Thursday, August 20, 2015

Face-Lift 1273

Guess the Plot


1. For years Johnny Maxwell has dined out on the stories he tells of his time in Afghanistan: thrilling tank battles, narrow escapes, firefights . . . But when his girlfriend Lorna digs into his records, she learns the shocking truth: Instead of a front-line hero, Johnny worked the laundry detail in Alabama. Should she confront him with the truth, and break their son's heart, or stay quiet while Johnny sorts the socks from the panties?

2. One night, 16-year-old Elrican gives shelter to Harlequin, another 16-year-old of noble bearing, in the humble iron forge where Elrican works. Elrican forgets to put the grate over the fire and Harlequin falls into the fire pit in his sleep. The next morning when soldiers show up looking for their prince to lead them into battle against the Dragon-Trolls, Ellrican assumes Harlequin's identity. Thus begins his unsought life of valor.

3. While traveling to a video game tournament, the five members of Team Valor are struck by a lightning bolt that gives them radiation poisoning but also gives each of them the magical powers of the character they play in the video game. Sara uses her healing power to heal them all. Then they head for Iraq where they use their powers to rescue a battalion of Marines from terrorists.

Original Version

Valor Book One is 77,559 words. It's a fantasy story about five teenagers that receive the magic of their video game characters and what they decide to do with it. [Change the first sentence to Valor is a 78,000-word YA fantasy, and put it toward the end of the query. Dump the second sentence, which tells us nothing that isn't restated in the next few paragraphs.]

Charlie Hayes, Sara the girl of his dreams, and three [four] of his best friends are traveling to Japan to participate in a video game tournament. Lightning blows through the window Sara is sitting next to [Sara's window] and travels through her hitting [hits] all of them. Team Valor is knocked unconscious and the plane makes an emergency landing.

At first they seem to make a full recovery and go on to play [brilliantly in] the tournament where they play brilliantly despite becoming increasing ill. By the end of the tournament they are so sick they require hospitalization. The doctors determine it's radiation poisoning and they [They? The doctors?] are put in isolation and treated[comma] as investigators try to find out where they were exposed.

Charlie's heard the doctors talking while they thought he was unconscious and knows they [They?] are all dying. In a feverish delirium he tries to intercept the healer using the same spells as his video game character. He finds himself by Sara's bedside where he realizes what he just did and begs her to pray for them all.

She does. At first using traditional prayers and then at Charlie's urging her video game character[apostrophe]s prayers. She is able to heal them all. They realize they all can do the magic that their characters had [have acquired their characters' magical abilities]. They tell no one[comma] hoping to return home and explore their new abilities before others find out. [Those four paragraphs are the setup. In video game terms, the setup is the part where you slip the Final Fantasy XXVII disk into your Xbox and read a bunch of crap before you take control and start battling creatures. If you're writing a synopsis, you can spend four paragraphs setting up the situation. In a query letter you should condense the setup into one paragraph of three or four sentences.]

Unfortunately, Charlie's brother Rick and his entire Marine battalion go MIA in Iraq. [A battalion is 300 to 1200 marines. That's a lot of people to go MIA.] They [They? The battalion?] decide they will use their new abilities to sneak into Iraq and try to rescue him. They also decide to tell Charlie's mother[comma] who helps them reluctantly. [We don't need to know about Charlie's mother.]

They sneak on and off both ally and enemy bases searching for Rick. [If Rick is MIA, what makes them think he might be on an allied base?] Charlie knows hiding on Incrilik airbase in Turkey is no place to declare his undying love for Sara, but when he realizes she isn't as aloof as she seems he can't stop himself.

When they finally find Rick they have to fight the terrorists that have him to escape. Their secret is now out[comma] their abilities known.

