Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Face-Lift 564


Guess the Plot

The Seven Gates

1. Antique book dealer Jack Crusoe rescues a woman's shoe from the mud and she invites him up to her hilltop castle to see THE SEVEN GATES, a book she found in a niche in the dungeon. Is the book a previously unknown masterpiece? A supernatural message? Or just a ruse to lure Jack into her dangerous lair?

2. Gate seven gives you power over magic. Gate six gives you power over time. Gate five gives you power over women. And so on. Can Bram Lockheart, a chartered accountant from Sussex, beat the odds?

3. Each of the seven gates in the valley opens into a different world, a world whose inhabitants have wondrous powers. Sechra may sample a world once and stay or return. Will she find a world she wants to live in forever, or will she come to realize, There's no place like home?

4. There are six gates into the world's largest beauty/nail/tanning salon and one into Hell. Can game show contestant Mark Potash avoid choosing the wrong gate? Or is this game rigged? Also, an elderly aunt with a sentient mollusk living in her brain.

5. Outside the city of Kashka-Du are seven gates. Only one leads to the city; the rest go to mazes guarded by hellbeasts. Crysalla and her friends must reach the Temple and seize the throne. Can they negotiate the gates . . . and live?

6. When Ginral returns from berry picking to discover her entire village has been wiped out, the shy 12-yr.-old girl is faced with a difficult choice -- stay in the village or seek the aid of a powerful being who can only be reached by passing through The Seven Gates -- a dangerous pilgrimage from which few have returned.



Original Version

Dear Editor,

Sechra isn’t responsible for saving the world; she just has to choose her world and her place in it. That is difficult and dangerous enough.

Sechra helps with her aunt Rena’s farm work with all her strength and about half her mind. She hopes desperately to be accepted by her aunt’s family and by her neighbors, the farmers and tradesmen of Dunlin village, in spite having inherited her absent father’s foreign looks and her dead mother’s discontent. And she dreams of a different world, a place of quests and perils and enchantments where she will be wise and strong and brave and fully at home. When the enchanted valley first opens to her, she thinks her dreams have come true.

Seven gates open from the valley into other worlds. Their inhabitants have powers such as Sechra has only dreamed of, and are willing to teach them to Sechra...with very mixed motives. Sechra’s dreams never warned her that in the enchanted lands she would have no courage or skill beyond what she has learned in Dunlin. [If the inhabitants are willing to teach their powers to Sechra, how can you say she would have no skill beyond what she had in Dunlin? She would have super swimming skills like Aquaman, or archery skills like Green Arrow.] Nor had they shown her that each [world's] gift comes at a terrible price. [For instance, in the world where she has X-Ray vision, all the boys are ugly under their clothes.]

Magister has gained endless life and mastery over his own will and the wills of others, but he has paid for it with his memories, his name, everything that made him human. [Give me mastery over the wills of others, especially the Olsen twins, and I'll happily give up my memories and name.] The Watcher has chosen the ability to see, hear and understand across great distances of space and time, and lost the power to intervene in any of the situations he sees. [It's just like watching TV. Hey, they should call me the Watcher.] The Weavers have learned to shape the fate of their world to their own intricate and lovely pattern, but they have lost the ability to see the individual lives and deaths that the pattern requires. [Whatever that means.]

Sechra can pass through each gate once and decide whether its world’s gift is worth the price. [Does someone tell her what the gifts and prices are, or does she have to figure all that out?] If she refuses the gift and manages to return safely to her own world, [Do they try to stop her?] the gate to the world she left will close behind her forever.

As Sechra passes and returns her eyes are opened and her own world grows richer and more painful. She has to face the tangled love, grief and resentment that bind her to Rena; her mother’s legacy of discontent; and, finally, the shadows in her own soul.

The Seven Gates, complete at 50,000 words, follows Sechra’s struggles and learnings in Dunlin and the worlds beyond the gates as she chooses the gift that is truly hers and the price she is willing to pay.

Thank you for taking time to read and consider this query.


Notes

Shorter would be better. For the query, not the book. Drop the second sentence of the first long paragraph, and just say She dreams of a different . . . Then drop the paragraph in which you give specific examples of how gifts backfire. The first and third ones are vague and the second one doesn't matter, since I assume the Watcher couldn't intervene in situations across space and time to begin with.

