Monday, March 10, 2014
Guess the Plot
When Fire Ignites
1. Boarding school? Try bored-ing school. How many games of field hockey can one girl tolerate? Silvy's ready to run away until she discovers just how much fun pyromania can be.
2. Shortly after an irascible literary editor rejects a manuscript for being thinly-disguised plagiarism of a Ray Bradbury novel, he bursts into flames.
3. Bad enough that fire elemental Cassidy got stuck hosting Thanksgiving dinner yet again, but then air elementals crash the party, murder some of the guests and kidnap others. And you thought Thanksgiving sucked in your family.
4. Severely burned in a suspicious local church fire, fireman Sam slips into a coma. His soul travels out of his body in an attempt to solve the mystery of the arson. Will a nurse who seems able to communicate with ghosts help him or will she and Sam succumb to vicious demons that appear to be planning something evil for all the parishioners?
5. Tina is a rare elemental fairy, able to control fire. Imprisoned in an iron cage and sold to a wizard, Tina must use every trick in her tiny little body to win the wizard's love . . . and expose a ring of black-market fairy traders.
6. Beautiful Beverly is the youngest of the Smoke Eaters, brave firefighters who parachute into dangerous wildfires. She's never thought a man could meet all her dreams, until she meets Captain Hank Jordan. Unfortunately, Jason Bradley feels the same way.
7. When Jonathon Storm was a little boy he hated water. The rain made him sad and Saturday bath night made him bat shit. His sister, Susan, could just disappear whenever she wanted, but she never skipped bathing. Magic happened the first time Jonathon lit a match, and his screams of, "Flame on!" are legendary. When Fire Ignites: The Human Torch, an unauthorized biography.
8. It's usually a one-way trip to the remote mining planet of Shiro. The indentured workers have been tricked into accepting such lousy wages they will never earn their passage home. Until one stands up to the corporation and ignites the fire of revolt in the hearts of the downtrodden. And ignites fires in the oxygen generators . . . oops, didn't think that one through.
Dear Agent X,
For Cassidy MacNamara, Thanksgiving’s no piece of piss—after all, throwing a bunch of fire elementals in one room incites brawls and torched curtains. [It sounds more like Thanksgiving is a piece of piss. Not that I'm familiar with the term, but I assume it means the same thing as piece of crap or piece of shit.] [Oops, a bit of research reveals it's British and means the same as piece of cake. Hey, at least cake, unlike piss, comes in pieces, you crazy Brits.] [Wait, do Brits even celebrate Thanksgiving? Additional research shows they don't, but these could be Americans in Britain or Brits in America, so I'll let it go.] However, this year air elementals crash their dinner, killing some of her own and kidnapping others. including her little sister. [The word "however" suggests that this year Thanksgiving is a piece of piss, when in fact it's still no piece of piss. What you want is something like: Thanksgiving's never been a piece of piss, but at least it's never been a piece of shit. Or: Cassidy didn't expect Thanksgiving to be a piece of piss—after all, putting a bunch of fire elementals into one room incites brawls and torched curtains. But when air elementals crash their dinner, killing some of her own and kidnapping others, including her little sister, she declares it her second-worst Thanksgiving ever.] [Note that I changed "throwing" to "putting." "Throwing" was giving the wrong impression.] [By the way, "piece of piss" is a great tongue twister. Say it five times fast.]
With her aunts and uncles arguing among themselves and her drunk Ma cradling a bottle in the corner, [This is in the same room with the corpses of their relatives lying on the floor?] Cassidy, like always, has to take responsibility. Those bastard air elementals took her little sister, but she’s going to get her back.
Problem numero uno though: fire elementals are restricted to the South. If she crosses the border, the elemental Council will send their extraction team after her. [Problem numero uno should be arranging for the Council's disposal team to get rid of the bodies in the dining room. Otherwise Sis will be coming home to a highly unpleasant scene.] [Are air elementals restricted to the North? If so, why didn't the extraction team deal with them? If not, how does Cassidy know her sister's been taken to the North?] If caught, not only will her little sister be gone for good, but Cassidy will be stripped of her powers. A fire elemental without fire is nothing. Even though all she’s armed with is a couple of her crazy, but loyal cousins, her ‘69 Camaro and a hostage who won’t shut up, [You forgot to include the ability to manipulate fire. When you have flamethrowers and your enemy has leaf blowers, I like your chances.] Cassidy will make sure her family comes home, no matter what the cost.
"When Fire Ignites" is a 90,000 word urban fantasy.
You'd think a society that has extraction teams to keep elementals in their own areas would also have authorities to deal with renegade air elementals who commit crimes.
Presumably the mix of mythological creatures, Thanksgiving, "piece of piss," "numero uno," is part of the book's charm, and not anachronism gone wild.
I like the voice and humor if the book is also funny, but it's unusual for a query in which the main plot development is that characters are murdered and kidnapped to stress the comical aspects. Is the plot more adventure/thriller or comedy?
The query is mostly setup. When her little sister is kidnapped by air elementals, Cassidy and two of her cousins head into the forbidden North on a rescue mission. Expand that into a three or four-sentence paragraph that includes the important stuff I left out, and you still have room to tell us what the plan is, what obstacles pop up, what the air elementals want with Little Sis.
Posted by Evil Editor at 11:21 AM
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Guess the Plot
1. Dying solider Tony Block challenges Death to a game of scrabble in order to buy himself a couple more hours of life. But can he convince Death that "garwaf" is a real word?
2. Randy searches for a job where his speech impediment won't be an issue. Emily helps him get a job where she works, at the car wash. Or, as Randy would say it, the Garwaf.
3. After years struggling to make a go of their computer-programming business, Icelandic sextuplets Garwaf, Gafraw, Warfga, Wafrag, Fragwa and Awfgar finally strike it rich by selling their word verification algorithm to Blogger.
4. When the priest sneezes at a crucial point in the christening, Garwaf James Ackerman's destiny is set. While the blessed spittle is soon wiped from his forehead, it causes his death from pneumonia, seventy-three years later.
5. Gabriel has been turned into a wolf by his wife. When he finds himself in the royal court, the king decides to make him his pet. Can Lady Beau help "Garwaf" regain his humanity before he rips her throat out?
6. Hazel is fired from her secretarial job after Word mis-corrects the title of the book her boss is trying to submit to a big-league New York editor.
Dear Benevolent Editor:
How is a man supposed to be a man when he’s trapped in the body of a wolf? [I've struggled with that question all my life--except, for "wolf," substitute "god."] And what is the woman who loves him supposed to do about this rather awkward situation? [I once dated a woman who was trapped in the body of a wolf, and it wasn't awkward at all . . . well, except for the night we went to a dinner party at the home of a couple whose son was trapped in the body of a sheep.] A romantic fantasy/adventure for young adults in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones, GARWAF retells the story of Beauty and the Beast- with a twist.
Gabriel, a werewolf who was once the favorite knight of the king himself, was trapped in his wolf form permanently by his unfaithful wife when she learned his dire secret. [If I'd been unfaithful to my husband, the last thing I would want to do would be to permanently make him a creature capable of turning me into cole slaw.] Ensnared as an animal in the woods, cut off from everyone and everything he ever loved, Gabriel is slowly losing his mind and his memory. By a trick of fate, Gabriel finds himself back in the king’s court. [Trick of fate = whim of author.] Instead of a knight now he is the king’s treasured pet.
[King: I should have a treasured pet.
Trusted Adviser: Yes sire. Dog? Kitten?
King: I was thinking wolfman.]
Entrusted to the charge of the sweet and steadfast Lady Beau, [An oxymoron if I've ever heard one.] Gabriel might, with her help, be able to return to his human form. Old enemies and his own inner demons quickly converge, [How do his old enemies know he's Gabriel, and not an actual wolf?] and Gabriel’s tentative grip on his human half is tested when he almost kills Beau, the one person who is trying to help him.
Opinionated and outspoken, Lady Beau has been packed off to the royal court by her father to snare herself a rich husband. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, Beau’s loneliness and frustration are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet. [In other words, puts her in charge of cleaning out the wolfman's cage.] Beau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems. Resolving to do all in her power to help him if she can, she is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with the people who betrayed him lead Gabriel to stray ever closer to losing his humanity forever. [This paragraph contains information that's been presented already: Gabriel is the king's pet; he's entrusted to Lady Beau; old enemies are out to get him; he's losing his humanity.]
I did extensive research into the medieval era to help me construct this novel. [Thank you. There's nothing more annoying than finding historical inaccuracies in a wolfman fantasy.] A synopsis, first 50 pages, and SASE for your reply are included. I look forward to sending you the complete, 90K word manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.
As you declare it a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, you wouldn't be taken to task for calling her Lady Belle.
While it's not a strict contradiction, describing Beau as sweet and steadfast and later calling her opinionated and outspoken may give two different impressions of her.
It might be better organized if it began with Beau, something like:
Lady Beau has been packed off to the royal court by her father to snare herself a rich husband. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her loneliness and frustration are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf.
Beau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this "wolf" was once Gabriel, the king's favorite knight. Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Beau is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his humanity.
