Monday, December 01, 2008

Face-Lift 582

Guess the Plot

Holiday Lords

1. Sunol, California, 1998. Jeff Dunley and Mark Morris are engaged in an all-out, take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred war between their rival Christmas Tree farms.

2. They're known as the Holiday Lords: the gorgeous people who spend their days luxuriating on beaches, and nights partying at exclusive clubs. And Brian has fallen in with them. Can the one woman he trusts help him confront the dangerous secrets behind the veneer of the Holiday Lords -- including what fuels their glamorous, but sinister empire? Or is it too late for Brian?

3. When Santa's henchmen get tipsy on grog left beside the tree on Christmas Eve and end up busted for burglary, they soon realize the only way to survive incarceration is to form their own gang. They can't be "elves" any more. So they pierce their substantial pointy ears and swagger around, calling themselves the Holiday Lords.

4. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Years. They used to be a real drag. But now that Kris Tanrite has taken over the city, all forms of cross-dressing have been outlawed. Can the Lords of the Closet restore gaiety to the beloved holidays, or will Tanrite straighten them out?

5. Tina is beginning to hate Christmas. Every year it's the same two weeks of stress-inducing hell. Her family, in-laws, her family, in-laws. That is, until she finds out that she's married into the richest, most powerful group of witches and warlocks in the country. Can Tina convince them to halt their assault on the holidays and just relax already?

6. In Zinbumbsi, every holiday begins with the choosing of a lord who rules over the revelry until the seventh day, when he is tossed off a cliff into the Sea of Despair, and never seen again. But when beautiful sorceress Abidibia sees it is her man, Viggo, tied to the Throne of Distress, she knows this custom must end. She goes straight to the underworld to raise the fiercest fighting force Zinbumbsi has ever faced: the Holiday Lords from Hell.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Brian reunites with his lifetime crush, Veronica, and gets the ultimate invitation: to join her on vacations at international hotspots like Bangkok and Dubai. Veronica and her friends are "holiday lords" -- the gorgeous people who spend their days luxuriating on beaches, and nights partying at exclusive clubs.

He's torn between the alluring realm of the holiday lords, and an intriguing girl named Claire. She introduces him to a potent world of truth [Huh?] and diverse cultures -- from Rome, Italy, to ancient Pueblo lands in the Southwest.

When Brian loses his wallet in Colorado, he's forced to accept help from the wrong person, not knowing that the decision could cost him his life. Strengthened by Claire's encouragement, Brian confronts the dangerous secrets behind the veneer of the holiday lords -- including what fuels their glamorous, but sinister empire. [We're back to the Holiday Lords? What happened to the life-threatening decision?]

HOLIDAY LORDS is 60K words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Notes

First of all, I don't see how . . . What the . . . ?

Alternative:

It began when racist jokes crept out. [What began?] Then came the unexplained death of their neighbor. [Whose neighbor?] When Brian finds secrets inside his girlfriend's coat pockets, [What secrets? Be more specific.] he quits his abusive job and leaves town to find the one person he can trust, Claire.

Brian's road to liberation [Liberation from what?] starts with an eerie taxi ride after his car breaks down, and continues until he meets a family in Pueblo country. They help Brian understand why he's plagued with vivid nightmares, and everything happens to him in patterns of 3.

While traveling through Colorado with Claire, Brian's wallet mysteriously vanishes. Needing food and cash to get home, he accepts help from a man who gives him a job in construction. When Brian discovers that the contractor has imprisoned Guatemalan workers as slaves, he'll have to choose between saving their lives, and his own. [Himself or some Guatemalans. I believe I know which way he's leaning.]


Notes

I think I see the problem. You're supposed to be sending Evil Editor the query you were about to send to someone who matters. Assuming you weren't planning to send multiple-choice queries to agents, you are admitting you can't tell which of these is better.

Scrap both versions and start over.

Take us chronologically through Brian's story. He reunites with Veronica. When and where does he meet Claire? What's her connection with the Holiday Lords? What's sinister about the Holiday Lords? Are they behind the enslavement of Guatemalans? There needs to be something that unifies the book. We need more than a hint. We need to know how everything ties together.

27 comments:

Sarah Laurenson said...

OK, so this was written by someone and his evil twin, Skippy?

Um, not sure what this book is about. Or this query entry. Maybe it's just Monday morning.

Whirlochre said...

All I can glean from this query is that Brian is torn between holidaying with the Holiday Lords or Claire, and that he loses his wallet.

benwah said...

Color me confused.

Aside from Brian and Claire, the only connection I see between the first version and the second is the lost wallet. Btw, a "mysteriously vanishing wallet" sounds odd given that wallets are lost or misplaced with some regularity. Now a mysteriously vanishing Pueblo village...that I'd read about.

