PITCH: A Monk's Journey - Fantasy/Adventure

Hello! I’m planning a spiritual fantasy novel and would love some feedback on the plot and the character development.

Since it’s a fantasy novel, I would also love to know if you have any question about the world, e.g. how does this spell work or what is the difference between mystic item 1 and mystic item 2.

Also, since I’ll be using Chinese terms, I’m just wondering whether Pinyin or Wade-Giles is usually preferred. This pitch uses Pinyin, but I want to know what the standard is.

Finally, I would love to know whether you would read it.

Title: A Monk’s Journey

(Title pending: feel free to drop suggestions and justifications!)

Logline: In a fictional Chinese-Warlord-Era-like world, Tuhu (or Butcher), a monk and retired infamous soldier, falls into a crack in the ground and lands in Hell. To get back to the Mortal Realm, he has to follow the spirit of the last child he killed.

Summary of less than 500 words (including major plotlines/arcs to conclusion):

During the final battle, Tuhu (Butcher) and other soldiers loot and massacre a village landlord’s home. After killing the landlord’s five-year-old daughter, Tuhu takes the girl’s jianzi, a toy that he has never played with as a child.

After the war, Tuhu feels empty, quits the army, sells his possessions, and wanders aimlessly until he has no more money. He meets a monk who convinces him to become a monk too.

During a stroll as a monk in a forest, Tuhu is blinded by fog. When the fog disappears, Tuhu is in a desert. A crack then splits the ground. Tuhu falls and lands in a strange place.

He meets a spirit who tells him that he is in Hell. Since he is still alive, he needs to return to the Mortal Real by crossing a portal before the Dead find and devour him, making future reincarnation impossible.

Some Dead find them. Tuhu realizes that he doesn’t want to ‘disappear’ forever and feels afraid for the first time. The spirit helps him escape, leading him to a pile of bones with a name of one of Tuhu’s victims on each of them. Tuhu reconstructs a skeleton. After the spirit puts some of Tuhu’s qi in it, the skeleton becomes the landlord’s daughter, who knows the way to the portal and plans to reincarnate through it.

She asks Tuhu to replace her family since he killed hers and takes Tuhu’s silence as agreement. During their journey, they discuss about their lives and experience mundane events of Life such as scavenging and cooking. The girl’s innocent, enthusiastic character makes Tuhu appreciate the fragility of life. Her brief but passionate life makes him realize how meaningless his life has been. Since he was born, he only followed others’ plans for his life and has become a mindless machine.

The duo is attacked by some Dead who wound the girl. Her qi starts to slip out from the cut. Before they can get to the portal, the girl loses all her qi. Before she returns to a skeleton, she makes Tuhu promise to bury her jianzi in her home’s yard.

Tuhu crosses the portal and wakes up in the desert. Two rebel soldiers ask him to join their army. They explain that the only way to enter the landlord’s house, now occupied by the tyrannical enemy warlord, is by defeating him. They baptize Tuhu “Shaseng” (the Desert Monk) because he cannot remember his original name (see Extra notes below).

Shaseng joins the rebel army to fulfill the girl’s ‘dying’ wish. After months of war, the rebels defeat the enemy army. Shaseng and some soldiers attack the landlord’s home, where the warlord is hiding. Shaseng kills the warlord, who was his superior. Lethally wounded, Shaseng buries the jianzi in the yard, under a peach tree.

After he closes his eyes, he is back in Hell. The Dead approach him. Instead of running away, Shaseng lets the Dead devour his qi for their reincarnation.

Intended audience: older audience for mature content (war, blood, and violence). No restriction apart from this. The book can be enjoyed as either an entertainment or a more serious read.

Genre: fantasy, spiritual fiction, action, adventure, war fiction, xuanhuan (?)

Length: depends on plot adjustments but this will be a novel (more than 40 000 words)

What makes the story unique? I would say that it’s unique in that it’s some sort of Divine Comedy X Chinese Warlord Era. I’m curious. What do you find unique?

