Friday, October 14, 2011

Face-Lift 961

Guess the Plot

Phantoms in Stone

1. The most exciting activity in Darren's day is skimming stones across the water for 3, 4, even 5 skips. He is delighted when he finds the perfect skimming stone -- it does TEN skips -- but when it turns and skips right back to him, he realizes he is his planet's only hope against the . . . Phantoms in Stone! Sometimes it sucks being eight years old.

2. When Miri is framed for murder, the villain escapes via a ring of monolithic stones . . . a time machine! Now Miri must choose: chase the villain into time and apprehend him, or stay and face a murder charge and lethal punishment. Sometimes it sucks being twelve years old.

3. It isn't easy being a ghost. Especially when you get stuck in a statue and must learn to animate it. Can Nella win the heart of hunky Dorian when she's inside a replica of Michaelangelo's David? Sometimes it sucks being fifteen.

4. According to legend, the boulders of Blacklow are home to King Arthur and his knights, who still undertake heroic missions. But how does a poor little waif inspire them to pop out and murder her evil stepfather? Sometimes it sucks being six.

5. Ghosts in the machine, spirits in the linoleum -- these were things Stephanie could take -- but could her demon whispering skills handle the new threat trying to cross the life-afterlife divide.....phantoms in stone? Sometimes it sucks being fourteen.

6. Stone, Arkansas is just a boring little town, until a clan of ghosts move in and enroll at Stone Central High. Two hawt phantom guys, Chance and Dearborn, are both crushing on 16-year-old Dakota Edwards. Dakota can't choose between them. Sometimes it sucks being sixteen.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

12-year old Miri wants to be a Master Instructor at the Academy.

But girls can’t be masters, or so her fellow male Scholars attest. [I know exactly where this is going. Miri works twice as hard as the boys and becomes the best Master Instructor of them all.]

Then a colleague frames her for murder and escapes through the Halo and into the Timestream. [What the--? Okay, I'm man enough to admit I didn't see that coming.]

Her choice is clear: make the Crossing into the Timestream and apprehend the real villain, and possibly die in the attempt, or suffer the lethal punishment the remaining Masters will impose. [Referring to the "remaining" Masters implies that the villain is a Master. When the villain was referred to as Miri's colleague, I assumed he was a Scholar. In any case, what powers does this 12-year-old girl have that would enable her to apprehend anyone in the Timestream?] [Wait, a lethal punishment for a 12-year-old girl?]

If she succeeds, then there is a high probability she can return to her Academic life. If she fails, then her rogue colleague will succeed in re-writing history, and white her out in the process. [If people don't regularly enter the Timestream, then it seems unlikely Miri would be worried about the villain rewriting history and whiting her out. More likely she'd assume he entered the Timestream just to hide.]

Her journey takes her to Eirinn, where Otherwordly travelers are legend but the fear of them is real. And her particular mathematical skills are not entirely welcomed by the natives. If she can’t come to terms with her reluctant guardian [When did she acquire a guardian?] she could be hanged for witchery. And then there are druids to avoid, a mythical stone of great power that might help her get home, and the usual pangs of growing up to manage. Even the self-reliant Miri comes to realize that every girl needs a hero. [This paragraph would be better used telling us how Miri plans to find and bring the villain home than in listing random stuff.]

Phantoms in Stone is a fantasy novel of 85,000 words. If you would like to read more of them, I am happy to send them along. Thank you for your time.


[The Academy is what is left of a dying world and the Halo is a time machine in the form of a ring of monolithic stones. No one has been able to use it for anything other than viewing specific time quanta through a portal, and the secret to its real function has been lost. Framed for murder, Miri must follow the real villian into the Timestream, where she discovers that some of the things she's been seeing - lush vegitation, warrior queens, and a mysterious man with green eyes - aren't just phantoms in a stonework frame.] [Good move, leaving the phrase "specific time quanta" out of the actual query.] [If everyone believes the things seen in the Halo are just phantoms, rather than scenes being played out at other times, why does the term "Timestream" even exist? If no one has been able to use the Halo for anything except viewing things through a portal, how is it the villain is able to use it to escape and Miri to follow him? Why hasn't anyone else stumbled upon how to use it?] [Not clear what you mean by The Academy is what is left of a dying world. Is it a school? It's all that's left of an entire world?]


