Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Query Revision 17

Face-Lift 783: A Tale of Youth and Sorrow

Please read the original query at EE's. This author would like some direction with where to begin his revision.

I'm going to change the title, but at the moment I can't think of a decent replacement. I was thinking "Yggdrasil" since the mystical tree plays an important role in the story... but that will make people think "Norse-inspired" when the story isn't. I just borrowed the name. Another name, along with "Rogue" and the title, which needs changing...

This story isn't middle-grade. I'm not sure if it's even YA. It was originally meant for readers 16 - 26 years old. The main character is a girl of 12, but the story's as much about Ilona (who is 26 years old) as it is about Minette. Ilona cusses, drinks, does bad things, and has had bad things done to her.

The story's really about how Ilona, who was once a good-natured, naive Priestess, transforms into the angry, violent Rogue... and how Minette, after learning about Ilona's troubled past, tries to save her from self-destruction.

Here's the story in more detail:

Minette is under Ilona's care. And though Ilona's trying real hard to be a good friend and guardian, she's prone to dark mood swings, which of course scares Minette. Anyway, in the city they live in, a vigilante is going around at night savagely assaulting criminals (think Batman but bitchier). People have given him the name "Belphelial", after a mythical demon who used to terrorize their world.

Curious, Minette asks Ilona about Belphelial. The question makes Ilona very angry, and she lashes out at Minette, accidentally breaking the latter's headband (a gift from Ilona, and a token of their friendship).

Minette, being a kid, thinks that by having the headband repaired, she can fix everything that's wrong with their friendship. So she goes out to look for a shop. She instead ends up being forced to buy three items from a mystic.

After another argument with Ilona, Minette uses the first item (a key) to open Ilona's journal. Minette is magically whisked into its pages, where she finds herself in the body and mind of a younger Ilona.

Ilona was a Priestess obsessed with finding Yggdrasil, a divine tree said to have the power to grant one's innermost desire. She was, however, betrayed by her best friend, and left for dead in the Isle of Lament, where she became the plaything of Belphelial. This experience would embitter her and eventually turn her into a thief and a ruffian - a Rogue.

Minette then uses the second item (a potion) to make Ilona forget her past, and to change her into a more cheerful person. The potion poisons her, so Minette goes to the mystic again, who then instructs her to use the third item (a magical box that can summon any object).

In the middle of the desert, Ilona opens the box, which reveals a brand new headband. She gives it to Minette (friendship fixed!), then dies. Then the gargantuan Yggdrasil errupts from the ground. An angelic being, a resident of the tree, explains to Minette that Yggdrasil has no physical location as people have been led to believe: “The Tree is nourished by love, and grows where love exists. For it is only when one learns the value of true, unselfish love that the seeds blossom into Yggdrasil." After this, the tree sheds a single leaf, which brings Ilona back to life.

In the epilogue, it is revealed that two years ago, Ilona saved Minette from her brother, who murdered Minette's mother before turning on his own sister (he was a deranged Alchemist who believed killing his own blood would turn him into a God). This explains how Minette and Ilona ended up together.

END

So there it is... I've been trying to fix the query for two weeks, but so far I haven't come up with anything pleasing. Could you please suggest which elements of the story I could use in the query? Or how I could incorporate those elements in the existing query to make it less vague? Sorry for the long post and the late reply... and thanks again for all the help...

Comments

If you know me, you know I have an addiction. Put a query that needs a little help in front of me, add author comments just as you gave, and it's like tying a goat in front of a leopard. Dangly bait that I can't ignore. I simply have to rewrite that query.

But a few false starts later and I'm no further along than you are.

So let me show you the blocks I found myself stumbling over.

The Hook - At first, I was excited that you seemed to have captured the essence of your story in a single sentence:

The story's really about how Ilona, who was once a good-natured, naive Priestess, transforms into the angry, violent Rogue... and how Minette, after learning about Ilona's troubled past, tries to save her from self-destruction.

Then I realized that the details you were using to flesh out that sentence didn't seem to support it. Illona is both on a downward path to self-destruction and trying real hard to be a good friend and guardian. And apparently Minette has to first learn Illona had a troubled past before she thinks to save her.

