Thursday, April 03, 2008

Face-Lift 509


Guess the Plot

The Phantom

1. When she finds "The Phantom," her family spaceship, Lidas sets out on a quest to destroy the pirate clan that killed her family and helped bring her civilization to its knees. But can she avoid the giant creatures with their ship-eating grins?

2. When the Dodgers' new pitcher, Phil "The Phantom" Foster, is found hanging in the dugout, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, it's no suicide, and two, he'll have to get home-plate tickets for his wife's nephew.

3. Finally ousted from his beloved musical abode, The Phantom is of The Opera no more! Furious at his eviction, the Phantom bands together with other displaced haunters - phantoms of churches, taverns, outhouses, and cellar closets - to wage war against the human interlopers and reclaim their stolen habitats.

4. When people run from Simon with piddle dripping and anus quivering fear, he realizes that coming back as a phantom will be harder than he planned. Also, a virgin schoolmarm trains a midget circus troop.

5. Haunted by the ghost of his business partner, who he murdered, Owen James is unable to enjoy the fruits of his crime: sole ownership of their chain of mortuaries. Can he maintain his sanity, or will he be his next customer?

6. Living next to a nuclear waste dump does have an upside. When Orchia finds he's become invisible, he realizes he has his chance to get even with everyone who ever wronged him. Not to mention that he can take up residence in the girls' locker room at nearby Swarthmore. Hilarity ensues.


Original version

Attn: Great and Mighty Evil Editor; [Good start.]

Hunted by assassins, the heir of an interstellar power finds an heirloom family ship that begins her odyssey to restore her people and destroy the traitor who decimated her family. [Too much information for a one-sentence summary. The heir of an interstellar power sets out to destroy the traitor who decimated her family.] Lidas Atasia, Book 1: The Phantom is a 134,000 word science fiction journey into a lavish galaxy of heroes, monsters, and political intrigue.

Organic starships, giant ship-eating creatures that live between systems and an 800 year old nomadic space-dwelling people who have never set foot on a planet make this a unique and intriguing book. [If you can convince us it's unique and intriguing without actually declaring it so, you'll be on your way to query stardom.] [Also, all that stuff was on Star Trek.] What was once a powerful and thriving civilization has been brought to its knees by the humans, [The human race are your bad guys? Who do you expect to buy your book, Klingons? If Agatha Chistie'd had to depend on sales to murderers, she'd have died a pauper.] who are able to out-compete the Bruskers in both food production and mercantile trade, slowly strangling them through economic conquest. [Humans. First they ruin Earth, now they're the scourge of the universe.] Making the situation worse, one of the fourteen Brusker clans, the Rejadda, has turned against their own kind as pirates. When the leader of the Rejadda betrays the head of the merchant Atasia clan and his sons to their deaths, the last surviving daughter Lidas Atasia makes it her life's quest to destroy the entire Rejadda clan and avenge her murdered family. [Hello. My name is Lidas Atasia. You killed my father. Prepare to die.] [You might want to mention the name of your main character a little earlier than the last sentence of your synopsis. Yes, the name is part of the series title, but we can't tell from that if it's a person or a planet or Italian for The Chronicles of Brusker.]

I have experienced first hand the extremes of human behavior after years abroad, first traveling across America then living in the tribal nation of Papua New Guinea and in terror-torn Israel. I have seen how the twin powers of idealism and tradition shape civilization. I've come face to face with abuses of power and startling tales of human ingenuity impossible to acquire from the safety of the television. [I am . . . The Phantom!] [That's nothing. I have been there every step of the way in my living room as Jack Bauer saved America from deadly terrorist attacks. I have observed quietly from afar the crustiness of the brilliant medical diagnostician, Gregory House. I have cowered in the face of a dozen Gordon Ramsay tirades that were directed at other people, and all in the safety of my wide-screen plasma television.] My brother's immigration to Israel gives me insight into the return of an exiled people [All right, let's not go overboard.] while my sister's experience on a military naval vessel, visiting Antarctica's bizarre science stations, sheds light on and brings to life the harsh realities of survival in space. [I'll buy that argument when I see penguins thriving in space.]