We need to know Sechra's age and the age range of those you expect to read the book.

How many of the gates does she go through? If it's all seven, 50,000 words seems pretty short. Assuming a few thousand words spent on Dunlin, that means you devote maybe 5000 words to each new world. Which means she walks through the gate, and it goes,

Stranger: Stay with us and you will have super strength and the ability to fly and heat vision.

Sechra: Deal.

Stranger: Don't you wanna hear about the Kryptonite?

and she's off to Gate #2. Does she have adventures in each world? Are there dangers involved in returning? I'd want to know about that.

26 comments:

Whirlochre said...

Begins well but becomes vaguer.

I like the idea and seven portals to mysterious worlds surely have to be better than just the one.

Need more hard detail about Secha and more to get a handle on the significance of the Magister, the Watcher and the Weavers.

Not sure about the 'dead mother's discontent' — I know what you mean, she's a sourpuss just like her mum, but it does sound a little odd. Most dead people aren't too happy.

Yeah — multiple gates, through which you can only pass once. Has potential, but the query fans out towards the end rather than drawing all the elements to a conclusion.

Joanna said...

--Author here--

Ouch. Thanks, EE.

Yes, she goes though all seven gates. Some worlds are simple and covered only briefly, some have fairly long entries. I think the story is spare but complete at 50K. I'm better at writing books than writing queries (which isn't saying much, I know.)

I've made a quick stab at improving the query along the lines you suggested. Only problem is, it's currently longer not shorter--but still fits in 1 page. Para. 3 is there because I don't just want to give her age--she is 15, but in a world where 16-year-olds are expected to be adult (unlike this world, where adulthood seems to begin around 30.) First revision below.

Dear Editor,

Sechra isn’t responsible for saving the world; she just has to choose her world and her place in it. That is difficult and dangerous enough.

Sechra was four years old when her mother died and her outlander father went away. Since then she has helped with her aunt Rena’s farm work with all her strength and about half her mind, dreaming of a world of quests and perils and enchantments where she will be wise and strong and brave and fully at home.

Now she is fifteen. Next year she will be old enough for marriage. She does not know which she fears more: to be unchosen because of her strange looks and dreams, or to be chosen and caught forever in a life that does not satisfy her. Then the enchanted valley opens to her. At first she thinks her dreams have come true.

Seven gates open from the valley into other worlds. Their inhabitants have powers such as Sechra has only dreamed of, and are willing to teach them to Sechra...with mixed motives. For each world’s gift carries a terrible price. Sometimes the price is clearly stated, as with the Windriders, who have gained the freedom of flight and paid for it with a vow of obedience even unto death. Sometimes the price is hidden, as with Magister, who has gained eternal life and the mastery of wills at the cost of his own memory and humanity...and those of his pupils, if they lack the strength to resist him.

Sechra can pass through each gate once and decide whether its world’s gift is worth the price. If she refuses the gift and manages to return safely to her own world, the gate to the world she left will close behind her forever.

As Sechra passes and returns her eyes are opened and her own world grows richer and more painful. She has to face her mother’s legacy of discontent and the tangled love, grief and resentment that bind her to Rena.

Beyond the seventh gate Sechra finds herself alone, shut in a dark and dangerous place which she can only escape by confronting her own hidden fears and desires.

The Seven Gates, a YA fantasy novel complete at 50,000 words, follows Sechra’s adventures, struggles and learnings in the eight worlds as she chooses the gift that is truly hers and the price she is willing to pay.

Thank you for taking time to read and consider this query.

Evil Editor said...

Even if you can write a business letter that includes all that and squeeze it onto a page, I don't need that much information.

The first phrase sounds good, but as with the last query, it isn't clear how it relates to the book. I wasn't thinking Sechra was responsible for saving the world. And after reading the whole query, I see no evidence the world is in danger.

The gates are your story. You get to them faster if you skip the black and white scenes with Auntie Em.



Sechra has long dreamed of leaving Dunlin for a world of quests and perils and enchantments, where she could be wise and strong . . . and fully at home.

