Friday, September 23, 2011

Face-Lift 954

Guess the Plot

I hate putting out a special call for fake plots and then not using half of the ones that come in, so your task will be doubly hard today.

The Last Ghast-Dancer

1. Little Maggie has a special way of saying good-bye to Mr. Fluffy now that he's become a "ghast."

2. After the weird pink monkey men slaughter all the peaceful monks of her temple, young Grffnghgh swears by the slime of her six tentacles that she will have revenge! With a special guest appearance by Cthulhu.

3. Britney takes "Into to the Paranormal", figuring it'll be an easy A. But when the lonely ghost of Isadora Duncan appears, she's thrust into a world where ghosts actively hunt ghasts--and Britney doesn't know which side to take.

4. At Seance High for the Supernatural, Julie wants more than anything to kiss a boy. Problem is, being a spirit, she's ethereal. But when a vampire hunk transfers to the school, his half-dead status means he might consider taking her to the prom. Can she scare off all the other spooks while she strives to possess his heart?

5. Jasinex hires Salitor to be his live-in necromancer. What he doesn't know is that Salitor is a hoarder. Now the castle is overrun with talking books, piles of skulls, and dancing ghosts. Bit how do you kick out someone who can fry you to a crisp?

6. Iryeh's been ghast-dancing for so long, she's sure it's her turn to be sacrificed to the ghasts. Instead the ghasts kill all the other ghast-dancers. Accused of conspiring with the ghasts, she goes into hiding with the only ghast-dancer ever to retire from the ghast-dancer guild and starts her own ghast-dancing business. Will she ever drive away the ghastly ghasts?

7. Robert Smith is a nobody and knows it. He resigns himself to living a nobody’s life – monotonous, mundane and unremarkable until he discovers by accident he can summon ghasts – ghoulish monsters that are distinguished by their immobilizing stench. Robert suddenly realizes that he is resigned to nothing and quickly plots his revenge against all who offended him.

8. Finally resigned to the reality that his position as a mortgage broker is forever gone, Smedly throws himself off a skyscraper. Alas, even suicide didn't work. He turns to dancing at strip joint where the customers all seem to be gay vampires. He was hoping women, or at least men who weren't actually dead, would be attracted. But no matter; the tips are good.

9. Linguistically challenged Amy needs to hire a Ghost Dancer for her Halloween party. But she misspells her craigslist ad and gets something called a "Ghast-Dancer," a creature from another realm who looks exactly like a hawt human guy and seduces every girl in sight -- except Amy, because she's his new keeper. She can't decide whether to enjoy his charms, or pimp him out.

10. Rock star Dez Gregson takes a break to visit Aunt Mimi at her country pile in Yorkshire, where he can't sleep because shadowy things keep going bump in the night. Is the house haunted, or are those space aliens on the stairway? Maybe a bottle o' whiskey and a tryst with the maid will help Dez solve this mystery. Maybe not. He's determined to find out.


Original Version

Dear Agent Bookpimp,

Every full moon, Iryeh and her fellow swordswomen perform a choreographed battle against twelve desert ghasts, a ritual enforcement of the treaty keeping all spirits out of their city. Iryeh's been ghast-dancing for so long that she's sure this is finally her month to disappear in tribute as the sole symbolic casualty. [Every month another ghast-dancer "disappears"? Can anyone ghast-dance, or are you born a ghast-dancer? Is this a volunteer organization?] But this time, the ghasts don't stick to the ritual; they actually attack. Only Iryeh survives.

When the royal family accuses Iryeh of intentionally letting the spirits win, she runs into the desert to hide with the legendary Mazaret, said to be the only woman who ever survived to retire from the ghast-dancers' guild. Although Mazaret isn't as welcoming (or as noble) as Iryeh had hoped, they take refuge together in a town overrun with spirits, with no ghast-dancers to protect it. Iryeh secretly begins using her dancing skills to chase off the spirits...and regain some of the wealth and admiration she's used to. [I was under the impression ghast-dancing was just a show put on to mollify the ghasts, not that it has the power to drive them away.] But her underground business attracts attention, and a kidnapping attempt leaves Mazaret dead. [She has an underground ghast-dancing business? Do people hire her to chase off ghasts?] After a disastrously failed resurrection, Mazaret's ghost [Is her ghost a ghast? If not, what's the difference between a ghost and a ghast?] alerts Iryeh that terrible conspiracies are brewing--ones that will leave her city in ruins and the spirit realm enslaved. But they [the conspiracies] can't proceed as long as even one ghast-dancer still exists.

All her life, Iryeh has been prepared to die to save her city. Now, if she is to do any good, she must fight alongside friends, strangers, and even her former opponent, the capricious, tantalizing sand-spirit Third--and she must live. [Maybe that name should be rethought. Or do you need it for a comic-relief conversation that goes:

Hi, I'm Iryeh. What's your name?