The Plot - Granted, not every fantasy must be epic, but what plot there is here seems rather thin. Kind of like you're trying to wrap some sort of plot around a couple of characters. In fact, it feels, plotwise, more like it should be literary fantasy, but the voice in the query and the notes doesn't convince me the "literary" aspect is pulled off here. If the story were more clearly allegory or fable-feeling, that would probably help, but the journey here seems too personal for the typical fantasy audience.

The Audience - One house is experimenting now with crossover YA/Adult, but I'm not getting that threshhold feel for these characters or the story. While character age is important to make them identifiable in YA, if the characters don't fit the profile, it's more about subject, really, that determines where the book will be shelved. So it's all about the character journey in this case.

The Characters - The journey around the characters feels uneven. The demons Ilona wrestles with seems firmly adult in nature especially as there really doesn't seem to be an emphasis on Ilona being concerned with where and how she fits into the world. She doesn't even seem to particularly want to change, so the story isn't really about her, except that she's the one who does wind up changing. Minette drives the story, but her plotline with going back and forth with the mystic to try things to change Ilona seems more upper MG than even YA.

The Word Count - 53K is, in general, upper-end MG, lower-end YA, and not quite there yet for Adult. Especially for fantasy in any of its forms. From what you've given us, my gut is saying there's really not enough plot here to expand on that word count either. Nor does it feel like a tight, exciting read where the length works with it and not against it.

I'm hoping others will chime in to either refute or validate what I feel after reading the original query and the story descriptions. Everyone's opinion matters - don't be shy about commenting!

13 comments:

Dave F. said...

I took a good read through this after dinner.

It's the incongruities that disturb me.

Illona being 26 has no reason to drop over dead at the end of the story. A 26 year-old just doesn't do that without some reason or warning.

At 26 y/o Illona has a past (is damaged goods) when she acquires a 12 y/o as a charge. I say it that way because it makes me wonder why someone in authority would do such a thing.

Illona seems awfully attached to the woman who saved her from her brother after her brother killed her mother and tried to kill her. Especially a woman who cusses, drinks, does bad things and sets a bad example. I might accept that with a boy and a men but not with a girl and a woman. Sorry if that sounds sexist.

So after Illona breaks her gift to Minette (a headband) because Minette is asking too many questions about Illona's bad boy rapist-evil-kidnapper. Desperate to regain Illona's friendship, Mineette seeks help from a wizard.

From the wizard's gifts Minette finds:
1) Illona's journal and her abduction. (Can a 12 year old understand a 23 4 24 year old being kept as a sex object by a demonic type rapist?")... That knowledge doesn't seem to help her regain Illona.
2) A potion to artificially change Illona. Well, that was doomed from the start.
3) A magic box that grants wishes of a sort. They find a duplicate of the headband which Illona gives to Minette and they live happily ever after.

ooops, not quite. Illona dies and for a few moments Minette gets to think that she killed the second "mommy" in her life by dragging her all over the desert, arguing with her, and then making her so happy her heart failed.

But all is not lost for the great tree Yggdrasil rises from the desert sands and restores the life of Illona.

Wow! I was so not prepared for that -- Norse and Germanic mythology. That's a major league problem you have. The reader of the query is unprepared for much that happens in the story.

There is nothing in this query that grounds the agent or reader in anything familiar. (I went back and red the query on EE's website.)

Is this the story of a 12 year old orphan who finds a surrogate mother and helps that surrogate transcend her bad times through love?

Is this the story of a 26 year old who is taught by a 12 year old that the world is not a pile of crap after being kidnapped and raped?

I have another few questions.
Who tells this story? Who is the main character? Is it Illona? Minette? or Yggdrasil (metaphor)? If we knew which character is the main character, then their plot line becomes the query.

You intimate that Yggdrasil is the source of the magic and revelation that transforms the two characters and yet, you say you don't want people to think it's Norse mythology. Doesn't that harm the story? It is OK to invent an entire mythology or mystical tradition but please don't use familiar names in the story. Yggdrasil has baggage.

