Sunday, April 29, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

The Seven Swords

1. It starts when Maria finds a tarot card with seven swords on it outside a church with a broken stained glass window. Now she's being followed by some dude with horns. Maybe she shouldn't be working her way down the list of deadly sins trying to commit them all.

2. To fulfill an ancient prophecy and save his kingdom from destruction, Amir must collect the seven swords of the famous Kings of Olde. If only they weren't guarded by dragons, goblins, angry mage kings, and other creatures who, for no apparent reason, refuse to make this easy for him.

3. While searching for the seven swords of power with which to defeat an evil mage, Syvrus encounters some onionpeople who tell her that her quest may be misguided. Perhaps it's not the mage who's evil, but the gods. Or the talking dragon that sent her on her quest.

4. As midnight looms over Bud's Haunted Bar and Grill in Cincinnati, Iggy the busboy must go to the basement to get the mop. Once there, he hears hideous sounds in the dark and calls to Loretta Muldoon, the savvy waitress, for only she can wield the Seven Swords needed to subdue the Horrible One who lurks below.

5. Her life threatened by an evil queen, princess White Snow escapes to an armory in the forest where she discovers seven swords: Sharpy, Slicey, Cutty, Hacky, Stabby, Slashy, and Gladius.

6. When Sir Gilgebar presents the Eight Sacred Swords of the Dragon of the Eternal Temple from the Mountain of the Magic Emerald to Princess Morleiea of the Northern Fae, she snaps. "Seven swords, you idiot! Not eight, not six, not daggers, not pistols! Seven -- swords! Either read the random rules of my fantasy world or quit wasting my time." Hilarity continues.



Original Version
Dear Evil Editor,

Syvrus has only one desire: to become immortal.

Luckily - or perhaps not - she is given that opportunity by a snobby dragon named RubyFlame, but with one condition: first she must live among immortals for several years. During this highly pleasant - in other words, bloody terrifying - time, Syvrus learns that that there is a threat to her lovable - in other words, bloody crazy - immortal friends. [Your desire to use the word "bloody" as often as possible suggests that you've read Evil Editor's list of: 

15 Words that Make a Query Irresistible

Antichrist
Autopsy
Bag of human heads
Belgian
Blood
Brain-eating
Corpses
Giant Squid
Murder
Severed
Sharks
Shoulderless
Trout-like
Wolfman
Zamboni

However, I had a different kind of "bloody" in mind, the kind that comes before nouns like "war," "corpse," and "bag of human heads." In any case, I don't see the point of saying highly pleasant means terrifying and lovable means crazy. If she's terrified and they're crazy, where are pleasant and lovable coming from? Are those the dragon's words?

Syvrus: I seek immortality.
RubyFlame: I can give you that, but you'll have to complete a dangerous task to prove you're worthy.
Syvrus: What do I have to do?
RubyFlame: Spend several pleasant years living with lovable characters.
Syvrus. Kill me now.]

A powerful mage named Raven wants to destroy all the immortals in the world - and the gods as well. [Has anyone ever defined "immortal" for this Raven guy?]

The only way he can do this, though, is with the help of a legendary weapon created from seven swords - swords that he has thus far been unable to find, even after decades of irritated searching. [It's not the searching that's irritated, it's Raven. The searching is "irritating." Although a better word would be futile or fruitless. Fruitless? Swordless!] [The reason Raven can't find the seven swords is because the legendary weapon was created from the seven swords. That is, the seven were melted down and the legendary weapon created from their molten steel. I know this from reading the first half of the sentence. You may argue that what you meant is that Raven needs to find the seven swords so that he can melt them down and create the legendary weapon from them, but I counter that argument by saying, If the legendary weapon hasn't even been created yet, how can it already be legendary?] This explains why RubyFlame promises Syvrus that if she finds these swords and (of course) destroys Raven first, she will finally be made immortal. [I get it. RubyFlame = Wizard, Syvrus = Dorothy, Raven = witch, swords = broomstick, and immortality = Kansas. I haven't yet figured out who's playing the scarecrow, tin man and lion, but I'm sure we'll find out very soon.] With this irresistible enticement, Syvrus agrees.

But her journey has barely begun. As she searches for the seven swords, Syvrus meets various bawdy, majestic, and onion-like characters, [Onion-like characters? Shrek described ogres as being like onions: "Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers." Are your characters ogres? Because we were expecting a scarecrow.] [Also, it's not clear if you mean some are bawdy, some majestic and some, like these on the right, onion-like, or if you mean all the characters are, like that on the left, bawdy and majestic and onion-like.] all with different stories to tell. Many of these stories are not ones that Syvrus is happy to hear, especially since they go against her beliefs about the immortals and the gods. [The belief that they're bloody crazy or the belief that they're lovable?] She learns that while much courage is necessary to tell these stories, even more is necessary to truly listen to them. [This is too vague. What message do the stories convey?] As her journey continues, she discovers that there is more to Raven's desire to destroy the immortals and the gods than simple evil [--in other words, bloody complicated good]. And it is Syvrus who must eventually decide the fate of the world's beings - not all of which can survive. [One thing's for sure: the immortals will survive. Right? Right?] [I hope they don't send the onions to the guillotine, or everyone will be crying! Ba dum ching.]

