Monday, December 19, 2011

Face-Lift 978

Guess the Plot

Niko and the Shadows

1. Shy child Niko Jones is so terrified of the school bus, when the 1st day of kindergarten comes he runs to hide in the shadows -- and is never seen again! This humor-horror picture book will help children realize going to school is better than the alternatives.

2. It snows in Paris and Niko, a young alley cat, nearly freezes until a family of Shadows takes him in. Together they merrily haunt the Louvre until evil busybody Dr. Debut decides to fumigate. Plus, a 12-year old pickpocket named Nell.

3. The wizard king switched his infant son, Niko, with a pizza delivery dude's kid to protect him from the Shadows, a rough syndicate of magical thugs. But Niko could never pass as ordinary and at 17, he blows his own cover with a reckless spell. Trouble ensues. Also, a girl band and winged cats.

4. Niko heads for the city, where he's heard magic is common, but the only magic he sees are creepy shadow creatures. Invited to attend the king's grandson, Niko is soon caught up in court intrigue and an assassination. Now it's up to Niko to save the day by following the shadow creatures through the Valley of Monsters to defeat a powerful necromancer.

5. Sent away to live in exile with other surly teens, Niko soon realizes something sinister lurks in the shadows. Vampires? But unlike the ones on TV they all look hideously dead and smell worse. Maybe they're zombies? No, they are Zombires, a new kind of biting monster that really is impossible to kill.

6. The Shadows, a one-hit wonder twenty years ago, are on the comeback trail thanks to acapella rap. Niko's Lounge, desperate for a live group, hires them for Christmas. Niko needs a miracle: he promised his mother a real tree and a turkey dinner. If he can get the shadows to turn their jackets inside out, rip off a couple of sleeves and lower their pants 6 inches maybe there's a Christmas miracle in the offing.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Fifteen-year-old Niko grew up in the one place where magic doesn't work [Earth.], though he's read about it all his life. Unfortunately, when he moves to the ancient city of Aldemyr, he finds no magic swords or eldritch wands. [Why is this unfortunate? Did he move there because he needs a magic sword and an eldritch wand in order to become a wizard?] Instead, he can see the scarpies, creepy little shadow creatures who live in darkness and feed on black magic. [Why "instead"? That implies an either/or situation involving opposites, as in: I expected it to be hot in the Sahara; instead it was snowing. Even if Niko found an eldritch wand, he still would have seen the scarpies. Instead of "instead," you want something like: In fact, he sees nothing supernatural . . . except scarpies, creepy little shadow creatures who live in darkness and feed on black magic.] Most people can see a few of them here or there, but Niko sees them in the hundreds, creeping around the city, stalking people, or throwing themselves against buildings, trying to get in. No one takes the scarpies seriously; Niko's cousin calls them spectral rats. Niko just tries to ignore them.

But when Niko is invited to court to attend the king's young grandson, the king's son and heir is murdered by a mysterious magical attack. [That sentence isn't connected to the previous paragraph well enough to start it with "But." Either start it with "When," or make the connection, which I'm guessing goes like this:

No one takes the scarpies seriously.

But when the king's son and heir is murdered by a mysterious magical attack, it's the scarpies who hold the key to the assassin's identity.] Later that night, the scarpies lure Niko to the remains of animals killed in a black magic ceremony. Coincidence? Or is there a connection? [Lure him, or lead him? "Lure" suggests they don't have his best interests at heart.]

And then there's the strange arrogant girl, Julian, who came to Aldemyr the previous winter carrying a corpse on her back. [Did anyone ask her for an explanation? Or did she just drop the corpse off in front of the morgue and check into a Motel 6?] She tracks Niko wherever he goes and the scarpies are as drawn to her as they are to the black magic remnants they discover. People tell Niko she's a monster. She tells him they're right. Is she an ally, a murderer, or something even worse?

With a court barely held together by an ailing king, warring factions vie for power and control. Niko is certain his new friend, the young prince, now heir to the throne, is in danger. Niko is forced to accept Julian's help and follow the scarpies through the darkest places in Aldemyr, even through the Shadow Mire, the valley of monsters, to stop a necromancer before anyone else is killed.

Niko and the Shadows is a YA fantasy novel complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Revised Version

Fifteen-year-old Niko grew up in the one place where magic doesn't work. Seeking an escape from the boredom, he moves to the ancient city of Aldemyr to live with his cousin, expecting to find wizards wielding eldritch wands, changing dogs into dragons and dragons into dogs. Instead he sees nothing unusual . . . unless you count the scarpies, creepy little shadow creatures that live in darkness and feed on black magic.

No one takes the scarpies seriously (Niko's cousin calls them spectral rats). But when the king's son and heir is murdered by a mysterious magical attack, it's the scarpies who lead Niko to the clue that could reveal the assassin's identity.

Then there's the strange arrogant girl, Julian, who came to Aldemyr the previous winter carrying a corpse on her back. She follows Niko wherever he goes. People tell Niko she's a monster. She tells him they're right.

