Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Face-Lift 729


Guess the Plot

Finding Forest

1. Halia is a wild fairy, who lives in the scrub oak forests above Los Angeles. When wildfires burn through her grove, she must seek a new home. Also, a talking owl.

2. When a dead teen is revealed to be a robot, Forest and his friends wonder what's going on. Then the robot's creator comes to town. Is he here to repair the robot? Is he here to destroy the community? Or is he interested only in . . . Finding Forest?

3. Problem after problem thwart Yvonne’s search for meaning, and her new-found passion for the klutzy-but-unavailable Feng-Shui-for-Pets shopkeeper isn’t helping her. When at last she finds love stealing glances at her from across the therapy group, will Yvonne’s focus on the ‘trees’ give way to a view of the forest?

4. Waldo made his fortune creating those "hidden object" pictures in which children study a drawing searching for hammers and forks and cell phones. But lately the kids are accusing him of phoning it in; it's just too easy to solve puzzles like "Finding Ocean," "Finding Sky," "Finding Forest." The sad devolution of a great artist.

5. Little Janie Andersen always knew she was special. But one day, repeating a line from Forest Gump, “Run Forest Run,” the grove of pines near her house came to life and sprinted away. Now Janie needs the help of a good witch, a talking scarecrow and a tin dog to find the forest.

6. Mary Sue and her boyfriend Gary rampage through Brooklyn while stalking a were-zombie with Lovecraftian ambitions. Meanwhile the Greener in Pieces initiative (run by ghouls) has decided on drastic measures in the once-man vs nature war. Also, a kitchen sink.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

It takes a lot of courage – or stupidity – to rebel against one’s parents, but Jesse will need more than that [More than stupidity?] to stop Dr. Frey, because Dr. Frey is no father. [It's that old riddle. Dr. Frey is Jesse's mother.] He is Jesse’s creator, and after ten years, he has finally returned for his creation. Jesse knows nothing of this at first, but after the truth is revealed, Jesse is not about to comply with the doctor’s wishes. [Which are?] There are other problems in the community that are more urgent, like the death of Georgette, a friend’s older sister. A scientific investigation leads to the discovery that Georgette was not human, but a highly advanced robot. No such technology exists on post-apocalyptic Earth that could create a thing like this, so the mayors declare a community-wide lockdown. [If beings with vastly superior technology show up, you either make friends or run like the wind. It's unlikely the beings will have a dialogue like:

Leader: Okay, wipe out the puny humans and we'll make this place our base.

General: Yes sir, should take about two min-- Damn, the community's in lockdown.

Leader: Shit. Okay, let's try Mars.]

Jesse and two friends are caught sneaking over the wall during the lockdown, and don’t dare break the law again, but a friend of theirs, Forest, is in trouble. [Specifically, what trouble?] Despite his insistence that they leave him alone, Jesse and the others aren’t about to, but they aren’t sure what to do. Then fires strike simultaneously in different districts of the community and Jesse’s friends become suspicious of the newcomer who claims to be Jesse’s biological father. Worried that his secret will be discovered, Dr. Frey devises a plan to regain control over his creation by kidnapping its companions. Jesse escapes his grasp and manages to rescue the prisoners with help from an old tinker, but Dr. Frey hasn’t given up, and his true goal has come to light – the capture of their friend Forest.

At 50,000 words, Finding Forest is a middle-grade fantasy focused on friendship and the inner humanity shared by all beings [, even machines]. Thank you for your consideration of my novel.

Sincerely,


Notes

Either give Jesse a name that can't be male or female, or use "he" or "she," based on what Jesse looks like, even if Jesse's a robot.

Frey's "true goal" isn't the capture of Forest; that's his immediate goal. His true goal lies in why he wants Forest. Tell us, so we know what's at stake.

The plot doesn't feel cohesive. I'd start with the discovery that Georgette was a robot, then move on to Frey showing up claiming to be Jesse's father. Then get to the stakes: What is Frey up to, and how do Jesse and friends plan to stop him? And if it turns out all the kids are robots, you might want to mention that, too.

The title's not thrilling me, and not just because it's so similar to Finding Forrester.

33 comments:

josephrobertlewis said...

That's not so much a query as a very confusing plot summary.

