Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Face-Lift 549

Guess the Plot

Morally Ambiguous

1. Vicar Smith's sermon goes completely awry when he advises the parish to love their neighbor. Who knew an orgy would follow?

2. Which is better: killing a murder victim before the slasher does, or letting nature take its course? For Bricely Adams, it's no philosophical question. As a daughter of the Angel of Death, she can kill someone just before their murderer does. But how will she keep her father happy?

3. John Swishem came out of law school vowing to defend the poor. When he realizes that it's more profitable to defend the rich, he must strike a balance between greed and ethics, before his sister, Sister Cecilia, destroys his soul with guilt. With help from his first client, Tony "The Tuna" Pescatore, John learns that morals don't have to be clear and precise, and sometimes valuable electronics really do fall off of trucks.

4. Nodammo Ebonlocke is a morally ambiguous character, and this doesn't sit well with the Conglomerate of Cliched Fantasy Characters, who are out to "normalize" all fantasy worlds and characters. Can Nodammo maintain her individuality? Or will she be killed by vegan elves?

5. Thaddeus Dought wondered if he should run for Congress. He was qualified. He'd just snagged a commissioner's seat in the fifth largest county in the state. He was halfway to a college degree. The only problem was the morality issue; giving up his street drug business would seriously compromise his income.

6. Really, Julie Hatrack is a nice girl. But the rest of the small town of Houghman, AZ thinks the schoolmarm is a loose woman after she saves a stranger with a new-fangled rescue maneuver she's read about. Hilarity ensues as she tries to teach mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the doctor, the judge and the local sheriff.

Original Version

Dear Great and Mighty Evil Editor,

[Personalisation? Maybe. Might work better if I started out quick.]

Nodammo Ebonlocke's business card has "Morally Ambiguous Sorceress" on it in big gold letters, but that doesn't stop heroes from Quest(TM) trying to take away her breathing priviliges.

While Nodammo would like to stay alive, the conglomerate of cliches and poorly-drawn characters [If this is an actual organization, capitalize the words beginning with CCPC; if it isn't, "conglomerate" is a strange word to use for a non-organization.] doesn't agree, especially with regards to those who refuse to be "normalised". [That last phrase doesn't match the rest of the sentence; maybe it should be: especially as she refuses to be "normalised".] After she's offed one hero too many and [been] marked as a "deviant plot thread", Quest(TM) gets fed up and sends a level seven point three five five demolition crew of vegan elves, lewd barbarians and feisty princesses in the direction of Nodammo's amusement park-cum-tower, intending to turn the Ebonlocke family home into a pile of rubble. After all, everyone knows that the evil fortress collapses after the villian's death; the reverse should be just as effective.

Enlisting the help of the locals and a tea elemental, Nodammo escapes with her two employees, Agnurlin the skeletal butler and Victor the black dragon. Wise man say: "One does not annoy the morally ambiguous", and making heroes spill scalding caffeinated bevrages on themselves is just the beginning. Homeless and pursued by heroes, Nodammo travels across Fantasyland, rallying the disenfranchised, disaffected and dissatisfied among Fantasyland's inhabitants against Quest(TM).

However, something much more sinister is afoot. Witnessing the effects of "normalisation", Nodammo sees whole kingdoms turned into bad renditions of overdone sword-and-sorcery settings--their cultures dismantled, peoples' individuality [People's. I'm not sure peoples have much individuality.] broken in favour of monolithic "racial alignments", and whole populations established with the sole purpose of serving "plots", "protagonists" and "issues".

Armed with the power of well-brewed tea, Victor's business acumen and Agnurlin's knowledge of the mysterious workings of butler-space, Nodammo has to discover the dark truth about Quest(TM) and its president, the mysterious Mr. Smiley--before "deviants" like her all have their breathing priviliges revoked.

At X words, [First of all, that's awfully short for a novel, and secondly, why are you using Roman numerals?] Morally Ambiguous is a lighthearted fantasy in the vein of Robert Asprin's Myth series and an enjoyable read by both newcomers and veterans of the genre.

Thank you for your consideration.


Wise man say: Typos don't help your cause. Your spelling: priviliges (twice), bevrages, villian's.

I'm not crazy about mentioning breathing privileges twice.

I also find (TM) annoying.

There seem to be some good ideas here. Quest is ruining fantasy worlds by normalizing the characters--making them all cliches. Nodammo is out to stop them and discover their diabolical motives. However, I think the query goes way overboard. In attempting to be creative, you're making it hard to grasp the plot. Some suggestions:

Make it the Conglomerate of Cliched Characters. Cliches alone wouldn't be members of a conglomerate.

Make it "with the sole purpose of serving "plots." Lists are boring, and you have two in the same sentence.

Delete "level seven point three five five." We don't know what it means, and it sounds like a gaming term, which is the last thing you want.

Delete: After all, everyone knows that the evil fortress collapses after the villian's death; the reverse should be just as effective.

Delete: Wise man say: "One does not annoy the morally ambiguous", and making heroes spill scalding caffeinated bevrages on themselves is just the beginning. Voice is fine, but apply it to major plot points; spilled coffee isn't one.

Delete: peoples' individuality broken in favour of monolithic "racial alignment." This shortens or eliminates a list, and the phrase is vague and boring.

In short, reading a query shouldn't be work. Keep it simple and keep it interesting.


AR said...

