Thursday, December 20, 2007

Face-Lift 468


Guess the Plot

The Spirit Thief

1. When a soul-sucking witch is picked for the cheerleading squad, it's up to cheerleader/amateur sleuth Allie Jones to uncover her identity before all the oomph goes out of her fellow cheerleaders.

2. Master thief Kadie will accept any commission if the pay--and the challenge--are enough. But when she "reallocates" the sealed jar on the altar of the crocodile god Sebek, the question becomes, Can she put something back before the world ends?

3. He's Eli, a charming wizard and the greatest thief in the world. She's Miranda, the wizardess hired to hunt him down. But when a more powerful wizard shows up and snatches the kingdom's throne, can Eli and Miranda team up to prevent him from also stealing the souls of inanimate objects?

4. One by one, the cheerleaders at Central High are succumbing to depression. The homecoming pep rally resembles a funeral. When quarterback Jack Van Helsing discovers that the new kid at school is more than a mere Goth/emo weirdo, can he stop The Spirit Thief before everyone starts dressing in black and wearing a lot of make-up?

5. Mrs. Mary Muffleton can't get through a day without a sip or two of hard spirits. When she finds her whiskey flask mysteriously drained, even teetotaling Mr. Muffleton gets involved in the hunt for the culprit. Strange noises in the basement, a blunt axe and a mismatched pair of shoes are the only clues to the identity of . . . The Spirit Thief.

6. When ghosts start disappearing, Trevor the poltergeist hopes that heaven has lowered its standards. But then he discovers the truth: the spirits are being systematically abducted by high-tech mercenaries, led by a nefarious scientist named Egon. In order to free his people, Trevor will pick off his foes one by one, possess a health inspector, and if he's lucky, get people to stop calling him 'Slimer'.


Original Version

Dear (agent-name-spelled-right),

In a world where everything has a soul, [Everything? Do people feel guilty about sending their trash to a landfill, knowing it deserves a proper burial?] and magic is as much about fast talking as raw power, Eli Monpress is a wizard who can charm a door off its hinges. [Does charming a door off its hinges affect the door's soul?] He's also the age's most famous thief, with a price on his head large enough to fund a small war. But that's not nearly enough for Eli, he has a higher goal, a greater purpose: earn a bounty of one million gold, or die trying. Of course, "die trying" is exactly what Miranda Lyonet, the wizardess with the impossible job [It's impossible?] of catching Eli before he ruins the reputation of wizards everywhere, would prefer he did. My fantasy novel, The Spirit Thief, complete at 75,000 words, is about what happens when magic, money, and a royal kidnapping gone wrong change the rules in the old game of cat and cat.

When Eli talks his way out of jail

[Eli: Guard!

Guard: What now?

Eli: Funniest thing. You're not gonna believe this, but . . . I'm innocent.

Guard: You're right, I don't . . . Hey, what's your cell door doing off its hinges?]

and steals the king of Mellinor, [Actually, we have a special word for stealing a person.] a country that has forbidden magic since its founding, there's nothing the nobles can do. [Well, they could send their armies after Eli, but his fast-talking skills would easily thwart them.

General: We've found you at last, Eli. Turn over our king or die.

Eli: Funniest thing. He escaped days ago. He should be back in Melanoma by now.

General: I don't want to believe you, but you're so damn charming.]

Fortunately for them, Miranda arrives right on Eli's heels. She offers to rescue the king, and catch Eli in the process, [Isn't catching Eli impossible? I know I heard that somewhere.] if Mellinor will rethink its ban on wizards. The nobles reluctantly agree, and Miranda begins the dangerous business of tracking down the self-proclaimed "greatest thief in the world." [Begins? I thought she was already tracking him down. Remember? To keep him from ruining the reputation of wizards everywhere?] But things get complicated when the kidnapped king's older brother, Renaud, himself a wizard banished by Mellinor's law, takes advantage of the confusion to make his triumphant return. Happy to have any prince, wizard or no, the nobles rush to follow his orders, but Miranda is suspicious. Can a banished prince really be willing to [Would a banished prince] stick his neck out for the younger brother who took his throne?

