Thursday, October 27, 2011

Face-Lift 965

Guess the Plot

Clear Cut

1. Nan loves Timmy, but she begins to doubt her choice when Bob Bigford comes to town and she sees the longest chainsaw in the world stowed in the back of his pickup.

2. Laid off by the FBI, Mary Hudson needs a new gig. What is an woman over 50 to do? The answer is clear-cut. She removes every trace of experience and education from her resume, dons her tallest shoes and shortest skirt, and gets hired as the receptionist at Mumford, Blackwell, Jones and Dupont, a law firm.

3. Forensic artist Sophie Langley has a great life. Great boyfriend, great job—even a consulting gig on a hit TV show. But when hunky actor Dirk Beefcake makes it clear he wants a relationship with Sophie and her boyfriend, her future becomes anything but . . . Clear Cut.

4. Finally Diana gets a station at exclusive Clear Cut, salon for Hollywood nobility. Maybe an agent will notice her. Or an actor? Either way, she needs to stop dyeing everyone's bangs green.

5. The rules are clear-cut. In order to reach her career goal, Nanoken Riverborne must first perform three impossible tasks. The first of which is to find some wiggle room in the word "impossible."

6. Everyone laughed when Dr. Adam Tandashian claimed to have perfected the invisible laser, a surgery technique so powerful it leaves no scars. Hollywood beckons, but first he wants to rid his pesky ex-wife of her brain.

Original Version

Dear Evil,

There are three impossible tasks in the world: helping the helpless, redeeming the irredeemable, and changing the unchangeable. [It's certainly not impossible to help the helpless. For instance, a person who's paralyzed might be called helpless, and you could help him by washing his feet or changing the channel on his television. "Helping the unhelp-able" is more in line with the rest of the list, but the list is silly. You may as well add to the list of impossible tasks: slicing the unsliceable, stabbing the unstabbable, painting the unpaintable, editing the uneditable, etc. They're impossible by definition. Also, your tasks are all vague. They aren't tasks, they're categories of tasks. Driving a car from New York to Bermuda in twenty minutes is a specific impossible task. It's easy to grasp. It doesn't seem to fall into any of your categories, however. If your list is not the only three impossible tasks, you need to provide some reason that these are the three you've chosen to list.] That's not supposed to stop priestesses. Just to finish her training, Nanoken Riverborne has to do something impossible. [When she reports that she did something impossible, won't her superiors say that it quite obviously wasn't impossible?] There's no way Ken will fail. She'll do anything to be a priestess. Her family owes priestesses everything. [Does her impossible task have to fall into one of the three categories you listed? If so, drop the first sentence and open something like: Nanoken Riverborne has been training most of her life to become a priestess. To complete her training, she must feed a starving child, reform Borgo the Disemboweler, and prove that pi = 4.] [Note that I've made the tasks more specific.]

Traveling across the continent to the purple pools proves a quester is worthy to be a priestess. [If the Purple Pools are worth crossing a continent for, they're worth capitalizing.] [If making it to the Purple Pools makes you worthy of being a priestess, why do you also have to do the impossible?] It's also a great way to encounter people in need of exorcisms, something only priestesses can do. [But she isn't a priestess.] That's one way to help the helpless. Some others include protecting the weak, small children, and the mentally ill, like Ken's mother. Ken will help the helpless, all of them she can find, even if it kills her. [First you claim helping the helpless is one of the three impossible tasks; then you list numerous ways to do it. Define "impossible."] [By the way, if I haven't made it clear yet, I recommend leaving the part where she has to do the impossible out of the query.]

Finishing her training also means choosing a bodyguard from convicted felons. Ken chooses Rafe after he pulls a rapist off her. [Whoa. She has to choose from convicted felons while she mingles with them at a party? How are these felons close enough to attack her?

Head Priestess: Here's a group of convicted felons. Get to know them, but you may not ask them what their crime was. Choose one as your bodyguard.

Ken: For starters, I'll eliminate the one who's currently raping me. Let's see . . .