The Seven Swords is a completed 135,000 word fantasy novel [--in other words, two bloody 67,000-word fantasy novels--] (directed at young adults) with philosophical undertones. [Either tell us up front that it's YA or tell us Syvrus's age. Usually it's not young adults who are worried about their mortality, so we might assume she's older; often snobby dragons and talking onions appear in children's books, so we might assume she's younger.] Thank you for your time and consideration,


Notes

How is Syvrus supposed to know when she's found the seven swords? How are they different from other swords? Did the dragon give her any idea where to look or how to identify them?

How is Syvrus supposed to defeat a powerful mage? Does she know how to convert the seven swords into one legendary weapon? It would be hard to defeat anyone while wielding seven swords.

If your philosophical undertones make it into the query, you don't need to tell us they're in the book.

If someone is telling me stories that go against my beliefs, it would take tolerance and patience to listen. I don't see why it would take courage. If the stories the onions tell are about actual things the gods and immortals have done, tell us what these things are so we better understand Syvrus's conflict.


Selected Comments

arhooley said...Confusion reigns. These immortal onion-people are bawdy, majestic, lovable, and bloody crazy. Times are bloody terrifying and yet they are passed in story-telling. A quest for immortality, a dragon, a legendary seven-sword weapon, and a mage who wants to destroy gods and immortals all come down to some girl wandering around getting philosophy lessons.
This is very, very weird. This know-nothing girl "must" decide the fate of all the world's beings? I don't like this one bit. I'm not a fan of big, centralized government. I hope I'm on Syvrus's "Save" list. But can she get rid of the coyotes in my neighborhood so I can let my cat out more often?

Also, in a world where immortality is achievable, why is Syvrus the only one seeking it? Where are all the aging despots and Woody Allens and people whose loved ones have fatal diseases?


Angela Robbins said...I think this query is like an onion, the more I try to peel away at it... (finish as you may this sentence).

I'm bloody confused. I don't understand the correlation between
the pleasant/terrifying and loveable/crazy either. Not sure if it's an attempt at sarcasm... but it just doesn't work for me.

Why does the MC want to become immortal? Does she change her mind when she learns that they're (a) bloody crazy and (b) this Raven guy wants to wipe them off the planet or (c) they're not who she first thought they were (as what it seems you are implying by the stories the onion people tell of the immortals)?


Stephen Prosapio said...Hmmmmm. If I were an agent (which I'm not) there would be several things about this query that would concern me. First, as EE alluded to, YA novels are typically shorter than adult novels. First time novelists aren't very successful getting 135k word novels sold. You can cry all you want how unfair it is, or you can accept it as a way of doing business and write something that can get sold.

135,000 words is way way too long for YA. The first Harry Potter novel (the one that was incredibly successful and thus allowed the writer to deviate from the norm) was about 85k words.

Next there are words used awkwardly and wrong "irritating" being the worst one. "In other words" twice in the opening paragraph being another. Be careful with words, they are the building blocks of our craft.
:-)


Whirlochre said...Far be it from me to be a predictor of world events, but I suspect the bawdy, majestic, and onion-like characters may attract much minion attention (rather like the strangely angelic man).

But, if onion-like characters there are, and if they feature highly in the plot, along with Raven, Syvrus and Rubyflame, it would help if you just dished things up straighter. There are too many asides here, which (of course) are annoying. Unless there's stacks of humour in the book, I'd drop this in-query commentary.

135,000 words seems very long. Sure this isn't a short trilogy?


Joe G said...That onion man is my new favorite cartoon character. I'm not sure I'm all that interested in an epic fantasy where some girl goes on a journey where she must listen to stories. Backstories are pretty much implied right? Does she actually do anything or did you not want us to think she really did have to fight seven evil ex boyfriends, ahem, I mean, find seven swords? The plot sounds formulaic in the extreme, I'm afraid, like a video game.

The onion man though... gold.


vkw said...I think the author was trying to be "cute" and sarcastic in the query, perhaps even giving a taste of RubyFlame.

Here's the problem with that - the author took it too far, too many times.

I agree with the length, it's too long.

The query needs to be more specific. We need to know more about the immortals. What are they? Why does the mage want to get rid of them? How do they differ from the gods?

what exactly does the MC find out.


_*rachel*_ said...Here's the easy way:

The mage Raven is trying to gather seven legendary swords in order to forge them into a weapon so powerful it can kill even immortals. Syvran aims to stop him; if she can, her reward is immortality. But the friends she makes in her quest make her begin to wonder--are the immortals really the good guys here?

Then tell us what she does on her quest, what she decides, and what she does about it. Leave the dragon out, and include one or two of her main friends. With 137,000 words, I know you've got enough to give us more of the plot.

Speaking of wordcount, isn't that a little long? Between that and having a dragon named RubyFlame, I'm worried. The rest of your query doesn't make any terrible mistakes, but it doesn't have enough detail or zing to balance those two out. Give us a bit--just a bit--of the voice you had in the first paragraph in the revision.


