Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Face-Lift 1213

Guess the Plot

Damnation's Blade

1. Baelzebub, Hell's metalsmith, creates a sword for Satan that can slice through any angelic beings. Yes, 'Saint' Michael, this time it's ON!

2. Kerwyn Thunderstone finds a magical ax blade and embarks upon a perilous quest to get the blade to the capital city. It's perilous because every time he touches the blade it burns his hand.

3. Polishing Satan's? butter knife collection three hours a day in a luxury suite beats working retail ten hours a day. Is Lucy on the top level of Hell, or the lowest level of Heaven? Should she risk losing her job to find out what's outside her chamber door?

4. Sixteen-year-old Jenna is sick of the abuse. Worse than that, she's sick of her father calling screaming out, "Damnation, child! What have you done now?" Well this time, she'll show him what she's gonna do. She grabs the knife off the kitchen table and marches into the living room...
5. Spanish swordsmith Carlos Rodriguez Martinez has had it with fat nerds demanding 'combat ready swords'. After a long night of drinking, he sets out to make the ultimate fighting weapon: a rotating, six-bladed, laser-firing chunk of steel with bombs and grenades. Suddenly Hollywood is calling, the armies of two dozen nations are at his door, and fat nerds still demand 'combat ready swords'.

6. Mentally unstable artist Marcy is excited to host her very first exhibition, a display of sharp objects with abstract nouns attached to their names: Curiosity's Knife, Brutality's Axe, Redemption's Letter Opener. But when a snarky art critic slams her work in the local paper, he'll soon come face-to-face with Marcy's favorite piece, Damnation's Blade.

Original Version

The Three Altars, Book I: Damnation's Blade, 98,719 words, adult fiction that may appeal to readers of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy, Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle or George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Synopsis below as per your format. [If you put that first sentence below the synopsis, you won't have to say "synopsis below." Actually, even here you don't have to say "Synopsis below" unless you fear the agent will read your first sentence and then struggle to find your synopsis.]

After killing a small army of murderous escaped slaves outside the small town of Hammerdale, exiled faerie Kerwyn Thunderstone and gruff slave-catcher Haon Kellbrack [If your job title is slave-catcher, I'm pretty sure killing an entire army of escaped slaves is gonna look really bad on your resume.] discover a mysterious magical ax-head that burns at the touch and turns bodies of water into a deadly magical poison. [If you want us to like your main characters, you might have them help an army of slaves to escape rather than kill an army of escaped slaves. Just sayin'.] When the local priestess offers them a fortune to bring the ax to the capital city for inspection by higher authorities within her worldwide church, they assume they have it made.

However, the ax is too dangerous to take without magical preparation, and while Kerwyn and Haon are waiting, they find themselves distracted from their journey [Has their journey begun?] by the mysterious disappearance of local children. Upon solving this mystery, they also find themselves at the center of a desperate local power struggle between Rhydion Warlowe, a nobleman's son desperate to save his ailing father, and the sinister physician calling himself Father Miracle, whose methods seem at once too good and too horrific to be true. Will they be allowed to leave Hammerdale alive? [Do these "distractions" before they begin their journey constitute most of the book, or are they subplots? I was thinking the main plot would be what happens when they get the ax to the capital. In which case the disappearing kids and Father Miracle can be left out of the query.] [And I say that reluctantly, as I'm sorely tempted to suggest focusing the entire query on the sinister physician Father Miracle.] Will the ax leave in more malevolent hands? [Almost, but no.] Who is the childlike figure who follows them at every turn? [Cricket Buttonhole.] And who, in the end, will be left holding Damnation's Blade? [My money's on the beautiful country lass Glory Glittermoon. I hope she has asbestos gloves.]

Damnation's Blade is the first of a planned six book series [Now I'm worried that it takes six books to get the ax to the capital, like it took three books to get the ring to Mt. Doom. You don't want me worrying about that.] entitled "The Three Altars," a dark epic fantasy told through the eyes of the mysterious exile Kerwyn Thunderstone, the magically gifted and impetuous Viscount Rhydion Warlowe, the petulant, penniless and amoral former nobleman Victor Touinkcelot, the bitter former priestess Bara Ironthatch and the tragically naive faerie princess Sarna Mourningdell. Each of these five characters find themselves drawn into a cosmic cold war between rival Gods, and the ruthless religious leaders so devoted to those Gods' worship that they would sacrifice their own souls. Yet this religious war itself may be a distraction, as a potentially world-ending threat rises in the centuries old, impenetrable desert to the West. As these five characters confront that threat, they will also be confronted with questions on the nature of redemption, justice, divinity, and ultimately, creation itself. [No need to list characters whose role isn't important enough to warrant telling us anything they do other than confront (possibly in book 6) some vague threat.]



