Saturday, August 18, 2007

Face-Lift 402

Guess the Plot

The Vessel

1. After a week at a retreat, Stephanie returns to work and proclaims her body is her vessel. Brad, the mailroom supervisor, thinks he has just the thing to fill it. Embarrassment and hilarity ensue when their co-workers notice the stationery closet door is ajar.

2. A twelve-year-old girl must find her missing . . . Staff of Earth! Without it she cannot focus the power of . . . the Vessel! And will never defeat . . . the Adversary!

3. When Kathleen's grandfather presents her with a small ship in a bottle, she thinks little of the gesture. But that's before the vessel wrecks itself against the bottle's glass walls and she finds herself witnessing a series of drownings.

4. A crack team of microsurgeons prepare for a tough case: a man who has 100% blockage of every vein and artery in this body. They shrink themselves down to 1/2 mm to enter The Vessel, their cleverly named surgical icebreaker-like ship used to enter a patient invasively and clear out french fry-clogged blood vessels.

5. When Jake Pidgett, junior caterer in the Titanic's vast kitchens is confronted with a gash in the side of the ship, Jake heroically sets to work with eggs, sugar and the ship's mighty ovens, aiming to seal the gap with a series of souffles. Unfortunately, jealous sous-chef Pierre Le Clerq has other plans . . .

6. Archeologist Dante Stevens unearths a strange green gold vessel from the ruins of a Nazi stronghold, only to have his life disrupted by a steady stream of visiting demons. Should he seek shelter at a nearby convent, or let the demons have . . . the Vessel?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Twelve-year-old Ryder has a problem. She must learn to use the powers of THE VESSEL, the only person with the power to use all Five Powers of ‘magic’: Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and Spirit. [You're modifying "the vessel" with "the only person"; you should be mofifying "Ryder" or "she."] Her predecessor has been killed by servants of the Adversary, [an] evil creature locked in a metaphysical and real sense at the center of the Earth. [If the master you serve is locked at the center of the Earth, and you're still doing his bidding, it's time to sign up for assertiveness training.]

Over the course of a year, she deals with new ‘friends’ who pop out of nowhere to inform her of her duty. They then teach her what she must know. Our young heroine is betrayed and attacked by someone she trusts. Her journey is filled with tragedy and triumph as she learns what it means to save and sometimes loose [lose] the people she cares about. [Too vague. Who pops out of nowhere? What's her duty? What must she know, and why? Who betrays her? Who are the people she cares about? Why be vague when you can be specific?] Ryder uses her talents to play tricks on a mean teacher in one chapter and then fight off monsters in another.

In the end, she’s faced with one goal: recover her Staff of Earth. This weapon focuses the Vessel’s power and is specifically created for her. If she doesn’t recover it by the end of summer, it is lost until the next Vessel comes around. [Which is when? When she dies? Why can't she find the staff in autumn? Has she ever focused the Vessel's power? How did the Staff get lost? Is she in danger?]

I am the host of an online writing-critique group and have experience as an editor. At 85,000 words, THE VESSEL is about change, hope, faith, and friendship. May I send part or all of the manuscript?

Thank you for your time and consideration,

[Title: The power of The Vessel empties out when she dies. So, the power pours from person to person, as if from vessel to vessel.]


The first paragraph sets up the situation, but what's the main plot? Ryder goes on a journey to find her staff and encounters monsters, yet stays close enough to home to play tricks on a teacher? The bad guy is locked at the center of the Earth, so what's the danger? Is the Adversary able to get free? What happens if he does? Ryder's one goal is to find the Staff of Earth, and if she doesn't, it's lost until the next vessel comes around? Not scary enough. Tell us what happens if the staff remains lost until the next vessel comes around. I'm not getting any sense of urgency.

It's not clear how this is about change, hope, faith, and friendship.

What is the vessel? Is it the person with the power? The power poured from Ryder's predecessor into her, making her the new vessel? It's not clear. The explanation, which isn't part of the query, helps a little, but it's not clear either. Does the power ever pour out of Ryder and into someone else? Do the other characters refer to Ryder as the vessel?

What age group is this story intended for? That should be in here somewhere.


writtenwyrdd said...