Dave F. said...The Leeks and Ramps have formed a legion under General Garlic and sharpened their chives to object to this query as mocking all good onions. But alas, General Garlic stepped on a Rakkyo and died of blood poisoning.


AA said...To me, this query took a nosedive when the author mentioned destroying immortals. If they're immortal, they can't be destroyed, right? I don't see what purpose is served by making a word mean whatever is convenient for you at the time.


M. G. E. said...There's no unity to the premise and plot, nor to the query. Mages, dragons, immortals, and... onions?

The two asides is a major no-no. It indicates that your repertoire of sentence constructions is lacking, or that it's your pet construction, and that you're unable to spot over-seasoned prose.

Worse, it just doesn't feel authentic, rather it feels like a tacked-on attempt at verve to come-off as having voice.

The unintentional grammar mistake would spike this with most agents, even were everything else pretty good. It's hard to teach people to spot unintentionally misused words / grammar. A manuscript riddled with them combined with an author who's poor at spotting them means the agent may have to hire an editor to get the manuscript to a publishable state. They don't like that.

Lastly the word count is beyond the pale.

I just don't see anything that makes me want to read this. Swords as plot-tokens, a magical bad guy, and some girl who inexplicably wants to be immortal.

So, why does she want it? How is it she happens to know some immortals? Umm, kind of hoped I wouldn't ask this, but, is there any romantic involvement with the antagonist/mage dude?

I ask because you've given her what appears to be an impossible task without -any- hope of achieving it, and no skills to speak of.


Anonymous said...What everyone else has said...but in particular, EE's first sentence in his commentary. What makes this a YA story? YA fiction should have plots that teen readers can identify with, and immortality just isn't usually on a teen's "top ten things I want"...they already think they're immortal anyway. Immortality as coming-of-age...hmm.

Ditto on the weird asides in paragraph one. They smack of trying too hard.


AA said...A lot of people, creatures, onions, etc. are involved- why? To teach the protag some sort of lesson. Why? 'Cause otherwise there would be no story. Imagine this poor girl with a quest and no obliging mages, ogres, meddlesome fairies, snooty dragons or capricious sprites to show up and be the several dozens of characters stories like this seem to require?

Even where the plot is stated here, nothing is clear. Why does the MC have to live among the immortals for seven years? Because the obnoxious dragon says so. How can there be a threat to somebody who's already immortal? Because the author needs a threat for the story to work. How is it that one regular person can decide the fate of an entire world's people? Because that's how the story ends.

Where are the characters' motivations?


Gwen Ever said...I really liked this in a bloody horrifing way. Is this your real query? I ask this because somebody without a lot of time on their hands won't get past the first paragraph. When an editor takes time out of their busy schedule to give you pointers, that’s pure gold. (That’s hats off to you EE, you do a great job!) I like the originality of your onion people. It reminds me of genetic engineering, a kind of post Monsanto world where little Jimmy, who gets sent out to weed the family garden, gets cornered by the onions and carrots. The last thing we hear is “Help me Mommy, Help me Mommy!” Listen to the advice here and edit, edit, edit. You have a great imagination and kudos for a new twist to the ‘dragon, swords, rings, and hobbit people’ theme.



2 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

I suppose it's a little late to point out that the protag's name is not Syvran but Syvrus. Maybe she wants to be immortal so she can live long enough to see 'us' endings become more common among names for women?

The Author said...

Didn’t Fred Saberhagen already do a quest-to-find-magical-swords-that-can-face-down-the-gods thing? But there were 12 of those, I think.

Perhaps a bit of tweaking:

Syvrus is tired of her job. It’s no joke to get severed limbs out of her zamboni gears every night. She complains to the management, but they just shake their heads and shrug. The zombies pay well. If they want to do their brain-eating on ice, that’s their own business.

When one of the zombies leaves a bag of human heads in her locker, she decides she’s had enough. She quits her job, and sets out to live her life-long dream of becoming immortal.

Along the way, she meets a Belgian wolfman named Raven. At first he’s a dream come true. He’s hot, smart, and knows the answers to her immortality-seeking-questions. But as they trek across the country, murder seems to follow.

As the corpses pile up, Syvrus gets more and more suspicious. Every autopsy report talks about ripped throats. Even more mysterious, every victim has had an upside-down pentagram tattooed on the chest. Could Raven be more than just a blood-thirsty lycanthrope? Could he actually be an anti-christ?

Inexplicably, her quest for immortality culminates at the bottom of the ocean. Giant squids, great white sharks, and an immortal species of shoulderless fish-men face off in a three-way battle for control of the planet.

Only Syvrus can stop them. Holding the fate of the world in her hands, she leaps into the midst of the battle. Unsurprisingly, the fighting doesn’t stop. The sharks, squid, and fish-men don’t even notice one girl in the midst of their blood frenzy.

She has to make the ultimate choice: Die as a result of leaping into the middle of a battle, or join the ranks of the immortals, just as she’s always dreamed, and rule the world forever.

The catch? Could she live with herself as a trout-like fish-girl for the rest of eternity?

(Did I get all 15?)