Sunday, November 05, 2006

Face-Lift 227

Guess the Plot

Forever for Ransom

1. The playboy son of a billionaire is kidnapped, but daddy won't pay up. The boy convinces his captors to start a ballad-driven soft rock band.

2. She's back! In this, the seventh book of the series, nosy parker Miss Amelia Pettipants is on the trail of Doctor Whatsis as he threatens the entire village with his time machine.

3. It can take a long time to raise twenty million dollars. Kidnapper Mitchell Beinhardt knows that. Plus it's really not that hard taking care of Paris Hilton's chihuahua. So he sets a ransom deadline of, like, whenever.

4. In a world where the few who control the time-travel mechanisms known as The Portals hold the power, computer nerd Teren Blanden must travel into the past and kidnap Ian Flass, whose lab accident created the first of The Portals. The future rests in the hands of a geek and the mind of an opportunist.

5. One man escapes the enslavement of the ruthless vigilante sorcerers--but will his soul be the price of vengeance?

6. Calipygia Jackson has been kidnapped seven times, and each time her husband has paid the ransom and gotten her back. But now a pretty widow has moved next door . . . and the ransom note has mysteriously disappeared.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my 120,000 word fantasy novel, Forever for Ransom.

The past holds us all to ransom, and for Arithein, the price is steeped in blood. With one word, he permitted magicians to enslave thousands. [And that one word was "uh-huh."] Thousands - including his son, Orim. Duty now demands he repeat that sin, and condemn innocent and guilty alike to a death without end. [Death without end sounds bad, but unless you come back as a vampire or a zombie, your death is without end.] Treachery comes from within though, and murder by any other name cuts as deep. [I have no idea what you're talking about. It feels like a bunch of phrases that sound okay separately, but have little substance when combined.]

Orim however was never the heir of the man he called father. Torn from himself, [No idea what that phrase means.] he escapes into a world he no longer knows. Forbidden magic pulls him to Yara, the one person who possesses both the will to save him and the power to destroy him; the only person more wanted by the magicians than Orim himself.

Confession by confession, Yara leads Orim toward vengeance, against magic, against heaven, and against the man whose betrayal destroyed him. What neither knows is that murder will revive the spell on Orim's head, [Whose murder, what spell?] silencing him forever. [Also known as muteness without end.] Hatred has its weakness though, hidden in the blood that binds Yara to Orim ... father to son. Enemies are closing, faith is dying, and Orim has only one currency left with which to bargain: his soul. [Either I'm in a drug-induced stupor, or you were when you wrote this. I say scrap it all and start over. Just tell me what happens in the book, not in the voice of Orim or Arithein or Yara, but as if you were talking to me, at a table in ________ (restaurant chain owners, contact me for pricing on having your company's name placed in the blank).]

My short stories have appeared in FlashSpec Volume 1 and Antipodean SF. Based on a three chapter sample, Forever for Ransom was short-listed for the 2006 Conjure Pitches Competition. I am currently working on the sequel, Paid in Silence.

I would be happy to send a partial and/or synopsis as suits you. I enclose an SASE for your convenience. Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely, etc.


This sounds like the voice-over at the beginning of Lord of the Rings, but with no visuals to ground us, very little concrete plot, and no Cate Blanchett to make it sound ominous and edgy, rather than wildly overdone.


pacatrue said...

Yeah, I was completely lost too. I read it again and got some inklings.

Orim's the main character, right? So let's start with him instead of the dad - or fake dad, or real dad who Orin won't inherit from or something. So then Orim escapes. Let us know why he is escaping or what he is escaping from. Is he working in a coal mine and can't take it anymore? Walking around with sorcery-laden chains? Or does he just feel something isn't right?

So now he is in some world he doesn't know. OK, this is confusing, because we don't know where he was. I'm going to go with him pulling carts through 4 foot coal mine shafts while pregnant. Hey, it's a fantasy novel, so why not. Now he's up in the sunlit world, but he doesn't know what the heck a "bloop" is anymore or how to do the elbow greeting with the cute barmaid.

But some dark magic draws him to someone named Yara. Is Yara going to be a love interest or a 400 year old dark sorcerer with a gray beard? Or a 400 year old gray-bearded love interest? And since we still don't where he was or if he's being chased, we have no idea what it was like to be drawn to Yara. Moreover, we don't know why someone, the bad magicians, want Orim or Yara. I know Orim's the son of someone big, but the world's fate never hung on Roger Clinton (former President's brother) since he didn't do anything. Orim must be a mighty magician as well?

Now, our hottie gray beard Yara convinces Orim he needs vengeance on... someone. On his non-dad, I think. But Orim might have to trade his soul for... his dad? To save Yara? To save the world? To finally get a date with that hot barmaid in chapter 3?

I think you see where I am lost. So my rec is to start with Orim, say what his situation is, say what he escapes to, tell us who helps him, and then explain what he is fighting against. In a cool way. I guess the problem now is that, other than names, this query letter could describe a hundred different novels. It could be a story of the 17 year old farm boy who is annointed by prophecy. It could be a dark urban fantasy with psionic blasters running around and a brooding Highlander sorcerer in a trench coat. I don't know. If the latter, I highly recommend skipping to his model girlfriend in the loft apartment. That's always the good part.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I couldn't follow this at all, and high fantasy is my genre. Just give us the plot without trying to sound mysterious and sage.

I did love "confession by confession", though.

Good luck! It sounds like an interesting plot underneath it all.

Wonderwood said...

