Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Face-Lift 1280

Guess the Plot

Winter's Queen

1. Handsome rapscallion Robin Winter has been commissioned by the Darklings to capture Queen Eldyrianaleselore of the Outerlands so they can take possession of the Opal Dragon Charm and rule the world. He captures her all right -- but she captures his heart.

2. Teenager Arial is kidnapped by the Winter Prince, who demands that she marry him and become his queen. Or die. If she marries him she'll become immortal, which is kind of the opposite of dying. But dying might be better than being married to this clown for eternity.

3. Seventeen-year-old Winter Hayes falls hard for the beautiful Phoebe Jackson, only to find that "she" is actually a gay drag queen whose real name is Jason. When hilarity ensues, can love conquer all?

4. Adrian Winters is famous for elaborate sacrifices that win chess tournaments across the globe. But when his wife becomes terminally ill, can Winters make one last sacrifice, donating his heart so his queen might live?

5. Experimental musician Edgar Winter, of Frankenstein fame, decides it's time for a resurgence. He decides to focus his next hit on the Bride of Frankenstein, but falls in love with his subject along the way. Then he decides to pen an ode to Freddy Mercury. Same problem.

6. Ilyenna is fatally wounded when a neighboring clan attacks her village. Instead of letting her die, the winter fairies heal her and make her their queen...but it comes at a price. Her humanity, her emotions, her memories, her family...her love.

7. Moscow, May 1876. A talented young student from a wealthy family commits suicide out of decadence and boredom. Or does he? Young sleuth Erast Fandorin is on the case.

8. Kevin Bixter just wants to be a drag queen. But he arrives in San Francisco the day a hyper-conservative congress passes a law forbidding his new lifestyle. Now he receives a cold reception from the once welcoming community. Kevin is the last drag queen in a new frozen culture. He is . . .  Winter's Queen.

9. This years Gay Pride march has a Four Seasons theme...and the competition for the title of Winter's Queen is really heating up.

10. Young, virile King Winter III wants nothing more than to play the field, sampling girls without marrying until he's in his 40's. But he needs an heir. When his friends take him to a drag show in the capital, he suddenly finds himself longing for a very different kind of Queen.

11. The untold story of Snow White's mother, once a foundling child lost in the snow, who rose in power and ruled a kingdom with an icy fist. Also, blue dwarves.

12. Queen Fione hates being depicted as a crone just because winter is considered the end of the year. So she starts a decades-long sulk that results in global warming. The queens of spring, summer, and fall don't care--but it's a good excuse for a tourney. 

13. On a world where the four continents are known as Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring,  Winter's queen is tired of ruling a land that's always so freaking cold. Especially now that most of her subjects have moved to one of the other lands. Can she get to Spring when her only form of transportation is a snowmobile?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Sixteen-year-old Ariel Hawk doesn't simply believe in the Fae—she knows full well they exist. They’re not the sweet, sparkly little pixies most people imagine: they’re dark and decadent, proud and powerful, capricious and cruel. [They're the Republican Party.] So when their Winter Prince kidnaps Ariel to the realm of Faerie, she's not shocked or confused. She's pissed. [More suitable would be "incensed."]

Ariel’s abductor—His Royal Smugness, Prince Fiachra—wants nothing more than to marry her. He won’t tell her why he needs a wife so badly, [Does the wife have to be Ariel?] nor will he take no for an answer. But for Ariel, a fairytale wedding is [would be] a waking nightmare, not a dream come true. [A three-cliche string! Impressive. I'm told someone once managed four, but I never saw the evidence.] Living in Faerie would eventually make Ariel part-Fae herself—as inhuman, immortal and amoral as her husband-to-be. [I can live with amoral and inhuman if you're throwing in immortal.] [If she's just as amoral, immortal and inhuman as Fiachra, why is she considered part-Fae? What aspect of Fae-ness is she lacking?] Returning to Earth [The realm of Faerie isn't on Earth?] after that, with or without Fiachra’s consent, would kill her. [How come going to Earth to kidnap Ariel didn't kill Fiachra?]