This letter doesn't interest me in what could be a really interesting YA plot. I have doubts from reading this. I am suspicious of plot holes relating to the internal logic of the magical rules, in particular, as the letter makes it sound like you don't have a consistent world.

Work on presenting what you need to in a manner that doesn't sound haphazard. The elements as shared do not have the dots connected.

Also, as EE points out, there are some problems with grammar and the lack of plot elements.

writtenwyrdd said...

PS, have you considered the more than slightly phallic nature of the staff and the void? Just thought I'd mention it, because it's really pretty blatant. And, dunno, might be a problem with this being a YA book and all...

Anonymous said...

The author says:

That was pretty painful, I didn't know just how bad the query sucked.

To answer some of EE's questions:

I felt secure in modifying The Vessel because Ryder, as The Vessel, is the only person to use the powers.

The Adversary can influence people from his prison, all that's bound is his physical presence . . . his powers are still real.

Who pops out of nowhere? A group of people I call The Hunt. They befriend Ryder out of the blue just before the adventure starts. Her mother is the one who ends up dying near the end of the story. Hence, 'lose'.

The staff disappears at the end of summer as the magic that keeps it in this world lapses without contact with the Vessel.

Well, this is probably more than you guys care about, so I'll stop. You've given me a lot to think about. I'm sure the minions will have more. Thanks for the help.


WouldBe said...

It seems like the author has it, now. But to emphasize a point: the query should tell a story--like the story itself does--only more briefly. The query talks about the story's inventory of elements but little about the story itself.

Dave Fragments said...

I just started reading Gaiman and Reaves's Interworld becase I was thinking of giving it to my nephew (he's 12)... Why do I mention this, because it is YA and similar your novel.

I think you have to focus a little more on Ryder.

Ryder is a typical preteen girly girl who is given the gift of magic.

Instead of just turning thirteen like all the other girls, Ryder has new friends appearing out of nowhere who tell her of a staff of power that she must use to imprison an evil {something} in the Earth.

Ryder and her new friends (Ping, Pang and Pong {1} ) begin a journey to recover the Staff of Power. A journey that takes Ryder into her teenage years (with some personal discovery, womanhood maybe?) while she saves the Earth {?} etc.

Is this a bouncy, bright romp or is this a serious tale of magic power? These YA things tend to serious like Tolkein and Eragon or ludicrous like Snake Boy and Lava Girl, or happy like Charlotte's Web. The query has to reflect that tone.

{1} Turandot, G. Verdi

Anonymous said...

Author, it sounds as if your story is still taking shape--lots of lists, lots of elements, but not, yet, a clear sense of story. You have plenty to work with, but there's work to do to make it all fit together.

The age of the protagonist indicates that this is probably a middle-grade book, so it needs to be short, focused, and clearly written. The prose of the query is not yet ready for prime time, which tends to indicate that the prose of the ms. may need work as well.

I'm surprised no one has picked up on the echoes in the title of the old Danny Kaye cult film, "The Court Jester": "The vessel with the pestle holds the potion with the poison, but the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true." Or vice versa. Or versey vicey. Or, aack!

Aarrgh! Earworm!

Anonymous said...

You have experience as an editor? The spelling and grammar errors don't reflect editing prowess. Neither does the fuzziness of the query. Saying you can edit at the end of your unedited business proposal calls more attention to the query's problems.

Or perhaps you meant a different kind of editing.

writtenwyrdd said...

"The Adversary can influence people from his prison, all that's bound is his physical presence . . . his powers are still real."

Not liking this explanation. It's too easy, and implies that there are no limits or costs to using magic. IMO this makes for a bad story; but I can't say that this is what you are doing, just that it sounds like a death knell to me.

I really liked the basic elements of this story, so I hope you can get the query shaped up!

Bernita said...

I don't want this to seem like piling on - but the apposition of Ryder, Vessel and person is not clear, since the term vessel often denotes an object, not a person. I gather she IS the Vessel, but you don't want agents to wrinkle their brows over a clumsy construction. We know what happens when they do that.
As it reads, the Vessel sounds like a second character, one whose powers she controls.
The same confusion is evident about the Staff of Earth which first you say is geared or programmed specifically to her and then suggest it is passed from Vessel to Vessel ( lost, until).
To blow off her predicament as a "problem" seems a mundane understatement ( and not in a good way) of an archetypal scenario.
I have the feeling the story has charm, but the query does not reflect it.

