Thursday, April 29, 2010

Face-Lift 762

Guess the Plot

Courage of Story

1. An autobiographical tale of a life spent pushing fiction to increasingly hostile, and sometimes violent publishers.

2. The truth is revealed as the cowardly lion documents what really happened after his fateful encounter with a young girl from Kansas. Also, a recipe for stew using a tin pot and straw tinder.

3. A simple girl, a king and a mage have a story to tell, but first they must find someone who has the courage to listen. Do you? What about you?

4. Eighteen year old Tom Story cuts a dashing figure in his WWII uniform. At home, he uses a sob story and the uniform to bag hot nurses, but once he hits the front-lines everybody will see . . . the courage of Story.

5. Google Random Title Generator. Click on the top Googlition. Click on Give me some titles! Do you like the third one down? If not, request more titles. Do you like the third one down now?

6. When an editor receives a query letter for a book whose title seems to have been created with a random word generator, he soon realizes that he will have to write most of the fake plots. Can he get past the bad mood this is sure to put him in before he reads the letter, or is the author doomed to endure a scathing critique?

Original Version

Dearest Evil Editor,

Many people can speak without fear, but how many can listen? [Actually, almost everyone can listen without fear. Unless what they're listening to is the dentist's drill or the footsteps of an obsessed serial killer coming up the creaky stairs. Or a shark.] [Do sharks make sounds? I've never heard one, but that may be because the sounds were drowned out by the screams of the people the sharks were devouring.] [Opening with a vague rhetorical question is bad enough, but:

1. A primary feature of a rhetorical question is that the answer is obvious.
2. You apparently believe the obvious answer to your rhetorical question is Very few people.
3. The actual answer is Everybody.

You're better off not asking the question and starting with the next paragraph.]

Raven is a formidable mage with a very gloomy outlook on life. Thani is the youngest, but also wisest, king his realm has yet seen. [Which, considering that he's fifteen, doesn't say much for the wisdom of the previous kings of Loonyland.] And Syvrus is a relatively simple girl with a relatively simple wish: to become immortal. [No point modifying everything with "relatively," unless you explain what they're relative to.] Together, these three characters tell a tale of power, of love, and most of all, of the courage to listen. [I don't even know what that means. This is the part of the query where you're supposed to summarize the tale. All you've done is list three characters. What do the characters do? Who tries to stop them from attaining their goals?]

Courage of Story [The title is bland. I got a couple decent ones from the random title generator: Wizard of Words and Thief of Silence. Even knowing nothing about what happens in your book, I recommend these titles over Courage of Story.] is a fantasy novel (directed at young adults) about a world of mythical creatures and incredible mysteries, and can be compared to other fantasy works such as “Eragon” or the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. However, unlike these novels, Courage of Story is not about a fight of good vs. evil. Rather, it is about the destruction of [evil] despotic traditional powers [by the forces of good], as well as sudden and powerful disillusionment. [This is all vague. What, specifically happens in the book?] This novel is completed and 135,000 words in length.

My name is _________________, and I am a second-year student at McGill University – with an avid interest in fantasy writing, directed at young adults. I have written a proposal for my novel entitled, Courage of Story. I would like to invite you to review my proposal (or my manuscript itself) and consider representing me. [Get rid of that paragraph.]

I noticed your impressive credentials during my search for a literary agent. I would be honored to have you represent me. If you are interested in my novel, please contact me as soon as possible. [You haven't said anything about your plot; how can I be interested?] I will be showing my proposal (or manuscript) to only one agent at a time. You can reach me at ______ or by email at __________. [That paragraph can go too.]

Yours truly,


Start over. Write an 8- to 10-sentence plot summary focusing on your main character's goal, problem, solution. Make it specific, and make it sound so interesting we just have to read the book. Then just say ___________ is a 135,000-word YA fantasy that can't be much worse than Eragon.


fairyhedgehog said...

There, and I was sure it would be GTP #4. #3 was hysterical.

I always feel bad commenting on GTPs when I've nothing to offer the author of the query but I have nothing useful to add to EE's excellent advice. Sorry author!

Anonymous said...

Lots of issues here, which EE covers nicely. You should read more examples of queries here and on agent blogs before re-writing this.

1. The title is weak and meaningless.

2. You need a plot.

3. Comparisons to poorly written books by teenagers are not advised.

4. You need a plot.

5. Actually, lots of people can't speak without fear. It's a common source of anxiety.

6. Why would a "simple" person want to be immortal?

7. You need a plot.

Elizabeth Janette said...

EE - your comment about the title generator has led to an entire class period devoted to creating fake plots for the bad titles I generated. Who knew my 4th and 5th graders were so brilliant?

Dave Fragments said...

Many people can speak without fear, but how many can listen?

Listen without fear? A person can be taught to listen to what other people say and then act appropriately. It's part of the training you can get for conducting public meetings and compliance audits of quality management systems.
Not the material of a novel.

Stripped of adjectives, you tell us: Raven is a mage. Thani is king. Syvrus wants to be immortal.
Mythical creatures, mysteries, despotic powers and disillusionment occur.

I can't even guess how those three characters interact nor can I guess what they have to do with the other items.

Tom Bridgeland said...

