Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Face-Lift 338

Guess the Plot

The Secrets of Harworth Castle

1. Surrounded by the snapping jaws of dangerous reptiles, three teens race to safety amid the ruins of a spooky castle. As night falls the castle comes to life as an outpost of 16th-century Wales, complete with knights, ladies . . . and a green-skinned witch.

2. Princess Dream and her winged pony, Sunshine, have always lived in Harworth Castle. But then the King vanishes in the middle of the wizard Gromulus' fireworks display. Can Dream and Sunshine save the day?

3. Harworth Castle, Jr. died as a seven-year-old in 1953. Or did he? Bailey McAllister, third generation investigative journalist, just received a message from him, along with proof he’s alive and an accusation that her grandfather perpetrated the cover-up. With a billion-dollar estate at stake, can Bailey uncover . . . The Secrets of Harworth Castle?

4. Liza has been writing her very first book, a mystery about a haunted castle. When she finds a key to a mysterious door in her attic, it leads right into the castle of her story.

5. American twins are kidnapped while visiting London. They're taken to Wales and imprisoned in Harworth Castle. To escape, they must learn the secrets of the castle--but the castle has other ideas.

6. Harworth Stillwell built a castle using ingenious, groundbreaking architectural innovations never before seen and unlikely ever to be repeated. Too bad Harworth is four years old and the tide is coming in.

Original Version

THE SECRETS OF HARWORTH CASTLE is an upper middle-grade adventure/fantasy of 50,000 words, set in present time, in a fictitious castle on Cardigan Bay in Wales.

Thirteen-year-old American twins Jillian and Everett Lewis, are kidnapped from their London hotel and dumped into a stone walled cell in an ancient castle. When a mysterious person unbolts the cell door, their escape is thwarted by locked doors and windows, leaving them trapped inside the castle. The kidnappers, Lomax, Squirrel and Lyon, must capture the twins, [What do you mean they must capture the twins? What happens if they don't?] and find a way to get rid of them. [Get rid of them? Why'd they kidnap 'em in the first place?] The children uncover a secret haven, which leads to dark passageways, spy holes, and strange encounters with the mysterious person. [You need a better term for this character than "the mysterious person." Something like the "hooded figure," or the "masked hunchback," or the "humanoid with loose garb and ambiguous voice."] During their search for a way out, they learn the castle's closely held secret of the Celtic cross, [Apparently not that closely held.] but in a moment of carelessness, Everett is recaptured. Jillian must save her brother, triumph over the kidnappers, and discover a secret route out of the castle. [The boy screws up and the girl has to rescue him? This would never have flown in the fifties.]

In the mode of SPY KIDS, Jillian and Everett demonstrate their courage and savvy resourcefulness, resulting in quick-witted, creative solutions to their plight, and to the castle's secrets. [Or puzzles. Secrets don't have solutions.] The castle however, seems to have a mind of its own, begrudgingly releasing one secret at a time, [Begrudgingly? The castle practically gave them the Celtic cross secret. Is the Celtic cross secret a much bigger secret than the other secrets? What is the Celtic cross secret?] and in the process revealing even stranger new ones. To counterbalance their dark confines, THE SECRET OF HARWORTH CASTLE explores the twin's [twins'] relationship by exposing their individual weaknesses [Everett's weakness is that he's male. Jillian's weakness is Everett.] and their need to overcome petty jealousies and indifferences [indifferences?] to work together for the common good.


Sounds like it could be fun, especially if the solutions to the problems are truly creative.

Not clear why the kids were kidnapped and taken to Wales. Why go to London to kidnap kids when you can kidnap them in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, and already be in Wales?

Working together to escape is enough theme to mention. Counterbalancing dark confines, exploring relationships, and exposing weaknesses of thirteen-year-old kids aren't anything kids in this age group care about, and thus I doubt their editors will either.

Generally, I don't like comparing one's book to a movie.


Anonymous said...

You might want to mention whatever non-video game type qualities the book has, or maybe pitch it to Nintendo.

phoenix said...

What EE said. Plus, is there anything about the castle that isn't secret? A secret haven, a secret escape route, the Celtic cross secret, plus more unnamed secrets, including why the kids are there in the first place. Just who are these things secret from? And what good is knowing these secrets? OK, I'll give you the secret escape route (even though I'm thinking if it's secret, how would they know to look for it -- or are they just super-lucky kids finding out all these secrets?). But if I'm running for my life and stumble upon, say, a secret decoder ring, unless the code is to the lock on the front door, what good does my discovery do?

