Saturday, December 17, 2011


Guess the Plot

Courage of Story

1. An autobio- graphical tale of a life spent pushing fiction to increasingly hostile, and sometimes violent publishers.

2. The truth is revealed as the cowardly lion documents what really happened after his fateful encounter with a young girl from Kansas. Also, a recipe for stew using a tin pot and straw tinder.

3. A simple girl, a king and a mage have a story to tell, but first they must find someone who has the courage to listen. Do you? What about you?

4. Eighteen year old Tom Story cuts a dashing figure in his WWII uniform. At home, he uses a sob story and the uniform to bag hot nurses, but once he hits the front-lines everybody will see . . . the courage of Story.

5. Google Random Title Generator. Click on the top Googlition. Click on Give me some titles! Do you like the third one down? If not, request more titles. Do you like the third one down now?

6. When an editor receives a query letter for a book whose title seems to have been created with a random word generator, he soon realizes that he will have to write most of the fake plots. Can he get past the bad mood this is sure to put him in before he reads the letter, or is the author doomed to endure a scathing critique?

Original Version

Dearest Evil Editor,

Many people can speak without fear, but how many can listen? [Actually, I think you have it backwards. A lot of people are afraid of public speaking, but almost everyone can listen without fear. Unless what they're listening to is the dentist's drill or the footsteps of an obsessed serial killer coming up the creaky stairs. Or a shark.] [Do sharks make sounds? I've never heard one, but that may be because the sounds were drowned out by the screams of the people the sharks were devouring.] [Opening with a vague rhetorical question is bad enough, but:

1. A primary feature of a rhetorical question is that the answer is obvious.
2. You apparently believe the obvious answer to your rhetorical question is Very few people.
3. The actual answer is Almost everybody.

You're better off not asking the question and starting with the next paragraph.]

Raven is a formidable mage with a very gloomy outlook on life. Thani is the youngest, but also wisest, king his realm has yet seen. And Syvrus is a relatively simple girl with a relatively simple wish: to become immortal. [No point modifying everything with "relatively," unless you explain what they're relative to.] Together, these three characters tell a tale of power, of love, and most of all, of the courage to listen. [I don't even know what that means. What do they listen to? This is the part of the query where you're supposed to summarize the tale. All you've done is list three characters. What do the characters do? Who tries to stop them from doing it?]

Courage of Story [The title is bland. I got a couple decent ones from the random title generator: Wizard of Words and Thief of Silence. Even knowing nothing about what happens in your book, I recommend these titles over Courage of Story.] is a fantasy novel (directed at young adults) about a world of mythical creatures and incredible mysteries, and can be compared to other fantasy works such as “Eragon” or the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. However, unlike these novels, Courage of Story is not about a fight of good vs. evil. Rather, it is about the destruction of [evil] despotic traditional powers [by the forces of good], as well as sudden and powerful disillusionment. [This is all vague. What, specifically happens in the book?] This novel is completed and 135,000 words in length.

My name is _________________, and I am a second-year student at McGill University – with an avid interest in fantasy writing, directed at young adults. I have written a proposal for my novel entitled, Courage of Story. I would like to invite you to review my proposal (or my manuscript itself) and consider representing me. [Get rid of that paragraph.]

I noticed your impressive credentials during my search for a literary agent. I would be honored to have you represent me. If you are interested in my novel, please contact me as soon as possible. [You haven't said anything about your plot; how can I be interested?] I will be showing my proposal (or manuscript) to only one agent at a time. [You'll get it to three or four agents a year with that policy.] You can reach me at ______ or by email at __________. [That paragraph can go too.]

Yours truly,


Start over. Write an 8- to 10-sentence plot summary focusing on your main character's goal, problem, solution. Make it specific, and make it sound so interesting we just have to read the book. Then just say ___________ is a 135,000-word YA fantasy that can't be much worse than Eragon.

Selected Comments

fairyhedgehog said...There, and I was sure it would be GTP #4. #3 was hysterical. I always feel bad commenting on GTPs when I've nothing to offer the author of the query but I have nothing useful to add to EE's excellent advice. Sorry author!

josephrobertlewis said...Lots of issues here, which EE covers nicely. You should read more examples of queries here and on agent blogs before re-writing this.

