Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Face-Lift 277

Guess the Plot


1. In the deep jungles of Colombia there grows a tiny purple flower, the Isaran, which can cure cancer. When agents of MI5 and the CIA can't get past the Colombian rebels to harvest the flower, the President calls on a guy he knew in college who could make funny noises in his armpit. Also, a botanist babe.

2. Murdered unicorns are found near the land of giant cats. The unicorns blame the cats. The cats claim they've been framed. It falls upon Arija sy Kieri to find the truth, and avert interspecies war on the world called . . . Isaran.

3. Under pressure from her mother to bring a date to Aunt Gladys' 4th wedding, Jenny resurrects the Babylonian God of the Plague, Isaran. But when Jenny falls for Isaran, can she convince him not to go back to dealing death to the innocent, and to settle down with her?

4. When a parrot tells Joe he must save the world from space aliens by flying to the moon and recovering the lost talisman of Isaran from Crater Gassendi, Joe laughs. But the bird tells him what numbers to play in the lottery to finance his rocket and two days later that ticket wins. Should Joe defy his wife and go?

5. It's a spy vs spy world, and glamorous Binky Koslov must use her cover as a lingerie model to infiltrate the dangerous world of celebrity golf and discover who poisoned the Prime Minister's gin.

6. Martha Stewart meets Isaac Asimov in this short story collection that defines the Three Laws of Cling Film. Tales of saran wrap gone mad, saran wrap with a sense of humor, and a guest appearance by Rachael Ray.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my 110,000-word fantasy novel, ISARAN, and thought you might like to consider it.

When murdered unicorn foals begin appearing [are discovered] on the border between the unicorns and the lirolen---a race of intelligent, tiger-sized felines---tensions rise between the two nations. [Whoever came up with the idea of the unicorn deserves an award for lameness. I mean, if you want to make up a fantastical new creature, slapping a horn onto a horse doesn't take a whole lot of imagination. It's like the guys plotting out the Star Trek universe, and they need a new species from a planet called Vulcan:

Star Trek Producer: We need a creature called a Vulcan.
Makeup Artist: For one episode?
Star Trek Producer: No, it'll be in every episode.
Makeup Artist: Shit. Okay, I say it should look exactly like a human.
Star Trek Producer: The species evolved on a planet larger and hotter than Earth, thinner air, mostly deserts and mountains, in another solar system. Completely different environment. No way would they look like humans.
Makeup Artist: All right, already. I'll give him pointy ears.
Star Trek Producer: Now you're talking.]

Arija sy Kieri, Advisor of the Five Lands, must determine the truth: whether the lirolen are being framed, as they protest, or if the giant cats are reopening the interspecies wars that once devastated the continent. He attempts a dangerous question spell to find out. But someone interferes with his spell, in a manner that should be impossible, and Arija is nearly killed in the process. He is left with no answers, only more questions [At which point he slaps himself on the forehead and says, "Idiot! Instead of a question spell, I should have used an answer spell.] and a wary young woman accidentally---and irreversibly---transported from another world. Accompanied by her and two maverick unicorns, Arija sets out to discover the spell's saboteur. [My money's on Alex Trebek.]

Before he can, the enraged unicorn queen declares war on the lirolen. Then the king of Coribar, the human nation, is assassinated, [Humans? On the same planet with unicorns? Wouldn't they have wiped out all the unicorns to get their horns?] [Unicorn, from the Latin "uni," meaning one, and the English "corn," meaning ear of corn. Most people think a unicorn's horn looks like a spiral tree ornament, but it actually looks like this ] and Arija himself comes under suspicion of treason. Faced with treacherous dragons, politically wavering centaurs, and a spreading tangle of war and conspiracy, Arija can't imagine how his problems could get worse---until his investigation leads south, to a legendary land across the sea, [One wonders what kind of legends they would have on a world that actually has unicorns. I can imagine centaurs telling their children about the legendary land of Australia, with its mythical kangaroos--part deer, part velociraptor, part purse.] where the legacy of Coribar's bloody past may wait to destroy them all.

I have enclosed a SASE, and the complete manuscript is available upon request. I am currently at work on a second standalone novel set in the world of Isaran. [A world on which evolutionary development, coincidentally, mirrors our Greek mythology.]

Thank you for your time.



Unicorns have made their way into numerous fantasies, but if you're gonna make up lirolen, why not make up all your creatures?

Are unicorns born the same way as horses? Because I definitely wouldn't want to be pregnant with a unicorn.

Is Arija human? Usually you want to focus on a human character, but if the reader doesn't know if he's human . . . I didn't even know there were humans on Isaran until their king got assassinated.

Can unicorns and lirolen talk? What are the two other lands, besides human, unicorn and lirolen? Just wondering.

