Monday, February 28, 2011

Synopsis 10: Redux

Eyes of Stone

[Author's Note: I've slashed and butchered and ignored its cries for mercy until I got this synopsis down to 692 words.]

Even living among the last of the gargoyles in Amarantia, ANAIIYA has always believed she's human. The day she awakens covered in blood is the day she realizes she’s…something else.

With supplies running thin and their home crumbling around them, Anaiiya’s gargoyle family teeters on the brink of starvation despite her increasingly frequent raids on the palace storerooms. The tribe’s fate seems sealed when the deranged Queen, seeing only traitors in every species that isn't human, hires a group of ‘pro-human’ fanatics known as the JYNGOS to destroy them. Faced with the destruction of the only family she’s ever known, Anaiiya blacks out and kills the thirty intruders but has no memory of how it happened.

The battle awakens something in Anaiiya. Now stone crumbles to powder at her touch and blood obeys her every command. The monster she’s becoming slowly takes over and fills Anaiiya with an ever-increasing lust for violence, making each day more of a struggle to control her bloodthirsty compulsions enough to defend her beloved tribe. As Anaiiya flexes her newfound supernatural muscles, she catches the attention of far more dangerous creatures than the mad Queen or her fanatical army.

SEFAL is a Nephilim—a half-demon abomination and the last of his kind, with all the powers of Hell at his command. He is also Anaiiya’s father. An ancient bargain forbids him from producing more than one child, making Anaiiya his only hope for restoring Nephilim to the world. He claims the Nephilim can set the world right—by ruling over it.

TARCOS is the lord of the Guardians—immortal shape-shifters chosen rather than born and sworn enemy race of the Nephilim. He restores the memories stolen from Anaiiya as a child and insists she, too, is a Guardian, which he claims is the true source of her powers.

Tarcos leaves Anaiiya to her own thoughts and sets off to prevent the war set in motion by the Jyngos between humans and the Mystic Races. Haunted by memories of her mother—the Queen—hurling her from the cliffs during an ice storm, Anaiiya sneaks into the palace to confront her. Sefal’s demonic magic has driven the Queen to insanity, but she still recognizes the bastard daughter she tried to kill twenty years ago. She attacks Anaiiya repeatedly with an axe, screaming that Anaiiya will bring about the end of the world, until Anaiiya loses control of the darkness within her and stabs her mother through the heart.

Sefal will not sit idly by and allow the Guardians to steal away his race’s only hope for a future. He springs his trap during the Prince’s coronation. The Prince collapses; he will die at the hands of Nephilim magic—leaving the Jyngo leader as the next heir to the throne—unless Anaiiya breaks the vial containing the Prince’s blood. But the vial contains another spell: One that will destroy the gargoyles.

To save her family, all Anaiiya must do is…nothing. But to do nothing is to embrace her Nephilim nature and condemn the world to darkness, genocide, and ruin.

The fate of the world is encased in glass, trembling in Anaiiya's fist. Howling in anguish, Anaiiya crushes the vial. The Prince recovers as the last gargoyle tribe dies. Anaiiya pours out her wrath upon the Jyngo leader and pulls his blood out through his skin until he dies.

Tarcos, drawn by Anaiiya’s grief, bursts into the air and attacks Sefal. Anaiiya joins the fight and injures Sefal, but hesitates to kill him. Sefal vows Anaiiya will never know peace or happiness until she joins him, and vanishes.

Under threat by Anaiiya, the Mystic Races grudgingly hammer out a treaty with the humans: Humans will kill all Jyngos on sight and avoid the Mystic Races’ territory, and the Mystic Races will not wipe humanity from the face of the Earth.

The Guardians gather survivors from other gargoyle tribes and place them under the protection of the other Mystic Races. Anaiiya finds some measure of peace in the knowledge that gargoyles will flourish again before she departs with the Guardians to embrace her destiny as a protector of Creation.

Comments

Great job on the word count! And this reads to me like a complete and satisfying story now. Which is weird right, with fewer words? ;o)

There are a couple of spots where I have questions, though.

TARCOS is the lord of the Guardians—immortal shape-shifters chosen rather than born and sworn enemy race of the Nephilim. He restores the memories stolen from Anaiiya as a child and insists she, too, is a Guardian, which he claims is the true source of her powers.

I'm not understanding the Guardians as well as I think I could. Who chooses them? If Anaiiya's one of them, does she shift shape too? The phrase "immortal shape-shifters" doesn't immediately chonjure up creatures with the power to crush planets, so Tarcos claiming her powers come from Guardian good seems unjustified. I would delete the word "race" and just call them "sworn enemies" as I'm not sure you can be part of a race if you're not born into it.

Tarcos leaves Anaiiya to her own thoughts and sets off to prevent the war set in motion by the Jyngos between humans and the Mystic Races.

I think you mean something more active like: Leaving Anaiiya to face down the torments of her childhood, Tarcos sets off to prevent...

Sefal will not sit idly by and allow the Guardians to steal away his race’s only hope for a future. He springs his trap during the Prince’s coronation. The Prince collapses; he will die at the hands of Nephilim magic—leaving the Jyngo leader as the next heir to the throne—unless Anaiiya breaks the vial containing the Prince’s blood. But the vial contains another spell: One that will destroy the gargoyles.

I think this will work better for the reader if you put the vial with the blood closer to the beginning of the paragraph: He springs his trap during the Prince's coronation, encasing a few drops of the Prince's blood in a charmed vial. And of course deleting containing the Prince's blood.

Tarcos, drawn by Anaiiya’s grief, bursts into the air and attacks Sefal. Anaiiya joins the fight and injures Sefal, but hesitates to kill him. Sefal vows Anaiiya will never know peace or happiness until she joins him, and vanishes.

burts into the air is pehaps a little too active. returns works just as well. Except that Tarcos starts the fight then just sort of disappears.

Humans will kill all Jyngos on sight

Aren't Jyngos human? Can you tell a Jyngo by sight?

Really, these are just a few tweaks, if you decide to pursue them; it looks longer because of the format. Almost there!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Make An Impact - Quick Editing Tip

What's the Number 1 issue I'm seeing as I'm editing along?

The word "was."

Nope, this is not a rant about passive sentences. It's a rant about passive descriptions.

The code was onscreen.
The cheetah was fast, running across the plain.
The ship was now in orbit.

I'm seeing long paragraphs where the only verb of consequence is "was."

Judicious use of "was" in description is fine. It's a word that normally fades right into the background. Excessive use, however, stands out. It's lazy. And it's boring. You don't want your writing to be boring.

Even simple tweaks make a difference.

The code appeared onscreen.
The cheetah sped across the plain.
The ship settled into orbit.

In its place, "was" moves action along and lets the reader immediately know the state of things, whether physically or emotionally. Many times "was" is the absolutely most economical -- or innocuous -- choice available. I'm not advocating purging it entirely, or even mostly.

I'm betting, though, that you can replace 10, 20 or 30 % of the "was" verbs in your WIP with more active descriptors. Try it. Your writing will be stronger for it. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Umm, Got Nothing For Today

There's a synopsis in the queue for Monday. After that...

So, daffodils! Spring is coming late to North Texas, but coming it is!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Query Revision 64

Face-Lift 826: Lightning Strike
(Renamed from Hypes: The Last Legacy)

Dear (Agent),

In the world of superheroes, Nick Lawton is a rising star. As Cobalt, the 'Lightning Lawman', he's built a reputation defeating supervillains, rescuing citizens, and protecting his city from natural disasters. When Cobalt action figures-- with 'realistic sparking action'-- hit toy stores, Nick knows he's made it to the big leagues. Not bad for a guy who just turned 18.

A promotion to team leader means that Nick has to mentor rookie hero Alexa Franklyn. She's impetuous, beautiful, and, worst of all, more powerful than he is. He's also been saddled with a rival crime fighter disgruntled about being second-in-command, two bickering junior sidekicks, and a pushy public relations manager insistent on televising their every move. Nick's got to turn this collection of misfits into a team that will battle the forces of evil, instead of each other. He also has to deal with his attraction to Alexa, who might just have the same feelings-- for his rival.

Alexa is being stalked by Doctor Skorpios, a criminal mastermind with plans of his own for her. With a high-tech private army at his disposal, Skorpios isn't about to let his schemes be thwarted by a bunch of reality-show heroes. But if there's one thing the Lightning Lawman is good at, it's giving supervillains a shock.

LIGHTNING STRIKE is a YA science fiction novel, complete at 87,000 words. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Comments

Ding-Ding-Ding for the win!

I think this query is a great example of what the publishing world clamors for: the same thing but different. How do you make a *yawn* misfit superhero team battling a *yawn* criminal mastermind stand out from every serial comic book or superhero paperback out there? Through voice. I read this query and I automatically trust this author. I trust him to write well and I trust him to deliver the goods: a fun, rollicking good read for people who WANT more bickering superheroes.

It's up to the pages now to deliver. For the agent/editor to be predisposed to taking on a superhero novel. For the agent/editor to have not just signed on someone else with a fun, rollicking superhero read. For bookstores to be around in 2013.

There are so many things out of the writer's control. But writing a winning query (or having someone else write it for you!) isn't one of them. This one's a win in my book.