I don't know how to end this comment. I'm not so completely lost that I couldn't describe the story but My descriptions wouldn't help any more than what I've written here.

This is the time I tell people about when they ask what and how I write -- I stare at the pages and think real hard and sometimes I get an idea. I started reading QR17 two hours ago and these words are the result.

Dave F. said...

I have one more thing to say:
The box does one thing and one thing only and Minette selflessly gives that one thing to Illona. I get it. I get it. But I'm not prepared for that to be significant, to be the awe-inspiring act that creates Yggdrasil the tree of love and brings an angel to announce the miracle.

By that point in the query, I'm so overwhelmed with other things, this is not a climax. It becomes a confusion, a muddle.

I hope that helps as you try to write a new query.

Anonymous said...

Dear Writer,
Dave's assessment/critique is so solid. Carefully consider his comments.
I get you are going off into many places/directions. Who is the main character what does she want and what stops her from getting it? Then what happens?
Why does she morph into Rogue - yeah, you told me but I got lost on the highway. Is the tree a character? No, a tree is not a character. I suggest you focus on the mc - who doesn't morph. Go through Dave's comments. It's like you switch us from mc to another mc. Only one. Focus keeps coming to me. Focus.
I love your writing, maybe organize the pizza. Keep it to one or two toppings, not five or six. I am a little mixed up because there is so much weight on everything. I need one or two things to examine - not the whole enchilada in all 5 flavors.
Title suggeston: The Magical Tree
Please regroup, you wrote the ms. Now the hard work starts. Start with the incongruities to use Davee's words.
Best regards,
Bibi

Anonymous said...

Just another thought Writer, it may help if you go back and do an outline of each character. Like right down to the color of their eyes and shoe size. Rare or well done, with or without gravy. Get 1 main character, but don't kill her off and swap that character for another mc. Did you do a down and dirty plot outline/structure? It feels like this got away from you. Controlling a story is hard. But I bet you can. Please bring it on home. Best, Bibi

Kings Falcon said...

I'm on the it's a jumble page too. You mention a vigilante but then he completely gets dropped from the rest of your description. That should tell you, you don't need it.

A big problem I have with this is in any mythology HEROES aren't resurrected from the dead unless they've done great deeds. So why does this little peon get resurrected when some little twit cries over her? That's not unselfish love. Unselfish love and self-sacrifice would require Min to die trying to protect Illona from the demon, or vice versa. From the write up, the main plot line sounds vapid, although I'm sure it's not in the story.

Min does things that are too young for her (if I fix the head band, I'll fix everything sounds like a 5 or 6 year old) or too old (I'm going to drag my guardian through the desert to save her).

You also might want to consider making Min older and ditching the magic items. On the magic items, they don't seem to help the story. Min could just find the journal. And if Min is "whisked into its pages, where she finds herself in the body and mind of a younger Ilona" isn't she going to be facing the same trauma as Illona is?
The second item kills Illona as it's poison.
The third gives you a very superficial resolution - here's a NEW headband, now everything's all right and you weren't raped and such. We can be friends now.
So, IMHO, the items seem a bit hokey.

On Min's age - this isn't YA. The issues theses "girls" are dealing with aren't YA type issues. So if you keep Min 12, you have to convince an adult follow how a 12-year old can make rape all better. It's a hard sell. Because it's deadling with rape and torture, I'd probably not let my MG or YA kids read this one. I'd make Min an adult and call this fantasy, but that's me.

You need to write the story you want to tell. Find the core thread and structure everything around that.


Whose story is this? Illona or Min.

At its heart this story sounds like it's about how a new friendship helps Illona move past her history of sexual and other abuse.

That story I'd probably read. If my summary's right. Use that center thread and build your query and story around it. Go back to the story and flesh out the details which will add to your word count and make it a richer tale.

Good luck.

Kings Falcon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AA said...