EE's very last line was spot on. Eragon. For a 15-year-old writer it was a great novel.

Despotic governments are evil, unless your definition of evil is different than mine. I suppose you mean there is no Sauron or Dark Lord for the hero to fight.

By the way, who is your hero? (In the story I mean) Who is the villain? Not the king, if he is so wise, but some sort of despot.

Joanna Hoyt said...

I think there's a story in here that might interest me. The courage-to-listen part makes sense to me (EE must have led a sheltered life...and I think COourage to Listen makes a better title than Courage of Story) and the disillusionment part sounds possibly interesting too; but like the others here I'd like to know what actually happens.

Stephen Prosapio said...

"Syvrus is a relatively simple girl with a relatively simple wish: to become immortal."

Was that supposed to be a joke? The tone of the query isn't funny, so if this wasn't an attempt at humor, this makes no sense. I'm sharing my honest thoughts here just so that you can see the reaction that lines like these give readers/writers:

Becoming immortal certainly isn't a simple accomplishment (unless it's in your world, but you haven't explained that). It technically could be a "simple wish" in and of itself in that it's not a multi-tiered wish. But just reading a line like this makes me DISinterested in reading your pages because I would assume the book is going to be filled with phrases like this that try to say something but don't say what you really mean for them to say.

The fact that you don't go into the plot of your book, and then go out of your way to say this is NOT a battle of good vs evil makes me think that this is an experimental work without a protag that rambles and sermonizes.

I say this not to accuse you of anything and I very well may be 100% wrong about your novel, but if those are my thoughts and I read about 4 queries a week (on this site), imagine what a literary agent who is reading 1,000 queries a week will think?

Kudos to you for sharing this here. Keep writing. Keep rewriting!

Stick and Move said...

If your story isn't about good vs. evil, scrap it and start over.

Just kidding, but definitely scrap that line. I'll just reiterate: tell us what the story is about, and leave out what it is not about. I'm sure you have a plot, tell the reader the main plot points in the query. Don't be coy or cute, just give us the protag, the goal, the antag and the obstacles he/she presents. And the outcome.

I won't pile on about the title.

Queries are hard. Take the advice offered here and rewrite it so we'll want to read the book. You might have to rewrite it fifty times. It's part of the process. Good luck with it!

Jeb said...

This sounds like it can't make up its mind whether to be a literary novel or a fantasy adventure. So, given the length, it's two novels in one manuscript.

Sorry to pile on, author, but all those meaningless words in the query do not give me hope for the manuscript being less than desperately bloated. Either you need to write a query letter that reflects the crispness of your novel's prose, or you seriously need to chop at least a third of the words from your ms.

_*rachel*_ said...

Put the query letter down. Now look on the left side of the blog. You see the thing labeled Blog Archive? Yes? Click on one of the pages below it and start reading. Read it all. Then, just to be sure you know what you're doing, do the same at QueryShark's and Miss Snark's blogs. And there are other agents and editors who blog under their real names; they'll usually have a list of don'ts linked in their classic posts.

Notice that your wordcount is 135,000? That's almost certainly too long. Pare down.

Then start again: plot/hook, YA fantasy, wordcount, non-college pub credits if you have them (don't stress if you don't), title.

You can do this; you just need some more research. Go for it!

How are finals going? Well, I hope. Good luck!

As for being better than Eragon, that's a mixed question. The writing is terrible--until you get so hooked on the plot that you don't care about how bad it is. So yeah, this could be like Eragon.

Anonymous said...

Also look at Evil's list of 15 things he cares about in order of importance in your query and go to the Phoenix Sullivan Dare to Dream blog. Research the query letter until you're blue in the face and blind in the eye. The query is the only sales tool you have.
Good luck.

Adam Heine said...

To add to the good advice you've already gotten: Non-fiction has proposals. Fiction does not (not at the query level). If the agent likes your query letter/sample pages, they will request the manuscript. Nothing else.

Liz said...

Erm...135,000 words? For a YA novel?

Heather M said...

Actually, fiction does have proposals. It's just a lot murkier what they should look like; but I have definitely heard both agents and editors ask for proposals for fiction--and not explain very well what they want. They seem to want mostly a synopsis and three sample chapters. One agent also said to include comparable titles, intended audience and a marketing plan.

In any case, don't tell the agent you've written a proposal. It sounds unprofessional--like you think writing a proposal is an accomplishment. (Which, sure, it is, but the more casual you are about the blood, sweat and tears, the more professional you look. Sad fact.) An agent will simply assume you can send him any type of materials he asks for--if you don't have them put together now, you will immediately scramble to get them together within minutes of receiving his request for them. So you don't need to tell him anything about that!

It sounds like it could be an interesting book if I knew what happened in it. I look forward to your revision, as long as you pay heed to comments and tell us the plot.

Anonymous said...

A quick comment on the last paragraph.

The average agent will take anywhere up to three months to respond to your query. And that's considered normal. If you only query one agent at a time, you'll be doing this for the next ten years. I realise you're trying to show how important you consider each individual agent, but they don't expect this kind of consideration.

I know people who've queried over fifty agents before finding a good match. Agents reject manuscripts all the time for a variety of reasons, so you want to get your idea in front of as many (suitable) eyeballs as possible.