At one time in my life I was an avid video gamer and a member of serious raiding guild. [You seem to think whoever reads this will surely know what you mean by "a member of serious raiding guild." Think again.] A common theme in guild chat was what would you do if you could cast the spells your character could. With over ten million people playing of all ages the answers always amazed me. [You kids think you're so special. Don't you know your parents and grandparents used to fantasize about what they'd do if they had the powers of characters in the Fantastic Four or the Justice League or the X-Men? Ancestors you never met fantasized about being the Invisible Man or Merlin or Hercules.] [When I was young I fantasized about being Superman. When I got older I fantasized about having sex with Wonder Woman. Nowadays I fantasize about having a good bowel movement.] I hope you enjoy reading Valor as much as I enjoyed writing it. [Fascinating that you were amazed by the answers of ten million other people, but what we really want to know is what were your answers?] [I was joking! We don't care about your answers or anything in that paragraph. Get rid of it. It's killing you.]

Thank you for your consideration.


The writing isn't polished. Possibly it's a rough draft, and you can whip it into shape. You use a lot of words to say what would be clearer in half as many.

You need a paragraph in which you tell us a video game team acquires the powers of their characters. and two paragraphs in which you tell us the story of the rescue, by which I mean what's their plan, how do their powers come into play, what goes wrong, etc.

Then wrap it up with the title, word count, genre. 

Also, some editing of the actual book may be in order. I have a feeling you can get this down to 65,000 words without losing any of the plot. 


AA said...

It's way too long.

Yeah, you can cut out the paragraph with the personal stuff. It's not that we hate you, it's that this is considered a business letter. The fact that you have played a lot of video games does relate to the story, but it isn't exactly a revelation. Many people have played a lot of video games.

Leave out some details and condense the information. Get to the part where Rick goes missing faster.

Anonymous said...

Instead of "Charlie and his friends are traveling to Japan," make it "flying to Japan." It's more immediate and it's less surprising at the end of the sentence when you reveal they were on a plane.

"despite becoming increasing ill." Proofread. IncreasingLY ill.

"Charlie's heard the doctors talking while they thought he was unconscious and knows they are all dying." I know from context (also going back and re-reading) who's doing the knowing and who's doing the dying, but this sentence is unclear. Charlie has overheard the doctors: he and his friends are dying.

"In a feverish delirium he tries to intercept the healer" What healer? Aren't the doctors the healers? Ohhhh, you mean A'riannaq the Healer, from the video game. Say so. And intercept her? That's stopping her. He tries to telepathically contact her, or mind-meld her, or whatever.

"At first using traditional prayers and then at Charlie's urging her video game characters prayers." Did you know that's a fragment and not a complete sentence?

"Unfortunately, Charlie's brother Rick and his entire Marine battalion go MIA in Iraq." Yes, that is unfortunate; so was the coffee spill on my keyboard the other day. The disappearance of a battalion is more like shocking and mysterious.

Incrilik -- No, IncIRlik.

"When they finally find Rick they have to fight the terrorists that have him to escape." Terrorists WHO, not terrorists THAT. And I had to read this sentence a couple of times to figure out its meaning. The big fight comes when they find Rick in the terrorists' captivity. (What about his buddies, by the way?)

This actually has cool potential, with the multi-continental venues, the determination to figure out their magical powers in secret, and then the unexpected need to use those powers in a situation where brute force is the standard rule. (I hope the hospital where the five teens are taken is in Japan. Gawd would that be cool.) But execution counts, too. What you probably see as nitpicks are highly abrasive to the eyeballs of seasoned readers and editors. You must learn the craft of constructing proper, intelligible sentences.

InkAndPixelClub said...

If your premise is "four people get struck by lightning which gives them the magical abilities of the characters in the video game they all love to play, and also radiation for some reason," then you're going to need to have a payoff in the form of how they react to their situation and what they decide to do with their powers that makes readers willing to suspend their disbelief about the silly setup. Unfortunately, I'm not getting that from the query. I don't see anything unique about how your characters react to their strange new powers and what they choose to do with them. I don't even know what their powers are beyond Charlie being able to teleport, I think?, and Sara having healing abilities. After Sara heals Charlie and the two nameless characters who don't seem to do anything specific in the story, there's no further mention of their magic powers, what they can do, and what limitations they might have. You're going to need to be specific about what these people can do, or magic just becomes a drama killer that will inevitably save the characters from any trouble they get into.

