Monday, August 07, 2006

Face-Lift 148

Guess the Plot

Oath of the Children

1. Twins Jimmy and Stevie Plugnose vow vengeance on the babysitter who told their bedwetting secrets. Year later, the babysitter is now their doddering stepmother and revenge is not as sweet as they had hoped.

2. First grade teacher Ellen Johanson doesn't know who taught her class the F-word, but when she finds out there's going to be H to pay.

3. A nun takes an oath to serve her country. When an old war buddy asks her to work for his country's government, will she consider switching causes?

4. "We solemnly swear to tattoo tramp-stamps above our asses if you don't teach us some self-respect." A heartwarming story about teenage daughters of workaholic fathers.

5. When grumpy old Mr. Bobage, the janitor, burns all of the 4th graders' art posters, declaring them to be wickedness and filth, the students swear to get even with a rampage of vigilante graffiti.

6. Crack archeologist Clive Blivvens rethinks his career when the cartouche on the secret door of the pharoah's tomb turns out to read "You Poo Poo Head!"

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Nyima Rewa is a fighter, scholar, and nun who should be enjoying her retirement in exile, but an old war buddy, Ailbhe Torley, asks for her help in one last bid for a country’s freedom. Both are Children; people trained to use a dormant part of their brain to perceive and manipulate electromagnetic radiation but are beholden to their respective governments and militaries. [Are there actual children on this world? Because this could get confusing.] [Instead of Children, call them Electroids. Or Humagnetons.] The face of the world is familiar, but the face of warfare reflects only the human features. [Let's just delete that last sentence and pretend it never existed.]

Out of a sense moral obligation, Nyima willingly conspires with Ailbhe in his government’s power struggles until her new enemies capture her. She escapes quickly, [by cleverly manipulating electromagnetic radiation (the first time she's ever found this ability useful in fifty years),] but not before it opens a very old and painful wound that leads her to question her beliefs, her choices, her oaths, and her sanity. What she doesn’t question is Ailbhe’s judgment.

Nyima writes to both Children and laity and states in her prologue and epilogue that her story is one of the few factually accounts of historical figure Ailbhe Torley, although without the in memoriam her story is about herself. [Don't even try to explain what you're talking about. Delete.]

OATH OF THE CHILDREN is science fiction/fantasy novel of 120,000 words set contemporarily and narrated by the main character. All references to recent history and modern religion have been slightly fictionalized [For instance, Gore won, and most of humanity has decided that worshiping Zeus makes as much sense as anything that's been tried since.] to create an alternate timeline and not to condemn or extol their real counterparts. A complete or partial manuscript is available upon request and a SASE is included for your convenience. Thank you for your time and attention.



I found everything after the second sentence either vague or incomprehensible. I recommend starting from scratch with more specific information, stated clearly.

Even the first two sentences lead to unanswered questions. She's a nun and a fighter? Why is she in exile? What is the value of using this dormant part of their brains? How do you pronounce their names? If you inspire questions, you may as well answer them.


Bernita said...

Again, could be a fascinating story, but we can't tell from the query.

Lisa Cohen said...

There are significant differences in the genre tropes between scifi and fantasy. I've not ever seen a novel described as both.

I found the character names awkward as well.

In addition to being confusing, your query has a number of grammatical errors. For example:

". . .but not before it opens The subject of the sentence is "she", the 'it' doesn't have a referent, unless you mean but not before her escape opens. . .

". . .factually accounts of historical figure Ailbhe Torley, although without the in memoriam her story is about herself."

factual accounts and the last clause of the sentence feels off.

The story might be interesting, but the query needs a lot of help.

Unknown said...

I think the character names are really word verifications.

Stacia said...

...and most of humanity has decided that worshiping Zeus makes as much sense as anything that's been tried since.

Hey! You say that like worshipping Zeus is a ridiculous thing to do!

I'll ask Him not to retaliate, but you might want to stay indoors during electrical storms for a while. I'm just saying. :-)

Anonymous said...

Crack archeologist? "You Poo Poo Head!" Number 6 is to die for!

Dave Fragments said...

I'm sorry to be negative about names but when I tend to put down any book with weird and bizarre names.

That's only a general rule, but if the book is going to be a hard read (let's say as hard as Dostoevsky or Umberto Eco or Kenzaburo Oe) then I'll tolerate it because there will be a payoff. If the payoff is in doubt, then I tend to just put the book down.

Not every character has to have a plain name nor does an exotic story doesn't require an exotic name. Character names should be reader friendly. If you write about a country, then use appropriate names.

pronunciation: Kittikorn [kit-ti-korn] Rojjanasukchai [road-ya-na-suk-chai] would be a character from Thailand in one of my stories (unpublished) His nickname is (intuitively obvious) - GAK - because no one but a Thai can pronounce that name. Kit would have worked. Even Rog, or Rock, or Rod. But I wouldn't spend the story writing or forcing the reader to read Rojjanasukchai which is authentic.

HawkOwl said...

That was actually the only guess-the-plot I wasn't interested in reading.

And Dave, I don't think it would matter. Most people read by recognizing whole words, not every letter. If I have trouble with a name, I just use a sort of place-holder sound in my mind to represent the way that word looks, and I'm off to the races. I'm sure most people do that. I wouldn't put a book down just because the names are hard to pronounce.

