Monday, February 16, 2009

Face-Lift 604


Guess the Plot

Fate's Guardian

1. Sometimes bad things just happen. That seems to be the case for Fate Donnelly ALL THE TIME. So, when the new kid at school claims he's a guardian angel come to keep her safe, Fate just laughs. But, now he seems to be everywhere she is; and wherever he is, things are surprisingly . . . normal.

2. Though Gil Jacobs is fated to die in a car crash, a ghost wants to keep him alive in order to take his soul. Can the soul of one of his friends save Gil 's soul by making sure his body is mangled and crushed in a horrible wreck?

3. Khathakas thought watching over Apollo's children was a lousy job. Now he's been promoted: he has to keep Fate herself from harm. Also, a talking owl.

4. In an effort to dam the flood of doorstopper fantasy novels featuring prophecies and chosen ones, agent Kris Nelson valiantly takes on the mantle of Fate's Guardian, forbidding the use of destiny-based plot devices.

5. The Earl of Wheaton was well known as a wastrel. But when his long-lost schoolmate, dying of fever in Canada, writes to beg that he care for "my little girl," he reluctantly agrees--only to find himself saddled with a green-eyed, bewitching minx named Fate, who seems determined to upset society as thoroughly as the Earl once did.

6. Courtney Wilde is an ordinary prep-school girl--until she inherits the Mantle of Fate. At first it seems like fun: she can set up her favorite teacher with the guy of her dreams, and stuff like that. But when Courtney screws up, things get bad fast. Luckily, the position comes with a Guardian. And he's a hunk!


Original Version

Dr. Evil Editor,

Gil Jacobs must die in order to save his soul. After living dozens of lives over hundreds of years, the events of Gil's past are catching up with him, and he is powerless to prevent it. [How many dozens of lives? My calculations show that a mere three dozen lives with an average age of 57 at death would have him alive about fifty years before the birth of Christ. In which case you can say thousands of years.]

Gil is supposed to die in a car crash, it's his fate, but a ghost who knew Gil in a past life is trying to keep him alive as payback for a lost love. [He's already removed the spark plugs from Gil's car.] If Gil lives past today, he will not be able to cross over when death eventually claims him, and his soul will be ripe for the taking. [What does that mean? Does the ghost have a soul of its own?] If Gil dies, he will escape to his next life and the ghost's chance at vengeance will be lost. [Why? Can't the ghost seek vengeance on Gil's next incarnation?] [If the ghost can prevent a car wreck, seems like he could also cause one, and would have caused Gil to die last week or last year.]

Fortunately, Gil is not alone in his struggle. The soul of a friend watches over him, and she alone has the capacity to keep the antagonist at bay long enough for Gil to die. [For she is a former mechanic and has a brand new set of spark plugs.] Even if it means sacrificing her own soul.

FATE'S GUARDIAN is complete at 120,000 words. It is a supernatural thriller directed toward a commercial fiction audience, and first in a series titled Destiny's Will.

I have been writing professionally for business for the past eight years, including copywriting, press releases, and proposals. I welcome the opportunity to add "published novelist" to my repertoire. Writing is in my blood and I want my stories to be read. [I hope you won't think I'm a hardass when I say that lines like that never influence me. Well, not in a positive way, anyway.]

I chose to query you after reading your blog and realizing that your style of review should find ample room for comedic commentary in the query above and the synopsis that follows. That, and I have thick skin and I think I can take it. I am also hopeful that I may learn something from this endeavor.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regards,


Notes

Apparently Gil's soul survived his dozens of previous deaths. So the theory is that even when you die and your soul comes through it fine, you keep coming back and your soul is once again at risk? Seems like after you've lived enough lives there'll be so many vengeance-seeking ghosts who think you wronged them in some past life that your soul won't stand a chance.

How come when Gil dies he comes back in a new life, but his friend who watches over him remains in soul form? Is it better to come back or to just be a soul?