I'm pretty confused here. None of the plot points seem connected to the others. Rape, sex slave, dead parents, mystical potion, headband- it's like a bunch of potential plot points dumped into a bag and shaken like Scrabble tiles. I need to know: Who am I identifying with? What is the main conflict that needs to be resolved? Why the magical gifts when two of them just seem to kill Illona and then bring her back to life again? Sure, there's the part about the tree, but it doesn't seem fair that the tree should just pop out of the ground at the end, instead of Illona actually finding it. Very anticlimatic. As far as the headband is concerned, I keep thinking of those plastic neon ones that were popular when I was in school. A headband has no dignity. It isn't iconic. An amulet, maybe, or even a brooch or unusual barette. But most people think cheap, plastic and faddish when they hear "headband." Not a major problem there, just saying.
I also don't think readers will accept that Minette is doing all the work in the story- rescuing her caretaker, summoning magical trees, acquiring mystical potions, being sucked into another person's life, finding the cure for cancer, etc., while the adult in the story does nothing except break things. Illona seems like a dead weight to have to drag through the story instead of an interesting character. The character is fundamentally unlikeable and you simply can't have that in a book. Even accounting for her past I can't seem to work up the sympathy I'd need in order to want to read about her. Maybe it doesn't come across that way in the book, though.
I'd also like to note that this story seems to have enough elements for a trilogy. Maybe it needs to be a series, or else it should be trimmed down to remove what's extraneous to the plot.

Michael Logarta said...

Thanks everyone! Sorry for the late reply... I was thinking the new comments would appear as a continuation of my original post in Evil Editor's blog. I only found out yesterday that my revision request has been transferred to this site.

As for my story... it's about true friendship, and how we mistake other "forms" of "friendship" for the real deal. Also, from the very beginning, my intention was to make this story inspirational and partly symbolic. It was never meant to be plot-centric, but character-centric. It is not a swords and sorcery action/adventure epic, but a tale about two tragic figures and their personal woes, struggling to find happiness and meaning in a sometimes beautiful, sometimes cruel, magical world.

I'm sorry that I made it so confusing in my query and description. For the sake of brevity, I left out some of the details from said description. But I guess since I was unable to properly convey the point of my story across, it means I still have a long way to go where query and synopsis-writing are concerned. :(

I'm going to attempt to make some clarifications, and in so doing I hope to address your doubts and concerns. But in order to do this, I'm going to have to discuss the characters and some plot points in greater detail. That will make this a VERY long post. @_@

All the information I am about to share here is gradually revealed in my book, although, of course, for dramatic purposes, not in the same precise order...

So here goes...




MINETTE:

Minette, a child prodigy, is a sweet, but overly shy girl with a passion for making potions. When she was very young, her brother, whom she adored, left her and her mother in order to pursue a career in alchemy. When Minette was around 10 years old, he returned a changed man. He was obsessed with the darker side of alchemy, and spoke endlessly about "evolving" humanity. He killed their mother, convinced the act would transform him into some sort of god. He was about to kill Minette too, but Ilona (who was lurking in town) heard the commotion, and intervened. She killed him and carried Minette away to safety.

Her mother's murder at the hands of her brother of course left Minette traumatized. It was then that she made a promise to her dead mother: She was going to stay alive for her mother and carry on, despite her loss. And she was going to stick with her rescuer, Ilona, because she had no one else, and letting go of Ilona would be equivalent to giving up and dying in this cruel, bitter world.

This promise eventually becomes a problem for Minette once she discovers Ilona isn't as easy to live with as she had at first envisioned. Though kind and generous to Minette, Ilona is far from the perfect guardian. Aside from being a thief, Ilona is also obviously harboring some dark secrets. Minette never pries, however. She doesn't want to know any more about Ilona than she has to. She's afraid the truth will be too much for her, and cause her to run away from Ilona, thus breaking the promise. And so she unwittingly creates a false image of a nicer, less scary Ilona in her mind, convincing herself that she loves THAT version of Ilona, instead of accepting - and loving - the REAL dark and angry Ilona. Her friendship with Ilona is therefore based on a lie: She does not truly love Ilona, because she doesn't REALLY know who she is. She's simply in the relationship to SURVIVE.

The story is an odyssey for Minette, the main character. She learns, through the three magical items, and through the Magical Tree, what true friendship is about.

Michael Logarta said...

