fantastic characters of (x) with the fully realized world of (y) and the thrill a minute plot of (z),” you run the risk that your potential editor won't see the evidence of some or any of these things in the query itself.

Paragraph one makes it sound like Aelia spends her time guarding the Soultree, meaning she'd be inclose proximity to the Soultree at all times. But she's captured in paragraph two. So was the Soultree destroyed? Or is Aelia actually hiding from the Marasans and also keeping the location of the last Soultree a secret?

It'd be nice to know how the mature Soultree will help Aelia free her people. Will it give her a magical powerup? Let her cause all the Marasans to spontaneously combust? Teleport all Aelia's people to a better place? If we don't know what the Soultree does, it kills the tension, since there's always the possibility that the Soultree will mature and fix everything.

Can Aelia use magic qithout the Soultree? Does she use magic in the story? You say at the beginning that the story is about a teenage girl with magical abilities, but there's no indication if or when they have any bearing on the plot beyond allowing her to use the Soultree to do whatever eventually.

Are there any gladiator battles in your book? It sounds like Aelia spends a lot of time training, then possibly runs away before her first fight. Either way, you'll probably want to cover past Aelia escaping or fighting her first battle, as I doubt that's the biggest provlem she faces.

AS Olivier said...

This sounds really interesting! I like magic trees - but it seems to get a bit forgotten about towards the end. The first part is Aelia trying to protect the tree (I'm not sure how the hide and seek comes into it, though?), but then it's all about gladiators and cute guy Zenon, and the tree isn't connected. The final conflict is about her and first fight, so it seems like it's part of a whole other story where the tree doesn't play any major role at all.

AA said...

Let me see if I've got this one straight.

The first character is a magic tree that must be protected at all costs. That's good. Apparently, when it reaches maturity, whenever that will be, it will do something vague involving magic that somehow releases the captive and oppressive people. Not so good. Be more specific about what is going to happen.

Now, the tree has a seventeen-year-old caretaker. This is worrisome. Is she the last of her people that hasn't been enslaved? Why is this girl the sole caretaker of something so incredibly important?

She is captured as a slave. Good, it moves the story along. But- a "school" for gladiators? Is it really wise for the captors to teach their captives to fight? You'd think this would be the LAST thing they'd want them to learn. Give a hint as to why this is going on.

The ending is vague. She escapes and...? She doesn't escape and...? There needs to be something concrete here that shows what her real choices are and what the specific consequence to a person or persons will be if she screws it up.

Evil Editor said...

Research reveals that under the Roman Empire there were about 100 gladiator schools. Apparently control of the gladiators was such that training them to be better fighters wasn't a concern.

AA said...

Ok, I get what happened. I wasn't getting that this is the equivalent to that actual Roman Empire, despite the mention of Spartacus and Gladiators, because the tone doesn't support it. The voice is off.

You (author) started off with magical trees and games of hide-and-seek, then moved on to making friends and getting a crush. My mind failed (or refused) to equate this with actually disturbing and violent stuff.

I suggest you start with the serious voice you'd use to describe a scenario like an entire people being enslaved by a much more politically powerful people and use it throughout. There is no sadness, no anger in the query. It's written just like you'd tell a friend some anecdotal story about something that happened the other day. Using phrases like "Not that she minds," "To her surprise, though," "But with that first fight coming up," almost makes it sound like friends chatting over coffee.

AS Olivier said...

I didn't question the school for gladiators at all - after all, it's kind of the whole point of the film Gladiator, and numerous other books set in Roman times.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the publisher will probably change the title, but you should at least try to make it sound like a book someone looking for gladiator school fantasy would pick up. I'd pick it up looking for pirates, vikings, or at least something on the beach, be very disappointed, and put it back (which I might not if it had a more appropriate title).

There's a reason slave rebellions don't usually get very far. Does the tree get involved? If not, why is the tree even in the book? It doesn't seem very involved in the query. If there's the same disconnect in the book, you might want to re-think the story. If there's some relation, either make it look connected in the query, or leave it out of the query.

khazarkhum said...

If the Soultree is really the last of its kind, and its jib is to empower Aelia and her people, then surely the Marasans will turn it into firewood ASAP.

How can she draw power from the tree? Does she have seeds surgically implanted in her which allow a magic connection? And if she's killed, will her fallen body nourish an army of new Soultrees?

Obviously you can't answer all of this in the first 250 words or so. But you do need to address them in the query. Right now, there's a tree that may or may not help some girl in gladiator school.

SB said...

Maybe I'm just being cynical, but I feel like in order to buy this plot, I'd need to know why they're training a teen girl to be a gladiator rather than the more usual use slaveowners would put teen girl slaves to if they wanted to earn back some money. I mean, shoot, even if he's the owner of a gladiator school and not in the pimping business, seems like it'd still be a better use for her (from his perspective) to use her as a reward to motivate his strong male gladiators. I'm not saying I'd rather see any of this, of course. Just that, in a slaveowning society, I'd expect one of these options to be far more realistic, so if you're completely eschewing these options, I'd like to have some kind of reason to believe the slaveowner would opt to make her a gladiator. Are there separate female gladiator competitions as well as male ones? That'd be a good reason.

khazarkhum said...

SB--the Romans had male & female gladiators. Perhaps there's a big Glorious Gladiator Girls Gala coming up, and her owner needs an entry.

SB said...

Khaz - I did not know that. Did they fight each other, or were there separate divisions? If there are separate male and female gladiatorial competitions, then that makes sense. It's like the WNBA, only with more death.

khazarkhum said...

SB--the women fought other women, animals, and dwarves. They carried shields, wore some armor, but generally fought bare-breasted. Attempts to ban them didn't work. They were a rare, but popular, show.

AA said...

"the women fought other women, animals, and dwarves. They carried shields, wore some armor, but generally fought bare-breasted."

This is already a more interesting story than the one is this query.

Well, Author? Whatcha got?

InkAndPixelClub said...

Author, please note that this does not mean your query or you story needs an infusion of animals, dwarves, and bare-breasted lady gladiators, unless you now believe the addition of such would greatly improve your story. What it does need is some action.

A story about unwilling combatants in a deathmatch has a fine line to walk. The reader needs to care about at least some of the characters and root for them to somehow make it out alive. But the author also has to realize that readers aren't completely different animals from the Roman spectators of yore. If your story has gladiators in it, we're going to want to see some fighting, even if we want the characters we like to be spared the worst of it. We don't want Katniss, Rue, and Peeta to all die horribly, but we also don't want the Hunger Games to be called off before the fighting starts.

The way your query stands, I'm worried Aelia might escape before we get to see any gladiator action. If that's the case, you need to focus on the action that is in the book. Make the training sound exciting, not just a boring distraction from making new friends. Show us what make escape so impossible and how a daring escape attempt could be something we'd want. To read about. And perhaps most importantly, make the first fight seem like a really bad option that we don't want to see haopen. I don't care much if Aelia might have to hurt a bunch of nameless people she's sworn to protect. If there are some specific individuals in there who we should care about, then they need to be in the query.