Thursday, July 24, 2014

Face-Lift 1211

Guess the Plot

Wyverns of Mass Destruction

1. A disabled American carpet salesman is tricked into leading an air force of dragons against the US military.

2. When the King orders the Dragon Defense Program dismantled and all dragons and dragon-like creatures killed, it's up to Grahm Merrikon to find peacetime applications for his beloved flock of wyverns.

3. US forces rekindle the ire of worldwide Geekdom when they raid an Iraqi warehouse looking for wyverns of mass destruction but find only... dragons.

4. Galankitus has found his perfect weapon: Wyverns of Mass Destruction. But General Lossone can't figure out how to pronounce it. Is it Wivverns, or Whyverns? And if he orders the wrong group into battle, what will Galankitus do to him?

5. Miles Carmichael directs B grade (ok Z grade) movies. His small cult following (emphasis on the cult) frequently volunteer as extras. Unfortunately their shennanigans have gotten him trapped in his latest film while the monsters terrorize Hollywood. Can a ditzy actress rescue him? Without a raise?

6. A Catholic mass is interrupted when giant serpents rampage through the vestibule. Signior Adorno assumed the horsemen would arrive on, you know, horses, but either way, he's gearing up to stop the Apocalypse—with the help of his childhood love and a homeless Shiba Inu.

7. Johnny always knew he’d start the apocalypse. It wasn’t because of the hoard of Wyverns he was raising and equipping with enriched uranium, it was because he was born on the 6th of July 2006. Wait, July is the 7th month, maybe it was the Wyverns.

8. Physicist Boris Fridkin never expected his government's secret nuclear tests to unearth an ancient cache of reptilian eggs. When the irradiated eggs begin to hatch, revealing monstrous creatures from another age, Boris must race to find the finest knightly re-enactor from all the renaissance fairs in the world - the only person capable of stopping the . . . Wyverns of Mass Destruction.

9. The story of a hyperactive dragon with concentration problems, who is seeking a…Hey! Is that a squirrel?

10. Princess Jessica vows to hunt down the fierce Wyverns of Qari. After many adventures, Jessica is faced with the most important decision of her young life -- whether to admit she knew all along that Qari WMDs never existed

Original Version

Michael Boorley thought he was fighting for his country. Tell that to the American soldiers he’s killed.

The last thing Michael’s father said before driving into a semi was ["Aughghghghhhhhhhh!!!] that Michael didn’t deserve to join the Air Force. The resulting accident crippled Michael’s right hand [Manually disabled] and ended his dream of becoming a pilot until twenty years later, when brilliant young scientist Phyllis Harper invites him to join the next generation of combat pilots: a group calling themselves the [Afflicted Airmen? Prosthetic Pilots? Lofty Lefties?] First Wing. He’s pretty skeptical about how she’ll transform a middle-aged carpet salesman into a soldier, but when a beautiful woman invites you on an all-expense-paid trip, you go.

But Phyllis’s vision for the future of air warfare doesn’t involve planes. Instead, she modifies his DNA [This is why, when a beautiful woman invites you on an all-expense-paid trip, you don't go.] and binds his brain to a genetically-engineered dragon. Since the pilots of the First Wing were assembled from a cast of fugitives, drug addicts, and all-out rejects, Michael has no clue why Phyllis recruited him in the first place, [In the kingdom of society's dregs, the carpet salesman is king.] let alone why she assigned him to ride the Wing’s alpha dragon—five hundred pounds of wings, muscle, and a bad attitude.

But when the Wing’s territory is invaded by armed drones and commandos, Michael discovers that shooting down aircraft from the back of a giant reptile is a great way to earn the respect of the Wing’s other pilots. Six weeks later, he’s appointed the Wing’s field commander. [In the kingdom of bilateral upper extremity paralysis, the one-handed man is field commander.] Even his father would be proud of that.

