Friday, July 03, 2009

Face-Lift 650

Guess the Plot

Hang the Thief

1. Fong the Assassin, Peng the Counterfeiter, Chung the Procurer and Ling the Literary Agent already control four-fifths of organized crime in ancient China. Can they recruit the one man they need to make their underworld empire complete?

2. Vingh Pho came to America to start a new life for his family, but after the store he worked so hard to open is robbed by a local teen, he is willing to risk his own freedom to see justice served.

3. Mr. Wong stole her heart. He wrecked her car. He painted her house black. He emptied her bank account. And he took her dog. That was the last straw. Now Nan Chan has called her gang o' sisters: Mae, Jane, Naomi, and Big Bertha -- to extract commensurate revenge. And these ladies always get their man.

4. Bored with her unfulfilling job as a bard, Ehlana seeks answers from a barbarian priestess who tells her she is the chosen one who will save the world. Immediately she decides to seek different answers, but not before an army of zombies destroys the city. Also, a thief.

5. When the letters U and I turn up missing from alphabet soup cans at crime scenes, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: he's on the trail of a kleptomaniac serial killer who was traumatized by a childhood word guessing game; and he'd better remember to pick up his wife's Andy Warhol comforter from Hang's Dry Cleaning.

6. Won Bak Hang is wanted throughout the kingdom for his brazen acts, including stealing the sacred bronze bells of the sky dragons. But beneath his thieving clothes he's actually Won Lu Bang, the Emperor's favorite son. Can he stop the sky dragons before they attack, or will his last theft be his own life?

7. CEO Lisa Madarossi is convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to thirty years. She's let out in five on a plea bargain, but the only job she can find is hangman. When several of her friends are given the death penalty for corporate malfeasance, she helps them plan a massive prison break at their execution. Hijinks ensue.

Original Version

HANG THE THIEF is an epic adventure about an extraordinary woman living in a medieval/fantasy world who with the help of friends attempts to usurp a demon’s plan to destroy her world.

Ehlana, a gregarious young woman, is adrift in her world without purpose or hope for a better life when gates to other worlds are opened. They cause catastrophic natural disasters and allow mythical monsters to enter the world of Craie. [Nothing improves a woman's opportunity for purpose and a better life like the arrival of mythical monsters.] But, they also allow magic to return, giving mankind the opportunity to do great evil, including raising the undead and great good. [It sounds like great good is a second example of great evil.] [Who are the undead? The dead? If so, are all of the dead undead? Or are just the living dead undead? In other words, can you raise the dead, or just the undead, and if the latter, can the dead become undead and then be raised? This would be less confusing if you'd just call them zombies.]

Ehlana accidentally discovers an evil cult’s plot to assassinate a court official and helps the watch apprehend the coven. Not all the leaders are caught, however, and Ehlana leaves the city for her safety. In Bashkir, Ehlana starts a new life and becomes a bard, [at which point my novel enters what I call its boring phase.] fulfilling her dream of becoming part of a royal court but remains unfilled [Unfilled?] and restless.

The world becomes more dangerous and desperate due to civil unrest [A world in which natural disasters and mythical monsters have just been introduced becomes more dangerous because of a few protest marches?] and from those that would use magic for evil. Dreams haunt Ehlana and a gypsy woman convinces her to seek answers at a temple. She is guided there by others, including a barbarian priestess who believes Ehlana is the fulfillment of prophesy. There visions forewarn the destruction of the world unless the gates are closed and she is advised the fates have chosen her to do so.

However, self-doubt and moral doubts plague Ehlana – she does not believe in fate and questions if this should even be her responsibility. Shouldn’t the queen or priests be responsible? She decides to forsake her destiny but before she does an army of undead destroys Bashkir. Devastated Ehlana travels to another country to seek answers in ancient tomes and songs. [Lemme get this straight. When catastrophic disasters and monsters show up, our heroine flees to Bashkir. When she's told she must save the world from destruction, our heroine says, "Screw that." When an army of zombies attack Bashkir, our heroine flees to another country. Are you absolutely certain you've chosen the best character to focus the story on?] The demon, however, has not been lying dumb in his lair and has learned of Ehlana. Realizing she is the child of prophesy, he will send his most powerful minions to stop her. [I like a villain who has powerful minions.] [I also like a villain who gets mentioned occasionally. Is the demon responsible for everything? Because one could get the impression he has been lying dumb in his lair. Whatever that means. The demon has a lair?] [You make it sound like the demon sent his zombies to destroy Bashkir before he knew of Ehlana. Why?]