Next year she will be sixteen, old enough for marriage. She wonders which she fears more: to be unchosen, or to be chosen and caught forever in an unsatisfying life. Then the enchanted valley opens to her. At first she thinks her dreams have come true.

Seven gates lead from the valley into other worlds, worlds whose inhabitants have powers Sechra has only imagined. But each world’s gift comes with a terrible price: the Windriders have gained the freedom of flight and paid for it with a vow of obedience unto death; Magister has gained mastery of wills, but at the cost of his own memories.

Sechra can pass through each gate once and decide whether its world’s gift is worth the price. If she refuses the gift and returns to Dunlin, the gate will close behind her forever. As Sechra passes and returns her own world grows richer in her eyes.

Beyond the seventh gate Sechra finds herself alone, shut in a dark and dangerous place which she can escape only by confronting her own hidden fears and desires.

The Seven Gates, a YA fantasy novel complete at 50,000 words, follows Sechra’s adventures, struggles and learnings in the eight worlds as she chooses the gift that is truly hers--and the price she is willing to pay.

Thank you for taking time to read and consider this query.

Renee Collins said...

Your new version is much better, and I really liked EE's version.

Overall, I think your concept is cool, but I wondered what the stakes are. Is there some kind of antagonist, who tries to take her choice away or trap her in a gate? Is there a love interest? I know you are trying to slim your query down, but you might want to mention them if they exist.

WouldBe said...

Hello author,

This seems like a quest without a goal, other than shopping for gifts of power given by the gates. The closing complication (escape by confronting her own hidden fears and desires) seems an artifact of the last gate rather than a consequence of the goal.

What is the conflict? What is the goal? Is it truly a shopping trip? I think you need a stated goal and conflict that the editor (and reader) can latch on to make them turn the page. Later, each gate will advance the main character towards her goal or complicate the goal.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think the query needs to move away from the idea that the book has a rigid format--Sechra goes to each world in turn and explores the choices each offers. Then, presumably, she makes up her mind at the seventh world--either she stays there or she goes back to Dunlin permanently. That doesn't sound to me like there'd be much point in reading about worlds 1-6 as presumably she decides against them.

Try to find a way to make the bit between the beginning and the end sound more enticing.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't get a feel for the plot at all. It sounds like 'Here are some events that have something to do with seven gates.'

Plus, you're far too in love with your story and retaining too much of it in the query letter. This isn't a synopsis. Just hook the agent.

I think this would be a good situation to try that old drill of summing the plot in 1-3 sentences. We don't even know what the plot is, despite an avalanche of words.

Joanna said...

Author again--
Hmm, maybe it’s the minions who are evil, not the editor...no, never mind, caustic and evil are very different things.

Enduring and Exemplary Editor:-- Thanks for the slimmed-down query version. It certainly flows better. You’re right, the first paragraph doesn’t belong there. However, I am not sure if leaving out the black-and-white scenes with Aunt Em makes the reason for the journeys through the gates too unclear, as Woulbde and Anonymous seem to find it?

Renee Collins--There isn’t a consistent outside antagonist. Sechra does have narrow escapes from outside antagonists in two of the Worlds Beyond. She and Rena make one another miserable at first, but they come to reconciliation by the end of the book. Sechra’s main antagonist is herself; this becomes clearer as she passes and returns, and is finally made quite explicit beyond the seventh gate. No MC love interest, though other love stories are present in Dunlin and the Worlds Beyond. I don’t know if this makes for a saleable story.

Wouldbe-- Sechra’s idea of the goal changes over the course of the book as she matures. First she’s just running away from her family, her village and herself, toward anything more satisfying. By the end she’s clearly looking for a meaningful life-work, and finds it. The main conflict is internal to Sechra. In the book I think it’s clear that each gate knocks down a few of her illusions and gives her new eyes for herself and her place, as well as the strength and skill she needs to survive the next gate.

Buffysquirrel--I hear the concern, but I’m not sure how to reconcile it with EE’s wanting to know how many gates she goes through. And trying to read Gate 7 without its antecedents would be fairly confusing. She needs everything she’s learned in the first 6 worlds to survive the seventh. Would saying that in the query help? I think the first 6 worlds are also interesting in their own right, but I don’t think I can say enough about them in the query to be very enticing.

