Saturday, November 03, 2012

Evil Editor Classics


Guess the Plot

Flames of Hatred

1. When flirty English Daisy meets brash laird Sandy McTenninch at a Balmoral garden party, it's Scots-versus-Sassenach enmity at the first glimpse of his fluttering clan tartan. Will a stray breeze show her the real reason the queen spends her summers in Scottish seclusion, or will hairy reality fan the . . . Flames of Hatred?

2. When a young warrior uncovers treason in his own family he is unjustly exiled to the land of his family's enemies to teach him a lesson. But the only lesson he learns is that the daughter of his father's rival is hot, hot, HOT! Is a hot babe enough to dampen his bitter . . . Flames of Hatred?

3. Benny and Theresa are fellow carnies as well as a couple—she's the tattoo lady and he's the fire-eater. Their romance is admired by all their colleagues, except one, who vows to win Theresa's heart. When he lifts 450 lbs. above his head, Theresa swoons. Soon Benny's fire-eating act is consumed in . . . Flames of Hatred.

4. When topiary artist Gareth McGee loses his girlfriend to a brainless stockbroker, he is crushed, but the pain inspires his most ambitious piece ever, a 27-foot-high holly masterpiece titled, "Flames of Hatred," for which he wins the prestigious Golden Clipper award, handed over by his favorite Hollywood celebrity, Gemma Garbo. Is it love at first sight for her, too? Or was that kiss just a formality?

5. When Todd said he'd swim any ocean, climb any mountain, etc., Sally sent him on a difficult mission across the Lake of Despair, up the Cliffs of Infatuation, around the Plains of Indecision, down the River of Resentment, and through the Grove of Anger. But now? The Flames of Hatred? No way. He'd rather get cozy with an easy-going heavy-set gal, like Jan Barkowsky -- but how can one of award-winning author Stacy McShaw's "Starlit Romances" end like that?

6. There are four mystical flames burning in the White Temple: the Flame of Truth, the Flame of Justice, the Flame of Love and the Flame of Life. When the flames begin to flicker and threaten to go out, Tadry Omanish discovers the existence of the Black Temple and the Flames of Hatred. As chaos engulfs the city around him, Tadry must find and defeat the priests of the Black Temple.



Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Swords of Fire: Flames of Hatred follows the path of Khirsha, a young warrior trying to discover who and what he is under the threat of war, treason and his awakening to the daughters of his father and grandfather's fiercest rivals. [By "awakening," do you mean attraction"? That would be more clear, but still awkward. Also, once you've brought up war and treason, his having the hots for a few off-limits babes seems trivial. It's like saying, Pierre's life was in turmoil, what with the Nazi tanks rolling into his village, the Borg assimilating his family, and a new zit on his chin.] His efforts are hampered by reason of changes taking place inside him which are affecting his judgment and actions. The cause for these changes is unknown to him, but they are creating problems in all areas of his life. [Those last two sentences are vague.]

The story opens with Khirsha already in trouble. By reason of a prank which went terribly wrong, Khirsha and his best friend and cousin, Kelso, have uncovered the existence of treason in the family (something unheard of for more than two hundred years). [We don't need to know a prank was involved, or about the 200 years. They uncovered treason.] The treason has put family supply caravans under threat from surrounding companies of bandits, which are attacking with increasing frequency. However, the family's political tension means the exposed treason is going to be ignored, at least publicly. [Not clear what that means.] Instead, Khirsha and Kelso are punished for their prank. [One family member commits treason while another toilet papers the neighbor's yard, and which one gets punished? This reminds me of how Stalin's parents ignored the twenty million deaths he was responsible for, but banished his brother to Siberia for making prank phone calls.] The punishment is to be reduced to servant level and cast into the villages of factions not friendly to their grandfather, who is Head-of-Family. [If you're being cast into the enemy camp, does it really matter if you've been reduced to servant level? That's like sentencing Hannibal Lecter to life in a dungeon, but first taking away his country club membership.] [Also, when being banished into the enemy camp, isn't it better if they think you're a servant and not the big cheese?] They are told to use the experience as a learning tool, but the only thing Khirsha learns is that there are more pleasurable things to do with Avalina, the daughter of his father's rival, than fight mock battles with wooden swords, a skill at which Khirsha excels. [We don't need to know he excels at wooden sword fighting.] Fortunately, since protocol dictates that Khirsha [I started out reading that as "Krishna" and I can't stop.] can do no more than Avalina allows, they are spared from complete wantonness, but Avalina allows far more than she should. [When has protocol ever prevented teenagers from getting it on?]

