Thursday, July 12, 2007

Face-Lift 377


Guess the Plot

The Friendship Puzzle

1. Roger gets a federal research grant to try to understand what women really want when they say, "Let's just be friends." It's a puzzle with no solution, though, a maze with no exit, and Roger slowly goes insane.

2. Sally is best friends with Jane, but Jane is best friends with Carol, but Carol doesn't like Sally and instead wants to be friends with Nancy, who has other ideas and Wendy and Tammy aren't getting along like they used to and Maria thinks they're all silly but Kendra and Mona are spreading rumors about Sally which causes Nancy to side with Carol when she introduces the new girl Sandy to the group.

3. Tina Winthrop makes possibly the biggest mistake of her young life during her first day of junior high: she sits at the wrong lunch table. Soon she is ignored by her friends, yelled at in class, and pointed at in the hallway. Can Tina figure out the intricacies of tween life before her junior high career is over? Or will she explode in a rage and go all Carrie over someone's ass?

4. Princess Sally's fairy godmother saddles her with the worst "gift" imaginable: the Friendship Puzzle, which makes even the most simple acquaintance into a tangled web of misperception and confusion. Only when her father marries her off to their enemy, King Groghan of Leibrauzane does she understand its use is political, not social.

5. It was supposed to be a toy – like Magic 8 Ball or Ouiji. But then a cheerleader fell for a Chemistry Club Geek, and an Emo became brainiac Susmita Gupta's best friend. Can she undo the damage her little invention has caused, or are the changes really for the better?

6. Alanna made up her mind not to let Maggie force her out of their eighth-grade clique. But Maggie isn't someone you want to mess with. When the Mafia gets involved, Alanna must decide what's more important: friendship or making it to ninth grade.


Original Version

“If I die, I won’t be popular!!!” thought Alanna Stewart in The Friendship Puzzle. [On the other hand, I'm currently alive and I'm unpopular. I guess I should try being a zombie.] [I don't understand what circumstances would lead her to have that thought . . . unless . . .. Did she just tell her mom she wished she were more popular, and her mom recommended suicide?] My YA novel is about a kind-hearted thirteen-year-old who wants to gain acceptance in her misguided popular clique yet often sees herself as an outsider with conflicting morals. She believes Maggie is keeping her from being accepted, so she sets out to remove her nemesis from the clique; however, messing with Maggie turns out to be a mistake, since Maggie fights back with a vengeance. [I thought the point of being in a clique was to work together to make the unpopular kids as miserable as possible. These cliquemates treat each other like Rosie treats poor sweet Elizabeth.]

At the same time, Alanna yearns for a handsome, Japanese-Caucasian boy with a personality that directly conflicts with her friends. Several colorful characters, involved in quick moving scenarios, accompany Alanna through the eighth grade. [She attends school with the Muppets.] Not only must Alanna deal with arrogant teenagers, [There's no transition between these sentences. It's a list. If you're going to drop the Japanese-Caucasian boy after one sentence, he probably doesn't need to be in the query.] but she also fears the Mafia, [Whoa. The Mafia?

Maggie: My Godfather here wants to talk to you.
Alanna: About what?
Godfather: Alanna, I'm gonna make you an offer you can't refuse.
Alanna: What's that?
Godfather: Either your signature goes on this clique withdrawal form, or your brains do.
Alanna: I'm reporting this to Principal Adams.
Godfather (handing Alanna a jacket with a fish inside): Take this. It's a Sicilian message. It means Principal Adams sleeps with the fishes.
Alanna: How could you?!
Maggie: It's not personal; it's strictly business.]

and encounters several strange occurrences. [Vague. Like what?] Each chapter provides action and/or humor to keep the readers’ attention until Alanna finds the courage to be herself. [At which point the readers' attention flags radically.]

My husband and I have three teenage children. I have taught intellectually gifted students for the past twenty years and am knowledgeable about what appeals to girls of this age group. [Namely, boys of this age group.] My book captures the middle school mentality through the speech and actions of my characters. I look forward to hearing from you.