With the court barely held together by an ailing king, warring factions vie for power and control. Niko is certain the young prince, now heir to the throne, is in danger. Teamed up with Julian, he follows the scarpies through the darkest place in Aldemyr, the Shadow Mire, to stop a necromancer before anyone else is killed.

Niko and the Shadows is a YA fantasy novel complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

With warring factions trying to gain control of the court, why would a kid who just moved to the city be invited to attend the king's grandson?

Not clear whether Niko moves to Aldemyr just to witness some magic or to become a magician or just coincidentally.

Do these kids really have the ability to take on a powerful necromancer, or are the scarpies doing all the dirty work? What does Niko bring to the table? I'm assuming Julian has some powerful mojo that will be useful against the necromancer. If she doesn't, we probably don't need her in the query. Of course, I couldn't walk 50 feet with a corpse on my back, so Julian gotta have something going for her.

15 comments:

Laurie said...

Author here - Love it! I’ve been looking forward to posting here ever since I started following the blog. The query re-write helps immensely and the real Guess the Plot would actually be a pretty decent blurb.

To answer your questions – the power struggle didn’t start (openly) until the crown prince was murdered – he was running things and power seemed pretty stable. Niko’s family are powerful bankers and were the crown prince’s allies. They had no kid of appropriate age to send to court until Niko moved there with his mother and sister, and they jumped at the chance to get Niko next to the king’s grandson.

There is magic going on in the city, there are magicians, and people use small spells every day. Niko just can’t do any of it, he has no magical ability whatsoever, except that he can see the scarpies. That’s what he brings to the table. Julian, who does have serious mojo, would be perfectly happy to ditch him, but she can’t see where the scarpies are going. They don’t intend to take on the assassin, they plan to find him, get proof, and then get help.

Loved all the fake plots, and the image of Julian heading for the Motel 6 nearly got a keyboard spew.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Basically you want to write a query that doesn't raise unanswered questions, rather than answer those it does.

Just use EE's query. It looks fine. Only two things to add:

1. The scarpies sounded like cockroaches to me and I don't much care for cockroaches. They are front and center in the query, but if they're not in the novel you may want to deemphasize them a little in the query.

1. I realize all girls' names are now boys' names and vice versa, but when I got to "Julian" I started to skim. Don't give agents a reason to do that.

Dave said...

This will be a little shameless as a request but let us know if this gets published because I have two nieces who will be the appropriate age for the book. It sounds like fun. And I'm always on the lookout for book gifts.

AA said...

I'm bored by this query.

Here's the problem: Court intrigues in magical kingdoms are going on all the time in novels like these. They go on all the time in real life. When the average American hears about an assasination in Madeupistan, thought to be the work of rebel leader Baasaakwards, how do most of us react? We just hope it isn't going to somehow make gas prices rise.

The way to get around this is to make your characters compelling and interesting, so we care about what happens to them. You have failed. All we have is a teen boy whose only descriptor is the ability to see scarpies. We have scarpies that are described vaguely as shadow creatures and nuisances that few take seriously. We also have Julian, who may be a monster, and may be a friend, and may be a hairdresser, and may be a proctology student. We just don't know.

Their plan? To go find this assassin. Then? Go get help. And then? Life goes on. Seriously, these things happen all the time- intrigues, assassinations, rebellions, insurrections. It's just part of running a kingdom. This just doesn't seem like the ending to this or any story to me.

Another problem is that the main characters don't ever seem to be in real danger, except maybe when they decide to track down the assassin, but even that part is vague since we don't know how close they actually get to anyone or anything dangerous. There's also no ticking clock. There's vague talk about the kingdom barely holding and the heir being in danger, but how much time do the characters really have? Hours, days, weeks, or a month?

Here's what you need:

Reasons to care about the characters.
A time frame in which they must accomplish their goal.
An actual reason Julian is determined to track down the assassin, since she seems to have no stake in this. Also, how did she talk the MC into going along
with her?
A hint at a real ending to the story.
A hint that the main characters themselves, not just the kingdom, might actually be in some immediate danger.

Anonymous said...

You included enough interesting elements in the plot to make it sound like the book might be popular with its audience. Don't know that the 'Madeupistan' setting is helping. As AA indicates, insurrections etc commonly occur in the real world. To an adult I'm not sure this plot seems especially original or as gripping as a more grounded story set in recent Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc.

Overlap with the 'real' world, and the real world nature of some of the big issues dealt with helped make the Harry Potter stories work. The HP series was really about life and death and what matters most, not magic tricks. However, a few hours of escape into a fictional world can be a worthy goal, and setting this in a more 'realistic' situation would probably not add enough to justify the time spent rewriting. That would be a different book.

Laurie said...

Author again – Thanks, everyone for your comments. I can contribute to other people's queries, but writing my own seems impossible, so all insight is very helpful.

Thanks so much, Dave. If this ever gets published, you’ll probably hear me shouting from the rooftops. I’d be delighted to announce it here.

batgirl said...

Just want to say that it's an excellent batch of GTPs!

