Friday, September 05, 2008

Face-Lift 562

Guess the Plot

Ballet Dreams

1. Denise hopes to make Shadow into a top dressage horse. Can the little buckskin mule with the long ears and hearty bray really compete with the big warmbloods?

2. When a car accident forces the amputation of both of Elise's legs, her dream of becoming a ballerina is over. Or is it? Fitted with two prosthetic legs with unnatural spring, Elise is able to perform ballottés and jetés that take her higher than a pole vaulter. But will Miss Grunbar allow her to perform the lead in Kangaroo Lake?

3. Melissa's the new kid in town, and Jade's the self-proclaimed ballet queen. The Karate Kid meets The Turning Point as the underdog tries to dethrone the bully and win the coveted dance studio solo.

4. When Bianca Delune's dream of becoming a prima ballerina is dashed by carping critics, unappreciative audiences and a backstabbing corps de ballet, she assumes a megalomaniacal muttonchopped male avatar and makes money by mercilessly nailing newbie novelists. Three years later a letter arrives offering her a starring dance role. Is it a plot by insulted authors, or will Bianca's dreams come true?

5. The men in Akio's family have been champion sumo wrestlers for generations, and his father and uncles are eager to feed him up and train him. Only problem is, he wants to be a ballet dancer. Also, a tone-deaf conductor.

6. Natasha's mother was a star ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet - until her involvement in a plot to assassinate Kruschev sent her to Siberia. Natasha, herself training to be a dancer, knows nothing of this until a mysterious man arrives at the barre with a letter allegedly from her mother. Will Natasha give up her role as Aurora to seek the mother she believes is a traitor?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

(Fawning, pleading for representation, etc.)

My 40,000-word middle grade novel, Ballet Dreams, is aimed at youngsters who love dance or study it. In the United States, there are a minimum of 200,000 such students (20,000 studios x 100 students each), with a possible 2 million, plus their friends and families. [What is this, a Wikipedia article? Just insert "the two million American" in front of "youngsters" in sentence one and drop sentence two. No need to convince me that dance is popular. Especially as your math is way off. 20,000 times 100 is two million for your minimum. Which means your "possible 2 million" just became a possible 20 million. Which means possibly one of every fifteen people in the U.S. is a youngster who loves or studies dance. "Plus their friends and families" means the only people who aren't your audience are a couple hermits in Idaho.]

New dance studio, new school, a new life confronts aspiring ballerina Melissa after her family moves to Southern California from Nebraska. Now Jade, the self-proclaimed queen of ballet, keeps tripping Melissa in class, while bullies at school mock Melissa and her newfound friends, calling them "cow" and "spaz." Can Melissa successfully dethrone Jade by winning a coveted solo and gain acceptance with her school mates by thrashing the bullies? [Can you give us better examples than name-calling of the torment brought upon Melissa by the bullies? I'm thinking if the authorities find you standing over a bruised and bloodied kid you just thrashed, "She called me spaz," isn't going to fly as an explanation.]

I studied ballet and other dance forms for 20 years, plus I currently write for the online publication, Ballet-Dance Magazine (

Thank you for your consideration.


Your plot is three sentences. That's no more than three of the minions devoted to their fake plots. And it doesn't provide me enough material to mock.

The underdog formula has been used in every imaginable field (probably including ballet) because it works, but since it's so common you want to tell us what sets your version apart. Does your technical expertise bring more realism to the table, allowing you to breathe life into the dance studio scenes?

Is Melissa better than Jade, or does she have to work twice as hard to have any chance of winning the solo because the version of ballet being taught in Nebraska is called hoe-down?

Is Melissa eleven? Fifteen? The more information you provide, the better. As long as you don't make us read more than a page.

You might want to leave out the bullies and focus entirely on the Jade/Melissa competition. In view of the title, the bullies sound like a subplot that has nothing to do with the main plot. Is there a connection? I assume Jade isn't one of the bullies? Her frequent tripping of Melissa in dance class seems more likely to lead to a thrashing than the bullies' calling Melissa's friends "cow."


150 said...


Whirlochre said...

EE has covered most things with this one, except to say that if you're planning to send this out to any agents in the UK, the word 'spazz' has a much higher offendability rating than its US counterpart.

Moth said...

I don't think you need the stats. I would just kind of assume that dance is popular, ergo a dance book has a chance of appealing to a wide range of people. Use that space to put more detail about the story. Because as is, this is very generic and vague. Short isn't always sweet.

WouldBe said...

Just to emphasize EE's point--he's always emailing me asking to do this so the other minions will know what he meant--there is no lack of ballet-oriented kiddie lit, like Angelina Ballerina, so you do need to distinguish your work. And since you presumably have 40K words down, surely there is more to the story.

