Monday, October 14, 2013

Face-Lift 1161

Guess the Plot


1. Move over, Avalon! Avalyn is here! Now with 10% more mist!

2. Mimi's friends flaked on her, and now she can't get into her favorite nightclub Avalon. She wanders down the street and is welcomed into Avalyn, an "alternative" club. She never knew writhing in chains and leather could be this exciting.

3. For a thousand years the city-state of Avalyn has been a shining beacon of learning, science, music and art in a barren, barbarian world. Now, because some cute teenager claims she's really the secret Fae heir of the place, our "heroes" are going to burn it to the ground.

4. Avalyn was surprised when a knight in shining armor appeared on her doorstep. Two days later there was another. After the tenth bled out on the porch, Avalyn became annoyed. "No you can't live here," she told them as she kicked the tenth to the curb. When Merlin showed up, Avalyn knew she'd have to get Arthur to fix his FB page or Morgause would show up next. And Avalyn hated that bitch!

5. Avalyn is tired of the life of a 13th-century serving girl. She aspires to be more, and once she's been subjected to a 5-year program of secret ritual sacrifice, she will be more! According to the teachings of her Pagan faith, she'll soon be endowed with magnificent powers! Let's see who messes with her then.

6. In an alternate history, Arthur fails to pull Excalibur from the stone in Avalyn and goes on to become a lowly squire to Lancelot. Does he have the strength and fortitude to work his way up to knighthood and later to become king? If he didn't, would this book be worth reading?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I believe that my 86,000 word historical fantasy, Avalyn, is the type novel you are looking to represent. The story of Avalyn is set in 13th c. England. [Did her parents name her after Avalon, or were you just looking for something similar to Evelyn? Careful, you don't want anyone to think this is a sequel to Aragon.] [After The Wizard of Oz came out, thousands of parents were naming their children Ez and Iz. But who am I to talk? Evil Jr's and Evilette's real names are Mordyr and Hobbityn.]

Dylan has been in love with Avalyn from the moment he moved to town. The orphaned ward of the church, [Is that Avalyn or Dylan?] used to his methodical, cloistered existence, finds the young serving girl’s free spirit enlivening. [As Dylan can be masculine or feminine, and Avalyn sounds like a place, it's not easy to tell which is the ward and which the serving girl.] Teague [Who's Teague?] has hated Dylan since the day they met. He can’t see why Avalyn would waste any time befriending that bastard. [Teague sounds like a meany; Avalyn should choose Dylan.] He hopes to prove himself in order to gain her affection.

Avalyn ignores the silent battle [rivalry?] between the two young men. She spends her days lost in mundane routine, cooking and cleaning the inn where she is housed, and occasionally entertaining at the manor of the local lord. She finds escape in forest any chance she gets. [If the forest has a name, use it; otherwise, say "the" forest.] There she can dally in faerie daydreams, sing as she pleases, and be subjected to secret ritual sacrifice. [That comes out of nowhere. For starters, "be subjected to" suggests it's against her will, which isn't the case, or it wouldn't belong on this list. Even the less suggestive "participate in" isn't much better, as the term "secret ritual sacrifice" is loaded with negative connotations. It's like if I told you that when I need a lift I frolic in a meadow, dance a jig, and torture a homeless guy. You'll think bad of me, never considering that torturing a homeless guy might actually be a good thing.]

The thought of Celtic sacrifice frightened her as a child, [Celtic sacrifice: trading Pierce and Garnett to the New Jersey Nets.] but as she grew older her father showed her that sacrifice does not mean death. It is the surrender of senses. With each sacrifice she loses one of her senses, but in time [a few days? a few years?] it returns with ferocity. Her father promises that when the sacrifices come full circle, she will be endowed with a power that rivals that of the Faeries of the Celtic Otherworld.

