Thursday, July 30, 2015

Face-Lift 1268

Guess the Plot

Misgivings of Pawns

1.  We're supposed to move forward little by little, but what's the point? We almost never make it to the other side. Those rooks and bishops and knights would eat us for lunch. No, we're staying put, it's too dangerous out there.

2. They are treated like pawns by their government. Yet even a lowly pawn can become a knight. Well, in chess anyway. But not in the Valnesian Empire. where they are squashed like bugs.

3. In the nightmarish not-so-distant future, humans have voluntarily subjugated themselves to a ruling elite called the Overseers. One day, 16-year-old Atricia gets too inquisitive about the hierarchy and finds herself in a Correction Camp. A mysterious, barely communicative boy rescues her and takes her to the Outlands, where rebels are preparing to restore humans as rulers of their own destiny. The fate of mankind rests on Atricia's shoulders. But first, she must figure out whether she is a Suzanne Collins character or a Stephenie Meyer character.

4. When the young wife of chess champion Feodor Wadzyk is found strangled in the family garage, homicide detective Zach Martinez knows two things. One, the 80-year-old chess master didn't use his own jock strap to kill the 20 year old model; and two, tonight is family game night, so when his Dad says the goddamn top hat is a hotel, the goddamn top hat is a hotel.

5. It was a mistake to come this close to shore. We could get caught in a net. What? Oh, I thought you said Misgivings of Prawns.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

My name is ________, and I am a recent high school graduate living in ________ in a town called ________. [I know it's unfair, but almost all of the people to whom you might send your query will lose interest after reading the phrase "recent high school graduate. Solution: Omit this sentence. They don't care where you live and if they want to know your name, it's at the bottom of the letter.] [By the way, I haven't been able to figure out what belongs in your second blank. My best guesses:

1. my parents' basement

2. a material world
3. Walmart ]

I am searching for an agent to represent my first book, Misgivings of Pawns, which is a 120,000-word epic fantasy story following a boy named Roland Traske on his journey through The Valnesian Empire. Within this book, I wanted to relate the mental hardships that losing one’s family, home, and way of life can cause while still telling an entertaining story. I ended up with a book that I’d love to read. [Excellent. That's one copy we can count on selling.] Roland, however, is an unwilling adventurer, and although his actions will decide the outcome of a conflict no one in his world saw coming, he’s nowhere near happy about it. Here’s what he has to say…

Hello, my name is Roland Traske, and this book is all about me...

…and how my life collapsed into fire and rubble.

Here, you’ll find the people, places, and events that started everything. I was barely a man in these pages, [Earlier you called him a boy. Tell us his age. Also, if he's a teen we'll be wondering whether you intend the book for a young adult audience or middle grade, or adults.] and The Valnesian Empire was being torn apart by conflicting beliefs and politics that I thought I understood. It only took one day for everything to come to a head and leave me broken, homeless and wandering.

That day and the days after doubtless had the makings of a good story, but as I ran from my ruined home and my ruined life, that was the last thing on my mind. When I fled across The Empire in the backs of wagons and on bleeding feet, I wasn’t worried about the plot. When I arrived in Watching and was sent on a hopeless errand by a desperate Lord, I wasn’t thinking about style. [I'm more interested in whether you were thinking about those things when you wrote the book.] When Fate revealed its own twisted plans for me in a place of death and darkness, I wasn’t dwelling on grammar. When I was gifted and cursed with powers I didn’t understand, I never considered symbolism. When I stood in defense of a city that wasn’t mine, I couldn’t care [have cared] less about character. [However, now that I'm trying to make a buck off my story, I'm told that all this crap I never cared about actually matters. Who knew?] [This is just a list of things that happen in the book (You left your ruined home, fled across the empire, attempted to run an errand, developed a super power and defended a city.) which you appear to be using to explain why your book isn't well-written. It also goes on too long. Three items is the most that should be on a list. Did you notice that my list of places you live had three items? Sure I could have continued:

4. luxury
5. Westeros
6. the psych ward
7. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
8. sin
9. a double-wide trailer
10. the funk

but you would have gotten bored.] 

All the way, I carried Pity at my side and a legacy on my back, but I also had a city of death on my conscience. I brought an end to ally and foe alike as I ran from my guilt, and it stung me each time, but I pressed on regardless. Now, looking back, I see that it had to be me. I was the only one who could have done what needed done [doing] and shouldered the weight that brought on. Looking back, I see that it was a good story, but I was the one who had to live every second of it. All I ask is that, as you read, remember that a good story does not always make for a good life and that I lived this one…

Because I’d give anything to change it all. [That whole section is vague. We want to know what happens in your book. What is Roland after? Who is trying to prevent him from getting it? What's his plan? What goes wrong?] 

Roland is a little morose right now, but there may still be hope for him down the road. Included are the ______ of Misgivings of Pawns, the beginning of his story. If you’re interested in the full manuscript, please contact me at this email and let me know. I’m currently preparing for college and working on my second book, Trials of a Knight.



I couldn't tell if the section from Roland's point of view was the book's prologue or was an attempt to do something clever. Most agents would rather hear the story from you than from your character. If writing queries from the POV of a character in the book led to frequent success, everyone would do it, and agents would . . .  Well, actually, they would accept it because otherwise they'd have to go back to being editors. But the point is, agents don't want you to be clever, they want to know if you have a good story. Therefor, I recommend boiling your book down to three paragraphs:

1. The setup. Who's the main character and what's his situation when the plot begins to unfold? For instance: As war, pestilence and natural disasters consume the Valnesian Empire, sixteen-year-old Roland Traske watches as a marauding army destroys his home and kills his parents. He flees on foot, hitching an occasional ride on a wagon, and finds his way to the town of Watching, where a podiatrist cures his bleeding feet.

