Friday, May 06, 2011

Face-Lift 903


Guess the Plot

Temper

1. Victoria is a typical village girl, cheerful and hardworking. But when her temper flares, so does everything around her. After setting two would-be attackers ablaze, Victoria flees into the forest, pursued by a mob of witch hunters. Saved by a handsome wizard named Zeke, Victoria finds that love, more than magic, helps tame her unruly powers.

2. The Kingdom is in danger. Only Beatrice, wielder of the sword Feldspar, can vanquish the evil. Problem is Beatrice is a hot-headed teenager and Feldspar is too flimsy to even cut bread! Can Beatrice calm down while at the same time using metallurgy to add carbon alloys to her blade?

3. A series of murders in small business offices terrorizes greater Biloxi. The FBI comes in to help local police profile the killer. But nobody looks twice at the quiet, efficient young lady from the temp agency, who types 108 words a minute and throws a mean stiletto.

4. Abelle, Apprentice Swordsmith to Royal Master Klegion, needs to find the blood needed to turn the Master's latest chunk of steel into a magic weapon. But the apothecary is all out of dragon blood, there are no elves for sale at the slave auction, and he isn't going to sacrifice himself. Maybe it's time the Apprentice became the Master.

5. Tammy Perkins's nickname was bestowed on her at the age of one, when she threw her first tantrum over some baby bling. Fifteen years later, she seems to have met the one person who won't cave to her histrionics. But will the cute new boy reveal a set of fangs?

6. Unity has remained a recluse because her temper is so bad she's liable to kill anyone who annoys her. Which is bad news for the daughter she has, about nine months after loneliness brings her out of isolation. Terrified of harming her daughter, she abandons her and takes a less-stressful job trying to prevent war between two rival kingdoms.



Original Version

Unity has a deadly temper. Literally. Her anger will irreversibly stop the heart of the person she is angry with. [Which explains why she's never fouled out of a basketball game.]

Heart Stoppers are identified at their magical Unlocking ceremony and summarily executed; [Coincidentally, it's been years since any Heart Stoppers actually showed up for their Unlocking ceremony.] Unity only survived because her father was the Mage officiating at the ceremony, and hid her curse.

Unity grows up a recluse, learning skills to control her temper, but fails to remove the curse.

[Top 5 Most Dangerous Jobs in the World

5. Coal Miner
4. Cop
3. Fireman
2. Fisherman
1. Anger management instructor for teen-aged Heart Stoppers]


Loneliness eventually forces her out of isolation following her father’s death, and she lives in a small village, married to [a] humble [mute] man. Her prodigious magical ability brings her to the attention of the Crown, [What is she using her magical ability to do?] and she is offered her father’s old job.

Unity faces the greatest challenge to her calm: a strong-willed infant. Terrified of harming her daughter, she flees and accepts the job, where she impresses with her innovative spells to defend the kingdom.

Unity’s temper kills a visiting foreign prince, but she manages to cover her involvement.

Longing to be a recluse again, Unity feels responsible for the escalating aggression between the prince’s kingdom and her own. [She is responsible, if the escalation began with the killing of the visiting prince.] Her skills are needed to keep the land safe from magical attack, so she resolves to leave once she has found and trained a successor.

The only suitable candidate identified after many years of searching [Many years? A person with powerful magic ought to be able to use it to flush out other people with magic. An ad in CraigsList would have gotten a dozen candidates.] [If I resolve to leave town after training a successor, and I can't even find one after a couple years, I'm gone, and screw the kingdom.] is her own estranged daughter, Rory. Furious at being abandoned, Rory rebels against all of Unity’s attempts to train her, baiting her constantly. [And she's still alive?] Rory only stays because her best friend, Jeremy, the illegitimate son of the murdered prince, is determined to uncover the killer using the latest magical devices they can “borrow” from Unity’s laboratory.

Told from both Unity’s and Rory’s points of view, TEMPER is a 70000 word [70,000-word] YA fantasy.


Notes

This seems a bit long. Those one-sentence plot paragraphs are eating up a lot of space. I know you don't want us to think Unity would have a child out of wedlock, but do we really need the humble husband in the query? We can do without Jeremy as well.

