Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Guess the Plot
One Night in Magadan
1. When an invasion force from the Madlands attacks the city of Magadan, the massacre is on. One common minstrel joins up with a band of strangers--not to try to defeat the overwhelming forces, but to run like hell in hopes of surviving . . . one night in Magadan.
2. Kincaid O'Sheefe, Ireland's top secret agent, is assigned to track and capture the Assassin, an ex-KGB official turned hired killer. O'Sheefe travels to Magadan where he has a one-night-stand with his contact--who happens to be the very person he's trying to capture. And he's next on her hit list.
3. One night in Bangkok, and the world's your oyster. One Night in Magadan and the world's more like the mussel you were going to throw out because the shell was open but then you figured you were cooking it so it would be safe to eat but when you were wheeled into the ER that night the triage nurse who was really smokin' hot asked you what kind of idiot you were to eat tainted shellfish and you knew she'd never go out with you and a blow job was out of the question. It's that kind of novel.
4. Terry Winslow has everything that a man could want: family, fame, and fortune. But when his wife hires a new maid, Terry finds himself longing for something more. Terry's attempts to woo the maid prove futile. Eventually, she quits her job and heads to Spain. Three months later, Terry receives a note that the maid is ready to yield to him. Now Terry must decide if he's willing to risk it all for . . . One Night in Magadan.
5. Sultry. Sleazy. Itching from a skin rash you don't want to look at too closely. Magadan is all these things, and for ex-Vietnam vet Bruce Bottomwell, it's also the steamy pit where he finds the rent boy he left behind in Saigon. Then Bruce gets shanghaied at a bar and drafted into the Magadan army, and finds the commanding officer is his rent boy grown up. Can he rescue himself - and his dreams?
6. Visit sunny Magadan and die. On her "I'll spend my inheritance any way I want tour," supermodel Tiffany discovers old Nukes in the hands of new terrorists with plans to create WW3. Can she thwart the terrorists, or will they drown her in the Sea of Okhotsk?
Dear [wise and all-powerful literary agent]
In the eternal battle between light and darkness, sooner or later the bad guys win. [If somebody eventually wins, can the battle truly be called "eternal"?]
Aust is a common minstrel in Magadan, the largest city in the world – a bustling international metropolis whose greatest hero, Aidan Trevanik, has waged a war against the power-hungry Lich Lords [Bet you can't say "Lich Lords" 5 times really fast.] of the Madlands. Aust is entertaining revelers on the night that Aidan’s army returns to the city from a supposedly victorious campaign – except that Aidan is dead, and the returning soldiers are in fact an invasion force from the Madlands disguised by a magical illusion. As the army of the Lich Lords tears the city apart from within and the victory celebration turns into a massacre, Aust finds himself on the run with a band of strangers [Did he just emerge from a trance or a coma? When an invasion force is massacring everyone in the city, you run like hell; you don't "find yourself" on the run.] whose only goal is to escape with their lives as Magadan burns to the ground.
ONE NIGHT IN MAGADAN is a fast-paced [That's it? We're done with the plot? Our main character heads for the hills while his city burns to the ground? The Lich Lords win?] [If you wrote Lord of the Rings, Gandalf's fireworks would burn Hobbiton to ashes at the beginning, Frodo would die in the flames, and Sauron would rule Middle Earth by chapter three.] 80,000 word [80,000 words about one night? Is this a trilogy, with One morning in Magadan and One Afternoon in Magadan yet to come?] “low fantasy” novel for an adult audience. It is the story of the worst night of Aust’s life, a tale of friendships formed and loves lost in a whirlwind of nightmare and disaster. It is a story of death and sacrifice, of faith in the face of overwhelming darkness, and the choices people make when all hope is gone. [I call it low fantasy because it's a downer.] [Fantasy types based on height:
shallow grave fantasy
pit of hell fantasy]
I would be happy to send the current complete draft of the novel for you to review. Thank you for your time and attention.
I don't expect happily ever after in everything I read, but if you describe your book using words like nightmare and disaster, death, overwhelming darkness, all hope is gone, etc., and the book basically recounts the worst night of the main character's life, and the main character is just a common minstrel, what's the selling point? Couldn't you at least make him an uncommon minstrel? I'm more likely to wade through the worst night of Bob Dylan's life than that of some guy with a garage band in Scarsborough.
We don't need to know Magadan's ranking in size among cities of the world.
Assuming one of the following happens after the invasion, it deserves a paragraph in the query:
1. They escape and plot Magadan's revenge on the Lich Lords.
2. They're captured, tortured and impaled in what's left of the city square.
3. They escape and form a traveling minstrel show, achieving moderate success including an appearance on Letterman.
4. Aust wakes up and says, "Man, I gotta stop eating Lorraine's chilidogs at bedtime."
Posted by Evil Editor at 8:25 AM
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First of all, I had the same reaction to the first sentence that EE did. Perhaps you could change it to: "In the eternal war between light and darkness, sooner or later the bad guys will win a battle."
