Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Face-Lift 172


Guess the Plot

Sudden Rain

1. 30,000 people will come out for the Mayor's annual parade on what's predicted to be a sunny and cloudless Tuesday, but only rogue meterologist Tim Durble expects - Sudden Rain!

2. A chance encounter in MacArthur Park leaves pastry chef Margella Bootny with love, loss, and sweet green icing.

3. Norma Coob has been reading up on witchcraft. But her only successful spell so far is not appreciated in the Ninth Ward.

4. The residents of Sugarville, Colorado think they have finally found a way to put their tiny town on the map: by making the world's biggest ball of cotton candy. Now the big day is here, but someone forgot to check the weather forecast.

5. Sven Johannsson, professor of meteorology, discovers that his isobars and charts are of no use to him against acid rain when he's caught in a storm and his clothes start dissolving.

6. When it rains, it pours, but who's to blame for that? Mother nature? Or manipulative totem spirits?


Original Version

Dear Mr. Such and Such,

I love fiction. Especially those novels that pull me away - the farther the better - from today’s depressing headlines. Fortunately, success in business enabled me to retire early so that I could focus full time on creating my own. [Now you've done it. Now we all hate you.] [Let's hope you don't hit an agent on a bad day, or she may be thinking, Listen, hon, I'm fighting the rat race, reading mounds of slush, trying to make ends meet, and you've already had a successful career and retired at thirty-four, and now you want me to hawk your book? Fat chance of that! This baby'll make good kindling for my barbecue tonight. I'll be grilling hot dogs, by the way, while you're eating prime rib, but at least my wieners will be smoked in the aroma of burning paper and ink.] So here I am after six drafts, with the kind of novel that I love to read, all 125,000-words, completed and seeking representation. It’s an historical/adventure tale entitled SUDDEN RAIN, part of a trilogy actually. [Actually?] But here, let me share with you the setting and premise. [Most accomodating of you.]

There was a time when North America’s bestiary made pre-colonial East Africa look like a petting zoo. When miles-thick glaciers, legacy of an atmosphere perpetually at war, prowled the northlands. When the far-flung descendants of the boldest mariners of all time, the First Americans, faced each new day with justified trepidation. Then came the fair-skinned ones from the Sunrise with their terrible fluted-stone weapons, and the world changed forever. [Is this a query letter or a documentary?]

This story is set in a harsh but mystical world where dreams, visions and reality often overlap. Motivated by a shameful secret, an unarmed healer/mystic must make the leap from outcast to rescuer when unknown foes annihilate his clan, abduct his half-sister and subsequently vanish into the depths of a trackless wilderness. But his troubles have only begun, for the few clues he’s able to turn up point belatedly to the very people to whom he’s turned for help. Moreover, as he gradually realizes, the manipulative Ani--the totem spirits of earth and sky--are behind all that’s happened to him. For while he’s ignorant of their agenda, his actions will govern the fate of the great herds upon which human life depends, drastically altering the future of an entire continent. [There are nine pronouns in that paragraph referring to one guy. You could get rid of a few by giving the guy a name.] [Not that there's anything wrong with pronouns, but if you don't tell us the characters' names, how can the minions complain about what lousy names you've chosen? Which is, as you may know, what they live for.]

My extensive research for this unusual story, covering a handful of scientific disciplines, was indeed a labor of love for I’ve long been fascinated by the intrepid souls who first peopled the Americas. Moreover, lots of on-the-ground wilderness experience, along with my insights into human nature gleaned from many years of leading others, helped me to breathe fresh life into the dry bones of a world long since vanished. A world that will prove as fascinating to a wide range of readers as it has to me.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. May I send you a synopsis together with my completed manuscript?

Best Regards,


Notes

The first paragraph is too homey and casual, and the rest is a bit too . . . far in the opposite direction. Although the vocabulary is used correctly, the phrasing makes it sound more like the actual work of fiction than a business letter. I've no idea if the book sounds like this, but if it does, it may scare off as many readers as it attracts. It almost sounds like a parody of stylish writing. Vivid phrases don't carry as much weight when they're coming at the reader in rapid succession. Ease off and write like you talk.

Can you find a happy medium between paragraph one and the rest? A good start would be to eliminate the second paragraph, which is the biggest offender. And there's not much of value in the first paragraph either. If you want to keep what's there, I'd move it to the end.

I don't have much of a sense of what happens, other than a guy's half-sister is abducted, and he goes after her. Despite the mention of the first Americans, I don't know exactly where or when this takes place. If the fair-skinned ones are the Europeans, that would set it much later than your talk of glaciers might indicate.

15 comments:

braun said...

Wow, mad props to the GTP'er with the MacArthur Park reference!

whitemouse said...

EE is the expert, but I rather liked this query letter as is. However, I can foresee it really annoying some agents/editors, especially if you hit them on the wrong day with it.

There's a lot of charm here, and you've convinced me that there's probably a lot of charm in your writing also (which is a good thing to get across in a query letter). However, I do think you're laying it on a bit thick, particularly in the first paragraph and second-to-last one. Also, as EE said, you haven't said a lot about the plot.

I dunno; tone this letter down a bit and try querying a few people with it. If you get nothing but form letter rejections, try writing a cleaner and more business-like letter, and see if you do better with that.

xiqay said...

Loved fake plot # 3.
As for MacArthur Park, this version is better than the one I submitted. Nice going.