Anonymous said...

Author says:

Um, let me put it this way, I find a lot more errors in other people's work than I find in my own. I sent this query to EE on a lark and only did a cursory examination of it. This is an old query that I used a couple of years ago. I hope I edited it better for the agents I sent it to. LOL, knowing me, I probably sent it out quickly to keep from chickening out.

And no, I didn't consider any phallic symbolism.

It's a serious work with minor mirth interspersed. I label in YA because most readers I show it to say that's what it is. I wrote it thinking of this story being more like Firestarter than HP.

I've never seen that movie, dancinghorse.

writtenwyrdd, nothing in what I said gave an indication of the level of power the Adversary has. I simply said he still has power. He can influence people, but he can't reach out and snuff people out. The loyalty of his people come from other reasons.

jjdebenedictis said...

Hi Author,

Since this is an old draft of the query, how about you write us a new query and post it in the comments? We'd be happy to take a look at it again. :-)

Robin S. said...

Anon 12:48 pm - was there a point in writing what you wrote, other than simply being a holier-than-thou know-it-all ass?

If you'll notice, most people comment here because they're providing feedback and hoping to help. In what way can simply being a pissant be construed as being helpful?

Just checking.

Anonymous said...

author here:

Bernita, I guess I know my story so well that I didn't see any clumsy construction. The Vessel is a title, like 'the President' is a title. Powers transfer upon death of the title-holder. When a Vessel dies, her Staff of Earth dissipates and reappears at this meeting place. However, the meeting place is only known to the previous Vessel and is usually told to her successor on her 21st birthday.

When the Vessel is killed before she could relate the location, The Hunt is formed to protect Ryder while she follows clues placed around the globe by Vessels of long ago.

Heh, I was hoping my query would be good enough that EE could do a rewrite, boy was I crazy (so I could use his as template). LOL.

Anonymous said...

Author PS:

By 'old query' I meant that I'd used it the last time I queried this particular novel . . . over two years ago. I haven't wrote a new one yet, hoping to use EE's comments to build one.

Thanks for everyone's help.


PS, while I do have some editing and proofing experience, it'll probably be left off future queries. It doesn't relate much to querying anyway.

Ali said...

The query combined with your additional information in the comments made me want to hear more, so maybe you're closer than you think.

I was confused by the term "the vessel," thinking it was a thing she needed to find rather than catching on that it was her title. What if you moved things around a little: "Twelve-year old Ryder has a problem. New 'friends' keep popping up out of nowhere to inform her that she is the next Vessel, the only person who can harness all five powers of 'magic' to defeat the Adversary..." and so on?

Also, the first sentence leads me to think she's a reluctant heroine. Unless I'm off the mark there, how about giving some specifics about her to make that more clear and give us a sense of her character at the same time? (Like, she'd rather polish her nails and find a boyfriend but this darned Vessel stuff keeps mucking things up, or she'd planned to spend the summer catching up on her summer reading list or learning to waterski).

Anonymous said...

The reader needs specifics and stakes, and a sense of tension.

Twelve-year-old Ryder faces an ancient evil that strikes from the center of the earth in THE VESSEL, my 85,000-word YA fantasy.

When the former Vessel is killed by servants of the Adversary, Ryder learns she is the successor to the title and to its Five Powers of magic: Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Spirit. Now she has just a year to recover the Staff of Earth, a weapon that focuses the Vessel's power, before the Staff and the Five Powers are all lost to the world for good. [OK, you say it's just until the next Vessel comes along, but why not raise the stakes for fun?]

Helping her learn what her new Powers are and defending her from the influence of the Adversary who is certain to be searching for her, are members of The Hunt, [an eclectic team of demi-demons whose sole purpose is to train each new Vessel in the arts of magic and fighting]. At first, Ryder has fun with her talents, using them to play tricks on a mean teacher. But she soon discovers her Powers aren't the stuff of childhood when she's faced with real monsters to fight. Then she learns just how limited her Powers are without the Staff of Earth when she is unable to keep her mother from being killed [when the Adversary targets Ryder's family in a fit of vengeance].

