Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Face-Lift 668


Guess the Plot

The Accident

1. The inner dichotomies of modern America and the intricate knotwork of complex exigencies at the heart of small-town life are explored in a story which begins in Tatum, New Mexico, with a fender-bender between two uninsured vehicles.

2. After a UFO crashes in Washington D.C., strange things start happening: one couple makes the inexplicable decision to move into a condominium. A young man finds himself unable to describe a door. Is the alien from the UFO responsible? Will things get worse before they get better?

3. John is a four year old trapped in the body of a man seven times his age. He's getting through the day all right, with help from his helicopter mother, but can he get through the big board meeting this afternoon without having . . . the accident?

4. Little Jimmy Hines is getting mighty tired of being called "the accident" by his mom and dad, so he convinces his seventeen older siblings that life would be much more fun without parents.

5. When David Butterfield learns, at the tender age of 11, that he, meaning his very corporeal existence on earth, was 'an accident', caused by some kind of mysterious botch-up by his wanker of a father on a day when his poor mother had drunk all the ale in the village, not only is his mood altered, but his entire outlook on life spins around, leading to unforeseeable circumstances of reckless activity, crime, drug addiction, and eventually a shocking revenge on evil Mrs. Piggott, the heartless gossip who spewed the 'truth'.

6. Erica hadn't meant to dribble meat juice all over her brother Joe's Levis. Or leave the door to the family pitbull's run open. Besides, it was Joey's own fault; he should have fed Fluffy last night. He forgot. Oh, no, hang on; it had been her turn. Oh well...


Original Version

Dear Agent:

I am writing to introduce you to my science fiction/fantasy novel THE ACCIDENT, which has a plot twist that has never appeared in any other novel or movie. [Say no more. I'm putting a six-figure contract in the mail at this exact moment, and if anyone offers more, I'll double it. I must have this book.] [Just kidding. Actually, all plot twists can be traced to The Game, Ender's Game, House of Games, or The Crying Game. I guarantee you subconsciously stole your twist from one of those.] [The only reason an agent would read beyond that sentence is in hopes that the query is a hoax and will be full of laughs.] The novel is complete at 87,500 words.

Three couples cross paths with a mysterious UFO that crashes in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park: a student, falling in love with a friend, discovers the UFO with her, but when her brother gets trapped inside the saucer, no one believes them; [Is the UFO still there? Because if someone tells me her brother's trapped in a flying saucer, once she shows me the flying saucer I'm not going to be all that skeptical about the brother part.] a bickering married couple move into a condominium with a strange neighbor; [What does that have to do with the UFO?] and a man keeps seeing a door in the sky, but doesn't know how to explain his vision to his fiancee. [I can explain it. He's watching a Twilight Zone marathon.] [Also, what does that have to do with the UFO? You were supposed to be telling how the couples crossed paths with the UFO.] While the alien adapts to the city with frightening consequences, [Apparently an alien survived the crash. I hate it when aliens pop up in the last sentence of the plot summary.] [Yes, even when, as in this case, the plot summary has only two sentences] one person stumbles upon the UFO's unique purpose.

I have enclosed an endorsement from award-winning writer XX, who read the novel and called it "wonderful." [Have you ever noticed that the more awards an author wins, the less talkative he is when describing anyone else's writing?] As for myself, my background is in advertising. I was born in Washington, D.C. and lived in the area where the novel takes place while I worked for a newspaper. Right now I am writing a sequel.

This is a simultaneous submission to several agents, but I hope to hear from you first because of your excellent reputation. [My other queries went to agents who, frankly, are likely to defraud me.] You represent the authors of several fine science fiction and fantasy novels set in ordinary cities on Earth, [It's worth noting that of the cities on Earth, Washington D.C. is among the least ordinary.] such as YY's [book title in italics] and ZZ[Top]'s [book title in italics]. Please let me know if I may send a partial or full manuscript. Thank you for your time.

Best regards,

Author

Enclosures:
Manuscript sample
Synopsis
Endorsement
SASE


Notes

Seeking an agent who represents books with a similarity to yours makes sense, but can you come up with a similarity more specific than it's set on Earth? It's a rare agent who hasn't represented a few such books.

Not only is your plot summary a mere two sentences; it's mostly just a list of characters. What's the story?

How many aliens were on that ship? One?

If a UFO crashed in D.C., there would be far more interesting goings-on than the ones you describe. Why are you focusing on these three couples?