Now there's room to tell us what happens beyond the set-up. And to tell us what the twist is. Does Belle fall for the king instead of the beast in this version?
FRAWGA--Ted Kennedy's favorite video game
GAFWAR--US invasion of Iraq
I've struggled with that question all my life--except, for "wolf," substitute "god." ROFL, EE!!
Church Lady said...Loved GTPs 2 and 3! I'm sorry, But I just imagine (okay, dream) of putting my husband in a cage and calling him a pet. Except when it's time for sex- then he can be let out for five minutes.
Author, I agree with EE's rewrite of the opening 2 paragraphs. You're lucky he's feeling generous today.
Dave said...A few weeks ago, when this appeared on Electra's Crapometer, I suggested not starting the query with a rhetorical question. I see I have to explain this.
You ask "Is a man, a man when he's trapped in the body of a wolf " ... Notice I asked the question so that I couldn't say "NO' as a sarcastic remark and set the piece of paper down (or delete the email).
That's the first reason. Rhetorical questions are easy rejections.
What is this story about? It's a clever retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It's a love story, a romance.
That's the second reason why your rhetorical question is bad. This isn't about just the Beast, it's about Beau (or Belle, or whatever her name is). You ask the reader of the query to accept the world of an anthomorphic wolf but he can't be made human again without the love of a woman. That immediately switches the entire metaphysical basis of the story.
And one last reason.
"What makes a man, a man" (which is the essence of your opening question) says the novel is closely associated with the MALE figure. It also implies that Garwaf might not return to being human. Garwaf the lupine beast might remain Garwaf the wolf forever.
Is that the twist? Are we seeing the same gimmick as we saw in Shrek? The romantic female interest joins him in being a wolf? If that's so, I would ask "what makes a woman a woman."
Your question emphasizes the male in the story at the expense of the female. The story isn't about one or the other character, but both as they interact. At least half of the story wil be the Lady Beau's efforts to redeem Garwaf from his wolfie existance and then, i guess, they live happily ever after. (unless they go bankrupt thanks to high priced depilatory and electolysis bills).
Oh yes, what is the end of the story? Happy - they marry? Sad - they part? Furry - they have puppies? or Alien rabbits arrive and...
I think EE's given you a great start for a query, BTW.
elissa said...I like the sound of this story (but then, I'm a sucker for Beauty and the Beast stories). I like that your heroine has to participate in the intrigues of the king's court if she's to help Gabriel--this tells me that she likely grows and learns through the course of the story, since she decides to do something so distasteful and unnatural (since she's outspoken, and politics etc. often requires sneaking about and great subtlety and diplomacy) to her.
Calling her "Lady Beau" would really bug me for the whole length of the novel, however. Not only is Beau a man's name, it's the masculine form of the word meaning "attractive" or "handsome" in French. So you have a heroine with a guy's name, and a name with a mascuine meaning. You've named your girl "Handsome."
phoenix said...Poor author. You're getting a rehash of all the crapometer comments here.
I'm still comfortable with your one-two setup of questions at the beginning that focus on the hero and then the heroine. I think Dave may have overlooked the second heroine-related question?
You begin with a question that is 1) not directed to the reader of the query, and 2) not answered by a yes/no response. "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" is a actually good example of a line that is better because it's a rhetorical question.
As with all writing, cliches, stock characters/plots, and rhetorical questions can sell based on execution. Otherwise, explain the $1.5M for the cliche apocalyptic vampire novels that just sold. Never say never...
Yes, your story is a romance and therefore about both characters. By default, however, since you've set up the hero as more out of the ordinary than the heroine, attention will get focused on him. Do you mainly remember Belle or the Beast? Christine or the Phantom? Fiona or Shrek?
The conventions for a romance query are a bit different, and you've almost got it here. Your first character paragraph is about Gabriel. Good. I would then move the paragraph about Lady Beau so it comes next, but keep it tight to Beau's perspective - what she needs and wants. Then the final paragraph can talk about the trials that must be overcome before they can be together. In this case, since you've called it a romantic fantasy and given us the traditions, we know it'll have an HEA, so you shouldn't have to explicitly state that they wind up together. It's well implied.
Apologies if I led you wrong on the "twist" thing. I think it's clear, but others are apparently having a problem. Still, you don't want to make it seem it is simply a retelling. Not for a YA audience, at least. It needs something hook-y to assure the agent of that. You MIGHT get away with a non-parody retelling with the younger crowd, but YA requires something novel.
You're almost there! This version has come a long way from the one on COM. And I like the name Gabriel much better than Garwaf! (But could you rethink Beau's name, too?)
(Wowzer, just what the heck is "Benevolet Editor" filtering out??)
Um, Church Lady, let hubby out for five minutes for sex? Honey, you and me need to talk...
Ello said...To be honest, I'm a bit put off by the title and I agree that Lady Beau does not ring right. EE's rewrite is excellent and Dave makes some great points. My only addition is that you mention it is in the tradition of Diana Wynne Jones who I equate with stories of magic, but magic is really not a part of your query, just an assumption that it is involved because of the wolfman bit. It seems a disconnect. But the story idea sounds very interesting.
Evil Editor said...Your first character paragraph is about Gabriel. Good. I would then move the paragraph about Lady Beau so it comes next
It does come next. The king/adviser dialogue interrupts one long paragraph.
blogless_troll said...This sounds interesting, but I would like to know how Gabriel got permanently trapped in wolf form by someone who just found out he was a werewolf. It sounds too easy. Unless his wife could use magic, in which case that might be a better description than "unfaithful."
Also, I'm not a werewolf expert and I've never researched medieval werewolfery, but it seems there are three basic shapes: human, wolf, and the in between monster you get in movies. You're saying the longer he stays in wolf form, the less human he becomes. So, wouldn't it follow that if he stayed in human form longer, he would become less wolfy? Then why didn't the wife just trap him in human form instead? If it's because she's "unfaithful" that's kinda weak. There's gotta be an easier way to get rid of a husband you don't want.
And since this is YA, it might be less confusing to illustrate Gabriel losing his humanity with the help of some kind of mechanical device, like a Wolf-O-Meter. Nothing fancy, maybe a modest, wrist-worn gauge or something with the silhouette of a human on the left and a wolf on the right. If the needle ever crosses into the red Gabe loses his humanity forever sort of thing. You need some sort of deadline, because the query makes it sound like all Lady Beau needs to do is lock Gabriel in his cage until she finds a cure for him, even if it takes years.
dancinghorse said...This has some nice potential, but I see I'm not alone in my problem with the heroine's name.
If you claim to have done extensive research, but get a prominent and basic element wrong, that kind of blows your credibility. You'd be amazed how many fantasy editors, agents, writers, and fans are experts in the period. They will catch mistakes, and one this basic will blow you right out of the ballpark.
Now mind you, if it's short for, say, Ysabeau, and there's a story that goes with it, which indicates that you really do know what you've done here, that's different. (Hey, I can even justify naming a Viking princess Tiffany. But I don't just play a medievalist on TV, I are one. I know how to get away with it. Real expertise can do just about anything--as long as it backs it up with solid, and I mean granite-hard, research and educated reasoning.)
December/Stacia said...I agree about not startiing the query with a question, and I have to argue with at least one other statement. Claiming you did extensive research on the medieval period and then having your heroine (whose name is not great--research actual medieval names, please, and language, since for a large portion of the period the nobility spoke French) "packed off to court to find a rich husband" is a contradiction. Medieval ladies of rank and wealth had arranged marriages; they did not go off to "find a husband". Some of them were betrothed from birth, most had marriages arranged later, but it had to do with property and wealth and the decisions of the parents; there wasn't a marriage market the way that statement implies.
Those who weren't betrothed by a certain age might have been sent to Court, but not to "find" a husband; they would have been sent to be ladies-in-waiting while their parents or the King himself found a suitable husband.
It's a very Regency-era phrase you've used, and it's out of place for the medieval period. Sorry, but it really jumped out at me.
Bernita said...I think December nailed it. Your query does not reflect any extensive research into medieval realities, but rather contradicts your claim. Perhaps it is best omitted.
Anonymous said...AUTHOR HERE: This might become a little snarky. I apologize in advance. I really have learned and improved a lot from posting on this site and others. Thank you to everyone for their notes and helpful suggestions.
Now, after catching flak here AND on crapometer for my heroine's frigging name and me not knowing what I'm doing, etc I rise to defend myself.
1) Her full name is Isabeau. She goes by Beau for short.
2) I decided not to go with Belle or Beauty because those are cliche and have been done to DEATH
3) In the story she ends up rescuing her man. She is, in fact, HIS Prince Charming. So I gave her a more masculine name on purpose as a kind of amusing (to me) homage to that.
I did do my research. I do know what I'm doing and no, I'm not changing her name. So, can we please stop commenting on that?
Thanks again everyone for all your help.
Here's a revised query based on the feedback I've received. (If someone can come up with a better hook then I will ditch my rhetorical question.)
Critique away. Can't wait to see what everyone has to say.
