Thursday, August 26, 2010

Face-Lift 812


Guess the Plot

Black, Brown and Red

1. After losing her beloved poodle in a bus crash, museum curator Nancy Smith goes on vacation and discovers the artist of the century -- 14 year old hillbilly genius Buddy Boone. His parents are too poor to buy paint, so he uses materials he finds in the fields and forest.

2. In a world where mages are ranked by the color of the crystals they wear, Joran seeks revenge against a black-crystal mage for the death of his family. But first he must work his way up the ladder through red and brown, or he'll never have a chance.

3. Top-tier fashion designer Lola Heaven gets walloped by a window-washer's dropped squeegee, and now she's color-blind. Will her spring line-up get panned, or will black, brown, and red become the new pastels? Also, a finicky schnauzer.

4. After many misadventures on their dirt-bikes Pat and Ryan decide to start a blog to catalog their accidents and injuries. To their surprise, their site -- called Black, Brown, and Red for their wound colors -- develops a following. To impress their fans, they try bigger and bigger stunts. But to Ryan at least, Pat's latest ideas sound a bit crazy.

5. Ku Klux Klansman Willy Shea and the missus can't have kids, but there are no white babies available for adoption. Reluctantly, they start a diverse little family, which leads to heart-warming lessons in life and love.

6. Geronimo Williams suffers from synesthesia; he can literally see scents as a pattern of colors overlaid on his otherwise normal vision. He uses this talent to find missing persons. Now, he's taken his toughest case yet, to find a billionaire's rebellious daughter who smells like . . . black, brown, and red.



Original Version

Greetings Almighty Evil One,

Joran's family is murdered and the mage responsible leads an alliance of great nations in war against his homeland. [Joran is the name of that insane criminal who's been in the news lately. Change it to Jor-el as an homage to Superman.]

At seventeen, Joran was happy living the simple life. Soon to be given his father's cattle farm, he longs for the day when he can call this land his own. Nechalyn, a mage whose black crystal shows him to be of the highest rank, destroys this life in a single night when he leads a party of raiders who murder every villager they find. Joran escapes death by hiding in a secret hole in the basement, but finds only one other man alive: A brown ranked mage named Nectat [Sounds too much like a beverage; change it to Necktie.] who has been following the raiders. Joran's wish to avenge his parents' deaths causes him to go with Nectat to be trained in the art of magic.

They return together to the mages' city of Lhenn to find action being stalled by political deadlock. Unbeknownst to all others the head of the council, Chayton, is under the direct control of Nechalyn, who seeks to destroy Lhenn. Once Nechalyn's forces are ready, Chayton empties Lhenn of its most powerful mages under the subterfuge of mobilizing for war. He sends Joran into a trap accompanied by Nectat and his son Farafel. [Farafel? Change his name to Falafel. And change your other characters' names to Tahini, Tabouleh, and Hummus. These sound much more like people's names than the ones you've chosen.] Nectat is killed and Farafel is captured, but Joran escapes to Lhenn with the knowledge that Chayton is the betrayer. [Jor-el wants his revenge. He's a kid. He doesn't care about all this political crap, so neither do we. Focus on what he wants, how he can get it, and what's stopping him.]

He is too late. In their absence Nechalyn has razed Lhenn and killed all he could find. Enraged, Joran risks eternal undeath by destroying his body in a ritual that marks the transition of a mage to the black. [A ritual is all it takes to attain black crystalness? Don't you have to work your way through the color spectrum for years while your instructor cleans out your bank account?] He is successful, forming a new body through strength of will. With his power greatly increased, he returns to fight for Farafel's release and Nechalyn's defeat. Will his newly found abilities prove potent enough to inflict vengeance upon the aged sorcerer?

Black, Brown and Red is a 90,000 word YA Fantasy novel. It is my first novel, with my publishing history consisting of mostly non-fiction articles in IT magazines. I'd be happy to send a manuscript at your request.


P.S. All the character names have been changed for posting on your blog. [What?! The minions like nothing better than telling authors what bad names they've chosen for their characters, and they were ready to tear into yours like weredingos into falafel. Plus, I spent hours thinking up better names for your characters.]


