Sunday, August 28, 2011


Guess the Plot


1. Written to shame admirers of genre fiction, this novel is so deep that it is completely incomprehensible, as all true works of literature must be.

2. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, near the end of World War II, a Nazi submarine goes too deep and disappears. Presumed lost, it actually is whisked to another dimension where, with a few alien modifications, it fights in Galactic War II as the flagship of the Groodoan Spacefleet.

3. When her ship sinks, a US Navy sailor is transformed into a mermaid. Before she can even swim back to the US, she undergoes yet another transformation, this time into an inhuman goddess of the sea, heiress to all its wealth, and as cruel as its laws of survival.

4. Lovely Marine biologist Lance Corporal Tootsie LaMer has disappeared off the coast of Dry Tortuga. As Adventurer Dirk Glascock races to her rescue, an outbreak of ptomaine renders his crew useless and his bilge full. Dirk knows his greatest fear - bathophobia - has nothing to do with showering. But will it prevent him from finding the true depth of his feelings?

5. When mousy librarian Louise opens a magic book and mysteriously finds herself transported into the hip Viper Room she realizes that not only is she underdressed and over-read, she is also out of her . . . Depth.

6. Moira and Tiffany are sooo tired of being called "shallow", they convince all the Gamma Gamma Gamma sisters to wear black, read Marx and Kant, and throw a "peacenik" party which turns into a riot because most of the guests are actually undercover police.

Original Version

Dear (Ms. / Mr. Lastname):

I have completed a fantasy novel, and would like you to represent me. Depth (65,000 words) is the adventure of a young woman overcoming the sea after her transformation into a mermaid. [Those of the finned persuasion will argue that you're born a mermaid, not transformed, but you can simply respond, "It's fiction, gill-face."]

Kali W. [Amazing. Her last name is only one letter, yet it has more syllables than her first name.] [Does she always go by Kali W, like Kenny G and Mister T and Auntie M?] is 18, a US Navy sailor on her first cruise. [That's the latest strategy used by navy recruiters: tell 'em they're going on a two-year world cruise.] After her ship capsizes and sinks [Do naval ships really capsize and sink? It's gotta be pretty rare, not to mention embarrassing. I mean, you take out a naval vessel like a destroyer or an aircraft carrier for maneuvers or something, and you sink it? You're the friggin' navy, for Pete's sake, and you can't keep a four-billion-dollar ship afloat?] she finds herself breathing water, her legs replaced with a tail. Worse, she's the sole survivor of an aircraft carrier dropping into abyssal depths. [The sole survivor? There are thousands of crew members on a carrier. Aren't there any lifeboats? Does anyone know how to swim? A passenger jet has life jackets and seats that become flotation devices, but a naval carrier goes down and everyone on board drowns?] Breaking free of the ship, she's stranded in the blue desert of the pelagic Pacific [I had to look up pelagic, and now that I have, I question whether it's used correctly. It means "of the sea," as in pelagic birds, pelagic ecosystem, pelagic organisms. Can it describe the sea itself? Wouldn't that be redundant, like the arboreal trees, or the evil editor?] [Also, describing an ocean as the blue desert of the pelagic Pacific is like describing a desert as the beige ocean of the sabulous Sahara.] and left with only one choice: swim back to America.

Through challenge and trial she learns the powers of her siren form, transcends [Evolves?] from prey to predator, [Just because you evolve a tail doesn't mean you can defeat sharks on their home turf.] and masters the sea. When Kali rests at a beautiful, remote atoll, it becomes harder and harder to leave, until she accepts it as her new home. There she faces a new threat: [A shark that breathes air and has horse legs.] that of her transformation into an inhuman goddess of the sea, heiress to all its wealth, as vain as its beauty and as cruel as its laws of survival.

Depth realistically renders the Pacific's varied ecosystems and species. [Uh, except the mermaid part.] The mythology of sirens underlies real-world detail. I served as a military journalist, publishing news and features in defense and civilian publications. I've seen much of the Pacific waters detailed in the story, from both above [as a sailor] and below [as Aquaman]. This is my first novel.

An SASE is provided for your reply. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Who would win between Kali W. and Aquaman?

Okay, she's on a ship, it sinks, she becomes a mermaid. That's the setup. What's the plot? The rest is vague. She starts swimming home, rests on an atoll, decides to stay, morphs into a cruel goddess? I want to know what happens. Are there any other people in the book after the ship sinks? What does she do in her role as a goddess of the sea? Does she lead her minions in attacking fishing fleets? Melt glaciers with her heat ray to expand her realm? There is a story, right?