So is there anything I would change about it? Well, since you ask, the "promotion to team leader" comes as a bit of surprise since the first paragraph seems to set Nick up as an individual player. I was also a little torn over the stereotypical "beautiful" for Alexa. I played with "She's more impetuous, better looking, and worst of all, more powerful than he is," which adds a shade more snark. But really, you can play with something to death. I think it's fine as is with minor grammar tweaks to make it a pristine presentation:

  • Double quotes around "Lightning Lawman," and the comma goes inside the quote mark if this a US query
  • Add a space before all your m-dashes (--)
  • Delete the comma after "evil"
Great job (and a much better title)!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Empty Query Queue!

Except for tomorrow's query. And it's one you don't want to miss!

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Makes A Story A - You Know - Story

 So why do some stories get accepted and some rejected? Frankly, for the same reasons we're warned about over and over for any piece of fiction. You'll get no surprises here, just pointed reminders of what to look for in your stories before submitting.
Even if you skip reading the rest of this, please do read the last bullet under "Reasons for Acceptance" below, because if you don't start writing with this premise in mind, you might as well not even start at all.

Disclaimer: The examples used here are actual examples except they're not. They're representative of things that were submitted but none of the details are from the actual stories. I've changed up characters, professions, situations, and any other identifiers, and made sure none of the pertinent identifiers pointed toward any of the stories submitted. For example, I use Bigfoot in one of my examples -- no story submitted featured a Bigfoot. And remember, these issues made the list not because they were things I saw in one story, but because I saw them multiple times.

Rushing It

Spinning out the story, then sending it on without really thinking about what you've just written. Dare I conjecture that deep down the writer believes 1) it's just a short story - who cares if the internal logic holds together, or 2) it's just some non-pro publication - they'll take anything.

The competition out there is fierce. Every effort simply must be your best. No exceptions.

The "As you know, Bob" and How It All Works Syndromes

Most of the stories submitted were speculative fiction and while Bob can show up anywhere, he tends to show up more in spec fiction "helping" to explain how this world works. The main culprits: Characters needlessly explaining stuff to other characters, infodump paragraphs, and sentences where characters adjust their binocular-vision plexiglas vid-specs before taking a look at the fission-powered timepiece surgically embedded in their wrist and then hopping onto the robo-driven solarbus that's hovering at the curb.

I get it. You've built a cool world and want your readers to experience the full awesomeness of it. But there are smooth ways to impart this information. A pro will take the extra time needed to more subtly work such info in. That doesn't mean there won't be the occasional lapse. Sometimes there just isn't any other way to work it in smoothly. But please, no more than one or two lapses per story.

Dialogue Tags

More often than not, there were simply too many of them. They got in the way of the story. Substitute some stage business in place of them. Skip them altogether when it's clear who's speaking or thinking. If there's only one animate object around in a locked room, the reader will figure out who or what is talking/thinking without repeating that's who's doing it.

And think about it. How often do you really use a person's name in conversation?

Dialogue

There are people out there who can write really good narrative, but when it comes to dialogue they can't seem to get the right words out of their characters' mouths.

Just-doesn't-ring-true (aka Stilted): The word choices and rhythms aren't natural. Usually this applied to all the characters in the story, but sometimes it would be just one or two characters in a profession it was obvious the author didn't have a good handle on. There are certain protocols and expectations in language when, say, military folk are addressing one another or a journalist is giving a rundown on a situation.

Repetitive: Having a character either tell someone step-by-step what's going to happen right before the narrative takes the reader step-by-step through the event or having a character recap blow-by-blow what just happened. This one's not so much unrealistic as simply unneeded.

Over-dramatic-in-that-cliche-way: Who doesn't love a good scenery-chewing villain or a tearful good-bye scene? Well, most readers won't if it's the same speech we've heard a million times. Cliches are lazy shorthand for characterization. Invest the time to elevate the cliche from "Good-bye cruel world; you'll be sorry when I'm gone" to "Screw it; I'm outta here. And while you're weeping in your hanky, remember you're the one pulled the trigger here, not me."

There's nothing new in writing except the execution.

Motivation

A lot of characters just seemed to do things spurriously. Sure, we all make spur-of-the-moment decisions to take a walk, have chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla, or go out with friends when we'd planned a quite evening at home. But when a character whose life revolves around attention to duty decides to play hooky from work, there needs to be a reason for such uncharacteristic behavior. If not, the reader's obviously going to have a hard time believing the character would do that, but, just as importantly, the author is neglecting an opportunity to build tension, challenge a belief, overcome an obstacle, or otherwise flesh out a character.

With the possible exception of stories based on really bad science, stories where characters were simply placed into a situation and then manipulated into actions whether they made sense or not were the easiest passes. If your anthropologist has spent the past 30 years hunting Bigfoot and then traps one, they aren't going to just turn around and let it go because they've just now realized others will probably try to exploit it. While they ultimately may indeed let it go, the reader needs to be given clear reasons why someone would abandon training and principles and 30 years of dreams and work.

Motivation is a huge part of story development.

Is It Really A Story

Action by itself doesn't make a story. Observational pieces without conflict don't make stories. No matter how good the writing, there must ultimately be a story in your short story. If I go fishing in a lake, catch an 'extinct' fish, ooh and aah over it, throw it back because it should be left to its own devices and hope no one else will catch it, then row to shore when the sun goes down, that's not a story. If two buddies are on a road trip and they're attacked by a herd of wooly rhinos that comes out of nowhere and both buddies are killed after a long but valiant fight, that's not a story either.

As ever, there will be brilliant exceptions, but in general, a short story needs to follow the same rising and falling actions that a novel does, there needs to be conflict along the way, and the characters must change in some way for good or ill.

Other Reasons for Rejection
  • Internal Inconsistencies
  • Bad Science / Vague Science
  • Stories That Just Didn't Make Sense To Me (this could be my failing, but really, probably not)

Reasons for Acceptance
There's no surprise why a story got accepted. A handful of stories got EVERYTHING right. The majority did not commit any egregious sins that couldn't be covered over in editing, and while they might have been a little weak in an area or two, they were so strong in the other areas it compensated.
A difference between what might be accepted in short story form vs. novel form is that in the novel form weaknesses are compounded over a longer period. What might be an annoying gnat in a short story (a lapse in pacing, some weak dialog) would become an elephant in the room in a novel. This, I think, is especially true for humorous stories. The reader is willing to endure a bit of a trade-off in quality if they get a pay-off smile or laugh in the end. In this case, the short length works in the author's favor.
Stories were accepted because they demonstrated strength in a majority of these categories: 
  • Killer voice
  • Strong storytelling skills (meaning pacing, structure, word choices, etc.)
  • Well-developed ideas and characters
  • Plausible science
  • Believable story line made so through proper motivation
  • Natural-sounding dialogue
  • Internally consistent
  • Satisfying ending (doesn't feel rushed or wrong)
  • A feeling that ultimately there was a reason the author wrote this story, that it has a purpose, that it isn't just being told to the reader but is asking -- and sometimes demanding -- a response from the reader. In essence, that it has the reader at its heart.

I finally understand that when I talked about stories being too "on theme" last week, what I was getting at in a not-well-communicated way, was that those stories felt like they were written for this anthology. They were stories that felt like they had no life outside of existing to serve this venue. And they fell flat because the authors seemed to forget that even in themed anthologies, the star of the show isn't the theme -- it's always, always the reader.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Identity Crisis and a Cover Blurb

Multi-award-winning, NYT bestselling romance author *Jennifer Blake* recently provided a lovely blurb for one of my novels, Spoil of War (aka Cameliard Rising). The novel has direct ties to the Arthurian cycle, and is set in the time when Romans were first conquering Britain.

She's agreed I can use it as a cover blurb, even if I self-pub as an ebook. I couldn't be happier!

Spoil of War is a fascinating account of early Britain, a gripping tale of lust, love and the horrors of ancient warfare. Beautifully written, filled with myriad period details and compelling characters, it takes you deep into the heart of a brutal era—and into the nature of feminine honor, feminine courage. I was enthralled.
The book is a cross-genre work, too gritty to be a true romance and too focused in on relationships to be a true women's historical. I've pitched it as both, giving it different titles for each genre.

Industry feedback on the quality of the novel has been good. It made it to two publishers' Editorial Board meetings. And I've gotten revision letters from two agents who've said:
  1. I read CAMELIARD RISING with much interest and think that your voice is fantastic. Equally good are the plot elements. In fact, I like the novel so so much.
  2. I really enjoyed the read and literally could not put the manuscript down. You create a compelling world and do an even better job of illustrating why that moment in time is so fascinating and placing it in a larger context.
 But even they agree revising this book means tearing it down and building it back into something it's not.

In the end, it comes down to marketability. Where do you shelve a book that speaks frankly to the sexual abuse of women and young girls in an era where such practice was commonly acceptable, that details not just battles but their tragic aftermaths, yet still offers in the same breath love and a happily-ever-after?

I think the answer is that it gets shelved online where readers can decide if they're ready to try a little grit in their romance or ready to experience love in the midst of medieval warfare.

It needs cover art, a final edit, and a marketing strategy. And time enough to get Extinct off the ground and selling. So maybe it'll launch in May. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting on Sector C. It's mainstream enough to have a chance at traditional publishing, I have the full out with a handful of agents, and there are some upcoming opportunities to submit it direct to publishers. Many thanks to those of you who helped talk me down from the ledge concerning its fate.