Then he’s captured. He learns the invaders belong to the real Air Force—[Shouldn't he have noticed the insignia on the planes he was shooting down?] and Phyllis is working for a terrorist group dedicated to exposing America’s greatest vulnerability. [Our vulnerability to a dragon air force.] His captors offers [offer] him a deal: spill the Wing’s battle plans or face execution for treason. With hours to go until the Wing is extinguished, Michael’s got to choose between helping [the] country his father would have died for—or risking his life to escape and save the only place where he’s ever felt like a hero. [Won't he feel like a hero if he prevents these terrorists from destroying America with dragons?] [If the Wing is going to be extinguished within hours, why does the US want Michael to reveal their battle plans? It's like sinking a pirate ship and when you capture the one survivor you ask him who he's planning to attack next.]

WYVERNS OF MASS DESTRUCTION is what you'd get if Tom Clancy wrote 'His Majesty's Dragon'. [Novik's dragon air force attacking ships and ground forces in Napoleonic times was nothing compared with your dragon air force defeating modern fighter jets.] It's 200,000 words long and told from seven different points of view.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Michael isn't the only one wondering why Phyllis recruited him. What's he got that other potential terrorist dragon pilots don't?

A crippled hand doesn't strike me as so horrendous that I'd be an outcast and would agree to let someone modify my DNA. I think you need to explain how Mike gets talked into this. Whom does he think he's fighting against before he finds out it's the US?

Exposing America’s greatest vulnerability sounds like a good thing to do. Phyllis is doing more than exposing it, she's attacking it. Whatever "it" is. I suppose if America were conquered by a dragon air force tomorrow, Republicans would blast Obama for not seeing it as our greatest vulnerability.

If you can't shorten this by half, can you find a stopping place near the middle and turn the rest into Book 2?


khazarkhum said...

Become a hero by being a traitor? Mike might want to ask Benedict Arnold how that turns out.

The military he wanted to be part of now wants him. And this is a problem for him, how? Sounds like he gets what he wanted.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I love this title, though ::glances at dragon tattoo on her right shoulder:: I may be biased.

Unless Michael and the rest of the First Wingers have some special trait that makes them ideal candidates for riding dragons, it would make a lot more sense to recruit people loyal to the terrorist cause. I also don't understand if Michael is wondering why he was recruited in the first place because he doesn't believe he has what it takes to do the job or because he doesn't think he belongs with an assortment of society's rejects.

What does binding a person's brain to a dragon accomplish? If these creatures have been genetically engineered from the ground up, wouldn't it be simpler to just engineer or raise them to be particularly responsive to humans?

I'm not buying Michael's two options at the end. He's already been told that he can either spill what he knows about the terrorists or be executed, so any choice other than cooperating with the Air Force seems like a nonstarter. And if Michael is seriously considering helping terrorists just because shooting down planes makes him feel better about himself, then Dad was right and Michael didn't deserve to be in the Air Force.

Who are the seven different people whose points of view the story is told from? There are only two real characters in the query and I can't see much use for Phyllis's POV unless we're going to learn that she's actually a terrorist way before Michael does and sit around for tens of thousands of pages waiting for him t figure it out. Maybe trimming out some of the points of view could help shorten your word count?

Liz Ellor said...

Writer here!

This is an older project I'm revising right now with plans to self-pub. Thought I'd toss the old query out there for some laughs. Realized I never mentioned that his hand is healed (oops!) That's the offer Phyllis teases him with--she demonstrates she has the technology to regrow his missing fingers. He accepts without knowing she plans to modify his DNA.

This is a really complicated book. It's just really complicated. However, I've got answers to all these questions. Why Michael? Well, you need a certain rare gene to be eligible for the transformation. Plus, Phyllis thinks she can manipulate him easier than the other pilots, which is why she wants to make him their leader. Insignias are absent from the planes because of a really complicated backstory going back thirty years to the CIA creating a stash of unmarked planes hidden in Alaska for a theoretical strike on the Soviet union, and said planes being easiest to appropriate (the pilots are mostly retirees who've volunteered for a secret mission). The vulnerability is reliance on electronic weapon systems--the rider of the alpha wyvern has the genetic potential to release EMP-like pulses that can disable military electronics. They've also got some sick anti-aircraft weapons based off real life military technology. Why Michael doesn't give in--none of his fellow pilots know that they're working for a terrorist cell. The deal he's offered is that they'll let his wyvern live, but the rest will be killed. So he'll have to betray someone no matter what. And if he does what the military wants him to do, he'll still end up in federal custody for the rest of his life.
The pilots are told they're an experimental weapons program being developed in secret by a contractor. They're told their attackers represent a wealthy terrorist organization dedicated to wiping out all genetically-modified intelligent creatures (which is true, but they're not told this is a branch of the CIA).

