Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Face-Lift 557

Guess the Plot

Keeping Back the Dark

1. If it isn't the monster under the bed, it's the one in the closet. Or it's the ghosts who glide over the grounds around the house. Whatever it is, something is always giving Brittany Clark the heebie jeebies, which is why she always sleeps with a few lighted flashlights around her. But when her dad flips over the cost of batteries, she has to find another way of . . . keeping back the dark.

2. Angela's life was normal . . . until her family moved. Now there are creatures hunting her in the dark, creatures so beautiful it's easy to forget she's in danger . . . until they start killing her.

3. When 17 year-old Misty is blinded in a freak photography accident, she vows to stay home until her sight returns. Can Kelsey, her new seeing-eye dog, help change her mind?

4. Desperate for an experience of spiritual light, Lacey spends months in an oriental monastery, meditating. But one afternoon she is engulfed by an experience of vast darkness. Fleeing into the civilized world, sleeping as little as she can, she's haunted by a strange, pointed face.

5. A team of European scientists hired by the manufacturers of Coppertone Sunscreen work to stop the Earth's rotation, so that their side of the planet will be forever bathed in sunlight. But when Dracula learns of their plan he realizes that he and his minions must engage in industrial warfare if they're to survive.

6. Werewolf hunter Chug Conners has tracked his latest quarry to Benson, but when he discovers the small town is home to the werewolf king and his minions, he realizes he's going to need help. Possibly from the beautiful werewolf huntress known as . . . the Huntress!

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

The 5 weirdest things that Angela James has ever done:

1. Melted through the floor of the science room (uncomfortable, especially when you land in a mop closet. [But not so bad when she melts through the floor of the mop closet into the boys' shower.] [Also, close those parentheses.]
2. Broken into someone's house (but if they're not really people, is it still a crime?)
3. Attacked my brother's girlfriend (she was asking for it) [Your brother's girlfriend? Do you mean her brother's girlfriend? Are you in this book?]
4. Thrown a birthday party for an Icarus (what do you get the guy who's lived for centuries?)
5. Unintentionally used magic (unfortunately now the story of my life) [Your life or her life?]

Angela had a lot of ideas about what her eighth grade year would be like, and absolutely none of them are panning out. Moving hadn't been in her plan, and neither had dropping from "somewhat liked" to "nonexistent" on the social radar. But the one thing that really hadn't been on her agenda?

A blue, winged boy dropping from the sky to completely overthrow her perfectly normal life. [Though it seems like a combination of "overturn" and "throw for a loop," "overthrow" means something completely different.] [See chart in Face-Lift 545 for a discussion of the need to use an adjective to describe "normal."]

Now she has magic underneath her skin, threatening to burst out wildly with every swing of her 13-year-old emotions, [Is it the emotions that are 13 years old? If it's Angela, you've already told us she's in 8th grade, so we don't need her exact age.] and only the slightly odd Marr siblings understand because they're going through the same thing. And the winged boy? The one that ruined everything? He happens to be their sole ally – an emissary sent to guide them – but he's got emotional baggage, a nasty temper and secrets of his own. [Not clear whom he's their sole ally against. I would say: He happens to be an emissary sent to guide them . . . or mention who their enemy is before bringing up that they have an ally.]

Angela finds herself saddled with a secret life that has her worrying her family, racking up detentions at school, and even breaking the law … and those are the easy parts. There are creatures in the dark hunting her and the Marrs – creatures that can look like anyone and who are so exquisitely beautiful that it's easy to forget you're in danger until they start killing you. [Question for discussion: if you don't kill someone, can it be said that you "started" killing her? See, it's not like eating a meal, which consumes (Get it? Consumes?) a length of time. You can start eating a meal but not finish eating it. But you can't kill someone unless they die, and the transition from dead to alive takes place in a brief instant. If you start killing someone, do they not start dying? If you have a gun aimed at someone's head and you pull the trigger halfway and suddenly the ice cream truck goes by ringing its bell and you lose your train of thought and go running out to the street, did you start killing someone? Or did you merely start pulling a trigger? To illustrate, I've prepared two similar timelines:

One could argue that in Timeline 1, the creatures started killing Angela at 2:00PM. But did they start killing her in Timeline 2? Or did they merely start pummeling her? No matter which side of the argument you take, you must admit that the query would be more specific if it said: . . . so exquisitely beautiful that it's easy to forget you're in danger until they start pummeling you with baseball bats.]

Complete at approximately 90,000 words, Keeping Back the Dark is a fantasy fit into the real world, full of conflicts both supernatural and ordinary. This book — the first in a planned five-part series — blends danger, friendship, family and wit in a combination aimed at readers aged 10 and older.

I started writing at the age of seven, covering the gambit from never-to-see-the-light-of-day amateur novels to Harry Potter and Buffy fanfiction. [You probably mean the gamut, but odds are you didn't come close to covering the gamut. Also, it sounds like you're saying you were writing Harry Potter fan fiction at the age of seven, at which time Master Potter had not made his appearance on the world stage. In any case, the person to whom you're sending this letter won't care what you were doing at age seven, or even seventeen.] I majored in creative writing at Kansas State University, and I currently work as a copy editor while I take classes toward my secondary education degree.