Partial list of adjectives used in the twelve sentences of the plot summary: murderous, mysterious, magical, deadly, magical, dangerous, magical, mysterious, [Maybe you should change the title to Magical Mystery Tour.] desperate, desperate, sinister, horrific, malevolent, dark, mysterious, magically gifted, amoral, petulant, bitter, ruthless, world-ending.

Partial list of adjectives I didn't put on the first list: small, small, gruff, ailing, childlike, penniless, naive, impetuous, cosmic, centuries-old. impenetrable. The point being, cut down on adjectives. You can delete a half dozen adjective from your first plot sentence without losing anything important. Try rewriting the plot summary limiting yourself to ten adjectives. It's not that adjectives can't be useful, but it's nouns and verbs that tell the story. You don't want to give the impression that every noun in the book has an average of two adjectives attached to it. To put it another way, if a clown rides a unicycle past your window every twenty seconds, pretty soon you're gonna start ignoring the clown.

I can see how you would figure out that the ax head you found burns to the touch; less clear is why you would dip the ax head into a body of water.

You're better off declaring this book is a standalone novel with the potential to become a series than to hint that you're looking for someone to publish six books.

It's well-written, and the character names are cool, but the query needs to focus on the main plot of this book. What happens if they fail to get the ax to the capital? What happens if they succeed? Who is trying to stop them, and why?


Chicory said...

I was really distracted by the heroes solving the case of the missing children in one sentence- especially since you didn't give the outcome to the reader. (I'm assuming the culprit is Dr. Miracle and he's ripping out kid's hearts to fuel his magic healing powers -but I don't know that for sure.) Either the mystery aspect isn't important and shouldn't me mentioned, or it's vital and should be explained better.

MH said...

Author here. Thanks! I am going to rewrite, given that I was mostly doing this as back-cover copy, and then post a revised version here. Also, flattered to be called "well-written" on a site this snarky.

MH said...

Author here. First attempt at revision:
Kerwyn Thunderstone never wanted to help the slaver Haon Kellbrack recover his quarry. But when she discovers that a small army of escaped slaves is slowly turning the water supply of the city of Hammerdale into liquid hate, in seeming defiance of all the laws of magic, she realizes she has no choice. Defeating the slaves is easy. Identifying their means of poisoning the water is not. No one, not even the local priestess, knows anything about the origins the object responsible: an ax-head that burns at the touch and feeds on the anger of its victims. Still, it's some consolation that the ax could be worth a fortune, if they can only get it to the capital city to collect.
They never get the chance. While the church is preparing the ax for safe transport, Kerwyn and Haon find themselves obliged to help the holy knight Lance Brideshead in his search for missing children. The search leads them to a secret underground chamber where a massive spider-like being made entirely of swords tortures the children in order to harvest their tears. They do kill it, but someone must have built it. And judging by the guards who show up to arrest them the next day, and the fact that the son of the local Count seems so grateful to them for doing it, that someone has friends and enemies in high places.
Meanwhile, Rhydion Warlowe, son of local nobleman Count Warlowe, has watched in horror as his father’s power has been all but usurped by the sinister physician Father Miracle, who seems capable of healing any injury with a single potion, provided his patients don’t mind losing their free will entirely as a side effect. When Miracle demands the arrest of three agents of the local church for stealing unspecified ingredients, Rhydion decides to hire them for himself, only to find himself, and his three new companions, caught in Miracle’s web of secrets and torture.
Together, Rhydion, Kerwyn, Haon, and Lance must find a way to save themselves – and Hammerdale – from Father Miracle, or else Rhydion might never make it out with his life, and Kerwyn and her companions might never make it out of the city with their priceless find. That is, if it hasn’t already been stolen…
Damnation’s Blade is a 98, 719 word standalone dark epic fantasy novel with potential to become a longer series. It should appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie’s “The First Law” trilogy, Steven Erikson’s “Malazan: Book of the Fallen,” and George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

MH said...

