Thursday, December 15, 2011

Face-Lift 977

Guess the Plot

Aisuru, To Love

1. A dictionary for (use: next: year; when {our electronic overlords gain intelligence and enslave homo sapiens }) Also, includes an appendix of binary for unctuous sycophants; Goto 7734; 1011011011100110101110

2. Giirble, to Appreciate. Oisni, to Despise. Ignibble, to Confuse. 1001 words you'll want to learn, from Jaspimbe Froivfer's new crossword puzzle language.

3. Learning the language is only one challenge for Shelly, an expatriate artist living in Japan. But why is it she never seems to remember "aisuru", the Japanese word for "to love"? Is it just a coincidence? Or does she have a mental block thanks to a loveless childhood raised by a rodeo clown father?

4. She's a high school student trying to survive her senior year. He's the prince of the demon realm, tired of all the bickering in his family. Together, can Sakura and Kazuki find true aisuru?

5. When Jake develops amnesia after a bout with bad fugu in Osaka, he can remember only one phrase. It might be the name of his hotel. When he asks a sharply dressed tattooed man, his vacation becomes one he'll never forget. Also, Nyotaimori.

6. Japanophile Robert Billings has landed his dream job--teaching English in Tokyo. He'll finally be in the land of anime, hentai and lolita fashion. Will he find the perfect little waifu--or will all the girls just think he's a baka gaijin?

7. Melanie goes to Japan as an exchange student, expecting a year of fun and sushi. However, she gets trapped in a truly awful anime, and needs somebody to fall in love with her character to escape.

Original Version

Dear [Agent Name],

High school senior Sakura Takeshi has less than a year left to live. In the eight years since she was brutally attacked, she'd known her body would fail before she reached adulthood. [Was that her prognosis at the time of the attack? You have nine years to live?] She thought she'd come to terms with it until she meets [a] wounded demon prince.

Kazuki came to the human realm hoping to avoid a family dispute while spending time with an old friend. [Also to have his wound examined by a human doctor. There's a lot to like about demonhood, but the medical profession is still in the dark ages.] Instead, he learns his friend died years ago, leaving his adopted daughter behind. Though Sakura tries to hide her illness from him, it is clear that she is struggling to take care of herself and her house.

After agreeing to give him shelter, Sakura is surprised at how quickly Kazuki becomes a part of her life. [It seems to me that inviting him to stay with her a while would make more sense than agreeing to give him shelter. Did he request shelter? Is he in danger?] He brings fun and laughter to her life, even love. [Are we talking parent-child type love or romance?] [I can't tell if Sakura knows Kazuki is a demon. Does he look human? Are demons bad in this world? When you call someone a demon, I assume he's a villain. Maybe that's racist. I'm the same way with terms like "monster," "fiend," and "satanic serial killer." Normally I wouldn't expect a high school student living on her own to invite a demon to sleep over. If she doesn't know he's a demon until after they've formed a bond, I'd hold back his demonhood in the query until after they form a bond. They fall in love and then he says, "By the way, did I mention that I'm the prince of a demon kingdom?"] But continued troubles at home are threatening the peace in his kingdom, [Peace is the last thing I'd expect to find in a demon kingdom.] leaving Kazuki torn between his devotion to Sakura and his duties to his people. [I'm looking at Sakura as the main character. Thus I'm expecting the big finish to be her dilemma (Is she torn between finishing high school and running off to the demon kingdom with Kazuki?), not Kazuki's.]

Set in Hokkaidō, Japan, AISURU, TO LOVE is a 60,000 word young adult paranormal romance. [So, they're romantically involved. As Kazuki was a friend of Sakura's adoptive father, it would be easy for the reader to assume he's too old for her, and their bond is not romantic. How old is he? Does he at least look like a teenager?]

Thank for your time and consideration,


In what way is Kazuki wounded?

How old was Sakura when she was suddenly on her own? Seems like there'd be some system in place to help someone whose only parent died when she was thirteen.

Was the adoptive father a demon? It seems unlikely a demon prince would have human friends he drops in on for visits.

The writing isn't a problem, it's just that I expect a paranormal romance to be exciting. This sounds like literary fiction. We want more of the danger and romance.

You have two paragraphs of set-up followed by one very general paragraph telling what happens. Cut the set-up to one paragraph, something like:

Sakura Takeshi, struggling with illness, high school and living alone ever since her adoptive father died, is visited by Kazuki, an old friend of her father. She invites him to stay in her guest room while he's in town, and soon they've fallen for each other. Then Kazuki reveals that he must leave; he's needed to prevent a war in the demon realm, where he's a prince.

Now, if Sakura does know Kazuki's a demon, it could go:

Sakura Takeshi, struggling with illness, high school and living alone ever since her adoptive father died, is visited by Kazuki, an old friend of her father, and prince of the demon realm. She invites him to stay in her guest room while he's in town, and soon they've fallen in love. Then Kazuki reveals that he must leave; he's needed to prevent a war in the demon realm, where all hell is breaking loose.