The second version completely loses any sense of the title, although putting them together, I'm assuming it's these beautiful gadabouts who are telling racist jokes? "Paris Hilton, missing wallets and the nefarious number 3."

I'm as guilty of ignoring this advice when writing my own queries as anyone but...what's the story _about_?

150 said...

I would so read #1.

Agreed to all--what is the story here? Who's Brian anyway? I'd be more sympathetic to the opening line "It began when racist jokes crept out" if we knew who was telling them, who was hearing them, where and when they were creeping out, and what began at the time.

Looking forward to seeing a rewrite in the comments!

ChrisEldin said...

I can send you photos of Dubai for the cover.

writtenwyrdd said...

"When Brian loses his wallet in Colorado, he's forced to accept help from the wrong person, not knowing that the decision could cost him his life. Strengthened by" [the support of Claire, the girl who...]

THIS might be the place to start. Then edit so we know what the conflict, the stakes and the plot are. You speak of Brian losing his life, so we know something big is afoot; just not the details.

You're having obvious difficulty with this, Author, so perhaps just write the basic main plotline out in plain, simple sentences. Then get all fancy with it. But give us the meat before all the gravy.

Discouraged said...

Thank you for the comments, EE and minions. I'm mulling them over now. I know these queries are confusing. I know they're a mess. That's why I asked for your help. The trouble comes mainly from:

A. trying to condense a twisty-turny plot into bite-sized form, and

B. maintaining the voice and tone of the book.

Seemingly random events occur, and it isn't until later in the game that it becomes evident that they are pieces in a puzzle -- that events and people have significance, and are actually interconnected.

Anyhow, yes, this is a mess, but at the moment, I still don't understand how to fix it. I can't write a 5 page query summarizing all the plot twists and turns, yet if I squish it down to fit into a handful of sentences, it makes no sense. :)

--Discouraged Writer

Adam Heine said...

My first thought when reading the first version was, "Bangkok, Dubai, Rome... then Colorado??" It's kind of anticlimactic in terms of exotic locations.

My second thought was that the author probably lives in Colorado. That makes me doubtful as to the accuracy of the actual exotic locations; like the author felt they could fake Bangkok and Dubai for a chapter or two, but they're not confident enough to stay there for a whole novel. So instead, they artificially engineered a reason for the holiday lords to visit Colorado.

Seriously, if I've got tons of money and great looks, Colorado is going to be very low on my list of vacation hot spots.

Adam Heine said...

Discouraged: Start with one sentence. Answer the question, "What's your book about?" in about 20-30 words. If you can do that, you're well on your way.

BBJD said...

Discouraged

I may be wrong, and Evil Editor and the Minions will correct me if I am, but it sounds to me as if you're trying to write advertising copy. You're hinting at things instead of plainly stating them. I did the same thing, and my query was just as awful.

If I understand correctly, the query is a business letter, which means you are attempting to convince someone to buy your work. Do not keep secrets from them. It may run against your instincts, but reveal everything (in a few sentences).

Meanwhile, don't let discouragment stop you. Give it another go.

I hope I'm not just stirring up the riverbottom.

Discouraged said...

Yes, I suppose that's exactly what I was doing -- writing it as an advertising brochure instead of
a tiny synopsis.

Writing this query seems like swimming while wearing a straitjacket. Can't talk about themes, symbolism, the purpose of writing the book...

Only plot.

Also according to query writing rules, I'm also not supposed to talk about non-writing biographical details either, like that I have lived in all the locales in the novel -- except Colorado.

At this point, all I know to do is to sit down, write out 1-2 sentence answers to the questions that EE and you minions raise, and then see what that looks like?

What I will have afterwards won't look like an enticing query, but at least it will clarify some of the confusion about the people and events.

Either that, or pay someone to do this for me, since this will be literally my 50th attempt at writing this, and I've about had it.

Array said...

"I'm also not supposed to talk about non-writing biographical details either, like that I have lived in all the locales in the novel -- except Colorado."

If you state this in context of the novel--say something about your experiences living in Bangkok/Dubai/etc providing an authenticity to the various global settings--I think it'd be just fine. There've been query letters up here before that've indicated that the author is drawing on firsthand knowledge, and IIRC, it's gotten a pass from EE before.

Khazar-khum said...

Colorado does have these skiing places called Aspen and Vail, just to name the best-known.

But what happened to the Holiday Lords? It's like they were used for the title because it makes for a great name.

Adam Heine said...

Khazar-Khum: Good point. I sit corrected.

Writing this query seems like swimming while wearing a straitjacket. Can't talk about themes, symbolism, the purpose of writing the book...

Discouraged: The query is meant to be a representation of your novel, but the mistake many authors make is to make it a description. What that means is that your query should show the themes, character developments, and all the other stuff, but you must not tell it.