Also, hope you don't mind if I steal the character name Cricket Buttonhole. I may use that for a character in later books if this gets picked up. ;)

IMHO said...

The revised query sounds like three separate books -- axe head, missing kids, Father Miracle -- rather than one book with a main plot and two subplots. Even 'Song of Ice & Fire' (with its cast of thousands and hundred different subplots) had an overarching theme -- who will rule Westeros.

The first paragraph sets up a quest -- getting the axe to the capital. The query ends with the axe still in Hammerdale ... or maybe stolen. I fear an agent reading this query would assume the book doesn't have a satisfying ending, and isn't really 'standalone'.

Evil Editor said...

Interesting. Father Miracle seems to have become a major player. But does he have any connection with the ax? If he's after the ax, say so. If he isn't, why is he a threat to Kerwyn and friends?

It's too long and has too many characters. If you need a synopsis, you can build it off of this but for purposes of the query...

I don't see why defeating a small army is easy for Kerwyn, but I think we can do without the army anyway:

When exiled faerie Kerwyn T comes into possession of a magical ax that feeds on the anger of its victims, her only thought is to sell it in the capital city for a fortune. But the sinister Father Miracle wouldn't mind getting his hands on this weapon of mass destruction, and he'd rather take it than buy it. Suddenly Kerwyn's journey to riches has become a flight for her life.

That leaves plenty of room to tell us what Miracle's up to, how Kerwyn plans to stop him, what goes wrong.

MH said...

Thanks. You've pointed to a structural weakness that I need to fix -- how the ax leads to them being in trouble with Miracle in the first place. As to why Father Miracle's a danger, it's because he's got them trapped and unable to leave and wants to kill them for sabotaging his operation. Any ideas on how I include that?

And the overarching conflict of the novel does *end up* being "who has the ax," but there's a lot of moving pieces that need to happen before it gets there.

SB said...

The biggest problem I'm having with the query is that it seems like one problem after another, but they don't relate. So, first there's the axe. Then that gets dropped and there's the kids and whatever higher problem that implies. Then there's the problem with Miracle. It sounds like a series of separate problems rather than interconnected problems, which makes it seem, to me, as if the plot lacks focus. If they're all connected, I'd suggest finding a way to connect them in the query.

Question for EE: What if the book really isn't a standalone? What I mean is, what if you've got a book that is a complete book, but which really needs the following books for the story to be satisfying? (For example, if the first book ends on a downer note, even though, structurally, it's a complete story in itself.) Should the author just not say anything about standalone/series?

InkAndPixelClub said...

MH> Is it possible to frame the query so it's one person's story, possibly Kerwyn's? The revise query jumps to another character partway through and he doesn't seem to do anything but except decide to hire the three character we met previously, who are apparently in prison, so I don't understand what good that does.

The revision does make Kerwyn a tad more sympathetic and reveal that she's female, but it's still too much information that doesn't add up to a compelling story. I think the whole escaped slave army can go. If the ax head is just a macguffin in this book and the real threat is Father Miracle and that he might get the ax head, you can start when they have the ax head and go from there. The query should end when the characters have a chance to either triumph and save the day or fail and suffer the consequences. Right now, it ends with most of them under arrest and in no position to do much of anything.

Unknown said...

i just can't get through this character soup. Even if your story is in multiple POV's, you need one thread that connects them. what is the one main goal of the story? Right now, it seems all over the place.

Anonymous said...

Was it just me or does the name Lance Brideshead conjure upmimages of Evelyn Waugh meets Avalon?

Evil Editor said...

When exiled faerie Kerwyn T comes into possession of a magical ax that feeds on the anger of its victims, her only thought is to sell it in the capital city for a fortune. But before she can go anywhere she'll have to escape the clutches of the sinister doctor known as Father Miracle. The doctor has captured Kerwyn and plans to kill her for sabotaging his ax-counterfeiting operation.

Evil Editor said...

It's ok to say a book can stand alone, even if it doesn't have a happy ending. As long as it has an ending. And if someone likes it they'll probably offer a two or three book contract, allowing you to finish it in a more satisfying way.