Either way, you're left with plenty of room to tell us what happens. Does he want her to go with him? Does she want to go, or has she grown attached to the human realm? What happens when they get to Demonland? Can he offer her health and happiness? Whatever he offers, can he be trusted? After all, he's a demon.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

In paragraph one, the protag is Sakura. She has less than a year to live. Bummer. Sad. Awful. Never mentioned again.

In paragraph two, the protag is Kazuki, and he's looking for an old friend. The old friend is not Sakura. Suspecting character soup, I begin to detach from your story.

In the third paragraph, it looks like you haven't decided who the protagonist is.

Decide. And if the story has two protags, you should still write the query as if it had one.

Anonymous said...

Your first few sentences sent me off to read the news and check out Facebook etc. I came back to read the blue parts.

Seems like you have some good ideas but why is your plot so thick with physical maladies? Are they rolling around in wheelchairs, or what? Why are the characters impaired / dying of old injuries? What does that add? It might be really cool in the book but in the query it seems like an illogical literary gimmick used to solve plot problems that aren't really solved anyway, like why she takes a demon home, and why would he want to stay there.

How many unconscious scenes do you have? I fear the plot frequently advances while the protagonist is dreaming, delirious, comatose, in a drug-induced fog, or confronting bad news or danger with a swoon.

Faceless Minion said...

Author, please consider changing your title. It sounds to me like either a dictionary or literary fiction, not YA paranormal romance.

The plot sounds like you want to write sensitive literary fiction but are addicted to anime/manga. (I mean that in a good way.) Literary paranormal YA will probably be a tough sell.

If the book isn't written in a literary style, make that clearer in the query. If it is, consider dumping the paranormal elements and making Kazuki an exchange student son of her father's friend with a fiancee back home and the family corporation on the line or something.

Out of curiosity, what kind of demon is Kazuki? oni? akuma? something out of western catholic or buddhist tradition?

Collectonian said...

Those fake plots are awesome :-)

Thanks for the feedback. The novel has gotten great reception from beta readers, but the query has become the bane of my existence. In an earlier version, I more clearly noted that Sakura is dying because her heart and lungs are failing after she was repeatedly stabbed as a child. Her parents died when she was 10, her adopted father when she was 14. In Japan, one can legally live alone at 14 and as she had no family left and has plenty of money, she choose to do so.

I'd also more clearly noted that he was wounded by his brother who has turned against him. His wound heels quickly, he just doesn't want to go home until his father returns to talk some sense into his brother. She is 18, he is a few hundred years old but looks like someone in their early 20s. She does know he is a demon. Some of my beta readers also had the same initial reaction to the word "demon", presuming he would be bad. Would it help to call him a yokai instead, just to get away from the preconcieved notion of the word "demon"?

It is primarily a romance. The focus is Sakura and Kazuki's meeting and their growing relationship. The primarily dangers are Sakura's health, as she is getting closer to the end of her time. The stuff in the demon realm doesn't come into play until the latter half of the novel, so crits of the earlier version suggested dropping it.

Would certainly love some ideas on what I should and shouldn't focus on. If it helps, here are three earlier versions of this query from a critique thread at Nathan Bransford's forums: first I let others see, revision 1, and revision 2.

AlaskaRavenclaw: I did the para 1, her, para 2, him, format because it was generally the one recommended for romances, but I suspect that is being considered old school now. If I had to pick one main character, then I'd say this is Sakura's story.

Anon: There are no unconscious scenes. :-P Kazuki's wound is temporary, so could probably be dropped. Sakura's health is more relevant and affects much of the story, including her letting him stay.

Anonymous said...

This screams CLAMP (anime/manga) plot to me.

The romance with the demon leaves me meh. Either he's the same age as her adoptive father, which is a bit creepy, or he's one of those "hundreds of years old but appears 18" types, which I see way too often in fanfic and forum rpgs.

Zachary Gole said...

If his injury is temporary and doesn't have much effect on the story, I'd say yes, by all means drop it from the query.

Would it help to call him a yokai instead, just to get away from the preconcieved notion of the word "demon"?

Hm... I'd say no, mostly because I don't know that most agents and editors you submit your query to would necessarily know what "yokai" are, so they might be put off by the unfamiliar word. (I do know what yokai are myself, but I'm not sure it's common knowledge even among fantasy readers.) I'm not sure what word would fit well, though, if you don't want to use "demon"... you could go with circumlocutions like "supernatural being", but there might be no better alternative than sticking with "demon" and trusting your readers to infer that demons aren't necessarily evil in the world of your novel...

Wilkins MacQueen said...

de·mon/ˈdēmən/Noun: 1.An evil spirit or devil, esp. one thought to possess a person or act as a tormentor in hell.
2.A cruel, evil, or destructive person or thing.

Kaz doesn't sound like a demon.

I lost focus. Friend of the family, wounded, dying Sakura. Lots of loose ends/details I couldn't wade through. What bothers me is there is no story in the query.

