The Actaids are the four gods who keep order in the world. The Lord of Life keeps domain over all life on Earth. The King of Corpses dwells over death. [Does "dwell over" mean what you think it means?] The Baroness of Balance keeps order and harmony among the people. The Girl of Gifts gives humans their animal forms by their eighth birthday. [Change their name to The Actaids of Alliteration.] Rae, the half-dog, and his sister Arella, the half-coyote, break every law trying to survive while their father leads the rebellion against the weasel King Nalvero. [Is King Nalvero a weasel or half weasel? (I assume there are full weasels on this world.)] The two cause as much trouble for Nalvero’s soldiers, the Red Guards, as they can.
One day, however, they go too far. [Not clear what that means. What did they do?] The Red Guards trap them in a forest and set it on fire. The pair is rescued by a strange, young girl who resides in the forest. This stranger however, turns out to be more than she appears; she is the only human teenager on earth. [Wait, we're on Earth? And there's only one human teenager?] Rae and Arella plan to use the girl’s unique fighting skills and frightening appearance to help break their father out of jail. [The father is leading the rebellion from jail?] The young girl agrees to go, under the impression they know of someone who can help her obtain her animal form and become normal. Having lived alone in the forest for quite some time, she refuses to even give the pair her name. [I don't see the connection between having lived alone and refusing to give her name.] The group encounters Red Guards, a bounty hunter, curses, and several battles on their journey. Throughout their adventures [Meanwhile], King Nalvero consults with the King of Corpses through black magic and places numerous obstacles to stop the group on their mission. The King’s plans fail as the young girl begins to open up as she slowly bonds with Rae and Arella. [I don't see the connection between the plans failing and the slow bonding,] On the night before their father’s execution, [If Nalvero wanted to stop their mission, he should have moved the execution time up to immediately.] the group finds shelter with a canine tribe. The young girl even reveals her name -Ana. However, she quickly retracts her trust as she learns of Rae and Arella’s plan to use her. [Unfortunately, it's too late to retract the crucial revelation that her name is Ana.] The tribe is then captured by King Nalvero, who pretends to care for Ana as a part of a scheme devised by the King of Corpses. The whole setup turns out to be a trap as Nalvero reveals his malicious plan to kill them all. Just when Rae is about to be executed, [Rae? What about the father? Was he executed?] Ana realizes she does care about them and a great power surges up from deep inside her. [It is the Custodian of Colons.] She levels Nalvero’s army with just a wave of her hand. The trio realizes Ana’s great power and appearance must be a part of a well-known prophecy. They decide to travel together and push forward towards their destinies as a team. [What about the Dogs of Defense? Did they get killed? If so, change it. No one will want to read about dogs or even half-dogs being killed.]
I don't see the point of starting with the Actaids. First of all, only the King of Corpses gets mentioned as part of the plot, so he's the only one worth mentioning. Secondly, his role in the plot is minor, so even he isn't worth mentioning. And thirdly, the name "King of Corpses" sounds so silly that even if he were worth mentioning, mentioning him would kill your chances of selling the book. In fact, all the Actaids have silly deal-killing names. If they play a big role in the book, give them real names. We don't say God of Thunder, God of the Sky, God of the Sea. We say Thor, Uranus, Aquaman.
I realize that Superman often teams up with Batman, but that's just because he feels sorry for the guy. He doesn't need Batman. Likewise, if Ana can level armies with a wave of her hand, she doesn't need to be part of a trio with Dogbert and Wile E. You've given Ana unlimited power, without showing anything the other two can do beyond annoying the Red Guards.
You could condense this into the brief summary you include within your query letter. Once you get rid of the Actaids and the unnecessary information (e.g. The girl refuses to reveal her name. The girl reveals her name.) it should be about the right length for that. I recommend querying those who want you to include a synopsis only as a last resort. Better to focus your efforts on your book than on a synopsis.
