Sunday, September 02, 2007

Face-Lift 412

Guess the Plot

I Close My Eyes

1. Insomniacs the world over will hail this manual of simple first-person instructions designed to aid in obtaining a good night's sleep.

2. At the dentist. When I meditate. On the beach. While having sex. When using toilet paper. When driving on the Interstate. In the laundry room. Right after I slump into my grave after spending hours as a Walking Dead.

3. Morgan is thrilled to find that alcohol gets rid of her nightmares and guilt feelings and helps her make new friends. But when she ends up in the emergency room, she joins AA. And, miraculously, her life changes for the worse.

4. Dating Neil, the bass player in a struggling band, hadn't been much fun for Lisa so she moved on. Now they've got a hit song based on Lisa and Neil's breakup. Will she go back to the rock & roll life now that the band is hot?

5. Allyson forgets her broken engagement and moves back to West Virginia to settle her mother's estate. Entranced by the magnificent view from her mother's bedroom, she can't understand why the blinds were always drawn--until she spies her neighbor, Evil Editor, skinny dipping in the moonlight.

6. Katie Mack closes her eyes whenever she sees trouble ahead, like a car rushing toward her, a tree limb falling toward her, a pelican flying overhead. So when West Palm Beach asked Katie to monitor their elections, she closed her eyes and said, "Yes." She hasn't opened them since.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Being a teenager is confusing enough without feeling responsible for her father's death. Morgan accidentally discovers alcohol relieves her feelings of guilt, banishes the nightmares and helps her gain new friends. [Now that's original--a pro-alcohol book.] But it doesn't stop there.

What starts out as a way to feel normal soon becomes the underlying cause of trips to the hospital emergency room, alcoholic blackouts and the resurgence of the nightmares. Her tool for coping with life becomes her biggest life problem. [Now she needs a tool to cope with her tool. Which reminds me of the time I had roaches in my house and someone told me that rats eat roaches. So I brought in some rats, and they did eat the roaches, but then I couldn't get rid of the rats, so I brought in some king cobras. Which worked fine, but . . . well, to make a long story short, does anyone know how to get rid of mongooses?]

Morgan reluctantly agrees to attend AA meetings. The nightmares get worse, [Hey, reading the 12 steps is enough to give anyone nightmares.] her best friend attempts suicide and Morgan's feelings of guilt return. [Now that's original--an anti-AA book.] Should she kill herself, drink again or choose sobriety by attending AA and doing what is suggested at the meetings? [She's already trying AA, I thought. Doesn't she have a sponsor to help her answer this question?] [In view of the benefits of AA so far, I would hope she comes up with a fourth choice.]

I am seeking representation for I Close My Eyes, a 20,650 word YA novel. It is loosely based on my own experiences as a teenage alcoholic. It explores what life looks like from inside the head of a teenage alcoholic from the first drink, through the insanity of alcoholism to recovery, relapse and the choices a recovering alcoholic faces. [The reason it's such a short book is because I don't remember three fourths of what went on back then.]

Thank you for taking the time to consider my novel.



This is too short to be called a novel. It'll probably be about 80 pages. If you can't remember anything else interesting, try making something up. Novels are supposedly fiction, after all.

You must explain why she feels guilty about her father's death. There's a big difference between leaving her roller skate at the top of the staircase and emptying a Glock into his head while he sleeps.

Morgan is a teen with a drinking problem is all this amounts to. Some more plot would be nice. Is she in the hospital because of a car accident? Liver transplant? Is there another key character you can bring in?


Anonymous said...

Being a teenager is confusing enough without feeling responsible for her father's death.

I got whipflash from what felt like a wrenching POV change or something during the course of that first sentence. How about starting with "For Morgan, being a teenager..."

Should she kill herself, drink again or choose sobriety...

On the other hand, I do love these choose your own adventure books.

Anonymous said...

There's a big difference between leaving her roller skate at the top of the staircase and emptying a Glock into his head while he sleeps.

Not if they're both deliberate acts...

Anonymous said...

I agree with EE. This feels like a set-up, exposition for a novel, not a plot. As far as I can tell her Dad dies before the story starts and we meet her as an alcoholic already. If you want to turn your experiences into a story then create stakes: why should we care if she conquers her alcoholism or not? What's at stake if she doesn't? What will be the happy outcome if she does? What interesting things happen by way of plot on the road to her recovery? You might want to develop your story more before you start querying and don't be afraid to fictionalize your own past more to make it interesting.