I'm Third.

I meant what's your name?

I said I'm Third.
I heard you. So who's first?
What?

What
is first?
No, my second cousin is First.

And I suppose your first cousin is second?

No, he's Fourth. Though he does play second violin.
Fascinating. So . . . what's your name?]


The Last Ghast-Dancer is a YA fantasy, unfinished at about 16,000 words. [Ah, you heeded my plea for queries of books that aren't finished. Don't forget to change the number when the time comes.] My short fiction has appeared in several dozen venues, including [Fair-To-Middling Quarterly and The Journal of Semipro Hopefuls]. Thank you for your time and attention.

Best regards,


Notes

If ghast-dancing can drive ghasts away, it's not clear why the ghast-dancers participate in the ritual instead of just keeping the ghasts out.

There's too much here. I recommend dropping Mazaret and reducing the long paragraph to something like:

When the royal family accuses Iryeh of letting the spirits win, she flees into the desert, taking refuge in a town overrun with spirits. Though she uses her dancing skills to chase the spirits off, a new threat rises. Terrible conspiracies are brewing that could leave her city in ruins and the spirit realm enslaved.


Whether his name remains Third or you change it to Thyrd, if he doesn't get mentioned until the plot summary is in its last five words, chances are he isn't needed in the query.

44 comments:

Matthew MacNish said...

Whoa. You asked for queries for unfinished books, EE? That's seems strange to me.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just my lack of coffee, but that plot seems a bit of a mess. You start with the one situation and a massacre and then abandon all that to start the novel over again by moving to another place with a completely different situation, new cast, and new rules of physics/ghasting. Whatever. Then wow, after many pages it turns out the REAL situation and the main character's REAL identity and REAL enemy and the REAL purpose of ghasting and REAL rules of physics are suddenly revealed.

Make up your mind. Choose the most original one. Start that on Page One. End it on the Last Page. Plus, the names were annoying and the setting seems to be nowhere nowhen.

Also, I am totally bored with fantasy plots in which the protagonist is suddenly revealed to be the Chosen One who alone can magically save the world from a vaporous evil. At this point anything else would seem more original.

150 said...

Writing a query at the start of a new book can be a useful way to focus, and it helps get you a query pared down to the story basics, before you go nuts with subplots in the actual text. (In theory.) You just don't send it around until the book's done, is all.

Evil Editor said...

You asked for queries for unfinished books, EE?

When the query queue is totally empty the rules become lax. Besides, it doesn't hurt to have your query in good shape when you finish your book, and it might even help you focus your book on the main plot line.

vkw said...

Okay I liked this story. It reminds me a little of the Demon Triolgy by Peter Brett.

The big problem is too much set-up and details and not enough plot.

Every full moon, Iryeh and her fellow swordswomen perform a choreographed battle against twelve desert ghasts. The climax is a ritual sacrfice of one of the dancers. This is all done in accordance of a treaty to keep the monsters out of the city.

Unexpectedly without reason, the ghasts attack and only Iryeh survives. When she is accused of setting up her fellow dancers, she must flee into the desert, where she finds refuge in a town overrun with spirits.

And, so forth and so on. You'll want to polish it up but now you have lots of room to tell us a few things.

My first thought is this - what's so bad about the ghasts being in the city? Other towns have chosen not to make treaties with the ghasts, thus avoiding sending their swordswomen to their deaths every month. they can't be all that bad if other towns can manage.

You may want to explain why your heroine has chosen to secretly dance the ghasts away. What is at stake?

Leave out third and the old, non-noble woman.

Simply -

She learns that the there is a plan to destroy the cities and enslave the spirit world. The conspirators can not suceed if only one ghast dancer lives. She must unite with former allies, strangers and even the spirit world to save her world from ___________.

Dave said...

terrible conspiracies are brewing
Is that like the terrible coffee I make that all my friends hate?

This all sounds unfocused and indefinite. There's a nice story hiding in it but it seems that the internal struggle and character development isn't decided yet.

Faceless Minion said...

Overall it sounds like something I might like reading though it sounds like she should be teaching others to dance if spirits are that big of a problem.

You might want to clarify if 'her city' is the city she fled from or the new city (town?) she started protecting. The phrase seems to used for both (or maybe it's just me who thinks she would be more up for protecting her current residence than the city where the rulers want her dead).

Also, enslaving a spirit realm that randomly kills people desn't sound too bad from the human point of view if said enslavement prevented said killing. Maybe a bit more about what the enslavers plan to do with their new slaves?

Is this a fantasy society where slavery=bad?

