Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Face-Lift 230


Guess the Plot

Dire Wolf

1. His grandfather gave him his name as a child, but little Dire Wolf wants to grow up to be someone important. One day he will be Wolf Who Runs Big Casino, the man to lift his tribe out of poverty.

2. The mercenary known as Dire Wolf has never met a situation he couldn't fight his way out of. Until, that is, he meets a mysterious woman and finds himself forced to try and get seventeen contraband refrigerators into Budapest.

3. Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, terrorizes the Strathspey region of Scotland in the 14th Century in this fact-based work of historical fiction.

4. A youthful shaman contends with monstrous carnivores, manipulative spirits, and a clan of big-game hunters mentored by a witch, in this true-to-life tale of America's first inhabitants.

5. In this collection of short stories, Cliffnote Brown discovers that his uncle Dire Wolf is a werewolf, a werewolf destined to battle Bob the Life Sucking Demon III for dominance over the known universe.

6. Just when glamorous international super spy Jane Bond thinks she can finally relax in the hot springs of Iceland with her crew of Viking henchmen, her undercover gig as a glamorous swimsuit model is wrecked by a demented volcanologist who threatens to blow the island sky high. Jane knows only she and a silent assassin known to the world as Dire Wolf can save Iceland.


Original Version

Dear Agent:

My commercial novel, DIRE WOLF, a historical mystery, might appeal to you.

Hamstrung by self-doubt, yet bent on vengeance and rescue, a youthful shaman contends with monstrous carnivores, [Dire wolves.] human duplicity and manipulative spirits as he sets out across an Ice Age wilderness to discover who murdered his extended family and abducted his sister.

Matters become complicated when an unscrupulous band of big-game-hunting traders extend suspect overtures of friendship after ¡happening¢ upon him. Alas, one of them betrays him, and soon thereafter, attempts against his own life begin. With help, he foils and unmasks the culprit, unwinding a thread that leads to another clan of big-game hunters, mentored by a witch and led by a man who had beheaded his own father. But when, out of gratitude for a healing, a former adversary sacrifices his life helping the protagonist rescue his sister from their grasp, he uncovers a web of conspiracy involving even his own kinsmen. And skulking behind all that¢s happened to him are the Spirit-Masters of the Animal Nations, whose desperate scheme to ensure their own survival hinges upon him. For if the great beasts vanish from the earth, they, too, will cease to exist. [I know you preceded all that by saying "Matters become complicated," but if you really want to prepare us, try "Matters become indecipherably convoluted . . . "]

[Characters mentioned in that paragraph ( with estimate of how many there are): Band of traders (8), shaman (1), clan of hunters (12), witch (1), leader of hunters (1), leader's beheaded father (1), former adversary (1), shaman's sister (1), shaman's kinsmen (10), Spirit-Masters (25). Total: 61 characters in six sentences.]

At approximately 135,000-words, Dire Wolf is book one of a trilogy. [Three books, at 135,000 words each, starring a cave man looking for his sister on an ice floe?] Researching the setting proved inspirational, for I¢m fascinated by the intrepid souls who first peopled the Americas. Flavored by its supernatural undercurrent and buttressed by a setting based firmly on cutting-edge scientific theory as well as fact, this Ice Age mystery will appeal to a wide audience. [A 400,000-word Ice Age mystery trilogy will appeal to a wide audience? Based on what?]

May I send you samples, a synopsis or my completed manuscript?


Notes

His extended family were murdered, but his kinsmen conspire against him. I would have thought his kinsmen were his extended family.

It sounds nuts, because you're moving too fast through too many plot points. Figure out the main story, which is something like, a guy's family is killed and his sister abducted. He searches through tundras and glaciers over a span of three 135,000-word books until he finally finds her. Turns out she left willingly with hunky Attila the Eskimo, and refuses to go back to her boring life with her over-protective brother, who's now 75 years old, and has lost both his feet to frostbite.

Despite your changing the book's title, it was easily recognizable as the same book submitted as Face-lift 172. I have to say that the third paragraph of that query provides a clearer description of the plot than this query does.

I still don't see why you don't tell us the main character's name. Is it Dire Wolf? Is it a secret? It's much easier to write a clear query if your characters have names. Surely he's not referred to as The Protagonist throughout the books.

22 comments:

Undercover said...

Because you've not named the MC and insist on using just 'he' and 'his', I have no idea whose life is threatened, who unmasks the culprit, whose father the man beheaded...

Queries are hard. Best of luck.

writtenwyrdd said...

Author, the basic book sounds like it could be interesting, but the 60-plus characters introduced in the query are a problem like EE says.

This appears to be about a quest journey for the MC to recover his sister. Now what I'd like to know is why this is a compelling journey, and what about this character and his struggle will make me want to read about him?

I liked the Jean Auel books, and I am sure that you can create an interesting story based in the Ice Age. Best of luck!

~Nancy said...

Anyway, my eyes glazed over at that overlong paragraph with the 61 (or so) people in there. How come you aren't forthcoming with any proper names? It would be much easier to follow if you gave us some names to go along with those "she"'s and "he"'s.