She gets her answer when Renaud sabotages the king's rescue, cheating Eli out of his ransom money and framing Miranda for the true king's death. [The true king? Isn't the true king the kidnapped younger brother? Since when is he dead?] To clear her name, and get out of the country alive, Miranda has to face the traitorous prince. But Renaud proves to be a more powerful wizard than she suspected, and it soon becomes clear she's going to need help. Unfortunately, "help" means swallowing her pride and teaming up with the thief who started this whole mess. But even Miranda and Eli together might not be enough to stop the plan Renaud has been hatching since he lost his birthright, and the price of failure could be much higher than Mellinor's throne. [The price of failure is the key. It's your query's Maltese Falcon. Its Ring of Power. Excalibur. The Grail . . . What is it?]

(Closing comments specific to each agent – not to exceed 25 words),

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon,

Sincerely,


Revised Version

In a world where magic is as much about fast talking as raw power, Eli Monpress is a wizard who can charm a door off its hinges. He's also the age's most famous thief, but that's not enough for Eli; he vows to earn a bounty of one million gold, or die trying. When Eli talks his way out of jail and kidnaps the king of Mellinor, a country that has forbidden magic since its founding, there's nothing the nobles can do.

Enter Miranda Lyonet, a wizardess who arrives on Eli's heels. She offers to rescue the king and catch Eli in the process, if Mellinor will rethink its ban on wizards. But things get complicated when the kidnapped king's older brother Renaud, himself a wizard, takes advantage of the confusion to make his triumphant return. Miranda is suspicious. Would a banished prince really stick his neck out for the younger brother who took his throne?

She gets her answer when Renaud sabotages the king's rescue, cheating Eli out of his ransom and framing Miranda for the former king's death. To clear her name, Miranda must take on the traitorous prince, and for that she'll need help. Unfortunately, "help" means swallowing her pride and teaming up with the thief who started this whole mess--and the price of failure could be the universal destruction of Cocoa Puffs.

The Spirit Thief, complete at 75,000 words, is about what happens when magic, money, and a royal kidnapping gone wrong change the rules in the old game of cat and cat.

Thank you.


Notes

How come when a wizard kidnaps the king there's nothing the nobles can do, but when a wizardess is framed for killing the king, she can't get out of the country alive? Are wizards that much more powerful than wizardesses?

I recommend calling the kingdom Melanoma. It has a nice ring to it.

I liked the query, but it seemed too long for one page. The shorter version probably doesn't include the real price of failure, as I don't know it, but if it's something really terrible, you might want to work it in.

13 comments:

150 said...

Everything has a soul? What about corpses? Must you apologize to your salad? Wouldn't owning a wheelbarrow constitute slavery? What's the worth of being human if dolphins, pigeons, and cockroaches have them too? Does all of dirtdom share a soul, or does each individual patch of dirt have its own? Or each speck? What happens if you're cremated, do your ashes get your old soul or a new one? Or if you lose a leg, does it get its own soul, or keep part of yours?

I'm dizzy from implications, I need to go lie down.

pjd said...

I love GTP #5.

I didn't have the patience to understand all the twists and turns here. I got a sense that the story sounded interesting, but my eyes glazed over halfway through. The rewrite sounds like a good story, and I like the cute twist on cat and mouse (cat and cat) at the end instead of up front.

Anyone new to queries can learn a lot from this face lift. The trick is to get the plot and hook and characterization in there without all the details. The temptation is to say to yourself, "but it's really important to know this" and stick in too much detail. Fight the temptation.

This rewrite reminds me of my first time writing radio news back in college. I was given a simple kicker for my first try, and I wrote about 140 words. The producer took a look at it and in seconds had chopped it down to about 80 words, making it far better. I learned a lot in those few seconds.

Rachel said...

Thanks so much for looking it over, you brought up points I hadn’t even noticed after going over the thing five million times.

I wish I’d had the foresight to write a “guess the plot” for my own query. Because “The Spirit Thief” would totally be my bandit name on those days when I break into my neighbor’s liquor cabinet and drink all her booze.

THE SPIRIT (hic) THIEF STRIKES AGAIN!

Deborah K. White said...

I'm confused. "Bounty" implies that someone has said they'll pay to have the king kidnapped. But then I'd expect Eli leave the country with king in tow and meet said employer/payer. Yet Miranda seems trapped inside the original country despite going after Eli, and Eli seems to have demanded a ransom from the nobles instead of seeking the assured bounty. If Eli is demanding a ransom, then can't the nobles just pay the ransom to get their king back? Only a idiot asks for more money than they know they can get, and Eli doesn't seem to be an idiot.