All I can say about the rest of it is that you need to give us more details. At this point, I'd pass on reading it because there's simply nothing in the query that sounds particularly exciting (which I suspect can't really be the case if you have an eternal war between good and evil going on). Give us more.
Where can I sign up for the pits of hell fantasy? (Sigh) it's been a rough week.
The plot you've outlined is the very very start of something — something that might sound interesting if you'd told us what it was.
Aidan vs his enemies of old. That's all I have so far. It's an OK setup — but what happens?
I'm not sure what the hook is.
I want to write some pit of hell fantasy. Sounds like fun.
I think the query letter is good technically speaking, but the story as presented is not that interesting.
You've got the form, now we need the voice and the excitement.
Ooh. Okay. After reflection I actually think I understand the thrust of this novel. The whole plot is whether he makes it out of the city alive, right? The way the query is phrased, it sounds like he manages to run and then has nothing else to do. Describe it in terms of stakes and obstacles. "In order to avoid being burned alive, Generic Bard must make it through enemy armies, fallen buildings, and a crush of terrified people to escape the hometown that has become a deadly prison."
Scrap all of the generic crap including your tagline and most of the third paragraph. Focus exclusively on Aust and what he's facing.
And change the title to Escape from Magadan, so it sounds more like action than porn.
GTP #3 was hysterical.
This sounds like the "Cloverfield" approach: how does Joe Schmoe experience some huge disaster. I suppose it could be interesting if you stress the character (as 150 suggests) and back away from the "epic" nature of things. You've got all set up here. And scrap that first line--evil's inevitably going to win? If it's 80,000 words of shit constantly hitting the fan, at least offer us a chance at a shower afterwards.
What the heck is "low fantasy?"
I'd take on some eye-level fantasy.
I agree with the above comments. We don't get a sense of what the 'hero' does, except run.
Didn't Magadan used to play for the Mets?
Gee, EE, you are hot today.
This one's for the record book.
I must add that two years ago, I saw GTP #5 as a gay porn videotape with Zak Spears and Rod Stickler. It had a cameo by R. Lee Ermy's mouth.
(and if you believe that, I have some swampland in Florida for sale.)
Yeah, and now he's the hitting coach for the Red Sox.
As someone who once proposed writing a novel about what happens if the Dark Evil Overlord were to ever actually win, I was very interested in this query. I think 150's advice is right on. The main thing is to clarify whether this is the setup or the plot. If the latter, present the obstacles to escape so that we can care about our low fantasy hero.
Shallow grave fantasy? Why not...
Is eye-level fantasy at counter height, or at the height one would hang mysterious family pictures in the secret room?
All you've told me how and why the story starts. I want to know what happens to the protagonist after that, why it's important to them, and why I should care about it.
I want specifics too, not generalizations or conclusions. If you tell me what happens, then I can judge for myself whether it's "the worst night of Aust’s life, a tale of friendships formed and loves lost in a whirlwind of nightmare and disaster. It is a story of death and sacrifice, of faith in the face of overwhelming darkness, and the choices people make when all hope is gone." Likewise, I'll draw my own conclusions about pacing from the sample pages you send.
"The comestible armies of the Cheese Lord invade Magadan at the height of what's supposed to be a wine tasting. When his girlfriend is transformed into a ravenous Roquefort, musician Aust is forced to choose between consuming her and helping a band of refugees escape the city. The only way to achieve both is to accept transformation into a spicy Emmenthal, but once he does that he knows that no one he loves will be safe."
EE: "If you wrote Lord of the Rings, Gandalf's fireworks would burn Hobbiton to ashes at the beginning, Frodo would die in the flames, and Sauron would rule Middle Earth by chapter three."
Funny, that's almost exactly how I described the book to people while I was working on the original draft.
I see I've got some work to do. Thanks for all the tips, guys.
Even though I've got a fantasy setting, this book is more "Night of the Living Dead" than "LotR". It's kind of got the horror movie plot structure: group of characters stuck in a (haunted house/zombie-infested mall/city overrun by monsters) fight off the bad guys and fight among themselves until they start getting killed off one by one. I didn’t go further into the plot because I was afraid that to do so I’d have to introduce 5 more characters in the query letter.
Question: Should I do that anyway? Aust comes across as kind of a bland “everyman” at first glance, and his comrades are a little more colorful.
As for the Cloverfield thing: I still haven’t watched it, but I saw the trailer halfway through my 2nd draft, and I remember thinking something like “Those F$%#ing bastards! That’s my novel!”
Oh well. So it goes.
FYI: “Low fantasy” is the sub-genre that deals with mercenaries, cutthroats, thieves, and scumbags, as opposed to “High fantasy” which deals with magical princes, Chosen Ones, and happy happy hobbitses who save the universe. Since no one seems to get that, though, I guess I’ll drop the qualifier.
Dark fantasy might be better. Low, according to Wikipedia, has some similarities to your story, but doesn't have the clear-cut evil/good dichotomy of high fantasy. In view of your first sentence, I would guess you do have it. Also, low fantasy has minimal or no magic, while magic seems to be the key to Magadan being overrun.
