Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Face-Lift 217

Guess the Plot

Nightcraft Sister

1. It's Bewitched all over, as Raymond freaks out over the fact that his new girlfriend Callie is a real witch.

2. As an ex-nun on the run, there were two choices for Jayne deWynter in the warren of dark alleys that made up the Black Heart district. She decided being a black witch in training was too reminiscent of the Church, while being a pole dancing stripper at least had shorter work hours.

3. Embroidery isn't forbidden at Holy Toledo Convent, but Sister Aurelia chooses to work on her life-sized tapestry of Adam in the Garden of Eden by moonlight - at least until she gets the hang of it.

4. The nuns thought that she passed her evenings quietly, doing handcrafts. In reality, Mother Superior was battling evil vampires every night. She was Nightcraft Sister, terror of the undead.

5. Little Tommy Trupple has been awakened by strange noises in the dining room. On the night he is brave enough to investigate, he discovers his sister putting together a secret family scrapbook. And yes, it has baby pictures.

6. Betty thought it was fun to join in her sister's midnight pagan rituals--until she heard that at the next ceremony she was scheduled to be the main course for a demon from the sixth plane.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Callie the witch just wants to have a little fun—escape her boring coven house once in a while, hang out with her human boyfriend Raymond. But when her best friend Logan vanishes and no one in the coven or the Elders does anything about it, [Why would anyone in the coven or the Elders do anything about it? Do they all know Logan? If not, I'd leave out that phrase.] Callie decides to take the situation into her own hands. She quickly finds out why everyone was wary of getting involved: there are dark forces at work here. And amid everything else, she doesn’t neglect her job at the university’s magical research lab. [If I'd vanished, and my best friend was a witch who was taking things into her own hands, I would hope she would neglect her job, and find me.] [This was shaping up as a decent opening paragraph until that last sentence. Dump it, and instead explain what you mean by dark forces at work.]

Logan’s upstairs neighbor, a sexy warlock named Jeremy, offers to help. Callie is drawn to him, despite historically uneasy relations between witches and warlocks. [Warlocks hate that there are so many more movie roles for witches.] It doesn’t matter, of course, because he has a girlfriend, and Callie is involved with Raymond…assuming he can get over his current freak-out about the fact that she’s a witch. [If it doesn't matter, we shouldn't be talking about it. If that's all the space you're allotting to plot--and right now I can sum it up by saying "When Logan disappears, his best friend, Callie the witch, and his neighbor, Jeremy the warlock, try to find him,"--I'd rather you left out the romantic angle and gave us more about the ramifications of Logan's disappearance. What are they doing to find him? Who is he, other than a friend? Is there reason to believe the "dark forces" want him for something? If so, why him?]

My completed 80,000 word urban fantasy Nightcraft Sister stands on its own, but it is also the first in a series. [It would be easier to make a joke about what happens in the next Callie the witch book if I had a better idea what happens in this one.] The second book is underway, and I have sketches for several more to follow. [Is it easier to write a novel from an outline, or from a sketch?] Enclosed is a brief synopsis and the first five pages. May I send you the entire manuscript?

Kind regards,


"Callie the witch just wants to have a little fun" makes it sound like a comedy. Dark forces at work and urban fantasy lead me to think it's somewhat darker. I'm not sure the query succeeds in describing the book's tone.

Maybe an idea of what a witch can do would be helpful. Can she cast a spell that kills all terrorists? Can she eliminate pollution? Or is it more like mixing up a sham love potion?

Is the character actually referred to as "Callie the witch" in the book? That makes it sound like a cartoon character. You know, like Wendy the witch, Casper the friendly ghost, Felix the cat, Miss Snark, the literary agent. If she isn't called that in the book, I'd get it out of the query.


Undercover said...

You know, like Wendy the witch, Casper the friendly ghost, Felix the cat, Miss Snark, the literary agent.

I'd love to see what Miss Snark's game character looks like.

HawkOwl said...

I'd like to say that "a sexy warlock named Jeremy" lost me, but actually, no, I was hating the query and the sexy warlock named Jeremy is really the best part of it. It leaves a glimmer of hope that this is a satire... but the query takes itself too seriously for it to be more than a glimmer.

I wouldn't ask for more. Good luck with it.

Anonymous said...

I'd consider adding some colorful characters. How about "Nelson the brutal eunuch", or "Fred the evil little man"? Of course, Fierce Weenie could liven up any story.

Anonymous said...

You people on this blog need to learn to give constructive criticism. If you can’t do that you should not say anything at all. I feel like I am dealing with a bunch of three years old.

Unknown said...

The query sounds extraordinarily juvenile with little in plot or character depth. Until I read the 80,000 Urban Fantasy, I was still holding out that it might be a YA. Even for that market, it's still too simplistic.

I hope that this is just a bad case of an inability to write a decent query rather than an example of this author's ability to write a compelling story.