I assume Gil is unaware that he must die to save his soul. Thus the book's conflict seems to be between the two entities who care what happens to Gil. Are they corporeal? Can they communicate with Gil? Shouldn't they be the key characters in the query, with their names and details about their relationships with Gil included?

I guess I'm more bothered by the book's world than by the plot itself. In this world, if you die when fated to die, your soul is saved and you move to a new life where you must again die when fated or lose your soul. Apparently it's not a given that you will die when fated; if it were, Gil's soul friend would see no need to intervene. Does that mean if I'm fated to die in a car wreck when I'm twenty but a snowmobile accident kills me at nineteen I lose my soul?

Possibly the average person doesn't wonder all these things, but just in case, it's probably best to say as little as possible about stuff you don't have room to explain. Basically, tell us that the spirits of two people who knew Gil in past lives are battling, one to save his soul and the other to steal it. Then you might tell us how Gil stole Pierre the Ghost's woman in the French Revolution and how Miranda the Soul grew up with him in medieval Scotland.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

You seem to think we know what your rules for all this metaphysical action are, but we don't. For instance, what's the big deal about death, if you've got a seemingly endless reincarnation thing going and it seems like even if reincarnation doesn't work out people can just carry on as ghosts? And what does he need to "cross over?" What's your theological tradition here, or are you making up a new one?

150 said...

Agreed with the others. I don't get how this is supposed to work. Did the other two ghosts also miss their death dates, or is this a Gil-specific clause? Why can't Gil just off himself?

If Gil lives past today, he will not be able to cross over when death eventually claims him, and his soul will be ripe for the taking.

I can't think of a cosmology that would allow for that. If there is one, making note of it ("FATE'S GUARDIAN, based in Rabbitanian spiritual tradition, is complete at 120,000 words") would go a long way toward settling my doubts about the story's internal logic. Otherwise you're just going to have to make the rules clearer.

Query structure seems pretty good, if you remove everything after "proposals."

Hebe said...

EE is so right. Too much soul(s), not enough characters. There are lots of systems out there that you can use for structure in plotting a "finally makes it to heaven story". If you keep it simple it can be easy and fun. Think, "It's a wonderful Life". If you want to get complicated, you have to really know what you are talking about.

I think most people have experienced deja vu or seen something a little other worldly and want to believe and read about these kinds of experiences. It's hard to care about this Gil guy because there are no specifics. We don't want "dozens of lives"....We want two or three that will blow our socks off.

As a personal favor I'd really appreciate it they are not famous -- Napoleon, Cleopatra, How about the first janitor at the Eiffel Tower in 1889, or Cleopatra's hand maiden, the one that had to scamper through the shrubbery looking for an asp to put in a basket?

Anyhoo, its hard to feel suspense or interest when Things are confusing. Clear things up for us and we will dive right in.

Rick Daley said...

I like Fake Plot #4 best, thanks to all minions who helped out, and thanks for your comments.

Here is some more info on the spiritual world of the book...

Before you are born, you choose your life. You decide who you will be born to, what your physical characteristics will be, who you will fall in love with...up to when and how you will die.

Once you are born, those choices are locked away in your subconscious; they become your fate, but one chosen of your own free will.

Under normal circumstances, fate cannot be altered. If your fate is to die in a car wreck at twenty, you are going to survive that snowmobile accident at nineteen.

After you die, you cross over and then do it all over again.

Ghosts are souls that do not cross over after they die. They are rare, so there is no bevy of vengeance-seeking ghosts.

The antagonist refused to cross over when he died hundreds of years ago, he was waiting for his love to die so he could cross over with her, but when the time came, he couldn't go through the light. He was trapped.

He spends his time searching for people who are about to die. When he finds one, he grabs onto the soul as it leaves the body, hoping it will carry him across to the other side. Most of the time they slip away. Sometimes he holds on so tight he absorbs their energy, consuming them and growing stronger. In the case of Gil's friend, she gets away from him, but too late to cross over. She is trapped as a ghost, too.