Look for more thoughts about some of the common mistakes in story structure I was seeing in the submissions for Extinct on Monday. Note the Query Queue is empty!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Query Revision 63

Face-Lift 869: World Book

Seth was good at following the rules. He obeyed his parents, performed his nightly vows, and observed the laws in the World Book with pride – until he met Kinessa.

Seth’s family shelters Kinessa when they find her wandering naked in their backyard. Her blatant disregard for the World Book initially frightens Seth, but he is intrigued by her rebellious ideas. Eventually they go to the beach and Kinessa steps into the water, entering the Kingdom of the Sea – a crime punishable by death. Seth is terrified when she breaks one of the high laws, but he is astonished when she changes into a sea serpent and reveals that she is from another Kingdom. She tells Seth that she has come to the Kingdom of the Land to fight the laws of the World Book, and she confronts Seth with a choice – go back to your previous life, or come with me.

Seth follows Kinessa as she spies on a secret meeting on the land held between the Kings of the three Kingdoms. They follow the Crown Prince back to the Kingdom of the Air, but Kinessa’s plan fails and they barely escape with their lives with help from a hawk named Nilbee. Kinessa decides to start a revolution in the King’s City of the land with Seth and Nilbees help, but when that plan also fails Seth finds that he must rely on his own intelligence and courage to save them all.

World Book is a completed 32,000 word fantasy for middle grade readers. I have one published short story in Byline Magazine.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you are interested feel free to contact me by phone or email.

Comments

This version does give the reader more details and helps to flesh out the world more. Now we know that people can become other creatures depending on which kingdom they're in. At least I think that's the case, though that assumption isn't made entirely clear: Just because Kinessa changes form, does that mean Seth can too, or that the hawk who helps them later is really a person from the Kingdom of the Air?

I think how the details are presented needs to be tweaked, and we need more in the way of motivations and obstacles. For instance, what's the Big Bad here? Kinessa's plans fail twice, which is great for not making things too easy for the MCs, but why are the plans failing? Is it because some outside force is thwarting them? Because they are simply really bad plans? Or because the MCs don't have the heart to see them through?

As it's MG, ages of the characters would be good to know.

Seth was good at following the rules. He obeyed his parents, performed his nightly vows, and observed the laws in the World Book with pride – until he met Kinessa.

I think this is a good opening. It establishes Seth as a clean-cut kid who isn't interested in making waves, then teases us that something's about to change that.

Seth’s family shelters Kinessa when they find her wandering naked in their backyard. Her blatant disregard for the World Book initially frightens Seth, but he is intrigued by her rebellious ideas.

The juxtaposition of these two sentences has me confused. "Wandering naked" makes me think K is a vulnerable girl. But then that idea is turned on its head with the word choices "blatant disregard". At this point I don't know what to make of K.

We do need to see, I think, what those rebellious ideas are. And we need to know whether she's just telling him the World Book laws suck and THIS is how she'd run the world, or is she actually going around breaking those laws in front of him? I realize you got comments before when you included some of the laws she encourages Seth to break (going into the woods, playing on the beach, etc). It wasn't that they were included that raised questions, though; it was that they were included without sufficient context for the reader to understand why the rules were in place and what the consequences of breaking them are.

Eventually they go to the beach and Kinessa steps into the water, entering the Kingdom of the Sea – a crime punishable by death. Seth is terrified when she breaks one of the high laws, but he is astonished when she changes into a sea serpent and reveals that she is from another Kingdom.

"Eventually" is not your best word choice when so far nothing much has happened and the whole book is only 32,000 words.

At this point, I think you want the reader to be filled with wonder at this transformation. But the reader doesn't know what's going on. I'm thinking maybe that's a pretty good law to have if entering the water changes everyone (does it?) into sea serpents. Does the act of her changing reveal she's from the Sea Kingdom, or does she tell Seth that?

She tells Seth that she has come to the Kingdom of the Land to fight the laws of the World Book, and she confronts Seth with a choice – go back to your previous life, or come with me.

The motivation here escapes me. Are the people of the Sea bound by the laws of the Book, too? If so, why does she come on Land to fight them? Why not fight them at home? If not, why does she care?

What is Seth's previous life? Not hanging out with Kinessa? We haven't seen Seth breaking any laws or becoming anything he wasn't before. More questioning, yes, but nothing to indicate the need for "previous life".

Seth follows Kinessa as she spies on a secret meeting on the land held between the Kings of the three Kingdoms. They follow the Crown Prince back to the Kingdom of the Air, but Kinessa’s plan fails and they barely escape with their lives with help from a hawk named Nilbee.

This paragraph is what happens when an author is too close to their work. It leaves the reader utterly lost. I'll go with you on the secret meeting, but then where did the Crown Prince come from if it's a meeting between kings? What's K's plan other than to follow the prince home? Does something threaten them if they barely escape with their lives? Why would a hawk help? And do we really need to know its name?

Kinessa decides to start a revolution in the King’s City of the land with Seth and Nilbees help, but when that plan also fails Seth finds that he must rely on his own intelligence and courage to save them all.

"Decides" is probably not your best word choice here. What is K hoping to accomplish by a revolution? I'm assuming it has something to do with the laws, but what's harder: convincing people the laws they've blindly followed are wrong or convincing people to revolt? Seth seemed to not see anything wrong with the laws at first, so is demonstrating how the laws are wrong an obstacle to their success? Why does the plan fail?

The last sentence seems to indicate that the climax is that Seth has to save himself, K and the hawk from something to do with K's plan failing. But from the rest of the paragraph, it seems we have two equal and parallel climaxes in the book:

  • K and Seth go to the Air Kingdom, K's plan falls through putting them in life-threatening jeopardy from which they are saved by a hawk.
  • K, Seth and the hawk go the Land Kingdom, K's plan falls through putting them in life-threatening jeopardy from which Seth must save them.
 From this, I would conclude there's an issue with the story structure in the book itself. I'm assuming that's not the case, so I think you'll need to differentiate these two events better so as not to leave the reader with a reason to reject.

World Book is a completed 32,000 word fantasy for middle grade readers. I have one published short story in Byline Magazine.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you are interested feel free to contact me by phone or email.

Cap WORLD BOOK. Italicize Byline Magazine. I would delete "If you are interested..." completely. While I advocate "closing the sale" language, that isn't quite it. You're providing both forms of contact, so it's a given the agent will use one or the other to reach you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stories Accepted For EXTINCT

Here’s the almost-final list of contributing authors for the Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever anthology. I’m still waiting on a couple of revisions and a few contracts to be returned and whether one author not listed here can contribute, so this list is subject to change.

I haven’t decided story order yet; this list is simply alpha by first name. Obviously you had a leg up if your first name was Adam.

I decided not to contribute a story so I could stay objective and focused on editing, marketing and spreadsheet upkeeping.

I’ve provided feedback for all the stories that didn’t make it in. If you haven’t received a response, please email me at phoenixsullivan (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll re-send.

Cover art should be finalized shortly. Launch date on schedule for mid-March.

Thank you to everyone who contributed!

Final tallies:
84 submissions
19 (maybe 20) acceptances – 3 that made me laugh; 3 that made me cry
5 that came really close (I let those authors know they were shortlisted)
1 acceptance who declined because her story had sold elsewhere first
1 withdrawal – I hope because their story sold elsewhere
~ 77,000 words accepted
~ 448,000 words read

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Query 59: Redux

The Time Weaver

Seth believes his life is under control, that magic doesn't exist, that he's human. When a dormant gene awakens within Seth and temporarily stops the flow of time, it challenges everything he thought he knew.

The kingdom of Findoor teeters at the brink of war, threatened by Grian, a dark and powerful warlord. Wizards on both sides are drawn by this pause in time. In the past, Time Weavers were a race that could manipulate time and space, and control powerful magic, but they are now extinct. Seth's demonstration of those abilities changes that calculus and makes him a new target.

Grian covets Seth's new talents and Findoor needs a savior from Grian's much more vicious and powerful army. Seth discovers the war to be a facade as a darker and more ancient evil stirs, a force that spans generations, locked in time. Plagued by doubt and fear of his own powers, Seth must stop this evil before Grian's top wizard revives it and annihilates both worlds.

THE TIME WEAVER, complete at 80,000 words, thrusts an unlikely hero into a foreign world, with an ability he never wanted, and fighting a war he's uncertain to win.

Thank you for your consideration.

Comments

I'm going to be honest. I think the version we saw here before was the more compelling.

But.

This version is basically the same query with just a few words tweaked here and there. IMO, the tweaking takes it a step backward from a writing mechanics perspective. For instance, the "changes that calculus" phrasing really doesn't work; I don't think "facade" is the word you want since the ancient power has to be raised (it isn't manipulating the battle) and the war is very real; and it's unclear what "annihilates both worlds" means. Up to this point in the query, Earth hasn't really figured in and while I'm guessing it's one of the worlds you mean, a reader may well think you made a mistake and meant to say both sides in the battle.

The basic problem, though, is that structurally this query still sounds like every other high fantasy query in the slush pile.