Extra notes:

  • In this story, there are three realms: Heaven, Hell, and the Mortal Realm. Heaven is for gods and immortals. Everyone goes to Hell when they die. Rather than the Christian Hell, where bad people go, this Hell is simply the realm of the Dead.
  • qi is the vital energy. Living beings have qi. In this story, when a person dies, they maintain their qi, but it dissipates as they wander in Hell to the point that they have not enough to return to the Mortal Realm or to reincarnate. So, they try to take the qi of newcomers.
  • Only souls that deserve reincarnation (the innocent or redeemed ones) will see the path to the portal.
  • Tuhu isn’t the character’s original name, but a nickname arising from a misunderstanding. It’s not mentioned in the summary, but before joining the army, Tuhu was a butcher. As he got used to his nickname, Tuhu forgot his original name.
  • Jianzi is a toy similar to a heavy shuttlecock.

Thank you!

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b u m p

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I have a couple of questions from your plot, and I’ll just post them below :slight_smile: I like your logline, by the way.

Why would a soldier take the girl’s toy? Is it something he wants to remember her by? It kind of gives an impression of a psychopath - or at least, it does for me.

So was he feeling empty before and was reluctant to take place in the war? And is that why he took the toy?
Or is it after the war, these feelings come to him? If so, why?

Why does the MC have to be transported to Hell in the desert? What’s the significance of having the desert as the place of transportation? Why can’t it be in the forest itself?

Why would she want to help him? Wouldn’t she be angry that he killed her and her family and want him to die? Wouldn’t she help the Dead find him in revenge for killing her family?

So everyone knows about Hell and what happens if you go in there alive? Because if so, how come the MC didn’t?
Or does he tell them? Won’t he sound crazy? Or do they help him, although they think he’s crazy, because they want his support - that is, joining the army?

Why does he have to remember his original name? And how do they know that Tuhu isn’t his original name?
And the MC forgot his original name, but remembers it was not Tuhu?

Why is it even important for the plot?

Why does Tuhu deserve reincarnation?

These are all I have for now and if I have more or need more clarification, I’ll let you know :smiley:

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Hey, if you’re waiting for Nick to reply, you’ll have to give him at least two days to do so :slight_smile:

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Hello! Thanks for reading my summary. These are some great questions, and I believe most lack explanation because I was nearing the length limit of the summary (less than 500 words). So, I’ll reply them here.

Imagine that you never used a Nintendo DS. One day, you find one without owner. You remember how you’ve once seen kids having fun with it. Would you take it out of curiosity?

Of course, for us, this might be different than taking a toy from a girl you recently killed, but Tuhu lacks the common sense that we have. For him, life and death have no meaning - at least in the beginning of the story.

So, he might be considered a psychopath if you wish.

At first, we and Tuhu don’t know where this feeling comes from. Tuhu will slowly come to understand why he suddenly feels empty through his journey in Hell.

Eventually, he realizes that it’s because, all his life, he never really had his own goals. As a child, he trained to become a butcher, because his father wanted so. As an adult, he became a soldier, because those around him said it was the best job. As a soldier, he killed mindlessly, because it was his superior’s order.

His only driving force came from others’ momentum. He got so used to this that he stopped thinking for himself. So, when the war was over and no one told him what to do, he was at lost about his own life.

This is what he’ll realize as he spends more time with the girl.

Tuhu starts living in a temple in the forest when he becomes a monk. The forest can be seen as the contrary of civilization. It is a quiet, isolated place suitable for introspection. Moreover, in ancient times, poets and other intellectuals take strolls in bamboo forests to reflect about various matters.

Tuhu being transported into another place as he takes a stroll in a bamboo forest can be a metaphor of his thoughts being transported elsewhere.

A desert represents emptiness and the state of Tuhu’s mind/heart. Tuhu falling under the desert can be seen as him trying to dig into his subconsciousness to find out the origins of his feelings. His journey through Hell is metaphor of introspection.

As a five-year-old who has lived in times where death and violence is recurrent, she still has yet to grasp the deeper meanings of death. She also can’t see Tuhu as an ‘evil’ person, because she has yet to grasp the concept of ‘evil’. For her, Tuhu killing her family is no different than if he stole her candies. So, just as she would ask a thief to compensate for whatever he stole, she asks Tuhu to compensate for her family by providing the company she has lost.

The MC doesn’t tell them that he went to Hell. He just says that he needs to get to the house of landlord X to bury his daughter’s toy. He’s not a talkative guy.