1. The title is weak and meaningless.

2. You need a plot.

3. Comparisons to poorly written books by teenagers are not advised.

4. You need a plot.

enewmeyer said...EE - your comment about the title generator has led to an entire class period devoted to creating fake plots for the bad titles I generated. Who knew my 4th and 5th graders were so brilliant?

Dave F. said...Many people can speak without fear, but how many can listen? Listen without fear? A person can be taught to listen to what other people say and then act appropriately. It's part of the training you can get for conducting public meetings and compliance audits of quality management systems.
Not the material of a novel.

Stripped of adjectives, you tell us: Raven is a mage. Thani is king. Syvrus wants to be immortal. Mythical creatures, mysteries, despotic powers and disillusionment occur.
I can't even guess how those three characters interact nor can I guess what they have to do with the other items.

Tom said...EE's very last line was spot on. Eragon. For a 15-year-old writer it was a great novel.

Despotic governments are evil, unless your definition of evil is different than mine. I suppose you mean there is no Sauron or Dark Lord for the hero to fight.

By the way, who is your hero? (In the story I mean) Who is the villain? Not the king, if he is so wise, but some sort of despot.

Joanna Hoyt said...I think there's a story in here that might interest me. The courage-to-listen part makes sense to me (EE must have led a sheltered life...and I think Courage to Listen makes a better title than Courage of Story) and the disillusionment part sounds possibly interesting too; but like the others here I'd like to know what actually happens.

Stephen Prosapio said..."Syvrus is a relatively simple girl with a relatively simple wish: to become immortal." Was that supposed to be a joke? The tone of the query isn't funny, so if this wasn't an attempt at humor, this makes no sense. I'm sharing my honest thoughts here just so that you can see the reaction that lines like these give readers/writers:

Becoming immortal certainly isn't a simple accomplishment (unless it is in your world, but you haven't explained that). It technically could be a "simple wish" in and of itself in that it's not a multi-tiered wish. But just reading a line like this makes me DISinterested in reading your pages because I would assume the book is going to be filled with phrases like this that try to say something but don't say what you really mean for them to say.

The fact that you don't go into the plot of your book, and then go out of your way to say this is NOT a battle of good vs evil makes me think that this is an experimental work without a protag that rambles and sermonizes.

I say this not to accuse you of anything and I very well may be 100% wrong about your novel, but if those are my thoughts and I read about 4 queries a week (on this site), imagine what a literary agent who is reading 1,000 queries a week will think?

Kudos to you for sharing this here. Keep writing. Keep rewriting!

Stick and Move said...If your story isn't about good vs. evil, scrap it and start over.

Just kidding, but definitely scrap that line. I'll just reiterate: tell us what the story is about, and leave out what it is not about. I'm sure you have a plot, tell the reader the main plot points in the query. Don't be coy or cute, just give us the protag, the goal, the antag and the obstacles he/she presents. And the outcome.

I won't pile on about the title.

Queries are hard. Take the advice offered here and rewrite it so we'll want to read the book. You might have to rewrite it fifty times. It's part of the process. Good luck with it!

Jeb said...This sounds like it can't make up its mind whether to be a literary novel or a fantasy adventure. So, given the length, it's two novels in one manuscript. Sorry to pile on, author, but all those meaningless words in the query do not give me hope for the manuscript being less than desperately bloated. Either you need to write a query letter that reflects the crispness of your novel's prose, or you seriously need to chop at least a third of the words from your ms.

_*rachel*_ said...Put the query letter down. Now look on the left side of the blog. You see the thing labeled Blog Archive? Yes? Click on one of the pages below it and start reading. Read it all.

Bibi said...Also look at Evil's list of 15 things he cares about in order of importance in your query and go to the Phoenix Sullivan Dare to Dream blog. Research the query letter until you're blue in the face and blind in the eye. The query is the only sales tool you have. Good luck.

1 comment:

batgirl said...

EE's comments on the second version of this (The Seven Swords) were pretty darn funny too, especially the list of words that make a query irresistible.