This reads like you hated writing it. I think you owe the agent(s) more than unrelated noise on the page.

Find the thread. You've been beating this around for a while. Without a solid query you can't get this manuscript off the ground.

Unless you change your attitude toward the query and organize it to acceptable form there isn't a lot of hope this will ever see the light of day.

Take the advice you've been given is my best comment.

Aika said...

Hi Collectonian, my 2c: you have an appealing concept and world.

I do think demon has too much baggage. Yokai, however, would need defining. Can you try "shapeshifter" or something descriptive of who he is instead?

Nothing wrong with including the latter half of the novel in the query. Queries are supposed to have more than set up anyway. You might need it to show the stakes (now she's in love she wants to live after all?).

Eighteen-year-old Sakura Takeshi is dying. In the years since she was brutally attacked as a child, she'd known her heart and lungs would fail before she reached adulthood. She thought she'd come to terms with it: now an orphan, she lives alone and keeps others at arms length.

Until Kazuki knocks on her door. The 500-year-old shapeshifter has fled the spirit realm to avoid his homicidal brother. After agreeing to let him stay for a few days, Sakura is surprised at how quickly Kazuki becomes a part of her life.

Third para needs, as EE said, to focus on what Sakura has to do and the stakes for her (not Kazuki). Should include some peril but more importantly, emotion.

Set in Hokkaido, Japan, AISURU is a 60,000 word young adult paranormal romance. Thank for your time and consideration,

Aika said...

P.S. meant to add if you leave the father's friend bit out of the query, you don't raise so many creepiness questions

Faceless Minion said...

I like Aika's version. Maybe:

Eighteen-year-old Sakura Takeshi is dying. In the years since she was brutally attacked as a child, she'd known her heart and lungs would fail before she reached adulthood. She thought she'd come to terms with it: now an orphan, she lives alone and keeps others at arms length. Until Kazuki drops into her garden out of thin air.

Kazuki, a 500-year-old prince of another realm, may not be human but his injuries draw Sakura's sympathy and his will to live challenges her complacency. But, just as she's learning to live and love, political turmoil in his world demand his return.[might want more detail here]


(realizes he's in danger and follows)
(wants to help and follows)
(is kidnapped, used as a hostage, and must free herself and him to rescue the kingdom from his homicidal brother)

Keep the focus on Sakura and fill in the details. Try to keep her proactive. Good luck with this.

Anonymous said...

Your description of the book here is much better than the query because it is more specific. It sounds like it might be really good, actually.

In the original Roman context demons were a class of low-level deities. In medieval Christian doctrine everything is part of a great cosmic war between good and evil so demons were rewritten as agents of Satan, roughly the equal but bad-guy opposite of angels. Thus the word acquired its 'evil' connotation. Using 'demon' in your query didn't make it clear what sort of entity you were talking about because the word has no particular meaning in a Japanese mythologial context.

I would use an appropriate term from the mythology that inspired the work and add a few words to explain the character is a Japanese demi-god, or whatever seems most appropriate. Another common ploy is to use the Latin 'daemon' spelling, which will signal to some readers that you're talking about the Roman sort of entity, not the Christian one. An agent who specializes in fantasy might understand that. However, some people will just think you can't spell and be more confused than ever.

Zachary Gole said...

Actually, here's a question, out of curiosity: How do you actually refer to Kazuki in the novel? Do you call him a demon? A yokai? Or is there another term you use?

I'm still not convinced that calling him a "demon" is that much of a problem; "demons" may be universally evil in Christian doctrine, but non-evil demons aren't uncommon in fantasy, and it's presumably agents familiar with fantasy and paranormal literature to whom you'll be targeting this. Still, if you want to avoid the baggage of "demon", again, you could avoid it by just calling him a "supernatural being" or something of that ilk. (Aika's wording works if he is a shapeshifter, but nothing in your query indicates that this is the case.)

"Yokai" could work if you immediately define it—you can just on his first mention say "Kazuki, a prince of the yokai—supernatural beings inhabiting the spirit realm" (or something like that). Though honestly, from your description, he doesn't sound much like a yokai either in the traditional sense, so calling him a "yokai" might confuse readers who do know what yokai are.

Tamara Marnell said...

I also don't have a problem with "demon," because I don't see much of an alternative in English to mean a morally neutral supernatural creature. I always thought "yokai" was closer to "monster" or "ghost," but I only took one semester of Japanese in college and visited for a couple of weeks of sightseeing.

The girl-lives-with-demon-and-they-fall-in-love plot is popular in shoujo manga, and to me this sounds like a "Black Bird-meets-1 Litre of Tears," but I think it's fresh enough to Western audiences to work. But I also vote to change the title. Why don't you play on Sakura's name (I'm sure there are a bunch of sayings or puns for cherry blossoms), or include some reference to the supernatural?

Collectonian said...

Thanks for all of the great feedback everyone. You've given me a lot of food for thought and some actual excitement for writing this thing. I'll be back with a (hopefully) better revision :)