They asked him what his name was.

Because he said that he couldn’t remember what his name was.

You can be aware that you forgot about something. For example, when you are about to say something and someone interrupts you, you might forget about what you were going to say but still know that you were going to say something.

Similarly for Tuhu, he knew he had a name and that “Butcher” was the name given to him due to a misunderstanding. An official recorded his occupation at the place of his name, and others started calling him “Butcher”. Since Tuhu didn’t mind (like he did for basically anything in his life), he let them do so. Since no one asked his original name, he never used it and started to forget about it.

A name is a great part of someone’s identity. Tuhu’s original name should supposedly be that of an ordinary person (so not something as ‘meaningful’ as “Butcher” or “Desert Monk”). Him forgetting his original name can be interpreted as him forgetting his identity as an ordinary civilian.

Also, by making Tuhu forget his name, this story can be more easily generalized.

I believe that I never said that he did. Tuhu followed the girl, who could see the path to the portal. Also, since he wasn’t dead, the rule didn’t apply to him. Reincarnation didn’t concern him. So he couldn’t see the portal whether he would deserve to reincarnate once he dies or not.

Hope this clears things up! Feel free to ask any more questions.

With no reluctance?
You can definitely have this character, although his ethics and morals are very, very questionable - or at least to me, it is.

Didn’t you say he quit?

Also soldiers who’ve joined way before a war, always have something to do. I mean, every country has an army, yes? And wars aren’t being fought everyday, nah?

I forgot that she was five, but anyway won’t she at least be terrified of him? I mean, if death and violence are so prevalent, won’t the girl’s parents warn her to be careful and stuff? Won’t she be terrified of seeing the person who took her family’s and her life?

If someone steals a kid’s candy, they’ll either be angry, cause or tantrum or whine and complain to their mother.

And they accept him like that? Are they people who know him? Either way, won’t the question him or be reluctant?
Or are they in desperate need?

Yes, but after a few years?

If you’re insistent on him remembering he had a name different to ‘Butcher’, make it show from the very beginning. Maybe he feels uncomfortable when they call him ‘Butcher’? Or maybe he tries to remember what his real name is when people call him ‘Butcher’ or something of that sort.

If he thinks about somewhere in the end, I think readers will always wonder why he didn’t at least feel that ‘Butcher’ was not his name.

You didn’t mention this either! Why can’t he see the portal? Is it because those alive can’t and that is why he had to reserruct a person who he killed? (I think this is something you need to mention in your summary, but I’m not sure.

I had to edit the post, because I posted it by mistake when I was only halfway done!

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Why is the little girl in Hell?

What did a murdered 5 year old girl do to deserve being placed in Hell?

And why aren’t her family’s spirits there with her?

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They might already have been reincarnated, or they just haven’t found each other. Hell is a big place.

Morality is learned. If you have never been taught by anyone around you that killing is bad, would you feel bad about killing? If you have never been taught about the weight of death, would you fear or honor it? This story offers insights on a man who has never been taught any of the deeper things we learn about.

Yes. Yes, but it’s complicated. No.

He quit, because he sees no purpose in his life anymore.

The Warlord Era is one of the most chaotic era in modern Chinese history. The country is divided into regions “governed” by warlords with their own armies who continuously fight against each other for more power, often dragging the population into it. My world that is based on this era has these characteristics too. Tuhu is from one of the ‘warzones’.

Like many others, he was poverty-stricken so had to follow others’ plans for him (to survive) and eventually saw no deeper meaning in life than working to live. He didn’t have the time to develop any hobby and didn’t have the proper education to desire something more complex - like art and literature.

After the war, he was assigned a title and a house in the village and is ‘retired’ from the battlefield. He had food and shelter and even some amount of power. He didn’t have to follow orders as much as he would on the battlefield. He pretty much had anything he needed to survive and a lot of time.

So, life suddenly became meaningless. To fill this void, he started wandering the world to get an idea. However, he still couldn’t figure out what he needed to do, because he wasn’t even sure what he wanted.

Hence, the whole journey through Hell to find himself.

I believe that a story from a different context shouldn’t be seen through our lens.

In fact, in some places where violence is omnipresent and law is barely existing, children even play with dead bodies or watch people die without much emotion.