What I think the commenters and I were hoping was that we would see a true revision -- a re-envisioning -- of this query. A tear-it-down-and-build-it-back-up version that re-focuses it and gives it a hook -- that oomph that will lift it out of the slush. I'm betting it's there in the book; it's just not coming through here.

Of course you can have the same story that's been published a billion other times and still be published. But it still needs something that makes it sound fresh: a great voice, a unique twist, a guy who isn't the same average joe with a power he doesn't want but who can save the world (he can BE this guy, just make him sound like someone you'd want to kick around with in the query).

You're in a query rut here, I think, and it's hard for you to see past THIS envisioning of your story as the right way to tell it. So, a challenge for you: Try writing the query from Seth's POV. Let the reader discover the plot and action as Seth must discover it in the book. Try to show more than to tell.

  • What's Seth doing when he stops time for the first time? How does that make him feel?
  • How does he wind up in Findoor? Is he kidnapped into the world by Grian and must work at figuring out what's going on?
  • How is he practicing his manipulation of time and space? What other kinds of powerful magic can he control if he's like other Time Weavers?
  • Does he feel the ancient evil stirring? Does he know there's a link between it and Earth? What's that link? Is the link Seth himself?
  • Does he go after the wizard trying to revive it or after the evil itself?
 My Version

The idea is to downplay the tropes and get the reader focused on something else. Here's one way to change around the details you've provided (with some license) and focus a little more on Seth and a little more on voice. I'm sure there are other details in your novel you can bring to YOUR version and better ways to express them in YOUR voice.

Seth's still laughing at all the tired jokes about turning 30 when he blows out his candles -- and stops time. Only it's not an everybody-simply-freezes-in-place kind of stop. It's a lurching, nauseating, grind-to-a-halt kind of stop that rips open space itself and at its end pitches him through to a world that's not his own.

He arrives in the middle of a border skirmish -- a tableau of swords and spears and men hanging between life and death. Panicked, Seth runs. When time lurches forward again, he discovers he isn't the only one who noticed the temporary lull. The kingdom of Findoor teeters at the brink of war, threatened by Grian, a dark and powerful warlord. Wizards on both sides flock to Seth, drawn to the aura of the powerful magic that lies latent within him, each side hoping to harness the talents of the first Time Weaver to walk their world in a thousand years. But this isn't Seth's war. He doesn't care about Grian or Findoor. All he wants is to be rid of the abilities he can't control that some recessive gene thrust upon him. The only responsibility he has is to get back to his safe, normal life.

But then Grian calls to an ancient evil that even locked in time has the power to sense Seth's magic, sending tendrils of pain and darkness through him. From its touch Seth learns it's a conduit between this world and his own. Plagued by doubt and fear, Seth must stop Grian before the warlord's wizards revive the evil and it rises up to annihilate both worlds.

THE TIME WEAVER is a high fantasy novel, complete at 80,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Agent Query Workshop Opportunity

The BookEnds agents will be doing a few query critiques weekly. Not every query subbed will be critted, but you can throw yours in the ring here.

Query Revision 62

Face-Lift 868: The Puppet Mistress

“Should you accept this challenge, you will be bound to the magic of the game.” When Vaila Grayson, ignores the opening message on a mysterious video game, she quickly realizes what a mistake it is.

The strange magic imprisons Vaila inside her gaming room and with no saves, continues, or resets, the only way to escape is to successfully complete the game or let her avatar die. She might be able to focus, if her video knight was a just a collection of pixels. Cenric Alva, however, is a real knight. Unaware that he is a pawn in her game, Cenric believes he has fallen victim to a puppet mistress, a wicked magician who now controls his movements.

Mental challenges, frustrating side quests, and impossible riddles are the least of her problems as Vaila and Cenric confront terrible and fascinating monsters. When a mystical beast bites Cenric during battle, Vaila cannot ignore the blood dripping from a similar wound on her own arm. Gamplay becomes further complicated when Vaila discovers that her spirit is now bound to Cenric’s. They must now endure each other’s physical pain and wild emotions. Their intimate connection will drag her into whatever doom lies in wait for Cenric, and so Vaila has only one chance to save them both.

“The Puppet Mistress” is a 70,000 word, YA fantasy novel. This is an action-adventure tale told in alternating points of view.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to sharing the entire manuscript with you.

Comments

I think this version is a real improvement. I do notice you pulled away from the romance angle. I was a little concerned about possible age ickiness, but if your characters are age-appropriate, then I think the romance will help set this apart from other works that are basically rehashes of video-game play. IMO, you need that angle, but I'd love to hear how others feel about it.

“Should you accept this challenge, you will be bound to the magic of the game.” When Vaila Grayson, ignores the opening message on a mysterious video game, she quickly realizes what a mistake it is.

What makes the video game "mysterious"? Does it suddenly show up on her shelf? Does she get an email from someone she doesn't know inviting her to play online? Sometimes adding adjectives doesn't help to clarify but opens the reader to more questions. No comma after Grayson.

The strange magic imprisons Vaila inside her gaming room

Does Vaila really have a personal, dedicated gaming room?

and with no saves, continues, or resets, the only way to escape is to successfully complete the game or let her avatar die. She might be able to focus, if her video knight was a just a collection of pixels. Cenric Alva, however, is a real knight. Unaware that he is a pawn in her game, Cenric believes he has fallen victim to a puppet mistress, a wicked magician who now controls his movements.

Mental challenges, frustrating side quests, and impossible riddles are the least of her problems as Vaila and Cenric confront terrible and fascinating monsters.

Mental challenges and riddles can be lumped together here to get the point across. You can use that space to elaborate on other aspects. Also, "fascinating" is a subjective value. Your reader will understand that video games have a variety of monsters to best.

When a mystical beast bites Cenric during battle, Vaila cannot ignore the blood dripping from a similar wound on her own arm.

If it's a beast one would normally recognize, go ahead and name what it is. Using "ignore" here and in the first paragraph calls attention to the word. I also think you can be more direct than "can't ignore".

Gamplay becomes further complicated when Vaila discovers that her spirit is now bound to Cenric’s. They must now endure each other’s physical pain and wild emotions. Their intimate connection will drag her into whatever doom lies in wait for Cenric, and so Vaila has only one chance to save them both.

"Bound spirits," "enduring each other's burdens" and "intimate connection" all pretty much indicate the same thing, so this can be streamlined.

“The Puppet Mistress” is a 70,000 word, YA fantasy novel. This is an action-adventure tale told in alternating points of view.

I would use either "action-adventure" or "fantasy" -- your query will make it clear what it is.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to sharing the entire manuscript with you.

My Version

Ignoring the obvious creep-out warning that players will be bound by its magic, Vaila Grayson clicks Start on her new vid game -- then can't shut it off. With no saves, continues, or resets, the only way to quit is to successfully complete the game, let her avatar die, or just walk away. When she tries to walk, she can't -- literally. Something's locked her in her room. And about that avatar? Her video knight is not just a collection of pixels. Cenric Alva is a very real knight.

When Cenric suddenly can't move or make a decision on his own, he believes he's fallen victim to a puppet mistress, a wicked magician who controls him. And that's a real problem when a gryphon attacks, raking its fangs down his sword arm before he can react. Whoever's pulling his strings is surely going to get him killed.

With blood dripping down her own arm, Vaila freaks -- and watches the knight fall to his knees in response. Burdened by each other's pain and wild emotions, they have to find a way to overcome terrible monsters, impossible riddles, and the love that sparks between them while rushing toward a shared doom neither can foresee. All while And in this game Vaila will get only one chance to save them both.

THE PUPPET MISTRESS is a 70,000-word YA fantasy with romantic elements, told in alternating points of view. I look forward to sharing the completed manuscript with you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Synopsis 12: Redux

Duality

DIMA’s only clue to an existence before panther DNA was spliced to hers is a fragment of a memory and a name—Janelle. But before she can figure out how she ended up as a science experiment, she has to find a way to tame the panther that’s taken over the blank spaces in her memories. Having claws is great and all, but being unable to control what happens with them pits human compassion against animal instinct. The duality often leads to a struggle in Dima’s mind between doing what’s right and doing what’s necessary to survive.

Dima is the newest success of the government-sponsored Humani Project, which combines the DNAs of humans with animals. The Dept. of Defense hopes to create mercenaries with human reasoning and animal instinct to do the military’s dirty work, eventually using them for combat to reduce the need for human soldiers. Dima’s the perfect physical combination—practically a panther standing upright with sharp claws and sharper teeth. Her ability to communicate makes her the most profitable Humani to date.

The lab’s physical assessments—ranging from hunting to scent tracking to combat—are designed to help Dima balance her dual nature. They also give her an opportunity to get out her animal aggression. However, DR. JAMES has a different agenda for her—death. Her memories contain information that would cripple, and likely end, the Project. If she fails her assessments, he can terminate her without question. But when DR. LORENZO breaks protocol to save her during one of those exams and calls her “Janelle,” Dima realizes they know more than they’re letting on.

As the tension between the three fills the lab, James becomes openly antagonistic. He enters her enclosure and goads her into attacking him by telling her that he erased her memory himself. When she does attack, he tases her until she’s almost dead. Lorenzo realizes that he can’t protect her or the other Humani from James’ abuse. Lorenzo goes to his brother-in-law, a Scottish engineer-turned-human rights activist trying to shut down the project, for help.

