Thursday, July 13, 2006

Face-Lift 115

Guess the Plot

Expatriate I: Conscription

1. 390 BC: Exiled from Rome on trumped-up conspiracy charges, Lucius Titus is enslaved and conscripted into the Gallic army. When the Gauls sack Rome, Lucius escapes and seeks revenge on those who wronged him.

2. 1914: Scientist Richard Pennyworth leaves the patriotic fervor of London for Singapore, where a colonial mutiny draws him inexorably into the war.

3. 1989: A Russian conscript soldier hatches a secret plot to overturn all of Communism while a hapless American president gets the credit.

4. 2003: When a mechanical engineer inadvertently steps through a portal to another world, will his knowledge of science help him survive against the magic of monsters?

5. 2006: Jack Hemingway is living the good life on the beaches of Tuvalu, when a mix-up with his forged paperwork forces him to enlist in the army, where he sets off a chain of events that lead the tiny country to war against Australia.

6. 2243: Fatality Facilitator Mark Mercury took the job no one wanted--eliminate the CEO of Maxforce, largest defense contractor in the universe--but got captured and imprisoned on the labor internment planet Cobalt IV. Now Mercury must escape before anyone collects the reward of freedom that has been offered for his death.

Original Version

[The author submitted a revised query with a new title for the book.]

Dear Submissions Editor,

In the tradition of really, really long fantasy novels you publish, I would like to submit my novel for your consideration:

Title: Priest (World of Prime : Book I) [Do we need the "World of Prime" part? It sounds like a steakhouse.] [It's not like anyone has the slightest idea what World of Prime means anyway.]
Length: 200,000 words
Genre: Fantasy

A mechanical engineer unwittingly steps through a portal to a world of magic and adventure. But at forty years old, he doesn’t want adventure; he just wants to go home to his wife. [Isn't 40 the age at which guys do want adventure, without their wives?] While using science to survive, [Is he MacGyver? Great premise for a book. MacGyver steps through a portal into a world where he must battle Merlin, Doctor Strange, Rincewind, Saruman and David Blaine, using nothing but a paper clip, an egg timer, and a fourteen-inch strip of velcro.] [I seriously recommend scrapping your 200,000-word book, and writing an 80,000-word MacGyver book.] he discovers the terrible price of magic – an unspoken arrangement with monsters that trades the lives of the young for power. [Unclear. Does he save the young by giving power to monsters, or does he give up the young when he gains power for himself? What young? Young in the world he came from, or the world he went to?]

This novel is the first of a series, and is followed by “Prophet” and “Patriarch.” [See how much cleaner those sound without "World of Prime" after them?] In the second book, he struggles to reform the society he has fallen into; in the third book, he battles the gods. [In this corner, weighing in at 158 pounds, the favorite, a mechanical engineer, MacGyver. And in this corner, Thor, Neptune, Zeus, and George Clooney.]

Thank you for your consideration.

Thank you,


· Critters Workshop, the on-line workshop/critique group for serious writers of SF/F&H, 2004

Writing as __________
· “Heartwyrm”: Dragons, Knights, & Angels, July 2006; Honorable Mention, DKA 2006 Fiction Contest

Writing as __________
“La Ceinture” (“The Belt”): eXtasyBooks, 2007
· “La Reine Rouge” (“The Red Queen”): Finalist, 10th Annual Dixie First Chapter Contest (Magnolia State Romance Writers), 2006


Obviously the author doesn't think she can describe the book in a one-page letter, and plans to attach a synopsis. Even so, what little is in the letter can be expanded. How does MacGyver use science to survive? How does he discover the unspoken arrangement? What power does he gain or cede with this arrangement? What's his name? Describe these monsters. If you don't have room for all this, eliminate the credits.


Stacia said...

I don't understand the part about trading the lives of the young for power. All of the young? What happens when everyone now alive dies and there are no more people because all the young have been killed?

Anonymous said...

The answer to EE's secind question is yes. -JTC

200,000 words?!?!?!?

Anonymous said...

...Whatever happened to Expatriate: Conscription?

Anonymous said...

I thought, it was 'Expatriate 1: Constipation'. Sorry. Oh, and the Rome plot rocks.