2. The Story. What does he want? Revenge on those who killed his family? To reach Pleasantville? To save his new home from an approaching danger? What's the biggest obstacle to attaining this goal? What's his plan? How does he go about it? What's this power that presumably gives him a chance of succeeding?

3. The Dilemma. What choice must he make when the chips are down? What's the downside of each choice? 

Focus on Roland. Within each paragraph connect ideas with transitions/cause and effect. Each sentence should lead logically to the next. You're telling a story, not making a list. 

Come up with a more intriguing title. I recommend Leon Trotsky: A Life 


Cil said...

The way it is currently written does nothing to intrigue a reader, it just makes it sound like generic fantasy. Also when you say at the end that this is the start of his story, it makes me worry the book spends 120,000 words to get nowhere. Follow EE's advice and talk about what the character does and what happens in the book with specifics. Specifics are always more interesting than vague comments, and should give life the character.

Anonymous said...

Vague, generic. Your character probably also wasn't worried about the exact hour the tide would come in, the price of grain on the other side of the world, or the flying speed of a laden swallow. We want to know what the character was interested in/doing/planning. Negative space is not something to be outlined and pointed at when you don't have enough non-negative space to give it any meaning.

Give the agent/editor details. They aren't going to take your word for it that you have an interesting plot -- it's not you, it's the 300 other queries per week (per agent per editor) written by people who don't have a plot.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yes, I'm afraid this sounds very generic.

Tell us about the character, the problem he faces, and what he does to overcome it. Be specific and direct. Don't capitalize anythign but proper nouns and the first word of each sentence.

Mister Furkles said...


Writing a novel is a considerable accomplishment. So, congratulations. Writing a good query is hard and may take several tries to get it right.

I like the way you write the character's voice because it is cute. But a query is a business letter. Also, your query is over 500 words, which is twice too long.

The agent doesn't want to here from your character, she wants to here from you. But she doesn't want to hear about you. Just the story. The MC. The conflict the MC faces. What choice the MC has and the consequences either way. Who or what is preventing the MC from achieving his goal.

Keep the setup to one paragraph of about sixty words. And limit the long sentences. A sentence of 25 words is a bit long. Try to get the average length to something like 12 to 15 words.

Try to make the first sentence have impact and suspense. Here is my lame effort at that for your story: "Sixteen-year-old Roland watches from the dense underbrush as the Morgrads torture his parents to death." Then follow with a couple of modest length sentences about the situation. The second and third paragraphs are about the plot not the setup.

Try again and come back in a few weeks with your revised query.

Mister Furkles said...

Arg! hear not here.

It's astonishing how many errors one recognizes only after a comment in posted.

Evil Editor said...

Is, not in.

InkAndPixelClub said...

This looks like a gimmick query, a query that ditches the normal format for something else - like the main character stepping in to tell the story partway through - in an attempt to stand out. The problem with such queries is that they rarely do the job of telling an agent or editor what he or she needs to know as well as a standard query letter. It calls attention to the style of the query instead of the content of the story and it raises questions. You don't want to risk the possibility that an agent or editor might think that you will pause in the middle of a business meeting, turn to the empty chair next to you, and ask "Now what do you think of all this, Roland?" Seems unlikely, I know, but there are some odd individuals out there trying to get their books published, so you want to make it clear that you're well aware that Roland is fictional.

Sometime back, there was a query for a book that was told in excerpts from a girl's diary. The query included the side detail that the girl was having trouble with her spelling lessons at school. On its own, it's a perfectly harmless "ordinary average kid" detail. But as EE correctly pointed out, combined with the diary format of the book, it could have an agent or editor envisioning a whole book that looks like the first chapter of "Flowers for Algernon." You've got the same problem here. When you have Roland saying that plot, style, and grammar were the least of his worries during his adventures, the reader of your query may start to worry that this is an excuse for why those things aren't top notch in the book itself. Plus, I'm confused as to whether Roland is discussing all of these elements of writing because he is authoring a book about his adventures within the story or because he has stepped out of the book to comment on the fact that being a character in the book wasn't as much fun as being the author. Either way, it' snot working.

Follow EE's guide to get the basics of your story down. Remember that an agent or editor needs more information about your plot than the average reader, soy out can go all the way up to the climax of the story and keep the ending as the ace up your sleeve. Finish off with title, genre, word count, and comps if you think it would help. I'd leave out any autobiographical information that' snot about your previous writing experience or published works. If you must mention that there' s'more to Roland's story, I'd add that the book you're querying is a standalone novel with series potential. Some agents and editors see "first in a series" as code for "nothing happens in the first book" or "if the author flakes out while writing the second book, I'm screwed" or "you'll have to sell the entire series, because book one makes no sense without th others."

Looking forward to a revised query.

Anonymous said...

Author, fear not about deleting your painstakingly wrought prose in Roland's voice; it's evidently the opening of your book, so it won't be wasted on any agent who requests the first X pages along with a query. (If I'm wrong and it's not your opening, consider it an incredibly small sacrifice compared to what a book editor will do to you.)

I'd also change that title, even if it's a direct quote in your book. Keep the pawn(s) since you're going for a chess theme in your series, but the construction is a bit graceless, a bit much.

A word about your youthfulness: that will be a huge selling point AFTER you get a book deal. Until then, keep mum about it.

Anonymous said...

OMG, Zach Martinez appears again - Yay!