Author, I liked the info that Niko's family pushed him to meet the young prince, and that family interests are at stake. Maybe consider bringing that forward? That first Niko is at court for his family's sake, then the prince becomes his friend, then the prince's life is in danger and the only allies the two boys can find are the weird little scarpies and a strange girl who may be a murderer?

Laurie said...

Author again - here's a re-write. Thanks to EE and Batgirl for the direction.

Magic is real in the city of Aldemyr. Unfortunately, fifteen-year-old Niko has no magical abilities whatsoever . . . unless you count being able to see the scarpies, creepy little shadow creatures who live in darkness and feed on black magic. Most people see a few of them here or there, but Niko sees them in the hundreds, scuttling around the city. No one takes the scarpies seriously (Niko's cousin calls them spectral rats) and Niko would just as soon keep his talent quiet, especially now that his powerful family has sent him to court to attend the king's young grandson. But when the king's son and heir is murdered by a mysterious magical attack, it's the scarpies who lead Niko to a clue that could reveal the assassin.

Niko is tracked wherever he goes by the strange arrogant girl, Julian, who came to Aldemyr the previous winter carrying carrying a corpse on her back. She's one of the terrible Snow Reivers, savage warriors from the far north. People tell Niko she's a monster. She tells him they're right. But she's the only ally he has besides the scarpies.

With a court barely held together by an ailing king, factions vying for control and someone willing to kill for power, Niko is certain his new friend, the young prince, now heir to the throne, is in danger. Niko is forced to team up with Julian and follow the scarpies through the darkest place in Aldemyr, the Shadow Mire, to find a necromancer before anyone else is killed.

Niko and the Shadows is a YA fantasy complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Hopefully EE or batgirl will come back and give you some comments on your revision.

Evil Editor said...

Paragraph 2 has Julian carrying the corpse twice.

The previous version had Noko trying to STOP a necromancer. This one has him trying to FIND a necromancer, which could mean he seeks the aid of a necromancer.

I see no need to tell us that most people see a few scarpies. It just makes me wonder why they don't see the other ones.

I don't think Julian needs a full paragraph. In fact, you could drop the whole Julian paragraph, and in P3, change the last sentence to: Niko teams up with Julian, a savage snow reiver from the far north, and follows the scarpies through the darkest place in Aldemyr, the Shadow Mire, to ? before anyone else is killed.

If the necromancer is the villain, you might introduce him and tell us what he's up to and what Niko plans to do when he finds him before you wrap up.

Misty Nelson said...

It's contradictory to say Niko has not magic whatsoever UNLESS you count being able to see scarpies. Either he has NO magic whatsoever or he's got a little bit of seemingly useless magic.

Also, it's not really a special talent when other people can see them too regardless of if they can see a lot or a few.

The query is also a bit on the vague side. How are the scarpies leading him? Is it a direct, hey, come this way? If so it'd be over pretty quick and Julian wouldn't need to track him everywhere, just the one place the scarpies lead him.

Also, going back to others being able to see them, why is Niko the only one able to follow them to a clue? If he can see 50 of them and Joe Bob can see 10 can't those 10 lead Joe Bob to a clue as easily as 50 can lead Niko? What makes him so special?

If someone killed the Heir it's sorta obvious the Prince is in danger so you don't really have to spell that out.

I agree too that in the last query Niko was trying to stop a Necromancer and now he's trying to find one. It makes it sound like he's looking for the Necromancer to ask for help.

I think the query shows promise but it needs to be fleshed out. If you cut out the paragraph describing Julian like EE suggested you can add a new paragraph fleshing out your story. I also agree with EE that I'd like to see more about your bad guy, what he/she is doing and why and why Niko is the only one who can stop him.

Last note, and this is just me, but every time I see the word scarpies, I see scabies and I'm not sure that's what you're going for! :)

You're getting there though and this is definitely a book I'd read if I saw it in a bookstore. I love fantasy/magic and I LOVE male MC's. :)

Alaina said...

I'm struggling with queries myself, but I'll say this: it sounds to me like Scarpies are bugs, still; parasites. Evil creatures. When you say they're his only lead, I thought you meant in the way a bloody glove can lead to a murderer. They're his allies?

AA said...

You mention scarpies five times. You obviously think they're more interesting than I think they are. What they are: small indefinable creatures that can't really be visualized because they haven't been adequately described. They may figure big in the story, but they are taking up a disproportionate amount of space in the query.

Evil Editor said...

(the story’s a mystery and the ending has to be something unexpected, right?)

To the reader of the book, yes. To the reader of the query, no, although naming some of the suspects and their motives is usually sufficient if it's that kind of mystery.

You have a product. You want someone else to sell it. Your job is to convince her you write well and have a story she can sell. She won't read your book just to find out who the killer is.

Laurie said...

Ah, so a hint of the true ending would be advisable as well? So much to squeeze in to so few words - though, if I remove the other stuff, I think I can get that in. Back to the drawing board. ^_^

Thanks again!