Anonymous: I think EE summarized the plot pretty well in the GTP section, based on the info in my less-focused original version.

In 3 sentences, I think the plot would be this:
Sechra dreams of a lovelier and more dangerous world where she will be a hero instead of a gawky, absent-minded outlander’s orphan. She is given a chance to visit seven other worlds whose inhabitants have gained great gifts and paid terrible prices, and to stay in one of these world if she will. Her adventures in the Worlds Beyond give her the insight and courage she needs to face her own fears and illusions & the brokenness in her family and to make a meaningful life for herself in her own village.
However, this leaves out a lot of what makes the book interesting.

austexgrl said...

Pulleezze Louiseezzee!! EE, I LOVED your version..the rest of it? NO Not so much!

Steve Stubbs said...

I agree with the Evil, Evil Editor. 50,000 words is too short for such a complicated story, and 1,000 words is too long for a query.

If you say nothing about what lies behind the gates you generate curiosity in the mind of the reader, whereas when you describe them at that length it provokes a yawn in me. More danger needs to lurk therein.

Also the denouement needs some work. I don't care if she has a shadow in her soul or gets along well or not well with some relative. I want the earth to shake. Can you raise the stakes?

The book, may be great, but this query would not move me to read further. It needs a sales letter worthy of it.

Anonymous said...

Joanne, I think you're three-sentence description is better than your three-page one. It sounded much more like something I would invest some time in. A query letter is all about the forest, not the trees. You don't need to include every interesting part of the book in your query letter. You just need to make the agent believe that there is much more where that comes from.

talpianna said...

I think the setup is awkward. What if after going through all the gates she decides the place she wants to stay is behind #3? There should be some sort of way of forecasting what she's going to find--either something (perhaps a riddle) that describes what lies behind each gate, or something like a wish that draws her to one that holds the answer.

And unless the last gate is a forced choice (you have to go through them in a particular sequence or they won't open, for example), it sounds awfully contrived for the last one to be the right one.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Your three sentence summary hooked me better than the longer synopsis. It was a clear, concise presentation of Sechra and her journey.

If you feel your gate worlds are what set your story apart, perhaps try phrasing your descriptions of the settings in terms of the challenges Sechra faces in each one, i.e.:

"The Windriders offer Sechra the freedom of flight in return for a lifelong vow of obedience. The Magister can teach her the secrets of eternal life and mastery over the will of others - but at the cost of her own humanity."

That way you're illustrating your world - but in the context of your protagonist's struggle. It does seem like a very cool story. Good luck!

BuffySquirrel said...

Yeah, the problem I'm having may be with the book, not the query.

Joanna said...

Thanks all.

Steve Stubbs--
No, the earth isn't going to shake. At stake are Sechra's mind, soul, and ability to live a meaningful and productive life in a place that matters to her. Her growth and helping do help her family and village, but not in earthshaking ways. The story is largely about her letting go of the desire to be a dramatic hero and accepting being a human, with the power and pain that entails.

Anonymous--I'll try a query focusing on Sechra and not describing the gates. Thanks for the suggestion.

Belle Talpe Sans Merci--Yes, the gates only open in one sequence. And each world requires some skill or insight she gained in the previous one. I'm not sure about the seventh gate being the 'right' one--it just gives her what she needs to go back to Dunlin and make a good (and somewhat unconventional) life. I'll try and make that clear in the next query.

writtenwyrdd said...

I hate to be the voice of doom, but even the three-sentence query didn't hook me. It's that first sentence, which doesn't really direct me into the following sentences. It's too open-ended.

The real gist isn't that she dreams of the gates, but that she has a choice--or so it seems to me. If you start with the choice I think it will work better.

Anonymous said...

Re:your 2 sentence summary. Is this kind of a grass-is-always-greener, Christmas-caroly plot where when she sees the other worlds she learns to appreciate her own? Or is the emphasis on what she learns in the other worlds? Seven is a lot. Is there a reason for 7?

Joanna said...

Thanks all. I'm trying for a query that answers the recent questions and leaves out some of the extras. It's not polished, but does this give a better sense of the forest rather than the trees?
---

For years Sechra felt trapped in an world without choices. Now she has more worlds and choices than she can bear.

