Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Face-Lift 902

Guess the Plot

The Adventures of Benjamin Skyhammer

1. Benjamin Skyhammer has an extraordinary name, but a very ordinary life. Until, that is, his mother dies and his paternity is finally revealed in her will. His father? Thor. And so the adventures begin. Also, dirigibles.

2. Ten-year-old Benjamin finds out his long-lost biological father, the Norse God Thor, wants to reconnect with him. How's Ben going to have time for hockey and basketball when his dad wants him to spend all his free time flying around the troposphere with a hammer, creating thunder?

3. Benjamin Skyhammer has long been searching for a relic that will give him magical powers. One day an earthquake reveals such a relic, but before Ben can use it, a mysterious sorcerer threatens to ruin everything. Can Ben get his magical powers before it's too late? And will he learn the shocking truth about the very nature of the world itself?

4. Benjamin is the youngest of ten Skyhammer princes. He has no princess, no administrative role, and a tiny budget. His only sidekick, a juggler named Nick, suggests they try show business. They join a traveling circus and soon discover the reason those tricks seem so magical is because Ringmaster Oberon and his employees are actual wizards and witches on a mission to kidnap the dreadful Ice Queen and deliver her to Hades.

5. As the ship sinks, a boy rows a tiny boat filled with sandwiches and cats to a nearby desert island. This is Ben Johnson, fifth grader -- aka, Benjamin Skyhammer, superhero. His adventures began when the dastardly Baxter twins stole his lucky hat and they will not end until he gets it back. Meanwhile his troubles include icebergs, tarantulas, cranky waiters, flying monkeys, and a stepsister he does not like.

6. Bob Roberts has a boring life. So when his wife divorces him, he moves to a new state and starts a new life; that of Benjamin Skyhammer, rich adventurer. At first, he actually pulls it off, but can he keep it up as the lies start piling up?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Outcast and bitter because he is one of two humans on Pingala born without magic powers, Benjamin Skyhammer hunts for a Relic that will give him not only magic but also the acceptance of society he desperately craves.

One day an earthquake reveals a Relic [Amazing stroke of luck. Does the earthquake shake Benjamin's house, dislodging the relic from the top shelf of a bookcase? Or does the ground open up right in front of Ben, and he spots the relic at the bottom of a crevasse?] which gives instructions for a special ceremony. Performing the ceremony at the next solar eclipse will bestow magic powers on Skyhammer and give humans the ability to perform magic anywhere on the planet. [I was under the impression Benjamin and one other unnamed person were the only humans who didn't have magical powers. If humans can do magic only in Baltimore, it doesn't seem Ben would be a social outcast as long as he doesn't insist on living in Baltimore.] [I'm talking about Baltimore, Pingala.] Skyhammer believes his dreams have finally come true.

But then a mysterious sorcerer threatens to sabotage the ceremony and implicates Skyhammer as the saboteur. Now humans believe that Skyhammer plans to destroy the ceremony and they want him dead. [Was it Ben who found the relic? How do all these other humans know about it? I've gone from imagining Ben performing a ceremony in his basement to thinking this ceremony is bigger than the Royal Wedding.]

Skyhammer must find out the truth about the ceremony and the sorcerer before his chance to get magic power is gone. His search will take him across the strange and dangerous lands of Pingala [Pingala is a planet, right? Because if the window for performing the ceremony is as small as it seems, searching a planet for something as vague as the truth about a ceremony is going to take way too long.] and ultimately reveal the shocking truth of the very nature of his world itself.

THE ADVENTURES OF BENJAMIN SKYHAMMER is a young adult fantasy novel, complete at 72,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


For some inexplicable reason, I find myself more interested in who the other human with no magical powers is than I am in the adventures of Benjamin Skyhammer. Possibly because there's nothing in here about his adventures. Does the other magic-less human have adventures too?

We need to know Benjamin's age so we can complain that the book is too childish or too mature for your intended audience.

An example or two of his adventures, revealing whether they're more like Jack and the Beanstalk or the rape of the Sabine women, would also help us determine the audience. From what's here, I'm thinking this is for middle grade.

It would also be nice to know how many humans are on Pangala, why they're there, and who else is there.

If you just say Born without magic powers, Ben is an outcast among the humans on Pangala, I won't be distracted by the mysterious other human without magic powers, who never gets mentioned again.


Anonymous said...

What's at stake? What happens to the world, or to the humans, or to Benjamin if Benjamin doesn't complete the ceremony? Does it matter that Pingala is really an artificial space station built thousands of years ago as earth became uninhabitable?

As it is this story has the standard fare: a misfit, a McGuffin, a Chosen One, but you haven't given the reader a reason to care what happens.

EE, the writer says this is YA. I had guessed adult because the MC was referred to by his surname.

Anonymous said...

Needs more excitement. Can't believe you've got divine intervention revealing things via earthquake, just to be followed by endless haggling over some sort of ceremony. Adults may be spellbound by ceremonies, but they generally strike youth as rather tedious affairs and yours can't even get started. Also, a secret to be revealed / discovered at the end is a form of bait but when the world's 'true reality' is the secret, I'm guessing it's all a dream or some other such disappointment. Maybe there's more to the plot than you mention here. Maybe the book starts off grippingly and then just sort of fizzles and sputters to an end.

Anonymous said...

Must Ben be "bitter"? Can he be feisty or wily or hard-edged -- like Mad Max? Can he find the relic as a result of his prowess, not some lucky earthquake? Maybe in your book luck plays less of a role and Skyhammer's efforts play more than you suggest here. I get the impression that he spends his days moping and swearing, and then the earth opens up and presents him with the solution to all his problems.