Unless you've read all books and seen all movies, I don't see how you can claim your plot twist has never appeared anywhere. Wouldn't it be better to describe the plot twist and let the agent think, Wow, that plot twist has never been used? I mean, if you've come up with something truly unique to all literature, is that not your main selling point? Is that not the one thing that should be in your query above all else?

Start over from scratch. Tell us what happens. Leave out everything else.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

What EE said. Too much about you, not enough about the story. Much of the info doesn't help [having a unique twist, sequel in progress]. Sounds like seven characters in search of a literary novel have close encounters of the 3rd kind.

Which part of the bookstore do you think this belongs in?

Anonymous said...

Show don't tell. This applies to the manuscript as well as the query.

There's no plot here. Agents don't want queries telling them that you're an unsung genius. They want to know what the book is about so they can sell it. Simple as that. It's not enough to tell us it's great. Show us in the query and then in the awesome pages.

There's no accounting for taste, but when you make big claims, you shoot yourself in the foot.

Good luck

Anonymous said...

I'd tinker with that character list with all the colons and semicolons. It's a bit awkward to to that if it includes all the comma-filled character descriptions.

Anonymous said...

"Please let me know if I may send a partial or full manuscript."

I hate this sentence. First, it makes it sounds like you think you can trick the agent by giving him/her only those two options.

Secondly, the word "may" is grammatically correct but it just sounds gay.

Eric P. said...

Lemme guess....

The alien is really a ghost but doesn't realize it?

The alien sold its hair to get to earth and deliver a watch fob, only to find that the earthlings sold their watches to buy hairbrushes?

The "alien" is really from the far-distant planet earth?

The UFO was really the butler all along?

The UFO is part of a computer simulation to cover up a government mind-control conspiracy?

It was all a dream?

Teucer said...

While I think it's usually wise to allude to (but not divulge) the masterstrokes of your plot in a query (save it for the synopsis), I think you're gonna have to deliver if you're using your unutterably unique plot twist as your selling point. So do it, or else take that part out.

Evil Editor said...

Whoa. Chances of selling manuscript if agent thinks you

use bad grammar and are straight: 0.

use correct grammar and are straight: 10%.

Use bad grammar and are gay: 27%.

Use correct grammar and are gay: 84%.

Author said...

The plot summary is in the synopsis -- after my signature, I wrote Enclosures: synopsis, manuscript sample, endorsement, SASE. Somehow Evil Editor in his evilness left that off...

Evil Editor said...

Oops. Sorry. However, don't assume everything you send will be read. If a query doesn't excite me, I read nothing else. If it does excite me, I read the first couple pages. If that doesn't excite me I read nothing else.

~Aimee States said...

The plot of all plots?! It's finally been thought of? By someone other than me?

I need to hit someone.

Anonymous said...

The spaceship is named Rosebud.

Anonymous said...

That's a long long long list of enclosures. You should try reading the agent's website and blog to see what she wants first, and not squander resources sending additional items until someone asks for more.

Sarah Laurenson said...

No matter how many things you throw on the plate, if the first taste isn't working, they're not going to keep eating.

correct grammar and gay: 84%?

Wow! I've got a good chance. Now to work on that grammar part...

Author said...

"That's a long long long list of enclosures. You should try reading the agent's website and blog to see what she wants first, and not squander resources sending additional items until someone asks for more."

This is not a form letter. An agency did request those items on their website.

I will tone down the first sentence (thanks for the feedback here), but I don't want to say much in the letter about the plot because I am sending this to agents who've requested a synopsis. Everyone knows there are different kinds of query letters -- this is not a stand-alone letter.

Thanks for all the comments.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, I get it. May is gay cos they rhyme, right? Which means it's also say, day, fae, and tray.

Idiot.

blogless troll said...

If that agency doesn't work out, do you have one of those other kinds of query letters?

Dave F. said...

From my experience with short stories and long stories, agents and editors don't read past the email to the attachments if they don't like the email. They stop and read nothing else. If the grammar and punctuation are bad or sometimes even less than formal letter quality, they stop and go on to the next query.

And If they start to read the query (yes, even short stories have some sort of query introducing them to the editor) and they don't like the story or they have no idea what you are writing about, they stop reading.

Nathan Bransford just blogged about getting 100 emails over a weekend.
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/agent-e-mail-stats.html
Let me tell you, a someone who had to schedule 150 audits at a time, when you see 100 emails waiting for you, you don't take long thoughtful interludes with each email.

The query is IT. That's your chance. If your query interests the agent or editor, then they go to the synopsis and the chapters.

If that sounds cruel, then I'll throw a pity party for you. whoop. whoop. hooray. That's as much pity as you get. I give myself less than that.

