Thursday, October 25, 2007

Face-Lift 441


Guess the Plot

Buried

1. Fido had a hobby. It never bothered anyone, until the day he dug up Mr. Kravitz's hobby. Some secrets will not stay dead.

2. Two bands of pirates meet on a small Caribbean island and Viggo the Terrible decides to ravish a few females. Now he's up to his ears in sand, while Big Sal and Elvira sail away with his ship and crew. What will he do when the rest of the Petticoat Posse arrives?

3. Ever since Tessa'a best friend escaped after three years as captive of a psychotic kidnapper, things haven't been the same between them. Can Tessa exhume the friend she once knew, or will she herself be . . . Buried?

4. Jillian has had it. Her boss is on her ass, David is going through a 'phase'--whatever the hell that means--the customers won't stop calling and bitching, and she hasn't had a day off in two years. No one told her that being a literary agent meant her own life would be . . . Buried.

5. Zach liked to boast that his house was built on an old Indian burial ground. But when his friends call him on it, and he digs up his back yard, he finds a whole underground world of super-intelligent mole people.

6. After the earthquake that leveled his apartment; the harrowing escape from a burning building complete with daring rescue of a girl and her puppy; the 3 day drinking binge; the 7 day tryst of passion with Tiffany Lopez; and the weekend of dysentery -- Berkeley graduate student Lambert Swiggney struggles to complete his overdue Chaucer essay in his new office in the back seat of a Honda Civic.


Original Version

Note: It's bring your kid to work day here at the office, and I decided to let Evil Jr., my six-year-old, make a few of the comments in this critique to demonstrate that this isn't as easy as it looks. The kid's comments are in red.

Dear Evil Editor,

Tessa, a sixteen-year-old perfectionist with obsessive tendencies, [She bites her fingernails, but when she's finished they look exactly like the Virgin Mary's fingernails.] [In researching obsessive tendencies for this critique, I went to Dr. Phil's site, where he explains the degrees of such compulsive behaviors as washing your hands a lot, and says, "An hour or more a day is moderate, 3 to 5 hours is severe, and 8 hours or more is extreme behavior."

Patient: Doc, I spend five hours a day washing my hands.

Dr. Phil: Hey, I wouldn't call that extreme behavior . . . Uh, you missed a spot.]


[I used to spend eight hours a day washing my hands . . . WHEN I WAS A COAL MINER!] [Then my psychiatrist suggested I switch from Ivory soap to Lava. That was the only psychiatric session that ever did me any good--I'm down to five hours a day.]

has isolated herself by hiding behind the lens of a camera [Either she's a midget, or that's one humongous camera!!] as she’s struggled for the past three years to deal with the kidnapping of her best friend, Noelle. When Tessa is accepted as a member of her high school yearbook staff, she is forced to make some changes, as she must learn to interact with and rely on others. Tessa even begins an unlikely friendship with Max, a new student who, upon first impression, strikes her as irritating and slightly dangerous [thanks to his practicing his knife-throwing act during arithmetic class].

When Noelle escapes her abductor and returns home, [I don't think she escaped. I think the kidnapper figured, Hey, I been feedin' this mooch for three years and I ain't seen a dime of ransom; time to cut my losses.] the girls meet again and Tessa is shocked to realize that the friend she’s idealized since her disappearance is not at all who she imagined. [Look, Noelle, I realize you've spent the last three years living in a pit under a psycho's house, but do you think you could lighten up?] In reality, the angry and sullen Noelle is someone Tessa would avoid if not for the past. [Kinda like you and me, Evil Dad!!!] As Tessa becomes intent on finding a way to reconcile the differences that have grown between herself and Noelle, she only hopes that she can unbury the girl she remembers and avoid burying herself in the process.

To complicate matters, the relationship between Tessa and Max moves beyond the boundaries of a simple friendship, [Or, to be more concise, they fuck.] and Tessa must deal with the confusing feelings that arise. At school, Tessa is labeled a "Narc," because several pictures she took for the yearbook inadvertently landed a star football player in serious trouble. [Was it her fault the running back's touchdown celebration consisted of shooting up steroids in the end zone?] When details of Noelle’s escape emerge, it becomes evident that Noelle risked her own life to save Tessa from becoming yet another victim of the man who had held her captive for three years. [Explain.] Through it all, Tessa finally understands that she can’t control every aspect of her life, that hiding doesn’t solve anything, and that change can, in fact, be positive.