1. Jesse is a (10 year old?) boy who discovers he is a robot when his creator Frey comes to town.
2. Jesse is more concerned about the death of Georgette (really?)
3. Jesse discovers G is a robot.
4. They lock down the community
(why? to stop the dead robot from escaping?)
5. Jesse goes looking for Forest (who??)
6. The town catches fire.
7. Frey kidnaps Jesse's friends.
8. Jesse saves his friends.
9. Frey actually wants Forest.

Problems:
1. How old are the characters?
2. Why/how is Jesse involved in the plot before Frey arrives? He's just a kid, not a cop.
3. What is Jesse's relationship with Georgette?
4. Who is Forest? And why do we care?
5. Who is Frey? Villain? Mystery man?
6. What apocalypse?
7. Why should we like Jesse?

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

When I take a step back and look at the big picture, it seems like this could be interesting. But the way in which the story is told is so disjointed, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. (Ha ha! See what I did there?)

The second half in particular seems to be random events piling up. Fires and sneaking over walls and a tinker and Dr. Frey isn't after Jesse at all, he's after Forest.

I would cut down on the plot points and focus on the big stakes. Dr. Frey wants Jesse and the other robot children to be ____ so that Dr. Frey can _____. But Jesse wants to be a real boy, so he fights Dr. Frey by _____.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Sounds like something my son would love, although with "children's fiction", I'm not sure at the age your targetting. It may be common knowledge what age range "children's fiction" falls under -- it's just not common knowledge for me.

Shelley Sly said...

Sarah from Hawthorne - love your forest pun. :D

My first impression was, "Does this have anything to do with Finding Forrester? I agree that the title should be changed.

I think there's too much going on here, and a lot of the events described would probably fall more under subplot than main plot. I'm confused by the amount of characters mentioned as well.

If Jesse is your protagonist, I'd focus the query more on the conflicts surrounding him. If the story is more about Forest but from Jesse's perspective, I'd alter the query accordingly. Right now, it's hard to tell where the main story is.

The premise about robots and kids being "created" rather than born is very interesting, though. Sounds like it has a dystopian edge to it, which is one of my favorite kinds of writing. You have some good ideas here, and a tighter query will help an agent see that.

Portuguese cunt said...

Agree with Sarah.

It looks like the story itself could be interesting, but the query is all over the place, like a grade 2 book report.

TIGHTEN that sucker up, and I agree that this is easier if you pick a name that is obviously male or female-- and I didn't get that Jesse was a robot. The whole time I was thinking that Jesse was made from other human parts, a la Frankenstein. Or maybe he was a clone.

This should be clear right away.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I agree with the consensus here the query is all over the place and doesn't give a sense of what the story really is. Avoid the vague descriptions "in trouble" can mean so very many things. In trouble his Parent? In trouble with the law? In trouble with Evil Editor?

The thing that really pulled me out of the query was "No such technology exists on post-apocalyptic Earth" Whoa! Where did that come from? That should be part of your opening couple of lines to set the tone of the novel.

Lose the opening about courage and stupidity. That doesn't nothing to garner attention and doesn't tie into the plot from what I can tell.

Steve Wright said...

I agree with the others - it's not enough just to list the events that take place; you have to describe the underlying plot logic - the reason why each event follows on from the next.

(Some of the events sound a bit as though you're going into too much detail - do we need to know about the wall-climbing, or the fires? Dropping the over-specific details might help you to show us the big picture more clearly.)

_*Rachel*_ said...

This feels a bit disjointed. You're not doing anything that makes me scream or groan or cry; it's just that your plot needs to flow better. You'll do fine.

By any chance, were you watching D.A.R.Y.L. when you got this idea? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D.A.R.Y.L.

Taylor Taylor said...

What are the core conflicts? Narrow your thought process down to the major conflicts for your first, second and third acts and explain them (without giving a full synopsis - that is what the synopsis is for).

Still, it sounds like an interesting story idea.

Dominique said...

I have to agree wtih EE that the title is just too much like Finding Forrester, a good movie but not what you want to be associated with.

batgirl said...