Church Lady said...

I'm assuming the writer is a teenager.

Author, Keep working on your story. You have a good start. Writing is hard work and most of us will attest to going through many drafts before calling a manuscript a final draft.

Could you add another character to your story? Either a friend or a boyfriend?

There's a YA book coming out soon, maybe it's already out. It's called "Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher. It begins with the main character committing suicide and then going back in time to the 13 reasons that led up to that moment.

The shorter end of a YA novel is 60,000 words. I'm not exactly sure of the range, but you see it does need to be longer. But I have a feeling you can get there. You've already done the hardest part which is get a first draft written.

Good luck.

writtenwyrdd said...

The description doesn't make me think YA.

Church Lady said...

Hi Wwrttnwrd,
Much is allowed into YA. "The Book Thief" is also categorized in many places as YA.

writtenwyrdd said...

The query doesn't say anything that feels like the story is happening to a teen. Hence, it doesn't feel YA. I did not say it wasn't YA, just that the query wasn't doing its job.

WouldBe said...

I think Church Lady gave good advice. Rather than thinking of the story as alternates that could happen, you need to think of plot points: things that actually happened and made the character go off in a different direction, both positively and negatively. That will help focus the story and query.

Rather than expanding the story to YA novel length, you could tighten it and market it as a novella; it is about the right length for that, and could be shorter. Then, your outlet would be a variety of magazines. The subject matter is well-trodden, so you need to take a compelling, new look at it.

It can be painful going through review of the query here, but it was a good idea. It is better to be poked in the eye here, than be utterly dismissed by an editor with no feedback.

Robin S. said...

Hi Author,

I really like your title.

I can’t give you any productive advice for your query that hasn’t already been given.

I agree with others who’ve said that it’s better to face a kind of “friendly evisceration” here than in a larger arena, where, if your work isn’t up to someone’s snuff, you simply won’t hear back.

Good for you for getting this on paper – it’s short, but I bet it didn’t feel short when you were writing it, and, as church lady said, you now have a foundation of a first draft to build on.

Does your book fall into the Young Adult category? It seems as if it would, but I’d just like to know if that’s the audience you’re addressing.

As with any storyline, in my opinion, they’ve all been told, and the reason so any have been told over and over again, in various iterations, is simply that these stories resonate because they are a slice of the human experience. I don’t really give one shit whether something’s been told before – for me, it’s all in the telling.

And good for you, for making through a mental minefield, and coming out on the other side. That’s hard to do. To that end, I hope you stick around here, and I hope you keep working on your novel.

Here’s something that might work if you decide to extend your work and make it longer – when you’re figuring out what to add and where to add it. You know in the morning, when just waking up, or in the evening, when you “close your eyes” – and memories, thoughts, wishes, float through you? If any of these concern the experiences you’ve had, and I’m guessing they do, at least sometimes, use them as scenes in your novel. Get up and write them down. Also, as has been pointed out, you could add more of what happened to your father, your relationship with him. Another thing you can do is to read your work out loud, by yourself, where no one can hear you. You may well see places to add and amend when you do that.

Then, you may want someone to read through what you've written to catch confusion such as what was found in your "being a teenager" sentence. Everyone does this kind of thing, especially on an early draft- no big deal- but it is a big deal if it isn't found and fixed.

Best of luck to you.

Lightsmith said...

don't be afraid to fictionalize your own past more to make it interesting.

James Frey, is that you?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments! I am having a hard time with this query letter.

No, I'm not a teenager. Been sober for 23 years now, so I'm long past the teenage years.

I've been thinking a lot about revising this manuscript completely and adding more meat to it. It's very episodic as it stands. Two agents have requested a full as it stands, so I'm hopeful for it becoming marketable at some point.

I will have to think about the plot points that will help the query. Part of the trouble is that the question in the query actually happens closer to the end of the book.

So here's the story.

Dad dies in a freak accident at an amusement park. Morgan sees it happening but she says nothing. She feels guilty that she didn't warn her father in time to save his life.

Closing her eyes is her way of being closer to her dad as she relives the memory of that day. But she starts to forget the details. She looks for a way to bring him into clearer focus and tries a drink since dad drank. It doesn't bring back the details, but it does give her relief.

Morgan's old friends abandoned her after her father's death. She makes friends with Jennifer, who recently moved in down the street. The alcohol flows freely at Jennifer's house and Morgan is soon getting drunk every weekend. She makes more new friends, who also drink. Life is getting back to 'normal' for her.