Did the spirits used to be human or are they creatures that have always been immaterial?

Kerin said...

How old is Iryeh? The query's labelled as YA, but it mentions that she's been ghast-dancing for a long time, so I'm left puzzled.

The set-up in the opening paragraph sounds interesting, but I'm not getting much sense of the character yet. That's probably consistent with the story being in the first draft stage though.

BuffySquirrel said...

I would totally read this.

And I don't say that often.

Author said...

Thanks all! Geez, edits were looking easy until I had to start figuring out how to retain whatever it is that appealed to Buffy. :)

My pitch sentence is "Homeless teenage girl lets a dude talk her into dancing for money." I think it's a winner!

Author said...

Take two! I removed Third from the query, but I am absolutely keeping the name; SFF has a venerated tradition of using numbers for names, especially for characters of debatable humanity.

The word count is a guess, since it's written longhand and not quiiiite finished.

Any better?

---

Dear Agent Bookpimp,

At fifteen, Iryeh has already outlasted her life expectancy as a ghast-dancer--a swordswoman charged with ceremonially protecting the city from demons at the eventual cost of being taken as a monthly tribute. That extra time in training serves her well when the demons unexpectedly break from ritual: of the dancers, she's the only survivor. But the damage doesn't end at the city gates. The king is killed in the attack, and his foreign queen accuses Iryeh of botching the ceremony intentionally.

Pursued by the queen's personal guard, Iryeh takes cover in a nearby town overrun by spirits. Penniless and friendless, she turns to her only skill and starts chasing spirits from the homes of those who can afford her. It keeps her fed and gives her the start of a new life--but it also shows her enemies how to find her. When the queen's guards come for her, Iryeh discovers that her dance master has been murdered in her absence. There's no one else left to perform the ceremony and uphold the demonic treaty. For years, Iryeh has been willing to die for her city, but now, free of the confines of the dancers' guild, she's had a chance to actually live...and she's no longer sure the city that cast her out is worth dying for.

The Last Ghast-Dancer is a YA fantasy of about 50,000 words. My short fiction has appeared in several dozen venues, including [some SFWA venues, hooray!]. Thank you for your time and attention.

Best regards,

Me

Faceless Minion said...

I think it's better. The first paragraph still needs some work - maybe combine the first try with the second? Something like:

Every full moon, Iryeh and her fellow swordswomen perform a choreographed battle against twelve desert ghasts: a ritual enforcement of the treaty which keeps all spirits out of their city in exchange for the life of one of the dancers. When the demons unexpectedly break from ritual Iryeh's the only survivor. But the damage doesn't end at the city gates. The king is killed in the attack, and his foreign queen accuses Iryeh of botching the ceremony intentionally.

AA said...

"his foreign queen accuses Iryeh of botching the ceremony intentionally."
Did Iryeh botch the ceremony? This line suggests she did, but it was unintentional. I wouldn't leave this point vague if it's important.

"Persued by the queen's personal guard..." Okay- the queen's personal guard guards the queen's person. That is all. I know this is your world, but you still shouldn't make common phrases mean whatever you want them to.

"a nearby town overrun by spirits" So someone else botched a ceremony? How easy is it to do these rituals wrong? It seems a little too easy. Or have the demons chosen this point in time to break the rules? My understanding of the plot depends on knowing for certain which one it is.

"When the queen's guards come for her..." The spirits which have overrun the city don't interfere with these guards? Why not?
If it's really the foreign queen who is in league with the demons, you might at least hint that the queen has secrets or is not quite what she seems. Otherwise, it seems like it just doesn't make sense.

"There's no one else left to perform the ceremony and uphold the demonic treaty." If the demons have already broken the treaty and are now taking over cities, the ceremonies are moot. I mean, that ship has sailed.
I also wonder: If the dancing couldn't keep the demons out of whole cities, how does it get them out of people's homes? The only rational explanation at this point is that Iryeh is in league with the demons, too. What they do with their cut of the money is anyone's guess.

This bit: "For years, Iryeh has been willing to die for her city, but now, free of the confines of the dancer's guild, she's had a chance to actually live...and she's no longer sure the city that cast her out is worth dying for," besides being too wordy, is too vague. If the ceremonies aren't working anymore, what could she do even if she wanted to? Can't the guards just make her do what they want anyway?

You're holding too close to the vest. It's coming across as vague and confusing. Put more of your cards on the table.

One of the Anons said...

Dear Author Me, I like it better too.

Do you think you need the whole complication about the initial ritual initially having a human sacrifice component? I think it raises a lot of questions and the query might be fine without it. Focus on her ability and her dilemma about whether to use it or not.

I also agree with AA that you still need to clear up why the dancing works later when it didn't work in the beginning.