The first five chapters of my 53,000-word novel are enclosed. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours very sincerely,


Notes

If you're going to claim that a kind-hearted thirteen-year-old girl fears the Mafia, a little elaboration is in order. Something like . . . has feared the Mafia ever since her false testimony sent Joey Bananas up the river.

Capturing the middle school mentality sounds more like something parents would care about than middle schoolers looking for a good read. Middle schoolers already know the middle-school mentality.

She deals with colorful characters, she encounters strange occurences, she yearns for a boy. But the main story line is that she fights to be part of the popular clique, and in the end realizes it's not for her, she doesn't need them, she was happier back when she was ratting out the Mafia. Keep the query focused on the main story, while including some specific important events.

20 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

Dear me, no, EE. Boys of that age group are lame. Girls mature faster than boys, so their interest tends to be in boys who are older than they are, and who are more likely to be at the same stage of maturation. Well, a bit likely. Well....

I don't see how the boy's personality can conflict with her friends. Unless it's an avatar.

spooge26 said...

i'm guessing things are different than when i went to school. middle school was pre-teen for us.

you have said this is a YA novel (i thought was 12-18) and you know what teenage girls are thinking (MC is 13) but you set this in middle school (my mind said middle grade - preteen) so i was confused.

most 15-18 year olds won't read about a 13 year old in middle school. maybe consider this as a middle-grade novel.

just IMHO

Bonnie said...

buffysquirrel, that last remark of yours made me snort mocha on my keyboard...

takoda said...

Author, everything EE said...And I also agree that this is MG material.

The sentence about the Japanese-Caucasian bothered me. Like you were relying on stereotypes to define a personality, rather then showing his personality threw his actions.

I'm sorry, but this query does nothing for me. I can't find anything interesting or endearing about it. Maybe your story is different, but it's not coming through here. How is your story and group of characters different from the average? If they ARE the average, I think that's a problem.

EE, LOL at everything you write! I don't know where you get the energy. (grin)

Cheers,

AmyB said...

I thought the point of being in a clique was to work together to make the unpopular kids as miserable as possible.

LOL! Truer words were never spoken.

Author, I'm afraid I have nothing useful to say. The query doesn't give me much sense of the story. At first I thought it was a story about cliques and popularity, but then we had the reference to the mafia and I was lost.

phoenix said...

Not sure what kind of a statement you're making by pointing out the heritage of one character but not of the others. Are we to assume Alanna and Maggie are caucasian? And talking about a colorful cast of characters right after mentioning nationality seemed quite unfortunate juxtaposition.

Each chapter provides action and/or humor to keep the readers’ attention - Well, much better than telling us each chapter wallows in pathos and/or goes into long diatribes, but, yanno, that's not something you need to tell an agent. There's probably a better way to indicate the novel has some humor in it. Same with My book captures the middle school mentality through the speech and actions of my characters. For a contemporary MG (yes, I think it's MG, too!), those are table stakes. So there are two sentences that could be replaced with something a little more concrete about Alanna's trials.

If the Mafia is linked to Maggie fighting back with a vengeance, it would probably be better to have those two thoughts somehow connected in the query. If that's not the connection, then I just gotta say WTF?

As an aside, I'm sure times have changed since I was a 13-year-old, but gotta admit, I never thought about the Mafia, never wanted to read a book that featured the Mafia. Does the Mafia truly appeal to 13-year-old girls these days? Are they having sleepovers and watching reruns of the Sopranos? If so, I think I need to go put some horse heads and fish into my MG book real quick!

iago said...

...and who are more likely to be at the same stage of maturation.

OK, I read that as masturbation on first pass. Silly me.

If the Mafia is linked to Maggie...

To be fair, the query doesn't actually say the mafia are in the story, only that "she also fears the mafia." I fear the mafia, always have done. Not a bad philosophy. She probably also fears spiders and being eaten by sharks: I know I do.

In fact, thinking about it, if she was, you know, connected, that's a pretty good way to suddenly have a lot of friends. No one's going to give you a hard time in the lunch room if there's a strong chance of their Schwinn going bang five minutes out of the bike shed.

If I've learned nothing else from this site, I've learned that queries are a bitch to write, and a bad query doesn't automatically mean there's a crappy book behind it; it could mean a good book isn't going to get read, though...