Two comments: Evil overlord wins - it worked in Escape from New York. Second - I sense a 'pits of hell' writing challenge coming on. How about it, oh Evil One?
Yeah, he should totally make his own chilidogs.
You have violated the linguistic aesthetic:
Aidan is Gaelic.
Trevanik is vaguely Slavic.
Lich is Old English and means "corpse."
Aust is a brand of air freshener.
EE, you forgot "knee-high fantasy," the kind that features the Little People: sprites, leprechauns, brownies, and Kiersten.
I think "low fantasy" is the kind in which the protagonist is incompetent or a fool, like Terry Pratchett's Rincewind.
Silver-Nosed One: If you are writing the prose version of a slasher movie, you forgot one major character--the one they find when they investigate a noise in the cellar: "It's Only, a cat."
I'm always cheering for the Evil Overlords, so the idea of roasting a hobbit on the grill is appealing. They don't need much basting; they're usually plenty fat.
Tal, your comments on name origins is spot on. I write contemporary stuff, but I try to be attuned to such things. There aren't a lot of Colin Rabinowitzes out there.
As for knee-high fantasy...that makes me think, ahem, school girl and stockings.
Dick Deadeye says or sings: "Silent be, It was the cat!" in HMS Pinafore.
In my defense, the mixing of linguistics in the names of Magadan natives was a deliberate choice on my part, and in the book I go into Aidan's mixed heritage the first time he's mentioned. (I'm dropping him entirely from my next draft of the query anyway.)
Liches are corpses, of course, but I do confess to having Stan Lee disease - I alliterate too much.
As for Aust: my hand to god I never saw an "Oust" commercial until well after the character's name was fixed in my head. When it did, it pissed me off more than the Cloverfield trailer.
As long as we're on names - yeah, I know there's a real "Magadan" in Siberia. It'll be changed in the next draft - I just liked the way it sounded.
Evil Editor has read (maybe wrote?) 'Bored of the Rings' :D
I agree that the plot needs more. Specifically, a strong goal for the common minstrel.
Staying alive until dawn is all well and good, but if you don't have something tangible to accomplish, like writing the true history of the Sack of Magadan in blank verse to get you famous in surrounding countries, or smuggling out the magickal whatsit that Magaden has been protecting for a thousand years, why bother? You could just throw yourself off a handy battlement and get it over with.
Big Trouble in Little China?
I'm seeing Poseidon Adventure here or Earthquake, so I don't necessarily agree the MCs need more of a focus than to get out alive. However, the setup of a group of strangers thrown together in a battle for survival is a familiar one -- take for instance, Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake and that movie where global warming resulted in the icing of America.
So the writing will need to be especially strong and the characters especially memorable. And I'm not sure how much a query can get across characterization. But maybe something like the following, replacing all [the cliche stuff] with the brilliant, unique stuff YOUR story contains.
Sometimes it's the good guys that eat it.
When an army of living corpses is magicked into the bustling metropolis of Magadan, a citywide celebration turns into a slaughtergound.
Caught together by circumstance and trapped in a tavern in the heart of the city, six strangers fight for survival in [a whirlwind of nightmare and disaster]. But even in [the face of overwhelming darkness], [hope and faith flourish]: [a forbidden love flowers, a coward finds courage, and a common minstrel learns that music can be plucked from the strings of the heart as easily as from the strings of his lyre.]
The goal of the six is simple: to live to see another day. The reality: only two will make it through the night.
At 80,000 words, Magadan Twilight is ultimately a story about the choices people make when all hope is lost.
I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.
Lovin' the GTPs for this one.
EE, you were smokin' today, as was Tal! Now put down the funny fags and back away -- slowly, both of you ...
Jeb--Or carrying the Palladium with you to found a new city as Troy burns to ashes around you?
Yeah, I meet people called Orrec, Gry and Canoc every day. And that's just from the last Fantasy novel I read. What was the last one you read?
Nice one, as always, Phoenix.
re: the ethnicity of names
People do mix names. My Jewish husband and his siblings all have Americanized Gaelic names. My Chinese neighbor across the street gave his daughters Anglo names while the Anglo couple at the bottom of the hill gave their new daughter a name that's popular in the Brazilian community.
Granted, a fictional world might need more consistency than the real world. It gets held to higher standards.
Phoenix: I think you got the gist of where I was going. The threat against the characters is pretty much a constant force throughout the novels, and the plot develops not from a series of obstacles or hunting for a McGuffin, but from the conflicts and interations of the characters themselves.
As far as giving Aust a more concrete goal, I'm going to make it more explicit in the next draft of the query that he's not just running away from the bad guys, but he's actually trying to guide the other characters out of harm's way, and that in addition to trying to save himself, he's also leading as many others as he can out of the city.
Also, your suggestion for a title change actually comes pretty close to the one I thought of last night while recovering from my Evil Editing. "Nightfall in Majadan", take two, coming soon to a blog near you!
Oh yeah, I'm changing the 'g' to a 'j', just to avoid confusing those in eastern Russia.
"At 80,000 words, Magadan Twilight is ultimately a story about the choices people make when all hope is lost."
Pithy. Well played, phoenix.
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