Do we need to capitalize so many words? I can handle some of them, but "Academic," "Crossing," "Otherworldly," "Scholars"?

The first four paragraphs are each one sentence, wasting valuable space.

Wouldn't the fact that the person Miri says framed her has suddenly fled into the Timestream bolster her claim of innocence?

Entering the Timestream is like falling down the rabbit hole. Finding the way home seems enough of a challenge without having to apprehend a villain and bring him home with you. And bringing him back doesn't mean he's going to confess that it was a frame-up anyway. Why would someone frame a child for murder? Whose murder?

A Scholar at the Academy is believed to have committed a capital crime, and isn't incarcerated in some way?

I would start over. Something like: When Scholar Lloyd Lamamour is found murdered at the Academy, all evidence points to 12-year-old Miri. She knows it's a frame job, but when she chases down the real villain, Hannibal Lecter III, he vanishes into the Halo, a ring of monolithic stones that permits time travel. Now Miri must decide whether to follow Lecter III into the Timestream or return to the Academy where a lethal injection awaits her.

Then something about how she finds Lecter III and what obstacles may prevent her from bringing him home.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Is this adult fantasy? It's unusual to have an adult fantasy with a 12-year-old protag, but not unheard of.

If it's YA, the protag is too young.

If it's middle grade, 85k is too long. 75k is usually the upper limit. (Harry Potter doesn't count.)

The second paragraph presents us with what appears like a reasonable middle-grade novel story-goal. Miri's challenge is to overcome prejudice to achieve her dream. Never mentioned again.

After that, the word "colleagues" goes clunk and I'm wondering if Miri's gotten a lot older-- you usually don't have colleagues till you're in grad school.

There's a new story-goal: Miri has to solve a murder in order to avoid being framed for it. That's the plot of many mystery novels, but fine: it still has life in it.

Then she's off to Eirrinn (we don't know where she was before) and they don't like math there-- and she discovers every girl needs a hero. That's a romance plot.

What's the central challenge facing Mira and what must she do to overcome it? If it's the murder allegation, stay focused on that.

Anonymous said...

Seems to be a lot of plot shifting. Like you kept having new ideas about her next challenge and raced her off on a new exciting adventure while more or less abandoning each of the old issues. Maybe it's just the query. Maybe it's a problem in the book. Really, this sounds like the plots for a series of books. I'm worried that cramming so many into one book isn't working.

Couldn't figure what age audience you were writing for. Couldn't tell if all the action takes place while she's 12 or if she grows up and spends most of the book as an adult.

Faceless Minion said...

What they said.

The first thing your agent/acquisitions editor is going to be asking themselves if/when they look at your query is can I sell this book? That question is a bit hard to answer if you can't tell who's likely to buy it. My guess would be YA but, yeah, 12 is too young without extreme extenuating circumstances.

The plot does sound like it's wandering from the list of events given. If it ties together in the book, that needs to be more obvious in the query. Stick with your main plot, we'll find the subplots once you've convinced us to read the book.

The line 'every girl needs a hero' at the end raises a flag since I'm wondering if she goes through all this just to have someone else do all the work at the end in which case why aren't you telling us their story instead?

Rule of thumb in queries: Don't raise questions you aren't going to answer that need answering for the agent/editor to think there's something worth reading.

If focus is a problem with the book, rewrite and get back to us, we'll wait.

If it's just a problem with the query, ditto.

Good luck. Hope this helps.

none said...

Every girl needs a hero?


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

That may be the most attention-getting line in any query since the occlusion of a payphone.

150 said...

every girl needs to be a hero.

Fixed that for you! No need to thank me, it's just what I do.

vkw said...

WhooHOOO Buffy, RC and 150!

Actually there was the first hint of sexism. . . "But girls can’t be masters, or so her fellow male Scholars attest."

and, then the sexism just grows. "Every girl needs a her."