Follow this unconquerable spirit as she [flees danger and disaster across the continents.] develops the courage and the skills necessary to save her world. Only two questions remain - [1. Will a hero show up in time to keep Ehlana alive? and 2. Does the demon have an opening for an experienced bard?] who will win this epic tale of good vs. evil and is it too late?

HANG THE THIEF is a 106,000 word fantasy adventure and I am interested in finding an agent to represent it. Thank you for your consideration.


This is too long. And it's all set-up. Here's the only set-up you need: The demon Rokoko has opened the gates to hell, and Ehlana is the one prophesied to close them. No gypsy, barbarian priestess, cult, coven, etc. What's her plan? Who's helping her? Is there any way this bard can defeat a demon who has an army of zombies?
Does she have magic on her side?

Start over. Give yourself nine sentences in which to convey the plot, and make sure at least six of them cover the period after Ehlana accepts that she's the chosen one. Or is that book 2?


Mame said...

Yeah. I don't think it's a good idea to make your protagonist look like a total wimp. Although, my ass would be running away from the undead and their buddies, too.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

I think the missing underworld leader in GTP1 is Ming the Merciless, actually. But we all know the lit agent is the real baddie.

Here's what I know about Ehlana:

- she's gregarious
- she's adrift without purpose or hope for a better life
- she accidentally discovers an evil cult’s plot, and prevents it
- she leaves the city
- she starts a new life as a bard, fulfilling her dream
- she remains un[ful]filled and restless
- she's haunted by dreams
- she lets someone convince her to seek answers at a temple
- she's guided to the temple by others
- she's believed to be the fulfillment of a prophecy
- she's advised she has to close the gates because the fates chose her
- she's plagued by self-doubt and moral doubts (?)
- after undead destroy the city, she goes to another country to read old books

Then you say:
'Follow this unconquerable spirit as she develops the courage and the skills necessary to save her world.'

I see very little in this query that shows she's unconquerable (or even gregarious). I see her as passive - check out how many of those items are things that other people do to her, not things she does herself. (Obviously we're all acted upon at some point, but this character has very little agency.)

The fact that after the only active role she takes (helping prevent the assassination - and even that is by accident!), she's just as adrift annd unfulfilled as she was before, leads me to suspect that she spends this entire novel whining.

What does she WANT? Clearly it isn't 'becoming a bard in the royal court' because that doesn't make her happy. What does she REALLY want, and what's preventing her from getting it, and how she is fighting back?

writtenwyrdd said...

The letter worries me for your sake. It is full of warning signs that there are likely plot problems in this book, particularly the period where you character is bored as a bard.

Now, if this happens at the beginning, fine; just drop the mention out and cut the rest of the stuff in the first couple paragraphs that happens before the book actually opens. But I'm pretty sure from what you wrote that it's in the middle, and to tell an agent that you have this dull, waiting-for-Godot section in the middle will not make them want to read your book.

To understand why, you might refer to any number of places that list the acts of a story and what (generally) is expected to happen in them. This sounds like the second act and it's where all the crises are coming to a boil, the main character has to face challenges and strive toward the goal, etc. We should be seeing complications building, not a period of inaction!

So, my advice is to revise the letter so that it doesn't appear you have a mid-novel snooze. Give us the action of the book, not the inaction.

As a major point, you also have an incorrectly used word, and that might get your query tossed, too. You say "usurp a demon's plan" which is incorrect unless your protagonist hopes to continue the demon's evil plan herself. See, 'usurp' doesn't mean what you think it means. It's defined as "to seize and hold" or "to take over" (with the general understanding that the usurper is grasping for control over that which he has no rights to.)

Matt said...

Deja Vu? This author made the same mistakes I made with my query not too long ago.

1) It's nothing but back story.
2) The protagonist appears passive.
3) It needs an injection of emotion.

When a main character is going through a passive phase, she/he is generally surrounded by strong, assertive characters that give the reader someone to root for. Who are these characters for Ehlana? A sidekick? A love interest? The thief?

Don't show us what Ehlana does to save herself in the beginning, show us how she transforms into a heroine later on.

Anonymous said...

We see zillions of "chosen one" stories etc. Whether the basic plot is a 'classic' or a 'cliche', depending on how well you distinguish it.