You can cut most of the gaming tournament, Charlie's mom, and Charlie's oddly timed declaration of his love for Sara. I'd say you could cut the other two characters as well, but they hopefully do something interesting and important in the book that will be mentioned in the next draft of your query. Expand on what they do in Iraq that is hopefully not just going from base to base until they find Charlie's brother and how their powers enable them to do things normal people could not during the search. Explain why the fight with the terrorists will not end in five minutes with victory for Charlie and crew and leave off before they win the battle. I would not include their existence being revealed to the world unless the book deal extensively with the consequences of that.

It may be too later for this, but I'd love it if you could make Sara the warrior, the barbarian, the beastmaster, the dark mage, or basically anything other than the healer. "Girl=healer" is such an old gaming cliche and so many games these days - particularly the kind that would be played competitively - allow players to pick their characters' gender regardless of profession.

Dump "Book One" from the title. If you must, say it's a standalone story with series potential, so the query reader does not become worried that the book is entirely setup for a second book that may or may not happen.

SB said...

I get the sense from this query that the MC's love interest isn't so much a character in herself with a personality and goals of her own but just the trophy the MC will get at the end as reward for being the hero of his own story. (The fact that you don't even include her in the list of the MC's friends but rather only as a love interest, and the corrections EE had to made to your first paragraphs to include her with the rest of the group, help give me this impression.) These days, that's rightly seen as sexist and modern readers want more depth than that. If she is not merely a trophy for your male MC, put something in the query to show us that. If she is just a trophy, change your book so that she's more than a prize for the male MC.

It's an interesting idea. As a sometimes-gamer myself, I've had those sort of thoughts as well. Though as EE points out, that's not very unique or limited to only gamers. However, from this query, I don't see that the execution of this idea is likely to be very good. EE's points are all very good. I'm curious to see what your query will look like when you revise it.

SB said...

"It may be too later for this, but I'd love it if you could make Sara the warrior, the barbarian, the beastmaster, the dark mage, or basically anything other than the healer. "Girl=healer" is such an old gaming cliche and so many games these days - particularly the kind that would be played competitively - allow players to pick their characters' gender regardless of profession."

Yes, this too. I very much agree with this point. If you need a healer, make it the MC's burly male friend or something, and let the girl be something less cliche.

khazar-khum said...

You could cut this to Charlie & Sara, giving them all the powers of the group. I'm more interested in a multifaceted character, one who can heal as well as kick ass and take names than I am in another 'team' story.

Anonymous said...

Gonna add another +1 to the "Your only female player happens to be the healer AND the love interest/trophy? How refreshingly original and not at all totally sexist." Make her, like, a death knight or something and you've caught my interest.

It's worth noting that there are more than twice as many women over 18 playing video games as there are guys under 18 playing video games, and women account for 80% of the fiction market. If you can't understand why your current character depictions might alienate a good chunk of your potential audience, consider checking out Feminist Frequency's "Tropes vs Women in Video Games." (The first three of the series--her 'Damsel in Distress' analyses--might be particularly helpful as you reasses your female character's purpose and portrayal.) They're long, and I don't agree with ALL of her conclusions, but overall she's pretty spot-on when it comes to identifying and explaining female character cliches common to the gaming world.

Best of luck!

(Btw, while I was typing this I texted some of my gamer friends. Only one of the guys said he would read a novel involving video gamers; all but one of the girls said they might. One added: "but only if it didn't suck.")

Anonymous said...

There is so much here that is cliché, predictable, and unrealistic. The meshing of current events is way too dark and unbelievable for a story like this. You've got beheadings alongside video game tournaments and teenagers. Sara is a complete cliché being the aloof (yet secretly soft and ready for love) male geek fantasy, white mage, chick. I'd suggest rethinking this entirely. There is so much going on and so many issues with this. It sounds like an amateur RP, not a novel.