Loathing all that Fiachra is and what he would have her become, Ariel resists his fickle attempts to woo and subdue her by turns. He tries to force-feed her enchanted fruit, and she spits it back in his face; [That's some pretty lame force-feeding if the food is still in her mouth and spittable.] he proposes with a beautiful silver ring, and she drops it into her chamber-pot. Even an icy dungeon can’t hold Ariel for longer than it takes to hack her way out with a stolen knife. [She should have stolen an ice pick.] [So she hacks the ice away from the door and it's unlocked?]

As Fiachra’s patience crumbles, Ariel’s desperation mounts. If she marries Fiachra and becomes the Winter Queen, she’ll be bound to her kidnapper and tormentor for eternity. But if she refuses him or fails to escape, she’ll be killed. [I'd go with "and" rather than "or." Better yet, "if she tries and fails to escape..." She has, after all refused him several times already without being killed.]

WINTER'S QUEEN is a YA fantasy of 81,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Does anyone know why Fiachra insists on marrying Ariel, but won't tell her? For instance, do you know? If so, I see no reason to leave it out of the query. For instance, if he must convince her to marry him without telling her why or everyone in Faerie will die, I wouldn't be too hard on him. His reason seems to be a key point. If not marrying him has dire consequences for anyone else, she has a difficult choice. Otherwise, she obviously would try to escape and either die or make it home.

If Faerie isn't on planet Earth, I'm not sure where she hopes to escape to. How can she get to Earth?

The query causes me to ask questions that you presumably know the answers to. Answer those that you need to, and reword it so the others don't arise.


Anonymous said...

hmm... force-feeding...

In most versions of fairy land, if she eats or drinks anything while there, she's in trouble. Time may or may not flow at a different rate compared to the human realm, but she still only has 3-4 days local time to live without water, less than that for being too weak to defend herself, barring some type of magic you haven't mentioned.

I've seen two normal forms of not being able to leave fairy land. 1) the kidnapee keeps getting sucked back into fairy land even if they do manage to leave. 2) the kidnapee becomes desynched with their timeline and ends up getting hit with all the years they've missed the second they return, i.e. ages three centuries in three seconds and turns to dust. In neither case has the human become part fae, so what's she looking at?

What I'm getting at is I'm thinking more about your world-building than I am your story. Try to fit things in so I'm more interested in Ariel's dilemma.

Normally, you only need to mention what the antagonist wants. In this case, his motivation/the consequences for him would give us a sense of the lengths he's willing to go to. Also, stories where the villains have understandable motives tend to be more interesting than those where the characters are dealing with a 2D psycho, which is how he currently looks.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I don't see where this is going. Fiachra woos Ariel and she rejects him. (I'd lead with him playing nice, unless he's incredibly dumb in addition to smug.) He tries to force feed her enchanted fruit, she spits it out. He locks her in a dungeon, she escapes. And then....? Nothing seems to be happening that moves the plot forward. Adriel's still stuck and Fiachra is still trying to make her marry him. You don't have to give swathe ending, but I'd like some hint at an endgame or something that changes.

Is Ariel from regular modern Earth, the past, or fantasy Earth? How did she know the Fae existed before she was kidnapped?

Ireth said...

Author here. Thanks for your comments!

I decided not to go with the "don't eat anything in Faerie EVER or you'll be trapped there" route with my story, simply because I didn't want to have my heroine starving to death while she's trying to escape. Ariel initially believes in this trope (which is why she spits the fruit back in Fiachra's face), but finds out it only applies to certain foods that the Fae specifically enchant for the purpose of trapping humans in Faerie. I also mention the "aging three centuries in three seconds" trope, but it doesn't come into play since Ariel doesn't spend that long in Faerie.

About Fiachra's methods -- InkAndPixelClub, you're exactly right, he isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. He's far too proud and arrogant to realize it either. His motivation for kidnapping Ariel only becomes apparent in the last few chapters of the book, and in fact fuels the entire climax, so I'm not sure if it's too much of a spoiler if I mention it in the query. (I will divulge it here, though -- he wants to usurp his father's throne, and marrying Ariel is the means to that end (aside from killing his father, of course).)