My focus on rich cultural development and extensive character realization stems from a lifetime study of civilization and politics. [Define "lifetime."] Exploring the themes of justice, honor, respect, sacrifice, loyalty, and consequence this book captures a vanishing morality. [Phrases like "extensive character realization" and "captures a vanishing morality" are what I used to write when I was trying to BS my way through an essay test. Don't tell me they have an actual meaning?]

I have included the first 3 chapters and a synopsis for your review and would be glad to send you the full manuscript of Lidas Atasia book one, upon request. You can also read excerpts from all three books in the trilogy on my website, _______________.

Thank you for your attention,

Your Most Humble Minion

[Title: The "Lidas Atasia" part is the series name. The "The Phantom" part is the book title for the first book. Lidas Atasia is the protagonist of the story. The Phantom is her family starship that she pins all her hopes and dreams on. I always thought the title was kind of boring and too obvious. Plus 'the Phantom' sounds dumb. Feel free to crumple it into little bitty bits. Or, if you want, rename it! Call it chicken-head tap-dance for all I care.] [If I had, I might not have had to write two of the fake plots myself.]


Notes

There's more here about you than about Lidas Atasia.

You end the query with Lidas vowing to get revenge. That's where your story begins. Surely you haven't written 134,000 words of set-up, with the revenge-seeking coming in the later books? Here's your opening paragraph:

What was once a powerful and thriving civilization has been brought to its knees by humans, who out-compete the Bruskers in both food production and mercantile trade, slowly strangling them through economic conquest. Making the situation worse, one of the fourteen Brusker clans, the Rejadda, has turned against their own kind as pirates. When the leader of the Rejadda betrays the head of the Atasia clan and his sons to their deaths, the last surviving daughter, Lidas Atasia, makes it her life's quest to destroy the Rejadda clan and avenge her murdered family.

Now give us a couple brief paragraphs detailing how she plans to go about this, and why she has no chance of succeeding except that there's a glimmer of hope if only . . .

You need to make us care about your main character. Not about her civilization.

And ditch the Papua Antarctica stuff. If living in Papua New Guinea increased your chances of getting published, half of my minions would be living there, and the other half would be claiming they did.

There were twelve tribes in Israel back when the entire population of Earth was 83. There are hundreds of clans in puny little Scotland. Yet the Bruskers, an interplanetary civilization, has only fourteen clans?

I can't tell whether the Bruskers are supposed to be Israel or the Ferengi.

22 comments:

fairyhedgehog said...

E.E. You wrote two of the fake plots yourself? let me guess: four and six.

Anonymous said...

Boy, my fake plot must have pretty horrible if EE chose to write two instead of using mine!

Evil Editor said...

I used all I had. What was yours? Any chance I thought it went with a different title?

Anonymous said...

EE - these were the funniest blue words ever written...

I love you.

pacatrue said...

I'd like to get a clearer sense of the moral life of Lidas Atasia. I'm good, in novels at least, with a nice revenge plot on the people who killed my family. But when I got the impression that Lidas wants to wipe out an entire clan, which I assume to be in the thousands (?), I went "whoa, that's a bit of overkill." We can go with this when the evil clan is made of zombies, werewolves, or fiction editors, but these pirates are supposed to have worth like other people.

There was a movie with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman a few years back (The Peacekeepers?) in which a Bosnian man loses his family in war and decides to get revenge by nuking Manhattan. He's the bad guy. How many hundreds or thousands of people is Lidas willing to kill?

From the parts about your bio, I'm guessing that you are aware of the funny moral ground of revenge and I wouldn't be surprised if this is a critical part of your story, but this needs to come out more in the query. As EE says, you can get into this sort of stuff by dropping your bio down to a sentence or so.

BuffySquirrel said...

