Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Face-Lift 1410

Guess the Plot 

Seeds in Shallow Soil

1. Sacked from selling seashells at the seashore, Sue seeks to sow seeds in shallow soil. 

2. When magic and science both fail to kill the toxic weeds destroying their crops, farmers, led by a stranger in patent leather shoes,  set out on a brutal journey in search of a new home, one surrounded by a fortress that weeds can't penetrate.

3. Rose was always down on her luck. Now that she's grown, she wants to help her old friends, Iris, Holly, and Violet. But can this trio of miscreants rise above their meager surroundings? Or will they always live in the shallow end? 

4. Conman Jonas accidentally discovers he's good enough at the self-help guru shtik to thumb his nose at the feds who're giving him the eye. Unfortunately, he's good enough at it to become internationally recognized, and his long, long trail of unhappy marks want back what he bilked them out of. Plus interest.

5. Don't worry, this isn't yet another preachy allegory. It's your complete guide to the exciting world of tillandsia--plants that grow anywhere, need minimal care, and die after they flower. Which, come to think of it, pretty much makes it yet another preachy allegory.

6. Farmer Hiram sows his corn on barren, rocky soil. After years of failure, he sells his tractor, moves to Washington, and makes a seven-figure income lobbying for farm support. 

Original Version 

Dear Evil Editor, 

Nobleman Mathieu Westerhall is nobody’s idea of a hero. He’s privileged and aloof. He doesn’t venture outside of his upper crust neighborhood in the capitol [capital] if he can help it. 

Which is why he’s dismayed to be squatting in a field in the remote hamlet of Lambahvras; [Wasn't lamb bah vras the sheeps' password in Babe?] a place so small the name on the map far outsizes it’s [its] geographical area. [I assume you mean its geographical area on the map, and not its actual geographical area, because otherwise Lambahvras would have to be about two inches wide. Or the map would have to be about a mile wide, in which case it wouldn't fit in the glove compartment, even when folded up. Not that they have glove compartments in Lambahvras, I assume.] [When you think about it, every country's name would outsize it's geographical size on the map if you use a big enough font size.] [I wonder if stage coaches and hansom cabs had glove compartments. Never mind me, I'm babbling.] He’s attempting to scoop up dirt samples with one hand and keep his handkerchief pressed to his nose with the other. [If only he had a coronavirus mask.] All while avoiding scratches from a thorny, foul-smelling weed that the village innkeeper assures him is toxic.

No one mentioned this agricultural problem when the Queen assigned him the dreaded task of land survey. He was expecting quaint hospitality and platters of fresh food. [If that's what he expected, why is the task "dreaded"?] It wasn’t until the carriage driver had gone that he learned there was no food to be spared. That the town had been overrun by this stubborn weed that chokes crops and cattle alike. 

He ought to have returned at once to report this to the Royal Botanists Society. He could have returned home, filed a report, and resumed his wedding plans. But by the time his reports are [got] reviewed, the homesteads could be destroyed. 

The Lambahvrans are desperate. Desperate enough to allow a city man like him to use his fancy science equipment and interfere with their hexes. These are their homes. Their farmland. And their reservation. [Can you be more specific about the fancy scientific equipment? That Matt arrived by carriage and not car, and that he's wearing patent leather shoes, would indicate it's betweem 1820 and 1910. If we're on Earth. So I assume we're not talking about crop dusting airplanes.] 

What Mathieu doesn’t know yet is that his fancy science is going to fail. [Thus portending the rise of the first Trumpians.] And the Lambahvrans are going to leave. It’s going to be Mathieu of all people who suggests hiding out in an ancient island fortress. [Wait, what are they hiding from? The weed? That's the only threat that's been mentioned.] 

Perhaps most absurd of all, he’s going to go with them. On a hard march through the wilderness. In patent leather shoes. And that reaching this fortress -- if they can -- will only prove the first challenge. [The second will be convincing his privileged fiancée to move into an ancient island fortress with a bunch of impoverished strangers.]

SEEDS IN SHALLOW SOIL is a 108,000 word fantasy novel. It is intended to be the first novel in a series, although I designed the structure to work as a standalone book [with the potential to become a series.] 

 Thank you for your time and consideration.


I think you left something out. If they can't beat the weeds, why don't they just march to somewhere with good soil and no weeds? What does this island fortress offer them? Your entire plot seems to be farmers facing ruin because of weeds take up residence in an old fortress.

If most of the story takes place after they get to the fortress, you could just start with:

When the hamlet Lambahvras is overrun by toxic weeds that choke their crops and their cattle, the people embark on a long and brutal journey to an ancient island fortress. 

Then you have plenty of room to tell us what happens in your story.  

If most of the book is the journey to the fortress, tell us about the obstacles they must overcome along the way, and how they plan to overcome them. I'm assuming these obstacles are more interesting than weeds.

