Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Face-Lift 1154

Guess the Plot

Where the Lines Begin

1. They call him the man in black, but Johnny knows all he has to do is sing the blues. Now he has fame, and cash, but a vindictive cop named Sue has it in for John. After a few too many beers, Folsom prison is calling his name. All he has to do is walk the line, if only he could find...

2. Photographic guide to the world's Apple stores. Also available as an app and an Instagram gal-- just a second, I have to take this... Hello?

3. The bank. The grocery. The ladies' room. This non-fiction treatise examines the origin of queuing and how it saved Damascus in 1654.

4. A hot day, three surly kids, no beer, $100 on refreshments down the tubes, and Mark still has no idea where the line for the 'Monsters Inc' ride begins.

5. Jeremiah Owens discovers that all of the lines mankind relies on for food and transportation originate beneath the ancient city of Thule. He is convinced that if he goes there and commits suicide, he'll save the world. Whether he's right or wrong, it looks like there won't be a sequel.

6. Jenny Aberdeen wants to break out of her life as a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She pitches a show to Discovery Channel about the very first lane markers in the US. If she plays her cards right, she'll get a TV gig and a book deal and someone else will pay for her 'workation'. Best seller list, here she comes!

Original Version

Dear most Evil Editor, 

The world burned, the mages died, and Jeremiah Owens survived by making a deal with Fate. He got endless chances to save the world and immortality. She got his soul.

Ever since Jeremiah Owens made that thrice-cursed deal he’s been running. Running in an endless loop in time trying to save the world. Running out of hope.

A lifetime ago, and a week from now, a necromancer absorbed [/will absorb] the ley lines mankind has come to rely on for food and transportation. With their power he will unleash a horde of the undead, and they’ll pour across the earth. 

After dying more times than [an immortal guy should have to, or than] he cares to remember, Jeremiah has discovered the ancient city of Thule holds the key to saving the world. [Keys are always in the last place you look.] [If you want to cut 20,000 words, have Jeremiah check out Thule before he tries Cimmeria and Aquilonia and Stygia.] [Does he discover Thule is the key in an ancient book, or is it basically process of elimination: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, even if it's Thule, must be the key."--Sherlock Holmes]

Jeremiah must reach Thule before the necromancer breaches the wards protecting it, and brave the horrors that were left behind when the city was abandoned. The ley lines start deep beneath the ancient city. A life freely given there will ensure the lines are protected, but the sacrifice’s soul will be destroyed. [How is this known?]

Only, his soul belongs to Fate, and no one gets out of a deal with her. She moves to collect, [Collect his soul? I thought she already got his soul. (See the last sentence of paragraph 1.)] [If she doesn't get his soul till he dies permanently, why would she give him immortality?] stripping him of the immortality he has damned himself for, and sends her soldiers to hound him on his trek to Thule. [No one gets out of a deal with Fate, but Fate can just renege on her part of the deal? In my opinion if she strips him of his immortality she doesn't get his soul. A deal's a deal.]

The question is, can he kill himself before Fate, or Thule does it for him? [So the readers are supposed to root for the main character to kill himself?] [Wouldn't it be easier to kill the necromancer than to fight (and dig) his way deep beneath Thule to kill himself?]

Where the Lines Begin is a complete 100,000-word fantasy novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



If Fate were the one who was threatening to unleash zombies, or if the necromancer were the one who granted Jerry immortality, we could focus on one villain. Are Fate and the necromancer in cahoots? Normally I would expect Fate to have a broader agenda than a necromancer, yet here the necromancer wants to pour zombies across the earth, while Fate wants to hang onto one soul. Fate is above this fray. She should cause the necromancer to get run over by a bus. Didn't she get enough souls when the world burned?

Is Jeremiah a mage or just some guy?

When the world burned/will burn, did/will everyone except Jeremiah die? Or did/will just the mages die? What's the difference between a necromancer and a mage?

According to Wikipedia, the term "ley lines" was coined in 1921. Is the term used in the book? When is the book set? Ley lines don't strike me as things that can be absorbed. Is it their mystical energy the necromancer absorbs?

I think if you could get this sentence: A lifetime ago, and a week from now, a necromancer absorbed the ley lines mankind has come to rely on for food and transportation. out of the query you'd be better off. Maybe in the query you can refer to some kind of power source rather than the beginning point of the ley lines, especially as you describe the lines' food and transportation aspect rather than their supposed mystical qualities.


Anonymous said...


If you can answer EE's questions and rework I think you will improve the query.

Good luck, loved EE's sentence. Man, he just won't mind meld with me even though I am convinced I've got Vulcan blood. Darn.