WV is meldx - this query is melded with a synopsis, to make X the unknown.
Too much extraneous detail makes this read like 'this happened, then that happened, then another thing happened', like a young child telling you about the movie he saw.
It looks as if there's a fun story behind all the detail, but you need to prune back to show the main storyline. Can you translate it to 'this happened, and that's why that happened, which caused a third thing to happen?' Or better yet, 'Jesse did this, which resulted in that, so he did another thing, which...'

Author said...

Thanks for the help, EE, and for the comments, everyone. Revised my query and I hope it's in better shape. Bring on the Criticism!
P.S. @'Rachel' - If you read this, wanted to let you know that I'd never heard of D.A.R.Y.L., but it sounds like a good movie. I'll be looking out for it.



Dear Evil Editor,

On post-apocalyptic Earth, no technology exists that could create a crude robot, much less one that looks and acts like a human being, yet an investigation reveals a dead girl was exactly that, a humanoid robot. Despite this, concern for the girl’s grief-stricken brother leads their mutual friend Jesse to break the highest law – he enters the forest that lies behind the community’s protective walls, and meets Forest, a strange boy who seems more than a little interested in the discovered robot.

When a man known as Dr. Frey shows up and claims to be Jesse’s father, then starts asking questions about the robot, Jesse becomes suspicious. Not trusting the doctor, he refuses to cooperate, even when his friends are threatened, and Dr. Frey is forced to reveal the truth – he is a scientist whose specialty involves the creation of humanoid robots, including the dead girl and Jesse. Yet they are not what he is after. Though Jesse’s not sure why, Forest is the one in real danger, and despite his creator’s wishes, Jesse won’t let his friend be captured without a fight, even if it means his own termination.

At 50,000 words, Forest is a middle-grade science fiction focused on friendship and the inner humanity shared by all beings, even machines. Thank you for your consideration of my novel.

Sincerely,
Heather Hayden

Evil Editor said...

You need an ellipsis here:

he is a scientist whose specialty involves the creation of humanoid robots, including the dead girl . . . and Jesse.

This stresses the revelation that Jesse's a robot, which is cool, especially if Jesse didn't know it.


You don't need the word "a" in the last paragraph.

josephrobertlewis said...

Heather, the query is a bit more coherent, but I'm having trouble caring about or understanding your hero.

Jesse breaks the law (!) to go looking for his grief-stricken friend and instead meets rogue moppet Forest.

A stranger arrives, claims to be Jesse's father (!), and reveals that Jesse is a robot (!).

Jesse apparently is okay with being a robot and meeting his long-lost dad. Instead, he is mostly concerned with saving Forest, a kid he just met five minutes ago?

Shouldn't Jesse be coping with meeting Dad and being a robot?

Evil Editor said...

Also, going into the forest and encountering Forest is a bit cutesy.

Dominique said...

In the first paragraph, you said "Despite this, concern..." What is the 'this' to which you refer. I'm not quite clear on your meaning.

How did Jesse not know he's a robot? Wouldn't there be tip offs, such as not being able to eat food, the lack of a pulse, and the need for some sort of scheduled maintenance?

Evil Editor said...

I was 42 when I discovered I was a marionette, so it's not so far-fetched.

Phoenix said...

Ah ha! I knew someone had to be pulling your strings, EE.

Heather: This version is much clearer. I agree with jrl that the query seems to gloss over the parts about Jesse discovering his long-lost dad and that he's a robot, too. Also, I'm not clear why Jesse has to break a law and go into the forest -- that doesn't seem to follow as a consequence of the first sentence.

All in all, though, a much cleaner version!

Stephen Prosapio said...

Ahhhh. Much cleaner and clearer. Now to refine and focus.

1. I like the way you open the query but that first line is a mouthful. If this is middle grade especially your pitch should go from point to point in easy to understand statements. Post apoclypse. No technology to build robots. Certainly not human robots. Investigation to dead girl. She's a robot! You have all that in ONE sentence.

2. Your next sentence is even more confusing. Why is Jesse being made "their mutual friend" as though the brother and dead girl are more important. And concern for the brother of a dead friend typically isn't motivation enough to break the nations highest law.

Try something like: When Jesse, one of the dead girl's friends, doesn't trust the investigation's results, he breaks the highest law and...

The brother just confuses thing there. Is he important?