The sacrifices also awaken bodily desires, and she finds herself falling in love with one of the young men. [Which one? Why use five words and be general when you can use one and be specific?] Their love is short lived. One evening, after being stripped of her sense of touch, she causes a fire that claims the life of her father and the man she has fallen in love with. [Eight words where one name would do. I guess I should be happy you told us their names to begin with, rather than calling them the male protagonist Avalyn will accidentally burn to death and the male protagonist Avalyn won't accidentally burn to death.] [Even without the sense of touch, I can usually tell when I've set a house on fire.] Guilt-ridden and alone, [Alone? What about the male protagonist she didn't accidentally burn to death?] Avalyn realizes the real sacrifices that her pagan faith has taken [begotten?]. Will she trudge forth through life and abandon her faith of [in] the ancient ways? [I'd dump that question.] Or can glimpses from the Celtic Otherworld sway her to resume her true calling?

If you are interested, I will gladly send you my completed manuscript.

Thank you for your time,


Perhaps for purposes of the query, if not the book, you need a gentler name for the process of becoming a supergoddess. "The Renewal" sounds good. Secret ritual sacrifice sounds like killing virgins or babies or baby virgin goats.

This could stand to be shorter, and I see no need for both suitors to be in the query. In fact, neither of them plays any role after you introduce them. The super senses aspect is what makes this different, so maybe focus on why she and/or her father wants her to develop powers. What will she do when she becomes Wonder Woman? Is someone trying to stop her?

Can anyone become Wonder Woman by temporarily sacrificing senses? If not, why Avalyn? If so, is the forest crawling with aspiring superheroes?

Sometime last night the number of visits to this blog hit 2,222,222. I can guarantee we won't be here to see 3,333,333, so get those queries and openings in while there's still time.


Anonymous said...


This is the author. Thank you so much for your critique! I think I will attempt a query without the suitors and see how that works out.

As for the "sacrifice," I thought that calling it such would add intrigue. Maybe putting a twist on preconceived notions of Celtic Sacrifice (btw I'm from Boston... Well played : )). But it seems to have been more unsettling than intriguing so I will work on it. I appreciate "the renewal" suggestion.

Thank you again! Look forward to reading comments from the minions!

St0n3henge said...

"There she can dally in faerie daydreams, sing as she pleases, and be subjected to secret ritual sacrifice." I laughed out loud at this line. That really does come out of nowhere.

The query is riddled with small errors. If there's any chance the ms is also, you need to hire someone to fix all these niggling little problems.

Has her father completed all the sacrifices? Why can't he? Is it because he isn't a virgin?

Who presides over the sacrifices? A group of druids?

What is the point of having her fall in love with anybody? It seems you've done this just so Avalyn has someone she loves to lose terribly so she can rethink the whole thing. What does the spurned suitor do? I doubt he just gives up.

I'd like to know what the romance and the rivalry adds to the story if it is not just a distracting subplot.

james said...

Historical fantasy can be pretty cool, and it seems to me there is renewed interest in the genre. The Celtic stuff is just enough off the well-worn path to give your story an interesting direction.

I did wonder about your use of the term “sacrifice.” If it is some special element of the story, keep it but explain it better. It could be very important, even if not meant literally. If not, drop it entirely.

Also, I’ve always thought a question at the end of a query to an agent should be included only if you’re certain your query has been provocative enough to deserve one. If your query ends with two questions, it better be provocative times 2.

Another thing. When I first checked in to EE’s blog, I noticed that you, the author, were the first to post a comment. Really unusual. Not sure I’ve ever seen that happen before. But I understand it. I understand that many of the minions who are usually ready and quick with their opinions were taking some time to dry their tears, after reading EE’s last mention that there might be a limited number of times left to post.

I only have one question to EE (make that two): If ever I get any of my stories published that are simmering on the back burner after that 3,333,333th hit, where should I send my success story? And when I finish this next fan art picture that I’m drawing for EE, is there any way I can get it to your refrigerator’s door?

J.M. said...

"realizes the real" (way down in the query) could be improved.