At first, Dima resists, especially as she develops a closer relationship with Lorenzo. However, when her keeper uncovers a new combat exam designed to exploit her lack of night-vision, Dima realizes that she has no choice but to say goodbye to Lorenzo and to her past if she intends to stay alive.

In Edinburgh, Dima remains guarded. She doesn’t trust the Scotsman. He tells the repressed Humani that he has their memory discs, but warns them that they might not like what they find. Dima takes the time to think about the repercussions. After living in the fantasies of whom Janelle could have been and depending on them to anchor her humanity, she doesn’t know how she’ll handle the truth. As she debates it, she wanders to a large reference room where she finds a computer. Her curiosity overwhelms her. She sees a folder marked “Humani Project” and opens it, hoping to find more information. Instead, she finds a file labeled “Janelle Gray.” Skimming through it, she learns that she was a Project scientist. And she and Lorenzo were in love.

Enraged, Dima heads to the only place she knows to find solace—the forest. Knowing her past doesn’t make her Janelle. But the knowledge contained in Janelle’s memories could hold the key to reversing the Humani’s mutation. She believes that for her friends, she has to learn what Janelle knew. Her past could change the future.

Comments

Filling in details and motivation has really helped this synopsis! And I know you're trying to keep it to one page, so there's some necessary shorthanding here. There are just a couple of minor tweaks I see in the first half - otherwise, that half here is so much better.

You knew there was going to be a "but" though, didn't you? The second half starts to fall apart a bit. And the end is really a major, major red flag. It's OK for there still to be some mystery at the end of a book, especially if there's a planned story arc for a sequel. But, ahem, the query didn't mention this was the first book of a proposed sequel. And even for a first book, the reader will be looking for some sort of resolution. Instead, we have the MC reading a file then basically running away and thinking about what she needs to do next. Honestly, I think the first thought an agent will have after reading this is, "Where's the rest of the story?" The next question I had was, "Does the first part up to when she arrives in Edinburgh feel like it should take 100,000 words to tell?" To me, it doesn't feel big enough, especially after seeing a 114K total word count per the query and realizing the story really isn't done yet in this book.

Maybe trying to boil it down to one page right off is doing a dis-service to the story. Maybe by doing a two-pager first, you can skim off more high points to include in your one-pager so it feels more robust.

DIMA’s only clue to an existence before panther DNA was spliced to hers is a fragment of a memory and a name—Janelle. But before she can figure out how she ended up as a science experiment, she has to find a way to tame the panther that’s taken over the blank spaces in her memories. Having claws is great and all, but being unable to control what happens with them pits human compassion against animal instinct. The duality often leads to a struggle in Dima’s mind between doing what’s right and doing what’s necessary to survive.

This is a nice concise explanation of your theme. I like it!

Dima is the newest success of the government-sponsored Humani Project, which combines the DNAs of humans with animals. The Dept. of Defense hopes to create mercenaries with human reasoning and animal instinct to do the military’s dirty work, eventually using and eventually use them for combat to reduce the need for human soldiers. Dima’s the perfect physical combination—practically a panther standing upright with sharp claws and sharper teeth. Her ability to communicate makes her the most profitable Humani to date.

I'm suggesting deleting the bit about "human soldiers" because that statement basically says the US DoD sees the hybrids as non-humans, which by that statement's presence opens up a whole layer of philosophical and ethical questions not really touched on elsewhere in the storyline. Dima is struggling with who and what she is at her very core, but not questioning whether she's human by legal definition. Unless you intend to elaborate on that more with the Scotsman, I would avoid it altogether here.

The lab’s physical assessments—ranging from hunting to scent tracking to combat—are designed to help Dima balance her dual nature. They also give her an opportunity to get work out her animal aggression. However, DR. JAMES has a different agenda for her—death. Her memories contain information that wcould cripple, and likely end, the Project. If she fails her assessments, he can terminate her without question. But It's only when DR. LORENZO breaks protocol to save her during one of those exams and calls her “Janelle,that Dima realizes they know more than they’re letting on.

As the tension between the three fills the lab escalates, James becomes openly antagonistic. He enters her enclosure and goads her into attacking him by telling her that he erased her memory himself. When she does attack, he tases her until she’s almost dead. Lorenzo realizes that he can’t protect her or the other Humani from James’ abuse. Lorenzo goes to his brother-in-law, a Scottish engineer-turned-human rights activist who's trying to shut down the project, for help.

At first, Dima resists, especially as she develops a closer relationship with Lorenzo.

Here's where it starts breaking down. What does Dima resist? I'm assuming she resists going to Scotland, but only because I read in the next sentence something about her saying good-bye, then suddenly she's in Edinburgh. Just because the guy's Scottish doesn't immediately equate in the reader's mind that he actually lives in Scotland. We'll need a hint, too, of why she's resisting. The next paragraph says she "remains guarded" and "doesn't trust the Scotsman" but doesn't give us a reason why. Does Lorenzo share his plan in its entirety with her? Does she know the guy's a human rights activist?

However, when her keeper uncovers a new combat exam designed to exploit her lack of night-vision, Dima realizes that she has no choice but to say goodbye to Lorenzo and to her past if she intends to stay alive.

I don't understand the cause and effect here. Why does the discovery of a new exam make Dima realize she has no choice but to say bye? I think the detail of the exam isn't necessary here and that the space can be better used to let us know she starts having those fantasies about whom Janelle might have been that we learn about in the next paragraph or maybe to hint about how Lorenzo smuggles all the Humani out.

In Edinburgh, Dima remains guarded. She doesn’t trust the Scotsman. He tells the repressed Humani that he has their memory discs, but warns them that they might not like what they find.

This paragraph has way too many details. You don't need Dima both remaining guarded AND not trusting the Scotsman. Why "repressed Humani?" First, this is the first indication we have that more Humani than Dima were brought to Edinburgh. Second, I think you mean their memories are repressed, or their humanity is repressed, but the whole Humani entity isn't repressed.

If Dima is the only one who can communicate, do the others understand what the Scotsguy is telling them? Are they intelligent enough and adaptive enough to use a computer to communicate and understand what's on their memory discs? I'm thinking about paraplegics who can hold a stick in their mouth and tap out messages on the keyboard. That's a form of communication. Can the other Humani not even communcate in that way?

Dima takes the time to think about the repercussions. After living in the fantasies of whom Janelle could have been and depending on them to anchor her humanity, she doesn’t know how she’ll handle the truth. As she debates it,

You don't need both "takes the time" AND "debates". And as mentioned above, this is the first time we realize Janelle has been living in some kind of fantasies.

she wanders to a large reference room where she finds a computer. Her curiosity overwhelms her. She sees a folder marked “Humani Project” and opens it, hoping to find more information. Instead, she finds a file labeled “Janelle Gray.” Skimming through it, she learns that she was a Project scientist. And she and Lorenzo were in love.

You've just devoted significant synopsis space for what probably takes a half a page in the book. We don't need this level of detail here.

She stumbles across a "Humani Project" folder on a computer with the file:"Janelle Gray." From it, she learns she was a Project scientist. And that she and Lorenzo were in love.

Enraged, Dima heads to the only place she knows to find solace—the forest. Knowing her past doesn’t make her Janelle. But the knowledge contained in Janelle’s memories could hold the key to reversing the Humani’s mutation. She believes that for her friends, she has to learn what Janelle knew. Her past could change the future.

"Knowing her past doesn't make her Janelle" is a really great phrase for getting at the cusp of the whole duality issue. But again, this as an ending? I'm not feeling it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Of Themes and Writing Prompts

My Extinct submissions spreadsheet is littered with one notation more than any other: not on theme. Surprisingly, this turned out not to be an auto-reject issue.

What was a rejection pretty much across the board, though, was stories tagged: too much on theme.

Let's examine why that is.

To do this, choose a site that offers writing prompts and then publishes the written results. If you don't have a favorite, you can go here. Scroll down the sidebar to "Past Contests." Between all the contests and all the entries, there are probably close to 1000 short fiction stories that will either bear out or refute my argument.

A story prompt may be a picture, a phrase, or a premise. Given a large enough sample, I think you'll find the best, most professional-sounding stories -- not just the ones that have the basic mechanics down cold -- are those that examine the subject more metaphorically than literally. Stories that simply describe what's going on in the picture are usually pretty bland. Those that repeat the word prompt somewhere in their text are often too predictable. And the ones that don't deviate at all from the premise lack any life of their own.

Writing that's on task invariably feels labored and pedantic. It thuds instead of soars. It stands out by calling attention to the fact that it was too afraid to roam too far from home, to color outside the lines, to take a chance.

Professional writers know how to transcend boundaries and bring new, often unexpected, insights to a given topic. They dance teasingly around their subject, brushing provocatively against it maybe once or twice. They take off on tangents that in the end turn out not to be tangents at all but signposts that illuminate the subject by comparing or contrasting it in impossible ways that only make perfect sense once it's been done.

Writing fiction is not the same as essay writing was in school. There, the reward was for those who honored the imperative and adhered to theme. In fiction, the reward is in the deviation.

It can be scary -- those first few tentative steps outside the neighborhood, those first blossoms of color outside the lines. But successful fiction doesn't lie in the familiar. It's found in those spaces we must stretch ourselves to reach.