HOWEVER, with that all said -- we all start at the beginning and this is a continuing learning curve. I applaud you for submitting yourself to our not always friendly remarks.

Best of luck, author.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think the "Bewitched" likeness actually hurts your story. You are going to raise expectations of chirpy good humor, and a dark fantasy isn't like that. If you are aiming more for the original, which was "Bell, Book and Candle," it too was a comedy, albeit darker.

Neither really goes with the expecations that your reference to "dark forces at work."

The lack of plot makes it difficult to comment further. I would be likely to read a book like this if it looked to be a unique twist on the overtired 'good witch goes investigating' motif. (Have you read "Dead Witch Walking?" Excellent example of just that: new twists, good writing, dark fantasy and witch doing investigative work.) I like good writing and dark fantasy. :)

Unknown said...

Get over yourself, A2. This isn't a critique group, it's entertainment.

Anonymous said...

I think the "Bewitched" likeness actually hurts your story. You are going to raise expectations of chirpy good humor

In that case, compare it to the "Bewitched" movie. ;-)

writtenwyrdd said...

Well, anon 8:57, since the "Bewitched" movie stank like old cheese AND feet, maybe let's not compare it. And if you expect Will Ferrel-resembling leading men to win over your audience, all I can say is, Ick on a stick.

And for Anon #2, get over yourself. Humor points out what others are thinking, and that is valuable to the discerning writer. Besides, this site is meant to be amusing. If you don't like it, don't visit.

Anonymous said...

Talk more about The Evil. Urban fantasy readers expect The Evil to be a major focus of stories like these. The evil characters are usually more interesting than the good, which is why so many successful fantasy writers have moved away from having "good" protagonists at all by showing only varying degrees of darkness.

Naomi said...

I love urban fantasy, so I would be interested in this. However, I'd want to know more about the dark forces behind Logan's disappearance since I assume them to be the driving force behind the plot. Without that as the hook, the story risks being dismissed as a rather light, comedic paranormal romance.

acd said...

I had trouble with this because the assumptions don't parse. Witch=lady magician, warlock=gentleman magician, witches hate warlocks, therefore all magicians date nonmagicians, therefore Callie's situation with Raymond is the usual. If there's some other starting point, like witch=life magic and warlock=death magic, let us know.

Don't be afraid of giving away too much; just tell us straight up what happens.

Word ver: atknis. I know I've gained a few pounds lately, but, geez....

HawkOwl said...

What Malia said. And like I always say, how mature do you think it is to insult other people anonymously?

Anonymous said...

writtenwyrdd said...

Well, anon 8:57, since the "Bewitched" movie stank like old cheese AND feet, maybe let's not compare it. And if you expect Will Ferrel-resembling leading men to win over your audience, all I can say is, Ick on a stick.

And for Anon #2, get over yourself. Humor points out what others are thinking, and that is valuable to the discerning writer. Besides, this site is meant to be amusing. If you don't like it, don't visit.

You say all that and yet have no idea I was kidding about the "Bewitched" movie. Amazing.

Kate Thornton said...

I think this could be a charming fantasy and a fun mystery - Author, you have the bones of an interesting story here. But it's hard for me to tell much more from the query and I would like to know more. It does sound a little simplistic, but again maybe that's just the query.

calendula said...

Author here--thank you all, your comments are very helpful--even the ones which aren't "constructive"--I swear, the query writing is harder than the book writing. (Which is why I sent the query here!) Yes, the problem is one of tone--it's an urban fantasy with dark stuff, and some sex, and some death and bad magic--but also lightness and humor sprinkled throughout. So I am working on trying to get that across. I guess my hesitation about writing a darker query was that the book starts fairly light, so an agent requesting pages might wonder if it was the same book I'd queried.

writtenwyrdd said...

Author: foreshadow the bad stuff in the beginning. DF readers will get it. I'm sure you can figure out something that works.

HawkOwl said...

I think agents read enough book to know that things evolve over the course of a novel. But if you're really worried, you could simply state in your query that the book starts light, and then gets darker.

The query doesn't have to be stylish, and it shouldn't let the agent guessing. You're not selling to readers. Just tell the agent in plain language what you're selling and why they want to buy it, and leave style and suspense for the actual novel.

Unknown said...

What Hawkowl said. ;) We seem to be on the same wavelength today.

The query doesn't have to show your "voice" but it does have to disclose GMC. At this stage, it doesn't matter if in "your" world witches hate warlocks unless that fact is absolutely imperative to the MAIN plot.

What is the main character striving for? Goal.
Why are they striving for that? Motivation.
What stands in their way? Conflict.

Helpful enough for you, A2?

Malia feeling very snarky today

Anonymous said...

I agree with the others, this needs a little more plot detail. What is the main goal or goals of your main character? To get back Logan? To defeat the dark forces? What are her main obstacles? The dark forces? The Elders and coven? Something at the university that must be completed? If you rewrite it, I'd love to see you repost it, because I like urban fantasy and am interested in hearing more about this world.