Every full moon, fifteen-year-old Iryeh and her fellow swordswomen perform a choreographed battle against twelve desert ghasts: a ceremonial enforcement of the treaty which keeps all spirits out of their city. When the demons unexpectedly break from ritual, Iryeh's the only survivor. The king is killed in the attack, and his foreign queen accuses Iryeh of sabotaging the ceremony.

Pursued by the queen's guard, Iryeh takes cover in a nearby town overrun by ghasts. To her surprise, her dances actually do repel demons, and she begins to earn her living by chasing spirits -- but her activities also show her enemies how to find her. When the queen's guards come, Iryeh discovers that her dance master has been murdered in her absence. The queen wants Iryeh to return and dance the ghasts out of her hometown. Iryeh isn't so sure that the city that cast her out is worth dying for.

What's more, she still doesn't understand when her dance will work and when it won't. If Iryeh can't unravel the secret that enabled the demons to break ritual, some specific horrible thing will happen.

Author said...

TAKE THREE! The book is shaping up obediently.

--

Iryeh is a ghast-dancer of Lyphras, protecting the desert city from the spirit realm through ceremonial battle, and one of the most respected girls in the city--until the battle goes disastrously wrong, leaving the city under attack and the king dead.

When the queen blames Iryeh and her fellows for the failure, Iryeh runs to nearby Ten Pit City, with the queen's guard hot on her trail. She finds help from another former dancer, who shows her how the ritual ceremony can be made into a real weapon against the spirits that run rampant in the outside world. But just as Iryeh is starting to build her life back up, she learns that the rest of the surviving ghast-dancers have been murdered. The next ceremony is days away, and there's no one left to protect the city but her.

Iryeh was raised to die for her city, but now she has something to lose--and she's under no illusions that going back into battle alone means anything but death. Her solution may lie in her new ties to the spirit realm, including a deepening relationship with the sand-spirit she used to fight. The only problem: the queen's guard are getting closer, and they've been ordered not to let her return. No matter what.

60k, SFWA, thank you, and so on.

Chicory said...

I think this latest version is great. :) The only thing I can see is the sentence about being raised to die for her city comes a bit out of the blue now.

Faceless Minion said...

A few things:

one of the most respected girls in the city

Unless you intend to make a comment on gender here, you might want 'one of the most respected people in the city'

until the battle goes disastrously wrong

Both because I occasionally have a short attention span (I had to go back to figure out what battle you were referring to) and because it's probably more important that it's a ceremony than a battle, I would suggest 'until the ceremony goes disastrously wrong'

It seems illogical for the queen's guards to not want her to return. It's logical to want her dead if they're chasing after her but strange to just deliver a message saying don't come back which is what the last bit sounds like. That could just be me.

Good luck with this.

Rashad Pharaon said...

Is she related to the Last Airbender?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Okay, first, two unfamiliar names in the first sentence is a bit much. How about

Iryeh is a ghast-dancer, protecting her desert city from the spirit realm through ceremonial battle. She's one of the most respected girls in the city--until the battle goes disastrously wrong, leaving the city under attack and the king dead.

Second, I'm confused about what's at stake. If she was raised to die for the city, then it seems like she's already a dead woman walking and so the threats to her aren't that impressive. I'd leave out that she was raised to die for etc.

It's also not clear what the something she now has to lose is.

Author said...

Thanks for looking at this so many times, guys. I do appreciate it.

Mister Furkles said...

Your first sentence is quite long. I’ll try my hand at simplification:
- -

Every full moon, fifteen-year-old Iryeh and a clowder of swordswomen of Lyphras perform the ceremonial battle dance against twelve ghasts. Then one night, the demon ghasts suddenly break the ritual and kill King Prickle-Paws.

Queen Fluffy-Puffy blames Iryeh for sabotaging the ceremony. With the Queen’s Guards in hot pursuit, Iryeh flees to Armpit City. A former master ghast-dancer shows Iryeh how to use the dance as a real weapon to slay demons. She begins a new life fighting spirits in her adopted city.

Word comes that Lyphras’s entire clowder of ghast-dancers have been murdered. If Lryeh returns to protect Lyphras, she risks capture by the Queen and she may be killed. If she doesn’t, the city of her birth will fall victim to the ghasts.

- -
The names are made up. You may also consider Queen Phoradae and King Kawtin. Well, you likely have better names in mind. You still didn’t tell us the nature of the ghasts. Perhaps they are flatulence demons. They stink their victims to death or light up and burn things with a blast of anal flame. Or is that too much MG humor?

Humor aside, this lacks a YA voice which you must have. Maybe AlaskaRavenclaw can help.

Anonymous said...

Bad sign: I forgot the plot as soon as I finished the query.