This draft query didn't work. Start over using EE's and the minions suggestions. Remember, they want you to get published. They are on your side.

~Aimee States said...

"I don't want to say much in the letter about the plot because I am sending this to agents who've requested a synopsis."

Which they most likely won't read if they don't like the query letter. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Wow, if you're this resistant to revising a query letter, I'd hate to see what happens when an editor asks you to revise the manuscript. And if you didn't think you needed critique, why in the world did you post?

I'll echo what others have said. Just because an agency/editor requests a synopsis doesn't mean they'll read it. The query has to sell the package. It also shows your writing skills - that you know what to enhance and what to leave out when telling a story. Your "query" doesn't do any of that.

Eric P. said...

Another thing: Do you say the part about "I hope to hear from you first because of your excellent reputation" to every agent to whom you're sending this simultaneous submission? ("This exact letter is going out to lots of people, but you're special!")

If so, you're a weasel (no offense, but...). If not, aren't the agents still going to think you are? How do they know you didn't just call 9 other agents special too?

Either you have one special agent in mind-- in which case, start with them-- or you don't, in which case, don't try to make them feel like the special recipient of a simultaneous submission.

Anonymous said...

The alien is Keyser Soze.

Anonymous said...

I'll wade in here - from what I read in your query - your book sounds interesting - vaguely.

I didn't like the first sentence but you know whatever.

This is how I look at it. If I see a book with an interesting title and an interesting cover in a genre I like or have heard cool things about a book or is written by an author I like - I pick it up and read the back. If I like that I read the flaps and maybe the first couple of pages. Then if I still like - I buy the book.

I look at query letters the same way. Its like a cover letter sent with a resume. The cover letter should make me (your potential employer) interested in reading your resume.

If your query letter is only vaguely interesting, I may read your synopsis if I don't have fifty others to look at or am trying to avoid doing something at work I don't want to do.

So - you can revise your query, make it fantastic so I have no choice but to read on . . . or not.

I guess my only question to you is this, (you stated: "but I don't want to say much in the letter about the plot because I am sending this to agents who've requested a synopsis.")

Should not your great resume be reflected in your great cover letter? Why not be a bit repetitive to make sure the busy editor/agent gets it? No harm mentioning you graduated from Harvard twice - but maybe not 10 times.

Get my meaning?

vkw

Anonymous said...

Wait, wait. I got it. The alien looks like Brad Pitt and goes around saying, "The first rule of alien invasion is you do not talk about alien invasion. The second rule of alien invasion is you DO NOT talk about alien invasion..."

And then he shoots himself in the face. Am I right?

Matthew said...

Hmmm......

Guess the twist? Sounds like fun.

The three couples are actually the aliens that crashed in the spaceship, they just don't remember who they are. That's how the brother became mysteriously trapped in the spaceship, he got stuck when they crashed.

Is that it?

chelsea said...

Ha! EE, Sarah and Buffy, I love you much today.

Seriously, Anon 10:37, you don't find it the slightest bit ironic to lecture on grammar and then (derogatorily) call something gay in the same sentence? I do so hope you write that way in your manuscripts. Let them never see the light of day.

:)

Xiexie said...

This barebones query reminds me of a DC-based Close Encounters of the Third Kind .

You've got me in your corner cos 1) I'm a DC-tonian -- it's cool to read books set in the area that don't involve political stuffs; 2) I love alien-based SF/F; and 3)as the GTPs showed, there's a plethora of things you can do with your title, The Accident .

Now tell me what happens in this book so that I can champion for you even more.

Xiexie said...

Author, you need the plot here in your query.

The synopses, partials, fulls, etc. will only expand on what the query has intrigued the agent/editor with.

Use correct grammar and are gay: 84%

What portion of that goes to using correct grammar? To being gay? I'm only half-gay so do I get the correct grammar and straight 10% boost added to whatever lower percentage I would get from my half-gay status? We bisexuals need to know our chances here too!

JLR said...

You need to let the novel sell itself. A good link to query or pitch advice is here, PNWA. But that link has just the basics. You also need to cater the query to each agent. You have a good start by mentioning books of a similar genre the agent handled, but try if you can to look into the individual tastes of the agent and tweak the query to fit.

Hope that helps.

Jodi

Anonymous said...

That door in the clip is what the inarticulate guy was looking at? Cool animation. I'm guessing the twist = it all takes place in the world portrayed on the show, which actually exists somewhere beyond Jupiter.

ril said...

