Thursday, August 23, 2007

Face-Lift 406

Guess the Plot

Return to Empire

1. In World War III, the United States manages to lose Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam to . . . get this - Brazil. Fidel Castro is still dictator in Cuba, and the Philippines are completely under water. But Biff Duckwater plans to change all that.

2. The long voyage was over, and, finally, Alexander was able to return to his throne. But someone was ruling in his stead and claiming to be him, someone more like Alexander than Alexander! WTF?

3. A foundling child leaves his poor but honest foster parents to seek his fortune in the wider world. A seemingly chance encounter with a mysterious stranger, in reality the court magician to the deposed emperor, sets in motion a chain of events that leads our hero on a quest that, though filled with unspeakable dangers, promises a reward of unimaginable scope. Also: two more volumes.

4. 15-year-old Katie is heir to the throne of the Empire. When her father dies, she leaves Earth and warps to the Empire where she does battle with her cousin and with a villain known as . . . the Upstart. Also, an army of geeks.

5. In 2011 scientist Mark Jeffries creates a time machine to bring young Queen Victoria to modern London. But once she arrives, she refuses to quietly settle down with the handsome Mark, and instead tries to engineer a return to Empire for Britain.

6. Dress designers Aunt Tessie and Uncle Perry discover that their daughter, Antonia, is really the Queen of the ancient order of Faeries and their son, Guillaume, is the Staten Island Faerie. Also lesbians.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Katie is fifteen, outgoing and confident and, now that her father's been murdered, the heir to the throne of an empire. [Who was the heir before he was murdered?] Her father was overthrown by her cousin once removed. Katie tries to stay on Earth, where she grew up, but her cousin might destroy it to be rid of her. [Destroy the Earth? That's like burning down your house because there's a mosquito in your bedroom.] [Some 15-year-old girl's cousin has the ability to destroy the Earth? What exactly are his powers?] The safest course is for Katie, her mom, Brandon and Krystal use an elgon – a gray man who is one of the bodyguards of the Emperor - to warp themselves to the Empire. [You seem to think we know who Brandon and Krystal are.]

Katie finds she understands the Empire and its way of doing things far better than she understood Earth. [Where is this Empire?] She sets about building a coalition with which to take power. [She's the heir to the throne. Why doesn't she already have power?] But she is unlike other Emperors in waiting. She will not accept proskenesis, [If you're going to make me look something up in the dictionary, at least have the decency to spell it right.

Me: What's proskenesis? There's no such word, perhaps you meant progenesis?

Me: How do I know? I didn't write it. Plus, I don't know what progenesis is, either. It's precocious sexual reproduction in a trematode worm in which metacercariae or sometimes cercariae may lay eggs capable of repeating the life cycle.

Me: That could be it; what else you got? How about pyrokenesis?

Me: I used to think I had a decent vocabulary. It's the ability to set objects or people on fire through the concentration of psychic power.

Me: I don't think that's it . . . though I think the book would be better if it were. Wait, I've spotted something in Proskynesis. Something about bowing down to people of higher rank. It's a Persian thing.

Me: Hmm. Nah, I don't think so. I'll go with the screwing worms.]

she is polite to slaves, [Excuse me. If you don't want to be whipped within an inch of your life, you'll clean out the horse stalls . . . please.] she treats the elgons as actual people, and she refuses to let her followers undertake military actions.

Katie learns her cousin is a puppet for even darker forces: the civilian slaughters of recent years had a hidden agenda of mind control. The Upstart is distracted by making clones of himself and killing them. [While that is one of the great sentences in query history, I don't know what it means or what it's doing there.] [You seem to think we know who the Upstart is.] She learns She discovers that the elgonen who protect her are her ancestors; former Emperors taken at the moment of death and put into this state. Katie is determined to save and then reform the Empire.

Fending off the Upstart's assassination attempts, she gathers the groups she needs. But when the Upstart kidnaps her to try to make her an elgon, Katie convinces the captain of the capital ship used to control the process to join her cause.

The geeks, commanded by her friend Brandon, [The geeks? Are they geeks?] blanket the area with messages that all taxes paid to the Upstart count for nothing and the same debt will remain to the true Emperor. [Is Katie the true emperor?] The groups who follow her, like food sellers, transport workers, war veterans and followers of the planet's Wiccans, both of whom have many types of jobs, give that section of the Empire its first taste of a general strike. [This is way too long. I can't believe anything in that paragraph is essential to the query.]

The empire sends a fleet and confronts Katie's ships. To stop them Katie has herself made into a living elgon. [The Upstart kidnaped her to make her an elgon; now she's doing it herself?] It's dangerous, but it allows her to phase through reality like they do. She and the elgonen enter her cousin's ships and disable their weapons. [I remember that part from a Star Trek.] Some ships defect to Katie and she gets about a fifth of the Empire under her rule: she can show what kind of Emperor she is.

Return to Empire is a YA SF novel complete at 60,000 words and I understand from your website you handle this type of work. My previous writing credits include seven books including [novel] and [novel]. I enclose the first three chapters as sample.

Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,


A villain who goes by "The Upstart" doesn't leave me quaking in my boots.

You're telling us too much of the plot. Your goal is to interest us in the book. Too much information is as bad as too little. Try limiting yourself to ten sentences. It'll help you see what's necessary and what you can cut. And of course I don't mean ten sentences that list key events; ten sentences that take us logically through the one main story line.

Make it clear what being heir to the throne means. She doesn't seem to have the throne, and goes through hell just to get control of one fifth of the Empire.


Dave Fragments said...

