Monday, June 14, 2010

Face-Lift 783


Guess the Plot

A Tale of Youth and Sorrow

1. Behind the bars: wailing and weeping. Outside: the holy object lies alone, unreachable. Will any hero rise and save the day? Who will come and reunite Sammy with his blankie?

2. Like, this one time, my parents go, "Clean your room," when i already had, like, way too much homework, dude. Life can be so unfair.

3. Jack Sorrow, New York's toughest homicide detective, quickly learns that today's kids are even more dangerous than he thought when his partner is found murdered at a tough inner city Kindergarten.

4. When 12-year-old Minette Bublee finds evidence that her boozing, potty-mouthed, ill-tempered guardian is a minion of the demon Belphelial, she unwittingly opens a door into an arcane realm where past and present intertwine and a confrontation with a grim remnant of her world's tumultuous history transforms a young woman into a monster.

5. The son of a fallen politician, eighteen-year-old Devon joined the police force to help restore the family name. But as he becomes entangled in corruption, a dangerous affair, and an unsolvable sex slavery case, he careens toward his own fall from grace. Also, an incorrigible cat.

6. When fairy tales become classics, their characters get immortality instead of a slow, fading death. Can Princess Ytira convince her wicked stepmother and bumbling godmother to work together long enough to make their shambles of a story memorable?



Original Version

Dear Agent X:

Twelve-year-old orphan and Potioneer girl Minette Bublee knows next to nothing about the Rogue, Ilona Njis; the boozing, potty-mouthed, ill-tempered master thief who, strangely enough, has been her guardian for the past two years. Then comes the shocking revelation: that Ilona is a murderer, and possibly linked to Belphelial, a restless demon rumored to have broken free from the bonds of his ancient prison. [That's more than enough info for one paragraph. Start a new one here.] [But first let's cut it back to what's essential. Do we need to know Minette is a Potioneer girl? I have to guess what that means, and then I have to consult Google to make sure I'm right, which I don't feel like doing in the first line of a query. Turns out it's pretty much what it sounds like, but that it's not capitalized unless it's part of the title Master Potioneer. No way do you become a Master Potioneer at the age of 12. Also, if this wasn't a word before Harry Potter, I'm not sure it's suddenly become one. Belphelial is "rumored to have broken free"? You've read the whole book; did he break free or not? We don't need to know about rumors that prove false. You tell us Minette knows next to nothing about Ilona, and immediately reel off a list of things Minette knows about Ilona. Why is "Rogue" capitalized? Is it Ilona's superhero name? There's already a superhero named Rogue. Okay, so what have we got? Two years after the death of her parents, Minette Bublee learns that her ill-tempered guardian Ilona is a murderer--and possibly a minion of the demon Belphelial.] Torn between escape and saving her only friend [With friends like a boozing, potty-mouthed, ill-tempered murderer, who needs enemies?] from spiraling further into self-destruction, Minette unwittingly opens a door into an arcane realm, where past and present intertwine, and a confrontation with a grim remnant of their world's tumultuous history [I need a glass of bubbly.] transforms a young woman into a monster. [Is the young woman Ilona or Minette? I don't consider 12-year-olds women.] [That sounds impressive, like you were writing the script for a movie trailer. Unfortunately, it's vague. I'd keep: As she tries to stop Ilona from spiraling further into self-destruction, Minette unwittingly opens a door into an arcane realm where past and present intertwine. Now we're down to two sentences of back story. Put them together as your first paragraph and you have plenty of room to give us specifics about your story, which starts when Minette enters the arcane world. What does she do? Start whipping up potions? Is her goal to save Ilona? Defeat Beelzebub? Get home? Save the world? What's she got going for her that gives her the slightest chance of doing any of this?] With the ghosts of their yesteryears threatening to tear them apart, Minette will voyage through time to learn one of life's greatest lessons, and unlock the secrets of a power greater than any magic. [That's a good last sentence if it follows some specifics about the story. Here it's just more vagueness.]