This usually happens when I get an overload of esoteric information. The first sentence in particular is a lot to drink in (I like what Alaska did with it).

Maybe open with a scene-setter:

On the first day of every month, the ghasts rise from their cursed tombs and attack the oasis city of Lyphras.

The locals have turned it into a spectacle, watching from the safety of their balconies as the celebrities known as ghast-dancers subdue the spirits in an exhilarating, theatrical fashion. Most famous among them is the heart-stopping beauty Lyreh.

But when the magics protecting households fail and hundreds of innocent lives are lost, the Queen of Lyphras is quick to blame the Lyreh and her crew.


I'm not sure where the plot goes from there.

Author said...

Once more. With feeling!

VERSION FOUR:

Iryeh has known for years how she was going to die: snatched as tribute by the spirit realm after a glorious sword-dance with her sand-spirit counterpart, who she knows only as Third. Her sacrifice will uphold the treaty protecting her city from a desert full of dangerous spirits. But when Third inexplicably changes his dance and breaks the treaty, the blame falls on Iryeh--and execution for treason is not a death she's willing to take.

Pursued by the Queen's guard, and aided by another sword-dancer named Mazaret who deserted long ago, Iryeh runs to treaty-less, spirit-scourged Ten Pit City. There, Mazaret teaches her that the ritual dance she's been doing for years holds real power against spirits of all kinds. Iryeh decides that even if she can no longer protect her old city from the entire spirit realm, maybe she can protect her new city one spirit at a time.

But just as Iryeh is starting to build her life back up, she learns that her city's last defences have fallen, and the spirits are swarming in. With her new ties to the spirit realm, and her deepening relationship with Third, she might be able to save them...but she's no longer so eager to pay the price. Should she fight--and probably die--for the city that betrayed her, or should she try to live knowing she's left thousands of people defenseless?

Or worse: will the Queen's guard find her before she can make the choice?

(Creds, thanks, etc.)

Chicory said...

I like your new version. It gives a much clearer picture of what's going on and what's at stake.

Evil Editor said...

I don't find this all that clear. For starters I'd use the name of Iryeh's city.

I'm not sure we need Third in the query. If we do, I'd just mention him once and call him her sand-spirit counterpart instead of Third, which is an annoying name.

Here's a fairly simple but also fairly clear version of the plot, which might work if you add a bit of flair:


Iryeh has long known how she was going to die: sacrificed to the spirit realm after a glorious sword-dance. Her death will satisfy the terms of a treaty protecting her city, Sandville, from a desert full of dangerous spirits.

But when her dance goes wrong and violates the treaty, Iryeh is unjustly accused of treason and sentenced to be executed. She flees into the desert where she eventually builds a new life, aided by Mazaret, another sword dancer.

News comes that Sandville's last defenses have fallen and the spirits are swarming in. With her ties to the spirit realm, Iryeh could save thousands of people . . . but she's no longer so willing to die for a city that betrayed her.

AA said...

It's still suffering from the same apparent logic problems that bothered me with this storyline in the first place.

"Her sacrifice will uphold the treaty protecting her city" So we have spirits that can make treaties and are honorable enough to keep them. Then-

"But when Third inexplicably changes his dance and breaks the treaty" So spirits can break treaties. Which leaves me asking, Why now?

"Iryeh runs to treaty-less, spirit-scourged Ten Pit City." So, there are cities that have no treaties. Why didn't they make a treaty?

"the ritual dance she's been doing for years holds real power against spirits of all kinds" If it wasn't just symbolic, how could the spirit that broke the treaty do that? The power of the dance should have kept that from happening.

"but she's no longer so eager to pay the price. Should she fight--and probably die"
This doesn't seem likely to happen. She's in a city now that is overrun with spirits and she's not dead yet. Why would another city that is overrun with spirits be more dangerous?

I'd follow EE's lead on this one. I think you're going to have to leave out some of the details just so the query doesn't bring up tons of questions.

Author said...

(Oh my god, is this my fifth try at this? A thousand blessings on anyone willing to look at this with fresh eyes yet again.)

Dear Agent,

Iryeh is just one of the young swordswomen tasked with protecting her city from the spirit realm, but when she is the only survivor of a battle gone disastrously wrong, she takes all of the blame. Accused of treason, she takes cover in a lawless desert settlement. There, with the help of a streetwise (and dare she say it, handsome) hustler called Fleck, she sets up shop as an anonymous, very in-demand spirit-killer. If her city doesn't want her protection any longer, she'll protect this one instead--and earn a living besides.