Buried is a contemporary young adult novel, complete at 62,000 words.

I am a member of the SCBWI. I would be happy to send you Buried. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

So, do they catch the bad guy?

I'd leave out the perfectionist/obsessive part, as it doesn't come up later in the query.

It's very general. Some specific details here and there would make it more interesting. For instance, which is more interesting:

As Tessa becomes intent on finding a way to reconcile the differences that have grown between herself and Noelle, she only hopes that she can unbury the girl she remembers and avoid burying herself in the process.

or

Determined to rebuild her lost friendship, Tessa gets Noelle high, takes her to a Body Count concert, and lets her spend a night with Max.


Tessa is shocked to realize that the friend she’s idealized since her disappearance is not at all who she imagined.

or

Tessa is shocked to find that Noelle has morphed into Sylvia Plath.

24 comments:

blogless_troll said...

Make Evil Kidion a regular please.

Bernita said...

Wash out that kid's mouth with soap.
No six-year old should be allowed to say "concise."

Dave F. said...

Is this Tessa's story about having to deal with her friend who was changed by three years captivity as a sex slave? (I'm assuming that's what the psycho kidnapper did. I doubt he taught her knitting and needlepoint.).
Or is this the story of Noelle's recovery from kidnapping and torture after being held for three years?
The query doesn't make it clear if this is Tessa or Noelle's story.

Also. Max is a complication in that Tessa and Max fall in love, or at least teenage lust. He seems to have nothing to do with Noelle. He serves only to complicate what was merely a 13 y/o BFF pact. In the normal course of events, boys to disrupt tween girls BFF's. don't they?

This- When details of Noelle’s escape emerge, it becomes evident that Noelle risked her own life to save Tessa from becoming yet another victim of the man who had held her captive for three years. - indicates that the investigation and trial of the kidnapper is ongoing. The story of the kidnapping is still being revealed. That could make the kidnapping the emotional payoff of the story. You indicate that Tessa's acceptance of certain things (not explained too cleary, but I guess Tessa's triumph over Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) has more emotional impact.

Most people have to learn that there are things in life they can't control.

Might this be Noelle's story and not Tessa's story?

If it is Tessa's story, then make the writeup reflect that. like for instance: When Tessa's BFF returns from a three year disappearance, Tessa must learn what lessons of life ... as she helps her friend, Noelle adjust to high school life.

13 year olds are not in high school yet. 16 year olds are in high school.

BuffySquirrel said...

It's brave to venture into this kind of territory, and, I suspect, difficult to do so without sensationalising.

However, Tessa's problems seem trivial compared to Noelle's. Exactly how is Tessa threatened with being buried? Literally? Somehow I doubt it.

I think the query needs to be reworked so it presents less of the girl with small problems whining that the girl with huge problems turns out to have clay feet. Maybe we should see Tessa helping Noelle find a new sense of herself, rather than Tessa trying to remake her friend into the image Tessa wants to cling to.

So, EE, your six-year-old can spell humongous, huh? When does the kidling start on the difficult words?

Church Lady said...

Awww! Lil' Barnabus.

Khazar-khum said...

What kind of dad are you? What are you teaching? You should be ashamed of yourself! No six-year-old should be subjected to Sylvia Plath.

Cathy in AK said...

Apparently the Evil apple doesn't fall far from the Evil tree.

150 said...

Six, eh?

Lightsmith said...

This sounds promising. The basic setup - girl whose friend has been kidnapped - has tremendous potential. It brings to mind the opening section of Lehane's Mystic River.

I agreed, though, with BuffySquirrel's comments about Tessa's problems seeming trivial against the backdrop of the friend's kidnapping. Perhaps it comes across better in the actual book, but in the query the MC loses sympathy for seeming too self-centered.

Good luck!

Robin S. said...

"[Or, to be more concise, they fuck.]" I really did laugh out loud when I reached this part. Maybe because I can't see EE saying fuck. Not really.

I agree with ligtsnmith and buffy -that Tessa's story and problems seem self-centered and whiny when compared to what her friend endured. I know kids that age ARE self-centered - but I guess I'm thinking in terms of how you'd want the query to come across.

The story sounds interesting.

Robin S. said...

