Monday, October 16, 2006

Face-Lift 216

Guess the Plot

Dragon Sword

1. A mistake in transcription of an ancient text sends treasure-hunters on a wild goose chase for a sword when what they should be seeking is the Dragon's Word.

2. After rejecting Elf Quest, Wizard's Spell, and Knight's Tale, a young fantasy writer comes up with the most clich├ęd title imaginable.

3. In this genre-busting fantasy, a motley crew searches the countryside, dodging supernatural creatures, to find the long-lost Dragon Sword needed to defeat the Evil Lord and restore happiness to the land. Also, shockingly, a young sheep herder turns out to be the heir of the kingdom!

4. When a California man gets a pixie pregnant, he has no idea his action will soon lead to his life being threatened by an evil little man. Also, dragons.

5. Orgadon The Brave is about to set out on a quest for the Dragon Sword when it is brought to his attention that there are plenty of Dragon Swords already in the village, namely in the library.

6. It has a blade twenty feet long and a grip designed for giant claws. Mildred Trout daydreams about the strong, handsome knight the sword must belong to, but is in for a surprise when the real owner shows up.

Original Version

Dear E. Editor:

What if pixies were real? What if they weren’t at all like Tinkerbelle, and what if they weren’t little blue creatures from Cornwall? What if pixies were almost without exception female and found their mates in the human world? [What if pixies were so good at golf, they could all beat Tiger Woods? What if I kept asking you questions about pixies for an entire page, and it turned out my book was a cold war spy thriller?] The trouble and mischief would be overwhelming, and the romance would be unusual.

Dragon Sword is an 82,000 word fantasy with a strong romance sub-text. [I'm tired of terms like "strong romance sub-text." Why not just say, with sex scenes so hot you'll be compelled to stop reading and polish your own dragon sword every few pages.] It tells the story of Sha’na, a pixie princess, and her mate Robert. It is set in and around a small lumber town in Northern California. Most of the action takes place just after World War I. The story is told in the voice of their daughter, Sha’el.

Robert denies Sha’na’s reality. When she is ready to seal their mating [That's another phrase I hate. Can't you just say "hit the sheets," or "absorb the pancake batter?"] he says, "You’re not real." She offers her touch as proof. He says, "And I suppose dragons are real too." [Shouldn't she have this converation before considering sealing their mating?] Indeed they are, though she tells him griffons and phoenixes are just mythological. He asks with some irony if they’ll see a dragon. She suggests that’s unlikely. Dragons don’t like to be seen. But, they will see one and its child. [You have less than a page to give the plot of your book. Is this conversation that vital?] They will fight to save the dragon kid.

Robert and Sha’na mate. Robert is drawn into the world of pixie pregnancy. Pixie gestation is two weeks and involves "the hunt." [The hunt of what by whom?] [Does the hunt involve a sword?] Sha’el explains that human males usually have about thirty-eight weeks to adjust to being a father, But Robert has only two weeks, and they’re filled with the unexpected. He has no time at all to adjust to the idea of a daughter born talking and flying. [You just said he had two weeks.]

Hiding a pixie family is imperative. An evil little man accuses Robert of kidnapping a child. He misunderstood what he saw, and thought Sha’na a child. [Out of curiosity, who's bigger, Sha'na or the evil little man?] She’s about four feet tall, average height for a pixie. [Four feet? What's the difference between a female dwarf and a pixie? First LOTR has elves that are much bigger than dwarfs, and now it turns out even pixies are as big? I hope we don't find out Tom Thumb was actually five feet tall, or there may be a revolt by dwarfs who want to be considered bigger than somebody.] There will be more trouble if they stay in the little town where Robert lives. He jumps at the chance to take his family into the forest. When his boss asks him to track timber-thieves, he hauls his family off to a forest cabin. [How hard can it be to track timber thieves? Just follow the guys with the trees.] [What occupation has "tracking timber thieves" as part of the job description?]

Sha’el can talk to animals, including Robert’s horse, Daisy. Her mother shrugs it off as "early." Sha’el and Daisy become fast friends. Their adventures make up a significant part of Dragon Sword. [A pixie child and a horse have adventures that take up much of the book? Is this book for adults? On the other hand, a strong romance sub-text might not appeal to the kiddies. Who's your audience?]

Fred, the evil little man, ["Evil Little Man" was comical enough. Naming him Fred makes it even funnier. If you want him to be evil, name him Mordok the Bludgeoner.] plagues them. He tries to kill them. [With a sword?] But Fred is just a small evil. There is worse. [If Fred is trying to kill me, I'll worry about the worse evil later.] The conquest of the greater evil brings Sha’el into her own. She saves her father. [With a sword? Is there a sword in the book? Because I'm thinking you didn't see a lot of people carrying swords around in California just after WWI.] To end the more malevolent evil, they journey to the Home Forest. We meet Pixie culture head on.

