Friday, December 10, 2010

Face-Lift 850

Guess the Plot

Valafar's Revenge

1. Investigating a murder for the FBI, 17-year-old Taylor Pritchard follows the killer, Valafar, into a computer game, where she discovers she has been chosen as the guardian of the Nephilim. Now she must decide whether she'd rather be an FBI agent or spend the rest of her days fighting a religious war.

2. Eighth grader Valafar has a weird name. Since the first day of kindergarten he's been bullied and tortured by the Sues and Joes and Toms of the world. But he's found himself a magic jewel and now it's time for . . . Valafar's revenge.

3. Mt. Valafar is tired of the puny humans that inhabit its slopes and their deforestation, pollution, noise, and littering. Tomorrow there will be a surprise as it blows its top. We'll see how they like deadly gas and LAVA!!!!!!!!!!!!

4. It's not easy being the younger brother of a Disney villain. In Valafar's Revenge, follow the exploits of Jafar's feckless younger brother as he tries to finally get even with that miserable street rat Aladdin and with the Disney studio execs who passed him up for the lead bad guy in favor of his taller older brother.

5. When Valafar invents a delicious snack from the humble chickpea, he looks set to make a fortune. But his jealous twin brother, Falafel murders him and steals his recipe. Can Valafar's unquiet spirit return to take revenge on his brother's many descendants?

6. Nathan had heard of Montezuma's revenge. It's why he never strayed far from a bathroom on his trip to Mexico. But when he discovers on his trip to Iran that most of the bathrooms have two toilets, one directly opposite the other, he begins to suspect the horrible nature of . . . Valafar's Revenge.

Original Version

Think Angelology meets Tron. [Who meets what? Here, you try one: Think brontology meets Zardoz.] With computer games, reality is in. [When I play a computer game, reality is out. I thought that was the whole point.] But when the hottest new release proves all too real and two of its players are found dead, FBI intern Taylor Prichard is plunged into an investigation that weaves a bizarre path back to her father’s work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nephilim, the cursed children of fallen angels and human women.

My recently finished novel, VALAFAR’S REVENGE, is an 88,000-word supernatural young adult novel.

Seventeen-year-old Taylor has just landed the internship of her dreams – to shadow one of the FBI’s top investigators. [To me, shadowing someone means secretly following him.] But when she finally makes it onto a murder scene, the terrifying nightmare[s] and panic attacks she suffered when she was eleven suddenly return, and she worries that she might lose her mind along with her job.

When the killer strikes again, all evidence points to a computer game whose villains are the spawn of the ancient fallen angels, and to the teenage paraplegic game designer who created it, Jason Bindthall. [Are you saying evidence points to Jason as the killer or that evidence points to the video game villains? Because if she's worried her panic attacks might cost her her job, wait till she has this dialogue with her boss:

Boss: Three murders and we're not even close to solving them.

Taylor: Actually, sir, I've pretty much determined that the murderer is Sephiroth, from Final Fantasy VII.]

In her hunt for the killer, hunter becomes the hunted, and Taylor is forced to face the tragic secret from her past that inexorably links her to Jason Bindthall and to the Nephilim [, a secret which I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.] She teams up with the game’s number-one player and pursues Valafar into the game itself. [Who or what is Valafar? The killer? If hunter has become hunted, I would expect Valafar to be pursuing Taylor, not the other way around.] But to defeat Valafar, Taylor must forever abandon her old life, her longtime dream of becoming an FBI agent, and accept her role as the chosen guardian of the Nephilim.

Valafar's Revenge is the first book in a series that will take Taylor, a descendant of the sorcerers of Enoch, on a journey to Beyul Pemako, the heart of the world, to release the Watchers and join her sisters in their war against the Nephilim. [She has sisters who are at war against the Nephilim, and she, the chosen guardian of the Nephilim, is going to join them in this war?] Told from multiple viewpoints, the novel would appeal to readers of Nancy Holder. [When you've finished describing a complicated and fantastical plot, it's not a good idea to tack on an additional paragraph about the sorcerers of Enoch, Beyul Pemako, and the Watchers, none of which has been mentioned previously.]