ILONA:

Ilona was once a cheerful, yet naive Priestess obsessed with finding the legendary Magical Tree (the reason for which is partly revealed in the sequel). She also had a best friend, a Wizard named Lance, who was in love with her. It was he who gave Ilona the journal. When they failed in their quest to find the Magical Tree, he gave her the headband in an attempt to cheer her up. Though Ilona was unable to reciprocate his feelings, she did promise Lance to reconsider once they had found the Magical Tree. But find the tree they did not, and Lance was kept waiting.

Years passed, and Lance grew bitter and hateful. To him, Ilona had "broken" her promise. On one mission to the Isle of Lament, Ilona, with her healing spells, saved her entire guild from being slaughtered by Belphelial and his minions. When they were all about to escape through a teleportation portal (created by Ilona), however, Lance conjured a wall of ice in front of Belphelial and Ilona, preventing Belphelial from pursuing the fleeing adventurers, but also trapping Ilona with the demon.

Ilona spent several months as Belphelial's slave (I never mention rape in the story but it is implied; I leave it up to the reader to decide what happened to her). And though the physical torture was excruciating, the pain of Lance's betrayal cut even deeper. She was eventually rescued, but her innocent optimism and faith in all that was good was forever lost.

Somehow, she was able to track down Lance and confront him. It was during this confrontation that she realized Lance had never truly loved her - the only reason he had been so kind to her was because he needed her to satisfy his selfish emotional and physical needs. Ilona, consumed by wrath, stabbed Lance, then forsook her religion. The Magical Tree had ceased to exist in her mind and heart.

And so the angry, paranoid Rogue was born.

Though Ilona found herself unable to trust anyone, she was also incredibly lonely, and so, against her "better" judgment, she took on the role of Minette's guardian. She could not admit to herself that she was growing to love the child - Loving another meant leaving oneself open to be betrayed, as Lance had once betrayed her. And so she fell to convincing herself that Minette was nothing more than a ward.

In the course of the story, however, Ilona realizes that the real reason why she cannot admit to herself that she loves Minette is not because she fears Minette will betray her, but because she is afraid that SHE will betray Minette. As a Priestess, she, like Lance, had once been selfish; only showing kindness to others because it satisfied some selfish need, and not because she truly cared about those people she was helping. Ilona learns that true love is unselfish, and because her love for Minette is sincere, there is no way she can betray her. It is this realization that allows her to finally accept Minette as more than just a ward and herself as more than just a guardian – they are true friends.

Michael Logarta said...

THE KEY, THE POTION, THE BOX AND THE HEADBAND:

The Key, the Potion, and the Box are magical items sold to Minette by a mystical, otherwordly Storekeeper, who owns the Boutique of Quaint and Curious Things.

“People are disaffected, unfulfilled creatures," said the Storekeeper. "They are always in search of something: an elusive dream, the fulfillment of a secret desire, the answers to the questions that haunt them. That is why everyone winds up here… eventually. When they look hard enough, they always find this place, and so we make certain our doors are always open to our customers and we make sure that our items are… always in stock.”

And so these three items represent Minette's "hidden desires".


The Key mirrors Minette's desire to know more about Ilona and her past. Of course, Minette is so afraid of getting to know the real, dark Ilona that she at first does not realize that she has such a desire. Eventually, however, she understands that she can't truly be friends with a person if she won't accept that person and her past. And so the Key magically takes her into Ilona's past, where Minette discovers the Rogue's painful secrets. After the experience, Minette admits that there is a reason behind Ilona's anger. She is not in fact a bad person; she is only reacting to a hurt that won't go away. Minette learns not to judge a person so quickly and so harshly, that she must understand and then accept that person before she can truly help her.


The Potion represents Minette's somewhat misguided desire to change Ilona, and by "change" I mean "transform a person's identity so that she fits YOUR description of what is a good person". The Potion poisoning Ilona is my way of saying, "If you really love a person, you will accept her for who she is despite all the bad things she has done in the past, and despite who she is at the moment. It is wrong and selfish to coerce a person to throw away who she is and replace her own values with your own. The best thing you can do is be there for that person, help her get over her problems, so that she can improve, instead of completely altering, the person that she is."