I'm working through the very last of the feedback. There will closure soon for all, I promise, as well as a more in-depth -- but generic! -- breakdown of what worked brilliantly and what didn't.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Synopsis 13: Skip

After ten-year-old BROOKE’s diary is ripped up by her older sister LEAH because Leah didn‘t like what Brooke had written about her, Brooke resolves not to write about Leah in her diary anymore. She doesn’t even want to think about Leah. She’d rather pretend her sister doesn’t exist. Instead Brooke focuses on her acquaintances at school. KAITLYN, Brooke’s former best friend, manipulates Brooke into loaning her a pen with sentimental value. Brooke is devastated after Kaitlyn looses the pen that Leah had bought her and she realizes that Kaitlyn likely has no interest in remaining friends. Even though Brooke’s FATHER buys her a new pen, Brooke is still upset about the loss.

Brooke has to go stay with her MOTHER’s friend MRS. HENDERS while her mom takes Leah to see a psychiatrist. Brooke loves Mrs. Henders even though she doesn’t enjoy playing with her son CODY.

Brooke’s parents decide that they should all go to family therapy. When the get there the therapist makes Brooke wait in the waiting room while he talks to the rest of the family. Brooke, Leah, and their parents are all frustrated by the experience and decide not to go to another session.

Brooke and Cody begin to bond over their shared love of a series of Science Fiction books. While Brooke makes a friend with Cody she has no friends at school girls at there laugh at Brooke behind her back because of her “crazy” family.

When the lead singer in Leah’s favorite band dies, Leah takes it hard. She begins locking herself in her room and crying for hours. She also refuses to go to school. Unbeknownst to Brooke, her parents make arrangements to have Leah admitted to a local psychiatric center for treatment. Leah, already upset by her parents plans, is furious when she finds Brooke going through her belongings. Brooke and Leah fight and Brooke falls down the stairs. Brooke and her mother go to the ER where Brooke has a cast put on her broken arm. By the time Brooke returns from the emergence room, Leah is gone. With Leah away, Brooke slowly begins writing about her sister in her diary again.

Even though Brooke is relieved that Leah is gone, she discovers much in the house still revolves around her sister. Mrs. Henders makes Brooke’s Halloween costume because Brooke’s mother is too busy visiting Leah. Brooke’s parents miss her school events because they have to meet with Leah’s treatment team.

Brooke attends Cody’s birthday party. There she finds she gets along well with all Cody’s friends, including Cody’s cousin EMILY who is in Brooke’s class.

Brooke’s already poor spelling grades continue to get worse until her teacher MRS. MARREN tells her she is in danger of failing. Emily begins studying with Brooke and Brooke’s grades slowly improve. Kaitlyn has also been struggling in spelling, much to her embarrassment and Brooke teases her about it.

Brooke apologizes to Kaitlyn for making fun of her. She realizes that even though she will likely never to friends with Kaitlyn, they can still be civil. Kaitlyn returns Brooke’s pen.

Leah’s doctors finally realize she may suffers from bipolar disorder, not clinical depression. They adjust her medication accordingly and her condition begins to improve. Brooke still refuses to visit her sister though. She is afraid of getting too close and being disappointed again. To Brooke’s dismay, her parents inform her that Leah will be coming home for a few hours on Thanksgiving.

Despite Brooke’s insistence that she wants to stay in her room, her parents force her to come down for Thanksgiving. To her surprise Leah is smiling and friendly. Leah teaches Brooke a card game and the family sits down to dinner.. Brooke realizes that Leah will likely always struggle with her condition but admits that by trying to pretend Leah didn’t exist, she’d missed a lot of her sister’s good qualities and forgotten many of the fun times they’d spent together.

Comments

By following the book’s events scene-by-scene, the story in the synopsis comes across as being kind of choppy. Coupled with some names we don’t need to know, it’s a little hard to keep up with and doesn’t flow as well as it could.

Here’s a secret: A synopsis is not an outline. In the synopsis, you need to be faithful to the story but not necessarily true to it.

By combining some of the storylines and following them through in a single paragraph rather than starting a storyline at the beginning of the synopsis and getting back to it several paragraphs later, you can get the general idea across to the reader in a much more palatable form. For example, in my rewrite, Brooke is left with her (unnamed!) neighbor, the reader is told she and Cody aren’t really friends, and she and Cody find a way to bond all in the space of a couple of consecutive sentences. It may not be EXACTLY what happens, but it is the spirit of what happens and easier for the reader to digest.

I did feel there was a bit of a continuity problem when we’re told the girls at school are laughing behind Brooke’s back but then Brooke and Emily, who’s in her class, bond readily. I made Emily a year older and in the class ahead, but you can figure out how better to portray their relationship.

I made one more subtle change in my rewrite as I grouped like events. As things deteriorate for Leah, they also deteriorate for Brooke. And as things start improving for Leah, they start improving for Brooke. I’m not sure if that parallelism is part of your story’s actual structure, but if it isn’t, it’s something to maybe think about as a storytelling convention for helping to reinforce a theme without being overtly blatant about it.

My Revision

When 10-year-old Brooke’s older sister, Leah, rips up her diary because big sis didn’t like what Brooke had written about her, it’s the last straw. Between Leah’s screaming fits and general rage, Brooke resolves not to write about her sister any more. Not only that, she won’t even think about her. She’ll just pretend her sister doesn’t exist.

Instead, Brooke focuses her attention on her BFF, Kaitlyn, who isn’t quite ready to be the center of Brooke’s world. Kaitlyn manipulates Brooke into loaning her a pen with sentimental value that she promptly “loses.” Brooke gets the message: Kaitlyn doesn’t want to be friends any more. More than that, all the other girls at school are laughing behind her back at her and her “crazy” family.

Meanwhile, the family therapy sessions started for Leah seem to be forgetting one thing: Brooke. She’s left in the waiting room not knowing what’s going on behind the therapist’s door. Soon, she’s simply left behind with her next-door neighbor whose son, Cody, is a year older than Brooke. She’s never really had anything to do with Cody before but after he gets off a crack about “robodog,” Brooke and Cody bond over a shared love of a science fiction series.

Then the lead singer in Leah’s favorite band dies and Leah locks herself in her room and goes on a crying jag that just won’t quit. She also refuses to go to school. When she finds Brooke going through her things looking for a ruler, she’s loses it and attacks her younger sister. While they’re fighting, Brooke falls down the stairs and breaks her arm.

Unbeknownst to Brooke, her parents had already made arrangements to have Leah admitted to a local psychiatric center for treatment and Brooke’s barely back home from the ER when Leah is simply -- gone. Now that Brooke doesn’t have to pretend so hard that Leah doesn’t exist, she begins writing about her sister in her diary again.

But a home without a sister doesn’t mean her sister’s really gone. Brooke discovers the house still revolves around Leah. Brooke’s mom can’t be bothered to make a Halloween costume because she’s too busy visiting Leah. Her parents miss her school events because they have to meet with Leah’s treatment team. And Brooke’s already poor spelling grades tank even further, putting her in danger of failing.

Even learning that Leah’s doctors have at last diagnosed her with bipolar disorder and she’s improving with the new meds she’s on doesn’t make Brooke any happier. Afraid of getting too close and being disappointed, Brooke refuses to visit her sister.

The only break Brooke gets is attending Cody’s birthday party. There she finds out she gets along well with all Cody’s friends, including Cody’s cousin, Emily, who’s in the class ahead of her. Emily offers to help Brooke with her classes and Brooke’s grades start improving. As Brooke’s self-confidence returns, she reaches out to Kaitlyn, hoping they can still be friends even though she realizes they’ll never be best friends again. Kaitlyn returns Brooke’s pen, and the general teasing about Brooke’s family dies down.

Things are finally looking up -- until Brooke’s parents inform her Leah will be coming home for a few hours on Thanksgiving. Brooke insists on staying in her room, but her parents force her to “be part of the family.” To her surprise, Leah is smiling and friendly. Even more surprising, Leah offers to teach Brooke a card game, and Brooke finds herself gossiping and giggling with her sister – just like they used to forever ago.

By the time the family sits down to dinner, Brooke admits to herself that by pretending Leah didn’t exist, she’d missed a lot of her sister’s good qualities and forgotten many of the fun times they’d spent together. Brooke realizes that Leah is struggling with her condition as much as she and the family are with its effects. And by the time Leah leaves, Brooke is looking forward to the day Leah comes back to stay.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Query 54: Redux

How to Tempt a Faerie
(Renamed from The Forbidden Fruit of Faerie)

When Taren’s kid brother suffers a fatal accident on his watch, the seventeen-year-old is trapped in a never-ending spiral of grief. And his parents? They’re too wrapped up in their deteriorating marriage to notice. (As usual.) Desperate to improve his situation, shy Taren does something he’d normally never do: he reaches out to Elora, the enigmatic transfer student who can’t seem to fit in. If he can make a connection with another outcast, maybe it will give him something to look forward to, not to mention assuage his guilt.

Unfortunately, Elora isn’t interested in connecting. But hey, the girl’s got reasons for being secretive. So while she confesses that she’s run away from home, she fails to mention “home” is the Unseelie Court, and she didn’t so much “run” as “fly”. And when she says her family is cruel, she leaves out the fact that her mother is the tyrannical Unseelie Queen. Oh, and the part about needing a gullible human’s blood to bind the Queen, a binding that will allow her to overthrow the Unseele Court? She doesn’t even mention that.