I had many thoughts as I went through this and I typed 'em all here, then winnowed them down.
Really, you've got to change names. "Actaids" sounds like some sort of digestion pills.
I'm not sure why getting an animal form is a "gift," but if it's actually a curse in disguise that has a phony name like a major piece of federal legislation, that could be a pretty cool twist in your book.
You should tell us immediately how old Rae and Arella are.
"The tribe is then captured by King Nalvero, who pretends to care for Ana as a part of a scheme devised by the King of Corpses." The writing is confusing, because it initially makes me wonder if Nalvero is aware of this scheme. But I still wonder who the main bad guy is, Nalvero or the King of Corpses? More confusing still, "Nalvero reveals his malicious plan to kill them all." He's the villain and he commands a massive army. What did they think he was going to do if he won, send them to bed without dinner?
"They decide to travel together and push forward towards their destinies as a team." Did they liberate the dad or not? What's left for them to do? Tell us more about that well-known prophecy if it indicates unfinished business.
Seconding EE's advice to leave the Actaids out of the synopsis, if not the story. Gods can be tricky to handle in a fantasy story. They can either be very powerful, clearly real, and very involved in the affairs of the mortal world, which raises the question of why anything the mortal protagonists do really matters. Or they're more distant, with limited or debatable influence over the mortal realm, and more like cultural decoration for the world, in which case they don't need to be explained all that much.
While a query needs to be brief, a synopsis should give the reader a much more detailed picture of the story. So you don't want to gloss over important elements like what Rae and Arella do to provoke the wrath of the Red Guards, what unique fighting skills the only person in the world without claws or fang might posses, or exactly what those curses might be.
I'd make it clear that Rae and Arella's dad is away somewhere and not taking care of them right now. Their goals of trying to survive and causing trouble for the Red Guards seem contradictory. If they have to break the rules just to stay alive, getting themselves in any more trouble than they need to with the Red Guards seems like a bad idea. I'd highlight one and make the other a secondary concern.
If Ana is wearing a cloak or something else that initially hides her fully human appearance, you need to say that. Otherwise, she is exactly what she appears to be.
Do Rae and Arella lie to Ana and tell her they know somebody who or does she get that impression some other way?
An editor is going to want to know the specifics of the obstacles the three protagonists encounter. You want to show that these various challenges are exciting and entertaining and how surviving through these trials beings them closer.
I get that Ana has been on her own for a long time and doesn't trust easily, but I don't see how her name is such an intimate secret that being called "hey you, permanently prepubescent monster thing" is preferable to revealing her real name.
What didn't Ana know about Rae and Arella's plan that leads to her feeling betrayed.
I'm a little concerned about the ending, particularly if you have two sequels. Ana suddenly discovers she has amazing magical powers with no clear limitations or drawbacks and nukes the bad guy' smarmy. What else is there to do? What does the prophecy suggest might happen? How is realizing that Ana is part of the prophecy even important compared with the fact that Ana has magic superpowers and the bad guy is defeated?
EE> Superman totally needs Batman. Do you realize how many of Superman's enemies have access to Kryptonite, wear Kryptonite armor, or are made of Kryptonite? Just a grain of sand's worth of that stuff and Supes is out of commission. And since Superman's villains are all of the "Batman is but a mere mortal" mindset, they don't bother making sure he's taken care of, leaving him free to foil their plans and save his buddy's butt. Plus, Batman tends to be the brains of the operation, while Supes handles the punching.
Batman can be slightly useful, but only if Superman flies him to the scene or is willing to stand around waiting an hour for Batman to drive there in the Batmobile. As for Kryptonite, Superman only pretends to be vulnerable so villains won't catch on to his true vulnerability, which is boron. Superman being vulnerable to Kryptonite would be like you being vulnerable to dirt. He was born on Krypton, for Pete's sake.