But just as her new life is really taking off, she learns that the swordswomen's guild has been dismantled and all its members slaughtered. The next battle will be at the full moon; no one else is equipped to fight the spirit realm, let alone win. To save the city she still loves, Iryeh will have to find a way to stop all the spirit realm on her own...even if it risks her newfound purpose, her growing relationship with Fleck, and her life.

Not to mention that she's still being hunted by the people she's trying to save....

(YA fantasy, 60k, good creds, got a next novel going, thank you.)

AA said...

Well, you're really trying hard. I appreciate this type of determination.

I have to tell you, though, that there are problems here.
Your most basic problem: There is no GOOD reason for Iryeh to go back to the city, therefore no central conflict. No conflict = no drama and no drama = no story.

Here's what I mean: What does Iryeh have? A good job, new friends and a love interest. What does Iryeh have if she goes back? Certain death. She can't save the city from anything if she's dead.

Second: What is Iryeh saving the city from? This just says "the spirit realm." On the other hand, the people of the city are trying to hunt and kill her. I think I'd take my chances with the spirit realm! The city is in more danger from its own leaders than from any spirits.

Third: Why does Iryeh care so much about saving a city that has citizens intent on killing her? All the other swordswomen are dead, so it isn't for their sake.

You haven't made it clear that there's even much Iryeh can do to help.

So here's the choice: Do I face certain death to go back to the city and try to use skills I may or may not have to try to save the city from a vague danger, despite the fact that there's no one left there I really care about? Or do I stay here with my job and my boyfriend and my new life?

I hope you realize that's a non-choice.

If Iryeh left her whole family behind, that would be a reason to return, but ONLY if she really thought she could help. AND, if said family were in a real and spicific danger from these spirits.

Here's what you need:

A specific and strong personal tie to the city Iryeh left.
A specific and IMMINENT danger to the person or persons left behind.
A strong reason to believe that Iryeh CAN help the situation, or a reason for her to THINK she can.

There should be more at stake, too. If Iryeh feels like she's living on borrowed time anyway, she won't care much about giving up her new life. She might feel her death was overdue anyway. What makes her OWN her new life and not want to give it up? It's unlikely that anyone will connect with a character who doesn't care much whether she lives or dies.

Mister Furkles said...

Your story seems to grab the minions. The problem is writing the query.

The story is fantasy myth. Almost all readers love myth. But it is not clear from this query that it is mythical.

You removed “ghast dancer” and that the swordswomen were dancers. That’s the fresh aspect of the story. It’s the heart of the myth and it’s the heart of the hook. Take it out and it’s just swordsmen killing ghosts.

You removed the part about what the spirits do to harm people and cities.

Now for a pile of whiny snivellies:

P1S1 is still too long. Go back to Alaska’s example (2/9/12).

You use ‘just’ twice and it’s not helpful either time.

You should name both cities.

The last sentence of P1 is unnecessary.

“takes cover” can be “hides”

“a streetwise (and dare she say it, handsome) hustler called Fleck” could be “Fleck, a handsome streetwise hustler.”

You need to involve Fleck again in the main plot.

“sets up shop”, “very in-demand” => find a better way to say she makes a living as a spirit-killer. You could just say "She makes a living as a spirit-killer."

“really taking off” heading deep into clichĂ©-land now.

“She learns that the swordswomen's guild has been dismantled and all its members slaughtered.” Could be “She learns the other ghast dancers were slaughtered.” Or were they murdered. Or were they executed.

You removed the Queen and the death of the King. Isn't the Queen the main antagonist?

Start with Alaska’s opening and follow with Evil Editor’s rewrite. Then insert compelling aspects of the myth.

Author said...

Thanks guys!

Author said...

HEY GUYS WHAT'S UP

OH NOTHING JUST WRITING A QUERY FOR THE BILLIONTH TIME

Dear Agent,

Every full moon, Iryeh and a dozen other teenage swordswomen of Lyphras dance a ceremonial battle against the spirit realm. The spirits take one of them in tribute and, in return, never pass into Lyphras--that's the treaty, which has held for a hundred years. Then one month the spirits unexpectedly turn the ceremony into a real battle, annihilating the ghast-dancers and leaving the rest to take the blame.

Accused of treason, Iryeh flees to a lawless desert settlement with no such treaty: spirits roam the streets, sowing havoc. As Iryeh learns to fight--not just ceremonially, but to really fight--she is able to make a living as an anonymous spirit-killer, and a few friends besides...both spirit and human. Her deepening ties to the spirit realm come with unsettling hints about the origins of the Lyphras treaty. Then she learns that the all the surviving sword-dancers have been executed just a few days before the full moon. With no dancers, there's no ceremony, and no treaty: thirty thousand citizens of Lyphras will be exposed to a desert full of deadly ghasts.