Gil is unaware of his fate and of the danger surrounding him. But if Gil escapes and lives his next life, the antagonist has to find him again, so vengeance on his next incarnation is not a given.

Preventing and causing car wrecks and other accidents is not easily, the ghosts have little control over the physical world, but they can influence the thoughts and actions of some people.

I've had versions of the query letter that explain this to varying degrees, and they always turn out too long, just as this post is!

Rick Daley said...

I have made minor revisions to the query since I first submitted it:

Gil Jacobs must die in order to save his soul. After living through dozens of lives spanning hundreds of years, the events of Gil's distant past are catching up with him, and he is powerless to prevent it.

It is Gil's destiny to die in a car crash, but a malicious ghost who blames Gil for the tragedies that ended its life hundreds of years ago seeks retribution by attempting to prevent the fatal accident. If Gil lives, he will not be able to cross over when death eventually claims him, and his soul will be ripe for the taking. If Gil dies, he will escape to his next life and the ghost's chance at vengeance will be lost.

Gil is unaware of the danger he is in or the fate that awaits him. Fortunately, Gil is not alone in his fight. The soul of a friend he lost as a child watches over him, and she alone has the capacity to keep the ghost at bay long enough for Gil to die, even if it means sacrificing her own soul. For Gil Jacobs, she is fate's guardian…

FATE'S GUARDIAN is complete at 120,000 words. It is a supernatural thriller directed toward a commercial fiction audience, and first in a planned series titled DESTINY'S WILL.

Phoenix said...

Hi Rick:

Just my opinion, but I think you are focusing in your query and your synopsis entirely too much on the mechanics of the ghost/soul/reincarnation aspect and not enough on the "thriller" aspect. We get setup and ending, but not a lot of the inbetween -- and at a whopping 120K words, there's got to be a lot inbetween.

People are asking about the hierarchy of your supernatural world because it's confusing in your query. But their asking doesn't mean it needs to be IN the query. To me, it's distracting. You can build a hook around soul-sucking ghosts without going into the details of your world. Then you can use that free space to provide a few details around plot and motivation.

Julie's character and motivation could maybe be developed more, for instance. Is she still a kid herself, even as a ghost? If she's luring the Troubadour to other prey, that means they're dying and losing their souls instead of Gil, right? Does she see herself as abetting their deaths, and understand that maybe she's in the wrong here? And does Gil recognize what she's doing for him? Does he approve?

Give us THAT layer (which I'm hoping your story has) in the proposal package and some thrilling details and you'll make us care and make us want to read more.

chelsea said...

Ah, Rabbitania, I have missed thee.

I feel like the antagonist's goal starts out as: grab onto a soul to move into the next life, and changes to: grab onto Gil's soul for vengeance.

But how will this vengeance solve his problem? According to your explanation, the antagonist chose not to cross over because of a lover, which has nothing to do with Gil (wait - was Gil the lover?) So how is doing anything to Gil going to help the antagonist?

Anonymous said...

Nah, we don't need no explanation. We just need things to logically hang together the first time we read through. Especially in a query, if you're needing to break off and interrupt your query narrative to explain stuff, we guess the 120,000 will be more of the same.

Dave F. said...

You're getting all the questions because your query draws focus to those the things that confuse.

Start here:
In the normal order of life and death, a spirit picks its life from birth to death and once incarnated is committed to living that life. But a few souls escape the cycle and Gil Jacobs may find that his death will be his final cycle in the scheme of things.

That uses the formula for a query -
Who is the main character? What is his problem and who is the villain? How does the main character react to it? Does the main character win or lose?

Now as to what's next:
But a ghost, a spirit stranded on earth unable to reincarnate, has gone postal and taken a hatred to Gil. This spirit intends to prevent Gil's reincarnation, consume his energy, and destroy Gil forever.