Dear Benevolent Editor:
How is a man supposed to be a man when he’s trapped in the body of a wolf? And what is the woman who loves him supposed to do about this rather awkward situation?
A romantic fantasy for young adults in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones, GARWAF blends the story of Beauty and the Beast with Marie de France’s lais “Bisclavret.”
Lady Isabeau has been packed off to the royal court to snare herself a rich husband by her father so she can pay his gaming debts. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her loneliness and frustration are eased when the king puts her in charge of the care and comfort of his new pet wolf. Isabeau quickly realizes the beast is more than he seems, for this "wolf" was once Gabriel, the king's favorite knight. Resolving to do all in her power to restore him, Isabeau is sorely tested as the trials of court and confrontations with those who betrayed Gabriel lead him to stray ever further from his already dwindling humanity. Trapped in his wolf form permanently by his unfaithful wife when she learned his dire secret, Gabriel struggles to fall into the ways of his old life and fights his wolfish urges to maim and kill.
As Gabriel and Beau grow to understand and care for one another despite his horrific curse, rumors of an uncannily intelligent and mild-mannered wolf at the royal court reach the ears of Gabriel’s wife, Alison, and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard. All the circumstances of the wolf’s capture and his subsequent integration into court life lead Alison to suspect that the king’s pet “Garwaf” is none other than her first husband Gabriel in his wolfish aspect. Though her second marriage to Reynard has been far from happy, Alison knows she will need Reynard to quietly dispose of the king’s new pet. Gabriel, they know, is the one creature that, should he ever return to his human self, could strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain. Desperate and reckless, Alison and Reynard are unafraid to dispatch Gabriel and anyone else, like Isabeau, who might stand between them and the werewolf they need to kill.
A synopsis, first 50 pages, and SASE for your reply are included. I look forward to sending you the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.
Church Lady said...How about opening with: Gabriel is a beastly lover. Lady Isabeau has no choice but to keep him in a cage.
Okay, I know people automatically think everything I say is a joke, but I am actually serious.
I remain in the camp that's against opening with a rhetorical question.
Good luck with your query.
Ello said...Hey author! I really like your new query. And I'm really intrigued. I would want to read this book. And I don't even like medieval romances! This sounds awesome. I don't even have any quibbles. And the fact that you say Lady Isabeau first before moving to her nickname took care of my initial problem with her name. Now it makes sense! I still think Garwaf is a funny name, but it wouldn't stop me from reading the book. I can't believe how much better this query is. You did a great job. Good luck!
Evil Editor said...Desperate and reckless, Alison and Reynard are unafraid to dispatch Gabriel and anyone else, like Isabeau, who might stand between them and the werewolf they need to kill.
Drop that sentence from the end of your plot; the previous sentence is a better ending.
blogless_troll said...I liked this version much better. It flows from beginning to end instead of jumping around like the original.
And I would keep the rhetorical question opening simply out of spite. You have to keep in mind that some of these writing "rules" are just the result of a desperate need for blog content. (Not EE's, or course.)
Posted by Evil Editor at 10:52 AM
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Guess the Plot
A Sweet Disorder
1. After years of testing various formulas, Milla and Luke finally perfect their Candy Bar NummyBites and are set to make millions . . . if they can just figure out how to keep the secret ingredient from causing cannibalistic tendencies.
2. You know how a small flaw in an article of clothing can make it seem more beautiful than if it were perfect? Jack's flaw is that he thinks he can solve crimes better than the Cretins on the police force. He stumbles on a murder, investigates, calls the principles together, announces whodunnit . . . and gets it all wrong, eliminating any chance of this detective novel becoming a series.
3. Amy almost abandons her dream of becoming a pastry chef when a rare disorder leaves her unable to taste sweetness. Her best friend volunteers his tongue for an experimental transplant, and she realizes she loves him. But really, is there an upside to marrying a man with no tongue?
4. After Professor Sager genetically engineers sugar so that it fights cavities, the Anerican Dental Association kidnaps the professor and destroys the formula. Sager decides to drop his project and work on a cancer-curing cigarette.
5. When he discovers that someone is lacing the Bon Ton Bonbon Company's chocolate truffles with salmonella, Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: that disgruntled rival chocolatier Fifi LaRue is behind the sabotage, and that he'd better pick up a Whitman sampler for his wife on the way home from work.
6. Rhonda has a medical condition. It's called a sweet tooth, and if she can't get rid of it, she fears she won't fit into her wedding gown. Little does she know, Paul has the same affliction, and already can't button the pants of his tux. Will they spend the next two months dieting, and blame each other for their misery? Or will they fess up and elope to a hotel next to a bakery?
Dear Evil Editor,
Jack and Zoe have a special relationship. He’s the young American doctor, so strait-laced he should have been a mummy. [This makes sense only to those who know that mummies are notoriously strait-laced, a group which may include only yourself.] [It might be an amusing joke if mummies were wrapped in lace or if the strips of linen they were wrapped in were tied like shoe laces. As that isn't the case, I recommend one of the following jokes as a replacement: He’s the young American doctor, so strait-laced he should have been a shoe salesman; He’s the young American doctor, so strait-laced he moonlights as a doily.] She’s the wild, spontaneous one, who chucked her nursing post in London to trek round the world. [It seems that they would have met because of their doctor/nurse professions, but if she chucked her post to trek around the world, how did they become a couple?] Things happen around Zoe, and Jack had better get used to it.
Their honeymoon in Crete has hardly begun when they come across a handsome young corpse by the swimming pool. [If he's a zombie, call him a zombie. I'm not sure it's a good idea for a zombie to be by the pool. Sunlight and chlorine are bad enough for your skin when you're alive.] Zoe hardly blinks. Like the police inspector says, sometimes even healthy young men die unexpectedly. That’s good enough for Zoe.
What she can’t fathom is what gets into Jack. Suddenly her quiet, socially inept bumbler is sniffing about for clues and generally sticking his nose everywhere it doesn’t belong. Zoe can tell him exactly what he’ll find: a web of petty village jealousies, a coven of crooked British ex-pats, and a charming little fishing port where smuggling is the real catch of the day. It’s all a bit unsettling—what happened to the comfortably boring stick-in-the-mud she married?
The second body to turn up is so battered and bloody, even the police can’t look the other way. [I would think declaring this murder an "accident" would be a better example of the police "looking the other way" than the first murder, in which there apparently was no evidence of foul play.] By now Jack’s way ahead of them. And way cleverer, too—if he got through med school, he smirks, then solving the odd murder or two will be easy. It’s one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent education. The solution he presents to the assembled local noteworthies is pure brilliance.
Too bad he gets it all wrong. And in front of all those people, too.
In A Sweet Disorder, a marriage divided by a common language gets a good dose of murder. Noir it’s not—a lot more ouzo’s spilled here than blood. [Excessive spilled blood is associated more with slasher flicks than film noir.] Aimed at readers who look down their noses at whodunnits, [If you've written a whodunnit, your best bet is to aim it at people who don't look down their noses at whodunnits. I base this on the likelihood that the book will be shelved with the whodunnits, and the people who look down their noses at whodunnits won't even know where the whodunnit section is.] this cozy mystery has enough literary pretensions to appeal to fans of Guillermo Martinez, Donna Tart, Josef Sforecky or Arturo Pérez-Reverte, without turning off those whose tastes run more towards Marian Keyes. [I'm starting to think it's the query that has literary pretensions. Which is not a good thing, even if you spell Donna Tartt's and Josef Skvorecky's names right.]
Now the personal bits. After sixteen years in a transatlantic marriage, I know exactly what Mr Churchill was on about. [No idea what that means, but here are some amusing Churchill quotes: "From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put." "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."] For ten years I practiced medicine in the US, but [eventually they discovered I'd never been to med school, so] eight years ago I moved to the UK to write reports for a Major Pharmaceutical Company. The stuff I churn out is meant to convince government agencies our products are safe, effective and absolutely crucial for the public health. No author could ask for a better way to exercise his imagination and creativity. [I applaud the way you cleverly cloak in humor the claim that writing pharmaceutical reports is relevant to writing a mystery. However, as the query is already too long, I would limit the "personal bits" to your medical practice, assuming your doctor and nurse make use of medical training in solving the case.] [Also, it's probably not a good idea to refer to your one example of getting published as "the stuff I churn out."]
A Sweet Disorder, complete at 150,000 words, is my first novel. I’ve enclosed the first three chapters and would very much like to send you the rest of the manuscript.
[explanatory note for 'Guess the Plot' purposes: A Sweet Disorder is a Herrick poem about untied shoes.]
I like the voice in paragraphs 2, 3, and 4. And there's just enough plot to draw me in. That plus an opening and a closing would be a fine query. Get rid of the personal bits and the name-dropping, which will cut about a third of the query, and then do the same to the book, because it's a rare first novel that sells at 150,000 words.
We're pretty accustomed to our fictional detectives getting it right. A detective who gets it all wrong may seem like a refreshing change, but an agent may want to infer that Jack or Zoe eventually solves the case, so it wouldn't hurt to so imply.