I have won numerous awards as a journalist, and have completed fiction writing courses as part of my B.S. degree in communications from the University of Maryland. I am a member the Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and Washington Independent Writers (WIW), and have attended several writers’ conferences. I am a member of a critique group that has met for three years. [We don't need all any of these credits.]

I hope you will decide to represent me.



Lemme see if I've got this straight. Taylor gets an internship with the FBI. As she tags along with her boss on a murder investigation, she discovers that she is the chosen guardian of the Nephilim. Now, how are we gonna make this sound plausible so that an agent will want to read the book?

Possibly the best way is to leave out the fallen angels and the Dead Sea Scrolls until the end. Leave out the team-up with the game's best player. Taylor gets her dream job, she and her boss stumble onto a murder scene. So far so good. Now explain what evidence points to computer game villains who are the spawn of Nephilim, and how Taylor enters the game. At the end of the query you can mention Taylor's realization that she has a greater role to play in mankind's history than FBI agent.

Usually computer gaming is on the opposite side of the spectrum from religious stuff, by which I mean the target audience of Nephilim fans may not have a huge intersection with Tron fans. If you can connect these aspects of the story in the query it would help. For instance, is it an angel of God who enables Taylor to enter the computer game? Is the paraplegic game designer Satan?

What's the name of the game? That should be in here somewhere.


Joe G said...

"Shadowing" someone on a job is a pretty common phrase, I think.

I know queries are often made fun of for containing "terrible secrets that I just won't tell you", but they are also often criticized for too much back story. Since a terrible secret can never be anything but back story, I wonder if it's not better to suggest hidden depths to the story rather than cramming everything in. Of course, provided the secret isn't crucial to the explanation of the plot, like, "she's a werewolf!" or something.

The title kind of makes me giggle, but I don't think this is bad. I just think EE is right that it sounds like two different stories.

On the other hand, the tension between technology and religion often makes for a great story (particularly I'm thinking of Japanese things like Xenogears, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Princess Mononoke, etc.).

I think there's some archetypal storytelling here so the reader doesn't quite expect angels in an FBI story. Also, it's a little stream of conscious. Like EE said, who or what is Valefor? I thought the Nephilim were the bad guys? Why would she have to protect them? One wonders if the manuscript has similar flaws or is confusing.

Most importantly, is the whole angel plot supposed to be real? Is she supposed to live inside the computer game?

Ditch the title.

Evil Editor said...'s definition of shadow as a verb:

to follow (a person) about secretly, in order to keep watch over his movements.

If it has come to mean "observe in action" in some circles, I don't think I'd assume everyone knows this.

I'd be interested in whether the author knows that the FBI would allow a 17-year-old intern to tag along on their top investigator's case, as it seems unlikely.

Anonymous said...

i do think the word "shadow" is fine; people use it all the time to mean following someone and participating in their activities. i would go with a different title for sure- something less generic would be nice....
although the plot in the query letter is confusing in some parts, this is definitely a book i would read, (and because i am a young adult, i think this is a good thing for the writer...) the mixing of angels and technology is a plus.
i think it would be nice if the query letter included more details about HOW the protagonist learns everything she does- the intense bits during her time shadowing the fbi agent.

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm with EE that I couldn't suspend disbelief at the 17 yr old tagging along on a murder investigation, and that colored my view of the entire query thereafter...would such a thing really happen?

It's confusing and feels a little kitchen-sinkish, as if you're adding elements just to make it more "cool"--there are computer games that become real, the FBI, angels, the Dead Sea Scrolls, murder, hints of a difficult past--all we're missing is a zombie shark and payphone occlusions. I suspect that if you re-wrote this, the plot might become clearer--so yes, strip away the non-essential details (including info on the sequels) and tell us what THIS story is about, who your MC is and what she wants, and what's getting in her way.