Dave said...

Back in the late 80's, a coworker adopted a Korean boy of about 7 or 8 years old. he said that the boy used to really throw a tantrum if he spoke English and an adult "corrected" him by saying speak English.
He was speaking English and the adult's ears were not listening.
Think about it, you adopt a kid from another country and they are old enough to talk, they probably won't speak English without a thick accent...
It's so charming to contemplate. And my coworker didn't tell the story as the kid was wrong, he told the story that HE made the mistake.

writtenwyrdd said...

I would be really curious to find out why Alanna fears the Mafia. That might make either an hilarious or a tension-packed book. To echo the others, we don't know what the plot elements are, and it does sound probably more mature than you think it is.

I'd love to see a rewrite of this, because plots with wackily disparate elements can be soooo refreshingly different!

Pete said...

Ahh, the epic tragedy and timeless drama which is the 8th grade, when we are all the world-weary age of thirteen.

I think your priorities are completely out of whack if you're worried about your position in the popular cliques as opposed to THE MAFIA.

Friendship Puzzle author said...

Buffysquirrel - Oh but John’s personality does conflict with the clique. If you don’t think girls can conflict with boys in the eighth grade, come stroll down my middle school hallway. Alanna's clique is coed and (the boys especially) despise John. He's everything the clique is not. The good kid who the wild one's see as "goody, goody," "teacher's pet," or too "brainy." Another interesting side note, I knew several eighth grade girls who had seventh grade boyfriends last school year. Go figure!

spooge26 - I originally considered my novel to be middle school too but changed my mind after reading works by several published authors. I've seen a lot of YA stories about 8th graders. YA books are for characters 12+ (mine are 13 & 14), 150-200 pages (mine is longer than this), and about situations that one cannot make a decision about without reading the book.

As a teacher, I've seen a down shifting of the categories. Third and fourth graders are reading those skinny little books labeled as middle school, while fifth+ will read YA. It's a shame that kids all want to grow up so fast. I've tried to keep my book clean, but there are a few scenes that could make it YA instead of middle school. That's up to the editor who reads the book. I'm open to whatever someone wants to call it as long as its published.

Bonnie-I'm glad you had a good laugh.

Tadoka -I'm sorry you were bothered by my ethnic description. I believe biracial kids are beautiful and mentioned John's heritage as a way to show (rather than tell) about his good looks. I guess that one backfired. I removed John from the query, although Alanna's quest for him is quite evident in the book.

While my characters are average kids, which average kids can relate too, their situations are not average by any means. I hate the query game where I must get this message out in two paragraphs and am obviously new at query writing.

amyb - I have clarified the tie to the mafia in my rewrite. Thanks

Phoenix - Thank you for your constructive advice. I've rewritten these sentences. From your comments, I can tell that my query does not reflect the story I've written. Thanks!

Iago-Thank you for your insights. I truly believe that my case is the latter (a good book isn't going to get read), so I turned to EE for help.

Dave-I'm not sure what you said, but, uh, thanks.

writtenwyyrd-
Thanks so much for your comment. I'll post a rewrite at the bottom.

Pete- If you think that, I guess my query was pretty bad... but my book isn't! :)

rewrite-I’m open for more constructive criticism if the evil editors out there are still not satisfied.

Alanna has enough on her mind as she starts eighth grade, without having to worry about the Mafia, too. My YA/middle school novel, The Friendship Puzzle, is about a kind-hearted thirteen-year-old who belongs to a popular clique yet often sees herself as an outsider with conflicting morals. She believes Maggie is keeping her from being totally accepted, so she sets out to remove her nemesis from the clique; however, plotting against Maggie turns out to be a mistake, since Maggie fights back with a vengeance.

Several complex characters, involved in quick moving scenarios, accompany Alanna through the eighth grade. Not only must Alanna deal with arrogant teenagers, but she also fears the Mafia ever since she accidentally drove over Frank Miserotti’s grave. She also encounters several unusual occurrences such as escaping injuries through mystic circumstances, and seeing mysterious shadows. Alanna must navigate through a social jungle before she finds the courage to be herself.

With love,
The Author

150 said...