Also, I'd suggest using more white space; it makes it easier on the reader's (agent's) eyeballs. Break out that overlong paragraph into two paragraphs (at least).

And like EE said: What's the story here? It sounds like it might be an interesting novel, but you've buried the main plot. It's a total gmish-gmash which made no sense to me.

I think deciding on the main plot point is the problem here. Maybe it's as EE said, a guy's family is killed and his sister is abducted. That's fine. Describe that, briefly, telling us the name of the MC, what he does to find his sister, what he does to exact revenge on the killers (which, I'm guessing, is the other thing your MC is going to do).

Good luck.

~JerseyGirl

Rei said...

I thought, when we saw this over on the COM, that we recommended cutting plot thread elements from the query. It looks like it's gained more since then.

If you have trouble cutting plot thread elements (as did I), try this exercise: Only allow yourself 50 words to describe the plot. Require it to be a fully formed, grammatical, sensical plot description in those 50 words. Write your query around those 50 words. Then allow yourself to add more words up until you reach your desired query size.

By doing this, it changes the question from "what can I bear to cut?" to "what would I like to add in?"

EE: Clan of the Cave Bear sold over a million copies, so I wouldn't write this off because of the subject matter. Of course, it was much shorter.

ozviaaz said...

Unfair, EE. No beverage alert for "Turns out she left willingly with Attila the Eskimo."

I needed a laugh today and got it. Thanks!

Nut said...

#1 rocks, especially if Dire Wolf is really a warewolf, who's attempting to become a vegetatian, yet finds it hard to resist the taste of raw flesh...

Sorry, too much banana pudding... and I suspect it was spikes by the Ogre, who wants to, once again, use the internet wires as a floss...

Oh, author, really, just make up a dummy name for the main character, if you don't wanna reveal the true name. Also, when you put the dire wolf, the spirit masters and a shaman together, you raise your agents/editors suspicions of RPG influence, which they don't seem to enjoy... Since I LOVE the beheadings, action and intricate plots... Hick... and did I mension, I LOVE the beheadings... here's hoping to recognize your book on a library bookshelf, sometime. Just work out your q-kinks.

Okay, off to sleep off those nasty banana poisoning side effects...

Anonymous said...

Is Wolf Blitzer in this?

kis said...

The MC's name is Choog or something, if my memory serves. Not a name that was meant to seduce, and maybe that's why the author didn't put it in.

As for the gigantic paragraph, we can all agree it's too much info, none of it specific enough. How long has this been in the queue, EE? Could it be an earlier version to the one posted on the Crapometer some time ago? If so, a better version might already be complete, based on advice the author got there.

One thing I will say:

Researching the setting proved inspirational, for I¢m fascinated by the intrepid souls who first peopled the Americas.[1] Flavored by its supernatural undercurrent and buttressed by a setting based firmly on cutting-edge scientific theory as well as fact,[2] this Ice Age mystery will appeal to a wide audience.[3]

1] This is unnecessary. If you keep it, at least tone down the verbage.

2] A little wordy, again, and the words chosen seem to be purposely meant to impress, rather than to feel natural to the reader. You do need a bit about authenticity, but it could (should?) be much simpler than this.

3] I've read so many agents' comments concerning the fact that they should be the judge of whether a book will have a wide appeal. If you want the agent to draw the comparison between this and Jane Auel's work, you can mention that it is in the same spirit, or set in the same time period, or whatever.

And as for shorter versus longer, there's something to be said for a letter that looks aesthetically pleasing before the agent reads a word. White space on the page helps, as does a certain balance of longer paragraphs framed by shorter ones. I'm a firm believer in trying every trick. If you think an agent won't be irked by an overstuffed page, no matter how blammo the query is, you're either naive, or overly optimistic.

Evil Editor said...

How long has this been in the queue, EE?

Since November 4.

Dave said...

Somedays, somedays...

if Dire Wolf is really a warewolf, who's attempting to become a vegetatian,

I'm guessing a warewolf works over at a hardware store and sells nuts, bolts, nails, hammers and plumbers friends.

Sorry to nitpick. It's kinda a funny image. The big Bad Wolf selling a lawn mower and leaf blower to Scarlet Snood, Bebe bonnet, and Babs Babushka.

kis said...

Nov. 4? Hmm...

Nut said...

It was supposed to be a casino... I think... But I love your idea of a nut selling warewolf, Dave.

Wait... its harware. Oh... Well, I guess those are nuts too...

McKoala said...

There was an earlier version here, and at least one on the crapometer and I have the utmost respect for this writer and all their work on this. But you gotta get those plot points under control!

I really like that second para: "Hamstrung by self-doubt, yet bent on vengeance " - I think that it gives the plot in a nutshell and is clearly expressed. Can you tighten the third para so that it follows on more neatly from it. Kis is the master at this, but here I go...

"Choog stumbles on the identity of the murderers of his clan, but revenge has to come second to saving his own skin from people and spirits alike. Friends become adversaries, and adversaries become friends as Choog's foolishness develops into genuine heroism. He rescues his sister only to discover a web of conspiracy involving his own kinsmen. Worse still, he learns that he is the pawn of a higher power, the Spirit-Masters of the Animal Nations, whose desperate scheme to ensure their own survival hinges upon him."