I am seeking representation for A Tale of Youth and Sorrow, my 53,400-word young adult fantasy novel. [That title sounds more like Anne Frank's bio than wizard kid vs. demon.] I am querying you because of your interest in this particular genre.

Five of my short stories were published in Malate Literary Folio (De La Salle University, Philippines) between 1997 and 2002, one of which won second place in my university's 1999 Literary Awards. [Leave this out. Everyone knows that all Philippines award ceremonies are fixed.] A member of Writing.com, I received the 2007 WDC Wonderfuls Award for outstanding writing. [Leave this out, and suggest to WDC that they come up with a better name for their awards.] In my most recent job, I was a game writer tasked with the detailed write-ups of characters, settings, and stories for games. [Leave this out; it's a deal killer.] I am currently residing in the Philippines.

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

Sincerely yours,


Notes

With a 12-year-old main character, you're looking at readers who may be 10. You might want to show in the query that you can write for this audience by using less-complex sentences.

There's nothing in the query about what happens in the book, except a door gets opened to some realm and there's some time travel to . . . some other time.

22 comments:

150 said...

*gets out the rubber stamp that says BE SPECIFIC*

*uses it*

Anonymous said...

As EE said, despite the long sentences, this sounds more Middle Grade than YA.

Bernita said...

Listen to EE and heed his words.

Not Always Anonymous said...

(no link this time...same poster as last time)

150 you always crack me up.

So my rant on Friday about titles never posted because my computer froze. These titles we're seeing are driving me NUTS. Seriously, do you people read books??? Do you go to bookstores? Do you understand no one will buy your book if they never pick up your book?

I think I'll write a book: "Glum and Gloomy." No wait. How about "A Tale that's Bland and Boring."

How about The Crane's Beak? Elitist Morals? A Tale of Youth and Sorrow? Terrible titles.

Titles are your first hook. Try them out on people. Give them a few options. Look at movie titles. Which ones hook you at the title?

M. G. E. said...

#3 sounds hilarious :P

As for this query, seems like jacket-flap syndrome. A query is just close enough and just far enough away to make it easy to slip into the voice of movie-trailer-description guy, where everything's vague and hyped.

You don't simply want to give the background, you also want to provide the major conflict. You got half-way to giving the conflict here, but left details out of the conflict description.

_*rachel*_ said...

I don't get it.

If you're going to use that title, it'd better be tongue-in-cheek. Better yet, find a different title.

iago said...

Y'know, I'm going to stick my neck out here and suggest that perhaps the title is one of the lesser things that a prospective agent or editor might care about. And one of the easiest to change.

Dave F. said...

I agree with Iago.
While I work on ONE short story at a time, I keep a half dozen to possibly ten drafts of various short stories in progress because of the way my mind generates ideas. ALL of them have WORKING TITLES and all titles change. Easy thing to do after a story is completed. Te writer should keep the title that inspires or the goofy names that inspire them. One good editing pass will cure all that after the story is completed.

Ellie said...

Mmm, I think it's a bit of both. A writer should make sure their story and query are as good as humanly possible before spending a lot of time coming up with a killer title. But at the same time, the title's part of the first impression that the agent gets. If you have a vague or uninteresting title, you're not boosting the agent's confidence that you can use language well to create description and interest. You're not killing your chances with the title alone, sure, but you might as well use every chance to sell your talents.

150 said...

I agree that fixating on the title isn't enormously helpful, but at this point we have little else to work with. I keep hoping the author will stop by in a fit of pique and tell us off, accidentally producing a pretty good query in her attempts to explain that her story does too make sense. That always seems to help.

Not Always Anonymous said...

I'm assuming once a query is written and sent to an agent it's no longer a working title. And if a "writer" can't come up with two or three words that make their story interesting/marketable, how then they be expected to actually market the story itself? Expecting a wonderful novel by someone who's attached a *horrible* title to it is unwise.