This sounds like it has major structure problems. Your protagonist's arc seems a bit of a squiggle, like you kept getting bored with the narrative and taking sharp turns. None of the other characters seems to have an arc. You apparently kept getting bored with your characters and just had protagonist run away or substituted new bad guys for old, experimented with various stock characters that required you to change the local rules of physics, etc.

All that is great stuff for entertaining yourself and for learning to write, but it's not what agents are looking for. More focus would help. Study story structure. Numerous books for screenwriters deal explicitly with structure so if you can't find anything in the writing department, just go over to filmmaking/cinema shelves.

_*rachel*_ said...

Is usurp really the word you want? It generally has a negative connotation. And I’m also a little iffy about gregarious, because she sounds like a wimp later on.

The problem with Ehlana is that she’s drifting through both life and your query. She feels passive, which isn’t how she should sound. You’ve got more about the world and how she’s being guided and feeling blah than what she’s doing about it.

She’s the fulfillment of a PROPHECY, not a PROPHESY. PropheSy is a verb. I’m Evangelical and Grammar Girl—that’s one I notice.

Devasted[,] Ehlana….

The way you’ve written it, Ehlana’s mopey and doesn’t have a chance. Based on the query, I’m betting on the bad guy. Unconquerable makes me snort.

I’m hoping your problem is that you’re trying to portray her as a conflicted hero, someone with character growth, and just not succeeding. If that’s the case, don’t say as much about it.

Where does the thief come in?

You're trying to get a mouse to roar and ending up with a squeaking lion. On the plus side, squeaky lions can be hilarious!

Neelloc said...

Hi Author, I like your voice, and the idea of someone in a fantasy novel trying to find fulfilment in life, maybe you could make that the main thrust of Ehlana's adventures, and ditch the prophesy? I'm finding myself identifying personally with the 'adrift in her world' aspect; it could perhaps be an interesting inversion of the 'propehsy' trope: Ehlana comes to save the day because she feels she has nothing to lose, or simply nothing better to do. (I myself am highly gregarious, and just having had my 29th birthday, still am not sure What I Want to Do When I Grow Up, so maybe I should write a 'motivational' fantasy...)

A nit I have is that AFAIK, 'gypsy' refers to people of a specific race, thus not quite being applicable in fantasy. Others here may know for sure.
I think if you get Ehlana's motivations sorted out, this will make a great read.

Steve Wright said...

Well, I'm going to ask; who's the thief, and does he/she actually get hanged?

150 said...

Very sad this wasn't GTP #1. Whoever came up with that, write it.

Anonymous said...

This is too long. And it's all set-up. Here's the only set-up you need: The demon Rokoko has opened the gates to hell, and Ehlana is the one prophesied to close them. No gypsy, barbarian priestess, cult, coven, etc. What's her plan? Who's helping her? Is there any way this bard can defeat a demon who has an army of zombies? Does she have magic on her side?

Start over. Give yourself nine sentences in which to convey the plot, and make sure at least six of them cover the period after Ehlana accepts that she's the chosen one. Or is that book 2?

Thank-you EE - you are right the query was all set up and it did make Ehlana sound like a whimp - She is far from a whimp. She is a woman who uses creativity and intelligence more than strength, brawn and abilities to succeed - and rather than fate - she has free choice.

No Book 2 has nothing to do with Ehlana ;)

Thank-You Tracey - Ehlana wants to find her place in the world. She wants to have peace, a sense of serenity, but finds that this comes from within, accepting why she was born and pursuing more rewarding pursuits than money, fame or even love.

writtenwyrd - thank-you: Ehlana is bored with being a bard, (and a thief prior to being a bard) because it is not fame, fortune, money or love that ultimately brings her fulfillment but the acceptance of who she is and her purpose in life.

The middle part is not boring but something happens that brings a shift to her thinking and her identity where she rejects what others have told her is important and begins to examine for herself what is important.

Mathew - you are correct. I'm working on it. There are five others from differing faiths and backgrounds that take her out of her comfort zone and makes her examine her beliefs that have left her unfulfilled (got it right this time)

Ehlana was the thief. She was guided to become a thief by her brother. But that left her unfulfilled. She became a bard and part of a royal court. That left her restles but when she accepted herself and embraced who she wanted to be - she develop the strength of will to save the world.

The prophesy has little to do with the story. And I am taking it out.

This is what I wanted: An ordinary woman faced with extrodinary circumstances perserveres and survives to not only save herself but the world because she develops the strength of will to make hard choices, skills and because she has friends that not only believe in her but love her as well.

