Friday, May 08, 2015

Face-Lift 1257

Guess the Plot

The Burnt State

1. It's Mother's Day, and yet another ham-fisted attempt at romcom behavior sends Christine over the edge.

2. Billy was careless when trying to fry a few ants with a magnifying glass, and now California is going up in flames. Will Billy's father, a firefighter, save LA? And should he?

3. The nuclear holocaust hit Florida particularly hard. What used to be 'sunshine' is now 'gamma rays,' and Trevor Connors doesn't like it one bit. Join him as he battles radioactive alligators, glowing armadillos, and irate senior citizens for control of the state senate.

4. Oswald Pettigrew couldn't look away from his friggin toaster oven for two seconds without whatever he was trying to toast reaching . . . The Burnt State. Now he's fighting mad, and someone at Wal-Mart's gonna pay.

5. A centuries-in-the-making plot to incinerate an area the size of Texas is about to be put into action. Preventing it would be a challenge even for Indiana Jones, but it isn't Indy Jones who's been recruited to save everyone. It's Indy Ramsay's useless grandfather, Eldritch. We're all gonna burn.

6. A malfunction in the Hubble telescope turns it 180 degrees as it's hovering over Hawaii at noon. The magnified rays of the sun leave behind nothing but ash in what scientists dub "The Mother of All Luaus."

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Indy Ramsay has studied and trained and striven her entire life. Because she is a patriot.

All she has ever wanted is to serve her Empire. [How old is she?]

All she has ever wanted is for the Brothers to show up on her doorstep and induct her into the elite corps of the Empire-the Reverend Council. [I'd start the query with this paragraph. The rest was vague.] [Also, the elite corps of the Empire needs a more awesome name than the Reverend Council. The elite corps would be like the Marines or at least SEAL team 6. The Reverend Council is a bunch of old guys who sit around acting like they know it all.] [Maybe the Brothers need a cooler name, too.]

They do, show up, that is, and promptly whisk away her grandfather-Eldritch Ramsay, [I'd change the commas around "show up, that is" to parentheses. Better yet, change to: They do show up, but it's not Indy they want, it's her grandfather Eldritch...] a man of bemused amiability and little else-on a mission of the tightest, whitest importance, ["Tightest, whitest" sounds more like a description of underwear than an adjective that describes "importance."] leaving behind a shattered and rejected Indy. [There has to be a good reason they've rejected the highly qualified Indy and chosen the totally unqualified Eldritch Ramsay for this mission. They didn't get to be the elite corps by being idiots. Also, if the mission is so damn important, why aren't they recruiting Gordon Ramsay? 

Drawn into the upper echelons of the Reverend Council that runs the Aet-El Empire, a world Eldritch can scarcely imagine and barely understands comes into being in front of his eyes. [It just materializes out of nowhere?] Encounters with bibliothecal deities and soul-vampires notwithstanding, [Not sure what that means.] he realizes he is embroiled in events far beyond his ken. [This is all vague or unclear. And as it doesn't involve Indy anyway, we don't need it.]

As events of the malevolent kind begin to transpire, [Such as?] Indy, too, is determined to have her say in history. She will fight, and prove herself worthy of the Council and the Empire. [Whom will she fight?]

Her hero-worship of the embattled Brothers [In what way are they embattled?] leads her down a dangerous path, where she finds that morals and idealism are not the steel of which empires are forged. [She could have learned that by reading any history book. Or watching Game of Thrones.] 

And as a centuries-in-the-making plan to incinerate the Empire is revealed, [Who has been planning to incinerate the Empire for centuries, and why is it taking them so long to get around to it? For instance, is this a planet where it's always raining, so they've been waiting centuries for a dry spell?] Eldritch and Indy find themselves asking whether they are willing to sacrifice all, including their family, including each other, to ensure the Empire's survival.

THE BURNT STATE is a work of speculative fiction, complete at 112,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



You need to tell us the story. With specific information. The setup: Indy has long wanted to be inducted into the Reverend Council that runs the Aet-El Empire, but when the Brothers come calling, they reject Indy and recruit her incompetent grandfather. The plot: Tell us what she does to prove herself worthy. Does she fight soul vampires? Join the army and fight in a war? Who is trying to stop her? What goes wrong with her plan? The wrap-up: What big decision must she make? What will happen if she fails to get it right? 


IMHO said...

"she finds that morals and idealism are not the steel of which empires are forged"

This sentence structure is not the kind of which best-sellers are made. (see what I did there?) (Plus, empires are forged by steel, and whatever bullets are made out of).

In addition to EE's suggestion of specifics, I suggest a brutal edit to tighten your writing, make it more active and more dependent on Indy. (e.g., compare "as a plan to incinerate the empire is revealed" vs. "Indy discovers a plan ..."

As always, IMHO

AA said...

This whole query is too "writerly."

I'd start over and focus on what actually happens. Right now, you've got a lot of people and things that are: elite, prompt, bemused, amiable, tight, white, shattered, rejected, scarcely imaginable, barely understandable, bibliothecal, beyond one's ken, malevolent (or rather, "of the malevolent kind"), determined, worthy, embattled, dangerous, and finally, centuries-in-the-making.