Anonymous said...What EE said. Overall the query creates an impression that there is reason to be optimistic about the book but you are presently a bit clueless about certain things, most notably the marketing of fiction.
alaskaravenclaw said...About the bio. So wait, is the writer saying the drugs he promotes are *not* safe, and not effective, and his job is to say they *are*?
That kind of humo(u)r's a little risky IMHO. You never know when the reader of your query may have a serious illness, or a family member w/same.
I was a little taken aback by the handsome corpse.
Eric said...I'd assume that a doctor and an (ex-)nurse would be pretty well qualified to diagnose the cause of death of Handsome Corpse. Why does Zoe take the police inspector's word for it if there's any medical evidence to the contrary? ("Sometimes people just drop dead." "Yes, but what about the bullet hole in his chest?)
For that matter, why doesn't the police inspector listen to the MD if he has anything medically relevant to say? And why is the doctor acting like a sleuth and sniffing for clues instead of acting like a doctor and analyzing the trauma and wounds on the bodies?
The plot actually sounds very good as a quirky whodunnit (take EE's advice and lose the pretentious bits in the query), but I'd like to see a bit more evidence that you're handling your characters consistently.
no-bull-steve said...150,000 words?!?!?! Is that a misprint? For this type of novel that's too long. Like TWICE as long as it should be.
Interesting concept. I like the EE joke suggestion of "could moonlight as a doiley."
I thought for sure reading the GTP that this one was a joke, and then thought it could work if done cleverly. Great concept! From the marketing perspective it's going to be a tough sell because EE's right, people who'd learn about it would likely be *fans* of whodunits rather than people who detest them. If it's tongue-in-cheek humor then it still might appeal to them as well as to general fans of comedy novels.
Good luck with this. You're really gonna need to do something with that word count. Most fantasy novels aren't even that long.
Dave F. said...There's a nice query here, IMO. It starts at:
Their honeymoon in Crete...
and it ends at:
Too bad he gets it all wrong
Work on that portion and make it better. The rest of the current version repels me. No other words come to mind... Once you start talking about other authors like you do, I think "high pressure new car salesman" and turn off to the book. And that last paragraph about the Pharm indie makes me think that you are a disgruntled employee who is writing a rant and screed about the evils of your bosses. Which puts me off. Even in a discussion when someone starts the moans and whines about their boss and job, I turn on the male ear (ignore all noise) and start thinking about anything else.
BuffySquirrel said...Telling us Zoe quit her nursing post in London isn't enough to tell us she's British, so the common-language joke comes as a surprise. There are lots of foreign nationals working in the NHS, some of them probably called Zoe.
Working back from that language joke, I was then able to figure out the 'special relationship' comment. This t/a humour just doesn't work unless you make it clearer Zack is American and Zoe British.
Seems to me there's a lot of query to come after the query's effectively ended, which makes me wonder if there's a lot of novel after the novel's ended. Would explain that huge wordcount.
Anonymous said...I can see you're hearkening back to the great screwball comedies and it sounds like something I'd probably like to read, but you need to edit more carefully and consider how someone who doesn't know your characters will interpret what you say.
"Jack and Zoe have a special relationship" suggests to me that there is some hidden tie between them that makes their relationship extraordinary. Then you describe two people who have different personalities, which doesn't make their relationship particularly special. I didn't even know they were a couple until you mentioned the honeymoon in the second para.
Plus, the relationship sounds doomed. "Things happen around Zoe, and Jack had better get used to it." Wow. Sounds like there is no relationship - there is only the Zoe show and Jack's just bought a lifetime seat in the audience. Then, she 'can't fathom' Jack's investigation - I can see her being surprised by it, but 'can't fathom' suggests that she isn't capable of understanding it. She sounds tremendously self-centred and uncaring.
Lucky Jack, huh. Then we're told Jack's solution is all wrong. Now I really feel sorry for this poor sod. And you don't mention the denouement, but if Zoe solves it Jack sounds like a poor pitiable creature.
I've brought all this up to show what Jack and Zoe's relationship might sound like when the agent reads the query letter. If that isn't what you intended, you should do a careful edit. If that is what you intended, the book doesn't sound like a cozy mystery.
Oh, and the mention of literary pretensions and the various other authors puts me off.
vkw said...This isn't bad. It's kind of cute. I hope Zoe solves the murder.
There are a few nits. Like everyone else said, the personal bits needs to be pruned because they can be perceived as offensive. "I was a doctor now I am a editor for marketing drugs in the UK."
That tells the editor - one, you should be able write and you have medical experience.
The first paragraph needs to go.
Sarah from Hawthorne said...I think you want to be careful not to make your characters seem too unlikable. Flawed is good, but almost every descriptor of Jack is negative: he's straight-laced, socially inept, smirking, and he thinks he's cleverer than he really is.
Zoe comes off a little better, but despite your claim that she's the wild one, her action in the query seems to suggest she's not - instead she's pining for the days when her husband was a boring stick in the mud. It would make more sense if she were bored and wanted to move on - or if she were jealous that suddenly Jack is the center of attention. As it is, she sounds passive while Jack runs around solving mysteries.
And yeah, it's never a good idea to bad mouth an entire genre in a query. Call it a literary mystery or a tongue-in-cheek cozy, but don't imply that you look down your nose at whodunnits.
All that said, I'd still be totally down for a mystery featuring a mismatched globetrotting husband and wife.
Marissa Doyle said...What everyone else said--this just isn't working, and while it may have sounded clever and witty at the time you wrote it, it's just making me wince.
I also feel like you've only covered half the plot here: so Jack gets it wrong...does anyone get it right? What's the personal upshot for your characters?
Jo-Ann said...Author, the query made me smile, 'coz it reminded me of the first novel I wrote.
It was a send-up of the Enid Blyton Famous Five series, and in my story, my kiddie detectives utterly failed to solve the crime they set out to (but in the process, stumbled on another mystery and nailed the crooks - who happened to discuss their MO within ear-shot of my intrepid sleuths).
The comment from all who read it was "But... so who DID steal the diamonds?" Clearly, none of my friends were clever enough to get it. Ok, so I was twelve at the time.
So author, did the real detectives solve the crime, or did Jack's involvement ruin the forensics? Did poor Jack get sued for defamation by the innocent party he named publically? I like the idea of a bumbling Get Smart type detective, but they need some redeeming features to make them personable, otherwise why would we stick with them for 70,000words, let alone 150,000? Jack comes across as smug and bland - how can you show us he's actually interesting?
Finally, there's a shortage of nurses around the world. Many twentysomethings go on extended working holidays. Travelling, earning some dough for a few months with a nursing agency, then travelling more (makes me wish I'd considered nursing as a career). I'm sure Zoe is spontaneous and so on, but what you've said about her doesn't demonstrate this, as her peers are likely to be doing the same thing. How else can you show us her spontenaity?
Keep going, you'll get there!
chelsea said...The way it's written, it sounds like Zoe doesn't even blink at the discovery of the corpse, but what I think you mean is she doesn't blink at the police's explanation. Even if she is a nurse, discovering a dead body on her honeymoon would be jarring -- unless she's the killer, or a sociopath.
Then you go on to say she knows exactly what Jack will find in the village, but how does she know? The things you state seem a little too specific for her so guess, unless she's from Crete, or the killer.
Then again, looking back, you do say that things happen around her, so maybe she is the killer. If she isn't, I'm not sure why she knows certain things and reacts certain ways.
Otherwise, the premise sounds fun. A few tweaks and I think this will be really enticing :)
Zombie Deathfish said...I quite like quirky mystery stories, but the author's tone put me off this one. The bio section is rather pretentious and the jokes don't really work. I'd chop most of the bio unless it's really relevant to the pitch, and focus on tightening up the query.
Anonymous said...About the bio. So wait, is the writer saying the drugs he promotes are *not* safe, and not effective, and his job is to say they *are*?
Yup, and he/she is bang right (in some cases, at least). Don't look into the pharmaceutical industry unless you want a hell of a scare. However, I agree that this is a little too controversial for the about-me section.
Author: I love the tone and the idea of the cozy mystery protagonist who makes a hash of it, but I echo the general concern about word count. You need at least 50,000 off that, I'd say. I'd definitely be interested in the finished product.
alaskaravenclaw said...Anonymous, I know. We all know. It's not so much that it's controversial as that it suggests the writer is knowingly doing harm and, if not exactly boasting about it, certainly willing to discuss it gleefully.
arhooley said...Author, I think you've done a mostly fine job. I don't read cozies but I can see from your query why people do. In case you're trying to decide where to go with the conflicting advice here, I'll weigh some of the other points.
1 - Your bio -- Yes, cut it down. All we need to know is that you're a doctor who writes; you've got subject-matter expertise and a literary flair.
2 - All of EE's notes on awkward phrasing are right.
3 - It IS a non sequitur that Zoe "doesn't blink" because she knows of the corruption surrounding the death. It's disturbing that she wants to shrug it off and keep honeymooning. If this is really Zoe's reaction, you might want to rethink it. Sometimes when authors have two nice protagonists, they're forced to manufacture conflict with false psychology or dicey morality. Beware.