I have a background in history. I’ve drawn on ancient cultures and myth to create a unique and well developed pixie culture, though I present it sparingly and as part of the story. I also have a family background in the timber industry and a connection to Westwood, the little town around which much of the action takes place.

There is much in Dragon Sword that I intend as subtle humour, including "riffs" on fairy tails. [I knew dragons had tails. Fairies do too?] [Hey, are dwarfs bigger than fairies?] If you’re a parent, you’ll probably see much in the pixie children that will remind you of your own.

May I send sample chapters or the entire manuscript?

Best regards,


When Fred sees Robert with Sha'na and assumes Sha'na is a child rather than a pixie, why does he also assume she's been kidnaped? Is it so unusual to see a man with a child?

I gotta tell you, I didn't get a sense of what the main plot is. Or rather I got the sense that the main plot is the fight against the greater evil, but that we've spent all our time talking about dragons, pixie gestation, Evil Fred, and Daisy the horse. What's the greater evil, how is it threatening Robert and the pixies, and what's their plan? How far into the book do we get before learning about the greater evil? I'm worried that much of the book might be a series of events that involve these characters, but have nothing to do with the main threat to their world.


Inkmandoo said...

Not my genre, even with a sword polishing subplot.

Anonymous said...

I'm in shock. This is the real plot? And where the heck is the sword? Did I miss something?

This letter is waaaaaay too long and has waaaaaay too many unimportant details.

The plot unfortunately reminds me of this book called "The Mermaid Who Came Between Them" that is one of the Top 5 Worst I've Ever Read.

braun said...

I kinda like the whole pixie pregnancy thing. The whole idea that you can marry a pixie at that their gestation involves some sort of quest and that you have to hide them and things like that... cool. But the query was definitely confusing and needs polishing.

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to believe the book is better than the query, if you really do a good job of mixing real-life lumber town and pixie issues. But the query is a mess. What's the central plot? What is the book really about, in ten words or so? Start there. Don't bring up details that don't bear on the plot or require more explanation than you can fit into the letter. For me personally, I'd be more interested in how the whole luber thing relates to it -- that's the part that isn't typical pixie book.

Unknown said...

This has got to be our one and only Pixie Princess' -- right?

The query was definitely confusing with too much irrelevant information. However, I think the concept has merit. Tighten and focus, Sha'el. And "Fred, the little evil man" just slays me!!! LOLOLOL

Dave Fragments said...

There's a line in "Private Function" a farce populated by Denholm Elliot, Michael Palin and Maggie Smith where town leader and chief snob Denholm Elliot tells social climber Maggis Smith that Insanity doesn't just run in her family it gallops.
Pregnant Pixies?
Evil Frooderick, Freddie the terrible?
and finally, if they don't speak the English too good and say "Nah" instead of NO, can you work in a reference to Sha Na Na

hey, hey, bye, bye

Daisy Bateman said...

I think you should seriously consider renaming the horse.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think the query isn't actually a query letter. You need to step back from teh world building mode and think about what, exactly, the characters are doing, and why the reader would want to read it.

The idea does have merit, and could be a fantasy story worth reading. You just don't show the important plot elements here.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of offending someone (namely the writer) how old is the person who wrote this? It sounds like something a young person wrote. Really young. Too young.

Too much unnecessary detail about who said what to who about which monster now, and just generally rambling and confusing.

I like the whole pixie-mating-with-human angle, but the confusing child kidnap stuff was lost on me.

pacatrue said...

To jump on the bandwagon, I think there's a good fantasy story to be told with pixies and a California lumber town just after WWI. The problem from the query is that I really don't know yet what the story is. This does sound right now like a string of interesting scenes instead of a novel. I bet what you have written is better. So try identifying the main character very clearly - is it Sha'el or Robert? - and saying what challenges he/she faces and what happens to the MC as a consequence. Every other detail, from pixie culture to gestation to the horse Daisy to the sword, if it furthers this central plot. The agent will discover that your story is richer than that when they read the partial. Right now your only job is to get them to read the partial.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Good comments. Thanks.

There is no hot sex in this story. It's muted, and I'd be comfortable with a 14-year-old reading it. They make babies, but I don't tell all the steamy details. I figure most of us know how babies are made, but I could be wrong. Few know a thing about pixie pregnancy. So I tell that story because it's fun and sets up the relationship between pixie and husband. (They are married, too. Pixies frown on fornication. Fairies are the whores of the paranormal.)