Also, why do none of the nobles try to take over while he's gone (even as a benign temporary measure) rather than welcoming back the prince they banished for using the forbidden magic? Surely the banished prince isn't the only one with blood-ties to the throne and therefore a right to inherit the throne if the last king dies. Surely one of them doesn't use magic and will therefore be more suitable as the next king.

And if he's so powerful a magic-user, why didn't he just sweet-talk/magic his way into power instead of waiting for this opportunity to arise? No one else there knows magic, so how could they stop him let alone enforce the banishment on him?

I also really don't understand the line "Can a banished prince really be willing to stick his neck out for the younger brother who took his throne?" It sounded to me like he was coming back to reclaim his rightful throne. What, exactly, is he doing that's sticking his neck out for his brother? Do the kings get beheaded every twenty or whatever years and Renaud took the throne just in time for the beheading ceremony?

EE's version makes me less confused, but even there I'm left feeling confused.

Phoenix said...

Hi Rachel:

EE's rewrite says it all. Well, almost all. Like Deborah, the word "bounty" throws me in both versions. Especially when I don't think of a thief as being the same as a kidnapper.

Note that in your version, you set Miranda up with the impossible job of catching Eli, then you write "When Eli talks his way out of jail..." Obviously confusing because 1) if he's been caught once, then catching him can't be impossible, and 2) she'd know right where to look for him if he's in jail.

I think you were trying to get your hook in there first, and then the query text, but it reads choppily, really confusing the issue rather than helping.

I'm not sure I would wait till the end to tailor the query to the receiving agent. You want warm fuzzies going from the first. Sucking up should come at the beginning, IMO.

Also not sure how the title fits the query. Especially when you lead off with the bit about everything having a soul, I'm thinking spirits or souls will somehow play into the characters or plot, but I didn't see the idea expounded on. EE got rid of the soul bit in his version and hints to put something relevant to spirit stealing in if it's relevant. If not, the title may still puzzle, but titles are easily changed.

With the right provocation and a tricksy ending, this could be a fun read. And I like that you have voice in your query, too!

Church Lady said...

There are some lines which are funny even out of context. This is one of those: [Everything? Do people feel guilty about sending their trash to a landfill, knowing it deserves a proper burial?]

Words worthy to be embossed in gold.

:-)

I should stop reading the blue text and focus on the black text. Maybe later...

talpianna said...

GTP #1 is an actual Buffy the Vampire Slayer plot.

If the country rescinds its ban on wizardry, isn't Renaud, the older brother, AUTOMATICALLY the rightful king, since he was only banished because he was a wizard?

There are many fairly primitive cultures in Africa (and perhaps elsewhere) that do believe that everything has a soul; and animism includes much of this. This is a subject that has rules and can be researched.

pjd wrote: I like the cute twist on cat and mouse (cat and cat) at the end

But "the old game" IS "cat and mouse," not "cat and cat."

Dave F. said...

Interesting plot. I like the fact that there is at least one betrayer and at least one person forced to work against their nature.

pjd said...

But "the old game" IS "cat and mouse," not "cat and cat."

Um... but that's why I like the "cat and cat" thing. It says that both of the characters are hunters and neither one is prey. I like that idea for this story.

Robin S. said...

Merry Christmas, EE - I can't find another place to say it, so I'm saying it here - hope you and yours have a good holiday week.

talpianna said...

pjd: There's nothing wrong with describing the wizard and magical cop relationship as "a game of cat and cat"; in fact, I like the phrase too. But it's incorrect to label it "the OLD game," when in fact it's a new take on it.

pacatrue said...

As a child of the 80s, I really appreciated GTP #6. It's the screenplay John Gardner would have written.

Liosis said...

Ooh, I like this premise. The query certainly does get stuck in the details, I find that most fantasy does, but it actually manages to avoid it enough that I don't end up thinkng 'eww, fantasy', which is my general reaction. Considering I write fantasy that rather worries me.

I can't manage to get past the part about the kingdom without magic, that sentences confuses me even though it makes sense and I never manage to read on.

Imporant to me: He is charming, charms his way out of jail, kidnaps king, she goes to stop him...and whatever important bits come after this. An idea of who SHE is might help, unless it doesn't matter.

I got the part about the souls, I can't tell whether everyone is being snide or really doesn't understand. Either way, some people might not be familiar with the idea so you might want to avoid it.