No doubt, Angelina Ballerina has covered every trope and idiom of ballet, including a class or troupe bully. So...pump up the query a bit.

Bill H.

Anonymous said...

Just to drive home the point about presenting a unique twist on both the underdog vs. bully theme and the ballet context, Alexandra Moss has a whole series called the Royal Ballet School Diaries (may be a younger age, but certainly is targeted at kids older than Angelina Ballerina) and one of those books is about an unfriendly French girl who dances perfectly but isn't nice to the other students. I can remember reading books like this when I was a tween, so clearly the theme/context can be recycled but to get someone to read the manuscript I would think you would have to do some serious standing out from the crowd action.

Mignon said...

Is Melissa Italian? That would provide endless possibilities for resolution of the bullying problem. Jade wouldn't be dancing so good after Uncle Guido had a little "talk" with her.

Anonymous said...

I don't have anything to add beyond agreement with what others have said. It does sound like 2 plots here, with dancing as the primary one.


freddie said...

Really, WO? How come, if you don't mind my asking?

Dave F. said...

May I add that not all of us who attend these "dance" recitals are there because we want to be. When there's a five, six or seven year old involved and SHE thinks she the greatest hoofer since Cy Cherisse, Pavlova and Fonteyn and her Mommy thinks her belly dancing is worthy of Mata Hari, we are NOT there because we like dance. We are not there of our own choice. We only enjoy it loudly and boisterously because to make snide and nasty remarks would cause a family revolt. And we haven't the hearts to ruin the dreams of little girls.
Fraking old softies that we are!

There, I said it.

talpianna said...

This sounds rather like the ballet-oriented novels of English author Noel Streatfeild (female, despite the name), of which the most famous is BALLET SHOES; it's about to be filmed again by British TV.

You might want to check them out.

Anonymous said...

So I'm a writer, not a mathematician!

Thanks for the notes. I was following another blogger's suggestion about the market for the book. She says it's better to let the agent know there is an appreciable audience and not assume they realize it can be that huge.

My audience would be much older than Angelina Ballerina. Closer to the Royal Ballet series, of which I did read the one about the French student.

The main difference I've noticed between my novel and other, current dance-related ones is that my MC actually succeeds in becoming a professional dancer. So many of the current stories show girls (usually) who want to become ballerinas but have to find alternate careers (too tall, too heavy, likes jazz/modern more, etc.). But how to say that without putting down the other stories has been my obstacle.

Hi, 150! (waves) Bet you recognized this one, didn't you?


BuffySquirrel said...

"Spazz" was THE word of insult at my school back in the umpties. Short for "spastic" which was an acceptable term way back then.

Anonymous said...

Author, you did not read or watch the A. B. or similar stories when a youngster before reading ballet novels? Or if you did, you totally forgot the stories?

You need to distinguish your story over children's stories. Your query, because of its lack of detail, does not. You want to convince the editor that you are a novelist who knows about ballet, rather than a ballet student who hopes to be a novelist some fine day.

I suggest you rewrite the query and post it here.

--Bill H.

Anonymous said...

Re: the market

Knowing the market for your book does not equal demographics. Being able to say X people have interest in dance is not at all the same as knowing the market for your book.

When you set out to do "market research" for a novel, you should identify books with relevant similarities. You should read piles of these and reviews of them, etc, and get a sense of why some did well and others not so well. And because film rights are so often worth as much/more than book royalties, you should likewise study film adaptations of your "genre" and try to understand why some stories worked well as film and others either never got adapted to film or bombed at the box office.

While it would be nice to be able to intelligently discuss all this with agents etc. your query doesn't need to mention any research. It just needs to show the agent that your novel has everything she thinks readers of your genre love and none of the crap they hate. In a perfect world, it will also have everything film producers love and none of the crap they think audiences hate.

December/Stacia said...

Personally, I wouldn't bother adding anything about the market. If the agent doesn't know what it is already, s/he's not the right agent for this project.

I agree we need more here. The basic plot is fine, but it's just that--fine, and basic.

Is there humor in the book, like a fun, chick-litty voice? Or is it very serious? Give us a clue through the tone of the query. What else is the MC dealing with? Surely moving from Nebraska to LA causes a lot more conflict than just some mean girl tripping her and being called "spaz". If you said something like, "Leaving all her friends and the life she knew behind was bad, but trying to fit in among the rich, spoiled princesses of her new ballet class is even harder." Just anything to introduce more conflict here, and let the agent in question know there's more to the story and give them a clue as to the voice.

As has been pointed out, Underdog Makes Good isn't an original plot--but it's done so much because it works and everyone likes it. All you need to do is present it in such a way that we see what's different about yours. Does Melissa get back at the bullies through an elaborate Rube-Goldberg-esque plot, for example? Does she challenge them to a Dance-Off? What happens in the book, what is the meat of the story?