Ariel believes in the Fae because she was nearly kidnapped by them as a baby. Her dad and uncle fought the would-be child-stealers and drove them off, and as a result they raised Ariel to hate and fear the Fae. Ariel actually meets one of the aforesaid Fae, though neither of them recognize the other. And Ariel's dad and uncle are supporting characters, with a subplot about them finding a way into Faerie and searching for Fiachra's castle. I thought it best to focus solely on Ariel and Fiachra in the query.

Anonymous said...

80,000 words of her trying to escape fairy land? Srsly? You've edited it down as much as possible? How many pages does spitting out enchanted fruit take?

I'm guessing this story is light on action. Whacha got that will make people want to read it?

Also, why will she become part fae, and why will being half-and-half kill her on earth when both humans and full blood fae don't seem to have any problems?

Minion 621 said...

Oh! Ireth, are you the person who had the vampire story with the intersex teen and their half - vampire friend? I thought that one was cool (I'm non-binary too).

This one is even cooler. I could even say it's... cold. :P Faeries are always interesting. Everyone's mostly said what I would say for criticism, so I'll just second making the events build on each other to move the plot along.

You're obviously a good writer -- queries are just extremely hard. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I assumed Ariel knew about the Fae for the simple reason that she'd been kidnapped by them, no mystery.

Author, I think you've got to work a few more plot elements into the query, such as Fiachra's motive and maybe the fact that Ariel's family is on the way. After the kidnapping happens, all I've got for a plot is "Fiachra’s patience crumbles, Ariel’s desperation mounts." Just two people wishing things were different. (I hope Fiachra is taking a multi-pronged approach to grabbing the throne; him simply being annoying and waiting for Ariel to come around can't sustain 81,000 words.) You spend a lot of time describing people's predicaments; you could cut some of that and show us how events move the story, too.

Ireth said...

Anon, there is certainly more to Ariel's escape attempts and the time between them than the few things I mentioned in the query, but I thought it best to keep the rest for the synopsis and book. (Plus, it worked out that my descriptions followed the rule of three, which is structurally appealing to me.) On top of that, as I mentioned above there is a significant subplot involving Ariel's family and their search for her. If I were to allude to that, it would clutter up the query with too many names and plot points, as well as taking the focus away from Ariel.

Evil Editor said...

Are her family searching for her on planet Earth? If so, they're not gonna find her there unless she finds her way there first.

Ireth said...

EE, her family are searching for her in Faerie. But it's not easy to get there, and even harder for them to find their way in the wilderness.

Minion, yes, that's another of my stories. I gather you're also here from AgentQuery Connect? :D

Anon, the events such as the attempted force-feeding, the proposal and Ariel breaking out of her cell are all parts of the plot post-kidnapping. It's all about action and reaction, not just sitting around and wishing. I agree I need to show how they tie together and move things forward more, and I'll definitely work on that.

Anonymous said...

Ireth, to quote another anon, "How many pages does spitting out enchanted fruit take?" Are Ariel's numerous escape attempts getting her closer to freedom, or are they just taking time? If each failure puts her back at square one with things no different than they were at the moment she was kidnapped, then I suggest you tell us less about those ("Ariel tries repeatedly to escape, to no avail") and tell us more about the events that make a material difference in her situation.

Anonymous said...

Mentioning she was almost kidnapped as an infant would probably be all right. Better if there's a reason behind it other than attack of opportunity.

When you pick events to show the plot moving forward, try to use ones that show some character development too. The ones now are three examples of her being about the same level of spunky, which is part of why they don't seem to show progress.

Ireth said...

Anon, it's really more of a "two steps forward, one step back" situation as far as her escape attempts are concerned. Things really start to escalate after the dungeon escape, but that ultimately propels her straight into the climax and is not something I'm very inclined to spoil in the query. (Ditto with Fiachra's true motivation -- neither Ariel nor the reader finds out what he's really after until the eleventh hour, so to speak. And as I said before, adding focus to her family's subplot or the other characters who influence Ariel's actions in Faerie would clutter the query up with names. It's hard for me to strike a balance between "not enough" and "too much".