I'm not sure what purpose the girl from another world serves in the book, but I think you should either give her a bigger role in the query, or eliminate her. All she does is appear. Is she instrumental in solving any problems?


Anonymous said...

What, no dragon?

Evil Editor said...

Read it again, slowly.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I got caught up in the "politically wavering centaurs", which would be a great name for a rock band.

Anonymous said...

Love the mythical kangaroos, EE.

. . . part purse . . .


none said...

Umm, unicorns aren't always depicted as horned horses. Check out the feet.

Anonymous said...

Hello Author:

At 110K words, I'm assuming this is adult rather than YA, so it's geared toward me as audience. While I love fantasy, I'm getting rather tired of the same creatures seen over and over. I can handle one overdone race in a book (be it any of the ones you have or elves or dwarves or whatever), but it's really got to play beyond the stereotype to get my buy in. Otherwise, it's "seen it, read it, done it" for me. When you throw together FOUR stereotypical races/species, well, I'm thinking if you can't come up with original beasties, can you really pull off an original plot?

So why even throw in one created race, the lirolen? Hmmm. A "tiger-sized feline" makes me think, well, tiger, but later you call them "giant cats." "Feline" and "cat" refers to any of the cat family, from domestic kitties to extinct sabre tooths. If they are tiger-like, then they aren't extra-large. So I'm assuming lirolens are like extra-big, extra-cute household kitties. Doesn't seem likely they could have held their own against unicorns, centaurs, dragons and humans in any inter-species war.

As for the girl, just please don't let her be from, gasp, Earth.

You obviously love fantasy (and for very good reason!). You just need to find your own story to tell. The great thing about fantasy is that you can build your own worlds and create your own races, and give readers a ride for their money that they simply won't find anywhere else.

I'm sure you'll find your stride. Good luck!

PJD said...

You know, I guess the story sounds interesting and the query seems well written generally, taking into account EE's comments, of course. I think the part about the question spell could be tightened up--all we really need to know is that he tries to figure out the truth through magic, but someone's thwarted him in a way that should be impossible. (I like the way you phrased that.)

I just can't get past the intelligent cats versus unicorns. I don't know... it falls flat for me in the same way the sentient ship did many queries ago. Other people loved it, so maybe this is just one of those not my things. I just don't connect with it.

If it were warring groups of the same species, even if it's a fictitious species, I would bite more, I think. Kitties and horsies, though, make me think of grade school cliques of girls mad at each other, and the teacher has to step in and sort things out.

Anonymous said...

What's missing is a low key Humphrey Bogart type detective and his Lauren Bacall-esque sidekick. They can cat around, make witty remarks, chat up the suspects, notice telling clues, be cool, and give this plot a little more continuity. Put them in funny outfits and give them magic wands, if you must, but your story as set up in the beginning is fundamentally a murder mystery. Who killed the unicorns? But instead of staying focused on finding that culprit, you wander through exploding magic spells and the exploits of a series of miscellaneous characters who pop in to get killed or make detours to other lands, fight dragons, etc. It's the dreaded kitchen sink plot, the bane of first novels.

Seems like you get bored with your successive subplots and keep moving on to bigger more exotic subplots without resolving anything. Individually, each subplot is interesting. Smush them all together like this, it's a mess.

Blogless Troll said...

The problem with talking unicorns is, in my head, they'd all look and sound like Mr. Ed.

As far as the other two lands, I vote for Giant Dung Beetles and Rodents Of Unusual Size.

Dave Fragments said...

Let's see -
Guess the plot #1 was a movie with Sean Connery.

I prefer GTP's 5 and 6. I want to see Saran Wrap gone mad.

Anonymous said...

Hunh. Blogger must have eaten my original post. Anyway, the gist of it:

Hi all, author here. Thanks for your comments!

You're right about the question-spell bit needing to be tightened up; I've already changed it, and eliminated the mention of the character from another world (though she's actually the narrator, and gets mixed up in most everything going on).

I was trying to be concise in my description of the lirolen, but obviously went overboard if people can only picture purple-striped giant kittens. They're actually larger than tigers, very scary, and not at all cute. They talk, have semi-opposable thumbs, and once embarked on religious-genocidal wars that nearly wiped out everyone in the neighborhood (which is why dead unicorn foals on their border is such a big deal: the other lands are afraid it's starting again).

And I did quite a bit of tinkering with the various species, since I'm a zoology major, but found it difficult to work into the query---it tends to alarm people when I start jabbering about mammalian characteristics as applied to griffin ontogeny. Or interesting similarities between ferns and sea serpent reproduction.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I wasn't at work when I read the bit about mythical Australia. I would have been getting many a funny look for all the helpless giggly-snorty noises I was making.