Selected Comments

Bernita said...Since you have siren mythology as the genesis of your plot, I think a name so similar to Kali Ma is confusing, distracting and detracting. Her "sole survivor" status ( of an aircraft carrier yet) rather disturbs my suspension as well.

Dave said...It is incredibly hard to sink an aircraft carrier. a Man-Overboard Event might occur in the Pacific. However, it's an "aircraft" carrier and it has helicopters with search teams. And don't think about storms, In the worst case, a huge typhoon washes someone overboard (very unlikely because the Navy insists they lash themselves to the deck or walk outside with life preservers already on) might be plausible. Also, no wave is going to overtop an aircraft carrier.

Sebastian Junger talks about big waves and how they sink ships in "The Perfect Storm." There is no way an aircraft carrier is going to capsize in a storm. Nothing in the world is going to create a wave that big or an ocean disturbance that profound.

Aircraft carriers are stable. They barely have a rise and fall because they are so huge. They are built to be stable. They are built to survive bombs and torpedoes, too. So it's going to be damn hard to sink one.

Drowning your helpless female requires some more thought. It's possible, but not as straightforward as your query letter describes.

phoenix said...Remember, author, the query letter is the first indication an agent/editor has of your writing talent. Notice:

Worse, she's the sole survivor of an aircraft carrier dropping into abyssal depths. So worse than being turned into a mermaid is that she survived? I don't think that's what you meant, but it's what you wrote.

When Kali rests at a beautiful, remote atoll, it becomes harder and harder to leave, until she accepts it as her new home. So, once she accepts it as home, it becomes easy to leave?

transformation into an inhuman goddess - as opposed to a human goddess?

EE pointed out some other dubious word choices. Pay strict attention to the words you use in your query. Most agents say they'll let one error slide, but keep compounding those errors and we know just how deep that query will wind up.

So, my final question is about the story rather than the query. It seems Kali's first transformation left her mind/personality intact. But when she becomes the goddess, she becomes vain and cruel? Why is this not consistent? (Staying consistent in your fantasy world is key!) And why is that transformation a threat? Who wouldn't want to be turned into a goddess with wealth and beauty? Sign me up! For the query part, give us a reason that this is a threat to her rather than a dream come true.

Bonnie said...This story sounds like it could be interesting, if it's not just the girl floating around on the ocean having revelations. I assume she's named Kali because that's the goddess she's going to transform into. If not, maybe a different name would be a good idea. And how did this one sailor happen to get picked for divinity instead of drowning? Better brand of flotation device?

Anonymous said...Kali is a goddess of another religion, yannow? Might be a good idea to change her name. That right there would put me off the book, because I'd be expecting ancient Hindu goddess and then get a mermaid!?

And you are quite likely to be sucked in and ground up by the screw if you fell overboard. She might be more likely to get lost at sea on a Coast Guard cutter or something, because they do go to other ports around the world and heavy seas would throw them around a lot more... Why not make it simple on yourself and have the gal just fall overboard because she was tipping the bottle and had one too many rounds of yo-ho-ho??

Seriously, all kidding aside, you need to tell us what actually happens to Kali. You have given us no plot. Does Kali of the skull belt and blue skin and lolling tongue show up? I imagine she'd make one hell of a sea goddess...

Anonymous sailor's sister said...The aircraft carrier thing makes it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief. Dave is pretty much right on (though I've seen footage of WWII carriers with waves breaking over the bow, modern carriers are a helluvalot bigger). Another WWII carrier had its bow completely blown off and it didn't sink. The heroine better just fall overboard or something more believable before we start into the unbelievable mermaid stuff.

Anonymous said...Did you write the whole book with just 1 character? If not, what do the other characters do? As far as I know there isn't any mythology about a special connection between aircraft carriers and mermaids and they rarely just roll over and sink so that seems like a cumbersome choice literarily. I'm guessing it seems like a natural choice to you because you spent a lot of time on such a boat wishing you could swim away. Personal escape fantasies can be great inspirations but changing a few of the particulars might make it more accessible and appealing to more readers. Or maybe it works great in the book but we're just not getting the right description to see how.