Whoa. Chances of selling manuscript if agent thinks you

use bad grammar and are straight: 0.

use correct grammar and are straight: 10%.

Use bad grammar and are gay: 27%.

Use correct grammar and are gay: 84%.


Oh, my. Something else I'm gonna have to learn how to do...

_*Rachel*_ said...

When you rewrite, watch out for pronoun problems. Analyze what you wrote in the first part of the first plot sentence.

Give names and details; tell us what happens.

Plot, genre, wordcount; the only other detail possibly worth mentioning is that you lived in the area you wrote about. Definitely no letter of recommendation, unless you get this person to pass it along to his/her agent.

If the query letter didn't interest me, there's no way I'd read the synopsis. What I've heard is that the synopsis is mainly to be sure you don't have aliens in chapter 14 and nowhere else.

Send in this infamous synopsis.

OK, I've got decent grammar, but I guess (sob) I'll have to resort to self-publishing!

Author said...

My thanks to everybody who left feedback, both the snarky and the unsnarky. I appreciate the time you took and will give all the suggestions serious thought. EE, thanks to you, too, for your comments on the front page... and also, in your evilness, please don't cut this thank-you again.

Here's a draft letter with more plot details if anybody wants to look at it. The draft does fit into one page, but it's too long in general, and some of the sentences need to be trimmed. Again, this is not a form letter.

My concern: I've read that the plot should be one paragraph only (AgentQuery(dot)com and agent Noah Lukeman's How to Write a Great Query Letter, a free download on Amazon). I've also read that in the query letter you should not name the characters, that it is not necessary, and it bogs down the agent. If I put in a lot of plot details, I have to name the characters; otherwise, it is too hard to keep track of what's happening. It also bothers me to repeat things that are in the snyopsis.


Dear Agent:

Your comments about your love of books and the craft of writing in your online interview for _______ really resonated with me. I hope you will enjoy my science fiction/fantasy novel, THE ACCIDENT, complete at 87,430 words. I have enclosed an endorsement from award-winning writer _______, who called it a finely wrought page-turner.

After an attorney dies at Buchanan House, a Washington, D.C. condominium, student Toby Beckett chases his dog into the woods behind the building and discovers a broken Nikon. When he takes the Nikon to the camera store where he works and looks inside it with night clerk Monroe Broussard, they discover digital photos of a giant woman and a UFO crash in Rock Creek Park. Toby heads to a Union Station coffee bar to show the photos to Burke Kerrigan, a former AP photographer, who just laughs at them, and he falls for Burke’s beautiful sister Kate when she joins their table. Suddenly they spot the giant. Racing into the Metro, they trail her across the city until she reveals herself to be inhuman and disappears inside Buchanan House.

Burke argues that the giant is a carnival freak who faked the photos, but when they hike into Rock Creek Park, they find the UFO behind a damaged camouflage force field. After Burke gets trapped inside the saucer, Toby and Kate go for help, but the police don’t believe them. The alien roams the city at night and murders a mugger, a cop and a government worker. Meanwhile, Toby’s sister Lisa Mitchell and her husband Ian, just back from London, are moving into Buchanan House, and Toby, who’s never put himself on the line before, has to warn them, no matter what they'll think. Finally, Monroe Broussard keeps seeing a door in the sky, but doesn’t know how to explain his vision to his fiancĂ©e Annie Robinson. She tells him he’s seeing a symbol of the afterlife because he lost his family in a hurricane, but the vision turns out to be a foreshadowing of his fate. While the alien adapts to the city, shape-shifting from a giant woman to a terrifying bird and a pillar in an underground garage, one person solves the mystery of the Nikon in the woods and then stumbles upon the UFO’s purpose: another alien, from intergalactic animal control, is searching for the creature it lost in the crash.

As for myself, my background is in advertising. I was born in Washington, D.C. and lived in the area where the novel takes place while I worked for a newspaper. Right now I’m writing a sequel. Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Author

Evil Editor said...

That's twice this article by Noah Lukeman has been cited in recent weeks. My advice remains: Consult the article when submitting to Noah Lukeman and ignore it otherwise. And since, according to Agentquery.com, Noah Lukeman doesn't accept queries...

~Aimee States said...

Now your playing with me...did your writer friend call it wonderful or a finely wrought page turner? Or both? Or neither?

You need to do more research. What you're doing now is shooting yourself in the foot.

Anonymous said...

Intergalactic animal control! Of course! **smacks forehead**

How fortunate Toby works at a camera shop and has a sister moving into the same place where the alien lives.

Anonymous said...

