Monday, December 18, 2006

Face-Lift 246


Guess the Plot

AfterQuest

1. The dark wizard's been defeated, the rightful king is on the throne, the all-powerful amulet is now safely generating clean energy for thousands of happy consumers...now what the hell are an elf, two dwarves, the brooding human, a reformed troll, and a unicorn with a broken horn supposed to do for an encore?

2. Proudfist the dwarf, Longleaf the elf, Throd the barbarian, and Mithral the wizard meet in a dingy tavern in Cuthy-by-the-Sea to celebrate the completion of the Quest to Find the Crystal Sword of Alhambra when they are interrupted by an attack of Vogons.

3. Wolf Treasurehog finally succeeded in his lifelong quest to retrieve the Lost Shield of Minneweyynn. Now bored and restless, he decides to start a service to help other successful questers achieve a smooth transition to their new retirement lifestyles. He calls it... AfterQuest.

4. Worn out with tramping over mountains, stealing enchanted swords from the hands of animated statues, bringing peace to warring kingdoms, the constant attentions of busty tavern wenches and rescued princesses, a band of heroic orphans look for a way to revitalize their spirits.

5. Missing for months, four college students suddenly return, claiming to have been taken to a world of elves and trolls. A college prank? Maybe, but that wouldn't explain the fact that one of them now has a prosthetic arm.

6. The third in the Quest trilogy, preceded by epics "BeforeQuest" and "DuringQuest". In this final chapter, Robin's Egg Hunter Clubis Bee files the paperwork to request a new quest, hopefully in the west where the nest is best.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

AfterQuest is a 175,000-word fantasy tale where four college students are taken to a world of elves, trolls, and solar-powered interdimensional transportation. Missing for months, they can't bring themselves to explain their absence when they return. Parallel story arcs tell their adventures in the other dimension and their return to life in school. [If their return to school comes after their adventures, how are the story arcs parallel?]

Only Kenny can tell his parents what he experienced while he was missing; the scars on his back are his proof that something happened. [Something involving whips. Maybe he shouldn't tell his parents after all.] Elsie returns with a prosthetic arm and a lingering illness that causes her collapse in her parent's yard, when she recovers, she deflects questions about her ordeal.

[Mom: Where've you been the past three months?

Elsie: Hey, who won American Idol?

Mom: I can't help noticing that you suddenly have a prosthetic arm.

Elsie: I'm due at the mall. Don't wait dinner for me.]

Matt and Amber both feign amnesia to avoid talking about their absence. [If Kenny's blabbing, what good does it do for the others to say nothing?] [Also, once Matt says, "I'd like to tell you all about it, but I have amnesia," is anyone gonna buy the same story from Amber?]

Even the elves didn't know how the foursome ended up in their city. They did have legends of humans on their world hundreds of years ago and some did tell of humans who visited and returned home again. The kidnapping of an elf child turns their attention from finding a way home [Who do you mean by "their?" The students? I thought they were already home. I see no reason not to keep the events chronological in the query. Or in the book.] and all became involved in the battle to free him.

The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Encl: SASE


Notes

I assume the students arrived in Elvesville via the solar-powered interdimensional transportation. If Evil Editor can figure that out, why can't the elves? It's part of their world, after all.

If the kidnaping takes place while the students are in Elvesville, don't wait and mention it at the end, after they're home. Give us the important events in the order they take place. Based on the title, your focus is on the students' lives after they return, so I'm not sure the kidnaping belongs in the query.

We need more information about why three of them aren't talking. Were they told to keep quiet? Did something humiliating happen to them? Are they afraid no one will believe them?

More info and better organization, please.

29 comments:

December Quinn said...

"I can't help noticing you suddenly have a prosthetic arm."

Oh, EE...you are a genius.

Eleanor said...