As for the query:
The query sounds like a retired person who needs somebody to talk to. There's so much of it.

What little glimpse of the story we get in the query makes me think I might like it. (I like historical fiction and alternative past fiction.) But can't tell from this query.

Also, the sentence starting "Motivated by..." seems to contain the entire bit of story we're given. It's too much in one sentence for my taste (and the Motivated by phrase seems to hang there and not really connect).

EE-your comments in text are humorous, but I think they're also telling and author should hear what they have to say.

Good luck author.

Beth said...

I'm intrigued by the setting, but the story description is way too vague. I'd cut the first two paragraphs entirely, and simplify the one about your research and insights into human nature.

Anonymous said...

I agree with whitemouse about the writing style, but I'm not sure if I would read this or not. I need more of the story to know for sure. I am not sympathetic toward conquered races if that is where this is going. -JTC

acd said...

Tell us about your story! Leave your independent wealth for sharing over martinis after it sells.

...actually, that might be a good thing to mention at the end to indicate that you're available for all kinds of promotion.

Bernita said...

I'm sorry but I find the letter rife with cliches and too sel-indulgent.

~Nancy said...

For starters, I'd cut the 1st two paragraphs. I applaud the author being able to retire and write full time, but I don't think a query is the place for such things. And the 2nd paragraph does indeed sound like a documentary; again, not the right place for such an indulgence.

The plot is way too vague; give us some more details. And, please, name the guy - why should it be a secret?

Just my take on it.

~JerseyGirl

magz said...

I'm with Bernita on this one.. it sounds a bit forced. Maybe even wishful thinking?
More book please.. less author.

kis said...

Yeah, there's nothing wrong with the standard old formula:

Please consider my [word count][genre] novel, [title].

It is about [plotplot/charactercharacter/ settingsetting]. [Hint: this needs to be the biggest paragraph.]

I have researched [whatever whatever], and having retired early, am available for any and all promtional activities required. [Hint: if you haven't been published before, this paragraph should be smaller, not larger.]

Thank you for your consideration, etc.etc...

Hard to really go wrong with a template like this, and your voice can still come through in the second paragraph.

Plus, this query strikes me as running a bit long to fit on one page. Agents are fickle beasts--some will toss a query that seems to go on without saying much. Others will reject anything that isn't standard business format on general principles. Rare is the agent who likes a gimmicky query. Rarer still is one who would want to hear more about you (unless you're George Clooney, Angelina Jolie or John Grisham) than your novel.

Refocus the letter so it is centered on the story. Pare down your writing here as you pared it down on the COM (yes, I recognized this, even without seeing the name Choog). I know how open you are to constructive criticism and changing what needs to be changed, which is one of a writer's best assets. Post your revision in the comments and let us have at it again.

Anonymous said...

"how can the minions complain about what lousy names you've chosen? Which is, as you may know, what they live for."

Well, sometimes we live to say things like:

What the heck is "an atmosphere perpetually at war"? At war with what? Is the atmosphere one of your characters (you do talk about totem spirts of the earth and sky)? If so, how does one even survive it's attack?

"miles-thick glaciers, ..., prowled the northlands" What? Glaciers prowling? Glaciers mostly sit, if they are in a hurry, they move inches per year (well, I didn't research it, it might be feet). They dig vast trenches because they do it so very long.

It might be poetic imagery, if it didn't sound totally meaningless.

Talia Mana said...

My extensive research for this unusual story, covering a handful of scientific disciplines

a "handful" of disciplines sounds random. as if you just picked stuff out of a hat. it would be better to either specify the disciplines or skip it

also the unarmed man. sorry i was confused. literally? no arms??? or no weapons. actually i'm sorry i found the writing confusing. you wrote a lot but i was left not knowing what the guts of the story was. in one sentence the story is... the conflict is... etc

HawkOwl said...

MacArthur Park! Priceless. :)

But seriously, who starts a query with "I love fiction"? I love cheese, but that's not gonna get me a job in a dairy.

Here is what I'd do with it:

Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for my 125,000-word historical/adventure novel titled "Sudden Rain."

This story is set in America at the end of the last Ice Age, a harsh but mystical world where dreams, visions and reality often overlap. Motivated by a shameful secret, an unarmed healer/mystic must make the leap from outcast to rescuer when unknown foes annihilate his clan, abduct his half-sister and subsequently vanish into the depths of a trackless wilderness. But his troubles have only begun, for the few clues he’s able to turn up point belatedly to the very people to whom he’s turned for help. Moreover, as he gradually realizes, the manipulative Ani--the totem spirits of earth and sky--are behind all that’s happened to him. For while he’s ignorant of their agenda, his actions will govern the fate of the great herds upon which human life depends, drastically altering the future of an entire continent.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,


It doesn't sound like a very unusual story, by the way. Enough people have done prehistoric novels that it's pretty mainstream by now, and I think all the ones I've read involved shamanistic something or other.

Anonymous said...

Author,

Don't listen to Hawkowl. She hates everything but LIFE cereal. teehee.

Belethchamien said...

I found this letter a bit arrogant and self-occupied. It also reads like it's the book itself, and it's not very clear.
If I were an editor, I'd like query letters to be as business-like as possible, telling me quickly a)the title and length of the book, b)what it's about and c)why anyone should bother reading it. The author's personal life is not important, since that's not what'll make the reader buy the book.