Evil Editor said...

Ariel tries to find an escape, not knowing that her family have come to Faerie in hopes of rescuing her. There, I've mentioned the family subplot, and the number of additional names I cluttered the query with is zero.

However, I don't recommend including this subplot unless you also explain how her family got off of planet Earth and into Faerie.

Leaving out crucial plot points because you don't want to "spoil" the story for the agent is like hiring a realtor to sell your house but not letting her see the kitchen and the master bedroom.

Ireth said...

Anon 2 - I can try to include the initial botched kidnapping attempt, but explaining the reasons behind it might take up too much room. I agree about the spunkiness level, though.

Ireth said...

EE, that's exactly my point. Explaining how her family have entered Faerie would take up too much room. On the other hand, Ariel is very hopeful, bordering on certain that her family have come to rescue her, since they know as much about the Fae as she does, if not more. But to say that would take away from her spunkiness factor, and might paint her as more of a damsel in distress, waiting around for rescue, when in fact that's not the case. She knows she has to try escaping on her own, because although her family have entered Faerie, they still have to survive in the wilderness AND find the castle, and even she isn't certain exactly where it is.

Also, I was under the impression that a query was meant to entice the agent into moving on to the synopsis and the novel itself, not to outline every critical plot point right off the bat. Am I wrong?

InkAndPixelClub said...

Ireth, let me use an example that's in my wheelhouse. For decades, Disney was trying to make an animated version of "Beauty and the Beast." One of the main issues they kept coming up against was what to do with the second act. When they struck with the original, it was extremely repetitive. The two characters have dinner every night, the Beast proposes, and Beauty turns him down. Repeat until audience falls asleep.

This is what I'm concerned the bulk of your story is. Ariel tries to escape, but it doesn't work. Fiachra tries to make her marry him, but that doesn't work either. Nothing changes. There's no obvious ticking clock and no consequence for the characters' repeated failures to get what they want. Maybe the book isn't that way, but that's the impression I'm getting from the query.

Knowing why Fiachra is trying to force Ariel into marriage isn't making the story come together for me. I don't see why it has to be Ariel as opposed to anyone else, why Fiachra needs to get married to depose Dad, or why he wants to do that. It's a choice between a vain kidnapper or a guy I don't know at all being on the throne. Why does it matter?

Usually when you have a stories about characters getting whisked away to fantasy worlds and trying to get home, they eventually become invested in the fantasy worlds to some degree. They make friends, they realize they can accomplish something there that no one else can, they see injustice and want to put an end to it, or whatever. I'm not saying you need to follow that formula, but you need some hook beyond "A girl is trapped in fairyland; her attempts to escape aren't working. Will her next attempt work?"

Anonymous said...

The query is meant to entice the agent. (period) The agent may or may not ask for a synopsis or sample pages to be included with the query itself. Are you writing off all the agents who only want the half page teaser?

What the agent wants to know from the query letter: Can I sell this?
(There are agents who fall in love with stories they know they can't sell, but want to try anyway. This happens so rarely you can eliminate it as a consideration, besides which, you want your story to sell too, don't you?)

Everything you put in boils down to that. The agent wants to spend as little of their time as possible on figuring this out. Yes, I do mean they will likely be skimming when they read your letter. The bulk of their time goes to actually making money through authors whose stuff they have sold.

They want a story that is entertaining and complete. See specific agent blogs/listings/etc for more info. The more you put in to prove your story is both entertaining and complete, the better. The easier your query letter is to read and understand, the better. You don't need to give away the ending. Everything before that is fair game (including specifics on any bad guys who aren't revealed until the ending). Show you have characters that grow and develop and that readers will want to stick with and root for (or against). Show you have a story arc with complications, triumphs, defeats, reversals, revelations, and genre content.

Your mission is to do all this in <150 words. Good Luck.