It's freaking hard, I know, but you can do it. Start small and really, really focused, then expand from there.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Do not despair, Gentle Author! I write twisted, complicated thrillers too and I've found the key to summarizing is to write in broad, sweeping strokes and to AVOID PLOT POINTS. Ask yourself three questions:
1) What is the inciting incident?
2) What is the primary action the hero takes throughout the story?
3) And what are the heightened stakes that result, making the conflict bigger than the hero?

For example, The DaVinci Code:

1) The curator of Louvre has been murdered - and has left a message that seems to implicate Robert Langdon.
2) Robert races across the continent to find the clues and decipher the codes of an ancient conspiracy before the men who killed the curator can kill him too.
3) When Robert gets to the root of the conspiracy he finds a revelation that will shake the very foundations of Western Civilization.

Now throw in some transition sentences:

While on a lecture tour in Paris, religious symbology expert Robert Langdon is summoned to a crime scene at the Louvre. The curator has been murdered - and has left a message that seems to implicate Robert.
In an attempt to clear his name Robert stumbles onto an ancient conspiracy, the clues to which have been hidden in the greatest works of art and architecture that Western Civilization has produced. But the same men who killed the curator will do anything to protect their secret and Robert already knows too much. With the aid of art historian Sophie Neveu, Robert must make a mad dash across the continent to find the clues and decipher the codes before his pursuers can catch him.
Robert and Sophie won't be safe until they get to the bottom of the mystery. But what they find is a revelation that will shake the very foundations of Western Civilization.


Obviously this is pretty rough, but it's a concise summary of a complicated book. You'll note that I have only mentioned a SINGLE actual plot point - the curator's murder. Instead, I keep my focus on the hero, his action, and the rising stakes.

Discouraged said...

Thank you all for the feedback and help. I will work on the rewrite. Meanwhile, I typed this up, in hopes it would help make some sense of this wreck, for you and for me. I've cut-pasted your questions and my answers.


When and where does he meet Claire?

In a shop when he takes shelter from a storm, the day before he bumps into Veronica for the first time in years.

What's [Claire's] connection with the Holiday Lords?

None. That's why Brian is intrigued by her. She's the opposite of his new friends, who seem exciting at first. Then superficial. Then downright vicious.

What's sinister about the Holiday Lords?

This is the only thing I am hesitant to give away, as it's the suspense of the entire book.

Are they behind the enslavement of Guatemalans?

No. A plot point I will need to explain. :)

I'm assuming it's these beautiful gadabouts who are telling racist jokes?

Yes, you are correct.

Who's Brian anyway?

The main character of the novel. An ordinary person who will have to do extraordinary things.

So... [you've] artificially engineered a reason for the holiday lords to visit Colorado.

The holiday lords don't go to Colorado in this story. Brian and Claire do. Thank you for asking about this -- it demonstrates how unclear my queries are.

But what happened to the Holiday Lords? It's like they were used for the title because it makes for a great name.

They're there. Still holidaying and lording it up. And that's what Brian has to do in the end. Confront them.

what's the story _about_?

There needs to be something that unifies the book. We need more than a hint. We need to know how everything ties together.

I'll work on these last 2 for the rewrite. That's the key to this whole thing.

Eileen said...

Hang in there discouraged. Try the basics.

Holiday Lords is a (what type of work- YA, thriller, sci-fi? Where would they shelve it?) at 60k words.

Brian a (very short descriptor 30 year old drifter, college student etc if it makes sense or helps ground the story) wants X (what is he after- to reunite with Veronica? to have some excitement in his life, to discover the meaning behind the secrets in his life etc. This should be the big want of the character) but is prevented/challenged/thwarted by (insert big conflict here)

You should tell us the big conflict even though the reader and Brian don't find out to later. This might be a book that can be grounded to by comparing it to something else- ala- this book is in the style of The Eight by K. Neville.

better?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes when you can't write a good "hook" for the query it's because you've got structure problems, such as plot shift. For example: the manuscript opens as a Romance in which Protagonist Seeks Love Object Y, and then the storyline shifts into a Thriller, in which Protagonist Runs From the Peril of Q While Solving the Mystery of Z and then the storyline shifts again into a different Romance in which Protagonist Moves to Another Continent And Finds Happiness With Love Object D. You can't write a good hook for that because none of the goals, perils, objectives, etc. in the beginning are still important at the end.

writtenwyrdd said...

Yes, DO keep trying! You can post here and get responses, too.

From your commentary, it appears that you may be too close to your book to see what is and is not query material. It ALL seems important right now. But do what Sarah suggests and I think you might find yourself at the right starting place.

Keep at it.

Discouraged said...

Yes writtenwyrdd, I am so familiar with my novel that months after finishing it I can still recite passages from memory, like the people from Fahrenheit 451.