[Why would the rapist attack her before knowing if she's going to choose him as a bodyguard? If he's chosen, he can wait till later and rape her when there's no one around to pull him off.]
It doesn't even matter that Ken's the only one in her class not allowed the juicy details of his crimes; he's just three years older than Ken and says she reminds him of his sister, tidbits that convince Ken he'll be easy to redeem. [If he's easy to redeem, he's not irredeemable. She needs to redeem the irredeemable, so she should choose the guy who's so irredeemable he rapes her during the bodyguard-choosing ceremony.]

Changing the unchangeable means freeing a slave. [Why don't you just say she has to free a slave instead of change the unchangeable?] Ken has no interest in that. Who wants to convince a lazy, conniving slave to walk across the continent, anyway? [Where I come from, a lazy conniving slave is a dead slave.] In a thousand years, no slave's completed the journey that dozens of questers make every year. Ken thinks they don't want to be free.

[Premise 1: To become a priestess you must free a slave and convince her to walk across the continent.
Premise 2: No slave has completed the journey for a thousand years.
Conclusion: There are no priestesses (unless they live more than 1000 years).]

One does. Saphron can't do simple math, has never ridden a horse, and her religious knowledge is so lacking she may as well be helpless. [I'm just wild about Saphron.] Ken can't not help the helpless; it's all she's ever wanted to do. That's a problem [because it's impossible]. Freeing slaves is supposed to stay impossible. Too bad Ken vowed otherwise before the priestesses told her.

Clear Cut is a complete YA fantasy at 110,000 words. It should appeal to fans of Graceling.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.



This is all setup. Is there a villain? Someone who doesn't want Ken to become a priestess? Or are the whole 110,000 words devoted to accomplishing three tasks? Dorothy travels to Oz and performs some tasks, but someone's out to get her. Does Ken have obstacles other than the fact that her tasks are "impossible"?

The Purple Pools just doesn't have the same ring to it as Mount Doom. No one would cross an entire continent to get to purple pools.

The title doesn't give any indication of what kind of book this is.

Start over. Keep the setup brief. To become a priestess, Ken must cross the continent with a freed slave and a convicted murderer while doing a, b and c. Then tell us the story. What happens? What if she fails? Who wants her to fail? What does she learn about herself, life, the world? The slave and felon may be what makes this different from other quest books. Make sure you mention how instrumental they are.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Clear-cut I'm afraid this query is not. I'm trying to extract the central challenge... guess it's what EE said? She has to cross the continent with a slave so she can become a priestess.

What's at stake: If she doesn't do it, she can't be a priestess.

The obstacles: not yet clear-cut.

This query reads a little like the way adolescents talk: everything's the worst, the craziest, the biggest...

On the rewrite, tone down the emo. Don't try to convince us that anything's "-est". EE's right: get specific. Tell us precisely what the protag needs to do and exactly what's at stake.

(And leave out subplots.)

/lol wild about Saphron, oh dear

Anonymous said...

Didn't make it through that illogical jumble. Sounds like the novel might not be ready for prime time.

Victor Bondar said...

On the list of impossible tasks my favorite is 'editing the uneditable'. Even that is relative, as EE proves time and again.
All the superlatives are not a substitute for the story. The query is long but missing structure and substance. I suspect the YA manuscript at more than 100000 words might have the same problem.

Anonymous said...

And for Ghu's sake, don't call her "Ken" as a nickname! I kept envisioning Barbie as the BFF on the quest...

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yes, the image that pops up on seeing the name Ken is of a plastic doll. I know writers get very attached to character names, but you might want to change that.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't until the last paragraph that I realized Ken and Nanoken were the same person.

Khazar-khum said...

If a priestess has to be alone with a felon, I would think that the last type of felon she'd be sent with is a rapist. Unless you want titillation, that is.

None of these tasks really sound impossible. Multiplying by zero is impossible. The Cubs winning the World Series is impossible. But freeing a slave and reforming a felon?

Evil Editor said...

12 X 0 = 0 Voila!

Eric said...