Anonymous said...

I second what Hawkowl says - I'm reading a book right now, and I'm not going to bother figuring out the pronounciation for one character's name. It's seven letters long, starts with a k, and that's all I need to remember.

Anonymous said...

The story might be cool if the nun was actually an undercover operative for the secret orginization Adults.

Word verification: fuyeh; what I would probably say if I tried to read this book.

Anonymous said...

There is no "dormant part of the brain"--any part that you don't use on a regular basis dies off. I'm a cognitive psychologist, so I ought to know.

You're thinking of the popular idea that we only use 10% of our brains, right? Ain't true. We argue about where the myth came from, but my favorite (probably apocryphal) story is that a researcher was cutting bits out of a chicken's brain, and couldn't see a difference in behavior till there was only 10% left.

If you want a place to put an electromagnetic ability, stick it in the occipital lobe. That's where you process electromagnetic radiation normally (i.e., sight), so it makes as much sense as anything else.

Anonymous said...

Ashni - are you sure? When I was driving through rush hour earlier today, I swear most of the drivers were using less than 10% of their brain.

This query letter hurt my head. I now have dormant parts of my brain because they simply shut down in protest. I know it's harsh, but I have no idea what this story is about. Dear God help the writer if the whole book is like this.

Anonymous said...

Eh, I had a long post about my issues with the ability to perceive and manipulate EM radiation. It boiled down to "Make sure you understand the science you are writing about--if you don't, take it out of the realm of science and call it fantasy."

As an aside, even regular humans can detect and manipulate the EM spectrum, though they need technology to do it in most cases. Turn on a lightbulb--you've created visible light (which is EM radiation you don't need technology or a special part of the brain to detect) and infrared radiation. Use a microwave--you've manipulated the EM spectrum to boil water. Listen to your favorite radio station. Look at your dental x-rays... that sort of stuff.

Anonymous said...

Nyima Rewa, Ailbhe Torley?

What IS it with these names? There is a reason real people do not have these names! Sheez.

As for the rest of it . . . huh?


Anonymous said...

I'll bet that the writer forgot to mention that this is the first in an eleven volume series that relates the tale of ailbllhlhes' heroics...

Anonymous said...

If you insist on calling them "Children", I'm afraid you run the risk of:
1) not reaching those who won't read books about kids
2) irritating those who DO read books about kids and thought that's what they were picking up

I'd change it.

Anonymous said...

This person's first language isn't English, is it? (Seemed obvious to me, but what do I know?)

Anyway, maybe the author should get some English spelling and grammar books. I'd go back over the novel again before attempting the query. Better to get the story right before agonizing over the query

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

I can't leave this name thing alone. It's inhabiting my mind and I have to exorcize the demon from my brain cells. Let me abuse a few characters:

He stifled a giggle.
Sergeant Major Narain was a regular in the Cosmic British Expeditionary Force. The Space Authority resurrected the BEF and its legends when they wanted to recruit “volunteers” for space exploration. Leslie Twigbee read the adventures in high school and college and believed the advertising campaign.

He built up his muscles, changed his name to Siddhartha Narain and enlisted.

The rumor was that Narain wanted the name Gunga Din but the courts wouldn’t allow it. Apparently, there were already too many Gunga Din’s, too many Heywood Jablowme’s, and an abundance of Napoleon Bonaparte’s according to the court’s opinion. The Court liked Siddhartha Narain for some reason and for other reasons they still didn’t like Philby Twickersham.

Dedicated soldiers like Sergeant Major Siddhartha Narain filled the officer corps while total assholes and fuckups filled the lower ranks.

Towards the end of a long patrol like this patrol, it was Dicky Dodger and Ricky Ranger's game to try to reduce Sergeant Major Narain to screaming rage with their insolence.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4:14 p.m. - I'd totally read your version before the original.

Even though I recognize some Gaelic letter combinations, the semi-consciouis part of my brain keeps reading the name "Ailbhe" as "Alibi" and wondering what he's covering up.

I get that the nun is playing "Passe-Partout" to Ailbhe's "Phileas Fogg" (or maybe Hastings to his Hercule Poirot?) but I doubt that's an important element to clarify in a query letter.

Separating the back story from the current story would be helpful.

Leah said...

I don't pay too much attention to character names when I read. I think of them the same way I think of streets when I give directions (Big Long Street that Passes that Restaurant We Went to that One Time Mom Got Food Poisoning).

This makes for lousy directions but allows me to enjoy books, even when the characters' names are in a foreign language I'm not familiar with.

Pointlessly complex names without regional justification (scifi/fantasy is not a valid justification) distract me from the story.

I would say that a story can be described as fantasy/scifi. "Dragons of Summer Gulch" (I think that's the title) appeared in two best of the year anthologies, one fantasy, one scifi.

Anonymous said...

I assumed that the names meant we were in Africa, and found that appealing (probably fond memories of _Number One Ladies' Detective Agency_). Mentioning the location in the synopsis could help, especially if it's an interesting one. "A fictional East African nation" or whatever.

There must be a more graceful way to say "This is set on a parallel Earth." In fact, you could try just saying that. You don't have to explain why.

If "Children" makes perfect sense in the book, but not in the synopsis, consider just leaving it out.