Thursday, April 21, 2016

Face-Lift 1314

Guess the Plot

A Relic for Roland

1. Roland tries to find the real Holy Grail without getting his face melted. Hilarity ensues.

2. Roland tries to find the magical Scissors of Endor, to cut the Conquistador's Cord.

3. Roland tries to find the Dragon's eye, an ancient ruby that shoots red lightning bolts. 

4. Roland tries to find the Coronet of Arthax, a trumpet made from a unicorn's horn.

5. Roland tries to find the stolen casket containing the relics of Pinedjem II, High Priest of Amun at Thebes.

6. Roland tries to find the astrolabe of Christoff Schissler the Elder, looted from a German museum after WWII.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for A Relic for Roland, a complete middle Grade high fantasy of 109,000 words which can also work as three books of around 35k. [Also possible are two books of around 55k, five books of around 22k, and one third of a 327k trilogy.] [I'd put this paragraph at the end. It's kind of boring with all the numbers.] [Apropos of nothing, it's interesting that the three numbers are presented three ways, one with digits, one spelled out, and one abbreviated. An obsessively consistent writer would have chosen to write 109,000 words which can also work as 3 books of around 35,000; or one hundred and nine thousand words which can also work as three books of around thirty-five thousand; or 109k words  which can also work as .003k books of around 35k.]  

An entire settlement has been changed into woodland animals by the curse of a powerful sorcerer. [I'm guessing you mean the people who live in the settlement have been changed, and not the place where the people live, which is what I would refer to as the settlement.] Roland Hobbs, now a raccoon, undertakes the quest to find answers at the sorcerer’s tower with the help of his two squirrel friends, Marcus and Sarah. [Trivia Q: What do squirrels and raccoons have in common? A: The most famous example of each is named Rocky.] [Also, little-known fact: the script for the movie Rocky originally called for Rocky Balboa to fight a giant raccoon.]

At the tower, the companions discover their enemy trapped in a magical pool and learn from him that when they cleared the land for their settlement, the spirit of an ancient evil trapped by the roots of the trees was unleashed [Or, more accurately, it was uprooted.]; the dragon Golthag. [I would put "the dragon Golthag" after "the spirit of."] The sorcerer, a good man named Belasur who transformed them all to save their lives, [Perhaps we should call what Belasur did a spell rather than a curse, as his intentions and the result were favorable.] reveals the existence of the Coronet of Arthax, the horn of the famous unicorn of the same name who vanquished Golthag long ago at the cost of his own life. The horn was fashioned by Belasur into a trumpet [Are you sure it shouldn't be called the Cornet of Arthax?] which has the power to reshape reality itself. It is the key to restoring them all to human form. [Them all? What if some of them don't want to change back?] [Once reality has been reshaped, is it still considered reality?] 

Heading south, Roland and friends seek the tribe of the half-giants, [If you Google "How tall is a giant?" the first answer is 84 inches. Which would make a half-giant 42 inches, or 11 inches shorter than Tyrion Lannister.] who removed the relic from the tower to keep it safe. They also join forces with two Sylvians from the undersea country, and journey to the kingdom of Seldavin to prevent the coronet from falling into the hands of evil clerics called the Teterari who have usurped power. [No need to tell us clerics are evil. Fictional clerics are always evil.]

Along the way, Roland learns the ways of magic from the magical mate of the Coronet, a tuning fork named Selatine. [Anagram: Saltine.] The fork reveals to Roland the songs of all natural creation, [Is it a talking tuning fork?]
to teach him how to use the coronet safely, and gift him with magical abilities. He discovers that the half-giants narrowly escaped the clutches of the Teterari and made their way to the ancient crossroads, a fortified battleground of antiquity. Joining the half-giants, he and his friends make their stand against the Teterari armies. [In a battle that historians will call the Tet Offensive.]

With the aid of the Sylvians and war machines of the famous Emrian inventor called the Clockmaker, [His best-known invention: the time bomb.] they are victorious. The companions then return home with the coronet and win the last battle against Golthag’s spirit. With the power to restore themselves available, Roland and the good people of the settlement give it up in order to bring Belasur back to life, [When did he die?] and protect the forest. [We don't need the ending. Stop when the MC is confronted by the decision that will determine the outcome.]


Words that sound similar: Selatine, Sylvians, Seldavin, Belasur. Must have something to do with the third letter being "L". Like in Roland, Relic, and Golthag.

Apparently when you call Roland a raccoon, you mean he's a raccoon with Roland's brain and ability to communicate? Can the forest animals speak?

This is more synopsis than query. We don't need this much information. Here's what we need:

1. Who's the main character, what's his situation when stuff starts happening, what's his goal, what's his plan to achieve the goal? Roland Hobbs, been turned into a raccoon, wants his humanity and settlement back, needs to get the relic that can reshape reality).

2. What's keeping him from his goal, what does he do about it, what goes wrong? The relic's been taken away by dwarfs, he follows them to Seldavin, but the Tetrazzinis are waiting, and they want the relic too. And they have armies.

3. What's at stake? What happens if he succeeds, and what if he fails?

Can't the powerful sorcerer change the animals back to people now that they've left the settlement?

Work all that into about ten sentences. Keep the number of names low. 


Anonymous said...

The book is way long for middle grade. Yes, you can break it into shorter novels, but do each of those form a complete story? The problem here isn't just worrying about the author's ability to complete the series, but also about the public's willingness to buy that many books from a new author, especially when the first one isn't satisfying because the story is incomplete.

I have a personal issue about water people being sylvians when the word means something like 'of the forest'

AA said...