Returning to Lyphras might be suicide, but thanks to a gruff former dancer, a dashing sand-spirit, and an ancient, vicious miasma under the settlement's wells, Iryeh thinks she finally has the tricks she needs to save her beloved city from a spirit invasion--permanently. It'll be dangerous, pitting her against powerful forces from both realms. But danger always makes the best dance.

AA said...

This is better than it was.

Done well: Protagonist doesn't seem weak. It's clearer what's at stake. And- you make it clear that Iryeh really thinks she can solve the problem.

A question: Did you mean the miasma is vicious, or viscous? If vicious, it's sentient, and that confused me. I have no idea what a vicious miasma might be like. If it's an even-more-ancient spirit than the desert spirits, you might say something like that.

Also clean up: "Then she learns that the all the surviving sword-dancers"

There are still a couple of points that I've mentioned before, but I think are worth stating again.

First, I don't know how Iryeh can go back and uphold the treaty if the spirits have already broken it. You do hint here that Iryeh learns a few things about the treaty, so that does help some. At least, it seems like maybe she knows the why and the how.

Second, I see what you're doing there with the numbers. 30,000 people is a lot. But even 30,000 people, if I've never heard of them, doesn't have the same impact as a few people who are really close to the protagonist personally. This seems a little more like Superman saving the citizens of Gotham. It's pretty much what he's expected to do. But when Lois Lane is in trouble, that's a diferent story entirely.



AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This is getting better. I feel like I can actually tell what the story's about now.

First paragraph starts out great. Let me just show you where things are snagging, at least for me:

Then one month the spirits unexpectedly turn the ceremony into a real battle, annihilating the ghast-dancers and leaving the rest to take the blame.

"One night" would be a lot more stakes-y. And when people are annihilated, there's usually no one to take the blame, at least not in a still-alive sense.

Then she learns that the all the surviving sword-dancers have been executed just a few days before the full moon. With no dancers, there's no ceremony, and no treaty: thirty thousand citizens of Lyphras will be exposed to a desert full of deadly ghasts.

Wait, what? I thought she WAS one of the surviving sword-dancers. And that seems like a really stupid thing to do: I don't understand why it was done. Try to state it in a way that makes sense in the limited context of a query. (Even saying it doesn't make sense could do the trick.)

Other than that, I feel like this is coming into shape. If you've put as much work into polishing the manuscript, you may get somewhere with this.

Mister Furkles said...

It’s better.

Whiny Snivelies:

“… annihilating the ghast-dancers …” implied that all are killed. You could just say “… killing some …”.

If you are sending an email query you should break up the big blocks of text – that’s advice from an agent who no longer blogs. I would break the second paragraph at “Her deepening …”.

“… of them in tribute …” could be “… of them as tribute …”. Sounds better to me but others may disagree.

“… and a few friends besides … both spirit and human.” Makes no sense to me at all. What are you saying? Does she kill a few of her friends just to keep in practice? Try two sentences.

“… that the all the …” Drop the first ‘the’.

“ … just a few days before the full moon.” The time of execution detracts from the impact of them all being executed. Dead is dead.

The sentence “Returning to Lyphras … permanently.” is too long for a query and it tries to cover too much ground. I would leave off with [sorry for the Ozark grammar] “vicious miasma” because you just can’t explain it in a query. “… thinks she finally has the tricks she needs …” could be “… mastered the techniques needed to …”. ‘Tricks’ would be fine in a nineteenth century novel but the meaning of the word has shifted to more of a prank or a clever illusion. So, bust this sentence up into two or three.

Author said...

I feel like I can actually tell what the story's about now.

Me too!

If you've put as much work into polishing the manuscript, you may get somewhere with this.

Fourth draft of the manuscript, now out for beta. One or two more good scrubs, I expect.

Thanks for sticking with me, everybody.

Kelsey said...

Hi Author,

I agree that Iryeh returning to save a city is--OK... but Iryeh returning to save a city where her best-friend/sister/love interest lives is much more compelling.

OR, if you want to make it a real dilemma, you could make the MC have to choose between innocent city folks and the best friend/sister/love interest--picture Spider-man having to choose between the bus full of kids dangling on one side of the building and Gwen Stacy on the other.

Dare to make your MC's problems so bad so can't immediately find a solution... and then, with time, solve them.

Good luck. Kudos on the work you've put into this so far.

Iris said...

I've read all your queries on this blog, but one thing you never ever addressed is this: why were all the ghast-dancers killed? Who killed them? It would be illogical for the Queen to do that - she blames Iryeh, and besides, surely the Queen is not stupid and knows she needs these dancers to defend her city? So no, it's not possible for the Queen to order the massacre.

So who did it, and why?

Incidentally, my favourite version was Version 3 - thereafter I felt like your pitch was becoming more and more boring. They sort of lost that magical touch about ghast-dancers.

