Monday, May 03, 2010

Face-Lift 764

Guess the Plot

The Shaman's Curse

1. Green eyebrows. Kitten trees. Cars that only run backwards. Henry Toppis is starting to think maybe that "Indian Shaman" at the Keokuk County Fair wasn't a fake after all.

2. Felix the Shaman is really a great guy: nice hair, nice teeth, and a nice personality to boot. There's just one problem: he can't actually do anything resembling magic.

3. When porn actor Peter Bilt is transformed into a horse, he is forced to explore the seedy underworld of his industry to make a living.

4. Lasair awakens in a parallel world of magic and supernatural beings, and enrolls in Badness Castle Academy. Her future looks grim--unless she can find an ancient shaman to lead her to salvation.

5. Nan To comes from a line of great Shamans but he has a problem. His stutter makes communication with the spirit world difficult, with often hilarious results. Can Nan To overcome . . . The Shaman's Curse?

6. Khiron, a barbarian king, has conquered the neighboring kingdoms--all but Joctanauga, home of a powerful shaman. Hey, it's hard enough fighting with swords without having to deal with this magic crap.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

The cider is mulling, the snow is snowing, and your home is invaded by a horde of cloaked and masked killers. [They're Romulans. The Romulans are known for their cloaking devices.] [Based on the dictionary definition, it isn't the cider that's mulling, it's the cook who's mulling--mulling the cider. As for the snow snowing, the reason you seldom hear the weatherman say the rain is raining, the sun is sunning, or the moon is mooning is because other verbs can add information. Snow can be swirling or driving or piling up, like wood chips under an electric lathe. Or falling. None of which matters, because this listing of things that are happening, the last of which dwarfs the others in magnitude, is fine if you're trying to be amusing, but having looked ahead and seen that this isn't comedy, I think we should dump the cider and the snow. It's one thing to set the scene for the entrance of the murderous horde in the book, but in the query we can get to the horde immediately.] They murder your mother in a way you couldn’t imagine. [Does it involve an electric lathe?] You’re pretty sure you’re next. [Wait a minute; is this book about me?] What would you do? What will seventeen-year-old Lasair Drake do?

Abducted and abandoned by the horde, ["Horde" was okay once, to tell us there were lots of them, but after that we should call them intruders or killers. Or Romulans.

Horde member 1: Tell me again why we abducted this kid instead of killing her in a way she couldn't imagine?

Horde member 2: You're asking me? Let's drop her off at the next orphanage.]

Lasair awakens in a hospital, in a parallel world called The Mystic Tier, which is home to magic users and other supernatural beings. [We know from the title that this is fantasy, but you haven't mentioned the title in the letter, so you might want to open with your title/genre, as the genre is obvious only to those who know that in reality, killers don't wear cloaks.] Her Healer, Deacon Nox, has been charged with her care and enrols [sp.] Lasair at his alma mater, Badness Castle Academy. [Everyone older than eight just rolled their eyes.] Here, she finds herself in the midst of a centuries old mystery--an adventure filled with secrets, lies, ghosts and dreams, linking the castle’s dark history to her present and her mother’s murder.

Together with her new friends, and enigmatic Professor Vesperus Vermillion, Lasair comes to learn the deeper truth of why she was abducted and the grim future ahead of her. A link to an ancient Shaman and a barbaric warlord could either be her salvation or her demise.

The Shaman’s Curse is a 368 page fantasy/mystery novel that may appeal to both young adult and mature readers. I’ve enjoyed writing as a personal hobby for nearly ten years now, and have been published by Global Publishing Central and Grey Inspirations, both partners of This is my first novel.

I hope the novel, The Shaman’s Curse is of interest to you, and wish to thank you in advance for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Enclosed are the first thirteen pages (to the end of the first chapter) and a self addressed stamped envelope for ease of your reply.


[The title comes from the prologue, which shows how, five hundred years before Lasair was born, her father, Lord Badness conquered and exterminated the Selk people. After the Shaman had been forced to watch his kinsmen die, he cursed Lord Badness, that he would know no pleasure in his victories, and one day, his own progeny would smite him.]


Lasair gets abducted and awakens in another world. That's the setup. Unfortunately, everything after that, which is the main plot, is vague. By getting the cider and snow and Evil Editor out of paragraph 1 (and cutting much of the last two paragraphs) we open up room for specifics about the mystery and the secrets and the deeper truth and maybe even the shaman's curse.

Naming a villain "Lord Badness" is going to make readers think you were too lazy to think up a name.


Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

I have to agree with EE on this one, your villain cannot be called Lord Badness. Just about every reader past the age of 10 will mock you.

Also, you'll need to give the agent word count, not page count,as page counts are effected by variables like typeface and font size.

I would strongly recommend not using a rhetorical question in your hook. You're liable to get the sort of answer you really weren't looking for. (ie: I'd just grab my shinai and kill them all, because of course I am a training in kendo and therefore just have one lying around.)

writtenwyrdd said...

Lord Badness indeed has to go. Also, be more careful about spelling and grammar errors. I noticed a couple that weren't mentioned in EE's comments.

I think this letter suffers from your attempt to be clever and 'catchy.' Forget that; agents and editors want to know if the story is something they are interested in, and they judge your writing ability based on how clearly and interestingly you can get that information across to them about your book.

So, revise this by starting with genre/length, title, and jump right into the crux of the plot. Make us know what the problem is, what's at stake for the main character, and make us care/ want to know what happens.

Perhaps you might start the query with, "Victim of an abduction, Lasair awakens in a hospital--on a parallel world home to magic users and other supernatural beings. Orphaned and alone, Lasair is sent to ____ Academy, where the mystery of her past [and other significant details] do [something interesting.]

Dave Fragments said...

"The Nox" were characters in the first season of Stargate SG1 and I always did the childish thing of adding "ious" to the name. What can I say. They had bad hair. It was noxious. Sorry about that.

I would lose the first paragraph and start with Lasair's abduction and then pick something that is exciting. Lasair awakening is not exciting.
"At seventeen Lasair is abducted by barbarians and taken to a world of magic and intrigue. There she discovers that her ancestors were cursed 500 years before when he exterminated another race."
That might start the query. Although it's not the best hook.

I wouldn't add any more characters or people. Three are enough (Lisair, the family curse and the magic world).

I'm guessing that Lasair discovers why she's been abducted and the dark secret in her past relatively quickly. I'm guessing her father is still alive or she inherits Lord Badass's powers. Then she gets to lift the curse, make amends or something else.

That's the exciting story. "Lasair must lift a 500 year old curse or suffer the fate of all her family."

It's a perspective of seeing the story from the beginning or from the exciting end. As authors, we put people in jeopardy and then relate how they react and get out of that jeopardy.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much EE, and everyone for your imput. Having others give their opinions really helps, because I've been close to this project for so long, that I need the objectivity you all have.

I had used the name 'Badness' because part of my inspiration was learning about this place:

It's the Bader Learning Centre...I wanted to give the impression of a setting resembling Scotland, and thought of the Loch 'Ness' monster...and so combined that to make 'Badness'. There really was method to my madness, but the point is taken about the name being silly for most folks and will change it.

I guess I have some work to do! Thanks again one and all, and EE. Means alot.

Dave Fragments said...

Bader Learning Center is in Sussex.

Pick a city out of Highland County (for lack of a better word, county).

Inverness is there, Skibo Castle is there.

Wiki has more info:

Rebecca Christiansen said...

I had no idea Lasair was a girl until near the end of the query. Since her name isn't overtly feminine, I'd recommending making this distinction earlier.

Anonymous said...

There is a Scottish name Badenoch. There is a Scottish
Gaelic name site on the 'net.
You've got some great opening suggestions.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

On my first read through, I thought Lasair was enrolled in "Bad-Ass Castle Academy."

I'm kind of surprised this was young adult, not middle grade. Maybe it's the names that give it a lighter air. Lord Badness is over the top, but Deacon Nox and Vesperus Vermillion are pushing it too.

If this is Scotland, clearly your villain needs to be MacBadin'.

Bernita said...

Bibi, I like your suggestion - maybe Elizabeth will too - especially since there was a laird known as the Wolf of Badenoch, if I remember correctly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bernita,
I'm realizing names of people need to be grounded in the character, tell us or hint at what sex they are and any laughability aspect needs to go. Never name any one Yatt unless you want to call them the Scottish name for gate. Made up names need to be googled because we don't know everything.


Unknown said...

This is marvelous, all of the suggestions you guys are giving me. I find the idea of Badnoch quite fascinating, along with the Wolf Lord. My character does sort of run along those lines, so I'm definately considering it.

I had thought that Lasair felt like a feminine name to me... I'll be sure to make it more obvious that she's a she in my re-write.

The location isn't exactly Scotland (more like Scotland/Ireland in another dimension), I just wanted that vibe to it, as those lands have always held a great deal of legend and the supernatural about them.

You guys have been incredibly generous with your time and thoughts, and I thank you all. :)

Joe G said...

