Monday, June 13, 2011

Face-Lift 917

Guess the Plot

Legend of the Phoenix

1. She's funny, generous with her time and critiques, writes excellent Arthurian romances and her query revisions are legendary. But who is the mysterious farm-girl who calls herself Phoenix?

2. A homophobic arsonist sentenced to a ward for three months finds himself burning with desire for the devastatingly handsome Dr. Phoenix. When a session ends in an outpouring of emotion neither can deny and the doctor’s family is destroyed in a house fire, can he prove he did not set it? Or is it all part of the doctor’s plan to start again?

3. A lone boy -- thought to be immortal -- holds the key to survival for a post-apocalyptic world populated exclusively by women. All the birds and animals on the planet are after him so they can quarantine him before he restarts the human versions of "hunting" and "mating."

4. 16-year-old Ethan accidentally releases the nymph queen from the Phoenix Sword, which could cause the destruction of the world--unless Ethan can do something to stop it. So he springs into action, recruiting his friend Anna to destroy the nymph queen. Then he takes credit for his resourcefulness.

5. Phoenixes are supposed to be colorful, beautiful, immortal creatures that go through a symbolic death every 500 years. Not so for Arisa Cantu. Her bird form is as drab, gray, and ugly as her human one and from all indications, will be dying for real in three months time. Her only hope lies in discovering the truth behind the legend of the first phoenix.

6. Cuban artist Miguel Cardova's family has kept their Chevrolet running for 70 years, but now his great granddaughter Marla has crashed it into a tree. Can this old car be fixed again, or is it time to load the bits and parts onto a donkey cart and haul them to Havana where they can be used to create a revolution-inspiring sculpture depicting mankind's universal yearning to travel?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Heroes are brave and selfless. Ethan Saunter lacks both these qualities, yet [I have chosen him as my main character, knowing it dooms my chances. Besides,] he knows he will become a hero because it has been foreseen. Unfortunately, for Ethan, the fairy who foresaw the prophecy [Actually, it was the event that the fairy foresaw, not the prophecy.] was actually a drug addict having a hallucination. [Have this fairy's prophecies come true in the past? Or are all prophecies believed, no matter who makes them?]

According to the fairy’s [drug addict's] prophecy, [If it was the fairy's prophecy, then perhaps you should say Ethan's heroism has been foretold rather than foreseen.] Ethan will defeat the deadly dragon Ranook on his 16th birthday, [Ranook's 16th birthday or Ethan's?] but on that special day, Ethan begins his journey (without any training or even a sword) only to quickly discover someone else has beaten him to slaying Ranook. [He doesn't leave until his birthday? Where's the dragon? On the next block?] [Ranook sounds too much like Nanook. It's how Scooby Doo would pronounce Nanook.] [I suggest trimming the last clause to: Ethan discovers someone else has already slain Ranook.] Ethan becomes desperate. All his life he dreamed of the day he would become a hero, but now that it has been snatched away from him, he must come up with a quick fix. He learns of a centuries old legendary blade called the Phoenix Sword that is hidden away and decides to steal it. [How did he know where it was hidden?] Unfortunately, his first swing of the massive blade breaks it in two, [What a piece of junk.] releasing the evil nymph queen Dahlia whose only wish is to destroy the world. [If you can't even get out of a sword without the help of some bumbling doofus, I doubt you have the power to destroy the world.]

Ethan takes this as proof that he is supposed to become a hero by defeating Dahlia, but Ethan is wrong. Attempting to reach his goal, Ethan haphazardly leads his friends Alexia, Anna, Seraphine and Samson into a dangerous battle filled with fairies, nymphs, not so wise old men and a queen and king strung out on drugs. As the group moves [move] closer to finding Dahlia, Ethan soon realizes he is not strong enough to defeat anyone let alone someone as powerful as Dahlia. [And the reader realizes that someone else should have been the main character.] [But who? Who is strong enough to defeat Dahlia?]