Coronet: small crown. Cornet- trumpetlike instrument.

Curse: Bad or evil spell. You can just use spell.

Everyone's going to read Arthax as anthrax. Selatine really is too close to Saltine. Try not to make up names that can be easily made fun of. It will be harder to take your story seriously.

There are way too many mythical fantasy names here. It's distracting and too hard to read. Golthag, Belasur, The Coronet (or cornet) of Arthax, Sylvians (From Sylvania?), Seldavin, Selatine, Teterari (It's a long way to Teterari), and Emrian. Leave out AT LEAST half of these.

I'd suggest leaving the tuning fork out. Somehow a magical tuning fork seems to me like a magical spatula or a magical monkey wrench. No reason it couldn't be magical, but more snigger-inducing than awe inspiring.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The middle grade market is really tight right now. It's harder to break in than it's been in a long, long time.

Which means your game has to be tight, your curve ball has to be poppin', and you have to have all your ducks in a row. To mix a metaphor.

If you don't know whether you've written an (unacceptably long) 109k novel, or a trilogy of three 35k novels, that is a signal to any agent who reads this that you don't have a tight game or an alignment of ducks. It makes it sound like you're still fussing around with the thing. Agents don't want something you're still fussing around with. Even though they will make you rewrtie and the aquiring editor will make you rewrtie again, they still don't want you to submit until you think it's finished and polished.

Even when the market was more open, it was still necessary to say that one had written "a stand-alone with series potential" rather than a series or a trilogy. Now it's even more necessary.

Either edit it down to a more acceptable length, which is going to be a maximum of 75k for a MG fantasy by a first time author, or select out that first 35k words and make it into a complete novel with a beginning, middle and end.

Anonymous said...

See the entry on "Anthropomorphize Alliterative Animals" in this article by editor Harold Underdown on writing books for children:

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

For that matter, everyone's going to read Belasur as Belarus.

And oops, I meant "acquiring" above, not aquiring. Ah well.

SB said...

"For that matter, everyone's going to read Belasur as Belarus." I didn't. I don't even know what Belarus is, so I'd say it's hardly a universal connection. Personally, I wanted to read Belasur as Belasaur and imagined some sort of dinosaur.

Also, EE, I don't think it was necessary to make fun of the appearance of half-giants in the query. I think half-giants are pretty well understood by fantasy fans as beings who are half giant (that is, giant the separate race, not giant the human medical condition) and half something else (usually human), thus being smaller than a giant but larger (and probably uglier and stronger) than the other race.

It sounds like there's potentially a fun, entertaining story in here, but it does sound a bit messy currently.

Evil Editor said...

It's pretty well understood what a Gorilla is. Or an elephant. Giants and half Giants don't exist, and thus can be what any author says they are. For instance, the elves in Lord of the Rings are human height while the elves in The Elves and the Shoemaker are so small that they would consider a 42-inch half-giant to be a giant.

Jay said...

Thank you for the critiques and pointers. I will consider it all carefully and make appropriate changes.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Belarus is a country in Europe.

SB said...

Thanks for the clarification, AR.

EE - Orcs don't exist either, and yet most fantasy readers would have a general idea of what an author meant if they said their book included them. Most fantasy readers would understand half-giants to not mean people shorter than humans.

SB said...

EE - Also, if an author said their fantasy book had lycanthropes, it wouldn't be expected that their target audience would google the word for the real-world definition and understand that the book had characters with a mental disorder where they only believed they were part wolf. I feel like when you make fun of authors for things that aren't actually unclear or wrong or poorly done, you diminish the value of your own feedback.

Evil Editor said...

Haven't you been coming here long enough to know this is a humor blog? Why are you so worked up over my half giant joke?

InkAndPixelClub said...

Late to the party, but still posting as no one has brought this up yet.

Even as a synopsis, this is leaving me cold. For me, the big problem is that I don't know Roland from a hole in the ground. He goes here and there and does this and that. Things happen to him. But I have zero sense of his personality. Who is this guy? Why is he, as opposed to anyone else from the settlement, the one who goes on this quest? What skills does he have that might help him succeed? What flaws does he have that might trip him up? How does he grow and change over the course of the story?

If there isn't a character the readers can care about and root for or at least find interesting enough to want to see what he or she does next, even the most exciting series of events can feel dull.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I really dig your set-up. For the first two paragraphs (after the one about word count) I was grinning as I read along. I LOVE the idea of a settlement of people turned into animals, and I love the twist where it turns out the wizard was helping them. My thought as I was reading was, "I would totally read this!"

However, I do agree that this slips into synopsis territory after that, and I think the reason is that you're trying to make this work as a long book and three short books at the same time. The problem with keeping both possibilities open is that... well, you can't. You can't end one book and then pick the second book up exactly where the first left off. Or rather, you can, but your editor is going to tell you to refresh the reader's memory and weave stuff from book 1 into book 2 (and 3 and so on.) The idea is that the reader should be able to pick up any of the three books and read it as a complete story, (but when read together, the trilogy has an over-arcing story).

FWIW, my brain stuck on the phrase "half-giant" too. Not because of the height question, but because I wondered: why are they half-giants? Why not full? Are half giants ostracized by full giants in this story? Have full giants died out, and only half are still alive? If so, why? These kind of questions pull a person out of the query, and sometimes it's better to simplify in a query (and let the book explain the details).

Looking forward to the rewrite!

AA said...

SB_ I think pretty much everybody gets the half-giant thing. If the author isn't smart enough to recognize a joke or to read some of the blog before they send the query in, the feedback probably isn't going to help much anyway.