No offense, but your plot sounds an awful lot like Harry Potter with a female protagonist. She leaves the normal world to go to an alternative magical school where she discovers a hidden heritage and a terrible destiny. Neil Gaiman's successful "The Graveyard Book" is pretty much Harry Potter with a graveyard instead of a school, but he's Neil Gaiman.

I would think about that, especially if you're going to have characters with latin-ish names and the word Professor before. I'm sure the details of your story are different, but that's just how it came across to me in the query.

_*rachel*_ said...

Please, change the name. It's the worst example of telling instead of showing I've seen in a while. Admittedly, sometimes you could get away with it--if you're Douglas Adams or Evan Mandery. In which case that's what your whole book is like. If that's what your whole book really is like, you need to let us know a little more clearly.

It might be clearer that Lasair's a girl if you make it Lasaire. Though I kind of assumed she was a girl; don't know why.

Thanks for showing up in the comments, Elizabeth. It always softens a critique when its author shows up, happy and willing to learn. So, when I say good luck here, I mean it more than usual.

Good luck rewriting!

Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth,
Badenoch with an "e" or you'll get some deliciously dark natured agent decide it's a typo and hit auto reject. Or change the word more - Baidnoche, making it look deliberate. Read the archives and you'll read tons of ideas/comments about names.
Good luck,

Anonymous said...

Eez Lazaire French? If not maybe try a name closer to Scottish goth if that is what you're trying for.
If Scottish goth exists. Best, Bibi

Matt said...

I'm having trouble deciding whether Lord Badness is the one of the worst names I've ever heard or one of the best.

_*rachel*_ said...

Matthew--There's always the Dark Lord (of Derkholm, who's married to the Glamorous Enchantress.

But that's a rather different story....

Sarah Laurenson said...

Something I am not seeing discussed in the comments concerns your hobby remark.

I don't know of any editor who wants to work with someone who is writing as a hobby. A lot goes into publishing a book including numerous rewrites. It's a lot of work and sometimes the work isn't fun.

Unknown said...

Actually Lasair is a Celtic name meaning flame (appropriate for her lovely red hair lol)

There is a link to know a bit more about the name. I love this name and felt that it was pretty appropriate for my girl.

I'm negotiable on Badness lol, and maybe some of the others, but I really do like Lasair as a name.

@Matthew...well when I first set the name, I wondered if there would be some negativity about it...but went with the 'so bad it has to be good' thought. (I guess I was wrong) :D

But then some of the worst names like 'Sookie' were successful. Sookie? He hee, I love the True Blood books, but that name makes me think of farmers calling pigs for their slop. (I know it sounds mean, but we're being honest here)

But I'm working on the Lord's namechange, and actually I'm finding there are quite a few decent options that you guys helped turn me on to.

Anonymous said...

Matthew, riding to work I THOUGHT about names. Darth Vader. Dark, the Dark side. Vader, invader.
Luke (the Gospel according to - clearly good)Skywalker smacking of adventure through the galaxy.
Gigi what a great name for an imp of a girl. Anne Shirley - who wanted to be Cordelia.
Scarlett was originally Pansey. Can you imagine?
Maybe names are important to the character. Pip - Hannibal. Maybe you can build in some character with names Rebecca vs. Becky.
Could Darth be Luke or Luke be Darh? Nope the names are pointing us in their direction. musings, Bibi

Anonymous said...

Hey, no one commented on the para after the end of the query. (But I could be wrong.) Is that good or bad to do? Giving backstory on the title.
And Elizabeth - thanks for filling me in on the mc's name. See? I didn't google it.
Best all,

Evil Editor said...

The explanation of the title is not part of the query. It is provided by the author for EE's benefit, and provided by EE so his minions will know where he got the info for the correct Guess the Plot. See FAQ #2.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I will re-read FAQ's.

batgirl said...

Joe G, let me be pedantic for a moment (or for a lifestyle) - The Graveyard Book is Gaiman's retelling of The Jungle Book, not of Harry Potter. Just look at the name.

Anonymous said...

Sookie (or Sukey, or Sukie or other spellings) is actually a fairly common old English name. And at least I can tell how to pronounce it- Lasair, I'm at a loss, unless it's pronounced to rhyme with Corsair.

Andy said...

I, also, thought Lasair was a boy.

One thing that sticks out for me is that you have a character go through a shocking and painful experience, then wake up in an alternate reality. This to me would indicate that everything from this point on is nothing more than the delusions of a severely traumatised young woman. I hope the novel makes it clear that she isn't actually in a straight jacket and a padded room.