Forgot to mention, EE- how in the world would you know about Body Count? I have two teenagers and I've never heard of them - and I thought I'd been through every esoteric, alternative, heavy, punk and rap crap thinie there was out there with the girls. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's not quite clear whose story this is or why it's so hard to deal with your friend not being the same old same old after 3 years in the hands of kidnapping televangelists or sweatshop sewing bosses or an army of envelope stuffers or pirates or meth cookers or the mad Sylvia Plath-ish mother or whoever kidnapped her. If you check in with any adolescent after an absence of 3 years you'll meet a very different person than they were 3 years ago. That's just how life works. Dealing with the friend's specific changes in this case, seems like a smaller story to choose than actually making the kidnapped girl be the main pov character.

Or did you make it a vicarious narrative because the kidnapped friend actually does the whole Plath thing and puts her head in an oven but you want to write in first person so it has to be done in the pov of a witness because the actual main character does not survive to tell?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments - especially from you, Evil Child. I feel quite special to have your thoughts included with my query.

I'll have to think about all of this - especially the trivial and whiny aspect of Tess mourning the loss of her friend even after she returns. Maybe I didn't get the feeling across correctly in the query. Or maybe the book sucks.

Dave - I'll clarify that this is Tess' story and not Noelle's. I'm confused about your comment on the age of high schoolers. They're 16 when the novel takes place.

buffysquirrel - "Maybe we should see Tessa helping Noelle find a new sense of herself, rather than Tessa trying to remake her friend into the image Tessa wants to cling to." This comment helped a lot. The book starts out with Tess trying to get her old friend back, and then she realizes she can't. I should focus more on the latter - how they reconclie.

lightsmith - thanks. I think I need to change the focus of the query b/c I don't think that she comes off as too self-centered in the novel. Her main struggle is how to connect with this old friend - not all this other stuff.

robin s. - ". . . but I guess I'm thinking in terms of how you'd want the query to come across." I'm realizing I didn't get the emotions across very well in the query at all.

Thanks to everyone.

How bad is it when you're sitting in the ER with your husband wondering if your query is up and what people are saying? He wasn't deathly ill, or anything, but, I'm thinking this doesn't qualify me for wife-of-the-year.

- Author

Prem said...

LoL, that is one super editor in training.

Dave F. said...

The age thing...
Both girls are 13 when the one dissappears. Thirteen is more like 8th grade than high school. This is the end of tweens and the start of teenage society.

They are 16 when the Noelle returns and both have grown and started teen things (dating, etc...). Actually, I think Tessa would have had a normal high school ife of dating and football and cheerleading and stuff like that (sorry for the stereotype). And Noelle would have had no dates, been molested and might not be too social because of it.

Being Best Friends Forever at 13 and then having a reunion at 16 with those two backgrounds might cause more than a little bit of conflict.

I'm sure the book deals with this but the query misses the point. Tessa comes off a bit shallow.

Elissa said...

Being Best Friends Forever at 13 and then having a reunion at 16 with those two backgrounds might cause more than a little bit of conflict.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting your comments, Dave, but this is exactly what I got out of the query. Conflict (both personal and interpersonal) caused by the reunion of (once) best friends after three years and what I'm guessing what an extremely traumatic experience.

Here's what I read (which seems to differ from what everyone else saw; author, take it for what it's worth):

Tessa is just beginning to find her own life after the disappearance of her best friend. When friend returns, everything falls apart again. It's impossible to pick up where they left off (and impossible to not want to), and impossible to continue on the new-found path.

Tessa has to deal with normal turbulent teen stuff, like finding out who she is, her first boyfriend, and the harrassment of her peers; as well as adjust to having Noelle back in her life--as a completely different person--and helping her friend cope with the trauma she experienced.

I agree with EE and EK that more specifics would strengthen the query. But I like the idea of viewing Noelle's experiences through her friends eyes, and examining the effect of one girl's trauma on those who knew her "before."

Anonymous said...

Elissa - thank you. I think you're the only one who understood that Tess is not so self-centered.

I'm glad for all the comments about the misunderstanding - I now know what to work on in the query!

- Author

Dave F. said...

Elissa, we don't disagree. We're saying the same thing. We just have different perspectives on the same query. Hopefully the author can use both our comments to her benefit.

Anonymous said...

Okay - don't know if people are still reading this . . . but, here's a revision. I rushed b/c I know people will stop checking this soon. Comments?