Third vote for changing the name of the Actaids (My sleep befuddled brain first read it as antacids, the awake reading wasn't an improvement)
Only one of your four gods has anything to do (that you've mentioned) with the plot of this book. He/she is the only one who may need to be mentioned. This can be done with a simple "The King of Corpses, god of death, ... ..." in the part where he's involved. You can probably get away without mentioning him at all.
Thoughts on presentation of the summary:
The whole point is to summarize the book. This will frequently be a plodding recitation of events. Yes, you do need to spill the goods as to what exactly happens (glossing should be saved for brevity's sake when it's obvious what happens). Cause and effect need to be obvious. This happened so this happened so this happened so this happened. If something is going to take a long time to explain, see if the story makes sense without explaining it.
E.g. Rae and Arella, rebels against the king like their father, do A to the king's guards. The guards chase them into a forest and set fire to it. They are rescued by a girl, with B skills, and C goals in life. They promise to help her with C by doing D so she'll help them rescue their father who's been captured by the guards. They elude the guards by doing E, defeat a bounty hunter by doing F, and manage to not get cursed by doing G. They hook up with tribe of allies H right before the tribe is captured. The girl who's been tagging along waves her hand, wiping out the bad guys. The group then goes on to rescue the father. The End.
The story isn't about what R&A normally do, it's about what they do that sets things in motion. Start there. Be specific.
How is being the only teenager on earth being more than she appears?
What's frightening about her appearance? My imagination has suggested a lot of giggle-worthy ideas. Is this a comedy?
Secret name, why? Name magic? She's been warned by someone? She's got a price on her head?
Do we need to know the king is plotting with an evil(?) god?
Some king comes up and says "I care about you" and this makes a difference to someone who won't even tell to other kids her name why? This is important enough to plot with an evil god why? That's the best they could come up with. Why would they think it would work?
More thoughts on the plot:
Things are presented together that don't seem to correlate. Motivations don't make sense with the explanations provided. There seem to be logic issues.
Even for part one of a three part series, sudden magic powers taking care of everything is annoying and unsatisfying.
A satisfying ending means issues are resolved. I'm not sure what if anything is resolved in this book. The thing resolved needs to be made clear, and the plot should probably be focused on that. If the book is about Ana making friends, focus on that story. If it's about defeating the army, focus on that one (though, seriously, the king only has one army, and they're all in one place for the execution of a child? Don't they have better things to do like providing muscle for the tax collectors or defending the borders or something?)
Actaids are antacids. And if they aren't, they should be.
I also thought first of an antacid when I saw Actaids.
Now that I have time to sit down and really look at this:
First of all, as you have already discovered, the names of the gods lend themselves too easily to parody. And why "Girl of Gifts"? We have a Lord, a King, a Baroness, and... a girl? What's wrong with "Princess of Presents"? (Don't use that!)
Anyway, the most interesting part of the storyline is glossed over in two sentences: "The group encounters Red Guards, a bounty hunter, curses, and several battles on their journey. Throughout their adventures, King Nalvero consults with the King of Corpses through black magic and places numerous obstacles to stop the group on their mission." Expand this part and drop some of the other stuff.
I'm not sure I understand everything that's happening or why. These Red Guards trap two kids (or teens) in a forest and set it on fire just to kill the two of them? That sounds like burning your house down to kill a mouse. Somehow, the pair is rescued by a teenager that somehow also survived the forest fire unaided. The teen has "unique fighting skills," which she somehow learns and practices while living in a forest alone.
I also don't see why it would take black magic to stop three teens on a mission to break someone out of a heavily guarded jail. One rabid squirrel could probably do it. And who told the king they were coming?
How did Ana not know that Rae and Arella plan to use her to break their father out of jail? I thought that was the reason she was with them in the first place.
How did the three teens survive battles? How did they survive one battle?
Why does Nalvero even have a plan to kill them all? Why doesn't he just...kill them all?
At the end, she suddenly has magical powers. When did this happen? She apparently didn't have them before.
The ending seems very deus ex machina.