Morgan's mom starts dating Dick. Morgan refers to him as Dickhead. He's an angry drunk. They clash quite a bit.

She starts having blackouts, car wrecks, bad drug reactions. Her mom, Dick, the therapist Morgan has seen twice and a teacher from school stage an intervention. Morgan agrees to go to AA to get them off her back.

She reads one line about quitting for a year to prove she's not an alcoholic. A few months into that year, she has a drink at Jennifer's house and thinks she has hit on the solution. She can appear to be sober to those who want her sober and only drink at Jennifer's.

Morgan starts needing to drink at places other than Jennifer's house. She obsesses about how she had quit drinking for that year to prove to herself she wasn't an alcoholic. She decides to go back to AA and try getting sober for real.

Getting sober means a return of the pain and guilt of her father's death and the nightmares. Jennifer attempts suicide. She confesses to Morgan that she planned it, though the authorities think it was spur of the moment.

Morgan makes friends in AA and starts to spend time with them. She discovers she can have fun without drinking. She works with a sponsor, but she's afraid to talk about dad's death. Finally, the pain becomes too much. She writes down what happened and shares that with her sponsor who suggests more for Morgan to do to help her get through the pain.

Morgan does that work, but doesn't know if that will end the nightmares.


Robin S. said...

Good Lord, Sarah - if you've got two agents already requesting a full, you're way ahead of most of us.

What comments did you receive about length? Is this the query you sent, or was it more detailed?

Is this a novel for young adults, or is it a novel about young almost-adults, for an older audience?

Nothing like a boatload of questions, huh?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and thanks for the kid gloves, but I already know the query sux. I'm in that 'the more I know, the more I know I don't know' phase.


Anonymous said...

Hi Robin,

I met both agents through SCBWI events. They read a partial and requested the full. One replied that he wanted to see more of Morgan in times when life wasn't an OMG situation. The other is backlogged and I haven't heard yet.

The query didn't get me anything but rejections. Go figure. ;-)

I've had critiques by published authors who put it in YA. So I'm reasonably sure it's correctly categorized.

I also had a friend read this, identify with Morgan and go to AA herself. I know it can do what I intended - at least with practicing alcoholic adults.

But the market has seen a lot of alcoholic stories and this may never make it into book form. Hell of a journey though. And I'm not giving up on it yet.


Robin S. said...

Hi Sarah,

I wouldn't give up on it either, if I were you. I'd just take some time to think about the structure you have in place now, and how you might make changes to "grow it".

And rework the query, maybe using some of the information you gave earlier.

What you said about the friend who read it and was moved to attend AA makes me wonder about the target audience- if it should be extended beyond the YA audience (unless your friend is in that age range- in which case- I stand corrected).

phoenix said...

What it seems to me that one agent was saying in suggesting to speak more to Morgan outside of the OMG moments is to present a STORY and not a MESSAGE.

You seem to have 20K words of message here, which, quite frankly, would be told more compellingly in memoir. So use the other 40K words that you absolutely must write to bring this up to novel length to tell Morgan's story. Why is she someone the reader should care about? Is she worth saving? Why will we care what choices she makes?

Is she a devoted friend to Jennifer, or are they just good drinking buddies? Does she recognize that Jennifer may attempt suicide?

OK. Lightsmith was probably kidding bringing up Frey, but as long as you're calling this a novel, novelize the experience. Go for the gut, the emotion. Does Morgan's experience parallel Dick's in any way? Since he's part of the intervention, does he recognize the problem he has? Do he and Morgan go through AA together? Give us some more turning points.

Also, don't tell the reader in that last paragraph what the book explores and how. Give it to us in an interesting way in the body of the query. If I'm a YA, I don't want to be sermonized to, I want to experience the ride and draw conclusions for myself. And above all, give the reader some assurance that this book will not be the same as all the others saturating the market. What's different about it? Why should I choose THIS story to read?

And finally, the query makes a case that Morgan becomes an alcoholic while trying to escape what's likely deep depression. And recurrence of that guilt/depression is what continues the cycle of alcoholism. AA, thinking good thoughts, and becoming sober is not going to cure depression, yet the focus in the query is that all will be well if she just chooses sobriety. I would hope the novel doesn't take such an easy out. But for me, it's a huge question mark in the query.

With 40,000 more words to play with, you have plenty of room to grow this into a compelling and marketable book.

On the other hand, I do love these choose your own adventure books.

Hehe. Good one, Anon.