Regarding the treason, Khirsha has gathered clues to what is going on, but his distress at what nearly took place with Avalina has clouded his thinking [If you're gonna stress out anyway, after not doing it, you might as well have done it.] and he neglects to put the pieces together to form a solid picture. Something is happening to him which he can neither explain nor understand. And it is getting worse. Also, his involvement with Avalina has made him ashamed and uncomfortable to be around Sayla, a longtime friend who Khirsha now realizes he is drawn to, and who may have been drawn to him. [What is his longtime friend Sayla doing here in the villages of unfriendly factions?] Unfortunately, he and Avalina had been seen and Sayla no longer speaks to him. Khirsha is feeling the stress of his desire for multiple girls and wonders where the line between honor and dishonor really is. [I put it at 3.5 girls.] When he finds himself in the arms of an older, married woman who once courted his father, he knows he has crossed the line, but he feels caught, like a boat without oars flushing down a raging river toward a precipice of destruction. [Change the precipice of destruction to a waterfall of woe.] What is making him behave this way? How can he resist a madness which seems to have a life apart from his own will? [I don't care if he knows what's causing his madness; if you know, tell us.]

As Khirsha struggles with his newly awakened sexuality, [How old is this guy? He was called a warrior, but sometimes he seems fourteen, what with discovering girls and pulling pranks.] he continues to be moved like a pawn on a game board as family factions vie for political control and attacks against family caravans increase. That someone is revealing caravan schedules and routes is clear. (Could it even be his own father? What was the mysterious mission he went on?) What is not clear is [Maybe we should start by discussing what is clear.] that Khirsha's involvement with Avalina has given someone cause to take treason to the next level: murder. [Who was murdered?] And hidden to all is that on a much grander scale the Powers which fight for control of the Great Sea have chosen Khirsha's home village as their battle ground, and Khirsha himself appears to be the focus of their attention. [If he's going to save the day, he'll have to work fast. Hurry, Khirsha. Hurry, Khirsha. Hurry, hurry, Khirsha, Khirsha.]

Swords of Fire: Flames of Hatred is roughly 190,000 words.

Regards,

[Author's note, not part of query: The weapon of choice for this warrior community are swords which seem to issue fire like the business end of an ox whip. The passions of jealously and bitterness which are feeding the treason make up the title's second portion. Swords of Fire is the saga. Flames of Hatred is the first installation.]


Notes

This is a synopsis. A query should include a synopsis, but a brief one, no more than eight to ten sentences worth. This is way too much. First of all it's repetitive:

p.1: His efforts are hampered by reason of changes taking place inside him which are affecting his judgment and actions. The cause for these changes is unknown to him...

p.3: Something is happening to him which he can neither explain nor understand.


p.2: The treason has put family supply caravans under threat from surrounding companies of bandits, which are attacking with increasing frequency.

p.4: family factions vie for political control and attacks against family caravans increase.

Secondly, it is too detailed. Provide only what is important to the central plot.

Third, save the flowery writing for the book. He feels caught, like a boat without oars flushing down a raging river toward a precipice of destruction. That's too many words to say he's losing control.

All of that isn't going to shorten this enough. Start over and focus on the grander scale: war, treason, politics. Leave out the women; they don't do anything in the query. Try to make it sound more important than bandits robbing caravans. Kingdoms are at stake. Life as Khirsha knows it. The galaxy.

Who's committing treason? Why is it being ignored? Why is Khirsha important to the powers fighting for control of the Great Sea? You're providing a lot of information we don't need, and hiding what's driving the main plot.

Also, your book is going to be 700 pages. It's cheaper to print a 350-page book, and publishers know this. Maybe your book, like your query, can be trimmed.


Selected Comments

BuffySquirrel said...If nothing more significant than adolescence is happening to Khirsha, you might not want to dwell on that aspect too much. As it stands, readers are going to expect him to turn into an incubus or something. What's at stake? Why is someone betraying the family? What will happen if it continues? What's young Priapus got to do about it?


Ulysses said...190K words? First installment? Trim, gentle writer. Trim thou as though thy life depended upon it. Trim as though thou wouldst spend a year in purgatory for each word in thy manuscript. Trim as though... Look, it's too long. Cut it in half.


writtenwyrdd said...I suggest you watch out for unneeded language when you revise, such as "the story opens with" and "regarding the treason." Once you pare this letter down to the essentials--the main plot and the main character, as a start--I'd love to see the letter again. Right now I'm finding it difficult to wade through the details and determine what's the point of the book.


Sarah from Hawthorne said...Almost every single sentence in this query is in the passive voice.

For example: "His efforts are hampered by reason of changes taking place inside him which are affecting his judgment and actions."

Try something more like: "But the changes taking place inside of him wreak havoc on his judgment and actions, hampering his efforts."

When you rewrite, look for every occurrence of "is/are/to be" and try to rephrase in an active voice. Just remember: Subject, verb, object. Subject, verb, object.

Dear lord, when did I turn into the grammar nazi?


talpianna said...Since when is murder an escalation over treason? Doesn't treason more or less by definition involve getting a LOT of people on your own side killed?
I must say I couldn't find any reason to sympathize with your hero or, for that matter, even to like him. He seems to have no particular admirable characteristics. C.J. Cherryh had a character who was in much the same position, only worse (he had accidentally killed his brother), but he was very sympathetic because of his lifelong efforts to please his indifferent father, and for the way he handled exile and then allegiance to the protagonist, who was remembered as an ancient force for evil (but was nothing of the sort). Why should we be interested in this guy? He doesn't even seem to learn any life lessons.


batgirl said...What everyone else said about wordy. There's no reason to say "by reason of" even once in your query, let alone three times. The sentences are a mass of hesitation marks. There may be a good story hiding under here - it looks at least a little out of the ordinary - but it's hidden by the verbiage.

I am going to disagree with EE on one point. I don't think the peril needs to be emperilling the galaxy or even the whole world. Provided we care about Kirsha (sp?) and his family, the story could be about their peril only, and satisfy. But we do have to care about them first. And so far I don't.


Renee Collins said...I too read Krishna every single time. Even when I tried to correct myself.


BBJD said...Thank you. Thank you all for your comments. When there is a consensus one must bow to it. And since I am already flat on the ground that makes it easier to do.

Owie.

I knew it was going to be rough. I just didn’t know how rough it would be. You are, of course, perfectly correct in your evaluations. (Mostly correct, anyway. There are a couple of points I do not agree with, but those are too minor to care about.) The flaws are so obvious – when you point them out – I should have corrected them before ever sending this to an agent. Unfortunately, it is kind of a like a book I bought my son. It’s a picture book, with various animals hidden in beautiful landscapes. The idea is to locate these hidden animals (they could be anywhere and any color) and time yourself to see how long it takes. After a couple of hours of vain searching we would go to the solution and see where the animals were. Returning to the picture the animals would just jump out at us. How could we have missed them? I don’t know. Just thick, I guess.

Speaking of thick, I must confess to continued confusion, despite the wealth of help I have been given. (No, I am NOT being sarcastic.) What goes into the query anyway? Am I supposed to reveal the ending? I apologize for still being confused on this point, but I am thick. Literally.

I had intended to thank each evaluator, acknowledging their comments. Unfortunately, I created so many unanswered questions and flaws that is no longer practical. I will say thank you for taking it easy on me. Nearly all of you provided me with valuable information which should help me improve myself, and you did it in a professional manner.

I thank you all. I especially thank the agent who rejected this query and told me to come here for help. Agents do not normally do that, I don’t think. It has taken thirty years for me to get to this place. Without your help I would probably be faced with another thirty years to get to where you all are. (I have visited some of your blogs. You are all much better writers than I.) I don’t have another thirty years. Thank you for accelerating my education. I wish … Well, I guess that’s my biggest problem, isn’t it?

Thank you. I shall continue to come here to read what you have written. I enjoy your comments (when they are not written about me). I will continue to visit all of your blogs. (Don’t worry. I won’t leave comments.) I was going to submit something for the Halloween assignment, but I’m not up to that anymore. Besides, I have other work to do.


Robin S. said...Hi Author, how about taking a few days and trying for a rewrite?

Here are some nuggets I've held onto from previous EE-athon query annihilations - I think they would really help you:

I've been saving notes from EE's FaceLifts - and here are a few that I
grouped together because I think they are, taken together, a good all-around
formula for query writing:

Note from 8/23 (not 2008, so must have been 2007?) EE FaceLift:
You're telling us too much of the plot. It feels more like an outline than a
cohesive description of your story. Come up with a topic sentence for each
paragraph and build on it with a logical progression of ideas, cause and
effect, etc. This jumps from idea to idea to much.

AND:

You're telling us too much of the plot. Your goal is to interest us in the
book. Too much information is as bad as too little. Try limiting yourself to
ten sentences. It'll help you see what's necessary and what you can cut. And
of course I don't mean ten sentences that list key events; ten sentences that
take us logically through the one main story line. –EE, 8/23/07Facelift critique

Good luck! When you have it ready, pop the rewrite back here for a fresh look.

(Don't redo too quickly, in my opinion. Sit on this a few days- write a few key sentences down, and then let it stew. If you rewrite too quickly, you run the risk of simply taking bits and pieces from the old query, and trying to make them work.)


Luke S. said...bbjd-
We creators are a sensitive lot. We work hard to pour the contents of our souls onto page, labor a day to turn one phrase. It hurts when others don't see our child the same as we, but take heart: this is the process. Every author goes through it and none is spared. In the end, you will be a much better writer for it. Take a day, lick your wounds and come back stronger.


writtenwyrdd said...There's no exact formula, but if you start with an elevator pitch (a single-sentence that describes the essentials of the story) you can expand from there.

Regarding to give away the ending or not, there is no right or wrong answer. So it might be helpful to try both ways.

Best wishes for your project!


Jaz said...Author, just want to take a step out of this whole query thing and make sure that you are okay. Because although everyone gets a little sensitive about his work, I feel like maybe something else is going on that makes you a little more vulnerable and frankly the tone of your post worries me.

Remember that no one has even read your book and it may be absofrickinlutely phenomenal. It may not be, but it's not you. And even if it were total crap, you are not.

Why not still do the Halloween exercise just to let loose? I am personally entrenched in a literary short story that has taken, seriously, a year and a half to write and I am still not ready to submit it. One night for the hell of it I did one of the exercises (the woman in the painting, EE's big slushpile) and having to meet the word count actually helped me cut my (completely different) short story in places that were screaming to be cut. So maybe doing something fun and ridiculous will lift you a bit.

In any case, I hope that you are feeling better than your post suggests.


Sarah Laurenson said...An agent sent you here? Fantastic. This is a great place to learn about writing, including queries and such. Although we sometimes get a little rambunctious, we are here to help each other become better writers. And that includes getting used to rejection and critiquing.

Welcome. I hope you keep coming back and that you participate in the writing exercises.

Oh and some of the anon posters are best ignored. Not particularly talking about the ones here, just saying...