That might be garbage, but I hope that it's helpful garbage, because I know how much you have worked on this and I'd love to see you have a letter that you are happy with.

shelby said...

Choog? Might want to rethink that one. Jondalar inspires visions of manliness, and Jon is a name we're all familiar with. Same goes for Ayla, since we know the name Layla and it's close. Choog, however, inspires images of a club and dragging a woman by her hair.

BuffySquirrel said...

I rather like "warewolf". Has possibilities.

Umm, "Dire Wolf" makes me think of Warcraft III. Not that that's important, it just...does.

kis said...

Shelby,

From what I remember of the first pages that were posted on the COM, Choog has a purposely bad name that his jerk father gave him to shame him. The other characters have names like Sudden Rain, but poor Choog gets saddled with his god-awful moniker cause, I don't know, his mother was running around or something.

I think it may have been omited from the query because it is an ungainly name, likely to put off an agent, and the author didn't want to waste valuable query space explaining about it.

From what I remember of the pages, the story sounds like somthing I would enjoy, and the writing was not half bad. It really would be a bummer if it never saw the light of day because of a confusing query letter. I hope the author posts a new, tighter version. McK nailed it pretty well, though even her version is still a bit wordy and vague. Of course, I didn't even know where to begin, so who am I to complain. Ack, it's a big story. The queries for those are always a bitch to write.

nut the blogspammer said...

Look! Up in the sky! Its a bird! Its a plane! No! Its The Protagonist! Faster then a speeding bullet, and all that jazz, he saves the world from The Antagonist, while wearing pink tights...

Cool. EE comes up with the neatest superheroes.

Dire Wolf's author said...

kis, You're right about why I chose to omit Choog's name; although, with a little imagination I'm sure I can use it, showing his naming as a deliberate insult, a product of his father's contempt.

My thanks to EE and all the minions, especially my mentors from the com- kis, rei, mckoala- for taking the time and making the effort to expose the weaknesses in this and make positive suggestions. I might actually get it right this time. Tell you what, if it does see the light of day, I owe a lot to the great folks on the com. If that day comes, I'll find a way to acknowledge you guys.

Dire Wolf's author said...

Okay, with the benefit of your feedback, including a healthy dose of plagiarism (thanks, mckoala - as you can see, I liked your suggested version), here's a rewrite on the query Dire Wolf.

Dear Ms. Agent:

My commercial novel, DIRE WOLF, a historical mystery, might appeal to you.

Hamstrung by self-doubt, yet bent on vengeance and rescue, a youthful shaman contends with monstrous carnivores, human duplicity and manipulative spirits as he sets out across an Ice Age wilderness to discover who slaughtered his clan and abducted his sister.

Choog - his very name a deliberate affront - stumbles on the identity of the murderers, but revenge has to come second to saving his own skin. Friends become adversaries, and adversaries become friends as Choog rescues his sister only to discover a web of conspiracy involving his own kinsmen. Worse still, he learns that he’s the pawn of a higher power, the Spirit-Masters of the Animal Nations, whose desperate scheme to insure their own survival hinges upon him.

At approximately 135,000-words, Dire Wolf is the first novel set in the North American Ice Age inspired by recent scientific findings, which have discredited longstanding beliefs about the peopling of the Americas. It’s book one of three, in a series that dramatizes man’s role in the great extinction that wiped away nearly forty species of giant mammals from this continent.

May I send you samples, a synopsis or my completed manuscript?

nut said...

author: Your rewrite is more to the point, and... look! The character finally got a name. Okay. Sorry about that, but what'd you expect from a nut? The story seems exciting, truly. I'd put the name in the 1st para, but that might be just me.

Dire Wolf does work better then Sudden Rain. Don't throw rocks, but I miss the National Geographics commentary from your first draft... Hey! I said no rocks.

Great job on bouncing back so fast, not everyone can do that. I should know. My quiry took months, then I dumped the whole thing, and when I came back to it, I found... the whole thing needed a rewrite. All I'm saying is, GOOD FOR YOU.

Hang on, I think more minions are on their way. The once who actually know about quiries. As for me... race ya to the publisher! Well, not really, cause I'm not done yet.

In conclusion, HACHWIG: since your character already has a name, I might keep this one for my book. You mind?

Wonderwood said...

I'm still a newbie around here, having only found this blog a couple of months ago, but in my opinion this is the best example of why this blog has value for aspiring writers like me.

The original query was fragmented and confusing but managed to reveal some interesting qualities. EE entertained us while pointing out the weaknesses of the query. The more thoughtful and accomplished minions (nancy, rei, writtenwyrdd, mckoala, kis) provided insightful suggestions that the willing author incorporated into a much improved, tighter and concise query.

Congratulations, author! Keep writing and learning and being an example the rest of us can follow.

Ashni said...

Don't say it's the first novel based on these findings--the agent might know of another that's in the pipeline.

I think it's a fascinating era too. Good luck with this.