As I understand it (from the previous New Beginning post and comments), the heart-stopping death ray emanates as a spherical wave that begins in Unity's forehead. Thus it would kill anyone in the room or the area. Does the wave know to kill Joe but not Ed when they're standing next to each other and Joe made Unity angry? If not, was Unity alone with the visiting prince when he was killed? I would expect a visiting dignitary to have an entourage of bodyguards, and to be reluctant to be alone with the rival kingdom's mage. Even if the wave can discern who made Unity angry, wouldn't others nearby feel the wave? Thus realizing a Heart Stopper was there?

How is the prince's death explained to the prince's kingdom? "He just dropped dead for no reason while he was alone arguing with our mage, who isn't a Heart Stopper."?

What is it that's being "unlocked"? The Heart Stopping ability? Why don't they just leave it locked?

To shorten this, try combining the first two paragraphs. Follow that with a paragraph about Unity's new position as mage. Then reduce the last three plot paragraphs to something like: When Unity’s temper kills a visiting foreign prince, she resolves to relinquish her position once she has found and trained a successor. But the only suitable candidate proves to be her own estranged daughter, Rory, who doesn't know Unity is a Heart Stopper, and constantly rebels against Unity’s attempts to train her.

25 comments:

Eric said...

One would think that the job of executioner of Heart Stoppers would also have a pretty high turnover rate.

My personal preference is not to see real-life English names such as Rory and Jeremy in fantasy worlds. Of course it's your story, but that's always felt a bit tacky to me.

The sentence "Her skills are needed... so she resolves to leave" perhaps sends the wrong signal about her ethical standards.

Evil Editor said...

I would assume that in the book, executing Heart Stoppers takes place while they're infants. Presumably babies in the womb don't get angry at their mothers when labor is taking too long?

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a story that would be unable to adhere to its own rules.

On a bad day, a Heart Stopper would do in everyone at the supermarket, everyone at work, everyone on the bus, every student and teacher in her kids' school... you get the idea.

In fact, I was just at the supermarket this morning, selecting tomatoes, when a lady next to me knocked a tomato onto the floor, watched it roll away, and then glared at me as if I'd done it. Her sudden collapse and demise under the organic apples display would've caused no end of a hassle. Think about it. It might seem like a cool idea but practically speaking it would stop the action of your story, get in the way of the plot and bollix up everything.

Logically, the only way for a H.S. to cope would be to get into TM or yoga or something and become extraordinarily mellow. But your character hasn't done that.

--AlaskaRavenclaw

Adele said...

This story isn't grabbing me, possibly because the basis for it - the curse of Heart-Stopping - is some kind of inherited genetic defect and so isn't really something I can be angry at Unity for having.

Plus, most of the query seems to be backstory - especially since one POV is from a character who isn't even born at the start of the book.

I think the defining moment of this story is the moment when Rory figures out that the killer she's looking for is her Mom. Maybe you should start your story right about there.

Anonymous said...

This query didn't grab me either. The curse seems to encumber your plot with a too-elaborate system of contrived rules and exceptions etc. Your main character is all set up to be most excellent as the Bad Baddy with a superpower like the Incredible Hulk's, so she can summarily smite annoying neighbors, evil fiends, dangerous ex-boyfriends and would-be invaders, but you are determined for her to somehow be a mild mannered bureaucrat who doesn't even use her superpower, and we don't see the point. She might as well be fraught with guilt over having ran over the guy with a wayward horse.

no-bull-steve said...

I think if done well the heart stopping could be a interesting hook. I'd think there'd be some restrictions just to explain some of the previous comments. Safeguards of SOME kind. That said the part that lost me was being a recluse, then being too lonely, then starting a family, randomly (seemingly) killing a Prince and then wanting to be a recluse again. Can you say wishy washy? Not what I want to see from an MC in a pitch.

More over not becoming a recluse til a successor is found. Which leads me to..... 1. that's not really how a recluse operates. But more importantly 2. successor of what? To being the Mage? If so, then why did it take years to find one? Her job is to preside over the ceremony of them. And then it seems her daughter is one (go figure). I dunno. The whole thing just kind of lost me.

Figure out your hook and then get us rooting along with your MC.

Good luck!

arhooley said...

This seems like an awfully long timeline. I don't know all the rules of YA, but don't those readers like to follow ONE character through her adventures, and to leave her still a teen, rather than the mom of a teen? If you've structured your narrative in such a way as to keep the spotlight on a teen girl at all times, you might be more explicit about that in your query.

BuffySquirrel said...