However, Ethan’s friend Anna, the trouble making young princess, is strong enough. [Aha!] As the descendant of the legendary phoenix, Anna has the ability to use the Phoenix Sword correctly despite its broken state. Rather than attacking Dahlia with it, she plunges the tip into her own chest, sacrificing herself and becoming a phoenix that can defeat Dahlia with its magical flame. [What would have happened if Ethan had used the sword correctly?]

Although Ethan does not defeat Dahlia himself, he realizes that heroism is not something prophesied or reached by shortcuts, and there is never only one hero in a story. [What about Rambo? Didn't you see Rambo?] Everyone has their own worthy talents, and everyone helps reach the end. [Everyone except Ethan. He didn't do anything except cause the problem in the first place.] [Actually, I don't see that anyone except Anna did anything useful. Why isn't Anna the star?]

Legend of the Phoenix is a 95,000 word Young Adult Fantasy novel.

I am an unpublished author looking for a home for my manuscript, and I feel that the Such and Such Agency would make an excellent fit for my story and I [me]. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Hyphens are needed between words that, together, form adjectives. For instance, centuries-old, not-so-wise, trouble-making, 95,000-word.

This is too long. A lot of it is taken up by the quest to kill the dragon, which never comes off. I assume the percentage of the book devoted to killing the dragon isn't so high.

Ethan really needs to do something besides release the nymph queen and learn his lesson about heroism. Most people would rather read about the girl who saved the world than the boy who didn't.


Whirlochre said...

Axe 95% of the information here and write about the rest.

Ethan, Dahlia, Anna plus a hint of worldbuilding — I glossed over the rest but might read about it if you smacked me hard enough with a voicey rearrangement of this quartet.

Adam Heine said...

Yeah, I was willing to go along with this story until the end. I expected Ethan to figure out what it actually means to be a hero (like strength and prophecies don't matter, but sacrifice does, or something). Instead, Ethan doesn't actually do anything.

You can cut the entire sentence listing Ethan's friends and what they face.

none said...

I thought for a while this was intended as humour, then it came off all worthy. Eugh.

You might want to give us some reason to care about Ethan.

Anonymous said...

This is my query. I wanted to have a story where the main character wasn't the hero because not everyone gets to be a hero. The whole story is kind of like the usual fantasy novel except things go wrong. For example the fake prophecy and the legendary sword that breaks. I guess that didn't work out so well.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

"The group moves closer" sounds correct to me. "Move" sounds like British English; okay in the UK.

Reading this query, I thought it sounded like a send-up of traditional fantasy quests, and that it was going to be played for laughs. But the query wasn't funny. Then at the end, it turned out there was a moral! Dear writer, do not go there. Morals are like certain bodily parts-- of course you have them, but you don't admit to it in public.

I think this could work if it's humor, in which case the query needs to be at least a little bit funny. If it's not humor, then you need to make it more clear why you chose the protagonist you did.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'd read about the one that farm girl.

This fell flat for me for the reasons well described by EE. Your MC is not a likeable character as presented here. The only person I'd like to spend some reading time with is the real hero and yet I know so little about her.

Some of the characters sound interesting, so there are some good bones here.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Oh, oh, oh - can I write GTP #1?

(awww *blush*. thanks.)

150 said...

Hmm. I actually think this has potential. It might help to move the revelation about the drugged fairy to the point when Ethan learns it. (I note that Ranook is discovered to have been defeated on Ethan's 16th birthday, which is actually pretty close for a prophecy!)

I'd stop before revealing the ending and set it up to emphasize Ethan's growth: "Can Ethan put aside his dreams of heroism in order to summon the (inner strength or whatever) to help defeat Dahlia, however small his role?" I don't believe his friends need to be named or described--possibly Anna, but possibly not, if you're not revealing the ending.

Seems pretty simple for 95k.

Looking forward to seeing a revised version. Good luck!

Dave Fragments said...

Is this supposed to be a comedy with Ethan as the man who can do nothing right?

Anonymous said...

It's me the author again.
Buffy and Alaska: it is supposed to be a humerous novel. It seems my query did not reflect that. Thank you for that info.
I didn't really mean to make it sound like there was a moral at the end and that's what the whole book is about. What I meant by that part is that Ethan does learn that there is more to being a hero (like what Adam mentioned).

Evil Editor said...

Whether group takes a singular or plural verb depends. My rule of thumb is to decide what pronoun I would replace the word with. In this case I would say as they move closer. If you would say as it moves closer, singular is okay. As we're talking about several people, I much prefer plural.

vkw said...

I kind of like the idea of the main character not turning out to be the hero - but, he has to be interesting and he has to do something.

The author may want to consider writing this novel from the perspective of the people who save Ethan's backside. Just an idea.

Not everyone can be a hero but a MC has to have something redeeming about him/her.

The minions told me it was wrong to kill off the MC. (They didn't even know here. . . ;0) I said - not every hero gets to live. However, I've come to realize that the minions may know a lot more than me.

If the MC is just the MC because he is misfit then by the end of the book he has to have accomplished something, changed somehow, learn something, redeemed himself somehow.

I think your MC does something or changes somehow in the book . . . doesn't he?

Also - I don't think Ethan comes across as a coward in this query. He does a lot of brave things beginning with stepping outside his door to slay the dragon and it is brave to have faith in what the drugged fairy foretold. Then he is able to recruit others to his cause to bravely face off against the nymph. So we have a hero that faces his destiny, has faith, is able to recruit people to his cause and bravely risks his life, (and the life of others) to fullfill his destiny and conquer evil. That sounds like a hero to me. Just because someone steals all the glory in the end doesn't mean he wasn't the hero. And, even if he does all these things for selfish reasons, well, MCs don't have to be perfect.


This books sounds more like a YA novel.

Adele said...

Writing an anti-hero is tricky. You seems to be saying to the reader:

"Here's the plot [reader invests time and effort] Hah! Fooled you! That is *not* the plot ... No, *here's* the plot [reader tries again] Hah! Fooled you again! You thought Ethan was the hero and he's not! Hah!..." and personally I'd throw the book out at that point.

If you take a critical look at movie satires, you'll notice that even the anti-hero (like Brian in the Life of Brian) is a likeable person. Ethan just seems like one of those slothful stupid teenagers who give all the other teenagers a bad name.

Anonymous said...

This query describes a funny plot and a bungling protagonist, yet fails to be funny itself. Author, I'd suggest you read some . . . I dunno, funny book reviews or funny movie reviews to polish your humor-writing skills.

You also need to work on presenting your structure. The real hero, Anna, comes in as an afterthought. The real villain, Dahlia, is announced as the side-effect of an accident. And ugh, don't tell us the moral. If Ethan or the world changes in a material way, tell us that.

And a visit from the Grammar Nanny: Unfortunately, for Ethan, the fairy who foresaw the prophecy . . . You need to lose that first comma.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Grammar is so subjective. I had this linguistics class where we discussed grammar-- a lot of things came out 50/50 when we put 'em to a vote.

Anonymous, here's the thing about a story having a moral. Editors hate 'em. Readers hate 'em. Most writers hate 'em. Who likes 'em is parents.

If you're really attached to the moral, I think stating it as a question, as 150 suggested, is better.

Ryoryo said...

the author says: I wanted to have a story where the main character wasn't the hero because not everyone gets to be a hero.

I like your premise.

A couple of things that didn't really seem to work. This is supposed to be humorous, and, in my opinion that is reflected perhaps when Ethan discovers that someone slew Ranook before he could. The rest of the story doesn't seem very funny -- in particular, the fact that Anna basically dies to correct Ethan's mistake. And it seems that the "rest" of the story is the actual plot for most of the book. Are there some humorous things in this part that you could bring out in your query so that it better reflects the tone of the book?

Also, closing with the "moral" is definitely not a good idea if you are trying for humor.

Here is one possible rewrite that will hopefully give you some ideas:


Heroes are brave and selfless. Ethan Saunter lacks both these qualities, yet a fairy has seen him defeat the evil dragon Ranook in a vision. So, Ethan sets out on his sixteenth birthday to fulfill his destiny, only to discover someone else (in my opinion, this would preferably turn out to be Anna) has beaten him to it. The "vision" was a drunken hallucination.

Unwilling to return home without accomplishing something to boast of, he decides to steal the legendary and poorly guarded Phoenix Sword. While celebrating his success, his triumphant flourishes of the sword break it in two. This releases the evil nymph queen Dahlia, who immediately resumes her plans to destroy the world.

Ethan takes this as proof that he is supposed to become a hero by defeating Dahlia. With the help of his friends, including Anna, a trouble-making young princess, he sets off.

now include some of the more amusing things they encounter (the druggy royals, for example) -- you mentioned a battle in your query, but from other things it sounds like that was probably more metaphorical?

As they move closer to finding Dahlia, Ethan soon realizes he is not strong enough to defeat anyone let alone someone as powerful as Dahlia. But Anna is. As the descendant of the legendary phoenix, Anna can use the Phoenix Sword, broken or not. Rather than attacking Dahlia with it, she plunges the tip into her own chest, sacrificing herself and becoming a phoenix that can defeat Dahlia with its magical flame.

Fortunately, Anna's sacrifice is not permanent, and, from then on lighting a fire is never necessary when it's time to make s'mores. (i.e. end this in a humorous way somehow)


Hope this is of some use to you, and good luck!


batgirl said...

What you may have here is the heroic quest told from the pov of a sidekick instead of a hero. There's no actual rule saying that the pov character has to be the hero or even the protagonist - though telling a story from the sidelines is kind of litficcy, and may make for a more difficult sale. (I did a short story from the pov of the wise crone who advises the callow hero-to-be and it took ages to sell)
I really do like the idea of a prophecy that isn't true, though I think you lose the subversive aspect by having Anna be a Chosen One by virtue of her heritage instead of by something she actually earns or learns.
There's nothing wrong, to my mind, with Ethan being a secondary character in his own story - but just as you would with a main character, you need to give us a reason to care about him. What does he want? What does he learn? Even if this is humour and he's a bumbling nebbish, he needs to also be someone we want to spend 95k with.
Check out The Last Unicorn for a bumbling nebbish whom we care about.
This is more of a synopsis than a query blurb.

Jo-Ann said...

I'm sick to death of fantasy stories featuring prophecies. To my mind, the genre is crying out for a parody. However, as written in the query, it all falls a little flat. A bumbling-hero-by-accident can be funny - Get Smart is one of my fave tv shows - but it needs snappy writing, excellent plots and engaging supportive characters to make it sing. Does your manuscript sing, or just howl tunelessly?

The query could benefit from making Ethan more interesting- not neccesarily more heroic. You could accentuate his sense of entitlement to make him an anti-hero of sorts (eg, "Ethan knows he's got it made. It's been foretold that on his sixteenth birthday, he'll defeat the fierce dragon Ranook. Why bother with the tedium of learning sword mastery and dragon-lore when it's in the bag? Sadly, someone forgot to tell Ranook's actual slayer, and.....")

Keep going.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I got several chuckles reading the query.I kept going back over it and grinning. The drugged fairy was charming. I liked the broken sword and the whole business.

The presentation was awkward. I look forward to the revision. This is one of the few queries that didn't irritate me with a prophecy/forseen/destiny 'cause that part of the presentation worked for me.

I shudder when the dreaded prophecy is mentioned but the spoof here was quite cool. Needs to gel a bit more, more voice, sharpen/tighten.
Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Everyone, thank you for your helpful comments. They've really given me ideas.