Lastly, the magical Box that can summon anything reflects Minette's desire for she and Ilona to have a true friendship, instead of the unsatisfying farce of a friendship they had once shared. The box summons a headband, the same size, shape, and color as the last one, but brand new.

The headband symbolizes love and friendship. When Lance gave it to Ilona, he was offering her his love. But he betrayed her, and in the months spent as Belphelial's slave, the headband was made unclean, damaged. In other words, their friendship has been forever lost.

When Ilona gives the headband to Minette, she is basically offering her damaged self to Minette. It breaks during their argument - fake friendships cannot last, and will eventually “break”.

When Ilona gives her this new headband, however, it means she is offering herself entirely and freely to Minette. She is offering a friendship that is free of insincerity and selfishness. And Minette, by accepting it, is reciprocating Ilona's love.


But the Potion has done its damage, and Ilona succumbs to its poison.

Michael Logarta said...

THE MAGICAL TREE:

According to religious myth, the Magical Tree (a placeholder for now since I can't think of a name to replace "Yggdrasil") was first summoned by a prophet a thousand years ago to rid their world of a demonic race bent on destroying mankind. After the eradication of the demons, the prophet disappeared, and the whole of humanity was put to sleep. When they awoke, they had no memory of where the Magical Tree was located.

Rumors arose of its location, and numerous adventurers set out to find it, "For its fruit was said to bear the gifts of wisdom and knowledge, its leaf the breath of life, and its sap innermost desire, which when all taken together, bestowed upon the person true happiness."

Ilona was in search of the Magical Tree because she was very unhappy, and she was secretly hoping that it would heal the undying hurt in her soul. Of course, like every other explorer before her, she failed to find it.

What everyone had gotten wrong was that the Magical Tree didn't have a permanent physical location. It was summoned by great need, and true love. In the prophet's case, he loved mankind so much that the Magical Tree decided to grant his wish: the destruction of the demons that threatened their world. In Minette's case, it answered her plea to save Ilona. And thus Ilona was resurrected, a resurrection which of course symbolizes new beginnings between the two of them.




And so that's basically the whole gist of it. Minette learns what it is to be a true friend, and Ilona learns to allow herself to love…




I have already written the sequel, and have plans for at least one more book. I do understand that at 53,000 words, book 1 might be too short for YA, and definitely too short for adult fantasy.

However, I have been considering combining book 1 and book 2 into one single book. That way, it should be long enough for adult fantasy (roughly 175,000 words). Do you think this is a good idea? I'm not sure the story belongs to YA, anyway. I had always imagined readers 16 - 28 years old as the target audience.

With everything I've written here, how do you think I should go about fixing my query? Or my story?

Again, thanks for all your comments! And I'm sorry for such a long post. I await your critique with bated breath. @_@

Phoenix said...

Hi Michael:

I'm glad you found us! EE popped a note up about your revision being over here, but I didn't have an email address to let you know personally.

I do hope some of the others come back to weigh in as well, but here are some of my thoughts.

First, 175K for a debut fantasy? Not good. Odds are against you that anything over 120K or so will be considered. OTOH, as you say, 53K is too short for an adult fantasy. There could certainly be a Part 1 and Part 2 to the book, but you'll have to do a LOT of editing to get Part 2 into an acceptable word count range.

Since the journey to self-discovery happens in Part 1, is it fair to guess that Part 2 is more action-oriented? How does it wind up being more than twice the length of Part 1? The huge discrepancy in length is kind of a red flag that the two parts may not make a cohesive whole in terms of tone and action.

But if you are wanting to pitch the 53K story as a book, I think condensing the character studies of Minette and Ilona that you've given us here and maybe tying them together with the theme of betrayal would work for the first two paragraphs of the query, then wrap up with the way they learn to trust and love again.

Like your overview here, your query doesn't have to reveal the story the same way it actually unfolds, either.

I have an idea how I'd structure the query for this. I'll take a shot at it in the next couple of days and post it here in the comments, FWIW.

Phoenix said...

I've posted my version of the query and a call for more help as a separate post.