Presumably the Unlocking ceremony is when they discover what the person's gift/curse is, and they can't predict in advance who'll be a Heart Stopper. Perhaps they even execute them without telling them all they need to do to save themselves is get mad....

Under those circumstances, why would they let anyone's father officiate at their ceremony? Why would the father agree to possibly have to kill their own child?

Laura said...

I agree with the squirrel. Serious logic issue letting her dad officiate at the ceremony.

I don't see how this concept can work unless there are Gremlin-like rules involved, such as, don't feed a Heart-Stopper after midnight, don't get a Heart-Stopper wet- and somebody broke them one by one.

I remember in Stephen King's Firestarter the parents had to teach the little girl not to set things on fire with her mind just because she was angry. In that case, it worked, and later the girl could control the power to good effect. It made more logical sense somehow. Otherwise she'd have never gotten through kindergarten alive, and neither would her parents or teachers.

AA said...

That last was me, not Laura. Different computer.

Jo-Ann said...

Thanks for all your input, folks!

Ok, the art of query writing involves focusing on the MC’s dilemma. Yup, I know that, but seems I haven’t really succeeded.

Leaving detail out has turned it into a ridiculous set-up, I can see that, I either need to add more or to delete more.

So, some info to make the plot more coherent (I’ve actually been working on it for ages, so there’s a great deal of world building and so on):

Children have no magical ability until their Unlocking ceremony. They are put in a trance and perform a task on another plane of reality to access their magic. Still in a trance, the mage examines them, and identifies the extent of their ability and checks for the presence of gifts (such as telepathy or the very rare heart-stopping). Heart stoppers are killed while still in the trance (Occupational health and safety for the mage, really).

Unity’s dad saves her and hides her away (think of a Buddhist in a silent retreat) where she learns inner-peace and enlightenment, which enhances her own magical ability.

@Anonymous: She has no desire to be a super-baddy (hardly any desires at all, which approaches the Buddhist ideal).

@alaska: when she leaves her retreat, rude strangers fail to ruffle her calm. It’s only those who are close to her who get under her skin, which is why her beloved baby comes close to making her lose it.

@ Evil. Her job involves innovating magical means to keep the borders between countries secure, and she excels! She can do her job as a mage in seclusion in her tower. In fact, she is lauded for her dedication, spending hours and hours working on new spells, developing instruments to detect hidden spells and so forth.

Official ceremonies are few and far between, and she can often delegate.

Unity was able to identify the prince sneaking in on personal business (conceiving his son, as it happens, so he brought no entourage), from her tower, and she chose to confront him personally rather than send in the troops. She had lived in his kingdom as a child and they had been friends- and she’d had a huge crush on him.

In order to distract her, he taunts her about her ambition – abandoning her own family for a prestigious job in the palace. Pow! That did it! Prince was history.

She is able to rig the investigation and cover her own tracks. But the kingdom’s in big trouble internationally for seeming to use a Heart Stopper as assassin (all kingdoms are obliged to cull heart stoppers), in addition to the anger of the rival kingdom.

She continues to seek enlightenment and eliminate the possibility of an anger response, but her guilt at the murder haunts her.

Her desire to reconnect with her daughter is her undoing, she is extremely patient with the brat, which just spurs Aurora (Rory) on.

I’ll delete Jeremy from the query, he was initially the MC (kid accidentally finding out about his heritage and determined to solve the murder in order to have prince’s family accept him), but the interaction between Rory and Unity proved too compelling, and the backstory quickly became the focus.

Back to the drawing-board!

arhooley said...

Jo-Ann, your explanation does reveal a better book than the query did! I'm still curious about the genre, though. So much story about post-teen Unity; it seems like women's fiction.

Jo-Ann said...

@ alaska - you're quite right, in the history of that world, Heart-stoppers tended to leave a trail of bodies of people who pissed them off. They were able to hold the kingdom up for ransom: make me your leader or I'll heart-stop the lot of you.

The decision to kill them immediately upon being identified was not taken lightly, but a neccesary precaution. Unity and her Dad spend a lot of time trying to find a way to neutralise the curse. No mage finds the task of executing a child tasteful, which is one reason why nobody wants to be a mage.

Anonymous said...

I'd try opening your query in-scene with the unlocking ceremony so that you can explain what it does. See where that takes you.

And there is still the problem, as Ms. Squirrel said, that you wouldn't assign a father to possibly kill his own child because of course he'd try to find a way around it. That may be adequately explained in the novel but it's a problem in the query.