What are you writing, a thesaurus?

alaskaRavenclaw said...

This query needs to be brought into focus.

Tell us about the protagonist, what problem she faces, and what she's got to do to overcome it. Eschew anything else.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Seconding IMHO's advice: a round of edits for the query and for the book if the writing is similar to what's in here. You're using a lot of words, but you aren't getting enough information across. The only thing that I know for certain happens in the book is the Brothers showing up to recruit Grampy. I don't know what Indy actually does after that happens. I don't know whether Grampy meets library gods and soul-vampires - whatever those are - or not and I certain;y don't know anything about where he is. I don't know who is planning to incinerate the Empire, or what exactly that means. Is the plan to burn the entire country? Burn the center of power? Burn the Emperor or Empress?

Your use of flowery language and phrasing is creating more confusion than voice. Sometimes "malevolent" really is the best word for the job and "evil" or "hostile." Other times, it's painfully obvious that you're just looking for the fanciest sounding way to say "as bad stuff starts to happen," which is far too vague no matter how you say it. You're losing me with your word choices when you should be helping me to understand your story. I'm not sure if all Indy wants is to serve the Empire or to join the Reverend Council, which aren't necessarily mutually exclusive desires but you've basically listed two different things as the only thing she wants in adjacent sentences. I'm not sure what "bemused amiability" is. (He;s nice, but in a confused way?) I couldn't tell you what "tight importance" or "white importance" is, even if the adjectives weren't making me think about Fruit of the Loom. I'm not sure whether the world Eldritch is drawn into appears out of the mists like Brigadoon or it's just revealed to him, let alone whether this "world" is a building, a city, another plane of existence, or just everything throughout the Empire that the Council has access to.I don't know what the bolbiothecal deities and soul-vampires have to do with anything or if they're the one thing Eldritch does understand while everything else confuses him. And I don't know what other family Indy and Eldritch have that they might have to sacrifice to save the Empire, or why they might have to sacrifice them.

Start with a bare bones version of your story. Seem if you can sum it up in a paragraph, or even a sentence. Then expand from there with only the information you need to flesh out those basic ideas. And keep it simple. No amount of impressive vocabulary words are going to cover up something that's vague or uninteresting. You have a good hook: a girl has worked all her life towards a goal and she doesn't get it. But everything after that is either vague or confusing. Tell us why the middle of your story is an exciting read, what Indy's up against and what choices she makes reading up to the ultimate conflict.

Looking forward to reading a revision.

Query Writer said...


The writer here.

Actually, both Eldritch and Indy are the protagonists of the story, sort of an alternating POV. I was trying to give equal space to both of them in the query.

Secondly, I guess I did use a lot of flowery phrasing to say a lot without saying anything because I really don't want to give away plot points in the query.

If the stakes are being set up by something happening within the first five chapters that I don't want the reader to know about coming into the book, then it becomes a real issue how to represent it in a query.

Thanks for listening.

Evil Editor said...

The "reader" isn't going to see your query letter. Only the person to whom you send the letter will see it, and that person has no interest in reading your book unless she can make money off it, and it'll be a lot easier to convince her she can make money off it if you reveal some intriguing plot points.

Merely mentioning Eldritch in the query is sufficient to suggest he plays a major role in the book. You should still focus the query on Indy.

InkAndPixelClub said...

You're mistaking a query for book jacket copy. It's a mistake a lot of people make and a few of the minions have even told tales of people outright saying that the query can be reused as a synopsis to entice the reader. But they are actually for very different audiences.

With the average reader, you want to reveal just enough of the story to get them interested and not a word more. Presumably they're already a little interested in your book because they've picked it up and are reading your jacket copy or a synopsis printed elsewhere. And they can trust that you're at least a competent writer because someone decided to publish your work. So you just need a bit of setup and a few vague yet enticing hints at what comes afterwards.

Editors and agents are tougher to reel in than readers. They are not reading a query with the assumption that you know what you're doing as a writer. They're looking for evidence that you do or don't. If the query just hints that something happens, the editor or agent has no way of knowing whether it's an exciting development that ties in beautifully with what's come before or a confusing development that conveniently solves a character's problem but doesn't make much sense.

With a query, you can - and often have to - go right up to the final conflict or choice that the character faces and then leave them wanting more. If you've done a good job, your potential agent or editor will know you have a great concept and be eager to read the manuscript, either to find out what happens or to see if your story lives up to the promise of the query.

If Indy and Eldritch really are co-protagonists and you feel like focusing exclusively on Indy would not give a clear picture of your book, than Eldritch needs to be introduced in paragraph one. Right after you explain that Indy has been training her whole life to become a member of the Reverend Council, explain who Eldritch is and what he wants out of life. And give him something to do after the Brothers show up. Equal time for both characters won't mean much if we feel like the story grinds to a halt so a dopey grandpa can wander around being confused.