3. Dr. Fry "shows up" - where? In the forest? If so wouldn't there be consequences?

4. Claims to be Jesse's father -- WHOA. That's kind of a big thing eh? But then in the same sentence you go in a totally different direction.

Dry Fry: "Jesse, I am your father!"
Jesse: "Wow. Okay. Give me a second to digest that."
Dry Fry: "No. Tell tell me about this robot."

4. Though Jesse’s not sure why, Forest is the one in real danger,

That makes no sense as written. Furthermore it gives us no clue as to what *kind* of danger.

Jesse: "Hey Forrest, I don't how I know this, but you're in danger."
Forrest: "Grave danger?"
Jesse: "Is there any other kind?"

50,000 words isn't a lot of time to go through a complex story like this and getting to that "thing behind the thing" is important...especially in a brief synopsis.

Anonymous said...

I glazed over both times but that could be me. Opening line needs work = agree with coments. Can a dead girl be a robot or a robot be a dead girl? I write rotten queries - so as a well experienced rotten query writer, for what it is worth, can you show us what mc's challenge is/what decisions/choices are faced and the consquences? In 3 paragraphs?
I know you know what's going on - can you take another run at it like a commercial? A 30 second radio commercial gives you 6 lines of copy. And you need a 10 second tag. Once you bare bone it, then you can flesh it out a touch.
Sell us your story. Why is the mc special? What is in your query that makes me want to buy the book?
Good luck. Overall, I think it would be easier to start with the query then write the ms. Look forward to next revision. Bibi

Sam Albion said...

On post-apocalyptic Earth (not another apocalypse, please... I see so many novels start like this...) no technology exists that could create a crude robot, much less one that looks and acts like a human being, yet an investigation reveals a dead girl was exactly that, a humanoid robot. (that's so obvious- "it can't be done, but wow- look-it was!) Despite this, (despite what? this is not clear) concern for the girl’s grief-stricken brother (you mention this brother several times, but you never mention his name) leads their mutual friend Jesse to break the highest law – he enters the forest that lies behind the community’s protective walls, and meets Forest (maybe you need to change this kid's name?), a strange boy who seems more than a little interested in the discovered robot.

When a man known as Dr. Frey shows up and claims to be Jesse’s father, then starts asking questions about the robot, Jesse becomes suspicious. (where are jesse's parents? why would they allow him to be questioned and harrassed by a stranger? what do jesses parents think about jesse suddenly not being their son- do they know?) Not trusting the doctor, he refuses to cooperate, even when his friends are threatened, (that's a big ask for a small child, isn't it? "hey little boy, I'm going to kill your friends if you don't answer my questions"- how many small children do you know who would not feel threatened by a scary adult threatening to kill his friends? why doesn't jesse tell an adult about the scary man wanting to harm his friends?)and Dr. Frey is forced to reveal the truth – (dr frey is forced, by a small child, into revealing his big secret? seriously?) he is a scientist whose specialty involves the creation of humanoid robots, including the dead girl and Jesse. Yet they are not what he is after. Though Jesse’s not sure why, Forest is the one in real danger, and despite his creator’s wishes, Jesse won’t let his friend be captured without a fight, even if it means his own termination.
(manybe you need to do some research- try Kolberg and moral development in children...most adults do not have this sophisticated level of reasonaing ability- never mind small children)
At 50,000 words, Forest is a middle-grade science fiction focused on friendship and the inner humanity shared by all beings, even machines (can machines have humanity?). Thank you for your consideration of my novel.

Author said...

All right, revision number three is done. Do your worst, minions.

Dear Editor,

On post-apocalyptic Earth, most think robotic technology no longer exist. When a post-mortem reveals that a girl had been a humanoid machine so advanced the distinction between it and a normal person was almost non-existent, the paranoid community initiates lockdown, then goes on a wide-spread hunt for other robots.

Jesse, a friend of the dead girl, doesn’t believe the examination’s results, but no one will listen to a grieving thirteen-year-old child. In an act of rebellion he breaks the highest law and ventures beyond the community’s protective walls, where he meets Forest, a strange boy who shows interest in the community’s recent discovery. Though suspicious at first, Jesse expresses his doubts about the investigation, and Forest’s clear sympathy leads to them becoming friends.