Sechra is an outlander’s orphan in a village where everyone else seems to belong unquestioningly. She grew up comforting herself with dreams of a world of quests, perils and enchantments where she would be beautiful and brave and wise instead of gawky, shy and absent-minded; a world where she would be at home. Next year she will be sixteen, old enough for marriage. She wonders which she fears more: to be unchosen, or to be chosen and caught forever in an unsatisfying life. Then the enchanted valley opens to her. At first she thinks her dreams have come true.

Seven gates lead from the valley into other worlds, worlds whose inhabitants have powers Sechra has only imagined. But each world’s gift comes with a terrible price. Magister can teach her the secrets of eternal life and mastery over the will of others -- at the cost of her own humanity . The Windriders offer her the freedom of flight in return for a lifelong vow of obedience. Sechra can pass through each gate once and decide whether its world’s gift is worth the price. If she refuses the gift and returns to Dunlin, the gate will close behind her forever.

Sechra returns over and over, not having found her home or her gift. What she does find is strength, courage and insight enough to survive the dangers beyond the next gate. And with each return she sees the gifts and sufferings in herself, her family and her community more clearly.

Beyond the seventh gate Sechra finds herself alone, shut in a dark and dangerous place which she can escape only by confronting her own hidden fears and desires. She returns to Dunlin from that confrontation, not as a frightened and conflicted girl but as a strong woman, a healer, seer and story-teller.

The Seven Gates, a YA fantasy novel complete at 50,000 words, is about the power of fantasy to sap or strengthen daily life, and about the losses we all have to accept as we grow into our gifts.

writtenwyrdd said...

The newest version of the query is all about what she can learn and the price of staying. This isn't about the choices she's making, which is the gut-feeling stuff; it's about the options she could choose. These are different things. Omit the grocery-list stuff and give us the emotional strain.

As for the beginning, here's my humble offering:

Sechra grows up an outsider and an orphan, trapped, her future either penury or a loveless marriage (or something relevant). But all that changes when (some event) leads her to the enchanted valley (maybe use a name for this valley) where seven mystical gates lead into other lands, lands where she can gain magical abilities…for a price.

Joanna said...

Thanks, writttenwyrdd. You're right about the refocusing I need to do. I'll give it another stab this weekend.

Joanna said...

One last stab at a refocused query, thanks to Writtenwrydd:

When her life disappointed her Sechra took refuge in dreams. Now her dreams are becoming real, and she can’t hide any longer.

Sechra was four when her mother died and her outlander father went away. Her mother’s sister and Dunlin village took Sechra in and treated her with wary kindness. Sechra was ashamed of her clumsiness and absent-mindedness, and lonely in a village where no one shared her questions and longings. She dreamed of a world of quests and high enchantments where she would be wise, beautiful, brave and fully at home.

Now she is fifteen, almost old enough to marry, and she fears being unchosen slightly less than she fears being trapped forever in an unsatisfying life. She goes to the wild hill-country to escape the eyes of the villagers and try to untangle her wishes and fears. There she meets a keen-eyed old woman who knows her name and her distress and leads her to the valley of the Seven Gates. At first she thinks her dreams have come true.

Each gate leads into another world, a world of beauties, powers and dangers such as Sechra has only dreamed of. There are masters willing to teach her the powers and gifts of each world. But each gift comes with a terrible price. Sechra can pass through each gate once only; if she leaves that world and returns to Dunlin the gate will close behind her forever.

Magister can give her beauty and mastery of her own will and the wills of others, at the cost of her memories and her humanity. Sad as her memories are, Sechra finds herself unwilling to part with them. The Windriders, healers and guides in a harsh and lovely land, invite Sechra to join them. But she is still plagued by fear and forgetfulness, and she is not quite willing to take the Windriders’ vow of lifelong obedience and leave her village forever without ever having lived there wholeheartedly. The Insiders brew a drink that shuts out reality and lets them live inside their own lovely dreams; but at times the dreams become nightmares, and when Sechra wakes she chooses to return to her true life, with all its pains and faults. Each time Sechra returns Dunlin she has grown wiser and stronger. She begins to work heedfully, face her fears and unravel the truth about her family. She needs all the strength she has gained in Dunlin and the worlds beyond when she passes through the seventh gate and has to confront her worst enemy: herself. That confrontation frees her to choose the gift that is truly hers and the price she is willing to pay.