Anonymous said...Some people don't quite think of the writing as separate from themselves. If that's you, it might be best to seek feedback in a face-to-face venue like a class or critique group, not the blogosphere.


Robin S. said...I agree with Sarah about most everything, but especially about the anons (some are good and you can tell from what they're saying, and how they're saying it, who they are) and some like being anonymous mean shits. So, just listen to the ones trying to be helpful, and, about the others, remember the old saying:

"It's easy to be a know-it-all self-righteous dickwad of an asshole when you're anonymous." Can't remember who said that. Oh yeah. That's right. It was me.

Also - you can really learn a lot about structure, rhythm and timing, and word count polishing with these writing exercises. Sounds nuts, but it's true.

Hope you do one, author.


BuffySquirrel said...We don't destroy people emotionally here. We leave that to the industry.


Phoenix said...Author, I hope you do a revision and post it back here. Sometimes it takes a couple of rounds to "get it" (the what goes in a query thing) and then comes another couple of rounds to refine. Either that or answer some of the questions posed, such as what the stakes really are, why the main character is sympathetic, and what he learns in this installment. With that info, one or two of us could work this initial draft into a query that follows formula and fits on a page -- a tangible example.

You know, sometimes we can read a billion examples and really feel we understand the process, but when it comes to OUR work, we completely cave and just don't see how to apply the process to our own work.

Would you care to divulge who the agent was who sent you? That's kinda cool!



writtenwyrdd said...The best way to learn writing is by writing, and the best way to learn to be critiqued is to endure it, say thanks and go off and ponder the merits (or lack thereof) in what others have said about your work.

No one likes criticism of their art, but you must learn to endure it and to take an emotional step back. Because if you cannot develop an emotional distance from your writing, you won't be able to see what you wrote instead of what you intended to write.

On this site it's rare that anyone is really deliberately cruel, though, so please don't take anyone's words as an attack on you personally. It is terribly easy to be misunderstood as to intent via written word, so bear that in mind, Author.


BBJD said...Dear Group,

Thank you for your new comments, and again for your old. And thank you for your concern. However, do realize that while I may look the part, I am not a giant egg newly fallen from a wall. I will get up again. I always do. I have been knocked down a lot over the years. Especially the last few.

I expected to be blasted and I expected it to hurt, but I knew before I made my submission that whatever criticism I took would only be to my benefit. I will write better than I have before, thanks to all of you. When I can submit again please do not withhold comment because you think me weak. Give me the truth – as you did this time. I am not so fragile as I seem. “I get melancholy sometimes. It’s a disease common to mountain men and folk who are alone a lot.” (Ben Rumson speaking to Partner in Paint Your Wagon).

It may be a while before I can submit anything from Swords of Fire. My task looms before me like the national debt. Flames of Hatred is 190,000 words. Book II, The Prophecies of Madatar, is 180,000 words. Book III, Bonds of Love, is on hold now, already at 50,000 words and not even half completed. Then there are Books IV, V and VI, which I have not officially begun to write but the storylines are mostly ready. I have to find a way to convert each of these books to less than 100,000 words. I can do it. Flames of Hatred was once 250,000 words. Tavaar’s background story (the married woman referenced in the query) is 500,000 words, but I guess that doesn’t count and I can leave it be. It’s a lot of work, but I expect you have all worked harder. That is why you are able to help.

I will give the exercises a go. I’m not sure about the Halloween one, though. It’s almost three in the morning and I haven’t slept yet. I believe the deadline is seven hours away.

You are all admirable people. I am glad to have met each of you.

Thank you again

Bevie


Note: The author died in 2010, but not without participating in several writing exercises here .

1 comment:

Rachel6 said...

BBJD, do you have a beta writer? It's frequently helpful to have someone read the actual manuscript; they can help you catch trends in your writing, good or bad, and they can help you polish your writing.

Another excellent site, if you'd like to study query letters more, is queryshark.blogspot.com.

And kudos to you for getting back up!!