EE's right, of course; and yet this strikes me as quite funny. Much better, if done well, than 'Enchanted.'

EB said...

The concept sounds interesting, and it's not even a genre I read. However, the query was frankly irritating. Too many quotation fingers. And when you dropped in "racial alignments," potentially subtle and clever became heavy handed. In a fight against stereotypes (albeit fantastic ones), you use "Wise man say." (i.e., Confucious/ancient Chinese proverb say...) Kind of funny, that.

Anonymous said...

Heh. The author here.

Yeah, I suppose I went overboard in trying to show the humour. "Quest(TM)"--the trademark symbol was a running gag from Terry Pratchett-as a parody, there are plenty of references to other works in the genre. I also tried to use the (TM) to show its corporate nature, something that's obviously alien to the genre.

I don't know--I was thinking that people would be wondering how making people spill coffee on themselves could save Fantasyland, but yeah, after EE's comments--it is a bit over-the-top. Which is a bit hard, balancing putting the voice and humour in the query but not causing eye-rolling.

Thanks a lot! i'll be back with a revised query soon!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this plot is a great idea! But I had no idea what the plot was until EE told me. Very cool idea but the letter needs work. Maybe a little too snarky.

WouldBe said...

This sounds like it could be a winner and lots of fun. Who Killed Roger Rabbit comes to mind. EE had many good points. Many of the issues cited might be considered overworking the query.

For example: "Nodammo sees whole kingdoms turned into bad renditions of overdone sword-and-sorcery settings." This slows the reading. 'Overdone' is sufficiently damning; 'bad renditions of' is overkill in Query Space.

Also, IMHO, there are too many scare quotes and stuff like: 'park-cum-tower' and 'Wise man say:'. This makes me worry that the ms will be chock full of tiring punctuation. (I may be the king of tiring punctuation, so I understand the temptation.)

Good luck with it.
--Bill H.

Anonymous said...

This is not a genre I usually read, but I would definitely like to read this book.

EE covered everything that was of concern to me...except, maybe, the title. The title seems a little heavy handed to me, but I don't have much familiarity with this genre so...

Looks like fun. I can't wait to see it in print.

Dave Fragments said...

What you did in the query is the equivalent of having the actor look into the audience and speak to them. officially called "breaking the proscenium." That doesn't work for a query. It rarely works in books and I've known only a few stageplays where it does work.

The last Pratchett I read was Hogsfather and as much fun as all the characters were in it, the characters, they never, ever once broke character and talked to the reader.

Anything this satirical, like Pratchett or Douglas Adam's HHGG plays it straight. The author can't be seen as giggling and chuckling in the background. It looks manipulative. Although we do giggle and chuckle when we write comedy.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Love the voice you captured in your query. I hope it continues in the ms. I think you've gotten plenty of 'fix it' suggestions.

E.D. Walker said...

Sounds like some good ideas. Bit like Ffordes' Thursday Next books but with a Fantasy concentration. There are some funny flashes of voice here but its too long and overwritten. By the end I felt I was slogging through. But it down to two paras of plot and tighten up what you keep.

I look forward to the revision. :D

Coming down to size said...

I think this story sounds really fun. Just a suggestion but perhaps rather than (TM) which is very distracting because of the () maybe use Inc or Ltd or something similar which is still corporate driven just without the brackets.

I love Terry Pratchett and I think there is always room in the market for this type of satire.

Anonymous said...

Lots of good stuff here, especially for those of us who have experienced far too many 'bad renditions of overdone..." (seriously! I have almost given up on the whole genre).

HOwever, I agree the query tries a bit too hard to be entertaining. Pare it down to a few particularly telling mockeries and clarify the actual plot, and I'll not only read a revised query letter, but I'll volunteer to be a first-reader.

talpianna said...

I agree with the majority: good plot idea, bad query. I was also reminded of Tom Holt and Diana Wynne Jones. If you try to make your world more natural and self-consistent, the occasional wacky stuff will be more delicious, like the chocolate chunks in Cherry Garcia.

Anonymous said...

Author, you did well here! Nice work.

...dave conifer (I'm also anon 12:05)

none said...

It reminded me of too many things.

If I were an agent/editor reading this, I'd like some evidence of the author's familiarity with the genre they're satirising, rather than vague generalities :).

fairyhedgehog said...

I liked this just as it is: it's fresh, funny and I want to read it. I also liked the references to role playing games. Having said that, it won't hurt to tighten it up a bit.

I wouldn't mention Asprin. This looks more like Diana Wynne Jones to me (The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and The Dark Lord of Derkholm).

Leah said...

Well, I liked most of it as is, but I'm solidly in your target demo. (I may be female, but I DM'd my AP Comp Sci's game of D&D). I like the gaming references (benwah, "racial alignments" is a standard term in RPG's, not a metaphor too far), but you do need to not pitch the query ar me.

But if any minions want some clever, 4th wall breaking commentary on RPGs while we wait for you to get published, I reccommend Order of the Stick

talpianna said...

Urchin, those are exactly the books I was thinking of!

batgirl said...

I would read this. It sounds like fun, and in the vein of (as mentioned) Diana Wynne Jones "Dark Lord of Derkholm", and Tom Holt's "My Hero", and of course, Order of the Stick. *waves at the people who have that quirky sense of humour*
The query does need tightening, and alas, you can't count on the levels joke making sense to the agent or editor you're subbing to - unless it's someone like Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor.