Friday, July 22, 2011

Face-Lift 932

Guess the Plot

Duty and Death

1. When Lillianne's father tells her she's to marry the Duke of Gloucester's son, she can't believe he's serious. No man could be more wrong for her. A daughter's duty? Ha! She'd rather die. Better yet, the royal oaf must die.

2. Customs official Temika Wright is used to people trying to sneak something past her with a bland "nothing to declare." But an odd-smelling suitcase arouses her suspicions. What's the duty on a corpse?

3. Raised to be a cold-blooded assassin, the daughter of a tyrant has been tasked with marrying and then killing her father's enemy. But she falls for the guy. Is duty to her country (and her deranged father) reason enough to kill the man she loves?

4. Steve Billings isn't afraid of combat-- quite the opposite. But he has a deathly susceptibility to heatstroke. When his unit is due to ship out to Iraq, Steve is faced with a conundrum. No one is asking; should he tell?

5. Matthew plays pro poker, Mandy cross-dresses and Boutie never learned the multiplication table. And their Customs and Border Protection office now has to share space with the IRS. Wackiness ensues.

6. St. Peter's longing for a vacation - after all, he's the only one in heaven with no time for harp-strumming. When a soul arrives with exactly 50.0000% qualifications for Heaven and the same for Hell, St. Pete jumps at the chance to take her on a road trip around the cosmos until she tips the balance one way or the other.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Skydra is a killer. [That sounds like the name Sea World would give to one of their killer whales.] The daughter of a deranged tyrant, she is supposed to be the delicate weapon her father has molded her to be. [A wordy way of saying she's been molded into a weapon.] A conscience isn’t something he counted on, nor does he suspect she has the ability to hear her family’s thoughts. [Has she always had this power? Because I can't imagine a six-year-old kid realizing she can hear people's thoughts and not telling anyone.] Moments of split consciousness allow her access to the thoughts of others and have made her a silent observer to the atrocities of her father – including her own mother’s death. This gift now shows her that the man she is supposed to marry and kill is in no way worthy of that fate. As she begins to know his mind, she finds her task more and more difficult. Soon she is unsure if she will be able to fulfill her father’s demands, and duty to her country, by killing the man she is growing to love.

DUTY & DEATH, my YA romantic fantasy novel, is complete at 87,000-words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Not that I think you should rewrite the book, but wouldn't the conflict be more agonizing if Skydra couldn't hear people's thoughts? The fact that she knows, rather than suspects, that her target is a good guy and her father is a deranged wife killer makes her decision somewhat easier.

Why is marrying her target part of the plan? They've gotten to know each other, so I assume there's been an opportunity to kill him before the wedding day.

The last two sentences of the plot paragraph say the same thing. And what they say is already implied by the sentence that precedes them. Thus I suggest dropping them and adding two or three sentences about how Skydra plans to resolve her dilemma. You might also work in who the target is and why Daddy wants him dead. And use paragraphing for the plot.

Why specifically say Skydra can hear her family's thoughts, when she can hear anyone's thoughts?

Does she have any family besides her father?

If the "Death" in the title is the same death that's her duty, the title is sort of redundant. Usually a title in the Blank and Blank format has two different items surrounding the "and." For instance, War and Peace, Love and Death, Dumb and Dumber. Skydra's choice is Love and Duty or Duty and Conscience.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The conflict here is hard to nail down. And here's the reason:

1. Killing people is wrong.
2. Skydra's dad is an evil guy.
3. Skydra's intended target is a good guy.

So the conflict seems to be something along the lines of "Is it wrong to kill a good guy because a bad guy tells you to?"

The answer is, I'm afraid, "Duh."

Upping the stakes by adding

4. Skydra could really go for the good guy in a big way

doesn't really up the stakes, because we already knew the answer to the first question.

I think maybe the story is really about redemption-- can Skydra, who's let herself be led into evil by her father, become good? Can the fact that her target is a hottie force her to change? Or something like that. That's a guess obviously, not having seen your manuscript.

Anyway, figure out what it is and focus your query on it.

EE, I kept reloading waiting for today's post, because the cartoon was on top of it. I can't handle that kinda change!

Evil Editor said...

Sorry, fixed.

Khazar-khum said...

I really think that having her able to hear other's thoughts completely undermines the whole premise. For it to have the kind of impact that it seems like it should have, she needs to discover on her own that her husband is a good guy. That will lead to soul-searching, true conflict, and growth. Right now she already knows the answer, so why bother with the story?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the reason it's marriage first, murder second is that it lets the deranged tyrant dad gain title to some land?

It's not a good sign when we've read the actual query and we're still playing Guess the Plot (at least I am).

Anonymous said...

