Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Face-Lift 1277

Guess the Plot


1. Not really a manuscript. Nothing to see here. Move along.

2. Stage magician Harry "Whodunnit" must prove his assistant's live beheading was suicide, not murder, or his next escape act will be from death row.

3. Kate has her summer all planned out, until she's kidnapped by an organization of good magicians from another world. Then an evil band of magicians shows up, and it's up to Kate to thwart their diabolical plan to make human beings less creative.

4. When magician Kris Angle dies in an onstage stunt, it's considered an accident by Las Vegas PD. But LA homicide detective Zack Martinez was there, and he knows two things. One, a simple disappearing stunt shouldn't kill anyone, and two, 'Cirque de Soleil' puts out a better show anyway.

5. Life got you down? Truth hurts? Ask your doctor about Illusion (TM). Congressman Charlie Hahn has, and even though his fiance is cheating on him, his subordinates hate him, and he's five shades greyer and 15 pounds heavier than the guy being groomed to replace him, life is great. But what happens when he develops a tolerance for Illusion and his prescription runs out?

6. When Tom Bradley wakes up with a bloody knife in his hand and a dead clown in his bed, he's got a mess to clean up. But a witness comes forward and Detective Sophie Lamb is on the case. It's not the first time a hunky suspect claimed it was all an illusion. But will she fall for that again?

7. Debra Loughlin married too young. At least, that's her excuse why her husband is cheating, her kids hate her, and she just got fired from her job. But now she's got a plan. One evil magician, one deadly illusion, and her life will take a new turn.

8. Rupturio is a stage magician with a stage like no other, but when shapeshifting mobsters sieze his illusory platform and tweak it for their own nefarious purposes, rabbits gotta be pulled from hats. Big rabbits. Fluffy. Some of 'em babies.

9. Joey is a high functioning autistic savant. He sees things that aren't there, then shouts things these things at strangers. They all come true in some odd way. One day he tells a mob boss that he’s going fall to his death. Now Joey must run for his life because the boss’s henchmen try to kill Joey. Also voices in his head.

10. When Jonathan Holmes meets Cherry Lane, he projects his best possible image: Tall, dark, and handsome with just a touch of scoundrel. She buys it, of course, as have most women who've fallen under his magical spell. But when Jonathan realizes he actually loves her, he must decide whether to keep up the illusion, or reveal that he is, in fact, a troll. 

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Sixteen-year-old Kate Stillwell has her summer organized into a tidy list of bullet points and subheaders—until she’s abducted by Idina, her best friend.

Kate is taken to the headquarters of the Celestian Guard, an organization of magicians from another world. While at the Guard, Kate learns that she is the daughter of a Celestian and a human, which gifts her with a rare form of magic: her words can become reality. [They can? Or they do? Anyone's words can become reality. For instance, a while ago I said I was going to publish this blog post. Hey, I'm a magician!] [Has she ever noticed that her words become reality? Or did she think it was a coincidence that even her most outlandish words actually happened?] [If she says, Justin Bieber will walk into my bedroom, does she have to do something special to make it happen, or does it just happen?]

She also discovers that the magicians were commissioned to protect the delicate balance between humanity’s magic—creativity—and real magic, a task the magicians fulfilled effectively until an enemy band of magicians called Berserkers severed the pathway to Celestus. [I thought the Celestian Guard lived on Celestia, and the Celestusian Guard lived on Celestus. Guess I had that backwards.] 

Now the Berserkers are hunting for a lost sword that could be used to free their leader from his prison in the center of the earth. Intent on protecting creativity, Kate volunteers to join a hunt to find and destroy the sword—but if they can’t, then creativity will fall. [It seems like all Kate has to do is say, "The sword is in Mt. Doom." Problem solved. That would be too easy. What can make Kate's words not become reality?]

ILLUSION is a YA contemporary fantasy complete at 54,000 words that could be pitched as National Treasure meets The Kane Chronicles. ILLUSION does have series potential, but can stand on its own.

I am a member of the Florida Writers Association. ILLUSION is currently a finalist for the Royal Palm Literary Award (winners to be announced in October).

Thank you for your time and consideration.



A sword doesn't sound like the best tool to free someone from a prison. Although even if it is, the hard part will be getting to the center of the Earth. Of course Kate can prevent the Berserkers from bringing the sword to the center of the Earth to rescue their leader by simply saying  The Berserkers' leader is now imprisoned in the center of Uranus.

If creativity exists on Earth and magic exists on Celestus, why are the magicians charged with keeping a balance? It's really hot on Mercury and cold on Neptune, but it wouldn't make sense to tell someone to keep a balance between their temperatures.

