Friday, February 11, 2011

Face-Lift 869

Guess the Plot

World Book

1. The World Book provides the laws by which Seth's people are supposed to live, laws Seth has always observed. Then Kinessa shows up and invites Seth to join her in a quest to destroy the World Book. Seth doesn't know if that's a good idea, but Kinessa is kind of cute.

2. Formerly known as The Encyclopedia, World Book sets out on a quest for friends, adventure, and nachos with cheese that’s not too hot or too hard. But when he returns home to find a rogue possum has nested in his house, he must burn everything he loves . . . except Q thru S.

3. In a world where printed books are almost nonexistent, an impoverished encyclopedia salesman hacks Wikipedia and plants a virus that reduces its content to gibberish. With online content paralyzed, high-school students will be forced once again to rely on . . . World Book.

4. Eighth grader Joanie puts off writing her report about Henry VIII until the night before it's due. Then she stays up so late to work on it she finally has to put her head down on the encyclopedia to rest -- and wakes up in a castle in medieval London. And OMG! Everyone's calling her Anne Boelyn!

5. It looks like a multi-volume alphabetized collection of articles on everything under the sun. But if you read the entire thing from A to Z, you'll find it contains a subtly woven tale of a man, a woman, and a Schnauzer.

6. A book containing all the knowledge the space explorer Gaston compiled on his travels plummets to Earth in a spherical capsule, landing in Italy, where it is brought to the attention of Leonardo da Vinci. And the rest is history.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Seth was good at following the rules. He obeyed his parents, performed his nightly vows, and observed the laws in the World Book with pride – until he met Kinessa.

Seth’s world is turned upside down as Kinessa challenges him to question everything he believes in. [Everything?] He neglects his readings, plays on the beach and explores the woods in his backyard for the first time. [Does the World Book forbid playing on the beach and exploring your backyard? How about a couple examples of beliefs Seth has that are being challenged.] Eventually Kinessa leaves, but she confronts him with a choice – go back to your previous life or come with me. [I would leave out the part about her leaving and just say she invites him to join her on an adventure. She can't leave first and then confront him with a choice . . . Or do they have cell phones?]

The friends embark on an adventure to change the three Kingdoms. [What are the three Kingdoms? Does Seth live in one of them? Is Kinessa from the same one or a different one? Change them in what way?] But as Seth follows Kinessa on her quest to destroy the World Book he soon learns that change is never as easy as it seems. [This is all vague.]

World Book is a completed 32,000 word fantasy for middle grade readers. I have one published short story in Byline Magazine.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you are interested feel free to contact me by phone or email.



I can burn down an entire law library, but that doesn't mean I'm not expected to be law-abiding. What good does destroying the World Book do?

Specifics are more interesting than generalities. Even the few specifics in this query (neglects his readings, plays on the beach and explores the woods in his backyard) are pretty general.


Katie the YA Librarian said...

Also, I can't help but think Seth is obeying an encyclopedia set. Does it have to be called "World Book"?

mb said...

On the other hand, the target audience for a middle-grade book will never have heard of the World Book Encyclopedia.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping for #5.

What they said: too vague, "World Book" isn't a great choice of names for the thing, the troubles & the quest as described seem pale compared to other middle grade fantastic dilemmas... Maybe you were focused on keeping it short and left out too much.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I had the same problem as Katie. To everyone above a certain age, the World Book is maroon and navy blue, and your best source for an emergency report on Angkor Wat, in a world without internet access.

Faraci said...

Thank you!

I would love to change the title - I was having a lot of trouble coming up with one. World Book is simply what they call their version of the Bible. I wouldn't mind changing the name of that either.

So it wasn't clear that playing on the beach and in the woods was against the rules? Should I add a sentence to make that more obvious?

And do you think it is worth it to answer all the questions from the third paragraph? I originally did, but the query was too long as a result. I decided to focus the theme instead of plot details - those answers get complicated.

And to answer the questions for context:

No cell phones exist - only 1700's technology

The World Book is oppressive

There are three civilizations - Kingdoms of Land, Air, and Sea

Seth is from the Land Kingdom

Kinessa is from the Sea Kingdom, and it is against the law (penalty of death) for her to leave her Kingdom.

Kinessa wants people to learn the truth behind the World Book and to learn that it's rules are wrong.

And why is it worth it to stop the World Book?
Imagine a society kind of like V for Vendetta. People are well fed and taken care of, but it is oppressive and many many freedoms are curtailed. Kinessa wants to stop this. And Seth decides to help.

Evil Editor said...

One can infer that playing on the beach and in the woods is against the rules, but because these are such innocuous activities, one can also worry that this was a faulty inference. I'm expecting examples of things Seth believes in after you say Kinessa challenges everything he believes in. I don't see playing on the beach and in the woods as beliefs, or as any big deal.