Anonymous said...(From the author) Pretentious, moi? Thanks to all for the comments.
Obviously this query is too long. I threw in quite a bit of dross to road-test reactions, and I’m glad I did (and that EE printed it in its entirety), because some of them surprised me....although the last few paragraphs were over the limit (not just the query length limit!)
One surprise: several commenters wanted to know more about the plot, particularly the ending. (Eg,—so who did solve it? Or even--how did they meet? ...which to me is getting into backstory). Even the esteemed EE hinted in these directions.
Well, I didn't want to degenerate into much plot summary, or try to sell the story on a clever ending (if it is clever--I doubt there's scope for a lot of originality in murder solutions these days.) But I recognise now there’s a danger that I’m trying to sell Jack’s failure to solve the mystery as the gimmick around which the book is based. It’s not.
If there’s a gimmick, it’s the language angle—miscommunication across the British/American and the female/male divides. (I may elaborate on the former in particular, if this thread stays alive—so please keep the comments coming! As for the latter, I didn’t even attempt to pull into the query. Maybe I should.)
So: how much more plot is really needed? I wanted to focus on voice rather than degenerate into summary or worse still, a laundry-list of characters and suspects. To me, that’s more important than who if anyone solves a crime, or whether the murderer gets away scot-free. On the other hand, the last thing I want is it to sound like a teaser (‘If you want to know what happens you’ll have to read the MS!’) Opinions welcome.
Character likeability—that’s an interesting one. Some people seem surprised a doctor would think he’s smarter than he really is. I’m afraid they do, every last one: to suggest anything else would be to cross the genre line into fantasy. But perhaps I should allow Jack one positive adjective, or at least a neutral one.
I must say raven’s reactions left me dumbfounded—it’s amazing what people can read into things. Raven, no drug’s completely safe and nothing works in everybody. Hell, people die from aspirin, or for that matter from eating prawns. And yes, you have to be imaginative if you’re going to find a way to distil a massive amount of data, some of it contradictory, into a coherent story. As for ‘gleefully boasting’, I’ve never done anything gleefully in my life. It’s not my nature. (And CC, if you really want a scare, then look into the medical profession!) But as I say these are moot points because I just wanted to throw some things up and see if they flew. The bio can go.
As she's from Old Blighty 'erself, Buffy Squirrel’s comments interest me a lot. It’s true that there are a lot of foreign nurses in the NHS, especially I imagine in the cities. If I wandered into Manchester (which I don't want to do) I’d probably find loads on the wards, compared to Macclesfield. Probably even more so down in London. But would your default assumption be this was a Phillipina or a Nigerian rather than someone home-grown? I initially had something about Zoe doing her nursing training in London (or Leeds or whatever) but I wanted to imply that she had enough real ward not to freak out over just another body...but it sounds like people may have trouble accepting that.
In fact, the reaction some (eg, Chelsea, arhooley) showed to “Zoe never blinked” really caught me unawares. You see, once you’ve seen enough dead bodies, they really do lose their shock value. I’ve seen more than I’ve had hot dinners—well, hot breakfasts, anyway—and Zoe’s seen even more. It really wouldn’t ruin her holiday. Whether the man on the Clapham omnibus can believe that, it seems, is another question.
Anonymous said...(From the author. Thanks to any who are still reading.)
I’m surprised no one complained about this: ‘smuggling is the real catch of the day’. The phrase bugs me, but I haven’t come up with a better alternative. Isn’t ‘catch of the day’ a bit cliché (even though here this restaurant term is applied to the port itself, and comes from a particular character’s POV)? And doesn’t this predicate cry out for a concrete noun, rather than a gerund? (Contraband…smuggled contraband…they just don’t do it for me.) Doesn’t this bother anyone else? Why not?
And no complaints about ‘It’s one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent education’? What about “a marriage…gets a good dose of murder”? How can you dose a marriage? And since when dose murder come in doses?
EE didn’t like ‘so straitlaced he should have been a mummy’, and I must admit that reaction caught me off-guard. ‘Strait’ is pretty obsolete as an adjective; the only place I can think of where it survives is ‘straitlaced’ and ‘straitjacket’, and of course ‘straitlaced’ is nearly always used in its metaphorical rather than its literal sense—‘humourless, conservative, inhibited’ rather than ‘tightly wound up’. Is the literal meaning of the word now so forgotten that the phrase I used doesn’t work? Opinions, please.
Anyway, those were the things I found surprising. Just a few other thoughts….
I had some misgivings about the first paragraph from the get-go. I certainly wouldn’t use the line were I to query American agents: the phrase ‘special relationship’ would go right over their heads. I think a Brit would get it (eg BuffySquirrel), but I’d appreciate any feedback from anyone else from the UK, especially in view of the sexual dynamic that’s inherent in this situation. But I am deliberating how to get rid of this paragraph without losing what it’s meant to communicate: the difference in nationalities and personalities. (BTW, I’m surprised no one complained about ‘telling, not showing’ here.)
Paragraphs 2-4 pass the EE test, but some commenters worried about inconsistency in characterisation. (eg, Why would a wild, spontaneous woman want her man to remain predictable?) CCC may be thinking too precisely on the issue, but I’ll give his points some thought.
‘Handsome corpse’ was a last-minute change that I regret. Too distracting, and I haven’t even got zombies on the brain.
I’m not worried about the word count. Like EE suggested, I can either round down instead of up (149K rounded to the nearest thousand is 100K, and if I don’t count all the really short words I’m at 149). Or I could just print the MS in teensy-weensy font so it looks a lot shorter than it is.
Again, thanks to all for ideas. As an exercise, I’m seeing what I come up with if I try to adjust to as many comments as I can.
Stick and Move said..."(149K rounded to the nearest thousand is 100K, and if I don’t count all the really short words I’m at 149)."
Uh, 149K rounded to the nearest thousand is 149K. 149K rounded to the nearest HUNDRED thousand is 100K. I'm no expert, but I don't think it's industry practice to round to the nearest hundred thousand.
Anonymous said...Author, stop playing with yourself in public. A query letter is a business letter designed to tell a potential agent or editor about your book, giving a concise precis of the plot, a taste of the writer's style, and accurate information about things like word count. Most agents prefer a letter of approximately 250 words. They don't have time to plow through verbal diarrhea-- there are another few hundred queries in their inboxes to choose from.
And please... you're "not worried about the word count"? Hate to break it to you, but publishers are. Unless you're name is J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or (ahem) John Grisham, you'd better worry about word count...if you want even a slim chance of being published.
Not Normally Pretentious said...Author, if you think 149k is an acceptable length for a murder mystery, you are dreadfully uneducated or hopelessly misinformed.
Murder mysteries are half that length...not 100k words. Shorter.
Anonymous said...On rare occasions exceptionally long first novels are published without shortening. This happens when the plot and the prose are so remarkably gripping and magnetic everyone agrees the book's outstanding literary qualities would be diminished by shortening.
Our impression = you don't have one of those.
You could pitch this to agents as it is, with the hope of finding one who can help you figure how best to shorten it. Or you can try slimming it down on your own. Most important = avoid giving the impression you feel every detail is too precious to cut. Editing 150K words down to 80K or 100K is plenty of work with a cooperative author. Nobody will want the job if you're going to argue every deletion.
Joe G said...I'm amused by the author's comments criticizing his or her own work. It's good to be perceptive about your writing!
Strait-laced in its original meaning means "tightly laced", not "tightly wound", nor does it mean "tightly bandaged", so the mummy metaphor is a joke that misses the mark for all of us, British or no. Are mummies traditionally uptight? "Stuffy as a mummy" might be funny, but that's not accurate to the character, is it? It's not a matter of whether or not we can divine the meaning of the joke... it's just not a funny joke.
Anyway, I found your query riddled with dumb jokes and your writing a little impenetrable. At 150,000 words, I imagine the book itself is similar, but I hope not, if it's a page turning murder mystery.
My biggest complaint is that your hero is a doctor and your heroine is a nurse. That's not getting very far apart, is it?
Anonymous said...(Author again.) Hmm. Seeems hard to get comments on the bits I'm actually looking for feedback on. Forget word count--I can shorten. This book may not even exist as far as anyone knows. (But thanks for link, NNP--never seen that "ezine" site. There's even a section on car repairs!)
So if anyone has any thoughts on the questions I asked about some points in paragraphs 2-4 (and maybe 1), I'd really appreciate it.
Oh, and Anonymous at 12.15pm: sorry about that, I've turned off the webcam now.
Evil Editor said...You can open by introducing American doctor Jack and British nurse Zoe, who met at X hospital in London three years ago and are now on their honeymoon. Who cares if it's backstory? 99 percent of queries open with some backstory. You have to set up the situation. It's a problem only if the entire plot summary is backstory.
Isn’t ‘catch of the day’ a bit cliché? No, it's appropriate as this is a fishing village. And doesn’t this predicate cry out for a concrete noun, rather than a gerund? Yes, but as the author, you are the one who knows what they mainly smuggle. Just name it. Instead of "smuggling" is the catch of the day," "smuggled diamonds are..."