Yes, there is a sword. They don't search for it. They know exactly where it is. My main character drops it and skewers the thing attacking her papa. It's kind of like a barbecue but without the fire.

No, it's not like the books you've mentioned. Not even close.

I'll rewrite the thing. However, as messy as my query is, it's gotten me two partials and a full out there being read.

Parts of this are over there on Elektra's thing. If you're so curious you can't stand it, go search. What's there are working chapters and not final versions though.

There's quite a tail in that tale.

Rei said...

Was this a joke?

Anonymous said...

Guess the Plots # 1 and #2 are brilliant!!

Kate Thornton said...

Pixie sex. It sounds like good Scrabble, but the plot confuses me. And I'd like to see a more inventive title - with all the imagination this author has, I'm sure a quirkier title could be had.

Dave Fragments said...

The thing is Sha'el is that your description of the plot is so wild and off normaL, that it sort of sells itself just on the face of it.

I mean how can you say "We meet Pixie culture head on" with a straight face? . That's just so (pardon the expression) balls to the wall outrageous that people are like to say "I might enjoy reading this."

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Kate,

Dragon Sword is a working title. Originally it was Pixie Warrior, but everyone thought there was some huge war. Only one human dies in this story. I thought of Irrational Pixie. It's a line from the story. I've thought of lots of things. None tell what this story is about.

Are there familiar things in it? Oh, certainly and on purpose. I make gentle fun of lots of stories like it. There is even a slight touch of Red Ridding Hood. You'd have to be sharp to see it.

Princess pixie finds her man. Trouble intervenes, but she gets her man. Man is in for wild ride. Baby is born. Baby talks and flies and has an attitude, but is still quite nice. She is a baby with a mixture of child-like innocence and ages of experience passed on in the womb.

Baby gets in lots of trouble along the way. She gets drunk by experimenting with a jar she finds under a tree. The dragons hinted at in chapter three show up, along with the wormy monsters. The baby saves a dragon kid, making an alliance with the mother dragon possible. Fred is eventually toasted. We meet pixie relatives. We meet the evil. We overcome evil. We do all sorts of things.

There is no hot and heavy sex. This isn't a paranormal romance, though there is a genuine romance between pixie and her man. That's why I say, "romance subtext." Raw sex is not romance, even if it can be enjoyable and sweaty. I'm not into hot and sweaty sex unless I'm having it myself. At least I don't write about it quite as bluntly as some do. I'm not into bloody gore, at least not told bluntly.

I've tried to create a world near our own, like it in some respects, but not really like it at all. Even if the humour I intend is there, on closer examination there are things that would not be pleasant. The pregnancy hunt involves growing sharp teeth and seeking fresh (read raw) meat. I try to tell it with a chuckle, but how would you react if your new wife flew back after an unexpected absence covered in blood and bits of fur?

I put Robert, her husband, through lots of that, but tell it in a less than gory way. I think it's entertaining, even if I can't write a query letter. If my life depended on it, I couldn't write a decent one.

It's a gentle story with just enough of the out of normal to be ... what's a good word? Say, to create ambivalence. One has to love the pixies, but if you look too closely, you might not like what you see.

I handle the hunt this way (abbreviated):

"You frightened me! Where did you go? And what about the blood? Do you know how frightened I was?" Now Momma is used to Father's scolding. She's always mostly ignored it. Pixies do what pixies do. It is the Pixie Way.

"You shouldn't have worried. I just needed to eat. I am pregnant. I needed meat. . . .Fresh meat. I was hunting." She smiled at him, and the now quite sharp points of her teeth testified to how Momma hunted.

and later:

Before Glen left he asked Papa if he'd heard about the dead deer. "It was pretty badly torn up," Glen said. "Really chewed up. The constable thinks it was a bear-kill. Wasn't though. Don't know what killed it. No tracks. Damnedest thing. You be careful out there. The forest is a dangerous place."

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say this, but the name "sha'na" made me immediately think of "sha na na", which is probably not your intention.

Anonymous said...

I found the short, choppy, declarative sentences to be very distracting. Is that just for the query or is the whole novel written that way?

Anonymous said...

Ah, but what you left out of the story is the true vocation of pixies: running a fine family restaurant (now long gone, alas) and a short-lived amusement park on the Oregon coast:

Pixie Kitchen and Pixieland

Nor do we hear about the pixies' nemesis, the grunnykins. But that's a whole 'nother story.

Now, as for the query, the first thing I'd reconsider is names that are full of apostrophes, which has become a much-despised fantasy cliche: What's in a Name?