Hi, author!

Half the time I'm just here to crack wise and half the time I'm here to dole out advice, but nothing can ever beat EE's crack about the Muppets, so you get advice. :) Based on the rewrite, I just don't think you're getting the kind of information or the organizational structure that we minions are looking for in a query. The actual story is so unclear. Is it about a girl making it through eighth grade? Been there, done that. Is it about accidentally driving over a mafioso's grave and seeing ghosts? THAT I'd like to read about.

Either way, you MUST BE MORE SPECIFIC. Any time you do this:

-Several colorful characters
-Quickly moving scenes
-Several unusual occurrences

it's just a big old pile of bland. They tell us nothing. Even the action words--plotting against Maggie, fighting back with a vengeance--are completely vague. What does Alanna do to Maggie? What does Maggie do back to Alanna? I don't want to read about two girls navigating through a social jungle, I want to hear about wedgies and blackmail and mashed potatoes in people's hair.

You're also implying fantasy elements without elaborating on them. You'd better not imply supernatural events unless your manuscript delivers...and if it does, you'd better make it clear with a genre or at least some specifics.

Hope that helps. Post a rewrite and we'll look at it again!

GutterBall said...

I want to hear about wedgies and blackmail and mashed potatoes in people's hair.

I like you more every time you post, Buck-Fiddy. That is exactly what is missing from this query.

Friendship Puzzle author said...

Can my query be longer than one page? The books all frown on longer queries, but I'm not sure how to get all of this information out in just one page.

Evil Editor said...

Odds are you're including stuff that isn't vital. Post the long version and we'll tell you what to drop. Or, write a synopsis of the book and enclose it with the query, which will be much shorter now that the plot is described in detail in the synopsis.

Friendship Puzzle author said...

150 - Thank you so much for your comments. I've revised the query to be more detailed but have exceeded one page. I really appreciate your help and hope this revision is better. In some ways, writing a query is tougher than writing a novel. ;)

Author

Alanna has enough on her mind as she starts eighth grade, without having to worry about the Mafia, too. My YA/MG novel, The Friendship Puzzle, is about a kind-hearted thirteen-year-old who belongs to a popular clique yet often sees herself as an outsider with conflicting morals. She believes Maggie is keeping her from being totally accepted, so she sets out to remove her nemesis from the clique by causing friction between Maggie and others in the group. A clever Maggie fights back by planting cigarettes in Alanna’s purse before the filming of the much anticipated school movie. When Alanna continues to confront Maggie, she finds herself in the hospital without her guardian angel.

This guardian angel, reserved just for Alanna, reveals itself through illogical shadows after she escapes serious injuries. Alanna habitually follows the whims of her teenage friends and places herself at physical, sometimes life-threatening, risks because she believes that her angel will always save her.

Even with a guardian angel, Alanna’s mind is not at peace due to an unfounded fear of the Mafia that torments her ever since she accidentally damaged Frank Miserotti’s grave in a near deadly auto accident. She continually misinterprets simple events as being attacks on her life until she learns of a connection between her family, her crush, and the grave with tire tracks running over it.

Not only must Alanna deal with arrogant teenagers and inner ghosts, but she also observes conflict at home between her mother and her older sister. When her sister runs away, Alanna must suffer through the eighth grade alone. In her climb up the social ladder, she fails to recognize her true friends at the bottom of the rung. Alanna must navigate through a social jungle before she finds the courage to be herself.

I have taught intellectually gifted students for the past twenty years, have three teenage children, and am knowledgeable about what appeals to girls of this age group. Readers will be able to identify with my characters because The Friendship Puzzle captures the speech and actions of this age group. I look forward to hearing from you.

The first chapter of my 54,800-word novel is enclosed. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours very sincerely,

150 said...

OOOOH! I found your hook! It's hidden in the middle, but it's there! I'm gonna reorganize your information here and see if it reads better to you and the other minions.

--

Alanna has always counted on her guardian angel to take up the slack. If everyone else jumped off a bridge, she'd do it too--because she knows from many near-misses, and the shadows out of the corner of her eye, that her angel is always there.