And no complaints about ‘It’s one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent education’? No. What about “a marriage…gets a good dose of murder”? How can you dose a marriage? And since when dose murder come in doses? No one is stupid enough to take those phrases literally. Are you saying you meant them literally?
Phoenix said...once you’ve seen enough dead bodies, they really do lose their shock value
Then why does Jack blink? You may blithely explain Zoe's reaction away, but it doesn't explain why she acts one way and Jack, who's a doctor, another. Also, I've seen lots of dead dogs -- even killed some in my old profession -- but I would still blink if I found one by the swimming pool or somewhere else dead dogs don't normally turn up.
Now, I know this is supposed to be sort of an anti-cozy, but I'd be looking for a couple of things in a cozy:
* Usually the amateur sleuth has a good (personal) reason to get involved in the mystery - something which appears to be lacking here. What's Jack's motivation?
* Usually the protag is female. Since you're purposefully going against the norm by setting the male half of the couple up as the sleuth and giving us a female whose sole purpose seems to be to rag on her counterpart, the reader doesn't know how to interpret this -- hence, the questions about how it ends. The POV character here is Zoe, but the action character is Jack, so the reader doesn't know if it's a true mystery or simply a character study.
* If you're doing a parody, it probably needs to be crystal clear from the story description that's what it is or else you're probably better served leading with that thought and putting the reader in the right frame of mind from the get-go.
Finally, I don't think people were commenting down to the word choice and punctuation level because the expectation is that this query will be worked over pretty thoroughly before it appears again and most of the quibbles likely won't even make it into the next version.
I certainly didn't "get" either of your "gimmicks" from this query -- neither language miscommunication nor male/female divide. If you expect those to be the selling points, they'll need to be worked in.
And many of us write queries for WIPs or to test the water before we even get started; but to put the attention on the query itself, we generally guestimate the final word count to be somewhere in the acceptable range so folk don't auto reject it the way many an agent would. No need to test an excessive word count. It'll get a knee-jerk reaction every time. So high word counts? Generally real.
Anonymous said...(Author) Thanks Evil! Having run a blog myself--for about a week--I know what I time sink it can be; please know you're appreciated.
Also--Joe G, thanks for your feedback. Our posts crossed so I didn't see yours till after I'd already posted. If you could point out the 1 or 2 spots in paras 1-4 that you found most impenetrable, I'd really appreciate it.
Any other ideas or comments from others are very welcome, especially on the worries I identified a few posts ago.
Working on revision(s)...
BuffySquirrel said...With a name like Zoe, I'd assume she was Australian or a New Zealander. Possibly South African, although we don't get as many of those these days.
This country would collapse without our friends from the Commonwealth.
Anonymous said...(Author) Buffy, the one Zoe I know is the South African who painted our conservatory. And Google tells me that in Australia it's been among the top 10 most popular baby names for girls, whilst in England it's hasn't cracked no. 70.
I chose the name because its meaning fits the character's personality and because it's Greek. After reading your thoughts, I agree it's worth being more explicit about her nationality. I don't want to hit people over the head with things, but it looks like I've tried to be too subtle here.
Phoenix, thanks for your thoughts esp on Jack's motivation. I really didn't intend this to be a parody, just a story, but as that story violates the conventions you've identified I see your point about being more specific. (Anti-cozy may be a good term, actually. I like that.)
The plot actually turns on language a lot and the allusion to that was in the phrases ‘special relationship’ and ‘divided by a common language’. Also the explicit reference to Churchill but that bio para’s to be discarded (EE, you left out my favourite quote: in the morning I’ll be sober but you’ll still be ugly. Or the one about the poison in the coffee.) So maybe that needs to be emphasised a little more—again, I’m wary about being too blatant. One of the plot points turns on the phrase ‘the second storey’, which means something different in Europe to America (and it’s spoken by a Greek who learned his English in America). I didn’t want to pull the female/male thing in here as it’s been done to death, but maybe I should consider it. But obviously there’s only so much space to do the language thing…I can’t really go on about the character who likes to quote Cavafy and the Erotokritos.
Will continue to ponder these as I revise…Further ideas or comments very welcome
Anonymous said...Re: why no answers for questions embedded in your dissertation or two o' comments:
Twasn't gripping enough to read through. A writer's group might be just exactly the right thing for you.
Anonymous said...(Author again) Anonymous at 12.56: A writers' group--now that's a laugh! You've never been to Macclesfield, have you?
But I'm confused now--what wasn't gripping enough to read through? My query or the dissertation-length posts? Or both?
Thanks for your input...continuing to revise...
Phoenix said...A writers' group--now that's a laugh
I'm assuming you mean because Macclesfield is small and/or remote and/or backwater? My crit group is small, with members in Australia, Spain, and the UK. I live in a rural area in the US. The member nearest me -- on the same continent, at least -- is 1500 miles (2400 km) away. Many groups these days are virtual. Some even use exotic machinery like Macs and iPhones to participate. It's a brave new world, my friend.
Anonymous said...(Author) Phoenix, a small crit group—one you really fit in with—sounds wonderful. Personally, I like being in the same room as the people I’m talking to: always helps to know when they start rolling their eyes! But if you live in darkest Peru then I suppose the virtual world can be a godsend.
I’m not really looking for critique of my novel right now, so a writer’s group isn’t what I’m looking for, even though I’m sure that on balance there’s a lot to be said for them. I simply wanted to test-drive some ideas for a potential query letter, to gauge reactions, and that means coming to the Evil Editor. Again, I can’t emphasise enough what a star EE is to do this—it’s a hassle running a blog, and it’s no wonder people like Miss Snark throw in the towel. I’ve actually been following EE’s Guess the Plot query critiques for as long as I can remember—probably before you were born—though I’m pretty sure I’ve never commented on anyone’s query myself. I’m not an agent, and many queries relate to genres I’m not particularly interested in, so (like many others, I’m sure) I prefer to sit back and watch the commentary. There’s a few regular participants whose posts I watch for, and you’re among them. The comments you made on mine were insightful and I’m definitely considering them as I revise.
In retro, it was no doubt a mistake to give the actual rather than the projected wordcount—it proved too much of a distraction to some—and likewise it was silly to lead with a sentence that doesn’t mean anything in the US, since most readers of this blog are, I’m pretty sure, American. All the same, I’ve got a lot of useful reactions here, and even though inevitably some of them are contradictory, as Arhooley pointed out (another person whose comments I watch for), it’s been very useful to me—so thanks, all.
I’ve got a lot on in the short term but will definitely be revising. To quote a certina ex-governor, I’ll be back!
Posted by Evil Editor at 10:51 AM
Friday, March 07, 2014
Guess the Plot
Princess of the Four Corners
[Sorry, author of When Fire Ignites, but we have to go out of order because only one fake plot has come in for your title.]
1. Cinderella is married and happy with her prince. Or is she? Seems like she never gets to leave the castle, not even to visit the Korean fusion food truck down the street. Maybe she'll accept the handsome gardener's invitation for a night stroll since the prince is never around anyway.
2. When 10 year old Sylvania wins Young Miss Colorado her star-struck mother signs on to the pageant circuit. Winning Princess of the Four Corners is the first big step Sylvania must achieve, but is she cut out for the cutthroat world of big-time child pageants?
3. Sally Lapone longs to be named Queen of Quilt Fest, but her points are never perfect. A mysterious little man with a very long nose tells her he can help her...for a price. Should she trade her beloved Marie Osmond dolls for a chance at being the Queen?.
4. Growing up on the sprawling Navajo reservation, Naomi Begay sees beauty all around her. But when a friend convinces her to enter the "Princess of the Four Corners" beauty pageant, a contest traditionally won by Anglo teens from Albuquerque or Flagstaff, Naomi is exposed to the ugliness of competition -- as well as the beauty within every person.
5. Princess Winny has flitted about in satin dresses for seventy years. She owns everything to the horizon. Too bad she lives in BFE and "everything" is a flashing yellow light, a gas station and a hovel. But the frackers are in town and they want mineral rights. It appears she will be screaming, "Off with their heads!" more than usual from now on.
6. The soul of the princess was removed sixteen years ago and distributed to four babies. Now those four girls have been brought to the castle so the princess's soul can be restored to her by the wizard. But the wizard can't find the spell and he didn't memorize it, and . . . Shit! Now an evil sorceress wants the soul!
When a group of warriors tears sixteen-year old Gwinn away from her remote village to take her to the king, she has no idea why. She’s shocked to learn she’s a Bearer – one of four girls selected when she was a baby to hide a piece of the princess’s soul from Metheda, a vengeful sorceress. Metheda has been killed, and the warriors are bringing the Bearers to the castle so the wizard can perform the spell to restore the princess.