Thank you for your consideration,


This is too listy. A list of weird things Angela's done, a list of aspects of her secret life, a list of events in her eighth-grade year. You don't need to hook us with every sentence. What's the story?

The list of weird things she's done gets across that the book will have supernatural elements, but if your list is going to include nothing that comes up in the query, it needs to be shorter. Possibly as short as just one item: The day Angela James melted through the floor of the science room into the mop closet, she realized eighth grade was going to be a strange year. Followed by . . . the story.


Dave F. said...

This reminds me of an old girlfriend, a biologist. She studied forest molds and fungus stuff growing on tree roots in the forest. And when confronted with a forest, took out a magnifying glass and crawled on the ground at the base of the trees never to hear the birds or see the tops of the trees.

To borrow another metaphor, the oriental gong might play in the symphony but it never carries the melody.

Robin S. said...

I freaking love your charts.

wendy said...

This query feels as though it's been cut down from a much larger piece and lost many of the transitions in the process. ??

I am a big fan of being able to describe one's novel in one sentence. You may never use that sentence, but until you are able to write it you won't know what your book is really about.

Try this "mad lib":

A _________ girl is _____________ (and _________) to ____________ before __________.

I also have a few questions:

1. Where did her magic come from?
2. Who's "them"?
3. What will she save beyond her own skin if she defeats the bad creatures?

4. And why are they fighting in the first place?

I've read your query several times and I still don't understand the story. You have told us about some interesting characters, (my favorite is the blue winged boy) but I don't have any idea what they are going to do or why they are going to do it. Maybe I'm just not awake enough yet...

Good luck with your story!

WouldBe said...

A general guideline for lists and humor is that a list should have three items (preferably), or two. If less, it's not a list; if more, you start reading past it.

wendy said...

Hey Dave,

I've been trying to email you today, but your address isn't working (at least for me...maybe yahoo just hates me..) I tried this address dave@fragments.ws???

Would you consider emailing me at admin@wendymeyers.com?

Kiersten said...

EE, I'm with Robin. These charts and illustrations are SO great. I might have to write another book just so I can submit a query and get a chart with it. Wonderfully funny.

As far as the query, (if the author reads this, really, I'm not trying to be rude,) it seems to me that if you submit a query that clearly hasn't been edited or revised, you're missing out. All EE can do is say that you need to rewrite it so it makes sense. Whereas if you take your time and follow the loads of good advice on query writing out there, you can give EE a polished, finished query. Then he can give you specific advice to go from a decent query to a really good one.

Just saying, is all.

Dave F. said...

I'll send an email. Sometimes the Spam filter gets overactive. If you don't get an email by 4pm EST, post a comment on my blog. I get notified when you do.

batgirl said...

The list is engaging, but it takes up space that could be more usefully applied to the plot. I didn't get any idea who the antagonist(s) is/are, or how the Marrs fit into the story.
Also, the list seems to run out of energy, with the first item being the most intriguing. Just my feeling.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Over at queryshark there's a revised version which La Shark approves of:


Dave F. - but what if your ex-girlfriend found the root fungus more interesting and beautiful than the stuff at the tops of the trees? Or am I misunderstanding the metaphor?

(Bad joke: what's a metaphor? - cows.)

pacatrue said...

EE should have been a linguist. He's already regaling us with charts of stative verbs.

writtenwyrdd said...

Omit the silly list and start here (I've slightly edited):
[thirteen-year-old] Angela finds herself saddled with a secret life that has her worrying her family, racking up detentions at school, and even breaking the law … and those are the easy parts. There are creatures in the dark hunting her -- creatures that can look like anyone and who are so exquisitely beautiful that it's easy to forget you're in danger until they [kill you].

I think this is where you start, with a problem that hooks a reader's interest. The list isn't hooky, and it's also badly written so it works against you.

Next we need to know what she does about the enemy, who the enemy is--that sort of thing. And finish off with an indication of where she and her friends need to go to solve the problem.

I think this sounds like a fun story and I'd love to see a revision of this letter when you are done.

Phoenix said...

Well, the author submitted this version to Query Shark, too, where the author got some good advice (sans stative verb chart), which the author - gasp - heeded. The author then sent a revised version to QS, which Janet likes and has tagged "Good revision example." The author even put their copyediting skills to use in the revision.

Go back and read the brilliant blue words because, it seems, our work here is done.

Rebecca said...

Yes, I've already gone through a revision thanks to Query Shark and her readers. I sent them into both blogs at the same time, but that one went up faster. I appreciate all of the comments from EE and his minions. I'm definitely going to take all of this advice into account as well.

Plus, that chart is really funny.

Kiersten said...

Yeah, the revision on Query Shark was much better. Although it still struck me as long. But good job, and good luck with querying.