I can understand why Skydra's having the delema even though really there isn't one. She's been raised completely differently than a normal person, so her views of right and wrong are different than ours. We say "Killing peole is wrong" but who knows what Skydra's been taught by this crazy man, so maybe we need more info on that to make us see the delema. Otherwise, we're all wondering why she's having a hard time with this decision.

Anonymous said...

EE said: Because I can't imagine a six-year-old kid realizing she can hear people's thoughts and not telling anyone.

"Mommy, what's a martini? And why are you going to throttle me if you don't get one soon?"

Anonymous said...

Several things here don't seem right. How/why does she read thoughts? Is this common in your world or just some random gift she has...and why? Just to make the plot possible? If we get past that, then...

She's known all along that she's being groomed kill someone by her she either is down with that (as suggested by Anon 3:57, children raised by evil parents are bound to have different value systems). But then when the time actually comes...she's got problems with it?

And lastly the "the man she is supposed to marry and kill" line hit me like a brick. I imaagine that there's some sort of riches or power to be gained by marrying him...but the first line you've alluded to that she's already a she a secret killer? If so, doesn't this blow her cover?

Jo-Ann said...

Author, it sounds the plot employs the well-used coming-of-age theme, (adolescent starts to realise that her omnipotent dad is actually seriously flawed) but the query leaves a few glaring questions: If my father murdered my mother, I'd marry the first loser who offered, just to escape and then plot to have my father face justice. But if I were a "weapon", I might even try to kill my mad Dad. Why does Skydra not try to avenge her mother?

I liked the 80's movie Prizzi's Honor - two assassins (who happened to be married to one another) working for rival mob gangs and assigned each other as a target. Now that was a ridiculous premise, but it worked because the stakes were continually being raised. The pair loved one another, but had reasons to not turn away from their mafia families.

We need to know more about why Skydra doesn't just seize the opportunity to escape Dad. What may happen if she tells Dad to shove his scheme? Do any of nice-guy's friends suspect Skydra? Would there be a pay-off for nice-guy if his wife died?

Come on, tell!

St0n3henge said...

Maybe it seems like an assassin would have a different value system, but at least 99% (I hope) of the readers will have a more traditional one.

It's easier for adults to justify a character's behavior in a book. We understand that the character might have an entirely different value system than ours. We're also used to morally ambiguous heroes that show up in the politically- oriented classics, and cowardly or even underhanded anti-heroes that show up in literary classics and psychological dramas. But even adults will only put up with so much from a protag.

Teenagers tend to see things in black and white more than adults. They are also very justice-oriented and want the bad guys to fail and the good guys to win, and they want protagonists that are basically fair, if not perfect.

And, yeah, we really do need to know what terrible thing will happen to her if she doesn't obey her father, and it must be worse than her own death to "justify" her killing an innocent person.

I'm not suggesting a YA book must have a moral protag, but it has to be one that teen readers will accept. If she seems too likely to kill an innocent man she cares for, she won't be accepted as a protagonist at all. It will offend their sense of justice.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

AA: precisely.

batgirl said...

To take a slightly different tack, though, fantasy and thriller fiction and movies have for some time been glamourising assassins, mercenaries and thieves. So I'm not sure that a reader who's familiar with, for instance, role-playing games would necessarily make that 'killing people is wrong' connection, any more than many readers make the 'vampires kill and eat people' connection.
I mean, it needs to be addressed in the _book_, as the plot events concern it, but I'm not sure the query needs to lay out the moral / ethical standards.
However, I am with everyone else in asking for more on how the conflict affects _Skydra_. I'm thinking it's the conflict between obeying her father, whom she probably loves, and disobeying him, which preserves the young man she's come to love - but cuts her off from everything she's ever known. It would require a massive act of trust on her part.
I see this as potentially being quite wrenching - author, can you expand on that at all?

St0n3henge said...

I disagree. In order to be able to accept an assasin killing people in movies or tv, we have at least a vague understanding that there is a war or political intrigue going on that is mostly impersonal. Also, we often just assume that on both sides there are people who "deserve" it. we can distance ourselves from it more easily. We like the character and kind of space out on the morality of the conflict.

Here, though, the query states that she knows FOR A FACT that her target "is in no way worthy of that fate." Okay, maybe she could justify killing him for the sake of her family, though that just makes her seem cowardly, because she isn't saving her family from this person if he hasn't done anything.

The real point, though, is she's doing this for her father who is "a deranged tyrant" and who murdered her mother. Now she's a totally unsympathetic character if she even considers going through with it.

I need to know Skydra isn't just doing whatever is convenient to save her own hide. Where's her nobility? Where's her innate sense of justice? Where's her pride, if nothing else?

There's also the problem that it doesn't take a trained assasin to marry a guy and cut his throat while he's sleeping. I think anybody with a couple of days training with livestock could handle the job.