But the spell nearly kills the Bearers. The wizard discovers someone replaced it with a fake, [They take these incredibly elaborate measures to protect the princess and then the leave the spell lying around?] [It sounds like the spell is an object. Normally a spell is a series of words. Maybe accompanied by a recipe or a ritual. Would it have killed the wizard to just memorize the spell?] so he confines the girls to the castle grounds until he can either find or recreate the true spell. Not content to wait, Gwinn begins her own search [It shouldn't take the wizard more than a few minutes to determine if he can recreate the spell. She can't wait that long?] even as she struggles to figure out where the princess ends and she begins. [Has she considered that without the princess's soulness she might have become a serial killer?]
When signs of dark magic surface, Gwinn suspects Metheda is still alive. One of the Bearers is attacked in the gardens, and after testing the magic used in the attack the wizard confirms Gwinn’s fears – the sorceress has returned. [Brilliant. A sixteen-year-old figured it out before the wizard did. This guy is the most incompetent wizard since Rincewind.] The Bearers search for clues and find evidence Metheda is amassing an army to the east of the castle. The kingdom sends all of their forces to fight, hoping to make a final stand against Metheda.
Unfortunately, she’s been hiding in the castle the entire time. [The entire sixteen years? Has she been disguised as a cook or hiding in a trunk in the attic? How do you amass an army while hiding in the castle?] Gwinn must find a way to defeat Metheda without the aid of the kingdom’s warriors, and locate the stolen spell, if she ever hopes to return home. [I get why locating the spell will help her. Why does she have to defeat Metheda?] [Why would whoever stole the real spell hide it in the castle? Why wouldn't they destroy it so it could never be used?]
PRINCESS OF THE FOUR CORNERS is an 85,000-word YA Fantasy. Thank you for your time and consideration.
What difference does it make to Metheda whether the princess's soul resides in the princess or in four sixteen-year-olds? Is Metheda's army less likely to triumph if the princess has her soul? Does Metheda want the four soul-parts for herself? If so, why? If not, why not just kill the four girls?
I seem to be more interested in Metheda's plans than in whether Gwinn gets what she wants. Possibly that's a sign that the well-written query is not focusing enough on Gwinn's problem, which is that carrying around a fourth of the princess's soul is a burden she doesn't want (even though a week ago she didn't even know she had a problem). Or perhaps it's that there are three other girls with the exact same problem, so I'm less inclined to see Gwinn as the focus. Are the other three also interested in defeating Metheda?
Presumably the soul was distributed to others to keep Metheda from getting it. We need to know what will happen if she now gets it. The fact that Gwinn's goal of figuring out where the princess ends and she begins is solved whether her soul-part goes to the princess or to Metheda would be interesting if Gwinn had to choose whether to keep the soul-part or give it to Metheda, but as no one seems to know where the spell is, I guess that decision never comes up.
Posted by Evil Editor at 10:46 AM
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Guess the Plot
1. You will if you ever want to have sex again.
2. Post-apocalyptic tale of Earth's repopulation. Cave dwelling survivors adapt to matriarchal rule and polyamory, while the Obeah women practice monogamy, with each other. At least, until the youngest of their ranks becomes pregnant.
3. Mayra hires an Obeah woman to put a curse on Mayra's ex-boyfriend. But the curse requires a sample of the ex-boyfriend's dried semen. No way is Mayra going to seek it the old-fashioned way. When her alternative plan backfires, hilarity ensues.
4. Chelsea, a small town high school girl bored to death in Ohio, dreams everyday of being a supermodel. When a group of tall, beautiful women invite her to L.A., Chelsea hops in their Vivid Entertainment tour bus. She's finally going to make it.
5. Every generation, a woman of the Obeah clan is born as the embodiment of the Goddess Mazoura, and all those in the clan must honour her and pay tribute. Hilarity ensues when three women simultaneously claim to be the embodiment of Godess Maz.
When Mayra Finch hires a New Orlean's [Orleans] based OBeah [Obeah] woman to exact revenge on her cheating exboyfriend, [ex-boyfriend] she doesn't expect the hoops she'll have to jump through to make it happen. [It takes a lot of gall to expect your ex-boyfriends to remain faithful.] Given the impossible task of finding stray hairs,replicating footprints, and recovering dried semen she feels more like she's on a treasure hunt [scavenger hunt] than a revenge mission. [Always gather your boyfriend's hairs and dried semen before he dumps you. It makes those black-arts revenge missions so much easier.]
But when her exes [ex's] girlfriend turns up dead-in New Orleans of all places- [Why "of all places"? Where does the girlfriend live? Wyoming?] dried semen becomes the least of her worries. [Considering how brief this plot summary is, it's amazing that you managed to work dried semen into it twice.] Mayra is now number one on the police's suspect lists [If the police have more than one suspect list, either this guy deserved to die or the police need to switch to a smaller font size.] and the real killer will do whatever it takes to keep her there. [Including planting dried semen in her laundry hamper.]
Obeah women [Capitalize "Women."] [Should the title be Obeah Woman? I didn't get the impression there's more than one Obeah woman in the story.] is my 60,000 word Mystery/thriller. May I send you the completed manuscript?
If I were the cops, the victim's boyfriend or her ex-boyfriend would be closer to the top of the suspect list than the victim's boyfriend's ex-girlfriend.
Some details that might be worth working into the query:
What form of revenge was Mayra seeking? Death?
Why do the police suspect her?
How did the victim die?
The real killer must be pretty high on the suspect list to feel the need to . . . what? Plant the murder weapon in Mayra's car?
Keeping someone on top of the suspect list would require knowing who is on top. So clearly the real killer is the cop tasked with ranking the suspects. Even after Mayra turns out to have an air-tight alibi, this guy refuses to put anyone above her on the suspect list, while he inexplicably drops down about fifteen places on the list. But then he's found out when his DNA is found in traces of dried semen on the list.
A few minor punctuation errors might slip by, but there are those who will assume every page of your manuscript has as many errors as your one-page letter, and decide it's not worth the trouble.
Posted by Evil Editor at 9:49 AM
Monday, March 03, 2014
Guess the Plot
On Fire Built
1. Icarun controls fire with his mind, and his girlfriend is a water spirit, but water spirits aren't supposed to be into fire people. Will they overcome their awkward social hang-ups and defeat the evil earth king who has suppressed their people with bad air for five hundred years?
2. The villagers honestly thought the volcano was inactive. How were they to know their new meeting hall was . . . On Fire Built?
3. Want to go somewhere unique for the holidays, spring break, or even your honeymoon? Of course you do. Hotelier Johnathan Krepps, Esq, has just opened his latest and greatest property: The Hellhole, located atop the area's finest Hellmouth.
4. When you build your home on an island that's also a volcano, you expect an occasional disaster that wipes your people out. What you don't expect is a bunch of travelers showing up with their diseases and their fancy ideas about how you should live your life. Maybe you should toss them in the lava.
5. Saphira toiled for years to become Head Fire Keeper, but her dreams are dashed when a teenaged neophyte is anointed Chosen One. Will Saphira cow to the bumbler's direction, or torch him in his sleep? Also, random torching.
6. When Alice walks into school one day, she realizes that her terrifying debate teacher has turned into a dragon and taken over the school. The students are forced to build the dragon's lair or be roasted. Alice must decide whether it's more important to liberate her classmates through Chosen One powers or learn debate.
Dear Evil Editor,
Iolani, princess of Kaiahi, [If IOLANI OF KAIAHI were the puzzle on Wheel of Fortune it would take them fifteen minutes to get it to _ _ L _ N _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.] has spent all her life between the Sea and the Fire. Only legends tell how her people came to inhabit their small cluster of islands, and no-one knows what lies beyond the endless waters which surround them. From the moment white sails appear on the horizon, Iolani dreads the great changes that must be coming.
The foreign travellers bring with them new knowledge and a new way of life but also a corrosive scepticism [Blogger is telling me you've spelled "skepticism" and "travelers" wrong, but I'm arguing that you're from the UK, not the US. Yet it refuses to listen.] which causes division and threatens to undermine the basis of the islanders' society. [This is all vague. What knowledge do they bring? What new way of life? They bring corrosive skepticism? Not clear if the travelers are skeptics or arouse skepticism in the islanders. In any case, who is skeptical about what? What is the basis of the islanders' society? Here's a more specific version of the sentence: The travelers bring new knowledge of computers and a life spent sitting in front of screens watching videos of kittens and people having sex, but they also lead the islanders to wonder whether the volcano god exists and whether they should continue tossing virgins into his mouth to appease him.] [Feel free to use that if I've correctly guessed the details of your story.] Even Iolani begins to doubt all that she once knew through her developing friendship with Will [Bligh], the son of the expedition leader.
When the virulent spread of disease brings relations to breaking point, the spectre of war looms. [Because when something is wiping your people out, you want nothing more than to take some other people with you.] Desperate to preserve her people and her heritage, Iolani must rally her faith and venture into the unknown to recover the deep power of her lineage - which she no longer believes exists. [Another sentence so vague I don't know what it means.]
ON FIRE BUILT is a 104,000 word fantasy novel which explores how we maintain our identity when everything around us changes.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
(The title refers to the fact that the island is volcanic.)