How about, "Every girl needs to be their own hero, thus proving the sexist beliefs of her culture wrong."

Stephen Prosapio said...

Wow. Once I saw "the line" I couldn't wait to see the comments. Can't believe EE passed up commenting on that one.

And I just want to let all the girls reading this, that I can be your hero, baby...


Jo-Ann said...

My take on the "every girl needs a hero" thing is... why stop at one? I'd love one to do the gardening, another to do the cooking and child care, yet another to be hot behind closed doors. Hang on, did I say hero? Sorry, meant slave.

@Author - you set the second para up, as EE pointed out, to demonstrate that Miri was determined to prove herself to be equal to or better than the boys and thereby challenge the restrictive assumptions of her society. Go Miri! Then it all comes crashing down. You seem to imply that young Miri needs to be taken down a peg or two for thinking herself as an equal (silly thing).

At the very least, perhaps think about a less passive heroine - maybe "Miri learns that its sometimes ok to accept help" or "working as a team achieves better results than going it alone". But I reckon that 150's and VKW's versions were better!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

You had me at "ouch". Chuckle.

Author, wow, I'm off on several rides here. If you could narrow it down or go with his Self on "start over" I would appreciate it. Confusing, idea after after idea, sexism likely won't fly today.

Having said all that, rein it in a bit. I have a few why's that weren't addressed.

Good luck.

PLaF said...

Dear EE's Minions,
Thank you for your comments and insights. In many ways, they have brought me kicking and screaming out of the luxury of denial. I will rewrite as you suggest and resubmit for your worthy advice. (Specifically, will eliminate the “boys are better than girls” cliché’.)
With regards to the line “every girl needs a hero,” my intent was not to devalue women, but to suggest that in order to be the hero of a strong woman, the man must be stronger still and that a woman is no less womanly for accepting him.
I have failed to effectively communicate that here. But I’m a fast learner and you’ll hear from me again.
In the mean time, can anyone suggest an online writers group for YA fantasy writers? My local group is the short-story, non-sci-fi variety.
EE, many thanks for bringing so many wise minions together. I’d say you were my hero, but….

150 said...

in order to be the hero of a strong woman, the man must be stronger still

That's neither true nor shedding any light on what happens in your story. Is there a romantic element? Because as far as I know, your female lead is twelve.

Just describe what Miri's choice is and what will happen if she gets it wrong, rather than trying to wrap it up with an off-puttingly faulty moral.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

PLaF, I'm afraid your explanation of The Line constitutes digging yourself in deeper, but never mind. Try

Stephen Prosapio said...

Double Ouch.

Misty Nelson said...

The title makes me think of the Weeping Angels in Dr. Who. Whatever you do, don't blink! :)

Absolute Write has awesome forums with areas dedicated to pretty much everything writing under the sun so you can get tons of help there if you want.

Nathan Bransford still has his forums up too I believe and he has areas for beta writers and critique help as well.

I do question her age. She's 12 but the plot of the book reads like something you'd expect to see a 16-year-old (at least) doing, particularly if there's any kind of romantic element.

Anonymous said...

@ PLaF. I liked the concept of Miri having to solve the problems you set - clearing her name against a murder charge, skipping worlds, avoiding being hung for witchery and so on. In fact it had some elements that reminded me of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which featured a feisty girl who was being raised by scholars. But your query fell with a thud when you suggested she needed to stand aside and let her hero kick ass on her behalf.

If the hero has the answers, perhaps you should be telling the hero's story instead. An active protagonist is always far more interesting than a passive one. Why does he care enough to save some other wordly kid? Why not leave Miri to her fate? And it would help if you dont make him sound like a pedophile in the process.

To continue the comparison with Pullman's heroine, Lyra was up against huge odds, and certainly had help along the way. She learnt to trust and accept input, but ultimately had to solve her greatest challenge with her own resourcefulness. And she saved a boy, too!

Remember - most agents you will be submitting this to are women - do you think they will appreciate the part about strong woman needing an even stronger man to be her hero? It made me gag.