By the end of the query, Avalyn is wondering whether to keep sacrificing her way towards superpowers or give up paganism and trudge through the rest of her lonely life. Where in the book does that happen? One can't tell; your query might be missing the entire middle and end of the book. Also, this moment might have more impact if we felt a little warmer about her romance and her relationship with her father.

I hope these rituals are risky and spooky, like that Flatliners movie.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I'm loving this secret ritual sacrifice, and the loss of the senses thing. It did sound too severe, so call it something a little sunnier. "The Renewal" does sound better. If you apply what EE has said, you'll have a sharp query, but remember to do the same thing in the book.

khazar-khum said...

This may sound like an odd question, but...what did the Celts call these ceremonies & rituals? Wouldn't that be better terminology than something that implies slaughter?

Author said...

Dear Mrs. Wishgranter,

I am seeking representation for my 85,000 word historic fantasy, Of Mist and Flame, set in 13th century Britain.

Avalyn believes that she has been punished for her pagan lifestyle. A fire killed her father, a man who gently guided her in the ways of the Celtic shaman. The blaze also claimed the life of her young lover Dylan. Avalyn has since converted to Christianity and consented to an arranged marriage to a good Christian man, Teague. Teague’s undying devotion won her over, and she finds peace and security in the simple life he offers.

Soon wartime carries Teague to the frontline, leaving their estate susceptible to marauders. When raiders pillage their home, Avalyn flees to the forest where she stumbles into the Faerie Otherworld and finds her lost love, Dylan, alive, beckoning her to return to her pagan roots.

Torn between the security and devotion of her husband, and the enchantment offered by Dylan in the world beyond, Avalyn must decide which life offers more promise.

I will be happy to send along the full manuscript if you are interested.

Thank you,

Evil Editor said...

"Frontline" should be "front lines."

"Susceptible" should be "vulnerable."

"Beckoning" should be "imploring."

Your pagan father and pagan lover are burned to death, and you think you're the one who's been punished for pagan ways?

That one-sentence wrap-up paragraph doesn't tell us anything we can't infer. Is that it? She sees Dylan, makes her decision, the end? If she spends some time in the Otherworld and some time with Teague, what events feed into her decision?

Basically, we have the setup: Remarried after her first love, Dylan, died in a fire, Avalyn discovers Dylan alive in the Faerie Otherworld. What we need is some information about what happens next.

Anonymous said...

Those don't sound like medieval Celtic names. They sound like 21st century names.

St0n3henge said...

I don't get how she's supposed to be so "secure" with her husband. He left her vulnerable to being raped or killed, possibly even sold into slavery. Sure, it wasn't his fault, but still, I wouldn't feel very secure.

CavalierdeNuit said...

What if Teague killed Dylan so he could get her to marry him, and control her and her magic? Dylan tells Avalyn this, and she rescues him from the Faerie Otherworld. Together they must stop Teague from doing *something horrible and devastating that would keep Dylan and Avalyn apart forever*

Cil said...

The second query flows better, but I feel like you are leaving a lot out. Firstly where did the whole self-sacrifice thing go, although bringing up heaps of questions it struck me as an interesting concept. Now the main thrust is if she will stay in a magical land with an ex-lover or go back and wait for her husbands return (if he lives). Where as the first query sounded like a young women trying to become a super-pagan to... save the world? Fight off the Christians? More details would be good. Is the climax the decision between lovers, or is there something else?

Author said...

Hello there Mr. Evil Editor.

So I am still working on my query. It was originally called AVALYN when I sent it to you a year ago. I sent out a few queries to agents (after submitting to your site) with no positive response. I attended a conference where my MS was very well received, but my query still didn't make the grade. I know it has been over a year since I originally submitted to you, but I am hoping to revamp it.

Dear Ms. Wishgranter,

My debut novel, Of Mist and Flame is an 86,000-word YA fantasy set in 13th Century England.