I don't agree about keeping the query (still less the book) chronological. It strikes me that what makes your story different from every other quest story is the angle you take regarding what happens when the students get home, so you need to put that at the beginning. The parallel stories structure is also totally clear to me - I'm guessing it's something like Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. (Eight people go on a mission to another planet; only one comes back. Intercut between the story of the mission itself and that of the people who are trying to debrief the sole survivor.)

Maybe what you need is for your query to completely focus on the story thread that begins when they get home. Don't mention the parallel storyline at first. Mention briefly somewhere (maybe near the beginning, so whoever reads it knows they're dealing with fantasy) that they have been in another dimension, where they got caught up in an elven kidnapping. You don't need any more detail than that unless you have something really original to say about that side of the story.

At the end you can explain that your narrative switches between the past and present, given equal weight to the quest and its aftermath, or whatever is actually the case. This will help explain your high word count. It does sound as if you actually might have enough story to fill that many words.

I'd be interested in reading a book like this.

Dave said...

I so wanted the story to be GTP #4.

First, I hate the title. But, since I don't want to read 175K words, I can't give you suggestions for a better title.

Second, I get the impression that the QUEST was less than fulfilling or successful. Why? The four college kids are silent, sullen and depressed. Not to mention physically scarred. These aren't teenagers who are perpetually sullen, dark, and miserable - these are college students who have been through a life changing experience. Apparently, it was so successful that they won't discuss it with their families or friends. Hmmm.

Third, John Fowles wrote a story told in parallel - The French Lieutenant's Woman. So you might want to read the book (not watch the nice movie with the nice photography) to see how to present two time periods that parallel each other. Also, notice that the descriptions of this book emphasis not the end, but the story of the people involved - that is, the quest.

Fourth, Do you tell the story of the QUEST? Or the story of what comes after?
The story of The Marshall Plan and the start of the Cold War are the AFTERMATH of World War II. The story of WW2 is not the aftermath.
Also - from Tolkein, the scouring of the Shire (which is not in the movies) is the aftermath of the quest for the ring (among other consequences).
I guess what I'm asking is - are you writing about how the four college kids readjust parallels their quest for some bizarre object in the elven world? Or are you telling the story of the quest itself as flashbacks?

With a name like Afterquest, I would think that the story of the quest would be told through the struggles of the college students to live uneventful lives (once again). I wouldn't expect that it would tell the story of the quest with it's effects on the particiapnts when it's over. I hope the difference between those two choices is clear.

Anonymous said...

If Matt and Amber have amnesia, then Kenny and Elsie clearly have Alzheimers, are on trial or are dead.

Bernita said...

Re-organized, it could be an exceptional story.
I hope though that the post-quest sections will not read like a hang-over.

Anonymous said...

Before Quest is normalcy, whether normal life is good or bad may be up to the author, but something happens to end normalcy. In this case, students are kidnaped, thus begins their Quest.

After Quest is a change from normalcy to a better life for the hero who has risen above his old life during the Quest, or to a worse life for the villain who has fallen below his previous normal life because of the Quest.

Is there a hero in this story, and which one is he?

We leave the villain with the knowleddge that he has lost, which is what these characters seem to have as they struggle to return to a normal life after great loss.

I agree that the horror of the Quest can be cut in during the After Quest - a good format for horror stories.

Is that the writer's intent?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, good points in the comments. I don't want to read yet another story about elves, quests, fires and dragons. But if the story is about the kids after they get back, that might be kind of cool.

I agree that the query might be better if it presented the story in more of a straight-ahead fashion (unless it already does, and is as non-chronological as the query). I found it confusing.

Also, is their journey "parallel" the way Ellie's trip was in "Contact"? I thought that was fascinating although I didn't understand ten percent of Sagan's book. In this query it didn't seem parallel to me.

...dave conifer

Anonymous said...

Good idea, bad query. Maybe it would help to choose one character and stick with him as the emotional focus, at least for the query. He'll be the one that you couldn't consider killing.