With time running out and the Adversary and his servants closing in, Ryder must decipher the last of the clues pointing to where the Staff of Earth is secreted. The only thing is, the Adversary [knows the one thing that will keep Ryder from finding the staff in time].

I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration,

The plot question I'm left with is, if the Staff is used to focus the Powers, then I'm thinking proximity to the Staff is important. That the Vessel would need to have the Staff in hand pretty much at all times. So if the previous Vessel was killed, wouldn't she have had the Staff with her when she was killed? And because she's killed by one of the Adversary's servants, wouldn't the servant have known what the Staff was and taken it?

And if the Staff is always kept in a single place with clues left by past Vessels, why doesn't The Hunt know where it is? I got the impression The Hunt was similar to Buffy's Watchers.

As JJ suggests (you don't mind me calling you JJ, do you?), David, why don't you try a rewrite and let us have a look...

none said...

Clearly that second sentence makes sense to you as the author, but that's only because you know your own story. It doesn't make sense to the people here, and probably didn't make much sense to the agents you queried, either, because the only information they have is what you give them.

That sentence could easily be modified along these lines:

She must learn to use her powers as THE VESSEL, the only person able to use all Five Powers of ‘magic’: Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and Spirit.

(I also took out one of the three references to "power/s".)

GTP#3 reads like something MR James might have written. Excellently cool :).

Anonymous said...

You: all Five Powers of ‘magic’: Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and Spirit


Anonymous said...

Author says:

You have given me much to think about. I appreciate the advice. Really.

I'll try to rewrite within this week.

The Hunt doesn't know because there aren't good records from that time. Being the Vessel conveys long-life on the title-holder. The previous Vessel had held the title for at least two millenia. A new potential successor is born once a century. Ryder's parents wouldn't allow her to be brought into the fold, so she was completely unprepared for what happened to her. (I know, another detail I didn't think important enough to mention in the query. Sorry.) The Hunt only knows where the first piece of the puzzle is, leading to the quest to find the others.

Well, thanks again for the advice, it was much needed. God bless (or maybe curse, lol) EE for this website.


Pete said...

I scrolled all the way down here to make a Captain Planet joke, and 150 beat me to it. Sigh.

Anonymous said...


Captain Planet? Oh, please, I'm 33 years old. By the time that show came out I was too old for cartoons. I've heard of the program, but that's it. Technically, I'm thinking of something similar to the weaves of Jordan's (at least) saidar and saiden, but without the taint.


Anonymous said...

Grrr...sorry about the last's supposed to read 'an' not a ultra.

Anonymous said...

Dear Evil Editor:

Ryder awoke with a scream. Her nap had ended with a nightmare vision of an old woman dying by being ripped apart. Within three days, her new neighbors and their friends had befriended her. Ryder wasn’t used to so many friends. Next, her world is turned upside down when her mother sends her to the neighbor’s, to live there. The man calls himself, Edward and says he is Commander of the Hunt. He and her new friends are there to teach her how to use her powers. The old woman had been the Vessel of the Creator and her power had been transferred to Ryder upon her death.

The Hunt is a group of people who will protect her while she learns clues that only the Vessel can follow. Those clues lead to a focus of her power, the Staff of Earth. This weapon allows a Vessel to use her power without being drained the same amount as normal use. It only appears for a few months before fading away until the Vessel dies again. Without it, a Vessel cannot repair the metaphysical bindings that hold the Adversary in place. Fifteen of Twenty binding stakes, also called life points, have been broken and a true hell awaits the world if these last five fall. Evil is ascending and Ryder, a ultra smart twelve year old girl, is the front-line soldier in the war.

At 84, 000 words, THE VESSEL is a complete young adult fantasy novel. It is the first in a series of five that I have planned. I look forward to discussing the project with you.

Thanks for the consideration,

Anonymous said...

The new query is really all back story and explanation: setup. Your first paragraph is no doubt what happens in the first 5000 words. The second paragraph is all description about The Hunt, the Staff, and the bindings holding the Adversary.