Notes

Too many names to keep track of. Sentences like "Nectat is killed and Farafel is captured, but Joran escapes to Lhenn with the knowledge that Chayton is the betrayer." don't bother you because you know who all these people are. I, on the other hand, am forced to either go back and look up who everyone is, or just toss the query into the Decomposer, which is what I call my new composting machine. And I think you know which choice I'll make. Falafel can go. Dump Chayton or just refer to him as the Council if he's that important. Necktie doesn't do much except die; you can probably work around his absence.

We don't need so much plot detail. Supermage kills Jor-el's family. He seeks revenge by training to become Superdupermage. Usually the big question is whether his new abilities will go to his head and he'll become power-hungry, rather than whether he'll get strong enough to defeat Supermage. Of course he will.

It seems to me that a mage who's attained the highest rank would have better things to do than lead a raid on a cattle farm. If you want an alliance of great nations to follow you, you need better stuff on your resume than killing a bunch of villagers. Also, I can see a green- or purple-crystal mage being unable to sense that there's a guy hiding in a hole in the basement, but a black-crystal mage? Humiliating.

23 comments:

_*rachel*_ said...

You're trying too hard on this. I appreciate your effort to use an older, more classic-sounding style, but it's hard to do perfectly and shouldn't always be done even then.

Rewrite this as simply as possible--mention 3-4 characters, and write simply and naturally.

Anonymous said...

Author here. Thank for all your comments! I'll try to get rid of some of the characters in the query for my next version.

To answer a few questions you put up:
1) Yes, a ritual is all it takes to attain rank black. Once you are rank brown, that is, with sufficient power to complete the ritual. Failure results in a destroyed body from which there is no return.

2) Yes, that's exactly right. It is unlikely that an all powerful mage would miss someone hiding in a basement. That's why the main character is the only survivor. It was his latent power and wish to hide that put a field of cloaking around him. But of course, that's too much info for the query.

3) He attacks the cattle farm and surrounding villages because they are close to the council and he wants to provoke them (his plans are ready to destroy them now).

I wonder if it would be worth my time to try to address these in the query or if I should just leave them for the book?

Thanks again for all your suggestions Evil Editor.

P.S. Rachel -- I have to laugh at your comment, because I did not try to use a "classic-sounding style". In fact, I wrote naturally. I like the way it sounds in that respect, so I think I'll keep the style. But thank you anyway.

Whirlochre said...

In spite of EE's excellent name substitutions, I stumbled on their placement in the query. It's a bombardment, and as someone who struggled with Tolkien for this very reason, I have to say, you've lost me.

I should point out that while I was struggling with Tolkien, he bit me on the ear.

Even the greats play dirty, it seems.

I'm intrigued by the title for this novel. Are these colours representative of the various factions described? Colours are mentioned in the query but I don't get the link.

My Battling Mage Sense tells me this is all about battling mages — and what could be more exciting than that?

So get to the business of the mages who are battling, and lose incidentals like the hiding in the secret hole in the basement, the cattle farm ('farm' will do), and everything that happens to Joran after he becomes enraged.

OK, so he risks "eternal undeath by destroying his body in a ritual that marks the transition of a mage to the black" — and I know YOU know what this means, but I don't.

Evil Editor said...

You don't need to address point 1, though it wouldn't hurt to say Joren has had time to attain brown or has so much latent power his training has advanced quickly. Or just introduce him as someone with great latent power, and we'll guess he's able to harness magic faster than most.

You don't have to address point 2, but you also don't have to tell us he survived by hiding in the basement. If you just say the rest of his family was murdered and he wants revenge, we'll assume he was out on a date or something when the attack occurred.

As for point 3, I don't see why a mage has to go along for the ride to kill some villagers. Wouldn't he just send his marauders? Whether he goes or not, you can claim the family was killed by raiders and introduce the mage later as the head villain.

Or you can address nothing and assume, probably correctly, that no one else will be bothered by these plot points which all must have logical explanations in the book.

arhooley said...

FIRST OFF -- Something authors should understand is that when EE and his minions pose questions about the plot, it's not because we're intrigued; it's because we're confused. Don't answer the questions. Instead, rewrite the query so that you don't have gaping logic holes.