Anyway, there is a lot here that could be explained better. I would suggest going over it very carefully.
Glad I wasn't the only one having a dyslexic moment with antacids.
Another vote in favor of changing "Actaids"--as a lactose-intolerant, all I can think is that they're the Four Gods of Milk Sugar Digestion (Lord of Lactase, Emperor of Enzymes, Maven of Metabolism, Baron of Bloat).
Why is Ana so reluctant to share her name? If the prophecy is name-specific ("A human girl named Ana will appear in a forest and destroy entire armies with the wave of a hand"), it makes sense that she'd keep her name secret... but only if she knows about the prophecy AND knows that she's the subject of the prophecy. If that's the case, why doesn't she try waving her hand at the "other obstacles" thrown at them by the King of Corpses? If she doesn't have access to her powers yet, what would make her certain she was the subject? Surely she's not the only person in the world named Ana. That she's the only human would be a more significant detail, but somehow they discover that without her telling them (or without her recognizing its significance or whatever).
"She levels Nalvero’s army with just a wave of her hand. The trio realizes Ana’s great power and appearance must be a part of a well-known prophecy."
No no no no no. Seriously, no. Please do not have this be the climax of your book. This sort of thing may have worked for ancient Greece, but we're past that now.
Also, the first thing that came to mind when I started reading your synopsis was that Actaid sounds like Lactaid. That obviously has to be changed, but I agree with EE that all the Actaids' names were terrible.
I still don't understand how a human teenager's appearance is frightening in this world. If everyone looks human until they're 8, then her appearance would be the opposite of frightening. It would be childlike. In other words, adorable and unthreatening. Which she could still use to her advantage, but she'd do it in a way totally different than if people thought she was scary.
Something else that just occurred to me: why is there a canine tribe? You said in the query that people's animal traits are based on their personalities, not genetics. So why would there be a tribe made up solely of canine people? Do they all have similar personalities? Is this how societies organize themselves in this world? If Mommy Wolf and Daddy Hyena have a kid who grows up to be half blue-footed booby, is he sent away to live with the blue-footed booby tribe?
Additionally, there seem to be a lot of canine people in this story. We have the two half-canine protagonists and a whole tribe of canine people, plus an evil weasel king and a panther bounty hunter. I don't know what animal traits Rae and Arella's dad has (though I suspect it's in the canine family) and I'm guessing the Red Guard are a mix of various species, maybe? Unless there's a story reason to stick with the canidae family, it might be nice to see a more diverse range of animal people.
Did anyone mention yet that the Red Guards were Mao's paramilitary supporters during the Cultural Revolution?
Weasels and panthers aren't canines, nor are hyenas, though I agree that there doesn't seem to be as wide a range of represented animals as I'd like. Are there people who are half amphibian, lizard, bird, or fish?
Is the animal Ana most like a human? Which would make her a half human, human? I can see how she would find that confusing.
SB> Bad phrasing on my part; I meant that the weasel King and the panther bounty hunter were the only non-canines mentioned in the story. The hyena was just a mistake. Regardless, if there are species other than canids among the good guys, I feel like they should at least be in the synopsis, if not the query.
'This sort of thing may have worked for ancient Greece, but we're past that now.'
Oh no, even in ancient Greece this wouldn't work so well. Only if it was a god, of course...but then that idea of a god super-power being is not specific to ancient Greece.
Are we sure this isn't a joke query of some sort? The alliteration boggles. It also reads more like a middle grade (or younger) novel that someone has went too far on. I honestly don't know what to think.
I am the author of this piece and just want to say THANK YOU so much for all your helpful feedback! I was literally laughing at all the comments on the name Actaid so don't worry, I will change that first.
Just fyi I wrote this story back in middle school and set it aside for years. The term Actaid was all my friends' initials and that's also why there's all that terrible alliteration.
Obviously this synopsis needs a lot of work but I know exactly where to start thanks to all of you!
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