InkAndPixelClub, it's both--he's wondering because he doesn't feel qualified and he doesn't fit in. The telepathy is important because it allows them to communicate quickly in combat situations and humans won't be able to fly for the long periods needed--too heavy, too cold-sensitive, too small-lunged. And he's got (and takes) a third option at the end, which is escaping, defeating the Air Force, and delivering Phyllis to the authorities (she's the mastermind). I should probably make clear that most people don't know about the terrorist plot--they're innocent people who've been manipulated.

The six other POVs were added after the last draft. Trust me, they need to be there. Without them, nothing makes sense, because there's a lot more stuff going on than I mention here. In fact, we learn Phyllis is a terrorist mastermind on page three. But we don't spend the book waiting around for Michael to figure it out. Trust me.

And the final word count's estimated at 300k, now. I was lowballing. Thankfully, the book comes in three even-sized complete parts, each with a climax of their own, so I might split it in three volumes before printing. I cut 20k words out of the last draft and that was a mistake. This time, I just decided to write a really big book and stuff it full of juicy detail. My rule is that every chapter, a character does something of their own initiative that advances the plot, and as long as I've got that, I'm fine.

Thanks for your comments--really points out what impressions people who haven't read the book take away. I've heard mixed things about the title. Thoughts? I think it's pretty darn catchy.

Cil said...

I would pick it up based on the title alone, but I would expect it to have humour in it. I hope that helps.

Unknown said...

i guess there's no sense in giving comments if you are going to self pub and you just did this for laughs.

oh well.

Unknown said...

Forgot to mention, you keep saying "trust me" in your explanation of the book. I don't know you, you could be a zombie, so I don't trust you... stay away from my brain!

But just so you know, if you ever do decide to do a real query letter to send to real agents, you can't send an explanation along with it. you have to answer all those nagging questions IN the query. That's all they're gonna read.

SB said...

I agree with most of EE's notes, but I have to say that this definitely sounds like a book I'd want to read. Modern-day dragon air force made up of genetically-modified crippled societal dregs sounds pretty awesome. And I love the title. I sure don't care if it's 200k words long, personally, as long as there's not just a bunch of extraneous stuff that needs to be cut. As long as the book keeps me interested and engaged, the more the merrier. (But that's just my own opinion and unfortunately not that of most agents/publishers.)

InkAndPixelClub said...

A series could work, but you will probably have to pitch the first book as a stand-alone novel. Selling a whole series can be tough and while the premise is strong, an editor may automatically pass on a book that requires two other books to tell a whole story given that those two other books might never happen.

I'm still concerned that the book might be longer than it needs to be, especially now that it's 50% longer than you first reported. Despite the questions we've had, the story seems pretty straightforward and I still don't see why it needs seven different points of view to tell it. Hopefully you've already had people outside of your friends and family read it to give you an unbiased critique and let you know if everything you have in there is really essential. It's easy to get caught up in thinking that every character and detail and sentence is essential to the story as you're writing it, which is why you need those outside opinions.

SB said...

I'm curious why so many people in book publishing are quick to say that if a book goes beyond the usual word limit for a given genre, it's "longer than it needs to be". It's true that any given book may very well be longer than it should be, and that's what editing's for. But a book might be well within the usual range and still longer than it should be, or it might be far longer than usual and not be bloated at all. It depends on the quality of the book and the writer. With e-books becoming more of a thing (and therefore making length a bit less relevant since it's not a matter of shelf space and print cost), I hope this knee-jerk reaction to length will fade. I've read short books that I had to slog through and long books that either I raced through or, if it took me a while, it was at least a steady, enjoyable read. You can't judge a book on length alone.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'm curious why so many people in book publishing are quick to say that if a book goes beyond the usual word limit for a given genre, it's "longer than it needs to be".

I'm going to answer that as though you really are curious.