Onward. Back in my dark days, I worked in IT. I'm sorry to say, I've read Business Requirement Docs that were more engaging than this.

You're producing a work of art, not a report. This blow-by-blow synopsis is little more than an accounting of names and events. The transformation needed here is so basic that I can't point to one phrase or another that needs a fix, but one way you might reconceive this query is to keep in mind that you're pitching a story, not recounting it.

Get me behind this manure-smeared farmboy whose dreams reach no further than the fields his family has worked for generations. Make me shudder at this In Cold Blood-style massacre. Make me believe this is different from Star Wars, even though Joran Skywalker's placid world is turned up-side down by Peter Cushing, propelling him into Jedi training and then an agonizing transformation into Darth Vader.

And could you change your title, or the colors, or get it down to two colors, like The Red and the Black (but don't use that one; it's taken)? Maybe it's just me because I'm taking care of an invalid these days, but when I see "black, brown and red" I think of stool colors.

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't get why any of this is happening. What's in it for the antagonists?

Anonymous said...

Author again.
The title, as I put in the original e-mail but which wasn't posted in the blog, has been changed. It is nothing like the original title. This one was chosen to give more options for guess the plots than the other title would have.

arhooley:
I have to disagree. I've been reading these blogs for quite some time, and most of the time when EE posts a question it's something I'm also intrigued about. Ergo, the questions needed answering for people like me reading. If you don't care, that's completely fine. But some people do.

In either case, you'll note that I posted them not simply for information's sake, but to ask if I should include said info in my next version of the query. I'd have to say, that seems to be exactly what this blog is for.

Beyond that, I'm sorry you don't find my query appealing. I'll take that into consideration, along with the other opinions posted.

Evil Editor said...

The title, as I put in the original e-mail but which wasn't posted in the blog, has been changed. It is nothing like the original title. This one was chosen to give more options for guess the plots than the other title would have.

To clarify, the author mentioned to me that there was a different title, but didn't tell me what it was, and it was the author's opinion that b b & r would be better for GTP, not mine. In short, I am, as always, blameless.

Anonymous said...

As Evil Editor noted, I did not give him the original title. I have done this purposefully.

However good or bad the current title may be for guess the plot, I assure you that it is better than the other title would have been. But, if you choose not to believe me, I will accept that also.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I didn't mean to ignore you BuffySquirrel. I must have missed your post.

I didn't include the antagonist's reason for making war because I thought it was obvious (I'm not trying to be obnoxious here; I speak literally to explain myself). His reason for making war is the same as almost every war in history: Power. From power over a foreign resource to power over one's own people, war has historically transferred the control of power between individuals. This is even true today, though I won't mention the obvious example as it would be bound to provoke someone.

However, if other people were also confused about why the antagonist is going to war please let me know and I'll adjust the query to include this information. Thanks for your input.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Author,
What I think others have tried to say is that your story well may be wonderful, but the query is not interesting in the least. This isn't an attack--when several of us are of the same opinion, you can pretty much take it to the bank that you're in need of a change.

This query doesn't engage us, and yes, it reads much like a 3rd grade book report. We don't have any attachment to your characters. They need life. They need motivation. They need desires.

Best of luck to you!

Chicory said...

Anonymous, I am also confused about the reason for going to war. I know power is the obvious reason, but you mentioned several political factions, which makes me think there's something a little deeper going on here. That's a good thing. It suggests the story has some depth and complexity. Just try to let that aspect come across a little.

I notice you say your protagonist WAS a seventeen year old ect. Does this mean the attack and all are just back story? I assumed it was your opening scenes. I've heard queries are written in present tense, so that's an issue you may want to address.

Best of luck! I love fantasy and am always hopeful for more in my favorite genre to read. :)

Anonymous said...

My first question is why the heck would you go out of your way to obfuscate the title and character names? You're just limiting the amount of feedback you can get. Also, makes you look paranoid, or at the very least, putting in things that distract from the whole point: getting to a better query.

(For example, I had a terrible time not reading the names as Falafel and Nectar, even before I read the comments from EE. That makes it hard to even critique it).