The fourth impossible task is reading "Ken" as a female name. Have you considered calling her "Nan"? Even "Kennie" would be better.

(Unless her secret is that she's a man who's always wanted to be a priestess so he disguised himself as a woman to join the order... plot twist?)

What sort of religion are these priestesses about? Those seem like fairly arbitrary tasks for them.

none said...

I don't understand what's meant by '[Saphron's] religious knowledge is so lacking she may as well be helpless'. How would having religious knowledge help her? How has she survived without it so far?

Does 'Ken have to believe six impossible things before breakfast or just achieve one of the 'impossible' tasks? Even that wasn't clear to me.

If slaves can only be freed after a trek no slave has ever survived, I suppose they might well 'not want to be free'. They might view it as, well, impossible. Plus, who wants to be stuck on the other side of the continent from everyone and everything they've ever known?

vkw said...

I read clever in this query. I think it may be even interesting.

I get the plot.

Kerri (I changed the name), an acolyte, must complete her training in order to become a priestess. Her final homework assignment is to travel across the continent with a convicted felon and a slave.

Along the way she must help others, which is easy for her to do since she has dedicated her life to serving others. What may not be easy is reforming the convict, acting as her bodyguard and freeing the slave because (I have not a clue, I'll make something up - most of the time don't you free slaves by proclamation or by buying the slave and setting her/him free? By the way, I would think that if Kerri really wanted to do some good she would free all of the slaves by causing political unrest thus she accomplishes all three tasks and doesn't have to leave home.) until Saphron is able to master long-divisons, horse ride and converts to Strange Religion Number 1.

Along the way Keri discovers something very important as she overcomes something not nice, (her own insecurities, limitations, over-confidence, Evil Minion #1) and grows up to discover the helpless are not helpless.

I'm pulling out my soap box. Individuals with mental illnesses are not helpless. They are individuals with a disability. Calling someone helpless is insulting and insensitive. Labeling a person with a disability as being helpless is so 70ish. We are 2011, most individuals will develop a disability in their lifetime - so its not even unique anymore.

Do you really want to write a book for young adults labeling a person with a a disability as being helpless? I get the demonically possessed and children . . . but . .

Anonymous said...

What vkw said. But you need to convey this more clearly. Don't stay stuck in Nanke's pov, where she doesn't see her prejudices. Give away to the agent that it's an inner journey.

Also, I worry about the Rafe character. Reforming the bad boy is not only a trope but one that raises red flags about promoting unhealthy relationships. Because of this, I think you'll do better if the query puts such fears to rest.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I submit that it is dividing by zero that is impossible.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

...who wants to be stuck on the other side of the continent from everyone and everything they've ever known?

Buffy, a very large proportion of the adult population of Alaska.

Anonymous said...

I submit that it is dividing by zero that is impossible.

12 ÷ 0 = ∞

VoilĂ .

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Loath though I am to argue with anonymice, I can't help but feel that if

12 ÷ 0 = ∞

then it would follow that

∞ x 0 = 12

which, at least in our dimension, it does not.

Anonymous said...

You don't need to stray into a different dimension; merely into calculus...

Anonymous said...

@ Alaska and anon - I'm impressed you guys can locate the infinity symbol on the keyboard!

@ writer.
Ok, lick your sores. It's not that bad. I reckon there's a good adventure in there. I'm also a sucker for a good conundrum/ riddle. You know, something that's been twisted to sound impossible, but is just clever phrasing.

Perhaps if you can word Ken's challenges into something like "find something that has four legs in the morning, two during the day and three in the evening" and she needs to use her wit to figure out what she needs to do (then does it) you might have a winner.

Keep trying.

none said...

I rather thought more Americans went to live in California than Alaska, although it may be the migration destination of choice for moose.

Alaina said...

Alaina has left a new comment on your post "Face-Lift 965":

Writer here. Thank you all for your time and comments. I ran this by a critique group several times, but I thought they may have gotten too familiar with the story to be able to spot any more confusing spots or problems. It seems I was right.