What's the meat of the story? Remember that quest stories for something like an amulet or a staff or a "thing" that will help the MC change themselves or the world really need to have something else original going for them or they won't likely attract attention in a market saturated with quest stories. (I'm shopping a middle-grade quest story that I hope is convincingly different, so I have a fair idea that I'm on target about this observation.) You'll need to stick what's unique about YOUR story right up front to hook the agent and convince them this is a project worth pursuing. Nothing strikes me as unique in this query. Boiled down, this query tells me only that Ryder has to find a staff to stop a terrible evil. *Yawn* An agent will have any number of these types of stories in their slush pile. What makes YOURS stand out???

Try condensing the first paragraph plus most of the second paragraph into 3 or 4 sentences. Then use the rest of the query space to give us some plot details. What's the Adversary capable of? Has he caused "true hell" in the past? If so, what exactly was it? A rain of toads? Faminine, pestilence and death? Disguising himself as one of EE's commenters whose advice can't be trusted?

Then be sure to devote a nice chunk of the query to what's standing in Ryder's way during her quest for the Staff.

And maybe try varying your sentence structure some. I'm afraid I feel more like I'm being lectured to here than being enticed to request pages.

Lastly, do NOT start the query with Ryder waking with a scream. Kiss of death. That's a very cliche beginning, so I hope that's not really how your book begins. You can get away with it only if everything else in your book is done in stellar fashion, and sadly, this query doesn't convince me it is. With a story like this especially, I can't stress how important it is to put in right up front the unique hook your story has that makes it stand out.

We're up for another look if you're up for another go at a revise. I will congratulate you for not submitting a new query that only has some reshuffled words. You really have done a re-vision of the letter. I just don't think this version is compelling enough to garner an agent's attention.

writtenwyrdd said...

Sorry, the rewrite is actually worse. It's that first paragraph. Elements that don't lead to each other are listed, and that is confusing.

Omit that first paragraph entirely. The second paragraph is backstory as phoenix says.

What is the action of the story?

How about something along the lines of this:

Twelve-year-old Ryder finds the fate of the world depending on her when she learns she is the Void, the one being who can stop the descent of a living hell on all creation. But first, she must discover whom to trust among her new friends... and locate the Staff of Earth-- the key to her powers-- before it vanishes from the world forever.

After that, it's mere battling with demons of darkness and getting the [guardian friends] to let her stay up past curfew.

Seriously, give it something that tells the emotional stakes, what the crux of the matter is, and a sense of where the resolution ends up, if not exactly what happens.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I get what you're saying, Writtenwyrdd. The two paragraphs are a progression of events in the book, like a mini-synopsis. In that sense, each sentence is indeed connected.

Action of the story? People who support the adversary are constantly trying to stop her.

As to the scream . . . there's a prologue before the scene with the scream, but the first chapter does start with her in school, awaking from a nap she snuck in.

If it's cliche, ya'll must be reading different books than I, because I don't remember a book with that as an opening scene.

I'll think on it.


Anonymous said...

author says:

btw, the prologue I mentioned earlier is the scene where Ryder's predecessor is killed and I feel crucial to understanding other parts of the story.


Anonymous said...

Author says:

Once more into the breach.

Dear Agent:

Twelve-year-old Ryder begins having visions of an old woman dying and wonders if she is losing her hard fought sanity, which she nearly lost after the death of her father and her mother’s descent into alcoholism. When new neighbors move in next door, Ryder hopes her isolation is finally over. Plus, her neighbor’s son is really cute. They become friends so fast that Ryder wonders if she is being set-up for something bad. The other shoe must fall.

One afternoon Ryder touches her neighbor’s dying plant and feels a tingle in her hand but thinks nothing of it. An hour later, the plant is shiny and vibrant. She’s healed it. Her new friend tells her that she is a very special girl, destined to prevent a catastrophe. Ryder brushes it off, but a week later her mother sends her to live with the neighbor. The woman tells her that she has no choice and doesn’t elaborate.

Confused, she does as her mother asks. Her neighbors, leaders of a group called The Hunt, teach her of her future as the Vessel and her quest to find a weapon to help her control the powers granted to Vessels throughout time. As the quest progresses, Ryder is pulled by forces beyond her control to the forests of Maine to the deserts of Egypt. She heals friends and foes alike but cannot salve the pain of her mother leaving her to this. When her mother finally tries to stop her in Cairo, Ryder flees when the woman will not see the value of her mission. She dies while pursuing Ryder into busy traffic. While tragic, Ryder uses her pain to spur her to take control of The Hunt and lead, not be led. She truly becomes the Vessel.