"Either I'm in a drug-induced stupor, or you were when you wrote this." LOL Classic!

I'm just glad I wasn't the only one that didn't know what the hell was going on. A lot of dramatic sounding phrases that told me practically nothing about the plot.

"Treachery comes from within though, and murder by any other name cuts as deep." This sounds cool, but I have no idea what it means.

More substance, please.

Anonymous said...

The tone of the query reminds me greatly of the idea known as (roll of drums here) Purple Prose!!!!

I like the title though. Change the plot to #6 and I'd consider -- well, dunno about reading it, but perhaps skimming the Cliffs notes.

HawkOwl said...

Damn. I wanted to read #3. For the real query, I agree with EE: it's just a bunch of big words losely arranged into sentences. And it sounds so stereotypical of fantasy, I would dread to read the book itself.

writtenwyrdd said...

I was hoping it was #4. That was a great hook!

Author, maybe it is just me, but saying you were short listed in a pitch contested might come across like telling an agent or editor he/she is stupid if they don't like your pitch.

Other than that, I can't comment on the plot much, because I am confused. Mr. Evil has commented succinctly on this, and I agree: Scrap this letter.

Also, the 120K word limit might scare off representation, from all I hear. Unless your book is so good they can't put it down, you might want to pare it some.

the basic idea is intersting, but as a matter of personal taste, I generally don't like hate-filled revenge-seeking protagonists. Have you ever read the Ill-Earth Chronicles starring one Thomas Covenant? He's the ultimate anti-hero of the type I refer to. My sort of point being that I don't know that the writing market has too many of these sorts of characters these days.

Sariah Wilson said...

I'm with EE on this one. Clean it up and explain the plot. I had no idea what was happening or why or to whom.

Nancy Beck said...

I read fantasy (and trying to write one), and I agree that I had no idea what was going on here.

Go with what pacatrue and others have said - start with Orim and tell us about the plot. Orim is such-and-such (a wizard or whatever), he escapes from his terrible situation (describe the situation) get the idea. Explain why he's drawn to Yara (and who the heck she is, too, so we can keep track).

No doubt you've got a plot to this, but it's not showing itself here (and I know queries are hard!). Get back to the basics without all the big words or the ominous signs or whatever.

Maybe something along the lines of Character A (your main character) is in some sort of trouble, runs away from the situation and into Character B, they take some action(s), and it all ends good (or bad).

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Sigh. Ruthless vigilante sorcerors. I really left myself open there :)

Yep, I'm going to own up to this. And I take the point: it's all good, except the part with words in. No worries; I'd rather find out now than in a form rejection letter.

Love the GTPs (for one thing, the RVSs alerted me to the fact that I was about to get a much-needed shredding. As soon as I post this, I'm going to go and read Lukeman's chapter on melodrama again).

Orim is the main character, but I have some doubts about how much I should emphasise that in the query, since none of the early chapters are in his POV. Why? Because, much like this query, they would make no sense (I've tried, and I couldn't follow it myself); he has absolutely no memory of anything. So if anyone has any thoughts on this point, I'd really appreciate them.

And seriously, thanks. I had one valuable lesson knocked into me when someone read this story; now I've got another one to add to it :)

P.S. EE, I promise, if I was in a restaurant with you, I'd find something better to talk about than this (paint drying, perhaps). Either that, or I'd share the drugs first.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest simply going back and rewriting a short synopsis in plain English, short sentences, no mangled metaphors (or ANY metaphors for that matter). Plain, declarative, boring instruction-manual English.

THEN you can purple it up a little, but not as much as you have here.

Anonymous said...

This was very confusing. I had no idea who the characters were or what they were doing - everything seemed very vague and unrelated. You need to put in some hard details about what happens and to who (or whom) rather than offer us a rambling, distant overview.

PS - Add a zombie shark. They make everything clearer and your potential readership will shoot up.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, you come across as so in love with your own deep, meaningful phrases and metaphors (purple prose indeed) that you've pretty much forgotten to describe the story. The query is where you wow them with the substance of your idea, not your poetic way with words--that's what the partial/full is for. Although really, if I picked it up in the store and saw phrasing like this, I'd put it right back down. Writing like this makes me roll my eyes.

Also, "Hatred has its weakness though, hidden in the blood that binds Yara to Orim ... father to son." does this mean that Yara is actually Orim's father and not that other guy? Very confusing.

pacatrue said...

jfk, if the A-named dad is important, maybe you could try focusing the query on Orim and him. So, tell us what A guy did and it's impact on Orim. Then, proceed to tell us of Orim's adventures and precisely how they relate to A. I'd love to see the conclusion be something which changes Orim's and A's fate. This is all assuming, of course, that A remains a pivotal character through-out the book. If A doesn't participate in the climax of the novel and is only important because of the impact on Orim, then he really sounds like background. Not knowing important and extensive background right off the bat should be OK if written well. After all, in the actual Ring books, we don't find out what's up with this while ring thing and its history until pretty far in (despite the add-on in the movie).

The point? A great story of two important characters, with Orim as the slightly leading one, sounds great, so maybe you can use that as a frame for the query letter.

Anonymous said...

I think most people can write stories better than query letters. I hope the author of this query is one of those people. -JTC

Anonymous said...

I think most people can write stories better than query letters. I hope the author of this query is one of those people.

I'll let the minions decide that one. The beginning is somewhere in EE's archives. Although in light of this exercise, I've realised the story started too early anyway.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who couldn't figure out if Yara was male, female, or yeti?