Final Comment: Steve - Ehlana is the thief. And yes and no.

I apologize for not responding sooner - I was busy kissing and hugging nieces and a nephew, loving siblings and pulling each of them aside to tell each of them they were my favorite.

EE. Do-Over 100 on the way.


Matt said...

An ordinary woman faced with extrodinary circumstances perserveres and survives to not only save herself but the world because she develops the strength of will to make hard choices, skills and because she has friends that not only believe in her but love her as well.

Remember that generalities have no place in a query. We want to know specific events from the story.

By the way, who's the bad guy? What is his/her/it's relationship to Ehlana?

I'm looking forward to the rewrite.

Anonymous said...

mathew: The bad guy is the demon who opens gates to other worlds who intent is to destroy the world or enslave it. (because that is what demons do)

His intent is non-personal - he comes to understand ehlana has the ability to close the gates and his intent is to stop whoever stands in his way.

I am looking forward to the rewrite as well.


Unknown said...

Dear Author:

WIMP not whimp.

Anonymous said...

Revised Query -

Dear Agent,

When mysterious gates are opened in the world of Craie, magic returns, bringing mankind the ability to wield great power for great good, but it does not come without a price. The gates also allow mythical beasts to enter the world, bringing death and destruction, while others learn to use the magic for evil, including raising the dead.

Ehlana, a young, gregarious street performer, turned thief, has very little interest in the gates and magic, or in fact anything beyond her self, until she discovers it is a demon that has opened the gates and it is her that must close them. Now she must travel across Craie to discover how to do this as she encounters witches, bandits, harpies, and the undead, while being hunted by the demon’s most powerful minions.

After Ehlana learns how to close gates by researching ancient texts and deciphering clues hidden songs, she must overcome her greatest challenge - finding the faith and courage needed to unselfishly save her world. Thankfully she does not have to stand alone for her greatest asset, her friends, stand with her.

Ehlana is a powerful character not for the skills she masters or the life she lives or even for the destiny that she cannot escape, but because of her love for life and the joy she brings to world. Whether she is sitting on the desk of a watchman, explaining how she has done nothing wrong, when in fact she has, building the spirits of a demoralized army or facing off against Death Knight it is this unconquerable spirit that makes her an unforgettable heroine. And, it is her joy for life which in turns brings hope - the fulfillment of her destiny.

HANG THE THIEF is a 106,000 word epic novel and I thank you for your consideration. I hope you would like to know about Ehlana and her world and am prepare to send you the completed manuscript or any part as you desire.



writtenwyrdd said...

Author, the effort is much improved, but there are numerous grammatical problems here. Misused commas, run on sentences and et cetera are not going to sell your story.

And even though this is a much clearer letter, the protagonist's motivation is not here. She doesn't find the motivation to save the world because you tell us she has to find it. Not a promising thing to have way down in your letter.

Anonymous said...

Better than the 1st version but perhaps you could make it more focused and less listy. Finding clues in old texts was all the rage after you-know-which was a best seller forever, but that fad has [thankfully] passed. While your use of that devise may be brilliant in the book, the query makes me wonder how episodes of scholarly research will fit with the level of activity established by your list of monsters, etc.

My guess is you don't need to mention the text and song clues in the query. Those are minor details. It's like saying a book is good because Miss Marple finds a clue in a teacup.

I'd rather be more informed about the plot-critical but unspecified "great power" humans acquired in paragraph 1. It's not clear if everyone can suddenly fly or turn water into fish or blow things up or what.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

The effect is good, and there's a feeling of voice that I like. All in all, i'd probably read the book.

The paragraph explaining why the main character is intersting or powerful serves no purpose. It has some interesting information, but it doesn't provide any valuable information. That space could be used to greater benefit doing something else.

Matt said...

It was much clearer this time around, but there's alot of needless telling. The ironic thing about telling is that it doesn't actually tell us anything, it's just wasted word space. We need to be shown.

I know you're fond of the unconquerable spirit line, but it has to go. You also tend to list some things when one example will do.

The line about the friends is nice, but it's just more telling. Unless they take an active role in the query, they can be omitted.

The description of Elhana is somewhat long. Perhaps try something like, "Elhana is a selfish thief..."

We're getting there. Your persistence impresses me.

Steve Wright said...

I agree with Matthew and Dominique - the penultimate paragraph is telling us about the character's good qualities, not showing them. You might think about deleting it, and inserting the key points ("unconquerable spirit" if you must) into the plot outline paragrphs preceding.