It's like saying, "I could be a really great race car driver if only I could figure out how to open the door."

Marissa Doyle said...

The title can indeed still be a working title once it goes off to an agent...and even once it's been bought by a publisher. I've sold three books so far and only one has the title it was born with. Which is why it's good to try your best to come up with an attractive one, but don;t fall in love with it so much that your heart will be broken when it gets changed by the marketing department.

iago said...

It's like saying, "I could be a really great race car driver if only I could figure out how to open the door."

No. It really isn't like that at all.

iago said...

I agree that fixating on the title isn't enormously helpful, but at this point we have little else to work with.

Not sure how having a really great title would make up for having little else to work with.

I honestly don't believe the "working" title is as important as some people think it is. It's certainly not the measure of a good book or a good writer.

Ashley Girardi said...

In the query phase you have to say a lot in a very short space. A title out of left field might signal that the author doesn't understand the market or thinks their creative genius is immune from things like sales and marketing.

That doesn't mean you should agonize about it but the title (like everything else in the query) should reflect as positively on your book as possible. You don't want an agent putting a strike in the noob category before she's even started reading your pitch.

As for the query in question: right now it reads like the plot of a bad video game. I'm assuming the actual novel is better. Throw this out and start over.

arhooley said...

"A Tale of Youth and Sorrow" is a dreadful title, and there's no reason not to come up with a better one before we're off to the agent.

Hmm, did my other comment get eaten? I suggested that in the welter of grown-up adjectives, "potty-mouthed" was a tad off and "profane" would be better.

batgirl said...

arhooley, I was going to suggest 'foul-mouthed'. On the other hand, if this is really Middle-grade, potty-mouthed is the most MG-sounding part of it.

Ummmm...on the one hand, commenters tend to spend more time on titles and character names than is really justified, since they're among the things most likely to be changed by agents, editors, or marketing.
On the other hand, in many queries presented here, there isn't much else to grab hold of.

150, a fit of despair works much the same way.

Jeb said...

The title and characters have already been well crushed under the heels of the Minions, but I want to add one point you might consider changing: The Name of the Rogue.

"The Rogue" as the Master Thief is a character in at least two popular YA novels by prolific author Tamora Pierce. Using this honorific sets you up immediately for an agent thinking "oh, a Tamora Pierce clone" and then making comparisons that can only be unkind to your chances.

Change his title though you keep the essence of his role.

Michael Logarta said...

Thanks Evil Editor, and everyone, for your comments... They're all very helpful and much appreciated! I guess it's back to scratch for me where the query is concerned, and yeah, I'll be fixing that title. Thanks again. :)

150 said...

Not sure how having a really great title would make up for having little else to work with.

You're thinking in terms of improving the query. I'm thinking in terms of keeping myself entertained.

a fit of despair works much the same way.

Quite right!

Not Always Anonymous said...

"iago said...
It's like saying, "I could be a really great race car driver if only I could figure out how to open the door."

No. It really isn't like that at all."

Ummm, yes. Yes it is. If you don't know that race car doors don't open, you're not gonna win the Indy 500. And if you can't write 3 or 4 words that can effectively market your novel, you're not going to get on the NYT Bestseller list.

Buh Bye.

iago said...

Ummm, yes. Yes it is. If you don't know that race car doors don't open, you're not gonna win the Indy 500. And if you can't write 3 or 4 words that can effectively market your novel, you're not going to get on the NYT Bestseller list.

Interesting strawman, but doesn't win the debate. You're assuming the title and the race car door are analagous when they're not.

Having a bad title is not the worst thing you can do to your novel, not least because there are so many stages where it can and will be fixed. Having a good story and writing well are more important.

It wouldn't surprise me if agents / editors don't even notice the titles that skitter across their desk, 'cause that's not what they're looking for.

Doesn't really matter what either you or I think, though, right?

"Buh bye"? Really?