Avalyn has been training under the gentle guidance of her father in the ways of the Celtic shaman. She partakes in rituals that strip her of her senses only to have them return with acuity, a process that taps hidden powers of the mind. Living in a Christian town, Avalyn must keep these rituals a secret from everyone, including her sweetheart, Dylan. Unfortunately the residue of one ritual leads to a fire that claims the life of both her father and Dylan.

Forced to convert to Christianity, Avalyn eventually marries a young knight, Teague, whose fierce devotion wins her heart. While battles plague their home front, Avalyn is confronted with conflicts of her own. Her shamanistic learning could aid those around her but would betray her secret training. Complicating her situation, she learns that her lost love, Dylan, still exists in a Celtic Otherworld. She must decide between her loyalty to a good Christian husband who has salvaged her broken spirit or the world of mysteries her father gave his life to preserve- a world where her lost love lives on. Raising the stakes, she finds that she is pregnant with a child that could be the seed of either world.

Evil Editor said...

Sounds pretty good.

Plot P1: Change "life" to "lives."

PP2: Residue is okay if there's a flammable substance left behind after the ritual. Otherwise you want result or aftereffect or completion.

"Eventually" suggests enough time passes between the fire and hooking up with Teague that she should know whose child she carries.

"Forced to convert to Christianity" suggests they make her do it, when "they" didn't know she wasn't already Christian. I'd just say she adopts Christianity.

That she had to keep her Shamanistic training secret from Dylan suggests he was Christian, so how come he's in a Celtic Otherworld? Seems like it's her father who would be there.

No need to address or avoid these issues in the query unless you feel they might bother other readers.

IMHO said...

I personally dislike queries that end with "she/he must decide whether to do X or Y." But I've also seen advice saying that a query should not give away the ending.

EE, author, minions -- what do you think? Better to simply set up the final conflict, or say what Avalyn decides?

Evil Editor said...

I don't see the advantage to saying She must decide between X and Y. Spoiler alert: She goes with Y!!!

In many cases it's possible to set up the conflict such that the reader understands the character's decision without it being stated, although in this case it's not obvious that she can join Dylan in the Otherworld (as he apparently got there by burning to death) so maybe it's necessary to imply that she can go there.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Author> I'd add in a few more specifics to add some interest and quash a few questions. If you explain exactly what started the fire, no one will be puzzling over what "residue from the ritual" might mean. If you say what Avalyn's powers are, it's clear what she can do to help in the war.

I'd change the structure of the first sentence in plot paragraph 1 to put the Celtic shaman training before the dad. The fact that she's training to be a shaman is more important than the fact that Dad is training her.

The jump from "fire kills dad and sweetheart" to "forced conversion and marriage" is a bit sudden and disconnected. If you can say that the death of her dad and sweetheart mearns there's no one to help her survive or to hide her shaman training, it'll make the transition clear.

"Fierce devotion" isn't winning me over, particularly since I'm not sure if he's devoted to Avalyn, his faith, his land, or something else. Maybe split this into two sentences, showing how Teague wins her hand or how what started as a marriage of convenience grows into genuine love.

Put the pregnancy before the choice between two lovers. You want to end on the decision she has to make and the consequences of each option, not additional info that might raise the stakes, but doesn't change the choice. And like EE said, we need to know if she gets married just a month or two after Dylan's death or if she's potential carrying a ghost baby.

IMHO> if the alternative is giving away the end of the story, I prefer the "she can do x or y" format. Ideally, it leaves editors feeling like they want to read the manuscript to find out the resolution. At the least, it should make editors believe that readers will want to keep reading to find out the resolution. Since queries are supposed to be short anyway, you probably want to show as many cards in your hand as you need to and not one more. Putting in the ending is just and extra card.

Of course, the "choice between x or y" format doesn't work for every story. Sometimes it's more about a task the character needs or want to complete, so the format is more "if character succeeds, then a; if character fails, b."