If Lidas's family were decimated, there should still be nine out of ten of them left. Why is she doing this all alone?

I can't figure what's wrong with this query. Anything involving abandoned spacecraft is usually a big hook for me. I think it's maybe because the whole revenge thing has been done so much. What's different about this revenge plot?

writtenwyrdd said...

Like has been mentioned, you give 99% backstory and your creds here. Hook us on your gal's need for revenge by telling us something that engages our interest or emotions. I would think that stopping the pirates would have greater stakes than just killing them all; so if that's part of the quest, maybe mention it?

There are a lot of elements you mention that resemble so many sf television shows as well as countless novels. What we need to know in the query is what makes yours new and fresh.

Sounds like it could be a great read, the letter just needs to showcase the story better.

Whirlochre said...

Multiple dittoes.

Begin with main character.

Set the (sci-fi) scene.

Add minimal (relevant) biog.

Nita said...

My issue with the query is that it's heavy. You have to slow down and really concentrate to 'get' it. Detail is good, but when you cram in too much, especially with fantasy terms, it starts to sound like another language and you can't remember which weird word is a planet, creature, or galaxy.

My suggestion, focus on the MC and simplify.

Nita said...

Hey, EE, I like you. You're not as mean as Miss Snark.

December/Stacia said...

I have experienced first hand the extremes of human behavior after years abroad, first traveling across America then living in the tribal nation of Papua New Guinea and in terror-torn Israel. I have seen how the twin powers of idealism and tradition shape civilization. I've come face to face with abuses of power and startling tales of human ingenuity impossible to acquire from the safety of the television.


Yes, but have you ever been to you?

I agree. Sci-fi really isn't my thing at all--outer space interests me about as much as the latest doings on American Idol, which is to say not at all--but it could be a pretty exciting story, a kind of Star Wars starring a chick. But the query doesn't really give me much sense of that. It just overwhelmed me with too much info, too many names, and not enough hook.

150 said...

I was really hoping it would be GTP #1, but this query is the pits. Start over and spend your space talking about what happens to who and why.

If Agatha Chistie'd had to depend on sales to murderers, she'd have died a pauper.

Nonsense. To hear her tell it, there are people bumping off their neighbors every day.

talpianna said...

Is it really a good hook for selling a first novel to label it "Volume I"? I'd think, just offhand, that that would be a bit of a turnoff for the agent/editor. You should let your first book create the desire for a series.

Of course, at my age I'm too old to start even a trilogy, let alone a longer series.

Dave F. said...

When I read this query, I had thoughts of Duke Leto Atreides and Baron Harkonnen. Actually, the story of DUNE is about Paul Atreides and his creepy sister. So just as you wouldn't describe that series of books as being about the fathers, you shouldn't describe this book as about the dead members of the clan.

People also think that DUNE is a ecological tome, it isn't. It is so much about revenge and an amazingly anti-religious screed. Please don't tell F Herbert that. An author should never imagine he or she is writing a "message" book. Deliberate messages in Sci Fi are the kiss of death (and that doesn't spell M,a,f,i,a OR v,a,m,p,i,r,e that spells b,o,r,i,n,g x 3). Any message in the story must be seem to arise from within without the writer waving red flags or being heavy handed.

Under the current definition of sci-fi, I can cite MacBeth and say that MacBeth's bloody quest for power, aided by witches, apparitions, black magic and conjuring demons, is (most definitely) a morality story about LUST for power and the blood that stains the hands and blackens the heart. But that theme is never pounded into the audience's head by a speaker. We get the idea because of the actions of the characters.

And that is what your query has to do with your book.

Tell us about the battles, hostilities and hardships that "Lidas Atasia" has to overcome to either survive, restore her clan or beat the humans at their own game.

Now possibly you can see why I was reminded of Duke Leto and Baron Harkonnen. When Paul Atreides stands victorious over the dead body of Feyd-Rautha at the end of DUNE, he challenges the powers that be, he challenges creation itself and brings water to the only world where water is death (death to the worms, to the empire, to the spacers guild, to the Bene Gesserit, etc...
That's what we must know about Lidas Atasia - how and what does she win?

stick and move said...