Jesse thinks his only problem his keeping his trips to the outside a secret, but then Dr. Frey turns up on Jesse’s doorstep, claiming to be his father. Jesse’s apologetic parents admit they kept the adoption secret, but Jesse feels betrayed. Even Forest changes overnight, insisting that things have become too dangerous for their friendship to continue, though he won’t explain why.

Dr. Frey begins asking questions about Jesse’s friends, especially the dead girl, but Jesse refuses to cooperate, forcing the doctor to reveal the truth. He is a scientist whose specialty involves the creation of humanoid robots, including the dead girl...and Jesse. This shocking revelation is followed by another even worse – Dr. Frey wants to use his creation to lure out Forest, who he claims possesses a dangerous power which must be destroyed.

At 50,000 words, Forest is middle-grade science fiction focused on friendship and the inner humanity shared by all beings, even machines. Thank you for your consideration of my novel.

Sincerely,

Ellie said...

I think your structure and amount of info is really strong! My two suggestions would be to put Jesse in p1, and tighten up some of the wordiness.

For example:

In thirteen-year-old Jesse's hometown on post-apocalyptic Earth, everyone knows that robotic technology no longer exists. Then a post-mortem reveals that a seemingly human girl was actually a humanoid machine. Jesse's paranoid community initiates lockdown and begins a widespread hunt for other robots.

As a friend of the dead girl, Jesse doesn't believe the results, but no one will listen to him. Rebelling, he breaks the highest law ...


I think it's getting quite close, though. Good job!

Phoenix said...

Hi Heather! I just went through 5 revisions of my query, and this one of yours shows all the hallmarks of a Version 3.

To recap my experience, here are Phoenix's 5 stages of query writing:

Version 1: It might need a little tweaking but it can't be that bad. (Oh, but it is.)

Version 2: Ouch. But OK, I've cleaned up the stuff readers had issues with and it really is better. (Uh-oh, new issues have been introduced.)

Version 3: OK, I am going to meticulously answer every reader's concern and concentrate on exactly that and nothing else because, frankly, I'm getting pretty frustrated over all of this. (Only now, the query has lost its voice and, somewhere, the story's tight plot and style.)

Version 4: Ah, now I see that I can leave out some of those problematic issues completely and the query experience for the reader will actually be improved. Less really IS more. (And it is. Often, V4 is a complete re-envisioning of the query, with a cleaner feel and fewer plot points.)

Version 5: Gah, how could I have misspelled THAT and not seen it until now? (Final grammar check, but it's now ready for submission.)

This version seems to start out well, but then gets a bit lost in the middle. You're cram-jamming stuff in to cover every base (yes, one commenter asked where the parents are, but IMO they don't need to be brought up unless they're integral to the plot since kids with parents who are just about completely out of the picture is a convention of MG -- we need Jesse's reaction and Jesse's POV here, I think).

One step back out of the weeds and you'll be just about there.

Matthew said...

It starts out nicely, but drags on with too much info. I think it would be really good if it were one paragraph shorter.

I agree with Phoenix that the inclusion of the parents is largely unnecessary, and I don't think the robot girl needs to be mentioned beyond the opening paragraph.

no_bull_steve said...

I agree with Phoenix completely.

I'll also add that I don't know that "post-mortem" and middle-school book pitch really go together.

Also that opening line still doesn't work and I don't think is even gramatically correct.

"On post-apocalyptic Earth, most think robotic technology no longer exist."

technologies exist or technology exists?

most think? most what? It's like you're specifically writing the query now to people who've already read the previous queries and that's not going to work. You need to do this with a fresh mind and a fresh eye. Put this aside for a while, work on something else and come back to it in a month. Maybe somewhere along the way you'll have an epiphany on how to better tell/sell the story you've written.

_*rachel*_ said...

Phoenix is right--you're getting there. I also agree with Ellie about putting Jesse up front (I like her revision), and Matthew about some points you could do without.

There are some typos in here. If this is going to be your final (or nearly final) draft, make sure you double-check it for them.

Author said...

All right, here's v4, ready for shredding!
~Author

Dear Editor,

In thirteen-year-old Jesse’s hometown on post-apocalyptic Earth, everyone knows that robotic technology no longer exists. Then a post-mortem reveals that a seemingly human girl was actually a humanoid machine. Jesse’s paranoid community initiates lockdown and begins a widespread hunt for other robots.