--Jennifer

Also, once I see black crystals being the most powerful and crystal rankings, I think of Anne Bishop's Dark Jewels books. Where crystal color shows how powerful you are. And black is the toughest.

I point that out because for your query, you may want to lose the color thing altogether (it is one more thing that the reader needs to learn, anyway) or make very clear how different it is from Bishop's stories.

The novel, of course, can speak for itself. The query however might cause the wrong sort of reaction if the reader is aware of the other books.

Hope that helps!

M. G. E. said...

Damn, I was so ready to make fun of those names :P "Falafel" was hilarious!

-Let's see, it took J.K. Rowling seven books to show just the primary education of a wizard from absolute newb to magical high-school graduate newb, and he still couldn't beat the ultimate bad guy in a straight-up fight by himself! Not even close.

That's your first challenge.

The second is that him hiding and not being found is a major plot-hole. Even your explanation of it sounds ridiculous, "latent talent" is code for deus ex machina. All talent must still be harnessed via major hard work and experience.

I've always had writing talent, but I've only recently begun sharpening my skills actively. It's still gonna be years before I master writing, if I ever do.

So, providing that entire growth arc in a single book... not saying it can't be done, but it will be a shallow presentation.

--On another note, what people are saying about the name-soup is spot on. I don't think anyone could've created a more stereotypical example of it than what you've produced here. It borders on unintentionally funny.

The whole thing reads like a synopsis as well. I'm left with no desire to actually read pages by the end. Nothing enticing. Think about what emotion you want an agent left with when the read-through is done and how you can create that feeling.

---Crystals: little pet peeve of mine, but the association of crystals with magic is by now a cliche association. Like, big time.

BuffySquirrel said...

Umm, no, it wasn't obvious why the antagonists were starting a war, at least not to me. Nor who is at war with whom. Nechalyn is conspiring with other great nations against his own country? or against Joran's country? Are they from the same country? This is the sort of confusion the query should avoid, not create.

Also, I can't help feeling that it's not sufficient to reduce the causes of wars to a simplistic equation then use that as your character motivation :).

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm not taking care of an invalid, and I thought of stool colors when I read that title.

I have to second arhooley's observation that we don't want the questions we pose answered. They are intended to point out where you confused the bejeezus out of us.

It may feel difficult to just say part of what the plot is, but you are not writing a synopsis. You need to give the gist of only the main plot with a hint of the other conflicts that affect that main plot (if you mention them at all.)

Start with a sentence that states the main plot alone and work from there.

Anonymous said...

Wow, when I read a post like writtenwyrd's after I've just explained that the title is fake, chosen just for this posting, and that just because YOU don't want answers doesn't mean that NO-ONE wants answers (talk about egotistical)... it's shocking. I have to wonder, was I perhaps not clear when I said "The title, ..., has been changed. It is nothing like the original title."

Or maybe it's just a reflection of wyrd's urge to criticize someone else for whatever he can, probably to take his mind off his own work. Hey pal, there are several things to criticize about my query that are actually justified. Stick to them and I'll listen to you. Keep repeating the same crap that's already been addressed, I'll keep lowering my opinion of you.

P.S. Squirrel: I wrote that "Joran is murdered and the mage responsible leads an alliance of great nations in warfare against his homeland." And you are honestly asking me if he was conspiring against his own countrymen? My query is certainly unclear about the motivation for war, but it is not at all unclear about the fact that the antagonist is not from the same country.

I want to thank EvilEditor again for his constructive and useful comments. Whirochre, too, gave me advice on how to fix the query. Arhooley was a tad insulting, but also managed to throw advice in there. To those who posted criticism without useful advice, thanks but if I wanted that I'd ask my family.

Evil Editor said...

Writtenwyrdd is a she, not a he. And not even a meany.

Some minions ask questions because they're curious, but as your book is not available for them to read no matter what the answers, I suspect the majority are asking to point out areas that may bug the agent or editor who reads the query. An author may choose to answer those questions to satisfy the curiosity of the former.

Agents and editors aren't likely to email you with questions about your plot. Thus it's a good idea to 1. decide which legitimate questions you need to address in the query, and address them, and 2. to get rid of whatever inspired those legitimate questions you don't want to address in the query.