Then think about what the main thread of the story is. A phrase that a professor of mine used, when asking graduate students about their research, is, "What's your elevator speech?" That is, you're at a big conference and step into an elevator with none other than EE himself. He turns to you, reads your name tag, and, in a rare mood, asks, "So, you're a writer. What's your book about?" Quick! You have between now and the 23rd floor to tell EE what your book is about! What do you say?

And no fair trying to hold up the car, either.

If you can't get it down to a few sentences, maybe you haven't quite figured out what your book is about. Try using my DH's formula for getting his fourth-graders to write book reports: Who... wants... but... so...

WHO is the main character? What does the main character WANT? BUT what gets in the way? SO what does the main character do about it?

If you can sum up your book that way, you'll be a lot closer to a good query letter.

Word verification: eggnar, a true pixie name if I ever heard one.

Anonymous said...

I have seen bits of this over at Elektra's and the query strikes me the same as the chapters did: too excited about the pixie-human relationships and less interested in a cohesive story arc. And I say this even though I like pixies and dragons and even swords in my leisure literature.

It's as if this very young pixie character is very aware of the differences between her family and normal humans (and how would she know, if she mostly only knows her family? All kids take their families as the model for 'normal' until they've been out in the wider world a bit), and is always explaining them to the reader in a way that reads like 'Look how cool we pixies are!'

That is probably not the author's intent, but that's how it comes across to me: much, much more telling than showing.

The short declarative sentences, while great 'voice' for a very young pixie narrator, only enhance the 'explaining it all to you' impression. It makes my eyes hurt to even think of reading 82,000 words written in that style.

This style seems more suited to chapter books for grade-schoolers, which run, iirc, around 25-30,000 words. But the mentions, however bland, of how pixies make babies would make this tale ineligible for that age range. I can't quite figure out who the target audience is supposed to be.

SF/F lays traps for the ambitious world-builder. Try to avoid telling us every detail of your half-degree-off-real world, especially in the query letter. Just show us a plot with pixies and swords and a bit of culture-shock between papa and the pixies, and cut out the long explanations of the exciting-to-you differences. Readers will figure them out or take them for granted.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Writerious,

I'm aware of the comments on names with apostrophes. I elected to use them anyway.

I included a footnote, which is another thing that's usually a no-no, but I like S. S. Van Deine mysteries and decided that I would use footnotes sparingly.

The footnote says: " The apostrophe in our names is not a guttural stop and produces no sound. It represents a catch of one's breath that very nearly equalizes the emphasis between matronymic and given name. The matronymic always comes first and is always spoken unless one is speaking to a very close friend."

My pixie names tend to have a basis in real, though dead, languages. Only one person has caught that so far, a reviewer over on That's okay. There are lots of things that I've included without making it obvious.

McKoala said...

Hi Sha'el - lots of comments! Sorry, I agree that I don't think that the query is doing your story justice. I think maybe you're trying to squeeze in a bit too much. Can you paint with a broader brush?

Pete Tzinski said...

I can't say anything one way or another about your book, because I've not read it, obviously. That said, I'd love to see Terry Pratchett do "Pixie Pregnancy" one of these days. That would make me happy.

Anonymous said...

This query lacks focus. It shouldn't contain the dialogue and it should have some clear indication of the target audience.

Also, when the book is called "Dragon Sword" I want to see a hint of the reason why, otherwise it is probably a good idea to retitle.

Anonymous said...

I'll rewrite the thing. However, as messy as my query is, it's gotten me two partials and a full out there being read.

Well excuuuuuuuuuuuse us. Were you just looking for reassurance then?

Anonymous said...

Never mind the query, I would like to read the first 150 and see what it is like. Oh, yeah. Change the title. -JTC

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Anonymous said...
I'll rewrite the thing. However, as messy as my query is, it's gotten me two partials and a full out there being read.

Well excuuuuuuuuuuuse us. Were you just looking for reassurance then?

Is your condition genetic?

Don't be silly. I know this needs improvement. I want to send out my best. Query letters are a wicked write. I came for the advice I got.

And you, my dear, are quite rude.

Anonymous said...

JTC: Here's the start of it on the Crapometer.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

JTC that would take an email address. You know mine or how to get it. ...

I wouldn't take just anyone up on this, you know. But since you are JTC, and I know your bite isn't fatal, and we have crossed blades a time or two, and I like most of your posts, and say ... do you like goats?

Much of the stuff on the Crapometer has been revised and rewritten. You really want to read some of it, just email me. WarDancingPixie or ThePixieShael

And, just because you said you'd like to read it, doesn't obligate you to actually do that.

Bill E. Goat is not taking mail at this time. He's become too famous. Just so his fans know, he's off in Rio having wild parties with a French Alpine he met in London.