Evil Editor said...

It's possible the book is not as gag-worthy as the query. While we view Frodo as a courageous protagonist, no doubt he viewed himself as a regular old hobbit and Gandalf and Aragorn as the heroes.

If that's the situation here, that Miri hunts down the killer in the timestream but occasionally needs a wizard or a warrior to handle things a 12-year-old can't, the key is to either leave all mention of the hero out of the query, or give us a better idea of how big (small) a role he plays. Is the reluctant guardian the hero? Does he have special powers? Can you just say he helps Miri along the way, rather than she needs a hero?

In the book, of course, it's best if when Miri gets to Mount Doom, her hero is occupied elsewhere.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writer, here's a Mariah Carey song for you and Mira to listen to. Note location of hero:

Anonymous said...

With regards to the line “every girl needs a hero,” my intent was not to devalue women, but to suggest that in order to be the hero of a strong woman, the man must be stronger still and that a woman is no less womanly for accepting him.

Sorry author, the above does not endear me. No matter your intent you are still saying men must be stronger and to be womanly acceptance is necessary of the stronger man.

With Buffy. Hope you'll rethink this.

Bicyclefish said...

"With regards to the line 'every girl needs a hero,' my intent was not to devalue women, but to suggest that in order to be the hero of a strong woman, the man must be stronger still and that a woman is no less womanly for accepting him."

Friend's translation: No matter how strong the girl is, there will always be men stronger than her.

Not good.

Author said...

The following is an updated query letter.

Sixteen year old Miri is stuck in Eirinn, far from home and about 500 years before her time. How did this happen? The Halo was supposed to help her research history, not transport her there!

Here, while Eirinnlanders might enjoy a faerie story told around a campfire, believing one walks among them tends to make them a little jumpy. Only Simon, the black sheep of the O’Donnell clan and her newly appointed guardian, seems to want her around…most of the time.

When Miri learns of the Tuatha De Danann, an advanced race that traveled between worlds using a sacred stone, she determines to find them. The trouble is they vanished as inexplicably as they arrived. The good news - they may have left the stone in the care of an elusive forest tribe. The bad news – a druid priestess is also after the stone and is not above using her followers to torch any village (or villager) that gets in her way.

Miri sets out with an outcast gypsy and learns of a connection between herself and the Tuatha. She learns the reason for Simon’s detached regard is a woman from his past – her future self. She agrees to a test in order to convince the tribesmen she is worthy of possessing the sacred stone, but fails. And if she can’t figure out how to make it work, not only will she never go home again, but Simon may be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save her from the druid priestess determined to possess or destroy her.

Phantoms in Stone is a YA fantasy novel / work in progress.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

none said...

If you tell anyone in publishing that your novel is 'a work in progress' you will get an instant rejection. Agents and editors want finished work that they can sell.

The 'one' they believe walks among them refers to 'fairy story' not 'fairy'. Do they believe a fairy story is walking among them, or a fairy, or someone from a fairy story? That needs to be clearer.

Also, is it Miri who's the fairy/story who's walking among them? That also isn't clear.

Why does Miri determine to find the Tuatha? Presumably because she thinks they can help her get home, but as the query doesn't say so, we're left guessing.

Why does the priestess want to destroy or possess Miri? Miri failed. Why is she a threat?

The Halo was supposed to help sixteen-year-old Miri research history, not transport her there. Yet now she's stuck far from home in Eirinn, five hundred years before her time.

While Eirinnlanders might enjoy a faerie story told around a campfire, having a faerie girl sitting by the fire makes them jumpy. Only Simon, Miri's newly appointed guardian, seems to want her around, and even he keeps his distance.

When Miri learns of the Tuatha De Danann's ability to travel between worlds using a sacred stone, she determines to seek their help in getting home. They've vanished, but the good news is the stone is in the care of an elusive forest tribe. The bad news is there's a druid priestess also after the stone and she's not above torching anything--or anyone--that gets in her way.