Nice try, just play with it more. Not there yet but you can do it.

Wilkins MacQueen

Unknown said...

It seems like there are a lot of stories with the hero(ine) trying to save the world--by killing him/herself up for query lately.. Why is this an appealing concept? Is it a Christ-complex?

I'm confused by Fate's role. Did the world go back to normal after the soul bargain, or is this some groundhog-end-of-days vicious cycle? Like, the world's burned for the past 666 weeks in a row, but this time the necromancer got the down low and sets the zombies free...this isn't clear to me.

So, author, it's clear to me that you can write. Unfortunately, I'm stymied by too many plot currents. Too much purple prose.

Try paring this down to the bones of the plot and then put a bit of the meat back, avoiding all the clauses.

Is this a multi-viewpoint story? Seems that way.

Focus on how Jeremiah, a soulless immortal, can sacrifice a soul he does not possess in order to save a destroyed world...and you'll start understanding how this all went astray for me.

Best of luck.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, writer, you have a good sense of the language, which is nice to see. And I have a feeling that you also have a good sense of story, but it's not showing itself yet in this query letter.

I had the same problem as EE re ley lines. Most fantasy readers will know what ley lines are, and they may have strong opinions on the subject. So that's a problem there. Call them something else. Diana Wynne Jones called them Greenways.

The problem with the query as it stands is that it raises questions it doesn't answer. (Not a good thing.) It's confusing. You've done some lovely things with language, but you only get points for that if it's quite clear what your story's about.

I'd advise rewriting this as if we were idiots. Make everything crystal clear, and put it in chronological order. Then, after that, add some flourishes.

KJ said...

Yes, I too was thrown by ley lines (which I guessed had something to do with 'energy' points etc) and then the notion that food and transport come from them? Huh?

You also end the first two sentences with fragments 'She got his soul' - while the first sounded dramatic as a result, the second 'Running out of hope', loses the impact and comes off corny, IMO.

And agreed, Fate and his immortality etc isn't clear. He can only be immortal for a certain time/until Fate collects his soul? In that case, he's not immortal, he's indestructible in a physical sense.

Also, there's no empathy generated for a 'noble sacrificial' character. I don't even know any of Jeremiah's qualities, I don't get a sense of him that endears him to me. Is that the point?

Finally, is this 'beat the necromancer' to Thules a repeated event? It's implied in the 'running in an endless loop in time' - that he's been trying to protect the lines several times? If so, wouldn't that just be fated over and over again?


Anonymous said...

The problem I'm having with this is it sounds like the MC has failed to save the world multiple times in the past and so history repeats. This removes any threat for me since if he fails this time it sounds like he'll just have to try again. If this isn't the case make it clearer, if it is the case mention why this time is different or why there's a real threat. (Too much dying in my video games lately: load game, try again, no big deal)

Evil Editor said...

I think this time is different because Fate has stripped him of his immortality.

PLaF said...

A lifetime ago and a week from now....
Love it!
IMHO, you should start here.
Then explain who Jerry is and why I should care.
The bit about sacrificing himself to save the world needs to be clearer, and it also need to be clear if Jerry cares whether or not he lives or dies.

Mister Furkles said...


You could trim a few words to allow for more explanation. For example, you don’t need Jeremiah’s last name and “has come to rely on” could be “relies on”. Then consider three things:

It’s okay of Jeremiah dies in the novel but it seems like a bad idea to put it in the query.

A few more words about ley lines would help.

Give us some weakness Jeremiah has. For example, is he a klutz with magic? Is he absent minded? Does Fate hate him because he sings off key?

CavalierdeNuit said...

A lifetime ago, and a week from now...

(Jeremiah was a bullfrog)

This sentence was too confusing for me. I agree with EE about leaving it out.

Ley lines, necromancers (better than mages), Fate, an immortal protag, hordes of undead, and Thule all make me want to read this. Please polish.

I am not a fan of fragments. Writers can get the same sense of urgency across with short sentences.

Anonymous said...

Ummm..."she got his soul" is not a fragment. It's not exactly fine prose, but it's not a fragment.


CavalierdeNuit said...

Here's where I'm seeing the fragment problem:

"Ever since Jeremiah Owens made that thrice-cursed deal he’s been running. Running in an endless loop in time trying to save the world. Running out of hope."

Could be better phrased as:

Ever since Jeremiah made that deal he's been running out of hope trying to save the world.

(Although I adore the word thrice I agree with EE about leaving thrice-cursed out).)

"She got his soul" is a sentence. "Running out of hope" is not.