Sorry, but with regard to whose homeland the mage is attacking, there's nothing unusual about a power-hungry character recruiting other nations to assist him in taking power in his own nation. It's even happened in actual history. Add to that the technical fact that a pronoun usually refers back to the most recently used noun or pronoun of the same gender, which in this case is "mage", and it's not clear that "his" refers to Joran. In fact, it's not clear that Joran and the mage don't have the same homeland. The sentence has two independent clauses which can be boiled down to: 1.Family is murdered
2. Mage leads alliance against his homeland.

I think most readers will assume you mean Joran's homeland, but as Joran isn't even the subject of the first clause you can make it perfectly clear: Joran's family is murdered, and his homeland is brought under siege by an alliance of nations led by the mage Nechalyn.

A thousand people visit this blog each day, and a mere ten or twenty take the time to comment, so use the comments that make sense to you and ignore the others without getting mad at people.

arhooley said...

I had that very problem with the pronoun. Couldn't tell who "his" referred to.

vkw said...

It's a curious fact that most paranoid people are narcisstic. Why? because you have to believe you are important enough for anyone to want to hurt or have something that someone else may want.

It's also a curious fact taht most narcisstic individuals don't have anything anyone would want or are important to harm.

It is not a curious fact that most narcistic individuals can not take constructive criticism or advice.

It is not a curious fact why I didn't comment on this query.

M. G. E. said...

I just want to say that someone so thin skinned is going to have a tougher time making it to professional author and getting a book published.

Being hard to work with, being unable to handle criticism without taking it personally, and devaluing the opinions of others, is nearly as bad as being a bad writer.

You need to be both a good writer -and- a professional when dealing with those whom you need to work with to get a book out (as in agent, editor, etc.).

It raises the bar for you. If you're hard to work with personally you'd better be damn sure you're also a phenomenal writer to make up for it :P

AA said...

Things I'm confused about:

The local general (Black Mage) would not be out joyriding with these raiding parties if a war was imminent. He wouldn't have the time. He'd be planning, strategizing, and conferring with whatever constitutes his war council. Unless someone else makes all the plans and he only does the magic, but in that case I don't see how he can "lead" a war.

Also, the head of the council sent all of the best, highest ranking officers OUT of the capital city on the eve of a war? It would be immediately obvious to everyone involved that he has malicious intent. This ploy wouldn't fool the janitor.

Capital cities are not left poorly defended right before the war. If anything, the defense is built up much more strongly. This would be way more than suspicious.

Nothing here explains why Nectat was following the raiders. Seems pretty dumb to shadow a Black mage when you're only a Brown.

Also, a whole alliance of great nations are needed to war against this apparently rural, pastoral homeland? It doesn't seem like a war would be necessary. A simple occupation would suffice. Who are you fighting, cows? Maybe the fact that the homeland has industry, cities, a military, emerald mines, whatever, should be in there somewhere. Otherwise, the vast expenditure of materials and manpower needed to conduct a war would not be justified.

A war is the most expensive, exhausting, and complicated venture that exists. The logistics are mind-boggling, and the leaders must take EVERYTHING into account: supply lines, production of weapons, communication in the field, adequate and equally distributed provisions, fresh water, even the appropriate clothing for the season. The war I'm seeing in this query, however, seems to be conducted more like a snowball fight.

I'm sure this isn't true in the book, but this is what I'm getting from this query.

Hope this helps. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen any meanness here. Ever. I see people with great talent, insight and experience trying to help other people. People like you and me who are not exceptional at writing and querying. A 15 year old girl got comments on her query (which is why she sent it here) and she took them like a pro. No one knew she was 15 until she wrote in to thank the folks who commented. She's a brilliant girl with professionalism who gets the process.
If comments get under your skin you have the choice not to hang yourself on the bulls eye.
This is the best education a writer can ever get in the shortest time possible by pros. For free. I was grateful for the sensitivity I was treated with on my first query which was a synopsis and not a good one.
Good luck on your query. I look forward to the revision.
Best,
Bibi
Evil, if this is over the top please don't pub. Delete is ok. I do feel better though.