This message will self destruct in a random number of seconds less than infinity and greater than nil.

Ireth said...

Good points all around, Ink. I love the Beauty and the Beast comparison -- Ariel herself makes that very comparison in the text, though she sees Fiachra as closer to Gaston than the Beast. Especially since she's not interested in changing Fiachra's ways, just getting the heck out of Faerie.

There is a ticking clock element to the story, which I've added (back) into the next version of the query. Fiachra kidnaps Ariel on Halloween, and plans to marry her on Midwinter Night. It does escalate though, when Fiachra's patience finally snaps and he decides not to wait until Midwinter to get things done.

Fiachra wants to become king because he's a vain, arrogant A-hole who thinks he'd be a better ruler than his father is, and since his father has zero intention of abdicating, regicide and/or patricide is the faster way. He doesn't technically need to get married in order to claim the throne, but he's too stubborn to consider that until literally the last minute, when he's had it up to here with Ariel and decides she's much more trouble than she's worth. Which is the springboard for half of the climax of the book.

In between escape attempts, Ariel does indeed make friends among the nicer Fae, including some of the last people she'd expect to. They have varying opinions of her impending marriage to Fiachra and what she should do about it, which adds to the conflict when she disregards advice that she really should have listened to.

Anonymous said...

A query should give everything away except the end. In a concise way. Too many unanswered questions in this query. You've had to explain yourself so many times to the readers on this board, and an agent won't give you the time for that. Read over carefully everyones advice, and get started on the next draft.

Anonymous said...

a query was meant to entice the agent into moving on to the synopsis and the novel itself
My experience is meager and my research is probably no better than yours, but I've also read agents who say they blow past the query and grab the pages. Many agents don't ask for synopses. You're overcomplicating things with this strategy while you're not giving us the engine of the story.

Ireth said...

Anon 1 -- I'm inclined to disagree. My experience in researching agents and getting feedback on queries is that a query should act as an introduction to the story's premise and an invitation to read the whole thing, not a summary of most of the plot. I understand your concern about unanswered questions, but I believe I need a certain amount of them to entice the agent to move on to the synopsis and/or pages.

Anon 2 -- I'm sorry, but I'm not understanding your logic. If agents are going to skip right to the pages, what would be the point in sending a query at all? Which agents have said that?

alaskaRavenclaw said...

Write a single sentence no more than 20 words in length that sums up what your story is about. Base your query on that sentence.

Evil Editor said...

It's not clear why you submitted your query to this site when you seem to be happy with advice you've gotten elsewhere, and fairly defensive about any suggestions we make that your query isn't working. Do you believe your query does what you say it should, namely entice the reader into moving on to the synopsis and the novel itself?

When I ask a question about your plot, it's not because I want you to answer it in a comment, it's because I want you to answer it in the query or fix the part of the query that led me to ask the question. The agent isn't going to phone you with questions about your plot, so you don't want her to have any questions.

For homework, read the other 1279 query critiques on this site, then start over from scratch.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2 -- I'm sorry, but I'm not understanding your logic. If agents are going to skip right to the pages, what would be the point in sending a query at all? Which agents have said that?

Heh. You ask why the New York publishing world doesn't speak with one voice, why illogic abounds, why they ask for one thing, you give it to them, and they say they want the opposite, why literary agents demand perfection and then send you an email with typos and spelling errors, why Stephenie Meyer submitted a 150,000-word draft also loaded with typos and spelling errors and was rewarded with a 7-figure deal instead of a perfunctory rejection, why almost every publisher on the planet rejected Harry Potter, and why the collective advice is to write an enticing query letter while top agents have said they ignore letters and dive at the pages, where it can be said of publishing as it was said of Hollywood that "Nobody knows anything"? Welcome to the slushpile.

Ireth said...

EE, I have said that I agree with some of the advice I've been given, but a lot of it contradicts what I've seen elsewhere, and it ends up just being confusing. I'm in the process of reading through the archives, but with over 1200 Face-lift posts alone, it's quite a big task.