Yes, it's worth it to answer the p3 questions. In fact, I would call it imperative. If you provide the plot clearly, we'll be able to figure out the theme for ourselves.

Perhaps you shouldn't refer to a quest to destroy the World Book. Some may assume there's only one copy of this book, and destroying it will change the world. Other will see it as like two teenagers trying to destroy the Bible: impossible. What exactly is their plan? What are they going to do when they get wherever they're going? Who will try to stop them?

vkw said...

I think the three major problems in the query are:

1. We don't know what the World Book is.

2. Why destroying it would change anything.

3. Why would someone want to destory it or even condone it either. (Let's be real - getting to play on the beach, running in your backyard and skiping your homework are not good reasons for overthrowing a civilization or culture - not to mention three. These reasons are not even good reasons to run away from home.)

Some would say the Bible is oppressive with all those ten commandments. And some would say impossible: how does one go about loving everyone as they love themselves. We have to even love people we hate?

Yet, many would argue it's good way to live.

No one would say that destroying a Bible will change the world, however.


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Faraci:

Remember that the reader has zero knowledge of your world going into the query. We (and you) can't make assumptions.

Playing on the beach and in the woods sound like innocuous enough activities, but perhaps in your world there are monstrous worms summoned by footsteps on the sand (a la Dune) or warders in woods that capture unsuspecting kids who aren't paying attention to what's going on around them. Or maybe it's a Big Brother-ish society or a Brave New World-ish land where the reader would agree the rules are bad.

In other words, the reader cannot make a value judgment about the society or the rules based on what you've given us in the query. Is Kinessa a villain in disguise? Or the Kingdoms' liberator? You've answered some of these questions in your comment, so now you just need to make them clear in the query.

And something about why a kid would even think he could effect change and how he plans to go about it would be good.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping for #4!

Couldn't get past the World Book title...and everything from that to the "question everything he believes in" is so generic. Being specific with words and descriptions of events is essentially the most important tool we have as writers.

How was your date? "It was great. We had the time of our lives."


How was your date? "He's a pilot!While flying to Maui, we saw migrating whales. After we landed we went to a luau and then walked on a deserted moonlit beach."

Tell me more!

See what I'm sayin'?

Faraci said...

I reworked the three plot paragraphs a bit. Is this getting better or worse?

Seth was good at following the rules. He obeyed his parents, performed his nightly vows, and observed the laws in the World Book with pride – until he met Kinessa.

Seth’s world is turned upside down as Kinessa challenges him to question the rules he followed his entire life. He neglects his readings, plays on the beach and explores the woods in his backyard for the first time. Eventually Kinessa reveals she is from the Kingdom of the Sea, and she came to this Kingdom to fight the laws. She confronts him with a choice – go back to your previous life or come with me.

Seth joins Kinessa as she travels to a secret meeting held between the three Kingdoms. After her plan to persuade the crown prince fails they run for their lives, fleeing into the city and hiding from the Kings. But as Kinessa starts a rebellion Seth learns that change is never as easy as it seems.

Thanks again for all your help! Honest feedback is so hard to come by.

Evil Editor said...

I think you need to get rid of the beach and woods. Those seem too trivial to be the main examples of how Seth's beliefs change. If I told you I'd lived my life according to the teachings of the Bible, but now I'm questioning everything I believe in, and you said, Like what? and I said, I'm thinking of eating pork and getting a haircut, you'd think this Bible must be a pretty shallow holy book.

We don't need to know about the attempt to persuade the crown prince, because it failed. Skip forward to the rebellion. How's it going?

Anonymous said...

Seth was the Egyptian god of chaos. My interest in your story would increase 1000% if there was an interesting connection between your Seth and that Seth. But as far as I can tell you just chose this name more or less randomly.

none said...

Why couldn't Kinessa start the revolt in her own kingdom? Why has she chosen Seth to help her? What qualities do either of them have that make them the right people to run a revolution? Seriously, why does Kinessa bother with Seth at all? Shouldn't she be out finding people who are ready to rebel?

I'm beginning to wonder if the flaws are only in the query, or if they're also in the book. There need to be reasons why it's Kinessa and Seth and not Sinessa and Keth from down the road who can save the planet/destroy the Evil Boke :).

batgirl said...

On the one hand I like the idea that Seth is apparently an ordinary kid and not someone with Sekrit Powerz or a Destiny. On the other hand, as has been asked, why him and only him?
And why Kinessa? At first I thought she was on a mission to stir up popular rebellion against the Book, but she stops at one teenage boy? What's her actual mission?

Which brings up the other question - how old are these kids? I know with MG you want the protagonists to be somewhat older than the readers, but playing on the beach and exploring woods sounds younger. I'd agree with cutting those examples, because they jar with the main theme of overthrowing the state and state religion.
"Hey Seth! Do you wanna build a fort in the woods today?"
"Nah, I'm gonna foment revolution with Kinessa."