Then she (does something slightly evil), demolishes a Mafia man's grave in an auto accident, and decides that her "friend" Maggie is holding her back from true popularity--so she starts turning their clique against her. Maggie retaliates by planting cigarettes in Alanna’s purse before the filming of the much-anticipated school movie. Things escalate, and Alanna is bewildered to find herself in the hospital. Her guardian angel is gone...and the Mafia is coming.

The Friendship Puzzle is complete at 55,000 words. As a teacher of 20 years and mother of teenagers, I have been privileged to observe the quirks and habits of kids at this pivotal age. (Or something.)

---

Sound any better? I kept in the interesting stuff and took out the things that are common to every kids' book ever. EE, any thoughts?

Evil Editor said...

Much better. Specificity is the key. Some writers think that to describe an entire book in a page, they must be general. If it's all general, it's blah. Be as specific as possible without losing sight of the big picture.

phoenix said...

Hi Author: Hope I'm not too late with this! Your original and the rewrite don't seem as connected as the story probably is. 150 hit it on the head when saying The actual story is so unclear. Is it about a girl making it through eighth grade? Been there, done that. There are tons of books out now about cliques, popularity, and discovering who your true friends are. What makes YOUR story stand out????

Oh, just saw 150 did a good rewrite, too!

Here's another suggested rewrite that tries to bring the elements of your story into a little more logical order. However, it still doesn't have the unique thing that sets your story apart, or a very satisfying end, because based on your query versions, I have no idea how the story brings all the disparate elements to a satisfying conclusion. In Times New Roman, standard format, this fits on a single page, but it is long, and some of it is cuttable.

Alanna has enough on her mind trying to deal with school, inner ghosts, and a run-away sister without having to worry about the Mafia, too. In my [dark-humored] YA/MG novel, THE FRIENDSHIP PUZZLE, a thirteen-year-old navigates the social jungle that is eighth grade, struggling to [do something that isn't cliche - try for something really hooky here; what's different about your book compared to all the other books about kids trying to fit in?]

On the homefront, Alanna's mom has been [crying, cursing, ignoring Alana, whatever] ever since Alanna's older sister selfishly ran away from home, leaving Alanna to face the eighth grade on her own. Then there's the matter of Alanna's guardian angel, who showed up after one particularly death-defying stunt and has been keeping Alanna safe no matter what foolish risks she takes. At least up until now. Seems like eighth grade may be too much even for a guardian angel -- whether or not it's real.

At school, Alanna picks the wrong clique to join. Though she wants desperately to fit in, she isn't quite accepted by the popular crowd. She's sure [hot-to-trot] Maggie is the cause, and starts [gossiping/spreading rumors about Maggie], only to find Maggie a formidable foe. The first confrontation finds Maggie planting cigarettes in Alanna's purse and ratting her out right before the filming of the school movie. When Alanna retaliates by [trying to frame Maggie for cheating], Maggie [breaks her arm, knocks her out, whatever].

On top of all that, Alanna has been living in fear of the Mafia ever since she ran over Frank Miserotti's grave when out [joy riding, on a dare]. She continually misinterprets simple events as being attacks on her life until she learns of a connection between her family, her school-boy crush, and the grave with tire tracks running over it.

It takes [story climax] before Alanna recognizes who her true friends are and finds the inner courage to realize she no longer needs a guardian angel to face Mafia ghosts, arrogant teenagers, or the upcoming perils of the ninth grade.

Having taught intellectually gifted students for the past 20 years, I know a little something about cliques and 13-year-olds. The first chapter of my 55,000-word novel is enclosed. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours very sincerely,

Friendship Puzzle author said...

Wow! These query rewrites are amazing! Y'all (yes, I'm in the south) must have been doing this for some time. "The Friendship Puzzle" is the first thing I've ever written, and I'm trying to learn this query game.

I have, however, taught writing for awhile and feel a little less hopeless in that department. Although, there's always someone out there that can find faults with my writing too. You can check out my first three paragraphs under the opening links (called Alanna) if interested.

Thanks for all the help. Now lets see if I can figure out how to combine and use these great ideas! You're the best! I plan to post a note for the Evil Editor site on my SCBWI listserv. Thanks!

Joyce