Anonymous said...

Author, 'really long fantasy novels you publish' may not ring the right bell with the editor. It's like 'in the tradition of your rambling, I will ramble back to you'. You might wanna skip that line, or redo it.

Of course, what do I know, I'm just a plant... Wow, my word verification has outdone it self with 'caastril'. Sounds like a cure for that constipation, doesn't it.

Anonymous said...

200k? Holy crap, I thought I was pushing it with 150k! Of course, I have no credits, so, um...

I read the guess the plots and when I came to the portal one, I thought, nooo, it can't be that one, cause I've been reading on various agent blogs and elsewhere that portals are as dead as dwarfs. I've also read that elves and orcs and goblins and dragons and wizards and prophecies are stale, stale, stale.

But then I went and read tons of sample chapters of recently published stuff, and a lot of it is the same old same-old. Phew! Cause yanno, I have elf- and orc-like beings in my WIP, and a bit about dragons. (No portals, tho.)

Good luck! If this gets picked up, let us know. It warms my heart that the BFF is truly not dead.

Lightsmith said...

The premise of the book sounds generic to me. Traveling through a portal into a magical dimension has been done many times before. The book needs a fresh angle.

Interestingly, several of the fake plots feel more specific than the actual query, despite being only one or two sentences long.

Kanani said...

200,000 words!
So, are you submitting one book or three?

In order to get rid of the phrase, "magic and adventure," you might describe the plainer circumstances in which he lives, in order to contrast it to where he's going.

And why does he 'unwittingly' go through a portal? Does this mean it was all an accident? What would happen if it was his choice to go? Would this add more heft to his character, rather than having the hapless absent-minded engineer? In other words, what compells him to go, and what makes him want to go back to his wife?

I'd dispose of the pat term, "world of magic and adventure." Try to tell me what's in that world, what makes it fascinating, and I think there must be something at stake in this world that will afffect him back in his 'real world,' other than just wanting to get home to the wife, kids, and a membership at Costco.

I'm a little leery when it comes to monsters. Are the monsters sinister? In what ways do they challenge your protagonist, and what sort of science does he have to use? (Science is so broad --it could be anything from geology to nuclear physics.

Good luck!

Mazement said...

I read "Cloud Atlas" not long ago so I was hoping the book would have all six plots written as interlocking short stories. Oh, well.

I like the title "Expatriate" better than "World of Prime", and I think the progression "Conscript, Priest, Patriarch" works better than "Priest, Prophet, Patriarch". If you're accidentally transported to an alternate universe then you should have to start at the bottom.

Traveling through a portal into a magical dimension has been done many times before.

The problem is that fantasy worlds are all different so you need a lot of exposition. There are really only three ways to do it:

1) Main character arrived through a magic portal and needs to have everything explained to him.
2) Main character is a farmboy from out in the middle of nowhere and needs to have everything explained to him.
3) It's narrated by a storytelling voice who periodically drops in large chunks of exposition.

Just about everybody uses either 1 or 2, because 3 is so hard to pull off. Terry Pratchett gets a gold star for putting the chunks of exposition in humorous footnotes.

Anonymous said...

"Wow, my word verification has outdone it self with 'caastril'. Sounds like a cure for that constipation, doesn't it."

I think we've just found the name of the brutal eunuch.

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept, but the length...

Suggestion 1: Cut it down to 120K words. This is the upper limit for most publishers, and they will toss it aside with that length.

Suggestion 2: Cut it up into 2 or more and rewrite each section into a novel. With the length that you have, this could be a trilogy easily. It's also emotionally easier to add than it is to subtract.

Lightsmith said...

I don't have a problem with magical portals, per se, but they are used so frequently that they don't work as the primary hook of a piece. Perhaps the portal in this book is not intended as such, but since the query lacked specificity (possibly because the author was planning to attach a synopsis, as EE said) the portal, by being specifically mentioned, takes on added significance and feels like it is filling that role.

So keep the portal, but add something unique to hook the reader.

Anonymous said...

MY NAME IS NOT 'caastril'!!!!!

Best not anger me, or I'll... I'll... write a love poem, or something!

Anonymous said...