And now you can introduce Julie as a ghost out to help Gil in a third sentence.
But Gil has an "angel" protecting him. Julie, a lost spirit GIl inadvertently saved from absolute oblivion (death), fights the evil spirit attempting to destroy Gil.

Finally a (fourth) closing sentence about Gil's and Julie's victory over the villain. I can't put that into words.

Now it might be two sentences each part but only for the sake of clarity. As Shakespeare says Brevity is the soul of wit. I've already written 111 words in those example sentences. Not many words left to fill a page. You need to say this is a paranormal thriller where ghosts battle ghosts for the souls of the living. That's another ten words.

batgirl said...

Is Gil really the protagonist? Julie seems much more active. Even if the narrative centres on Gil, it might make for a more dynamic query if you follow Julie's part of the story.
-Barbara

Adam Heine said...

I agree with what a lot of folks said about the rules not needing to be in the query. Put the story in the query, and avoid as much of the rules as possible (because they're confusing and would require, say, a novel to explain them all).

For what rules you mention, try to keep it to things people would assume or understand naturally (like reincarnation or vengeance-seeking ghosts). For example, when you say "his soul will be ripe for the taking," I'm imagining some kind of God/Devil conflict, where they each want his soul and the Devil will get it if he dies wrong, or something. It confuses the issue.

You keep mentioning that Gil doesn't know about his fate or the danger he's in. If that's the case, the story isn't really about him. He has no power, no control. He's just a puppet.

If the story is about him, then you need to focus the query on that. What is Gil's goal, what gets in the way of that, what will happen if he doesn't accomplish his goal? If you can't answer those questions, then maybe the story is about someone else. Focus the query (and maybe the novel) on that person instead.

Rick Daley said...

Thanks to everyone for the feedback, it's all very thought provoking for me, and it will help strengthen the query when I revise it.

Phoenix, the story does indeed address the questions you raised. I hope you will have a chance to read it someday. 'Till then, I'm going to keep making it better.

sylvia said...

This was particularly interesting to me because I could see someone else doing something similar to what I normally do - in terms of not being able to see what information draws the reader in from the outside (I always want to shout "just READ THE BOOK and you'll understand, there is no short version!").

This caught me:


The antagonist refused to cross over when he died hundreds of years ago, he was waiting for his love to die so he could cross over with her, but when the time came, he couldn't go through the light. He was trapped.

He spends his time searching for people who are about to die. When he finds one, he grabs onto the soul as it leaves the body, hoping it will carry him across to the other side.


If you put the names in here and changes "finds one" to a specific instance, I have explanation of the story world AND characterisation AND plot, all in about 50 words. And now I'm intrigued to find out more about the world rather than distracted with "but how does that work" questions.

writtenwyrdd said...

Rick, even the second version confuses. The premise you state in the opening asks more questions than it answers, and that's the biggest flaw in the query to me. In fixing this, I suggest you recognize the fact that your spiritual milieu is not going to be clear in the query so you need to end run this problem by writing the query so the depth of the spiritual setting is not needed. (Wow, that's a complicated way of saying it! But I can't think of a better way at the moment.)

Second, it occurs to me that the girl ghost who saves Gil is possibly the main character, even if Gil's pov is used. (I'm not positive who's pov is predominant in the story.) She is the one who knows what Gil doesn't, that in unrecalled past lives he's gained an enemy who is after him now. She therefore appears likely to be the protagonist.

I think if you tell us something to clarify the situation at the beginning you can make this story sound interesting and read worthy instead of complex and confusing.

As a suggestion, you might say something like, "Gil doesn't believe in reincarnation until a ghost with an agenda tries to kill him for something a past incarnation did," or similar. We don't necessarily need to know Gil dies to be saved or all the metaphysical details. We just need to want to read the story.

Good luck with this one!

And for the record, I'd totally read #5 GTP.