And why is Fleck mentioned? He doesn't seem to do anything - either give him a purpose or cut him. I'd be more tempted to expand on Third - give us a clue about what it is Iryeh learns from Third. Fleck is boring. Third is awesome. And in all fairness Fleck sounds like a side whereas Third sounds like the real love interest and male MC.

Author said...

Dare I?



The enemy changed the rules. It's Iryeh's only explanation for why a routine ceremonial battle against the demonic utuk left her king dead. Unfortunately, the grieving queen sees only treason. Iryeh was ready to die for her city, but as a hero, not a traitor. She runs. In a desert full of vicious utuk and lawless settlements, she's no safer outside the walls than in them.

Soon Iryeh learns she's not the only sword-dancer who's ever run from the service of Lyphras, and that her "ceremonial" moves hold real power. The revelation reignites her sense of purpose. If she can't protect people from the utuk officially anymore, she'll do it on her own--though as a vigilante, since the queen's soldiers are still on her trail. Evidence mounts that the disruption of the ceremony was no fluke, and Iryeh gets an appeal from beyond the grave: the next ceremony approaches, and what happened to the king might happen to the entire city.

The enemy changed the rules. Luckily for the world of the living, Iryeh's changed too.

Chicory said...

Ooh, you're getting some tension in there. I would change `though as a vigilante, since the queen's soldiers are still on her trail.' to `as a vigilante with the queen's soldiers on her trail.' It's a tiny quibble, but I think the change would give more immediacy.

SB said...

First paragraph makes it sound like the king was the one doing ceremonial battle against the enemy, so then having the queen accuse Iryeh of treason seems to come out of nowhere. The continuing threat she faces from the queen's soldiers doesn't make sense, since we don't know what cause they have to chase her.

Also, it sounds like the enemy broke the rules, not changed them.

And I agree with AA that you need to give her a personal interest in protecting the city. Readers can connect with "her family still lives there, and even though they gave her up to be sacrificed as a sword-dancer and turned their backs on her when she was accused of treason, they're still her family and she's not about to let them die" better than "there are a bunch of anonymous people who will die if she doesn't do something". Because anonymous people die all the time. It's one thing to hear about how many soldiers are getting killed in a war overseas. It's another thing to sit down and talk to someone who's spouse/sibling/child/parent died in such a war.

AA said...

It still has the same problem that all the previous versions have had: One person attempting to save an entire city full of people who apparently have no names and no identities. Despite the fact that Iryeh apparently grew up there, she doesn't seem to know anyone there or have any relatives there.

It's connectionless and therefore emotionless.

Suppose I give you some movie plots. These are from Netflix.

1. The rough-hewn captain of a broken-down East African riverboat teams with a straitlaced missionary to take on a German gunboat during WWI.

2.The Ludlow clan -- father William and brothers Alfred, Tristan and Sam -- splinters when Sam leaves to fight in World War I against his dad's wishes.

3.In a 1950s Illinois town, a pair of blue-collar brothers sets out to romance three upper-class sisters, much to the dismay of their tyrannical father.

4.When an ancient magician kidnaps his friend's fiancée, a two-fisted trucker and a sexy attorney must navigate a shadowy realm to capture the culprit.

What do these all have in common? Emotional connections between two or more people. And notice how succinctly the plot can be described if it has these connections. Otherwise you're stuck just explaining what happens, and then it will always be either too detailed or not enough.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This query does hang together more. The only thing that's really snagging me now is utuks. If we don't know what utuks are, it's going to be hard to feel threatened by them. Consider replacing "utuk" with a word we know.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I'm coming at this without having read any of the previous versions, so hopefully I can give you a fresh perspective.

Make the fourth sentence of paragraph one the first. It brings in the main character right away and it's much more exciting than an unknown enemy changing unknown rules. Then backtrack and explain why and how Iryeh was ready to die as a hero and what went wrong.

At a mere two paragraphs an a closing sentence (likely accompanied by a closing paragraph explaining your book, genre, word count, credentials, etc), this is probably a little on the short side. Flesh it out and start by clarifying why the utuk are merely the opposing side in a ceremonial battle in one sentence and a fearsome and vicious desert predator. "Ceremonial" makes it sound like a pageant where both sides have agreed to participate. If that's not the case, find another word.

The second paragraph has a bad case of the vagues. I don't know what a sword dancer is, how the ceremony was disrupted, anything about this appeal from beyond the grave, or what fate besides death faces the city and why.

The more you show Iryeh taking action and making decisions, the stronger she seem to readers of your query.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I think it's good to be on the short side. I once sent out a query that was four sentences long. Half the agents I sent it to requested.