Now it’s a race to see who will hurt Taren first: the beautiful faerie living right under his nose, or the Dark Courtiers hell bent on thwarting her plans. Either way, he's in too deep to get out, unless he can convince Elora she's not better off alone. But to do that, he'll have to tempt the temptress.

"How to Tempt a Faerie" is a 75,000-word YA urban fantasy. Thank you for your time.

Comments

Hmm. I have to admit that, for me, the voice in this version is more annoying than grabbing. It seems more an after-thought here. And since this author writes the actual stories in better voice than this, I think diluting it down as it comes across here is doing the novel a dis-service. I would either ramp it up or ditch it.

I do like the natural transition between the first and second paragraphs. That's a nice touch. And the new title is better, but it still seems maybe too breezy for a story I'm seeing as darker. But I'm far from expert when it comes to titling ;o).

Overall, though, if I were going into this version of the query cold, I'm not sure I would understand the plot. And Elora comes off as being a manipulative bitch. Overthrowing the Unseelie Court is so underplayed that I'm left to wonder if that really means she wants to kill her mom and take over as the Dark Queen herself. So Taren convincing Elora she's not better off alone throws a twist into the book that I don't think you intend (oooh, but what an idea for another book!). I don't see Elora as being a sympathetic character here; I only know she should be because I've read the previous versions. I think we need to see Elora being as desperate to lure a human to her world so she can save her people as we see Taren needing a balm to ease his grief.

My Version

Seventeen-year-old Taren can't escape the grief and guilt that threaten to consume him after he fails to save his kid brother [from a boating accident]. His parents are no help, wrapped up as they are in their own grief and a deteriorating marriage. Desperate for something to latch onto and a person to connect with, normally shy Taren reaches out to Elora, an enigmatic transfer student who, like him, can't seem to fit in.

Unfortunately, Elora isn't interested in connecting, even though needy Taren is just who she's looking for. She's a runaway -- or rather a flyaway -- from the Unseelie Court where her tyranical mother rules, here in Taren's school for only one purpose. The Dark Court has been suppressing the fey for a millenium and a revolution is brewing. The common fey are willing to follow Elora if she can bind the Queen so they can overthrow the Court. That binding, though, requires the blood of a human, willingly given. She only has to play Taren long enough to manipulate him into giving his life to free her cherished fey.

What neither of them expect is to fall in love -- and that's a complication. Taren's in too deep to get out now and Elora may no longer be able to follow through on her commitment to the fey. In any event, the Dark Courtiers are on to Elora's plan and they -- and her mother -- aren't about to give up their Court without a fight.

HOW TO TEMPT A FAERIE is a completed 75,000-word YA urban fantasy. Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Query Revision 61

Face-Lift 867: Skip

Ten-year-old Brooke doesn’t like talking about her older sister Leah. It’s partly because Brooke's embarrassed by Leah’s screaming fits and crying jags. Part of it is because the last time Brooke wrote about Leah in her diary, Leah read it and ruined the journal in a fit of rage. But the biggest reason Brooke doesn’t talk or write about Leah anymore is just because she doesn’t want to. She likes pretending that Leah doesn’t exist.

Brooke thinks pretending will be easier once Leah is admitted to Cresthaven Children’s Psychiatric Center, but surprisingly it’s not. Brooke’s parents are even more distracted than they were before and everything makes Brooke think of her sister. Despite her parents requests for Brooke to visit Leah and their assurances that Leah’s Bipolar Disorder is finally being properly treated, Brooke continues to keep her distance from her sister both physically and emotionally. She isn't going to be disappointed by her sister again. But when Leah is allowed a visit home for Thanksgiving, Brooke is forced to see her sister again and decide whether to let Leah back into her life or just keep pretending.

SKIP is a middle grade novel. It is complete at 22000 words. Thank you for your time and attention.

Comments

I think this is one of those stories that will have agents requesting based on the premise alone to see if the author carries it off for the MG crowd. We've all seen the examples of imperfect queries that garner requests while the rest of us sit around and ask, "WTF?"

That said, you still have to strike the right note with the query, and I don't think the original attempt we saw on Evil Editor's site did that. This one, however, comes much closer. Stylistically, this version can still be much improved. And you, the author, will need to determine if the voice in THIS query (patient and wise beyond a 10-year-old's years) is truly representative or if the younger voice in the original query is better suited to get across what the book truly is. Or if a blend of the two might work best.

Since it's only 22,000 words and meant for early MG readers, an economy of language in the book is appropriate. That economy isn't coming across in this version of the query. There are a number of extranneous words and expressions here that can be deleted. You can use the extra space to expand on the story or just leave it a shorter, leaner letter.

In my version, I'm suggesting where some of the economies can take place and where you can maybe add a few more specifics to better help the reader see the story.

General Comment For Everyone

Changing generalities to specifics in your query does NOT have to result in an increased word count. My version below retains pretty much everything presented in the version above AND adds a couple of complications from the original on EE's site AND gives some concrete examples in place of some of the generalities. The version above is 207 words. The version below is 208. It really DOESN'T take more words on average to be specific than it does to be vague.

My Version

Ten-year-old Brooke doesn't talk much about her older sister Leah. She's embarrassed by Leah's screaming fits and crying jags. She hates being around a sister who flies into rages, rips up her books, and trashes her room "just because." She can't even have a pet because of Leah. So Brooke does her best to pretend Leah doesn't exist.

Once Leah goes to live at the Cresthaven Children’s Psychiatric Center, Brooke figures pretending will be easier. Surprisingly, it isn't. Her parents are even more distracted than before, her grades at school are tanking, and everything from the empty chair at the dining table to the closed bedroom door makes Brooke think of her sister. Still, she can't bring herself to visit Leah despite her parents' pleas and their assurances that Leah's bipolar disorder is under control -- this time. Brooke's been disappointed by her sister before, and keeping a distance both physically and emotionally is the only way she knows to be sure it doesn't happen again.

Then Leah comes home for Thanksgiving, and Brooke must make a very grown-up decision: to let her sister back into her life or just keep pretending.

SKIP is an early-MG novel, complete at 22,000 words. Thank you for your time and attention.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Query 56: Redux 2

Spirits of the Unknown

The author also asks a good question we can discuss in the comments (where I'm putting the advice I gave):
A writer suggested I change the names because long names like these slow the reader down. Should I start using 1 or 2 syllable names?

After an assassin kills his father and youngest brother, Tilvanau -- oldest son of the Family Government which rules three quarters of the planet Suvino -- faces a brutal civil war.

Tilvanau's second brother attempts to flee with his family, but the assassin hidden inside their ship kills everyone aboard, and escapes planet-side. Meanwhile, the ship, haunted by the ghosts of the murdered family, jumps to its programmed destination: Earth.

Amid rumors that he killed his own family to gain sole control of the government, and the rise of a powerful new dictator in the west, Tilvanau gets a grim reminder the assassin is still out there.

With conspiracies around every corner as the government crumbles, there's only one person Tilvanau might be able to trust to help: the secretary of state, who also happens to be the woman he loves. But she's now next in line to take command. She has motive and opportunity to see him dead, and Tilvanau is all too aware empires have fallen before because rulers trusted power-hungry lovers. She could well be his greatest enemy or his greatest ally.

Discovering the assassin's identity has become of paramount importance -- finding the killer may well be the key to suppressing the civil war and uniting the planet. Boarding his own ship, he follows his brother's ship to Earth where he'll either find the answers he needs -- or walk right into the assassin's trap.

Comments

I'm flattered you've riffed off my version. In this case, though, I think there might be a few missed cues and an opportunity for you to add the spice that will make it yours.

One of the previous commenters wanted clarity as to whether Til is human or alien. I think you inserted the planet's name to help clarify. But two things:

  1. The planet's name means nothing to the reader at this point. It's just another unfamiliar name to slow down our processing of the story, and by mentioning Earth later on, we know the most important point: the planet isn't Earth. (That Til's family rules 3/4 of the planet is a specific stat that also slows down the processing. If it bugs you, you could just say "dominant ruling family" with the objective to simplify as much as possible without tipping into the land of the truly vague.)
  2. We still don't know what the connection is between the inhabitants of Suvino and of Earth. Earlier versions mentioned Earth is the nearest inhabitable planet, but a civilization that has not just one but at least TWO available space-worthy ships gassed up and ready to take off for the nearest planet probably knows something about that planet. If not, why would the royal family risk escape? Just because a planet has a breathable atmosphere, moderate temperatures and appropriate gravity doesn't mean it's hospitable.
By moving the "amid rumors" sentence to after Til's family being killed, the "grim reminder" is now a dead end. I see why you moved it: Because you wanted it to refer to all the members of Til's family and the bro needed to be dead to do that (which is why I used "kin" rather than "family" in my version). So part of the logic is resolved by moving it, but part of the logic is now compromised.