I love the sheer zaniness of all the disparate characters. It's so mindbogglingly YA in it's combination of nerds, clones, warriors, and wiccans.

I find the Elgonen confusing everything. The floating spirits of dead emperors as guards is a really hard concept.

Start out small, with Katie, and work bigger. something like this...

When her Father is murdered, fifteen year old Katie learns that she is Heir-Apparent of the Galactic empire. Her cousin, the Usurper, sends assasins to kill her. So, she hides out on Earth.
Lurking behind the Upstart as the power to the throne is {who} and {this entity} is determined to eliminate Katie, even if it means destroying the Earth. Can Katie piece together a fleet of spaceships and defeat the Galactic Navy and the {Who else but the power behind the Usurper} to save Earth and regain her empire?

And the Victory will sound hollow if you say she only wins 20% of the Empire. That may not be the end of the story, but this novel requires an ending and it has to be a big ending, not a 20% ending.

Also, Katie can never become an "elgonen" again. Well, that is if she actually reverts to human form. Once you use a plot element like that, it loses its power to amaze the reader.

That's what is so much fun about this query, it promises such wildly incoherent occurences and characters as entertainment. YA adventures are action oriented with odd characters and wierd happenings.

Anonymous said...

Dropping out of lurk mode to say that was the best query I've ever read on this site. Whoever wrote that's gonna have to 'fess up.

The line about transport workers and followers of Wiccans was sheer genius.

It tread the delicate line between serious and fake. Perfect!

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

So, I know I don't have the best memory in the world, but I'm wondering if we have seen this query before. That first line sounds strangely familiar... maybe its the trematode worms progenesing in my brain by extrapolating the metacerceria from proskenisis. ;o)

While this was long, I thought it was incredibly interesting and I would love to read it. The whole concept of "elgons" was real cool. Some issues I had was I thought the tone of your first two sentences was a little out of tune with the storyline. It's not exactly a Judy Blume coming of age, it's more sci fi fantasy with a more serious toned storyline since it world wars and espionage etc. But your first two lines sound out of whack with the rest of the tone. I think it should start with a tone in keeping with your storyline like - "The fifteen year old heir to the Empire finds herself in a dangerous dilemma with the murder of her father by her power hungry cousin who will destroy Earth in his attempt to kill her..." Then of the rest of your query, I would only keep the part about her cousin being under darker forces, the elgons (I love that concept) and end it with how all this ends with a fantastic war which helps prove what a wonderful emperess she will be. I think you should take out all the stuff about the geeks and the upstart as it just bogs everything down.

Anonymous said...

I'll comment further when I stop laughing at EE's dialogue.

EE, can't believe you missed one great opening:

Katie finds she understands the Empire and its way of doing things far better than she understood Earth.

She must have lived in Persia.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say, I'll read anything with Biff Duckwater in it.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't EE find clipart for this: The Upstart is distracted by making clones of himself and killing them.

Don't know why I'm associating 'upstart' with 'fruit-tart.' It's reminding me of that PeaceTaker query. Cheesecaker, etc.

I like the elgonen too. They sound like 'The Avatar' which my boys watch. Pretty good show, actually.

It's late and I'm still laughing at all the blue words. But good luck with your query.

Church Lady

none said...

Hmm, I would think that forcing people to pay taxes twice shows us what kind of Empress she's going to be.

Bonnie said...

Oh, darn. I was hoping for the Queen Victoria one. But EE's dialogue with the dictionary made up for it :D

Why is the Upstart making clones of himself if he's just going to kill them? Wouldn't it save a lot of trouble to just not make them in the first place?

The 20% and the learning to elgonize herself make me think that this is the first of a series, and we're just getting going here. The wild creativity might make up for what appears to be a lack of editing skillz.

writtenwyrdd said...

I found this difficult to follow because of the terms which you do not bother to explain. Also, as EE notes, you give us all sorts of plot elements... but there's no real hook here.

I think this sounds like it could be a zany YA read, so keep working on the query.

Unknown said...

It read more like a synopsis than a query. I have to agree with Dave that this could be a really great story because of everything you've pulled in. The problem with doing a query for it is most of that "cool" stuff needs to be left out and you need to convince an agent that you have a satisfying ending.

The mention of taxes is deadly. Yawn. Oh Crap! Mine are due! Panic!!! See what I mean?

Also, if she becomes an elgon isn't she dead? How does she rule the section of the empire she recovers like that? Oh, wait, She's the evil Zombie Lord.

What's the main conflict? How is it resolved by the end of the book? It almost sounds like you broke the book into two stories just to get a reasonable word count and not because there was a climax and conclusion in this one.

Maybe something like:

When her father is murdered by her cousin, fifteen year old Katie must leave Earth and travel to (an alternate universe of Evil Robot Monkeys (ERM) but Benevolent Editors, you can't win them all) to claim the throne. The problem is her cousin (Add name here) has usurped her position. Katie's attempts to regain power uncover (an Evil Zombie Lord) who controls the counsin. Zombie Lord wants (ERM)for himself and (Evil Editors).

To protect her people, Katie will give up her own life to gain the power to stop Zombie Lord. With the help of some nerds from Earth, mutants possessing the souls of the former Emperors and the planet's Wiccans, Katie recovers a foothold in her kingdom. NOW WHAT?

You have a fairly typical fantasy plot - Usurper steals the throne and rightful heir has to get it back. Show me what makes your story unique and different in 10 sentances. It is unique and different so you can do this.


Anonymous said...


are you sure you're not talking about elrons, cruising in from the planet Theta?