After Miri fails a test that would have convinced the tribesmen she's worthy of possessing the sacred stone, she fears she's stuck in Eirinn for the rest of her life. However, the druid priestess knows she can make the stone work--but only once she's possessed Miri's body.

If Miri can't forge a connection with the stone, then Simon, her only friend--and lover of her future self--may have to give his life to save her from the druid priestess. Then she'll still be stuck in Eirinn. Alone.

Mister Furkles said...

P1: You ask the agent/editor how the MC is 500 years before her time. Maybe it’s just me but I always hate it when somebody tries to entice me by asking questions. You need to explain to the agent/editor how this happens. And remove the exclamation point.

How about something like this:
Miri is only sixteen but already a history researcher at [some place]. She uses the Halo which is a [machine?] for viewing past events. When she does [something] not in the manual she is suddenly transported 500 years into the past.

The problem is that I don’t see the main conflict. Most stories, perhaps all stories, are about conflict. I guess that you are so involved in your evolving story that you can’t help but try to cram all the spiffy things into the query.

Condense the story into one sentence which identifies the MC and the main conflict. Then expand that to six to eight sentences of about sixty to one hundred words. Put it away for a while. Have others look at it and ask them what is missing. Then add in those details. Don’t wonder off into secondary story lines or minor characters.

It sounds so easy but it's so hard to do.

Evil Editor said...

P2: No need to start with the word "Here" as it could be interpreted to mean present day.

Also, "one" could be interpreted as referring to a faerie story rather than a faerie. If I said: I like to read fairy tales but I don't want one in my bedroom, does "one" mean a fairy or a fairy tale?

Plus, it's not clear why they believe a faerie walks among them. Is Miri a faerie? Is she dressed the way they think faeries dress? Do humans look exactly like faeries?

P3: Saying "the trouble is" is like saying "the bad news is." Which means you're saying bad news, good news, bad news.

The term "Tuatha De Danann" is better left in the book and out of the query. I'd cut this paragraph to:

When Miri learns of a sacred stone that allows travel between worlds, she determines to find it. But a druid priestess is also after the stone and is not above using her followers to torch any village (or villager) that gets in her way.

P4: Too confusing.

Miri locates the stone in the possession of an elusive forest tribe and agrees to a test to prove she is worthy of the sacred stone. But she fails the test. If she can’t come up with a Plan B, and fast, not only will she never go home again, but the druid priestess may succeed in possessing or destroying her.

Those are some suggestions based on what you've provided, but the two versions of the query are so different I'm not sure what the main plot is. If the Simon/Miri relationship is a major plot thread, it seems like she should set out to find the stone with Simon instead of an outcast gypsy. The original version had Miri going into the past to chase someone who'd framed her for murder. Now she seems to go back by accident and there's been no murder. Has that plot thread been removed from the book, or have you decided it was a minor subplot?

If she fails the test, and thus doesn't acquire the stone, do we need the stone in the query? Does she get it somehow?

How old is Simon? Is he a romantic interest? That you changed Miri's age to 16 indicates a romantic angle; does Simon have the ability to take her with him when he time travels?

You need to focus the query on one thing. I'm not sure if that one thing is the quest to get home or the romance. Or apprehending the villain.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Ah, this one. Congrats on ridding the query of The Line.

It looks like you've spent the last six months revising the novel as well as the query. In fact, it appears to be a completely different novel. But we're still not getting a sense of the novel's center. Ordinarily I'd suggest trying to sum the novel up in a single sentence, but it's possible this can't actually be done. The query starts with Miri's situation and ends with Simon's choice... so who's the protagonist?

It may be time to put this aside and work on something else. Most published novelists sell their fourth manuscript, not their first. One down, three to go.

PLaF said...

EE & Minions,
Thank you for taking the time to review the updated version and post comments.

EE - Thank you for pointing out the holes I do not see.
Buffy - Great rewrite. (I mentioned this was a WIP for the benefit of the minions.)
Mr. Furkles - Aarrgghh! Why is this so difficult? Thanks for your advice.
Alaska - I am revising the novel, including strengthening the main conflict, which as you've pointed out, is still lacking.

All, your insights are much appreciated.