I have come up with a two-sentence logline, but I couldn't fit it into the query. Perhaps that was a hint. I'm going to reconsider things and post a revision (hopefully much improved) in a week or two.

Thank you!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Nah, you've got it backward. People who live in California were in many cases actually born there. Alaska's a place people move to, often in a huff, one step ahead of the law, and/or with an accompanying change of name.

Moose, OTOH, get born in Alaska. You can do a helluvalotta migrating without leaving Alaska. But they seem to prefer downtown Anchorage.

none said...

I knew I shouldn't get my migration info from a large herbivore.

Alaina said...

Author here. I've rewritten it-- about ten times, actually-- and have come up with another approach. My normal critiquers have no further comments. Do you?


Dear E. Editor,

In April, Nanoken Riverborne, Ken, started the last phase of priestess training, a cross-continent journey. In May, with the help of her traveling companions, she crossed a desert. In July, she learned the best-kept secrets of the priestesses.

In April, Ken vowed to complete at least one of three 'impossible' tasks. In May, she successfully performed her first exorcism and trapped the demon in a crystal. In July, she gave the demon crystal to her high priestess.

In April, Ken met Rafe, the mass murderer she's supposed to redeem. In May, Rafe protected her from bandits. In July, Ken's high priestess turned Rafe into a frog.

In May, Ken met Saphron, the slave she's supposed to free. In June, Ken exorcised Saphron, freeing her from demonic possession and earning the girl's trust. In July, the high priestess tells Ken that slaves are supposed to be possessed: they get brief periods of freedom to go on the journey with priestess trainees, for safety's sake, but they don't have enough crystals for all the demons.

In May, Ken wanted nothing more than to be a priestess. In June, Ken swore she would complete all three of the 'impossible' tasks. In July, Ken defied her high priestess and fled.

In August, Ken will knowingly side with people who try to kill priestesses. In August, Ken's face will be on wanted posters and she'll get possessed herself. In August, Ken will try a special ritual that may banish demons for good... if the priestesses don't stop her.

CLEAR CUT is a completed YA fantasy at 109,000 words. It chronicles from late April to August. I have enclosed the soul of my first-born child, as per your instructions.

Thank you for your time.


Evil Editor said...

I don't like this approach at all. There's too much of the back and forth. I could see choosing one event for each of three months, but not 6 paragraphs of this. No one could keep track of it all. Focus on one character, her goals and obstacles, and what's at stake.

Alaina said...

Thanks, E. Editor. I've made more revisions-- by the truckload-- and am ready for another hard dose of reality.


Dear Evil Editor,

Despite all her ambition, Ken won't make a very good priestess. She made it to the last stage of training, but she'd rather comfort her classmates than walk across the continent doing “impossible” deeds. When she chooses a convict to rehabilitate, she goes with the nicest person on death row. When the slaves come, hoping she can free them, she chases most away. It's a good thing she only needs to complete one of the three “impossible” tasks, but even she has to question her abilities when she can't help a pregnant woman the priestess way. How does she expect to be able to exorcise a demon?

That's when Ken turns her attention to Saphron, the one slave who didn't leave. Saphron can read, but she can't use a map. She can haggle, but she can't ride a horse. And she's not afraid to call Ken out on her misplaced priorities. When even the convict lectures Ken, Ken stops treating them as projects and starts treating them as people. Soon, they become more than that-- her friends.

But not all steps on the journey are so straightforward. Ken swears she'll free Saphron, but that's before she reaches the journey's midpoint. Before her high priestess tells her there's a reason no one's ever freed a slave. One task is meant to teach that some things are beyond even priestesses. If Ken continues to help Saphron, she won't be a priestess, her lifelong dream. If Ken continues to help Saphron, they may end up dead. But if Ken does it anyway, she may be the first priestess to really complete the impossible.

CLEAR CUT is a completed YA fantasy of 108,000 words. I have enclosed (INSERT REQUIREMENTS HERE).

Thank you for your consideration.