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's my five-minute attempt at a rewrite:
I am seeking representation for my fantasy novel, "Insert Cool New Title Here," which is complete at 82,000 words. Set in and around a small lumber town in Northern California just after WWI, it is a humorous adventure story of colliding worlds -- our own, and that of the pixies.
My pixies are not Tinkerbelles, nor are they little blue warriors from Cornwall. They are complex women with mystical powers, who choose their mates from the human world.
When Robert falls in love with pixie princess Sha'Na, he is in for a wild ride. He and his unusual wife find happiness together and have a baby. Robert must hide his family from the prying eyes of villains, but there is a larger evil at work, and only Sha'el, Robert's pixie daughter, can defeat it.
In the process, Sha'el encounters many dangers, as I poke gentle fun at several stock elements of traditional fantasies.

I haven't read any of your book, and have no idea whether this accurately portrays the plot -- but I gleaned this stuff from your comments here.
The point is, throw out the dialogue and the details (you could put the pregnancy hunt back in if you can make it both relevant and concise), and tell the agent what kind of book you wrote, and what generally happens in it. That's all you want to do at this point. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Count me as disappointed that there isn’t any graphic pixie sex as I find that subject very interesting from a mechanical perspective. I’m not sure I could get the questions out of mind concerning the technical considerations of pixie/human sex if it went unexplained. Remember the horse sex scene from Wolfe’s A Man in Full?

Your query is bizarre and disorganized, yet I couldn’t stop myself from reading it through. Furthermore I immediately recognized your story and style from other websites where you have posted queries and partials, so you’ve proven at least that your work is memorable, which can’t be entirely bad. I read through the chapters posted at the crapometer, and unlike reading your query I kept wanting to skip ahead to a point where things start happening. Other parts are quite engaging though and I think sharpening your focus and reorganizing might help you get the story out. I would definitely chuck the prologue expect maybe for the paragraph beginning, “So here’s the real story.”

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Pix can get December Quinn to write the pixie sex scenes for her.

Anonymous said...

Author, your posts to this blog are focused and cohesive, but your query rambles and diverges badly. I always read your posts in full, but gave up on the query about halfway through. Had I been an agent, editor, or creative writing instructor, I would have rejected or failed this effort. It does indeed appear to be the work of a bright preteen.

Why is the query unreadable when your writing skills are competent? It's got to be a case of trying to squeeze a synopsis into the query letter, and/or of not knowing the core theme and plot of your book.

I'm currently in the throes of writing a query letter, and--ouch! It's so hard to leave out all that good stuff. And it's unfair, because all that's really left is a hook, or concept. That's all right if you've got a high concept story, which I think you do, but scary if it's a quiet, mainstream story.

You're obviously a bright, enthusiastic person, and that shows in your casual writing. I'm sure you'll find a way to show off your sparkle in your next query draft.

(Princess of Pulp)

Anonymous said...

Ok, Fred sees the hero with a child and assumes she's been kidnapped so the family has to get ouuta does being a concerned citizen morph into being an evil little man who tries to kill the whole family?!? If the back of the book read as disjointedly this, then I'd most definetly slip it back into the rack.


Anonymous said...

"["Evil Little Man" was comical enough. Naming him Fred makes it even funnier."

That will never not be funny, Evil! This is one of your best critiques ever!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Evil Little Fred is supposed to be funny, even if he is incurably evil and wicked and tries to choke the life out of the pixies. Besides, I've based Fred on a real person, and I can't exactly use his real name. Can I? "Fred" suits him.

As I said previously, I poke gentle fun at dozens of fantasy novels, and yet this isn't exactly like any of them.

If I was going to get anyone else to write hot and heavy sex scenes it would be December Quinn.

Anonymous said...

this is why I suggested mentioning the humor up front in your query (see anonymous 11:20 posting). The agent/editor needs to see that the humor is on purpose.

Anonymous said...

Wow, "Little Evil Fred", the incurably evil midget who chokes people, is based on a real person? Now that's something that I'd put in paragraph 1!

Anonymous said...

Evil Fred is the kind of guy you love to hate, and it's funny when things go bad for him. -JTC

Stephen Prosapio said...

FYI - technically (go to the Disney site to verify) it's spelled "Tinker Bell."

OK, before the perverse comments start...I mention her in MY book and had already looked it up.

Rashenbo said...

Oh my good lord... I laughed so loud my husband thought I was doing something I shouldn't have!!!

Too funny...

ObiDonWan said...

jus wanta point out that ANYONE can "talk to" animals. It's having the animals understand what you say that makes a difference.