The manuscript needs to be within conventional length because a new writer seeking publication will have a hell of a time selling it if it's not.

That's what editing is for...

Exactly. And such editing needs to have been done before the manuscript is submitted, because in today's industry, nobody's going to break in who hasn't edited his or her manuscript as much as is humanly possible. Even now, on my (counts on fingers) ninth book, I'm not about to dump extra work on my agent and editor. A newbie should definitely not do so.

It's not a "knee-jerk reaction". It's a reaction to the realities of the industry.

Of course, the writer above is planning to self-publish, so she can do whatever she wants.

InkAndPixelClub said...

It's true that you can have a 300,000 word manuscript can be a tight, exciting read that needs every one of those words and a 30,000 word manuscript so bloated with unnecessary content that it could easily be trimmed to 10,000 without losing anything important. But an editor reading a query has a to make quick judgements in order to get through a big stack of queries. And while 300,000 words doesn't mean immediate rejection for every editor, it is probably a red flag for most. It's going to raise questions like "Has the author done enough editing, or am I going to be spending time doing that editing myself? Is the writing I'm seeing in the query from someone who is getting the most out of every word or someone who is filling space with a lot of unnecessary information? Is this a story that sounds like it needs 300,000 words to be told?"

SB said...

I know that it's all about what the industry currently expects. What I was saying is that I think the industry maybe should be a little more lenient. (I know that's an unrealistic hope, BTW. I'm just saying.) See, in the past, I used to read a lot of fanfic. In the fanfic world, since you don't have to worry about things like what publishers want and shelf space and all that (rather like self-pubbing), stories can be as long or as short as you want. It's not unusual to see fanfics that are 150k, 300k, or even higher wordcounts, and readers are perfectly willing to read them. Yes, obviously, being produced by amateurs with minimal editing, a lot of fanfic is terrible, and a lot of those super-long stories would have been much better if they'd been given some thorough editing. I'm just saying that I've personally seen stories way too long to have ever gotten published which were still highly enjoyable and kept me engaged all the way through.

Which brings me to another point: Why do we now insist that a book only contain what "has to be there", the bare minimum it takes to move the story to its conclusion? Why can't things be there just because they're fun and enjoyable? If the publishing industry always had the mindset it does today, an awful lot of literary classics would never have seen publication.

And yes, AR, I really am curious. I'm interested in discussing this issue. Although your answers don't really get to the underlying question. I'm not asking why an individual author should pay attention to these standards (because that's the "realities of the industry"). I'm asking why people in the industry hold these views. If a publisher doesn't want to publish long books because they just don't want to publish long books, that's their prerogative, but using that preference to say that any book over a certain word count is automatically "longer than it needs to be" is kind of insulting to writers.

SB said...

InkAndPixelClub --

I guess I can see that from the editor's POV, but it seems like something that would be fairly obvious early on. If sample pages were included with the query, and the editor was intrigued enough by the query to check them out, it seems like they'd be able to see the quality of the writing right away, if this looked like a story that's well-written or not.

SB said...

Now, if the criticism against long books was, "Publishers almost never publish books over a certain word count because it's cost-prohibitive; they'd have to charge so much for each book that no one would buy it," then that would be totally reasonable and fair.

InkAndPixelClub said...

That is most likely another criticism against very long books, though I don't know whether it's true. Another could be that longer books are hard to sell because people see how thick the book looks sitting on a shelf and assume it's going to be too much of a time commitment. I'm not an editor, so I don't know, and I imagine it varies from editor to editor. Whatever the reasoning, an unusually high word count from a new writer tends to be a red flag for editors and while they may ignore it if the rest of your query is superb, they don't need a ton of reasons to toss it into the reject pile.

SB said...

That also makes sense, Ink. I think there's some truth to the idea that readers are less likely to pick up something big. I certainly don't think it's a universal truth, but there's probably enough truth in it to make it a risky proposition for the publisher.

Sparksbet said...

Weighing in on the recommended word count issue: if a book realy contains so much plot that 300,000 words are necessary, it's simply more lucrative to sell it as a series. Readers are more likely to buy three 100,000-word books in a series than one 300,000-word book on its own, and they generally pay more for three books than for one large one