I agree with Phoenix that this sounds like a bunch of stock fantasy elements smooshed together. The writer has put together a pretty clear query letter, so he or she can obviously string words together well, but the story doesn't sound particularly fresh. Making up new species, instead of using standard fantasy elements, would probably help a lot.

I'll just echo Phoenix's statement that the writer needs to find his/her own story to tell. Dig deep; you can find it in yourself to write something completely wild and original. Good luck! :-)

Stacia said...

I kept wanting to read "lirolen" as "linoleum".

But then, I'm an erotic writer who's constantly misspelling "exstacy" too. (See?)

GutterBall said...

kangaroos...part deer, part velociraptor, part purse.


You know, it's really hard to write fantasy without stepping into Turkey City. I mean, if you use unicorns and centaurs, et al., you're blamed for using the same old creatures. However, if you come up with tiger-like creatures called lirolens, then you're accused of calling a rabbit a smerp. How can you avoid it?

It only gets harder when world-building. Unless you use a completely different basis for currency, you're either accused of lack of imagination for using "money" or of Turkey City lexicon for using coppers or tins or leads or even just plain silver, ol' Judas' curse.

I wish you luck in trying to place this, as the world needs a good fantasy, but I gotta say that you might pick one way or the other -- either create all your races from whole cloth or use ones that already "exist".

Anonymous said...

Interesting, Author.

Minions, Correct me if I'm wrong, but for genre fiction, it would seem the details that make a story *different* are the very ones necessary to sell it.

Author, by watering down your query, it loses the depth and complexity and difference factors that make it stand out. Why would I pick your story with unicorns and centaurs and wizards over the other 50 in the slush pile with unicorns and centaurs and wizards? Convince me you've built a solid world and have made your characters unique, not stereotypes.

Sporangia-like reproduction of sea serpents may not belong in the query, true, but give me something to make me believe you're not simply regurgitating every fantasy convention out there into this one manuscript.

Your comments here make me think this might be a much better book than the query had me believing.

Rashenbo said...

You got to watch out for those question spells... they can really backfire... you know, at first you think you are going to ask what where humans come from and suddenly you find yourself asking why Unicorns have horns... I mean geesh... no control.

The legendary land of Australia... why not the legendary land of Buffalo? Perhaps the evil Buffalo Wings have conspired with the Merfolk to take over the universe....

Anonymous said...

Sure, if you're a zoologist it's a cinch to garble things and invent monsters. But for a novel to hang together and keep our interest, plot is the thing. I don't care if you have smerps or rabbits, I won't read 110,000 words about anatomical weirdness. If you want to get my $$ and keep my attention through all those pages you need to be focused on the main characters and their matters to be resolved, not some freaky thumbs.

shaded-lily said...

I kept wanting to read "lirolen" as "linoleum".

*whew* I thought I was the only one who did that.

Anonymous said...

december quinn said
I'm an erotic writer...

I presume you meant that what you write is erotic.

acd said...

I'm glad you replied, Author. This is one of those cases where something you said makes a sucky query suddenly sound like it might belong to a good book.

I know some agents frown on portal stories, but if the Earth Girl is your protag, the query should probably focus on her. It just seems a little bait-and-switch to pretend otherwise. Relatedly, if she's your main character, she'd better solve the problem at the end. She does, right?

The way you describe the plot emphasizes big cats and dead unicorn foals, which is what makes it sound like a little girl's fantasy. Try focusing on the unusual political situation: the lirolens (and yes, we see the "lions" in there) went bananas a few generations ago and now everyone is worried they're doing it again. You might take a minute to hash out the other political stances: wishy-washy centaurs, mercenary dragons, and humans who work magic which I presume is the only way that the other magical beasts haven't already killed them all off.

If you can come up with another name for unicorns, use it. What do they call themselves?

Anonymous said...

Wow. Author here again.

I'm kind of adrift on the conflicting opinions---focus on unique aspects of the world and critters, focus on plot, focus on Earth protag (who's a stranger to the world's history), focus on world's interesting history . . .

Also, I think I've made a mistake in not communicating the magical status of my various species---that is, they're no more inherently magical than humans: ten percent of them are born with mage-talent, just as in the human population. I went very biology-based with the critters, so the dragons are about horse-sized and can't breathe fire, the unicorns can't do anything special with their horns but stab people, and so on.

I suppose I'm so used to seeing my unicorns as tough-minded, hierarchical, fiercely herd-protective and culturally insular warriors that I don't even remember what the word "unicorn" usually invokes in people's minds---white, delicate, pretty horse-things into whose manes maidens braid flowers.

No fighting stallion would be caught dead with flowers in his mane, unless he'd just won the victory wreath in the Single Combat competition at the annual Fencing Festival.

Anonymous said...

Do you know (yeah, author again), I think I'm going to twist the unicorns---give 'em a short, curved nasal horn as well as the straight forehead horn, and call them tanihorns. Should alleviate the Pretty Pony Syndrome.

