Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Face-Lift 1193

Guess the Plot


1. Professor Corelli's bad breath is getting increasingly worse. He refuses breath mints and won't open any windows because it's cold out. Will he drink the coffee on his desk with magic potion No. 37 in it (the bad breath one) before he loses his favorite students?

2. He ran all day. He ran all night. He chased over hill and over dale, and sought the object of his heart's desire. And when Sam finally caught that juicy squirrel, he was . . . Breathless.

3. When the body of marathon runner Brian McGahey is found smoldering on the horse trail in Griffith Park, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, McGahey didn't rip out his own lungs, blood-eagle style; and two, it's gonna be a smoggy, miserable week in LA.

4. Running has been the only joy in Amy Smith’s life. But when the local 5K turns into a zombie run (something about a virus released by the disgruntled 2nd-place runner at last year’s event) she has no time to catch a breath between trying to escape the dead, not run into her ex and overcome the most untimely and painful ankle sprain. Is there a happy ending at the finish line or the sloppy embrace of a zombie?

5. Shannon is trying to get back to the old homestead ranch of her childhood, a place so beautiful it leaves her breathless. But it's a long journey across a poisoned landscape of mutant fauna and predaceous flora, of psychokinetic hunters and sand demons. Maybe she'd a been better off stayin' in the big city.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Of all the scars we bear, it is the one within that truly mars us. [Instead of putting that at the beginning of the query, put it at the beginning of the novel and attribute it to some famous personage like Virginia Woolf or Rudyard Kipling. No one will check to see if it's an actual quote, and whereas I need read only the paragraph below to determine that the statement has nothing to do with the plot, readers of the book will have to trudge through 450 pages to prove your statement is irrelevant and meaningless.]

The pagan Shannon Farwell, last of the eccentric Druids of Cold Fire, and dying from the affliction overtaking her planet, rides on a final journey to the pagan city of Truth. In her travels, she encounters Marithane, on the run from her [former] captors, the Magi, the race of psychokinetics who govern Shannon’s world. For Marithane bears a Shard of the Heartwood, an object some Magi would murder for in the promise of the god-like power it harbors. [I think I know how this goes. She gives the Magi the Shard of the Heartwood as a gift, and they're so grateful they gift her the Glue of Elmer, not realizing it's needed to stick the Shard back onto the Heartwood.] [Also, no reason for that sentence to start with "For."] Together, Shannon and Marithane embark on an odyssey across a poisoned landscape of mutant fauna and predaceous flora, [Shannon was already on a final journey; does this odyssey have a different destination than her journey?] of pagan skeptics and Magi zealots, in hope of uniting a people on the brink of extinction [The only people described as on the brink of extinction are the eccentric Druids of Cold Fire, and as Shannon is the last of them, there are none to unite her with.] and restoring Marithane to her own world. [Is her world on a different planet? Can't she use the god-like powers of the Shard of the Heartwood to return to her world?]  Shannon will face her truest fears, however, as they come at last to the homestead ranch of her childhood—where demons of her past lurk beneath the sand, waiting for her to draw her final breath. [The sentences in that paragraph average over 31 words in length. Break up a few of them.] ["Demons of her past" sounds metaphorical, but "waiting for her to draw her last breath" sounds like they're actual demons. Then again, Shannon's dying of some affliction and a bunch of demons wait under the sand instead of crushing the last breath from her body? Real demons aren't that patient.]

At 115K words, Breathless tells a science fiction story of friendship, faith, and the song we sing at the end of all things. [This is fantasy, not science fiction.]

Thank you for your consideration.


Start over. When you introduce Shannon, tell us why she's going to Truth. Get rid of "last of the eccentric Druids of Cold Fire," as we don't know what that means. When you introduce Marithane, tell us why she's desperately hanging onto the Shard. If she wants its god-like power, why? If she just wants to keep the Magi from getting it, why?

Why do Shannon and Marithane team up? S is trying to get to the city of Truth and apparently to unite a people on the brink of extinction. (What people?) M is trying to get to her home world. What goal do they have in common? I can see an "I'll help you with the psychokinetics if you'll help me with the demons" arrangement, but you've told us nothing about them that suggests they aren't hopelessly outmatched by either group. They need to do something besides flee. Do they have a plan?


Unknown said...

OMG, my iPad smells like a cross between violets, lilac and lavender.

Like this query, it's too friggin purple.

Pull back on the urge to dazzle and simply engage. Shannon has a final showdown ahead. Why? Why is she alone? Where is she? What Druid powers does she possess that will help her reach her final destination?

It seems kinda easy for captors to strip their captives' possessions--why do these psychokinetic Magi have such trouble recovering the Shard. What would happen if they possess it? Perhaps they'll be benevolent gods....

Think about your words. Think about what they are saying to your audience--your dream agent's assistant.

For example: The song we sing at the end of all things? Jesus. I'm pretty sure that's gonna be a caterwaul fit to make the ears bleed. No chance I want to spend a day reading that misery.

Every word counts in a query. All of them should, in some way, be compelling the reader to read your book. Clarity is required, not mystery. The flowery language in this business letter is NOT a selling point.

Good luck.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Breathless is the title of a movie, a novel by Dean Koontz, and numerous other novels that come up on Amazon.

Watch out for book-jacket language, which tends to be a bit more purple than query language. Try to be more matter-of-fact. Your task here is to get the story across. Strive for shorter sentences and more specificity.

Mister Furkles said...


My best advice:
(1) Get some lighter fluid,
(2) Get a long match,
(3) Take your thesaurus into the middle of the back yard, and lay it on the ground,
(4) Flip through the page while squirting them with lighter fluid,
(5) Light it up.

The thesaurus is not your friend. Most rare or large words lack emotion.

For your retry, scrutinize every adjective and adverb. Ask yourself if it is needed. Most won’t be needed. Others may mislead.

For example, Shannon is the last of the eccentric Druids. Presumably all the other Druids are normal, regular, and predictable—there may be millions of them but they aren’t eccentric.

You use pagan three times. But pagan is relative to the dominate religion which you don’t mention.

The demons are hiding in the sand, hoping Shannon will die. What wussy demons are these?

Next time, think about what you write not about what is in your novel. Take your time then try again.

CavalierdeNuit said...

Once upon a time, EE told me to burn my thesaurus, and Alaska told me Mr. Adjective was not my friend (priceless advice).