Because violence and death are so prevalent, people stop minding about it. Parents won’t necessarily care about it, and because no one taught them to be afraid, children won’t be either.

Murder didn’t have much meaning. Also, she was too innocent to understand it.

It depends on the child. Even in our world, some child can react rather calmly.

Yes, they are in desperate need. They didn’t have many resources or men. Also, they noticed that Tuhu had been a soldier, so he seemed like a good candidate.

Yes, you can still know.

He doesn’t care, so he wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have let them call that for so long.

This is what he does when the rebels ask him about his name. It’s not something important to him, but when people ask him, he is reminded that he actually has a name.

True, but my summary is so long now :joy: Maybe I’ll add it in extra notes later.

No worries! Thanks for writing this.

Why not just call it the Realm of the Dead or the Underworld instead of using the term Hell then?

Or use Diyu or Naraka

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Of course I would! That’s common sense! It’s an instict; it doesn’t have to be taught.

Oh, really? Can you name a few places? I want to Google them :slight_smile:

Oh, really? So no one cares about death, or that their loved one might die? •_•

Oh, lol :joy:

You’re welcome! :smiley:
And thank you for clarifying!

I’m curious to see Nick’s answer.

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Yeah, @dawnashes why does it have to be called ‘Hell’? So it’s a misnomer?

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Well, Diyu can be “Hell” in Chinese as it is also used for the Christian Hell. I’ll explain it in the book.

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I think in the pitch you should use something other than Hell. Even Purgatory works better if someone is waiting there to transition through reincarnation.

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First, this statement is assuming that there is a universal common sense. However, across the world, ‘common sense’ or morality is heavily influenced by culture. For instance, we would say that cannibalism is something seemingly universally immoral. However, some cultures still practice it. So, a person from such societies might not consider it as immoral. There are examples for killing too in ancient or modern battlefields, which I will not name to avoid controversy. So, I’ll use a fictional example. Have you seen Barry? It’s a nice series about an ex-soldier and hitman who tries to have a normal life. The first time he killed (as a soldier from the civilized America in the 21st century) he felt no remorse. Instead, he was happy about it. His companions also cheered on him.

Then, if there are so many types of common senses, how do some people have certain types of common senses and not others? Are you saying that it is due to genetics? Then, some people are born with the genetics that make them fine with cannibalism and murder, and some don’t? Then, how would you explain people whose morals change when their environment changes? The Stanford Experiment is a great example for such a case. You can look it up if you haven’t already. There are also a lot of examples in both history and real-life.

So, we know that people’s common senses are affected by environmental factors - by learning. To understand that ‘killing is bad’, we need to learn it first.

Also, as for instinct, I believe this is debatable, but most theorists, such as Aristotle and Freud, point to the fact that instincts only include physical/physiological needs, such as food and sex. Some, like Freud, even believe that violence is among one of the main driving forces for people.

Of course, many topics in psychology, such as this one, are debatable, and we can continue on this way. Empirical evidence and the amount of support for a certain theory only mean that it is potentially more valid than other theories. You can have your own opinions, and they could be considered valid to a certain degree if you have enough objective empirical evidence.

Who knows? Maybe this could be a discussion topic once this book is written.

I forgot the exact places I saw, but many war stories and accounts during chaotic eras reflect a certain degree of indifference toward death. Also, this might be a controversial mention, but let’s not forget about child soldiers.

The degree of importance you attribute to a certain subject depends on your ‘common sense’, which we have mentioned before. Also, not caring about something could just be because it is too mundane. Not caring about death doesn’t equal not caring about the lose of loved ones. One might just attribute a different meaning to it.

I believe I’ve mentioned before but morality is contextual, so we shouldn’t try to fit others’ beliefs into our own mold. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree, but it also doesn’t mean that other beliefs do not exist.

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^

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I don’t think this would be the same. I actually like the nuance that “Hell” gives. This raises the question of whether it is Tuhu’s Hell (a metaphor for his sinful past) or just the Realm of the Dead. I’ll explain this as best as possible in my novel though.

Thanks for the advice.

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Okay, thank you for clarifying! :slight_smile:

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No problem! Thanks for these thorough questions! They helped me see what I should clarify in my book.

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No problem! :smiley:

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