150 said...

If everyone else on the planet can do magic, why do they care whether Benjamin learns to or not? Doesn't that render the Relic and ceremony about as useful as a session of Hooked on Phonics?

If everyone else on the planet can do magic, what earns the mysterious sorcerer the title "sorcerer"? Wouldn't he just be "a mysterious normal guy"?

I am perplexed by the worldbuilding and the stakes.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in 2006 youtube phenom Lonelygirl15 managed to get adolescents around the world quite worked up about her impending "ceremony".

But that was because they thought she was "real", and they thought she was likely to be harmed, perhaps killed, during the ceremony. In other words, the stakes were high.

I put "real" in quotes because I assume most of the kids were aware on some level that Lonelygirl15's video posts were fiction. But they bought into the fiction; suspended their disbelief, which is just what writers need to get their readers to do.

Basically we need emotional buy-in to this story, before we care about the ceremony, the planet, or Benjamin.

St0n3henge said...

I'm bored. Benjamin is boring. This query is boring.

Make something happen. Anything.

Here's what you've got so far:

Benjamin doesn't have magical powers. (Neither do I.) Let's wait for an earthquake to solve this problem. Oh, wait- there's one. Now we have this relic- excuse me, a Relic- and we need to perform this ceremony. Well, perform it, already. Is this gonna be like the Seder at Uncle Mitch and Aunt Esther's?

But then the Bad Guy shows up and threatens the whole thing. Up until now, I thought only Benjamin and that one other human cared about the ceremony, so I don't get what's at stake or why everyone would be in such an uproar about it.

The rest is so vague there's no way to care about it.

You need to be much more specific about who the characters are, what happens to them, what's at stake, and the main choice that has to be made. Something like this:

"--Year-old Benjamin Skyhammer lives on Pingala, a magical world of sorcerers, etc.- but Benjamin has no magic. An outcast in his own world, he fights for survival-Suddenly, an earthquake uncovers an ancient relic that reveals a new world for B.- (information about relic and instructions).

"Evil sorcerer Zachariah steals the relic before Benjamin can completely translate it. B. chases Z. with the intention of getting it back. Along the way he finds others like himself- humans with no magical powers. They agree to help if they can.

"Unfortunately Z. has support from other Magics. He has lied to them about Benjamin, who is now public enemy #1. After several close calls, the non-magics find sanctuary for Benjamin with a kind old man who reveals to him who Z. really is- his son, a Magic gone wrong. Turns out the old man is really a sorcerer + astronomer and knows how to perform the ceremony.

" B. begs him to perform the ceremony with him during the eclipse the next day, but the old sage has something else to tell him- the shocking truth about the nature of Pingala itself.

"Now B. can go through with the ceremony, giving magic to all humans. But he now knows that doing so could possibly (info on how this could upset the balance of power, destroy the world, destroy something important, wreak havock, anything). What's worse, if Z. shows up and says the wrong words, he can create a new world where only evil magic can be done. B. is allowed to choose (the Chosen One?) but he must choose quickly."

Some type of closing that hints at the ending and you're done.

I know this isn't your story. It's just an idea of how a better query can be made. We need to know the main characters (with names), what's at stake for them and the planet, why it's so important that they do what they do, and a well-formed ending. You don't have to give it away, but make it clear just how badly things can go wrong or how high the stakes are.

Adele said...

First, tidying:
Para 3: implicate, not implicates
Relic: If you're going to practice random capitalization, you should work in more than one capitalized Word - otherwise it looks like a typo. I suggest you capitalize Sorcerer and Ceremony.

Mentioning in the first line that only two humans don't have magical powers suggests that Human #2 is going to be important in the story. If so, put #2 in the query. If not, don't mention #2 at all.

I don't see the threat here. Evil Sorcerer stands up and says "Skyhammer is out to destroy the Ceremony." Ben says "No, I'm not". Stalemate. Without any proof or any history of mayhem on Ben's part, nobody believes the Sorcerer, nobody's worried and the Sorcerer just looks like an idiot.

And how can you destroy a ceremony? You can ruin one, but they'd just hold it again at the next solar eclipse, so who cares?

You need to explain better how your world works, and replace vagueness with detail. Example: "the shocking truth of the very nature of his world itself" says absolutely nothing. If you said "through the Ceremony the Sorcerer will steal the souls of every human on Pingala, and only Skyhammer (and One Other) can stop him" - well, that sounds like a good read.

Anonymous said...

"and ultimately reveal the shocking truth of the very nature of his world itself."

This isn't one of those jar of Tang stories is it? You don't give any details as to exactly what kind of magic is performed on Pingala, so it's kind of hard to tell. Is it the standard spells and wands and stuff, or do they have the mysterious ability to turn the Pingalian soil into a sugary breakfast beverage?

batgirl said...

Some googling around informs me that Ben is a Relic Hunter, searching through the wilds of Pingala for magical artifacts. The ceremony is something to be performed by the Royal Circle of magicians (there's a complex hierarchy of Conjurors, Sorcerers, Enchanters etc.) that will (I think) allow the magicians to travel around Pingala themselves, and not need non-magician Relic hunters any more.
Non-magical people are a sort of untouchable underclass, with no protection under the law, scraping out a precarious living in the margins.
I'd guess Ben finds the Relic his own self, and the author might do better to cut the convenient earthquake out of the query.
Also it looks as if much of the conflict is Benjamin against the oppressive magical class - in which case it might be worth having him fighting for his 'people' rather than just himself.