Oh, and don't refer to it as your "recently finished" novel. That implies you haven't given it "cooling down" time and been back over it to tighten the prose, check continuity, etc.--to make it the best it can be before submitting.

Good luck. I'll bet you can improve this.

Anonymous said...

Ah, you're from Bethesda, home of Fallout and Elder Scrolls.

Anonymous said...

Another EE controversy about an occlusion???

"Shadow" is used in the business world as a kind of slang for learning under. ie "The new admin shadows the exiting one."

That said, when the subject of the book contains both espianoge and fantasy where "shadow" has other connotations it's probably not a good idea to use it.

On the query itself...I dunno. The blending of video game and angels could be really interesting if well done. I'd worry about a query that only focuses on it being an FBI thriller and then at the end added the angels, so I think there should be some mention of them early in the query.

flibgibbet said...

In para one, you state that the Nephilim are the cursed children of fallen angels and human women. (Good to know).

In para three, you state that the computer villains (murderers) are the spawn of the ancient fallen angels. So doesn't this mean that the villians are Nephilim too?

Then you sate that Taylor is the chosen guardian of the Nephilim.

Then you state that Taylor joins her sisters in a war against the Nephilim, is a descendant of sorcerers, and her quest is to free the the "Watchers".

I'm so confused.

Evil Editor said...

I'd worry about a query that only focuses on it being an FBI thriller and then at the end added the angels,

Unfortunately, whether you save the FBI case or the entering a computer game or the angel aspect till the end, it's worrisome, but mentioning all of them up front is what gives it the everything but the kitchen sink feeling. As I understand it, Taylor herself has no knowledge of the angels in the beginning, and the book progresses from an FBI case to Taylor entering a computer game to Taylor discovering that she is the guardian of the Nephilim. If the query goes through the same progression, at least we don't feel we're being hit by so much at once.

Maybe we need a title that suggests angelicness, and we can put that up front.

Evil Editor said...

Apparently I should have used Google rather than the dictionary to look up shadowing, as I see it's more common than I realized. Possibly I was in the dark because aspiring editors know better than to ask if they can shadow me.

In any case, I agree with no-bull-steve that since FBI agents, and thus their shadowing interns, may be called upon to shadow someone in the secretive sense, using the term could be confusing.

Anonymous said...

Add me to the chorus who support the term "shadow." In my quotidian existence the author's use of it is common. Moreover if an intern is doing it, it's especially clear what it means.

I'm with Marissa Doyle on "tell us . . . who your MC is." I see Taylor as more of a "what," not a "who." She has these pre-ordained functions and professional challenges, but what drives her from within? What would she be striving for if she weren't saddled with this Nephilim gig? This is supposedly Taylor's story, but you say it's told from multiple viewpoints. That suggests it's a giant puzzle, not the story of this girl. No matter how ingenious this puzzle is, it's going to leave me cold if I don't bleed for this main character.

I'd need to see those issues addressed in your query before I'd feel that you have something unique and attractive.

Anonymous said...

The idea that a 17 year old would have this role on an FBI case is so fantastic my immediate conclusion was that the world of the novel isnt meant to be like ours so the additional fantastic stuff didn't strain the believability meter. Logical trouble comes when you've got video game characters causing trouble in the 'real' world and deal with it by going to the 'game' world. It seems that an effective battle would require fighting the bad guys in the world where they are. So if they came out of the game I don't see how it works to have the protag go in. Maybe there's a chase back & forth? But then she gets into this guardian of the whatevers. So that makes me wonder if we ever resolve the FBI internship problem or if we just do this big plot shift and go in a whole new direction with a new cast, new world, new physics etc and if so what was the point of starting where you did. Like maybe you got bored halfway thru and made such big plot twists the 2nd half doesn't match the first.

none said...