Word verification: OGDIM. Presumably an ogre they meet on their quest?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand this parallel business. The query says "they were missing for months". Sounds pretty serial to me. I'm thinking that means only one thing -- ADD A SERIAL KILLER!

Anonymous said...

"Elsie, where have you been?"

"I can't remember."

"What's that robotic contraption hanging off of your shoulder?"

"I can't remember."

"Kenny says you went through a worm hole and visited a land of midgets."

"That's a lot of BS! -- Er -- I mean, I can't remember."

Rei said...

I find nothing in here that is interesting, original, or captivating. I'd recomment starting over.

author said...

Thank you EE and commenters for the feedback. This is the latest in a long series of query letters for this book. AfterQuest has been turned insideout so I can see if telling it chronologically works with a lower wordcount, more dramatic opening and no flashbacks.

It sounds like 'parallel story arcs' is the wrong way to describe the flow of the book! Eleanor guessed it right - the story starts after they return home and reunite (they didn't know each other before) and the story of what happened while they were gone is told in flashbacks while they're trying to return to boring normal life. The characters don't tell people what happened because they're afraid no one will believe them, but they do eventually tell their families.

And, EE, the Elves know they used to have an interdimensional transportation device, but they think it (and all information about it) were lost in a long-ago war.

If the wordcount goes down and the story gets tighter in the upcoming rewrite, I'll probably try to put the story back in the current non-chronology and compare the two versions.

HawkOwl said...

Rei: come to the Dark Side! LOL

Seriously, though, this totally reminded me of that thing by Guy Gavriel Kay. I think it's called The Fionavar Tapestry. I read it in... 1997, I think, and I thought it was so unoriginal as to deserve the P word. So this is kind of a rip off of a rip off of a story that was original in 1954 and has now generated so much copy-catting that there is a whole genre of it.

But no doubt, as we're learning on Miss Snark, it's not that the book is unoriginal / uninspired / cookie-cutter / trite / hackneyed / whatever else, it's just that we're missing the point of the hook.

So I'm sure your book rocks.

Anonymous said...

Hey author, I think it sounds pretty good after reading your clarification. The fact that the kids didn't know each other until some time after they returned EXPLAINS A LOT, and it also makes it more interesting. Don't leave that out!

I like it, man...

Anonymous said...

I like the concept, though it's outside of my normal genre. The story line as you've clarified it sounds interesting, but not being a reader of this genre of course I don't know that it has already been written about. If you've got a fresh twist on it, run with it.

Don't mind rei, she's still a little sore from the crap-o-meter. Work with the constructive comments, there are some good ones. Good luck with it.

kis said...

Yeah, this also reminded me of GG Kay's Finoavar Tapestry, one of his first stories I ever read (probably back in the early 90s) and the least compelling. Part of the reason was the fact that he married too much "magic" and too many fantasy standards (elves, wizards, dragons, dwarves, and gods) with his invented Celtic-esque history. He has since written much better books based loosely on European and Asian history that, though closer to real life, feel much more extraordinary.

That said, there are ways to make this project feel fresh and original. Combining elves with interdimensional, solar powered thingamajigs and prosthetics technologies is a start.

As for the parallel story arc, try it both ways. Give a copy of each to a beta reader and find out what they think.

writtenwyrdd said...

You give us a lot of background and story structure, but don't mention the elf child until the end. That seems to be the conflict. The early stuff is a set up for Elf Kidnapping, Book II.

I can't tell if I am interested in the story, because I only know they ended up in elfland, then ended up in a battle over a kid, who's an elf.

Mutegi said...

Maybe just being nitpicky for plot, but it seems some or all of them would be in a psych ward, really, really fast.

shannon said...

I'm so tired of elves and trolls and swords that give men (men) the power that their penises so obviously can't.

"solar-powered interdimensional transportation" - I'd leave that out, for a start, regardless that it explains how they got there. What a mouthful!