My version was a little light on the specifics and that's where the opportunity comes for you to add the necessary spice. The paragraph on Til's lover was essentially all hand-waving and mis-direction in my version because I don't know your story. I'm assuming there is something the sec of state does, even if it's misinterpreted, to earn Til's distrust. By leaving it as is, we're left with Til being rather paranoid and perhaps unwise in his choice of bedfellows. By using the space to show us a reason why he might think his lover is conspiring against him and how he reacts to that, we get a glimpse not only of Til's personality but of his lover's as well. The reader is invested to distrust her, too. More bang for the buck.

Now, I'm also going on faith that what's here in the query is not all setup that takes place in the first 50 pages of the novel and that the bulk of the story doesn't take place on Earth. What YOUR take-away is from my assumption is the fact that I'm not sure. If in fact the query takes us through most of the novel's stakes, then just finessing it a bit to be sure the logic of the story is intact and adding some specifics about Til's lover should be enough to whet the reader's appetite. If it's only setup, then a re-envisioning of how the query is structured is probably in order. But only YOU know the story well enough to know which way to go next.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Synopsis 12: Duality

Known in the beginning as “Subject 31,” DIMA is the newest success of the Humani Project, which combines the DNAs of humans and animals. She’s the perfect physical combination—practically a panther standing upright, with sharp claws and sharper teeth. Her ability to communicate makes her the most profitable Humani to date.

Dima’s only clue to an existence before panther DNA was spliced to hers is a fragment of a memory and a name—Janelle. But before she can begin to figure out the mess she’s in, she has to find a way to tame the panther that’s taken over the extra space in her memories. Having claws is great and all, but not being able to control what happens with said claws is a bit of a pain.

The lab’s physical assessments give her an opportunity to get her animal aggression out of her system; however, DR. FREDERICK JAMES has a different agenda for his great success—death. He hopes for her failure. If she fails, he can terminate her with no questions asked. But when the Project’s founder, DR. LORENZO, breaks protocol to save her during one of those exams, she realizes that they know more than they're letting on.

After an accident leaves Dima's caretaker incapacitated, her new keeper enters with his own agenda as the tension between Dima, Lorenzo, and James fills the lab. Under orders from a Scottish engineer-turned-activist with an interest in the Project, he intends to “liberate” the four Humani now populating the lab and take them to his boss’ compound in Edinburgh.

At first, Dima resists, especially as she develops a closer relationship with Lorenzo. However, when her keeper uncovers a new physical exam developed to take advantage of her lack of night-vision, Dima realizes that she has no choice but to say goodbye to Lorenzo and to her past if she intends to stay alive.

Even in the safety of Edinburgh, Dima remains guarded. She doesn’t trust the Scotsman. He tells the repressed Humani that he has their memory discs, but warns them that they might not like what they find. Dima takes the time to think about the repercussions. After spending so long wondering about her past and living in the fantasies of who Janelle could have been, she doesn’t know how she’ll handle the truth. She wanders to a large reference room where she finds a computer. Her curiosity overwhelms her; she finds a file labeled “Janelle Gray.” Skimming through it, she finds what she never expected: she was a Project scientist. And she and Lorenzo were in love.

She decides to go to her room, but on the way another familiar scent stops her. The scent’s owner reminds her of James, inducing the need to flee or defend herself.

She investigates and finds one more clue to her past: her husband.

Comments

One of the things my critters emphasized for me about my story that involves cloning Ice Age beasts was that I needed to find ways to distance it from Jurassic Park. I think you need to look for ways to distance yours from The Island of Dr. Moreau. Giving us a reason for why this organization -- which I assume is private -- is conducting these experiments might help.

Known in the beginning as “Subject 31,” DIMA is the newest success of the Humani Project, which combines the DNAs of humans and animals.

Maybe having THREE names for your MC in a 500-word synopsis is overkill.

She’s the perfect physical combination—practically a panther standing upright, with sharp claws and sharper teeth. Her ability to communicate makes her the most profitable Humani to date.

If we know the ultimate purpose for the hybrids, the reader will better understand what determines what makes the perfect physical combo. Why is an upright form more perfect than a quadriped? Does it need to hold weapons? Drive vehicles? Operate in the human world?

Dima’s only clue to an existence before panther DNA was spliced to hers is a fragment of a memory and a name—Janelle. But before she can begin to figure out the mess she’s in, she has to find a way to tame the panther that’s taken over the extra space in her memories. Having claws is great and all, but not being able to control what happens with said claws is a bit of a pain.

"blank spaces" rather than "extra space"?

The lab’s physical assessments give her an opportunity to get her animal aggression out of her system; however, DR. FREDERICK JAMES has a different agenda for his great success—death.

Two things aren't immediately clear: that "physical assessments" must mean more than drawing blood and hooking the humani up to an EKG machine, and that "his great success" means Dima and not his ego.

He hopes for her failure. If she fails, he can terminate her with no questions asked. But when the Project’s founder, DR. LORENZO, breaks protocol to save her during one of those exams, she realizes that they know more than they're letting on.

"Hoping" doesn't seem to be much of an agenda. Also, what's James' motivation? WHY does he want to terminate her? And unless the EKG machine short-circuits and electrocutes Dima, we need reinforcement as to what the exams entail.

After an accident leaves Dima's caretaker incapacitated, her new keeper enters with his own agenda

This is a lot of information to throw in. First, this is the first indication we have that Dima has a caretaker and in that intro to him we find he's in some sort of incapacitating accident and is immediately replaced by a new keeper who happens to have some sort of agenda, which is different from James' wanting to kill her. Is it necessary for us to know anything about the first keeper? Because if the "accident" is caused by someone on the project for some mysterious reason, this synopsis is not telling us that at all. If it wasn't, then it's irrelevant info.

as the tension between Dima, Lorenzo, and James fills the lab. Under orders from a Scottish engineer-turned-activist with an interest in the Project, he intends to “liberate” the four Humani now populating the lab and take them to his boss’ compound in Edinburgh.

You're playing coy with the reader. How does "an interest" translate into sending henchmen to kidnap specimens? And in what locale does the story begin?

At first, Dima resists, especially as she develops a closer relationship with Lorenzo. However, when her keeper uncovers a new physical exam developed to take advantage of her lack of night-vision, Dima realizes that she has no choice but to say goodbye to Lorenzo and to her past if she intends to stay alive.

Of course, when you DO provide details, I have no idea what they mean (sorry). How and why do you take advantage of something you don't have? And really the "new physical exam" could be something as innocuous as measuring the amount of Vitamin A in Dima's system or figuring out the ratio of rods vs cones in her eyes and outfitting her with night goggles. There's no indication that this new exam is a deal breaker. If the exam is locking her in a dark room with a giant rabid owl to see how she copes, then SAY so.

Even in the safety of Edinburgh, Dima remains guarded. She doesn’t trust the Scotsman. He tells the repressed Humani that he has their memory discs, but warns them that they might not like what they find. Dima takes the time to think about the repercussions. After spending so long wondering about her past and living in the fantasies of who Janelle could have been, she doesn’t know how she’ll handle the truth. She wanders to a large reference room where she finds a computer. Her curiosity overwhelms her; she finds a file labeled “Janelle Gray.” Skimming through it, she finds what she never expected: she was a Project scientist. And she and Lorenzo were in love.

This is another instance where you give us info only to turn right around and discount it. She thinks about the repercussions and just about decides not to pursue finding her past life, then immediately opens a file with the name she remembers from the past. Why even tell us she has a day of doubt?

She decides to go to her room, but on the way another familiar scent stops her.

Again, we're given detail we don't need at this level.

The scent’s owner reminds her of James, inducing the need to flee or defend herself.

Does the scent or the owner remind her of James? That's critical. If the scent, then it COULD be James. If it's the scent's owner, then she knows it's NOT James and makes me wonder why, knowing who it's not, she feels compelled to flee?

She investigates and finds one more clue to her past: her husband.

I double-checked to make sure I hadn't accidentally not copied over another paragraph. An agent must get the ending in a synopsis and be let in on how the pieces tie together. This doesn't check that box. The climax for me seemed to be when she discovered she was once a scientist on the project. That she has/had a husband who may be Lorenzo or James or the keeper's boss (and that there could be the remnants of a love triangle in play here) seems anti-climatic. But what an agent will be looking for is what she does with that information. That's the crux of the story: Does she become Janelle and reconcile with her past and tame the beast within or does the animal mind get the best of her and she slaughters everyone in the Edinburgh compound and escapes to terrorize the Scottish countryside?

Overall Comments

You've got the bones here. Now you just need to take a few steps away from your work and connect all the dots for the reader.

What I'm getting from this is that it's a character-driven story, not so much a plot-driven one. And with character-driven stories, many of the turning points revolve around motivations, deceptions, and enlightenments. That's the layer you need to add now. Otherwise, all the reader is left with is:

The product of an experiment wakes up half human, half panther, and with almost no memory of her past human life. She has to try to tame the panther tendencies. A scientist wants her to fail some tests so he can legitimately kill her. Another scientist steps in to save her when she does fail. Then some keeper person kidnaps and takes her to Scotland where a Scotsman with a passing interest in the project just happens to have her memories on disc. She reads about herself and discovers she was a project scientist in love with the scientist who saved her. And while the memory file has details about her love affair, it apparently neglects to mention she also has a husband who reminds her of the guy who wanted to kill her. The end.

Is that the story YOU want to read? We have the what's; now we need the why's.