If I'm understanding this correctly, they aren't 'destroying the Book' so much as persuading a majority of the people in the 3 kingdoms to abandon their way of life and choose another. So maybe you could use that first paragraph to show how obeying the book is oppressive? Are there dreadful penalties for people who play on beaches? Are two of every ten children fed to wolves? What freedoms are people deprived of?

Faraci said...

I made a mistake before. The World Book is like a Bible without beliefs - it's a bunch of rules and laws and stories about how to live your life, but there is no beliefs. Just laws. So the woods and the beach are examples of laws curtailing freedoms.

second rework:

Seth’s world is turned upside down as Kinessa challenges him to question the rules he followed his entire life. He neglects his readings, plays on the beach and explores the woods in his backyard for the first time – all crimes punishable by imprisonment or death. Eventually Kinessa decides to leave and confronts Seth with a choice – go back to your previous life or come with me.

After Seth joins Kinessa he learns she is from the Kingdom of the Sea and has come to the land to spy on a secret meeting between the three kings. The information they learn gives Kinessa a way to start a revolution in the Kingdom, a task they must perform in secret to avoid being killed for their actions. But as Seth follows Kinessa’s plan to free people of the World Book laws he learns that change is never as easy as it seems.

More notes to address questions:
- Seth sounded like a nice name to me. That is all.
- Kinessa wanted to explore another Kingdom (which is against the laws) and crash the secret meeting, which is on the land. She is also an heir to the sea throne, so she thinks she has the smarts and the power to take down the oppressive laws. She is mistaken - she fails, and Seth has to help her in the end.
- Seth just happened to be the person she first finds, and his family takes her in, thinking she has amnesia.
- She knows that Seth is not enough, which is why she starts a rebellion in the city trying to get more people to rebel
- they are about 14 years old

Thanks to batgirl - I didn't really realize I forgot to put penalties in. They are often killed for breaking laws. In this society, virtually no one breaks any laws.

Anonymous said...

About answering questions that are raised by your query: bear in mind that agents and editors aren't going to ask those questions. They're just going to hit reject.

So you need to write your query in such a way that it doesn't raise those questions.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

So I took a stab at a revision. However, when I try to connect the dots logically, my version suffers the same problem yours have: sounding too young one minute and too old the next. To be honest, as described, the story doesn't sound like it hangs together and I'm still unclear on what Seth can do in the end. I obviously took liberties based on hints such as Seth's family thinking Kinessa has amnesia (???) to give her a reason for meeting Seth. But FWIW...

When the heir to the Sea Kingdom washes up half-dead at his doorstep, 14-year-old Seth fears for his family's safety. In a dystopian world where simply walking on the beach or playing in the woods without a permit can get you tossed in jail, harboring this runaway could well mean death if they're discovered.

In fact, those rules -- dictated by the World Book -- are why Princess Kinessa makes landfall in the first place. Her dad's on his way to meet secretly with the rulers of the Sky and Land Kingdoms, and Kinessa plans to spy on the proceedings. Getting tagged by a government boat on the way wasn't on the agenda, but once she's back on her feet, she encourages Seth to break the rules and accompany her. Kinessa's charisma and the rush Seth gets from daring the laws he's always followed without question prove too tempting for him to resist.

When they learn the kings plan further strangleholds for the populace, Kinessa sets out to incite a rebellion. Being royalty, she thinks she has the smarts and the power to take down the oppressive laws herself. She's mistaken - people are too afraid to disobey and too distrustful of royalty to follow her. In the end, it's up to Seth to help set the people free.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Is there a reason why people follow the laws of the World Book other than the fact that disobeying them is a capital offense? That seems to be the implication, though I don't know what the reason is. Id Seth only follows the World Book laws because he knows he'll be killed if he doesn't, then Kinessa isn't so much challenging his beliefs as showing him how to break the laws without getting caught. And I doubt Seth would observe the laws of the World Book with pride if he only believed that he was avoiding execution by doing so.

It should be mentioned in the query that all three kingdoms follow the World Book. Otherwise, Kinessa's willingness to challenge to World Book could be seen as a result of the fact that she is from someplace where the World Book doesn't exist rather than her own individual belief that the Book is wrong.

The three kingdoms are connected somehow, even though people are forbidden to leave their home kingdom, right? All three follow the World Book and the kings are meeting, so they must have some connection. That should probably be in the query.

The reworking still sounds vague: we don't know anything about the information Kinessa gets from the meeting of the three kings except that it will help her start a revolution that will presumably abolish the World Book. Having some idea of what she learns would help us understand what kind of chance Seth and Kinessa have of accomplushing their goals.

Evil Editor said...

The author has revised the plot summary, and I've forwarded the revision to Phoenix. I'll alert you when she posts it.