Frankly, I had trouble reading past the word "elves". The fantasy market is getting pretty demanding, and us fantasy readers have high expectations. Ones full of elves and trolls and stuff are old school, cliched, and for a good reason.

I also don't want to read about some college brats. They're not very sympathetic characters at the best of times.

Think: originality, originality, originality. Sarah Zettel managed it, so can you.

HawkOwl said...

Shannon - No offence but "if she can be original, so can you" is pretty hilarious. Unless there is something about Sarah Zettle that makes it particularly bizarre that she should be original.

shannon said...

There's nothing bizarre about it, Hawkowl. The point I was trying to make is that I think we've moved on from the old school fantasy style. Plenty of authors are giving us new takes on old themes, so I don't think an old take on an old theme is going to get much attention. Zettel was just an example. It was meant to be encouraging (though impatiently so).

What's bizarre, if anything, is that people are still writing unoriginal fantasy. Actually, not bizarre. Just disappointing.

Author said...

Dear Agent,

When our Human ancestors first encountered the Elves, Elven technology was beyond our comprehension and we called it magic.

We've spent the last few millennia catching up

When Elsie Conners and three fellow college students are taken to a strange world, her first desire was to find a way home. Her Elven hosts can't explain outside of legend and ancient history how the Humans traveled between worlds. A handsome Elf who helps her research the ancient texts distracts her from her homesickness and makes her wonder whether she really wants to leave. But before she can decide, an army of Trolls attacks the city and threatens to eliminate her options.

Out Of Legend is a SF novel, complete at 140K words. Please let me know if I can send you a partial or full for your consideration.

Thank you,

Author

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm going to say, Yay for you! This is so much better. I liked the opening lines a lot. However, I think that something is still missing from the query. I think you need to hint at either a reason she's ambivalent about staying.

Also, I don't like the SF tag on this. I think with Elves you had best go with Science Fantasy or risk having folks think you don't know the difference. But I could b e wrong; I'm not an agent or editor.

phoenix said...

Yikes! Oh, Author, no, no, no. Let me be blunt: Concentrating on elves and trolls with so little else going on in this query is certain rejection. Read the SF/F agent and writing blogs. Elves, trolls, dwarves, dragons, unicorns, etc. are the kiss of death and just as cliche. Unless you have an extremely unique reason for using stock characters, you're not likely to snag an agent's interest.

I take it you've decided the story is more about the quest itself than its aftermath? From what little you've given us in the two versions of the query, I've got to say the aftermath is the most interesting part to me. The quest part where they are in the elven city and get attacked by trolls doesn't sound like anything I haven't read before -- back in the late 70s and early 80s.

BUT, the afterquest part (I actually like your "AfterQuest" title better) sounded intriguing and, given the right spin, could be original (OK, it's been done a couple of times, but it hasn't been done to death). And now that part is completely, entirely gone from this version of the query. So what makes your story stand out now? That elves had a technology, which they seem to have lost? Yawn. Pass. And it's off-putting, too, that it takes you 140K words to tell the story outlined in the query. Give us some indication you have the plot scope to warrant that many words.

And please don't tell me the 35K words you cut were the very ones that could make this story salable!

I take it you've revised your book and are now looking to put a new query to the revise. Don't be discouraged. Just try again. This version is pretty short, so you have opportunity to beef it up with what's original about your story.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Phoenix... the whole aftermath part was the very thing that interested in me in the original query. Some people were very harsh with that, though, but... now this new query has none of that.

The original query made me feel you might be tackling the aftermath of giant quests that we don't see quite as often as the quests themselves. Focusing on physical and psychological effects an adventure has on the heroes afterwards is an interesting angle, and it's sad to see it disappear now. In fact, from your original query I was sort of hoping none of the quest would be told through flashback or otherwise... maybe using only dialog and alluding to great battles but, at least, giving the reader only flickers and glimpses of the fantasy world and its creatures and battles.