Eh, it was utterly unbelievable that Spring Lambs lady would be sent to interview serial killers. Cue huge sales and a movie.

Maybe Taylor should use computers to secretly follow her mentor's investigation, thereby fulfilling both senses of the verb 'to shadow' at once.

So far, this query is telling us the book is a mess. What does Taylor want? What's stopping her getting it? If x, then y. If not x, then z. Etc.

vkw said...

I'm going to throw in my two coppers.

I work with clients who "shadow" and "intern". To me shadowing means someone follows someone around for a short period of time-a day, an afternoon, maybe a week. High school students shadow professionals to get an idea of vocational options.

Interns are usually free labor, usually for non-profits and government agencies. It is associated with a completion of degree program.

I may be wrong here but I never consider "interns" to be employees. I would think Taylor would be more concerned about not completing her degree program than being fired from a job she does not have. I know some interns get paid but that's not the norm in my profession. Interns are more akin to apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Shadowing and interning to me are very different.

I was going to say more about the query, but really a lot has been said and the bottom line is it needs to be changed.

If the deep dark secret is pivotal to the plot, it should be included in the query. I also agree a 17 year old would not be asked to go to a crime scene - maybe an intern would. Maybe Taylor is a very young college student? Or maybe she should be in her 20s.


Anonymous said...

This query seems thematically disjointed. EE hinted at this, saying the game thing and the Nephil theme don't seem to intersect.

The line about "all signs pointing" to the video game characters being the killers... was actually laughable. I mean, I chuckled. If you hadn't marked this as YA it'd be a fault.

Now granted, that bit of melodrama and unbelievability (hopefully) comes from trying to boil down the plot to as few representational words as possible, but how exactly does a video-game interact with our world in your story?

"an investigation that weaves a bizarre path back to her father’s work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nephilim"
I'd try to expand this, it's like a linchpin that's missing in your query.

I'm not sure that your informal opening is the best one either--the comparison didn't work for me.

Wait, are you actually saying with the Tron reference that people are being literally sucked into the game?

Anonymous said...

vkw, come to think of it, you're right. Interns are free or cheap labor -- they do menial tasks whereas trainees "shadow." That means Taylor is actually a 17-year-old FBI trainee.

Author, I have a suggestion. As long as you've got Nephilim and what-all, why not invent a supersecret multinational crime-fighting organization that makes the FBI and CIA look like nerd hall monitors? It will take some rewriting, but it looks as though you're going to have to do that anyway. Instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole (17-year-old girl at FBI), make them both star-shaped and have fun.

Evil Editor said...

Also, the intern type of shadowing would not be done by interns of police, fire department, soldiers or the FBI due to the danger. While the covert type shadowing might be done by an intern of the FBI if the suspect being shadowed were a white collar criminal. Assuming the FBI even has interns.

Anonymous said...

The FBI do have interns.

However, they are not as young as Taylor. "All levels" they say, but they start at "undergraduate".

Anonymous said...

"In any case, I agree with no-bull-steve"

I swear that I'm not going to let that comment go to my head. Nope, not even a little bit. I admit that it makes my whole weekend--week, month. It makes my whole writing "career" worthwhile, but I'm gonna stay the same humble scribe I've always been.



Polenth said...

I'd believe her working for the FBI if she had some special skills. Perhaps if she hacked some secret government network, and was given the option of working with the FBI or going to prison. After all, if the bad guys can use their powers through computers, it does make sense that she could too. It'd also explain why she'd be called in for a case related to computer games.

batgirl said...

Just as a reader's response, I felt you were asking for a lot of credulity from a reader. First there's a high-school student who's somehow allowed onto FBI crime scenes for training, and then she's revealed as a supernatural being with a special destiny.
Urban fantasy does tend to swarm with extra-special protagonists, but usually their specialness makes their lives much harder. Can you show us what makes Taylor's life harder and what obstacles she faces?