--AlaskaRavenclaw

Jo-Ann said...

Thanks for your responses!

@Alaska, you're right - some elements scream "women's fiction", particularly about simultaneously loving and being overwhelmed by your own baby - not a YA theme at all, even though Unity had her baby in her teens.

This initially started as an MG novel, with young Jeremy seeking to uncover his dad's killer. It evovled into a YA novel, as most of the plot happened during both Unity's, then Rory's teens (with each being an adolescent narrator). Now, it's women's fic. Argh!

Jo-Ann said...

Ooops, previous comment directed to arhooley, not alaska.

BuffySquirrel said...

'predict in advance'?

*slaps self*

Anonymous said...

I'm getting worried about the "women's fiction" label. Is all fiction with women in it now "women's fiction", so that men know not to buy or read it?

This doesn't seem like progress... Lucky the Brontes and Jane Austen didn't live to see the day.

This manuscript sounds to me like it fits pretty clearly into the "fantasy" genre. The plot relies on magic. By this you shall know fantasy.

--AlaskaRavenclaw

BuffySquirrel said...

On the whole men don't buy fiction anyway, so that I suspect is not the reason for the women's fiction or chick lit terms. Quite what the reason IS, I haven't figured out yet. Certainly 'chick lit' is intended to be insulting, which is surprising when you consider that women are the majority of readers and seem to be the majority in publishing as well.

What an unquestioning acceptance of the term 'chick lit' means I'm not sure either--that nobody's noticed it's intended to demean both the books and their readers, or that nobody cares? Eh.

Jo-Ann said...

Since I'm actually an 8-year-old stuck inside a 40-something body, I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about "women's fiction"/ "chick lit".

I suspect both terms were invented as an alternative to the term "romance", which, rightly or not (ducking at possibility of a flaming from a romance author) suggests passive heroines with no ambitions other than to be swept off their feet by a swarthy stranger - Mr Rochester and Mr Darcy rolled into one.

Women's fiction (as I interpret it) covers romance elements with a much broader brush- perhaps including grittier themes (like the transition into motherhood?).

Chick Lit is romance marketed to the txt generation who wear the badge "chick" with pride. It happens to terms that were once derogatory. As a person of Mediterranean origin, the term "wog" was an insult when I was growing up. Us wogs now use the term defiantly and with pride. Nothing takes the sting out of an insulting term better than taking ownership of it.

alaskaravenclaw said...

I don't think I'd call Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennett passive-- and far from waiting to be swept off their feet by Mr. Rochester and Mr. Darcy respectively, they give 'em hell.

A friend of mine is an author of chick lit. She calls it that. But it's nothing like the plot in your query. I would say that it differs from romance in that self-knowledge or self-actualization is the goal. Guys generally show up too; they're available, but they're not the goal. (At least in her stuff.)

The plot in your query is fantasy.

BuffySquirrel said...

Chick lit probably derives from click flick, so there's definitely a romance connotation. But yeah, this is Fantasy.

Not Normally Anonymous said...

@Anonymous
"I'm getting worried about the "women's fiction" label. Is all fiction with women in it now "women's fiction", so that men know not to buy or read it?"

Don't worry about it. There's men's fiction too. It's called Playboy.
:-D

Adele said...

"Women's fiction (as I interpret it) covers romance elements with a much broader brush- perhaps including grittier themes (like the transition into motherhood?). "

(not on a soapbox, but just sayin')

There are many different lines of category romance novels, each one supporting differing amounts of both romance elements and grittier themes. Some feature everyday characters, others feature over-the-top lifestyles. Some feature hot'n heavy sex, others are quite chaste. Some feature emotional recovery from severe trauma, others involve mysteries or car chases.

Where category romance differs from women's fiction is that the relationship is the focus of the plot, the emotion is intense, and there are few (if any) subplots to take the reader away from the romance.

I agree this plot is fantasy.

PS: I really wish I could write category romance. I've tried. I can't. Sob.

batgirl said...

I believe it's also a requirement of the romance genre that there be an HEA - happy ever after, between the main couple. Stories ending in HFN - happy for now - are more likely to be chicklit, which is yea, more about the main character discovering herself with or without a major love interest.
Women's fiction can end unhappily or with the woman alone. The implied promise to the reader is different.
word ver is 'fletinge' - what a nice Elizabethan description of human life.