As a friend of the dead girl, Jesse doesn’t believe the results, but no one will listen to him. Rebelling, he breaks the highest law and ventures beyond the community’s protective walls, where he meets a strange boy named Forest. Though both are suspicious at first, the two slowly become friends, until Forest surprises Jesse by insisting their friendship is dangerous to continue, without explaining why.

Then Dr. Frey arrives, bearing proof that he is Jesse’s real father, and Jesse feels betrayed yet again. He refuses to cooperate with the doctor, but is unprepared for the next truth Dr. Frey reveals – the doctor is a scientist specializing in the creation of humanoid robots, including Jesse himself. This shocking revelation is followed by another even worse. Dr Frey wants to use his creation to lure out Forest, who he claims possesses a dangerous power which must be destroyed.

At 50,000 words, Forest is middle-grade science fiction focused on friendship and the inner humanity shared by all beings, even machines. Thank you for your consideration of my novel.

Sincerely,

Tom Bri said...

Wow, that is an improvement.

I wonder how humanoid these robots are. Didn't any of them ever fall down and scrape their knees? They must bleed, get tummy aches, grow bigger over time etc.

josephrobertlewis said...

I'm still confused.

1. Why is the whole town afraid of robots? Was Georgette an "evil" little girl?

2. Why doesn't Jesse believe the coroner's report? Is he just being a thick-headed child?

3. Why does Forest make friends with Jesse if he knows he is a danger to Jesse?

4. How can Frey "prove" he is Jesse's "father" if Jesse is a robot?

5. What exactly is it about Forest that is so important or dangerous?

6. Most importantly, what is Jesse's story? Is it about learning his own true identity? Is it about saving his friend? Is it about saving his town?

Phoenix said...

Hi Heather: So I have to ask: Is robot the best term here? Perhaps android would be better? Or coin something that indicates an organic nature to the robots? Otherwise, I'm wondering how a town could miss at least two kids showing up looking like 13 year olds and 13 years later they're still looking 13 years old. I'm assuming these kids age and change, which 'robots' wouldn't as 'robots' is such an all-inclusive term it could mean, say, a toaster oven. (And sorry, I just can't get the Buffy-bot out of my head when thinking about humanoid robots.)

I feel like there's still some important motivation missing from the query. I started to do a rewrite because it's usually easier for me to show what I mean, but I realized that I'm still not clear as to Jesse's motivations. Maybe what I did get down get will help you think about how to embed that motivation without adding more words to the query.

In thirteen-year-old Jesse’s hometown, everyone knows robotic technology was [lost/abandoned/outlawed] soon after the apocalypse. Then a post-mortem reveals that a seemingly human girl was actually [an android]. Fearing [another rise of the machines], Jesse’s community initiates lockdown and begins a widespread hunt for other humanoid robots.

Having known the dead girl, Jesse can't believe she was anything but human. Even Forest, a strange boy Jesse meets outside the town's protective walls, thinks the current paranoia is [misplaced/overblown]. Sharing that belief, the two make a pact [to discover the truth.]

The boys' friendship is jeopardized, though, when the mysterious Dr. Frey arrives. Jesse's instinctive distrust of the man is borne out when the doctor reveals that he's a scientist specializing in the creation of humanoid robots -- and that Jesse himself is one of his creations. But it isn't Jesse he's come back for. Dr. Frey claims Forest possesses a dangerous power that must be destroyed -- and he plans to [use/sacrifice] Jesse to do it.

At 50,000 words, FOREST is middle-grade science fiction focused on friendship and the inner humanity shared by all beings, even living machines. Thank you for considering my completed novel.

Jeb said...

While version 4 is significantly improved over its predecessors, Phoenix's take is clearer still.

Also, author, you are still clinging to a line that has bugged me from the first incarnation: break the highest law. You may be trying to give a sense of the community's deliberate isolation and distrust of the outside world, but this phrase doesn't give any information and is, in fact, a distraction.

batgirl said...

Agreeing with Jeb, here. This emphasis on the highest law just makes me think, meh, Village knock-off. Not to mention raising the question why Jesse would think the answer lies outside the vill--whoops--town walls anyways?