Monday, September 02, 2013

Face-Lift 1151

Guess the Plot

Tears of the Phoenix

1. A Phoenix's tears supposedly halt imminent death, and even restore life to the recently dead. That's all well and good, but what Gabrie'Elle really wants to know is: How can she make the bloody bird cry?

2. There are a million stories in the city. But when it's August in southern Arizona, the only one editor Claire Crissly cares about is the one delaying the air conditioner guy.

3. When Asuran's best friend is killed, he must enter The Ruins to solve the crime. But no human can survive in the stagnant magic of The Ruins, especially a blind one. Unless....With the Tears of the Phoenix, Asuran might just pull it off!

4. Jorian's baby sister suffers a mortal wound. While everyone sits around praying, Jorian leaves to climb Mt. Streppe to harness the healing power of a phoenix's tears. He meets many magical creatures on his journey.

5. Televangelist Jimmy Phoenix crashes and burns while leaving the beer store. Affording plastic surgery isn't a problem, considering the donations from the Faithful he's been raking in. Forgiveness could be. He can only pray that a tearful televised repentance will put him in the telecongregation's good graces yet again.

6. The last phoenix's rise from the ashes was prevented due to excessive lacrimal exudate. The resultant imbalance in magical power set a comet on a collision course with Earth. Good thing DJ Shazam packs a hair dryer.

Original Version

I am seeking representation for [a] completed, 117,000 word, fantasy/scifi novel. The Dark Masters: the Tears of the Phoenix is the first book series where humans are no longer the dominant species. [I assume you mean the first book in a series where... You can't possibly believe humans are the dominant species in every book series ever written.] [Besides which, your statement implies that humans are the dominant species when in fact it's the Borg.]

Asuran Stein [Anagram: Satan's Risen!] and Felicia-Maria are Lancers of the Elite, the military might of the world and the sword of the Matriarch. [WHA--? Okay, what you're saying is that these two characters are Lancers of the Elite, whatever that means, and the Lancers of the Elite are the sword of the Matriarch, whatever that means. Got it.] Or, they will be. [WHA--? Okay, what you're now saying is that these two characters are not Lancers of the Elite, whatever that means. Should I trust you that the Lancers of the Elite are still the sword of the Matriarch, whatever that means?] Right now, they're just first year cadets at the Weapons Sorcery Combat Academy. [If you call it the Weapons Hocus-pocus Academy its acronym will be WHA--?] There are only two rules: stay out of the ruins and stay alive. In that order. [I find it inconceivable that something called the Weapons Sorcery Combat Academy would have only those two rules. There have to be rules against using weapons or sorcery to kill your fellow students. And against cheating on your necromancy test. And let's not forget the first rule of the Weapons Sorcery Combat Academy: You do not talk about the Weapons Sorcery Combat Academy.]

When his best friend shows up dead, [I'd go with "turns up dead" or "shows up undead." "Shows up dead" sounds like he's arriving somewhere. Wait, is that what they mean by the phrase "Dead On Arrival"?] Stein must battle his festering sorrow to uncover the killer. [You're saying that at the Weapons Sorcery Combat Academy, when someone is murdered it's up to a first-year cadet to solve the crime?] His biggest problems? He's human, [Not clear why that's a problem.] he's blind, [Crystal clear why that's a problem.] and the Sovereign don't believe in murder. [The Sovereign? Who are the Sovereign? And whaddaya mean they don't believe in murder? They don't believe it happens? Or they don't accept it as a means of solving all one's problems the way humans do?] [If this book doesn't go anywhere, I recommend starting a mystery series about a blind detective. He's worthless in the field, but his "Watson" brings him evidence with which he solves crimes thanks to his heightened other senses. For instance, "Watson" brings him a sea shell and he feels it and smells it and tastes it and puts it up to his ear to hear the ocean and then announces that the murderer is Spongebob Squarepants.] [Hold everything. Just to make sure someone else hadn't already come up with this idea, I Googled "blind detective" and it turns out there's a Japanese movie by that title soon to be released. Here's the trailer.] [Okay, but I have another idea. This one's for a board game. It's Clue, but in the ocean. The six suspects are Spongebob, Captain Nemo, Prince Namor, Aquaman, Ariel, and Jacques Cousteau. The weapons are spear gun, trident, fishing pole, torpedo, oil spill and trained shark. And the rooms are famous ships that sank. I accuse Aquaman in the Titanic with the spear gun.] [If there can be an Alaska Iditerod version of Monopoly, why not an underwater Clue?]

Meanwhile, Felicia-Maria struggles to understand why they chose her, a maid-of-all-work. [WHA--? Who chose her? The Sovereign? The Academy? The sword of the Matriarch? The Lancers?] When a seemingly innocuous list of medical supplies that could resurrect the illegal science of genetic engineering crosses her desk, she must overcome her desire to wash pots and scrub floors [I think I've solved the mystery of why they chose her. They needed someone to wash pots and scrub floors.] [Although it seems to me a first-year cadet at WHA would have more important duties.] [Even for a maid-of-all-work, I wouldn't think the desire to wash pots and scrub floors would be so strong that overcoming it would be a struggle.] and delve deeper into the murky world of brokering information and secrets. [If a maid can look at this list of medical supplies and determine that it could resurrect the illegal science of genetic engineering, I don't see how the list can be described as "seemingly innocuous." Unless... Is there a post-it note on the front of the document that says: "Bob--here's that list of stuff we need to start our cloning operation."?]