The Seven Gates, a YA fantasy novel complete at 50,000 words, is about the power of fantasy to sap or strengthen daily life, and about the losses we all have to accept as we grow into our gifts.

Evil Editor said...

I liked my version better. Possibly because it was my version.

This is too long. And it's back to wasting time with Aunt Em. If you decide to start it this way, I'd wrap it up after the fifth paragraph. All the detail about the various worlds is better left for a synopsis. It bogs this version of the query down.

Joanna said...

I’m taking another whack at this query, trying to narrow the focus enough so it makes sense. I know this is still rough, but is it more on the right track?

When life hurt Sechra she hid in a dream-world. Now that world (or something like it) is becoming real, and she has nowhere left to hide.
Sechra has always known her place in Dunlin village. She’s the outlander’s orphan, the clumsy absent-minded girl with sad eyes and strange ideas. But in her fantasy world she is a hero, brave, needed, beloved. That comforted her when she was a child. Now she’s fifteen, old enough for a marriage, if anyone will have her, and a craft, if she’s willing to commit herself to any. Neither prospect looks good. She takes to wandering alone in the wild hills and wishing for a door into her dream country.
She finds a door; in fact, she finds seven doors that lead out of her world. But in passing through them she doesn’t become any braver or lovelier than she was in the village. And she needs all the courage and skill she can muster. For the masters of the Lands Beyond offer gifts and powers beyond her dreams, but some of them would gladly take her mind, or her life, or her soul to further their own power. And besides the dangers of the masters there are the dangers of the gifts. To become more than human in some ways Sechra must consent to become less than human in others.
As she passes and returns Sechra grows slowly braver and wiser, but she has lost the comfort of her dreams. Both Dunlin and the Lands Beyond grow dearer and more dangerous as she grows. Before she turns sixteen she must choose the world she is willing to live and work in with her whole heart and for her whole life.
What You Ask For, a YA fantasy novel complete at 50,000 words, follows Sechra’s struggles, learnings and adventures as she chooses the gift that is truly hers and the price she is willing to pay.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hm. I decided to not refresh my memory of what came before and take this new one as is. A bit confusing in places.

I took out what confused me or didn't seem to fit or maybe didn't need to be there and came up with the following version - which needs some fleshing out with juicy details:

At fifteen, Sechra is old enough for marriage, but no Dunlin man wishes to marry the outlander’s orphan, the clumsy absent-minded girl with sad eyes and strange ideas. She takes to wandering alone in the wild hills looking for a door into her dreams where she is a hero – brave, needed, beloved.

Sechra finds seven doors that lead out of her world. The masters of the Lands Beyond offer gifts, but some of the masters would gladly take her mind, her life, or her soul to further their own power. Besides those dangers there are the dangers of the gifts. To become more than human in one respect she must consent to become less than human in another.

Before she turns sixteen, Sechra must choose the gift that is truly hers and the price she is willing to pay.

What You Ask For is a YA fantasy novel complete at 50,000 words.

Portuguese cunt said...

I thought immediately that the title was really strange. I know that the publisher usually decides this, but still.

And the query is still waaaay to long. I've thrown away queries that were shorter simply because I felt that the author couldn't get to the point fast enough. The story sounds interesting, though.

I think you need to edit away more, and describe the main issue going on in the story.

Anonymous said...

Your query leaves me wondering about the structure of your story. Your girl wants adventure and then she gets adventure. This doesn't make for good conflict (as presented). In order for her to be conflicted, each of these worlds would need to offer her something without a price, something fabulous she can't get at home. Then the choice/conflict lies in whether or not she's willing to give up home. In your version, of course she will choose home in the end. What kind of idiot would give up their humanity or memories? Not any kind of protagonist I'd want to spend time with.

And the fact that there are seven doors means we'll be at the same place in your story seven times. I can't see the three act (or any kind of) structure in this. Nor can I see how you'd keep this from getting repetitive.

You may have a great story. And your structure may work fine. But your query had me thinking along structural lines, which isn't good. Sarah Laurenson has a great version. It tantalizes without giving too much troublesome information, which may or may not be an issue.