Anonymous said...

The opening line about Callie the witch wanting to have a little fun made me instantly assume it was a children's book. Not the least of which was the fact that Callie is a very cutesy, juvenile-sounding name. Is it short for something? Calendula perhaps? Calendula sounds sufficiently witchy.

I love reading a book where the author has taken a very dark, heavy subject and presented it honestly but with some lightness and humor. I think you could capture that in the query by just dropping a line about how Callie's fun quickly turned bad--that way we wouldn't be surprised to read a light beginning that moves to a heavy book.

Good luck with revising this. I agree, writing the query is a bitch. Keep at it!

verification word: fbrjo--maintains regularity!

Anonymous said...

Dear [name of agent]

Coven membership is for life—a life that can last hundreds of years for today’s witches. Calendula Isadora (Callie), a young, modern, and very powerful witch, joins San Francisco’s best coven, only to find herself stifled by its ancient traditions and at odds with her older, weaker coven sisters, some of whom can't even float through a wall without clumsy exhaustion. So she escapes by renting an apartment across town, dating a human who plays in a rock band, and working at the university’s magical research laboratory.

Then Callie’s best friend and fellow witch Logan vanishes, and neither her coven leader nor the witchkind Elders seem willing to do anything about it. Callie decides to find Logan on her own, but quickly realizes the danger of her actions. She is attacked by a supernatural wolf, and then a demon invades her apartment, blowing a hole in her magical defenses and threatening her life. She only manages to survive by virtue of her unusually strong magic and a little fast thinking.

Logan’s upstairs neighbor, an intriguing new warlock in town, offers to help. Callie tries to resist her attraction to him, since they are each dating others. But she does accept his assistance, and together they uncover a deadly mystery involving far more than one missing witch.

NIGHTCRAFT SISTER, complete at 80,000 words, is an urban fantasy with a lighter tone and some humor. The novel stands on its own, but is also the first in a series. The second book is 50,000 words underway, and I have outlines for several more to follow. I’ve enclosed [whatever agent wants]. May I send you more of the manuscript?

About me: I was born on Halloween and raised on a commune in rural northern California, joining the modern world in time for high school. I work at the University of California in a molecular biology laboratory, which has helped me with writing the details about Callie’s magical lab.

Kind regards,

Stacia said...

Much better. Clearer, more focused. My only question after reading it is why the coven Callie joins is the "best" when the witches aren't very powerful. Maybe instead it's the oldest, or largest, or something? It's only a minor quibble, though, and I might be the only one who notices it.

Zany Mom said...

Much, much better! Tighter, intriguing. :) I don't read fantasy, but this one sounds like something up my alley, with a magical twist.

Dave Fragments said...

Some of your sentences are too long. This is a query letter, not subject to style, and you need to trim the length of the long sentences with a few periods.

By the way, who does Callie end up with? The warlock from the apartment above, or her human rock star?

When she "escapes by renting an apartment across town" ... do you mean leave and ignores the coven or actually escapes? Perhaps I'm fussing about hidden meanings but "escapes" doesn't sound right to me.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. You have some good details in there that makes it different. That is a good thing!

writtenwyrdd said...

Much better.
1. not the best coven, since they are bumblers, but a prestigious one. Or perhaps a family tie gets her in?
2. "they are dating others" is not a good reason to resist the attraction. I would expect something more complex. You could have Callie and the warlock at odds due to a long-standing fued, or because he practices a different branch of the Art (left hand? something else?)
3. "can't even float through a wall without clumsy exhaustion" is awkward.
4. Delete the about me paragraph.

This is something I'd buy, or at least open up and read the first couple pages to see if I liked it.

Anonymous said...

This version is a lot better and I agree with Dave and december quinn as to minor changes.

It sounds like you have an interesting book there and as someone who is slowly being weaned from mainstream fantasy into an appreciation for Urban Fantasy I think I would probably enjoy it.

But the thing that kind of sold it to me was your comment after the original post - Yes, the problem is one of tone--it's an urban fantasy with dark stuff, and some sex, and some death and bad magic--but also lightness and humor sprinkled throughout.

Your query letter is much better factually but is still a bit "dry" tone wise and I don't draw from it those key elements you yourself recognised. I don't know if it is needed, but if you could capture that missing element it would make your query letter stand out out better. It could just be me in a nit picking mood. :)

Thanks for sharing this, I learn a lot in this process as well. Good luck with the novel.

Nancy Beck said...

Much better - tighter. I'm in the process of writing an urban fantasy, so it sounds like something I'd read. :-)

The only thing I'd do is drop the last paragraph. I'd just end it with the manuscript is complete, blah, blah, blah, and is available at your request.

Good luck!


Kate Thornton said...

I like this much better - but I really like comparing the two queries and seeing what works. This has been a good learning experience. I look at queries differently having been privy to more of the process.

calendula said...

You guys are awesome! Thanks so much!