*grins* I love portals! ^_^ Back in junior high I actually created a world where random portals are the everyday norm. The kingdom had formed a police force that does nothing but round up the 'arrivals' and teach them how to fit into normal society.

One portal? Pshaw! ^_~

Still, I'm an addict of the 'normal people fall through portals' genre, so I pick those up regardless. It has to have really horrid cover-blurb before I put it back on the shelf. This one would have hooked me just over the curiosity factor in ‘trade kids for magic.’

Sponge Girl said...

Did you just describe George Clooney as a god? Have you caught the feared snarkitis?

Anonymous said...

The kingdom had formed a police force that does nothing but round up the 'arrivals' and teach them how to fit into normal society.

Tell me you wrote this up? 'Cause I would read it.

ssas said...

390 BC Gauls sack Rome. Hmm. Someone's been Googling...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, gang. I know portals are cliched, but they're also classic. And I wanted to write a classic epic-sized adventure.

My role-model is Dave Duncan: if you've read his stuff, you've seen how an author can take the most hackneyed plots and premises and breath amazing fresh air into them. Color me ambitious, if nothing else...

For instance, my engineer hero immediately becomes a priest. I'd like to think that makes for an interesting juxtaposition. I should probably mention it in the blurb, shouldn't I. I can see that my blurb has been shortened to the point of unintelligibility.

Every guideline I have seen swears your query letter should be one page; your blurb should be three sentences. Yet every query letter I see goes on for two or three pages (even the ones EE rewrites). I was hoping EE would lay down the law and tell me just how many words are allowed.

200K words has been mentioned by a number of people as a problem (not yet by any agents/publishers, just by mortal people). I thought the length would be an asset for the Fantasy genre. I've seen plenty of 700 page paperbacks in Fantasy.

Do you think it would help if I mentioned in my query that I could make the book a 2-parter?

In any case, I thought that after "Wheel of Time," publishers would salivate over a 600,000 word trilogy. However they wound up printing it.

Some specific answers:

[u]Eating the Young:[/u] Not all of the young. That would be silly. Just half of them.

[u]Starting at the Bottom:[/u] The hero starts out as a beggar, dressed in rags, and armed with a stick. It's not even a pointy stick.

[u]The Title:[/u] Correct me if I'm wrong, but Conscription/Revolution/Liberation just sucks compared to Priest/Prophet/Patriarch.

[u]World of Prime Rib:[/u] I called it "World of Prime" for branding reasons, but I suppose that can wait until a tad bit later in the publishing process.

[u]Really Long Rambling:[/u] That line is just a placeholder for where I say, "This is why I approached your agency/house." I'll change it for each target.

Evil Editor said...

Yet every query letter I see goes on for two or three pages (even the ones EE rewrites).

Evil Editor always makes a copy of the revised queries in Times New Roman, 1-inch margins. They've ALL fit on one page. You must be double spacing.

Anonymous said...

Foolish of me to question the Evil Editor without actually having carefully checked the facts! But that's why I'm just a minion. :D

Now I know what I need to do. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I can imagine each one can fit on one page, but all of them on one page? Really??

What size paper?

Anonymous said...

re: Fellow Portal Fan said...

*looks embarrassed* Yeah, actually Avenshark and the Shepherds are one of the 'verses I'm trying to hammer something publishable out of. Sadly, I don't think the Evil Editor takes short story queries, so until I have enough to make a book out of, I don't think it will be turning up here anytime soon. ^_^;; <-(sheepish look) ((baa!))

But I may try to NaNoWriMo it this year, so you never know. ^_^

Mazement said...

Fellow Portal Fan: Tell me you wrote this up? 'Cause I would read it.

While we're waiting for Martha (and cat) to finish their book...

Have you read the Jack Chalker series that starts with "Midnight at the Well of Souls"? It's got lots of portals, with portal police to process all the new arrivals.

Farmer's "World of Tiers" series is also loaded with portals, but new arrivals are pretty much left to sink-or-swim...

Evil Editor said...

All of them on one page? Really??

What size paper?

It's not the paper, it's the font: Ariel Microscopic.

Anonymous said...

'Ariel Microscopic'!

EE, you are wicked!