Thursday, June 11, 2015

Face-Lift 1260

Guess the Plot

When You Wish

1. ...upon a star, your dreams come true. But if you wish for the death of the emperor, is the star obligated to grant your wish? It's the philosophical quandary at the heart of this book.

2. Bing Crosby has been gone awhile, but when fifteen-year-old Allie listens to his old vinyl records, he comes to life in her room. And for a few romps in the hay, he's willing to do what she wants—like murder that nosey bitch at school. After all, ghosts can't get the death penalty. 

3. It's the year 2062 and genies are a dime a dozen. Alan Blakeman needs a get out of jail free card so he can bust the nuts of the man who put him there. But when Alan happens upon the website, he may be in over his head.

4. If wishes were fishes, twelve-year-old Lilly would have a whole lot of smelly on her hands. Sure, she can wish for more wishes, but since her wish-granting genie is twelve-year-old boy with a fart-joke sense of humor, she never knows what she'll actually get.

5. Jack is pretty sure the make-a-wish-and-blow-out-the-candles-on-your-cake deal is a scam just like Santa and the tooth fairy--until he looks around and sees that his parents and friends have all turned into dogs. Now he's glad he didn't wish for a new tricycle.

Original Version

Dear [Agent],

I am seeking consideration for my YA fantasy novel, When You Wish.  [If you ask an agent to consider your novel when she wishes, you may have a long wait.] At 100,000 words the story takes the reader on a multi-point-of-view fantasy adventure. [Easy enough to cram this info into one sentence: I am seeking representation for When You Wish, a 100,000-word YA fantasy adventure.] [Also, as you have a paragraph describing the book toward the end of the query, it's a waste of valuable space to put this up front. Start with the next paragraph.]

Stars are born to grant wishes, never to question their duty. [Tell that to Penelope Cruz. She refuses to do anything I ask of her.] [I would change "never to question their duty" to "without argument."] This is the truth that fallen-star-turned-human-girl Pisces has long since come to terms with. [If you're gonna name her Pisces, I think instead of a human girl she should be a mermaid. Wait, make her Aquawoman!] When her first wish lands her with the task of [charges her with] ending a war, she approaches her mission with a healthy measure of pragmatism. ["Her first wish" sounds like she's doing the wishing rather than the granting. Something like "When the first wish she's a charged with granting is stopping a war... might be more clear.] [Now that she's a human girl rather than a star, how can she grant wishes? Does she have magical super powers, or does she just have to stop the war with her wiles and her charm? This is why she should be Aquawoman.]

General Brise would like her to remove the evil emperor standing in the way of his king's unchallenged reign. [It sounds like his reign is challenged--by the evil emperor.] As the man who wished on her star, he has every right to demand she knock off whatever warlord he please [pleases]. Nevermind [Never mind] that Brise treats her like a slave and doesn't consider ruthless invasions to be off the table. To secure his self-righteous king's rule, no means are too far [any means are justified].

Emperor Aisel Fei Shiang has no right to ask anything of Pisces, save a quick demise. That doesn't stop him from trying to steal a kiss from his would-be assassin. Bent on avenging the death of his father and keeping a firm hold on the imperial throne, Aisel isn't about to go down without a fight. [Is stealing a kiss supposed to be an example of how he's not going down without a fight?] [Is Brise asking her to knock off a warlord or the emperor? If the latter, I would change "whatever warlord" in the previous paragraph to "anyone" or "whomever."]

Although Aisel hasn’t been shy in declaring his intentions to become a first rate villain, Pisces isn’t sure that a fight is what she wants. [When you're already being described as an evil emperor, you don't go around bragging that you aspire to become a first-rate villain. You put to death anyone who dares refer to you as a second-rate villain.] Despite their obvious differences of opinion, Aisel and his minions come to befriend her. [These differing opinions . . . are you talking about their opinions on whether she should assassinate him?] [If Pisces has any freedom of choice at all, she's not gonna go back to the place where she's treated like a slave, whether Aisel befriends her or not.]


Especially when her wish depends on knocking off the vegetarian villain.

Especially when said villain decides to get a couples tattoo without asking her. [Is it a tattoo of the Pisces symbol? Because I don't think a vegetarian would want a picture of a fish on him. I suppose she could have the fish tattoo and he could have the chips tattoo.]

And most especially when her own people may be the greater evil. [Those people don't know her from Adam. Suddenly they're her people?]

Now Pisces must choose between granting her [Brise's?] wish and betraying the kingdom she’s sworn service to. Happy endings just got a whole lot more complicated. [All she's sworn to do is remove Aisel. Has she also sworn service to Brise's kingdom evermore?]

When You Wish is set in a high fantasy world complete with political intrigue, fierce battles, and magical mishaps. Although it is a self-contained novel, I have written and completed two sequel books which ultimately conclude the saga. My novel is similar in spirit to Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief quartet, with a Mongolian/Chinese influence along the lines of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

I live in Bozeman, MT, where I work as a writer for an environmental consulting firm. I have been published through Montana State University’s journals, Confluence (2009) and Read This (2010). I served as president of the university’s creative writing club and vice-president of the English club. In addition, I co-authored a North American wildlife field guide, published through the USDA Extension Branch. From 2011-2012, I worked as a freelance writer for Keystone Conservation under [Editor]. I continue to be involved in a speculative fiction writing/critique group.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


I'm not clear on the political situation. There's a kingdom and an empire? Separate from each other? Are they enemies, or have they been coexisting peacefully up till now? Is one of them threatening the other? Which one?