Anon, I'm not sure if you meant to come off as supremely condescending, but that's how your post sounded to me. I asked you a fairly simple question, asking for concrete examples of what you described (since you say you've read agents who ignore queries in favor of pages), and you decided to ramble at me instead. That is the opposite of helpful.

Evil Editor said...

The anonymous to whom you are addressing this comment and the anonymous to whom you asked the original question are not necessarily the same person. In fact, it's highly unlikely they're the same person.

Of course no agent is going to state that she sets the query aside without reading it and reads the pages, but it's understandable if she reads the pages first. The pages are a sample of the writer's true talent, while the query, having in all probability passed through Evil Editor's site, is flawless.

To save you the trouble of reading 1279 queries, I've placed "YA" in the "Labels" section of the sidebar. This will let you bring up just YA queries. They won't all be fantasies in which a teen is whisked to a magical land, but I suspect most of them will.

Ireth said...

Thank you, EE. I'll definitely make use of that.

Anonymous said...

Author, you might want to read the comments to the (YA subset of) 1279 as well as the queries themselves. Some of the commenters are slushpile first readers and published authors.

How much of the plot you include in your query depends on the type of story it is. If you're writing romance you need to talk about her (or him) and him (or her) and why they belong together and what's keeping them apart. If you're writing literary fiction, you need basic plot setup and writing the agent will want to stare at for the rest of the day. If you're writing a comedy, you need to be funny. If you're writing a dissertation on 101 ways to escape Dictator Snafu's regime, you need to talk about the army of trained rodents, the blimp made out of human hair, and the zombie apocalypse switch. Etc.

You're writing fantasy. If you have a specific agent in mind, use their guidelines. Otherwise, most agents want a fully realized world. If you need to spend time explaining your world in the comments, it doesn't look fully realized. Most agents want a plot that will take up the scope of the book. If you have enough plot in act 1 of your book to look like the entire book has a long well-connected sequence of events, that's all you need. Unfortunately, "Fairy prince kidnaps girl and proposes. She refuses and fails in her multiple attempts to escape." is enough plot for a short story. It doesn't show internal conflict or development for either of the characters. It doesn't show external consequences to the world(s) they inhabit. You need to prove you have enough interesting content to fill 81,000 words. We're suggesting more plot will help.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's the same anon -- me. I did overlook naming the agents; I can't remember, but it was a couple of Big Ones in a group interview. It wasn't terribly surprising to me, because I'm always reading about exceptions and counterintuitive events in this "subjective" biz, and I've experienced a few. It can be anywhere from delightful to maddening, all your research and labor turned up-side down or what you thought were lethal errors overlooked completely. If you're a newbie, be prepared for it. That's all I meant to say. Here we go with the "condescending" stuff again.

Anon 3 said...

I think you're probably right, Ireth. What you've read elsewhere on the internet is undoubtedly true. Anon 2 sounds like somebody who knows the publishing world, but he or she sure as hell doesn't know what's out there on the writer wannabe websites.

Carry on. The more people you can alienate on the way up, the cooler you'll probably seem once you're on the bestseller lists. After all, it works for Jonathan Franzen.

Ireth said...

Anon 1, thank you for clarifying that. It's working out which details to include or exclude that's the hard part, unfortunately.

Anon 2, thank you for clarifying too. I still don't see the logic in it, but that's the agents' doing, not yours. I apologize if my previous comment was rude.

Anon 3, I'm not trying to alienate anyone. Let's keep things civil, please.

Anonymous said...

Something that might help if you're willing to tweak your story a little:

Lower the idiocy of your prince. He grabs Ariel because she doesn't swoon over him and he takes it as a challenge. That, and he needs a challenging bride since the wedding planning is a front for the coup d'etat conspiracy.

This should improve motivations all around without you needing to change your story much.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned you were having trouble coming up with other plot events to list. I'd suggest keep one of the escape attempts, maybe something about her making friends/allies and why they don't/can't help, and maybe that part about her becoming/starting to become fae if it happens during the course of the story

Ireth said...

I like that idea, Anon. I'll see what I can do with it. :)