Complete at 84, 000 words, THE VESSEL is a YA contemporary fantasy novel. I look forward to hearing from you.


Anonymous said...

Action of the story? People who support the adversary are constantly trying to stop her.

In this latest revision, where are these people? Where is the adversary? I also don't see any mention of how people are constantly trying to stop her. Except for the confusing references to her mother trying to stop her in Cairo. Huh? Mom was the one who pushed her into this. Why does she suddenly want to stop her? Why do you say Ryder "has been left to this," making it sound like a bad thing, then come back in the next sentence and have Ryder fleeing when her mom can't "see the value of her mission"? Is she pissed about it all or not? And why?

You're still giving us tons of back story without letting us know what the real stakes are or what types of obstacles she's facing. She's "pulled by forces beyond her control.." Tell us what they are. What's compelling her? How is it compelling her? Here, it sounds like she's traveling the world, healing friends and foes (a 12-year-old has foes? In this query that doesn't make sense because you haven't introduced any villains, except maybe her mom). Is that your story? I know it isn't, but only because I've read other versions of this query.

Lastly, I really haven't seen a climax worthy of a high fantasy story in any of these versions. In this one, I don't even know if she finds the staff. Let's see, she takes control of her neighbors -- including that cute boy, I presume -- and starts to lead, becoming the embodiment of the Vessel. Even without the staff? What does it mean to lead and why is that important? Where's the wow? The way this query is written, her mom's dying is the climax. Is that correct?

I really don't want to sound mean in my comments. I want to be helpful. What I think is that you're too close to the story right now and that you aren't really seeing what you're writing. Maybe if you stepped away from the book and the query for a few days and came back to it with fresh eyes, it would all gel for you. I have no doubt you have a story that hangs together; it's just that your queries aren't demonstrating that very well, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

author says:

I'm wondering if I shouldn't give up on this book altogether. In this novel, the opposing forces are varied and there's a traitor, a South African millionaire, a Madagascar military that refuses to believe she can heal a disease, Egytian Army colonel, and finally the Mother who sobers up and gets convinced by the traitor that the Hunt is a cult, how do I fit all that into one query with any clarity? The Adversary is an influence upon them all, but doesn't actively influence them. I suppose I could mention Johnny (traitor), the boy who betrays the the Hunt early on and continually interferes with the mission. I didn't put the climatic battle under the Sphinx because I was worried about the word count. I thought an earlier poster said I could intimate (is that the word?) the end of the story. By taking control of the Hunt, her transformation into a leader is the last step required for her to understand the clues that lead her to the sphinx. It's an emotional barrier that had to be broken.

I'm not sure how to get that across in the query. BTW, I don't think you're mean Phoenix and I appreciate your time.


Anonymous said...

I don't know, David. The new one still has more backstory than action. I don't think an agent HAS to understand the story--I think she has to be interested in it. How Ryder became the Vessel, and how she found out about it, is irrelevant in this context. She IS the Vessel, now what is she going to do about it?

You may not be seeing screams at the starts of books because those books tend not to get published. Miss Snark's archives will back that up. It IS a cliche way to start movies and TV shows, which gives it the perception of a sign of an amateur who's done more TV viewing than reading.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, 150 but I don't see the 'lack of action' in what I put. It's all but a synopsis without the last few chapters. Maybe it's because I haven't slept in 40 hours, I can't be sure.

Heck, as near as I can see, I was even using present tense. How do you have backstory in present tense?

There's got to be something I'm missing. Dang, I'm tired. ::whine::

LOL. Seriously, I described some of the emotional parts of the book. Maybe I'm one of those who just can't write a query. I'll try one more time in a day or so, then I'm giving up.

Maybe I'm not getting across the how or why what I wrote was profound on my character.

Anyway, thanks to everyone still paying attention.


Anonymous said...

Okay, first of all, go take a nap! Only wispy nineteenth-century poets can write on no sleep, and we know how they turned out.

Second: This isn't that long, and I like YA. Want me to do a quick-and-dirty beta read to try and put together a hook for your query? It wouldn't be any real edit, just a read-through with fresh eyes. My email is 150words at gmail dot com in case you're interested.

Things'll look better after some shut-eye.