Sixteen-year-old Tessa has isolated herself by hiding behind the lens of a camera as she’s struggled for the past three years to deal with the kidnapping of her best friend, Noelle. When Tessa is accepted as a member of her high school yearbook staff, she is forced to make some changes, as she must learn to interact with and rely on others. Tessa even begins an unlikely friendship with Max, a new student who, upon first impression, strikes her as irritating and slightly dangerous.


When Noelle escapes her abductor and returns home, the girls meet again and Tessa mourns a new loss as she realizes that the friend she’s idealized since her disappearance is not at all who she imagined. In reality, the angry and sullen Noelle is someone Tessa would avoid if not for the past. (Omit pervious sentence?) Determined to rebuild her lost friendship, Tessa lets go of her expectations and tries to help Noelle fit back into her old life by accepting her as she is, listening when she is ready to talk, and keeping her difficult secrets.

To complicate matters, the relationship between Tessa and Max moves beyond the boundaries of a simple friendship, and Tessa must deal with the confusing feelings that arise. At school, Tessa is harassed because several pictures she took for the yearbook inadvertently landed a star football player in serious trouble. Through the kidnapper’s trial, details of Noelle’s escape emerge and it becomes evident that Noelle risked her own life to save Tessa from becoming another victim of the man who had held her captive for three years. Through it all, Tessa finally understands that she can’t control every aspect of her life, that hiding doesn’t solve anything, and that change can, in fact, be positive.

Thanks in advance for any additional comments.
- Author

Maggie Stiefvater said...

First of all, give that 6 year old a lollipop or whatever it is 6 year olds eat. Evil Mini-Me did well.

Second of all, I don't have a problem with the story in this, but I do have a problem with losing interest. And it's not a boring story -- so that tells me something.

I would seriously be tempted to hack a paragraph off this query, reduce the plot to absolute bare bones, and concentrate on writing it with the voice of the story. Because especially with a story like this, voice will be crucial. So I think if I were an editor or agent, that's what I would want to see conveyed -- that you're telling a difficult story with genuine teen feeling.

Dave F. said...

I think it's a bit long. But this might be a bit short. Use your judgement.

For the past three years, Sixteen-year-old Tessa has hidden behind the lens of a camera while dealing with the kidnapping of her best friend, Noelle. Tessa accepts a position on the yearbook staff and begins to date Max. Max wants all of Tessa's attention.

When Noelle escapes her abductor and returns home, her experience has left her bitter, angry, and sullen. Tessa almost loses her best friend a second time. Determined to rebuild her lost friendship, Tessa lets go of her expectations and tries to help Noelle fit back into her old life. She listens to Noelle and keeps her secrets. As Tessa tries to help Noelle, Max wants more than simple friendship. When Tessa rejects him, he harasses her and sabotages her work with the school year book.

Through the kidnapper’s trial, details of Noelle’s escape emerge and it becomes evident that Noelle risked her own life to save Tessa from becoming another victim of the man who had held her captive. While helping Noelle cope, Tessa finally understands that no one can control every aspect of their life, that hiding doesn’t solve anything, and that change can, in fact, be positive.

Anonymous said...

I don't get a sense, a feeling of loss in this. The loss of a soulmate, the loss of innocence, the loss of three years. We can't go back to who we were, what we where that is loss in itself. Hiding behind a camera? If she's the main character I would hope she'd feel grief, terror that this could happen. This is a story of incredible emotion. I feel surface waves. Where the heart, what is at the bottom of the dark pool.
Bibi

Anonymous said...

EE Junior - you rock. A hug and a snug from far away. Bibi

Anonymous said...

Would you get involved with me if I was irritating and maybe dangerous? Didn't think so. I think the story is good but I'd carefully look at how it's presented.
Noelle's old life is gone. She can't fit back into it even with the mc's insistance she does. The mc must have moved on in some ways over 3 years. Teenagers do.
You've got two strangers trying to relate on a new level. I wouldn't mention Max. To me that confuses the real story. Can these girls find friendship again? The mc knows nothing of what Noelle went through. Never will. Even if she reads the newspapers. There are no secrets to keep once it is in the courts/papers. Maybe the secret is Noelle kept thinking of the mc during those terrible moments and that kept her sane and willing risk everything to keep her friend safe and then escape. I really think the shellack needs to be peeled off so we can see the grain, the thread they both held onto during those years. Hoping for another revision.
Bibi
Bibi