This reads more like a one page synopsis than a query letter. A query's main purpose is to get the agent to look at the other materials (sample pages, synopses, manuscript), whether or not they are included. What is needed in the query regarding plot is more like what a tv guide gives as plot info on an episode. Also, regarding names--use names or whatever works best to make the query clearer.

Hope that helps,
Jodi

Evil Editor said...

There's too much information in this version. Try telling the story in nine sentences, and focusing on one set of characters. Leave out stuff that makes sense in the book but sounds ridiculous in the query. There are problems with clarity, but perhaps they can be attributed to rushing this version back to the blog.

Anonymous said...

"Your comments about your love of books and the craft of writing in your online interview for _______ really resonated with me."

Stop this now. Stop it.

You're digging yourself a grave. For this to work you have to be very specific. Here you've tried to painted a broad ambiguous statement and tried to personalize it with fill in the blank format.

Agents aren't this stupid. They're really not, but make you them think you believe them to be idiots.

I have enclosed an endorsement from award-winning writer _______, who called it a finely wrought page-turner."

When you say enclosed it means you intend to attach a letter from the famous author with those exact words. Quotes don't count.

Before author xx said it was wonderful, now it's "Finely wrought page tuner." My BS meter want's to know which is it? It also thinks you're being extremely liberal with your interpretation of a compliment.

I repeat. Agents are not this stupid. They're really not.

Anonymous said...

Your new version still doesn't have a plot.

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, my first question would be, if famous writer thinks it's so wonderful, why didn't they refer it to their agent?

_*Rachel*_ said...

"I've also read that in the query letter you should not name the characters, that it is not necessary, and it bogs down the agent. If I put in a lot of plot details, I have to name the characters; otherwise, it is too hard to keep track of what's happening. It also bothers me to repeat things that are in the snyopsis."

Bad advice. Seriously. Would you read a book with that sort of description to recommend it?

87,000 words. Round to the nearest thousand.

Still unsure about the letter of recommendation.

You don't need the phrase about the attourney; it isn't attached to the rest of the paragraph. That paragraph was doing fine until you added the sister in; then the sentence structure got weird. After that, you have too many characters doing too many things. Cut it to only Toby, Burke, Kate, and the giant, and try to make it make sense.

Buffy's right. If this author wants to do you a favor, ask for a referral.

Xiexie said...

Hi author, there still isn't a clear plot here and this does read like a bland synopsis.


I think your query should focus on Toby, Burke, Monroe, and the UFO crash where in which their lives are changed by a galactic fumble.

Those are your main characters. The rest you mentioned are all in relation to them. Mentioning Lisa and her husband by name didn't really add to whatever struggle Toby goes through.

The query doesn't need to contain a lot of plot details , just the main ones. The GTP is closer to an accurate plot outlining than your draft letter and query.

Anonymous said...

From Nathan Bransford's website:

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author's credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
[your name]

Obviously you can tinker with this frame, but you can't leave anything out. In both sets of information you posted, you seem to be missing the protagonist's quest and goal. The two ingredients that actually make your story a story. So without hinting at them in some way, you have what appears to be a bunch of stuff happening without a cohesive plot. This might not be the case with your novel, but no one would know that from reading what you've posted.

All writers go through this when they're first starting out - getting what's in the head down on the page in a way that makes other people understand what they mean. You've written several things into your synopsis that indicate to me you haven't quite mastered this. For example, "Giant" can mean anywhere from seven feet tall to twenty feet or more. Your story will read differently depending on that piece of information. This may seem to you like a simple oversight, and perhaps it is. But to your reader, it is glaring. And when the glaring oversights add up...well, you get it.

Also, I'd leave out the part about being in advertising. I actually chuckled at that as it was so incongruent with what had come in previous paragraphs. Plus it has no bearing on your work.

Hope this helps.

Author said...

""Your comments about your love of books and the craft of writing in your online interview for _______ really resonated with me."

Stop this now. Stop it.

You're digging yourself a grave. For this to work you have to be very specific. Here you've tried to painted a broad ambiguous statement and tried to personalize it with fill in the blank format."


This is not fill in the blank. I left the specifics out for privacy. I said somewhere here that I am not sending form letters.

Thanks again to everybody for the feedback, especially EE's comment to try nine sentences for the plot, how giant is the giant, and
look at the summaries in a TV Guide, which is a great suggestion. I'll spend this week reworking the letter.

Beth said...

The three couples are actually the aliens that crashed in the spaceship, they just don't remember who they are. That's how the brother became mysteriously trapped in the spaceship, he got stuck when they crashed.

Now that book I'd read.