Maybe giving up a secret or two to the agent/editor would help showcase how ingenious your story is (which I hope, indeed, it is) and help them understand if this is more of a mystery or a thriller or horror story for the MG crowd. Is it Spy Kids meets Scooby Doo or Spy Kids meets Hell House? You call it a fantasy, but I missed seeing anything that I would consider fantasy in the query (unless the kidnappers really are animals, but that's neither clear nor upper middle grade).

A big plus would be to get some of your voice into this query. Because, frankly, if this is how your story is written, no kid's going to sit still very long to read it. Remember, this is the only chance you get to wow an agent/editor with how well you know your market and how well you can write for it.

Dave said...

This reminds me of those old 1950's style ghost stories where the haunted house was more of a character than the people inside it. And these stories died when Roger Corman quit paying for them.

Even the fairly well written GHOST STORY with Fred Astaire had a very personal twist as the ghost. And "The Lady in White" has a kid in peril and he is the one who learns the secret behind the ghost and the molester, not the house or the school.

We need to care about Jillian and Everett. That's what your query should focus on. Their adventure, their peril, their angst is your story - - not the quirkiness of the house or castle.

pjd said...

I agree that this sounds like it could be a fun romp, but I'm a little stuck on the premise. While I enjoy a somewhat rambling/random romp (see DaVinci Code), it helps if the underlying/opening situation is clear.

Why are these twins kidnapped? What is the role of the mysterious person besides to help the kids get past insurmountable plot obstacles (such as being locked in a dungeon cell)? Who are the kidnappers and what is their motivation, besides being there to put the kids into the castle and then chase them around a bit?

As EE says, if the kids are truly witty and clever in their solutions, this could be very fun for middle grade kids. But if the "mysterious person" mysteriously helps them along the way (like unbolting their cell), then the reader will feel cheated.

Final note: I don't think this sentence maps out the way you intended: To counterbalance their dark confines, THE SECRET OF HARWORTH CASTLE explores the twin's relationship...

How does the book exploring their relationship counterbalance their dark confines? Are they reading the book as they're living the adventure? Ooh, now that would be a mind bender.

(And a shout-out to the author of GTP #1: I really want to read that to my 10-year-old and 8-year-old! I was hoping the real plot was that one.)

BuffySquirrel said...

Now pronounce it, EE :).

takoda said...

Okay, I haven't read "Chasing Vermeer" yet, but it's on my list (as I'm also writing MGs about art).
Anyway, part of the jacket copy says:
...Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no-one-neighbors, parents, teachers-is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labrynth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem-solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer....

If your book is similar in that the characters are solving mysteries, etc., it could really be fun!

Good luck!


Robin S. said...

This sounds like a fun read to me. My girls would have lapped this up.

Cardigan Bay is a beautiful area. Great place for your castle. The Gower area coastline, Oxwich Bay, and the views from the town of Mumbles are also really beautiful areas.

EE, pretty good one with the longest village name in the world. Pronouncing it is a real bitch, though, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I could even read this book myself. However, there's one thing, right at the beginning, that I simply don't understand, and it affects the credibility of the book. (Or am I just missing something?)

You say the characters must kidnap the kids and get rid of them. Umm, why not just kill them? Why all the secret castle spooky stuff? You should have a compelling reason why the kids must be left alive, and you need to tell us what it is.

dancinghorse said...

In revising the query (and I agree, the idea does sound like fun), you might want to think about getting rid of all the generalities and vague value judgments. Be specific. HOW were they clever? WHAT were the secrets? WHY were they kidnapped?

Editors (and agents) actively hate to be told how to react to anything they read. Your job is to SHOW them what you can do, and let them decide for themselves if you're clever or witty or sprightly or anything else you may be tempted to tell them you are.

Your query should reflect the voice of the book. It's even more important for children's writing than for adult fiction, because voice is so crucial in that genre. If your query is full of passives and generalities and slippage into lecture mode, the editor or agent may conclude that your book reads the same way. You want your query to be as sprightly/clever/whatever as your story.

Good luck!

AmyB said...

Author, you lost me at the unnecessary comma in the line, "Thirteen-year-old American twins Jillian and Everett Lewis, are kidnapped..."

This sounds like it has the potential to be fun, but so much is described in vague generalities that it gives the impression of not being well thought out (which may not be the case for the novel itself). For example, no mention is ever given of why these kids were kidnapped, or if that is one of the mysteries they're trying to solve.

THE SECRET OF HARWORTH CASTLE explores the twin's relationship by exposing their individual weaknesses

If you're going to bring this up in the query at all, I think you need to say what those weaknesses are. It's like saying, "My protagonists have character traits." Hopefully that's a given. But what are they?

mutegi said...

GTP 6 I love it!

Arjay said...

I'd be happy to let you read the first few chapters.