Either way, we need to know why they're going where they're going.


Mandakinz said...

Thank you for the critique! I laughed my ass off!

After I recovered from the shock that EE didn't want to waive anonymity to offer me a 6 figure deal and after much comforting shoulder pats from friends, I can see the glaring omissions in my query.

I was trying so hard to write a query that didn't get bogged down in the overall plot, and character soup, and to focus on the premise and the catalyst, and show-don't tell, that it seems like I ended up focusing on the wrong things.

I was surprised that EE advised to omit the sentence about the reservation. I struggled with that word choice. I meant it in the context of a Native American reservation. That word was meant to be a tip-off that the farmers can't just leave, without taking up query time explaining the background. Interestingly (to me and probably no one else), I couldn't think of an older, more European style term for it. To me, that word in that context is so distinctly tied to American history that it doesn't seem to belong in a fantasy-world setting but it was the best I could do. Maybe someone else will have some ideas?

I'm impressed by how much EE did pick up on (magic and science, the privileged fiance). My overall takeaway is that what was on the page was explained clearly but I left out important information (namely --the plot).

Special shoutout to the Guess the Plot contributors! I loved all of them, but my favorite was #5 and #6. My title sounds pretentious enough to be a preachy allegory!

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts:

If your MC never leaves the capital, why does he get the job of land survey? Wouldn't an experienced professional be better suited? Alternatively, what kind of surveying needs to be done that an amateur can accomplish? (If this is busy work to get him out of the capital, say so)

Since he should go back but doesn't, does he at least send a messenger with a preliminary report?

Where does "allow" come in? Are farmers "allowed" to not cooperate with a government mandated mission to do a land survey? If they sent him packing or made his job difficult, would the queen just shrug and give up?

What exactly is the fancy science equipment supposed to do? (For that matter what are the hexes supposed to do?) Has anyone tried burning the weeds?

The MC doesn't return and report because he's worried about the homesteads being destroyed, but then everyone leaves to go to the fortress. Presumable the homesteads are then destroyed by the weeds -- if this makes sense in the book it might be a good idea to either explain it in the query or leave it out of the query

What are the farmers going to be hiding out from? Is this island fortress on a lake or the ocean? What strategic importance did it once have, was it built by (ancestors of) the current country, and is this related in any way to the plot with the weeds? How far away is this fortress?

So, in the end I'm not really sure what this story is supposed to be about.
-Does the MC have a deep seated motivation which explains why his superficial ones change twice in the space of the query?
-What is the real threat in the story? The weeds? Something behind the weeds? An upset royal with an army who isn't getting the taxes they want from homesteaders?
-What skills is your MC bringing to the party that makes him the MC?

If you decide to rewrite the query, we'd be happy to take another look here.
Good Luck

Anonymous said...

"I was surprised that EE advised to omit the sentence about the reservation. I struggled with that word choice. I meant it in the context of a Native American reservation. That word was meant to be a tip-off that the farmers can't just leave, without taking up query time explaining the background."

People not allowed to leave the land sounds like a variety of surfdom or villeinage, which was common in feudal europe. On the other hand, reservations are essentially sovereign states (independent nations) on the inside of another nation--the inhabitants can leave if they want.

Evil Editor said...

The query describes Lambahvras as a remote hamlet, as a village (it has a village innkeeper) and as a town. None of these words suggests that the people aren't allowed to leave. And they do leave, which further backs up the reader's belief that nothing is stopping them from leaving.

If they are providing food for the city, the queen would want them to leave a place where crops and animals all die. They aren't doing her any good in Lambahvras.

Mandakinz said...

Wow, thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments! I appreciate the questions. I tried to answer the information that’s missing from the query below.

MC is sent to the village to check out the possibility of installing a new military base there. He’s unaware that there’s a problem in this village until he gets there. Instead of returning home immediately, he decides to try to help. He figures he’s out here anyway, he’s educated, he’s got his microscope and chemistry set with him. He has to interrupt some of their religious ceremonies to conduct the experiments, so there’s some conflict. The science experiments fail and he can’t come up with a way to destroy the toxic weed (including burning).

The villagers decide to leave and MC is going to go with them part of the way. They get stopped by a band of soldiers who try to order them back to their territory. A fight breaks out that escalates into violence. People get killed on both sides.

The villagers are going to be in even more trouble for killing authority figures/ law enforcement. In order to hide from the authorities, they decide to try to hide out. MC suggests this abandoned fortress. MC plans to go back to the capital and cry their case before the Queen.

EE’s assumption was right that quite a bit more happens after that. My strategy with the query was to try to set up an interesting premise rather than squeeze the whole book in 250 words. When I rewrite the query again I’ll do a better job of giving an overview.

Anonymous said...

I do wonder why they're thinking of establishing a military base in weedy farmland when there's an unused fortress nearby....