I, however, like the title though. AfterQuest was a little too plain I think.

I'm not a fantasy/scifi reader, so maybe the readers have a different opinion than I do. I was personally hoping your revision would be telling a tighter story of the aftermath and leaving out the other world, and let those things just be told by the characters themselves through dialog, dreams, whathaveyou... at least, the very fact that I don't typically read scifi/fantasy and was interested in your (original) concept should be a good sign, no?

kis said...

First lines are awesome. The rest, not so much. I agree, the discarding of the aftermath elements in the query (I hope not the book!) is disappointing. Especially when all you're left with is the hint of an interracial romance and the attack of the cliched fantasy characters.

What I'd really like to see is something like this:

When our Human ancestors first encountered the Elves, Elven technology was beyond our comprehension and we called it magic.

We've spent the last few millennia catching up.

When Elsie Conners and three fellow college students find themselves swept away to a different world, all they can think about is getting home again. Caught up in the treacherous politics of Elves and their enemies, Elsie turns to the handsome Bubba Elfson to help her find a way back to her world. But as they grow closer, she begins to wonder if she might rather stay where she is. And when events culminate that necessitate her departure, she finds her arrival home is even more painful and difficult than was her abduction to the otherworld.

Unable to hide the physical manifestations of her adventures, she can't just slip back into her old life. Her parents have questions, not the least of which is how she ended up with a prosthetic arm, and Elsie has no answers that won't land her a free weekend in Tranquil Acres Hospital. As they try to fit back into the kinds of lives that reject all things fantastical, she and her three friends discover that surviving the quest is one thing. Surviving the homecoming is quite another.

OUT OF LEGEND is complete at 140 000 words. The full manuscript is available on request.


Of course, I have no idea if this fits your story. You have cut some words, but judging by the new query, you've cut more than half your story. You have to find a middle ground, and the less you mention trolls, dwarves, goblins and quests the better.

I still think this could have real potential. And I like the dual chronology idea--and the technology so advanced it seems magical. But your new query is so brief, I have no sense of the story or the stakes, and the conflict is unrelatable because I know virtually nothing about your chosen protag.

Revise again. Give me enough information to make me care. And whatever you do, don't get rid of that opening! Good luck.

sylvia said...

Sadly, the new version leaves me cold. I'm happy to read about elves and magic but this short description doesn't grab me in any way. Will it be full of action? Humour? Mythology? I just can't tell from your revised query at all. The characters have no personality and the elves have technology but are unable to explain anything. I know that's not what you meant but that's what it felt like.

I also like the concept of "after the quest" by the way. :)

Anonymous said...

Also, you have a tense issue in your query...

"When Elsie Conners and three fellow college students are taken to a strange world, her first desire *was* to find a way home."

It goes from present, "when... are" to past, "was". Then to present again, "can't explain... helps her research..."

The "was to find a way home" should be "is to find a way home".

author said...

Minions are awesome! Thank you for the feedback. The story has been rewritten chronologically with no flashbacks of the adventure. I know that Elves, 'magic portals', and the high word count are all reasons for an auto-reject and am hoping that the first lines in this query show some of what's different about these Elves.

Writtenwyrdd, I like calling it fantasy better, myself, but several markets insist that fantasy must have magic. In conversations, I always call it fantasy without magic or science fiction with Elves.

Phoenix, yes, the 'after' part is still there. I'll add more description of it to the next version of the query. Most of the cutting was from removing the transitions in and out of the flashbacks, deleting redundancies, and general tightening up. All of my beta readers (not that many actually) preferred the Elf scenes to the Earth scenes so I'm working on making sure there's enough tension on the pages once they make it back home.

Kis, I love your version of the query! I need to make the stakes more obvious in both the query and the book

Anon, thanks for the tense corrections. Just changing the chronology of the story had a lot of tense changes that still have my head spinning.