When their searches point them towards the ruins and one another, they must question if the answers they seek are really worth the consequences. Can a human survive in the world of the Sovereign [Is the ruins the world of the Sovereign?] and what place does a maid really have among the Elite? [Maids have always had a place among the elite. As their maids.]


Note: Since the Query doesn't give it away, the Dark Masters are the only legendary Elite who survived the ruins, while the Tears of the Phoenix are [is] a magic spell that can dispel the stagnant magic of the ruins. [That clears it up. Except for the part about what are the ruins?]


I'm in favor of hiring those with disabilities, and I realize that Daredevil gets by quite well without being able to see, but would an organization that bills itself as the military might of the world" recruit a blind guy?

Even if a pot-washing floor-scrubbing maid-of-all-work realized the significance of an innocuous list of medical supplies, wouldn't she bring it to the attention of someone higher up the chain of command rather than delving into the murky world of brokering information and secrets?

We don't need to introduce four different (or not different) organizations in the query. One is plenty.

Nearly every sentence in the query inspires questions that aren't answered. Start over. Your setup seems to be this: First-year cadet Asuran Stein must enter the Ruins to solve the murder of his best friend. And fellow cadet Felicia-Maria must enter the Ruins to prevent the resurrection of an illegal genetic engineering program. There's just one problem: The first rule of the Academy is Stay out of the Ruins.

That leaves plenty of room to tell us what happens when they team up and enter the Ruins, who tries to stop them, how they plan to get around this, what will happen if they fail.

Note that I capitalized "Ruins." I don't know exactly what they are, but they sound like they've earned a capital "R."


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writer, imagine some young person coming up to you, introducing him/herself, and saying "I'm a member of an elite neurosurgical team at the Mayo Clinic. Or, I will be. Right now, I'm just a freshman studying pre-med."

You'd probably not want to spend much time with this young person. It's somehow not very engaging when the first thing someone tells us isn't true.

I suspect you read somewhere online that your query should have a log-line. Not true. Most attempts at log-lines result in pretty silly-looking queries.

Focus your query on one character.

Identify the problem that character faces and what he does to overcome it.

Free yourself of any desire to make the agent understand all the intricacies of your novel and your world.

Write your query.

Unknown said...

Hi author,
I think this query suffers because we, the readers, have no knowledge of your world, and those few details offered don't give us enough info.

I really feel disconnected to both MC's.

Also, the grammatical mistakes are inexcusable. If you can't catch them, get a proofreader.

james said...

The something-over-200-word length of your query for a 117,000 word novel would fit neatly on a page. The trouble for me was that too much of what you said on that page blindsided me.

I could be way off target, but your presentation makes me wonder if there is so much you feel must be said on one page that you've resorted to one-liners in order to get it all in. Example: maid must overcome desire to wash pots and scrub floors. If you can't tell us, and quickly, why that is essential, it needs to be dropped entirely.

150 said...

Not that it's very important, but I'm curious how you decided this book is so far outside of the vast umbrellas of fantasy and science fiction that it needs to be labeled as both.

St0n3henge said...

I waited to comment on this because I couldn't figure out what to say.

Author, I can't get a handle on this query. It seems to be a series of mostly unrelated ideas.

Here is what I got from it:

People named Asuran Stein and Felicia-Maria are something called Lancers of the Elite.

There is something called the sword of the Matriarch.

There is a Weapons Sorcery Combat Academy.

There are only two rules: stay out of the ruins and stay alive.

There is something called "the ruins".

Some unnamed person is dead. For some reason it is assumed he was murdered.

Stein is human and blind.

The Sovereign don't believe in murder. It isn't clear who the Sovereign are or what this means.

Felicia-Maria is, or was, a maid-of-all-work. She has a truly strange desire to wash pots and scrub floors. This may or may not be because she was genetically engineered to want to do this.

The science of genetic engineering is illegal.

We still don't know what the ruins are.

The end.

You're missing something here, author. The story.

You give us two scraps: A list of medical supplies that could be used for genetic engineering, and somebody's best friend dies. The rest is just a list of possibly related stuff.

You wrote the ms, certainly you can clue us in on what happens.

khazar-khum said...

Author, I have a sneaking suspicion that you have heard that you must not give away the story in the query, but instead must make people want to read it. I also suspect that you are worried that if you tell too much, it might get stolen.

Both are wrong. Agents & editors are so swamped they don't have time to steal anything, so on that ground, you're safe.

You must tell at least enough of the story to get the gist of the plot across. If I tell you my book is about a Magic School, this girl named Hermione goes there, and there's a forest with centaurs in it, I've told you exactly nothing about "Harry Potter" even though those are all plot points.

So: What are the critical parts of your story? Can you sum it up in under 25 words? That's the place to start from when doing a query.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I blamed not being able to figure out what's going on in your query on my Monday hangover daze, but after a few days of not drinking, I realized it wasn't the hangover daze.