Here are the things your main character does: dreads coming changes; doubts all she once knew; develops a friendship with a guy named Will; rallies her faith; ventures into the unknown; recovers the power of her lineage. The friendship is the only one that isn't totally vague. Is that a big enough part of the story that you could focus the query on it?
If not, how about this. Focus on Iolani, but tell us who the travelers are, what they want, what factions the islanders align themselves in, what the danger is, and what Iolani plans to do about it.
Is the war looming between the travelers and the islanders or between the two camps that have formed among the islanders?
I don't think the disease is needed in the query. With everyone taking sides on the modern vs traditional issue, there's bound to be conflict. Besides, the travelers are already playing the role of the disease, infecting the island civilization.
If there are signs that the volcano is going to erupt, that might be worth mentioning. You could also, in paragraph 1, call this archipelago a small cluster of volcanic islands.
Posted by Evil Editor at 2:09 PM
Sunday, March 02, 2014
Guess the Plot
Bridge of Giants
1. Four retired giants meet for their weekly Bridge game and exchange tales of how many humans they terrified in their younger days.
2. Ivan Stansky longs to be part of the family tradition by working on the Golden Gate Bridge. Can he overcome the fact that he's blind, a quadriplegic and confined to house arrest?
3. Near the entrance to forbidding Black Canyon is the Bridge of Giants, a vast natural bridge carved from sandstone. Can Rhatupet and his little band of adventurers battle wild desert elves and dune dwarves to prove how apt the name is?
4. When NASA decides to cut expenses for once and for all by building a bridge to the moon, soon-to-be-ex-astronaut Bud Narayana goes rogue and attempts to pilot an asteroid into the new structure. It's up to alcoholic environmentalist Rosie Grimaldi to save the day - and Bud's career.
5. Everyone who wants a job keeps leaving the tiny Irish village of Kerryboondoggle - until a prodigal son returns from America and builds a theme park on Giant's Island. Now even Granny O'Hare is raking in the cash in costume as a ticket-taking banshee, and won't listen when Padraig reminds her about the poltergeist.
6. Nathan walks out of his home in Wisconsin and into Mongolia! Now can he find a map that will help him locate his missing mother before Evil Santa gets her?
I am seeking representation for Mapwalkers: Bridge of Giants, a 72,000-word middle grade fantasy, the first in the Mapwalkers series.
After the inexplicable disappearance of his mother, thirteen year old Nathan Hillbridge finds a collection of bizarre maps in her belongings. He follows one of these maps, [Follows the map? I'm looking at a map of California. If you told me to follow it, I would have no idea what you meant? Is it like a pirate map with a big X at the end of a dotted line?] and moments after walking out of his back door in small-town Wisconsin, finds himself pursued by armed horsemen across the wilds of Mongolia. [If he's fleeing through the wilds of Mongolia the minute he leaves his house, how can you claim that he followed the map at all? Were Wisconsin and Mongolia both on the map? Is this the map?
Narrowly escaping, [In Mongolia, on foot, he escapes armed horsemen? Are they blind armed horsemen?] he retraces his steps and somehow returns home. [That is, he wakes up.] He soon discovers that he and his mother are Mapwalkers—members of an ancient people with the ability to travel to distant lands as easily as most people walk down the street to visit a friend. [Is this like the transporter on the Enterprise? By which I mean, Does it malfunction most of the time?] Desperate to find his mother, he begins using her cache of mysterious maps [You called them bizarre maps, not mysterious maps.] to scour the world for her.
As he searches, Nathan finds friends who aid him in his quest: Robert, an honors student who helps him decipher the bizarre clues [The maps are bizarre. Let's call the clues mysterious.] [Is one of the clues a mysterious bazaar?] [I think they should be Bizarro maps, made out of crystal.] that litter his mother's trail, and Kahn, a Mongolian girl eager to explore the world with him. But as he learns about his mysterious power [We just declared the clues are mysterious. Let's call his power "uncanny."] and the secret history of the Mapwalkers, he realizes that he [and Robert may soon be facing . . .the wrath of Kahn!] and his friends may be up against far more than they can handle: a sinister man in red who stalks their steps, the uncanny in-between places infested by hideous creatures that may or may not have once been men, [Why does this keep happening? Okay, as Nathan's power is now uncanny, we'll call the in-between places infested by hideous creatures that may or may not have once been men "nightmarish."] and the long-lost hordes of Genghis Kahn. [Kaaaahhhhhnnnn!] [I don't mind if the Mongolian girl spells her name Kahn, but we spell Genghis's name "Khan." [Also, any creatures can accurately be described by saying they "may or may not have once been men."]
This novel would best be compared with “A wrinkle in time”, or the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. [That sounded familiar, so I searched this blog and found: "...can be compared to other fantasy works such as “Eragon” or the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. (Face-Lift 762); "...it has similarities to Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials Book One... (Face-Lift 547); "Similar in theme to the works of Madeleine L’Engle and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy..." (Face-Lift 124); "To use my favorites, it is similar to Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS in its deep world-building." (Face-Lift 1132) . One possible problem with claiming your book is like some classic is that the agent may think, Christ, not another book that's like the His Dark Materials trilogy. If someone would just send me a book that isn't like His Dark Materials, I'd buy it without even reading it.]
He's walked out his back door a thousand times and ended up in Wisconsin, but if he walks out the same door holding a map, he ends up in Mongolia? Have I got that straight?
Okay, he goes here, he goes there, and each place he goes he has another adventure. And eventually he ends up where his mother is. Is it just a series of trips? Or is the man in red a villain who appears on all of his mapwalks? Is the man in red trying to prevent Nathan from finding his mother? Why? Does he have to find his mother before the hordes of Genghis Khan do? How is he going to mapwalk to where his mother is if she has the map that took her there?
AlaskaRavenclaw said...What's this? A middle grade query in which the writer evinces absolutely no desire to teach his or her readers an important lesson?
The story idea's not a bad one. Comparing it to already-published books that have sold millions of copies is. There's no need to compare your book to anything. And the two series you chose for comparison don't actually have much in common with each other. (Other than that they both deal with religion. RATHER differently.)
Other than that, this looks good to me, sounds like an interesting idea and will probably get some requests.
Good luck with it.
Jenna said...Every kid wants to find a map to something awesome so props for the subject! I'm interested in the main character and would be excited to read about an adventure like this one. I think if you delve a little deeper into portraying the motives, take out a bunch of stuff we don't care about yet (like who the friends are) and add some specifics that make this story unique it could read quite nicely.
Whenever I read queries I always ask myself "Why should I care about this book?" He's searching for his mother, great. But what stands in his way? I can't get much from a vague "man in red", creatures we can't picture, and something about Khan. What makes them threatening? And what is so bad about being a mapmaker? What is he fighting? What's the major conflict that stands in his way of getting what he wants? That's what I'd like to know a little more about. Good luck!
david hanley said...Thank you, everyone ( particularly you, Evil Editor)! I'm already busily revising my query based on the comments and feedback thus far. I really appreciate the feedback and encouragement!
Dave said...It needs some feeling. It felt dry as dust as I read it the first time.
batgirl said...It sounds like fun, but why is the girl named Kahn? That sounds more Jewish than Mongolian. How about Khongordzoi, or Oyunbileg?
no-bull-steve said...Very nice. I think a few wording changes suggested by EE and you're good to go. I get that if he goes outside of the house WITH the map, he's transported but being a bit clearer might be helpful.
arhooley said...I still remember what an impression Hans Christian Andersen's Snow Queen made on me as a wee tot. (Andersen is one cynical writer.) The little girl, Gerda, sets off heartbroken in search of her friend Kai, who had unexpectedly starting being mean to her and then disappeared. She's stuck with indifferent or capricious assistants on her long, agonizing search for him.
All I get from your query is "Hmm, wonder where Mom is?" Maybe that's what you intend, maybe not. In any case, I'd infuse Nathan's quest with a sense of urgency. As it is, he's simply looking for the answer to a question, not the answer to a problem.
But I do like the concept.
BuffySquirrel said...What makes Genghis Khan so threatening? You're asking that question for REALS?
I like this. And I'm with Steve on the idea that it's carrying the map with him as he leaves the house that makes the difference. The story does sound fun.
A little more clarity on the goals and obstacles would be good, esp the man-in-red.
Jenna said...Obviously, hordes of Khan-ites are threatening :) But I meant, how do they threaten the storyline? Are they literally standing between him and his mother? The same for the man in red and other creatures, do they want a map he has? etc..I think being more descriptive here will add force to the conflict and intrigue and better pique an agent's interest.
BuffySquirrel said...If you're a little boy with a map, one Khanite is pretty threatening :). But yes, the query needs to up the stakes.
Julia B said...I really liked the premise, it sounds like a brilliant series that you get to basically write in whatever time period you feel like ^_^
My main problem was a bit of a practical one - so is it only these maps his mother owns he can use to mapwalk? If not, why has he never disappeared in the middle of geography class? If yes, then I'd be fascinated by how they were made, and by whom, and how many of them there are in existence.
Oh, and the idea of crystal maps kicks ass.
Posted by Evil Editor at 7:54 AM