Kate has an unstoppable super power. We need to know her limitations.

As Idina is never mentioned again, do we really need to know she's involved in the abduction? Do you really need to abduct your best friend? Can't you just say Come with me to a magical world.? I'd go.


InkAndPixelClub said...

Kate's plans for the summer prior to learning about her magical parentage don't ever come up again, so I'd cut the bullet point list and jump straight to the kidnapping.

What is the balance between humanity's magic and real magic and why does it need to be protected? I understand that the balance between good and evil probably depends on how much influence and power the good guys and the bad guy have, but these don't sound like opposing forces. Also, calling the Celestian's abilities "real magic" greatly undermines the idea that creativity is an equally valid and important form of magic.

I'm not clear on what the Berserkers are trying to accomplish beyond freeing their leader, which is not inherently evil. It might help if I understood this balance between human and Celestian's magic and why it matters, but I'd want to know what the Berserkers plan to do once their leader is free and what the consequences will be.

Most of this is an infodump about the Celestian Guard and the Berserkers. Try to pair down the setup and get to what obstacles Kate will be facing and what choices she might have to make.

Anonymous said...

In addition to this being mostly setup, your protag sounds fairly passive. She has plans, learns, and discovers. Finally she takes action: she volunteers to go with other people.... For all I know, they will be saving the world while she plays Watson and takes notes.

We need to know what Kate wants. For all we know, she wants to find the sword to free the leader of the Berserkers so she won't fail art class worse than anyone else.

We need to know what she's up against. Do they ever run into opposition or is it mostly puzzle solving trying to figure out how to get to the center of the earth?

We need to know what plot/character affecting choices she will need to make and what the consequences are for each path. So what happens if the Berserkers' leader is freed? What happens if creativity falls? Does it just fall for humanity? What about apes? Elephants? Corvids? If there's a balance, what then happens to the 'real' magic?

Having recently seen another plot with a half-human being kidnapped and learning about her heritage and abilities, I'd go with EE's suggestion to have her just go with her friend. And, probably dump all that from the query.

As an aside, this look scattered to me. We have Celestian, which would be the heaven/sky guard which matches ok with a guy imprisoned in the center of the earth, but then we have Berserkers which are (drugged-up) bear warriors out of Scandinavian lore, and we're looking for a stock fantasy magic sword.... I'm hoping more of a plot will somehow make this look lined up.

Also, out of curiosity, can your Berserkers turn into bears?

Anonymous said...

I think I get what's going on. Something like, all the wonderful wackiness of the world comes from human creativity and a bit of magic, but if you get too much or too little of either, you'll have -- something bad. Maybe endless tidy lists of bullet points and subheaders. Is that the deal with Kate? Not enough art or magic in her and she becomes the ironic heroine in the fight to save both?

But that's just my guess, and I still can't grasp what's really, truly at stake. What will happen if Kate and the Celestians fail? What will it look like if "creativity falls"? If it causes an imbalance, will magic rise? How exactly would the world be different? If the book is doing well in a writing contest, this conflict is probably clear and consequential, but that's not happening in the query.

I can't help noting how similar this is to the story about the Naturae. Teen girl is abducted by friendly force to a hidden world inhabited by non-human beings and it turns out she's a hybrid who has special powers because of her human half. She has to restore or maintain a balance between the humans and the non-humans. Is there anything YA authors can do to escape this trope? Should they? Because of its philosophical premise, I'm also curious if this story is inspired by The Night Circus.

Author said...

Thanks so much for your detailed critiques, everyone! I can see I need to make some changes in my query, especially regarding Kate's motivation and what will happen if the Berserkers free their leader.

Thanks again!

@Anon @ 5:42 p.m.--No, the Berserkers don't turn into bears, but I did find the inspiration for the name in Scandinavian lore. There are some mythological elements in the story.

AlaskaRavenclawa said...

We've seen a lot of YA queries on here where a 16-year-old high school student discovers she is the daughter of X and has Y powers. I think agents and editors must be yearning for a 16-year-old high school student who, despite being just a normal human kid, takes on magical forces of evil and kicks ass.

Since it sounds like this manuscript doesn't offer that, I'd de-emphasize the discovery of magical parentage and focus in on the challenge the protagonist faces and what she does to overcome it.

St0n3henge said...

Alaska said what I was thinking here. I'm pretty sure all the manuscripts involving high school students with surprise mythical parentage and magical powers are responsible for the destruction of at least one large old-growth forest.

Before you continue further destruction of the environment, be sure you know what makes your story unique and how to express that.