I hate to pile on but it seems I usually do because I'm usually late getting here and I usually agree with the comments already made. Usually. In this case, calling for more action and less bio. As I was reading "I've done this and I've done that", I couldn't help but wonder if any of it is in the story. If I'm an editor or agent, I want to know about the story, and if it's a good one I'll let you tell me all about yourself after I sell it. Sounds like you have the elements of an exciting story, but I think you'll do a better job in your next attempt if you heed the comments here. Good luck!

jeb said...

Sigh. I was afraid #1 would turn out to be true. This is every generic sff novel and series wannabe for the past 20 years. Revenge on the crew that done you wrong is not enough to carry a series.

Author, you have obviously done some thinking about the cycle of revenge and the emotions of the displaced. Show your MC actually facing those issues instead of telling us what you personally know about them.

Also, that length (not to mention the 'Book 1' tag) will make this manuscript a harder sell from someone with no previous writing credits of any description. Yes, even in SF.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Is Lidas human? I got the feeling that there were the bad humans and some other race (species?). I wasn't sure which Lidas belonged to.

I like EE's rewrite. It sets the stage very nicely and then you can add the character of the story after that.

Everyone's already said everything else.

Nancy Beck said...

No. 4 is absolutely HILARIOUS! (Robin S. - please write it - PUH-LEASE! :-))

Organic starships, giant ship-eating creatures that live between systems and an 800 year old nomadic space-dwelling people who have never set foot on a planet make this a unique and intriguing book.

I agree with EE - leave it up to the agent to decide whether or not your story is unique.

Question: What does "live between systems" mean? Do you mean between universes (as in parallel universes)?

The paras that begin, "I have experienced..." and "My focus on..." bored the hell out of me, author, sorry. I'd lose those paras because they sound pretentious to me. If you have a degree in sociology or something similar to that, I'd point that out. I think what you've used in these 2 sentences are just blather (IMHO).

I also have concerns about the length. While SF and fantasy have unusually high word limits, 134,000 sounds a bit much. Are you sure you can't cut out, say, 20,000 words? That would be about right for this (and it did sound kind of interesting until you got to those 2 paras).

FWIW.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Query letters should not have any bios, its ridiculous. They dont give the agent/editor into the actual story or how well your writing is, so they are pointless. Stick to your plot hook and publishing credits. Its tempting to replace publishing creds(if you have none) with bio, but if you haveno pub creds just dont put anything, it makes the query much shorter and focuses on your story and writing -- which is what your trying to sell.

Phoenix said...

EE - these were the funniest blue words ever written...

I love you.


Sigh. EE, you really must stop posting anonymously.

Author: I look forward to your rewrite. The only thing I disagree with among the advice proferred is that 134K for SF doesn't sound excessive. At the very upper margin before excessivity, yes, but likely wouldn't be an auto no because of length in this genre. However, I would assure the reader that this book stands on its own and concludes with a satisfying end. Throwing in "Book 1" a couple of times makes me leery that it's not a standalone. So be sure it is and spell it out clearly:

Complete at 134,000 words, THE PHANTOM is either a standalone novel or the first in a dark trilogy that explores how [the abuse of power spreads like a contagion, catching up even the most innocent in its blight.]

But remember, you get ONE sentence to announce this has series potential and to spell out the MAIN theme of the series arc.

Anonymous said...

LOL, December! I've never been to me!

Adah said...

You guys are really excellent, thank you. I am kicking myself now that I never found E.E. the god of editors before I tried sending this crummy query out already. I knew it was just funky somehow but I guess it's that haze that comes over a writer when they've spent too much time on the stupid story, I couldn't see what was wrong with it.

Invaluable tips... I am going to chop this thing down... darn it now I'm tempted to seriously re-edit the book yet again... does it ever end?