I think AA organized what we'd all like to know, and what's confusing us. I do want to know more about your characters, but I'm not sure why because I can't figure out what the story is.

(I'd play underwater Clue, and the slot machine version would be crazy.)

Author said...

Here is a revised query letter, based on your comments.

Dear Evil Editor,
            I am seeking representation for a completed, 117,000 word, fantasy novel. The Dark Masters: the Tears of the Phoenix is the first book in a proposed book series.

            The once powerful human empire has dwindled to a persecuted minority. Six other sentient species, who can shape the world with elemental magic, now rule.

The Weapons Sorcery Combat Academy trains the Elite, the magic wielding military might of the world. The Academy has only two rules: stay out of the castle’s ruins and stay alive. In that order.

Drafted for their potential to magically shape the elements, cadets Asuran Stein and Felicia-Maria have yet to comprehend why the Elite chose them, out of all the many, perhaps more qualified, recruits.

When his best friend dies, Stein must battle his festering sorrow to uncover the killer. Stein's biggest problems? He's human, he's blind, and only humans believe in the concept of murder. Meanwhile, Felicia-Maria, a former maid, delves into an underground information network to uncover the origins of a program that could resurrect illegal genetic engineering. With neither able to trust their superior officers or cadets, Stein turns to Felicia-Maria, and some unexpected allies, for help.

When Felicia-Maria is abducted, Stein will risk his very existence using the forbidden spell “the Tears of the Phoenix” to save her. In the ruins, Felicia-Maria must survive the bitter cold of winter and the stagnant magic that lies within the ruins to survive a death trap that has killed everyone who came before her.


150 said...

only humans believe in the concept of murder

Human detective: This being was killed intentionally by another being.

Alien detective: Preposterous! There's no such thing.

Evil Editor said...

This is mostly setup. You tell us about the world and about the situation the characters are in but not much about what happens. Just one character is abducted and another tries to rescue her.

Your last paragraph needs the ideas reversed. First tell us she is stranded in the ruins from which no human has returned, then tell us he will risk his life to save her.

I don't like calling stay alive one of the two rules. What's the punishment for breaking that rule? I prefer you just bring up one rule, as in Star Trek's Prime Directive.

Limit your setup to one three-sentence paragraph. Then tell us the story (the characters' goal, their obstacles, what's at stake) in two more short paragraphs.

150 said...

Okay, got THAT joke out of my system.

This is still not telling us the story, which consists of what, specifically, the main characters do to achieve their goals. Defeating a festering sorrow doesn't solve crimes (it might be a good first step, but on the other hand, look at the way fictional detectives drink). What's Felicia-Marie care about genetic engineering? What's she planning to do with the information? Turn them in, blackmail them, join them and make a million spacebucks?

You've described what other unknown entities have done to the characters. What do the characters do?

There are comma errors in the first sentence (not needed after "completed" or "word") and a redundancy in the second sentence (it's not a series of still photographs) and then there's the misuse of "believe in the concept of" (unless the aliens are quite stupid). Make sure none of these things happen anywhere in the novel before bothering with a query.

Tk said...

Hi author, I’m late to discussion, so will just comment on version 2. I like the idea of powerless recruits finding their inner strength, it’s a good archetype. I also like the idea of seven sentient species because it promises cool world-building.

I feel the query either needs to focus on Stein alone, or make Felicia-Maria more sympathetic. (BTW, which sentient species does she belong to?) It’s not clear to me how, beyond them being friends, their plot arcs belong together. Their two mysteries (murder, genetic plot) don’t seem to be linked (I’m sure they are in the book) and the final paragraph appears to go in a completely different direction with a rescue storyline. You want to convince the agent that everything is woven tightly together.

The sentence that makes up P4 contradicts itself. They know why they were chosen: because they have potential to magically shape the elements. (Is that the same thing as shaping the world with elemental magic?)

(Which is something that could do with being more specific, too. Who can make crops grow instantly? Who can mine and refine oil in one easy magical step? Who can raise an army of obedient slaves at will through mind-control? Who can threaten to carve off half the planet with magic if you don’t do what they say? Shaping the world could mean so many things.)

SB said...

These comments are about your revised query:

- I don't see how him being a human would be bad when only humans murder. Seems like that would give him an advantage over aliens (or whatever they are) trying to solve the case.
- It's not clear why they can't trust their superiors.
- It's not clear what the two main characters have been "drafted" for. It seems as if this would make them two of the recruits, but then it says that they were chosen over other recruits. So what were they chosen for that's special?
- The last paragraph shifts the focus from the murder and illegal science to just surviving the ruins. Which makes me wonder what the importance of the murder and illegal science really is, if the story's really about surviving the ruins.

Chicory said...

Hi author,

I'm so late posting you may no longer be checking this, but just in case you are, I think I get what you mean about the other beings not believing in murder. You mean they're not among the suspects and the murderer has to be human. If I'm right maybe you should just say all evidence points to the murderer being a human instead of trying to explain how the heroes know to narrow down the suspect list.