Plus, the nasal horn could be useful when fencing with other tanihorns, to catch their forehead horns and try to throw them to the ground. Very useful in herd-rank disputes, I think. Hah!

Anonymous said...

Creatures and characters from mythology come with vast baggage. They can be really efficient to use in storytelling because readers already "know" so much about them. If you don't mean the usual thing by "unicorn", find another word or you'll confuse people and invoke the wrong imagery and expectations every time.

I think the author with the King Arthur references a few facelifts ago had the same kind of "no, not like that!" frustration.

Anonymous said...

Sounds, author, like you've fallen in love with your ability to create realistically developed species. I hope agents and editors fall in love with your ability to write a good story. Otherwise, maybe you should be writing the Monster Manual XXVII or whatever version they're on now.

Stacia said...

I presume you meant that what you write is erotic.


Robin L. said...

I'm a little confused - although I don't read much fantasy, so take this with a grain of salt.

Didn't Tolkein use both existing mythology (dwarves and elves) and mix in new races (he invented hobbits, right?)

It worked for him. I think the existing races lend credibility, personally.

I think if you do a really good job of world building, all the races or species seem indigenous (sp?) to the world. Right now I'm thinking of Narnia and can't remember if there are any new species that Lewis created - probably because I so bought into his world that they just all exist to me.

That to say, if the writing is good enough, I think it's fine to have Lirolen and Unicorns both.

Anonymous said...

Hey, author! The more you tell me about the story - about how you've gone realistic with dragons, unicorns, etc. - the more interested I become.

I think it is the My Pretty Pony syndrome that is doing this query in. When you say "unicorn", "dragon", "centaur", or "girl-from-another-world", I can't help but imagine my prepackaged notion of what those things are.

It sounds like what sets your story apart is your approach to the mythical creatures - you're breaking stereotypes and creating a rich and believable world. Please, try really hard to get that across in the query. That's your book's big strength and if you don't leave the My Pretty Pony perception bleeding on the page, then I think your query will only get auto-rejects from agents.

While it's true that you have to outline the book's main conflicts also, you need the agent to realise that you're doing something new with the old ideas. The original query made the book sound derivative and stale; everything you've said about the story in the comments has made it sound really intriguing.

I do like the suggested name-and-weaponry change for the unicorns. Maybe you could rename the centaurs and dragons too?

Blogless Troll said...

Is there any kind of racial tension between the unicorns and the centaurs? I would imagine, since they're both mainly horse parts, that the unicorns would look down on the centaurs as being impure. Whereas the centaurs would think the unicorns are a bunch of high-fallootin' ninnies and mock the unicorns for not having arms. Maybe they'd get in the unicorns' faces and, I don't know, juggle something. Even if they didn't have anything to juggle, they could still make the juggling motions with their hands and it would be the equivalent of flipping the bird.

Of course, the lirolen, being cats, would think they're the best, and probably spend a lot of time rolling their eyes and saying, "Stop it! Both of you!"

Evil Editor said...

Whereas the centaurs would think the unicorns are a bunch of high-fallootin' ninnies and mock the unicorns for not having arms.

At which point they both look up and see Pegasus soaring through the air, and go slinking back to their miserable lives.

GutterBall said...

Maybe they'd get in the unicorns' faces and, I don't know, juggle something. Even if they didn't have anything to juggle, they could still make the juggling motions with their hands and it would be the equivalent of flipping the bird.

It's a good thing I stopped drinking Hawaiian Punch, because that would have sent it RIGHT out the nose. Thanks for that!

R.J. Anderson said...

I hope it's not too late for the author to see this --

There's a classic fantasy novel called The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip, in which the sorceress heroine searches for an elusive magical bird called the Liralen. As soon as I read "lirolen" in your query, that book jumped into my head.

Dunno whether or not this bothers you, but I thought you might like to know.

Anonymous said...

Chiming in late, I have to say that the world elements do sound rather tired to me, as well. I would probably pass on it if the backmatter held what you mention in the query.

However, that doesn't mean this is a lousy book idea. I agree that you need to mention who the pov/protag is, and I would suggest that you have humans have a big stake in fixing this incipient war...otherwise why in heck are they involved? I would really hate it if people (humans) were the big busy bodies that think they are the world police force; But I'd really adore seeing that humans feel at risk if the baloon goes up, because they have a weakening power base (such as their magical ability o rtheir fertility or drougt or some such natural disaster has rendered them "at risk.")

I also thought of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld when I read this. And the unicorns and big cats can easily become something much more interesting. Give the cats arms and a marsupial reproductive system and scales, for example; make the unicords bicorns or six legged beetles. Whatever, but don't cheapen your work by making these characters derivative.

Good luck with it.