Pisces's first wish-mission is to end a war. This implies that she will be granting more wishes. Were these other wishes made by other people who wished on Pisces when she was a star, or does Brise get to make unlimited wishes?

Why didn't Pisces assassinate the emperor at her first opportunity, before getting to know him? Can she just wish him away, or does she have to physically kill him?

How can you say Pisces has "long since come to terms with" the truth that a star never questions her duty to grant a wisher's request, and then have her question the very first wish that comes her way? She obviously hadn't come to terms with it.

Does anyone who wishes on a star in this world get his wish granted? Seems like everyone would be out staring at the sky all night every night if that's the case. And if they all get unlimited wishes it would be chaos.

There are too many paragraphs. Give us one paragraph in which you introduce your main character, her situation, and her goal.

Then a paragraph telling us about her plan to achieve her goal and about the main obstacles she faces, i.e. who is trying to stop her, what goes wrong.

Finally a wrap-up paragraph explaining her dilemma. What will happen if she fails? If she succeeds?

Keep each of those paragraphs about three sentences long. Once you have them, go back and polish them, giving them a voice appropriate to the book, whether that be light and snarky or filled with gravitas.


InkAndPixelClub said...

I'm lost. I don't understand the main character's situation or the political situation, which is making it very difficult for me to get he stakes here.

Start with Pisces. We've got that she's a literal fallen star turned into a human. But for some reason, she's still expected to grant wishes. Beyond becoming human, what happened to Pisces when she fell from grace? What did she lose? Is she trying to get reinstated as a star? Does she have to do something specific to accomplish that, like fulfill a wish without any magical powers?

Assuming that what Pisces wants or has to do is to grant wishes and you've fleshed out why that is, the next step is the terms of the wish. The wish, as I understand it, is for the evil emperor who usurped the throne to die so the rightful king can return to the throne. I'm assuming that the reason Pisces appears to be carrying out the assassination attempt herself is that she has extremely limited to no magical powers and can't just make the emperor's head explode or possess one of his servants and drown him in the bath or something. But I shouldn't have to assume.

So Pisces goes to carry out the assassination of the evil emperor. But she's thwarted because...he kisses her? I can see how that would give her a moment's pause, but not bring the whole plan to a halt if she's all set to stab the guy. This needs to be fleshed out. Currently it reads as "She tries to kill him, he kisses her, she stops trying to kill him, they talk for a while, they become friends."

I feel like you're trying to make Aisel come across as sympathetic, or at least partly so. But you're also describing him as evil and someone who literally wants to be a villain. Particularly in fantasy, once you as the narrator call somebody "evil," it's tough to walk it back and say that he might actually be an okay guy, or at least complicated. Given the choice between an evil emperor who aspires to be a villain and a self-righteous king whose general is kind of a jerk, I'd go with the king.

Easel being a vegetarian and the couples' tattoo feel like they come out of nowhere and don't really clarify who Aesil is or what their relationship is like. The former seems generically quirky while the latter strikes me as creepy stalker behavior.

EE has pointed out a few instances of awkward phrasing. It's far from the worst I've seen in a query, but it's something you'll want to watch out for in the next query draft and your manuscript. An agent or editor who finds awkward or confusing sentences and phrases in a query is going to assume they'll be in the book as well.

I'll leave it to the minions more well versed in YA fantasy to say whether 100k words is a little on the hefty side.

Looking forward to a second draft of the query.

SnuffalupagusRising said...

Thanks much, EE and Ink. This was an incredibly helpful review and I look forward to polishing the second draft of my query. :D

Anonymous said...

An agent is going to look at this for maybe 30 seconds, probably less. That people can't figure it out after reading and re-reading over a lot longer time should tell you something.

You seem to be contradicting yourself several times (see EE's notes) which also doesn't help.

I think you're implying the star girl is supposed to kill the reigning emperor (because it's her job to be a slave) (How is this going to stop the war? Those things tend to have a bit of momentum), but decides to have a love affair with him instead for some reason (Lust at first sight? Some form of magic we haven't been informed of?). And why is she swearing service to the kingdom she's supposed to be destroying?

Please re-write and re-submit.

Dottie D said...

i would love to add something to this to help, but as usual, EE said the things I would have said, and then some. And his/hers is funnier. Keep at it, author. don't give up.

Anonymous said...

Re this passage:

Especially when her wish depends on knocking off the vegetarian villain.

Especially when said villain decides to get a couples tattoo without asking her.

And most especially when her own people may be the greater evil.

This seems to be a pretty popular convention in queries for YA lit. ("As if junior year isn't trouble enough." "Just when she was getting used to hating him.")

But I think you can boost the impact of these reveals by following the three-paragraph structure EE suggested, and you can still get in one good sardonic Uh-oh to establish your tone (assuming it's the appropriate tone for your book).