Robin S. said...Hi author, When EE said and asked: "That's the setup. What's the plot? The rest is vague," it occurred to me that he has asked that quite a bit, in various ways, through quite a few of the queries we've had. So, you're definitely not alone in this.

I'm trying to figure out why this happens again and again. (It happened to me as well, by the way. I'm pointing no fingers.)

I'd like to think we all know the plots of our novels. Why is it that we don't want to "spill the beans"? Is it that no one wants to give too much away, is it that there's a concern that while the book holds together well, a description of the plot would sound uninteresting? I don't know.

There's also conflicting advice on queries, and what constitutes a good one.

I don't mean on this blog. EE is consistent. I mean that query authors have had varied advice, depending upon the sources they've used. For instance, there's an agent (that I'd just about do something wrong to have), who prefers the hopeful querying author's description of his/her work to be three sentences at most.

Good luck with your novel.

I like the idea of it, and I'd like to know more about it. I would like to know, as others have mentioned, how the aircraft carrier is sunk. As you've served as a military journalist, you may well have an idea on how this could be accomplished that we haven't thought about.

Dave said...The oldest Daughter of the last secretary I had before I retired is stationed on the rebuilt USS Cole when she was 21 y/o. And she had a picture of the boat floating on the MV Blue Martin "dry dock" that itself was a boat. It is an incredible picture. And the USS Cole is merely a guided missile destroyer. Wikipedia has the picture.

For funsies:
a guided missile destroyer is Aegis equipped, 8000 tons, 550 feet long, 300 sailors and 18 officers.

An aircraft carrier is bigger. They are Nimitz class, 102,000 tons, 1092 ft long, 255 ft flight deck, 20 Phalanx mounts, 48 tactical aircraft and 16 support aircraft, nuclear powered, and a few cruise missiles, 700 sailors, 2500 airwing personnel.

This is all on Wikipedia. What can I say, I get all geeky on these things.

I'm not saying that the story is impossible, far from it. It's a very plausible story. Sailor falls into ocean and by some mechanism is transformed into a half-human sea creature. Fun, hilarity and evil deeds abound. Capsizing a floating gargantua like a Nimitz class aircraft carrier is really hard. Even a Destroyer is hard to sink (there's real proof of that).

Perhaps a helicopter crash, perhaps a service boat of some sort sinks. Those circumstances make the story plausible. This isn't an insurmountable obstacle. It's a chapter at most. The real story is about Kali and how she handles her iiscean goddess-ship. Or at least that's what people will be interested in.

Dave Kuzminski said...Have the ship enveloped by water where the density has been upset by a release of gas from the bed of the ocean. Such events do happen and at least one ship was believed lost that way. One moment it's there, the next it's on the bottom and there ain't likely to be any survivors so you can have your fantasy change be connected with that just to give it some plausibility, though it really won't be.

Anonymous said...Why would someone name their child Kali? Kali's not exactly a warm and fuzzy goddess. Is your character's name short for something else? And why doesn't the character get a last name? That's rather odd, in a query.

Evil Editor said...Her last name is W.

Anonymous said...Why would someone name their child Kali? I dunno! But fiction has to be more believable than reality is. Especially if it has mermaids.

Evil Editor said...As long as we're using Wikipedia, this is from their Kali entry: "Although . . . her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilation still has some influence, various Shakta Hindu cosmologies, as well as Shakta Tantric beliefs, worship her as the ultimate reality or Brahman. She is also revered as Bhavatarini (literally "redeemer of the universe"). Comparatively recent devotional movements largely conceive Kali as a benevolent mother goddess."

writtenwyrdd said...Or a Rogue Wave slaps across the ship and she's washed off the deck. These are actually documented. I have to say, the idea of getting turned into a mermaid could be interesting, but then becoming a goddess? I'd have to have you explain this bit to see if I'd be able to swallow it. Sounds like more than one novel should hold right there.

Scoot said...Ooooh, the Kraken did it. Or the giant octopus from Lord of The Rings? No, wait, the thing with the teeth that ate Cap'n Jack Sparrow ...That's why only Kali survives.

150 said...Even a Destroyer is hard to sink (there's real proof of that).

Yeah, tell me about it. You have to guess in every two-space block to find that little sucker. I'm A-6ing and E-8ing all night long.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a different version of Lost Voices by Sarah Porter. It's an adult instead of a kid but both are otherwise fairly similar - tragedy, changed into mermaid, possibility of going buckets o' evil.

batgirl said...

150 FTW!