Anonymous, I worried that was the case -- plot shift -- but there are some common threads that run through it. They just aren't as shiny and sexy as holiday lords in Dubai, so I guess I was leaving them out of the query and approaching this from the perspective of what would sell a book.

Eileen, I guess I will stick with Evil Editor's label, commercial fiction, because Evil Editor knows best.

I've heard terms like upmarket, literary commercial, etc, but those seem awkward.

Thank you, Sarah from Hawthorne -- that is the most practical advice I have seen on this kind of problem. I am applying your suggestions to the rewrite now.

Phoenix said...

Your insecurity is showing, Discouraged. We really can't help you workshop a query for a book that you're reluctant to talk about. Holding back on the plot and vaguely describing your MC as an ordinary man who will do extraordinary things won't cut it in a query. The very things you're hesitant to talk about are quite likely the HOOK -- you know, that thing that makes agents think your story stands out from all the other slush.

Are you afraid one of EE's minions will bang out a marketable manuscript based on your hook, get representation, sell the manuscript to a large publishing house, and have their book hit the shelves as a bestseller before you send out your first query letter? Ah, but don't forget: that minion will first have to write their own query letter -- and you're finding out how hard that is ;o)

You needn't give away the ending in your query -- that's what the synopsis is for. But you do need to be a bit more concrete as to who your character(s) is/are, what their goal and motivations are, what obstacles stand in their way, and what the consequences are if they don't achieve their goal.

I look forward to seeing your rewrite!

Anonymous said...

Gee Phoenix, you think Discouraged might be a new writer a little uncomfortable with talking about their book, and hesitant to give away the farm? Wonder why.

How exactly is your post going to help them overcome that nervousness
and make them feel more confident about asking strangers for help?

I'd be surprised if they post a rewrite at all after reading that. I wouldn't.

150 said...

How exactly is your post going to help them overcome that nervousness and make them feel more confident about asking strangers for help?

By making them realize that everyone worries about this at some point, and that those worries are so unfounded as to be worth gentle teasing?

I think Phoenix is dead on. Specificity isn't giving away the farm, it's taking agents on a luxury tour. Plus, Phoenix used a winky face with a clown nose! How can you be afraid of that?

Anonymous said...

Seems about as helpful as sitting next to someone on an airplane who is obviously uneasy and saying, "You afraid to fly or something? The plane isn't going to crash. Those worries are unfounded. What are you scared of? You really think it's going to just fall out of the sky?"

Maybe it's a winky face and a clown nose to you, but it might not be to other people. Congratulate people like Discouraged for climbing on board. Belitting them for doing it white-knuckled is lame.

Kings Falcon said...

Seemingly random events occur, and it isn't until later in the game that it becomes evident that they are pieces in a puzzle -- that events and people have significance, and are actually interconnected.

Maybe the heart of your problem is that you don't want to just say the above in the query. Just because your MC doesn't connect the dots until the end, doesn't mean you can't in the query. In fact, you probably should.

It sounds like:

Brian starts off estatic because he's hooking up with an old flame and traveling with playboys through the hottest spots. He finds something in his girlfriend's pocket that makes him question if everything is what he thought it was and leaves the company of the "Holiday Lords" looking for answers. Along the way he's in a cab that breaks down, and bumps into an old friend, then he "accidentally" loses his wallet and accepts work with contractor who exploits immigrants. The end result of this is he has to for some reason confront his party friends and his old freind helps him do it.

Right? Right-ish?

Tell me what the peices are and promise me a resolution and a conflict and you probably have a great first draft query.

Good luck

Anonymous said...

Hi Discouraged! I do hope you post a rewrite. I'm looking forward to it.

Just one comment:

[quote]Who's Brian anyway?

The main character of the novel. An ordinary person who will have to do extraordinary things.
[/quote]

It's *that* kind of answer that's holding back your query. It's too general. The person who was asking "who's Brian?" wasn't unaware that he's a character in the book. They were asking to know who he is in particular. A student? A businessman? An academic? An artist? Homeless? Young? Old? Pedantic? Parties all night? What? *Something*

Looking forward to a revised query that will help me understand this interesting story!

Phoenix said...

Thank you, 150. Sometimes my clown face even wears a pointy clown hat <:o)

Anon 1:53/4:54, the difference between Discouraged Writer and your not-so-frequent flyer is that DW came here looking for advice. And DW is interacting with the commenters and obviously trying to understand what the underlying issue is as to why their query doesn't *quite* sparkle. IMO, it would be a disservice to DW to not point out that it's that unfounded fear that someone will steal their idea that's really holding them back from writing a query that will attract an agent's attention.

Which is kinder: To be pc and hand-holding and all motherly and have DW go through dozens of rewrites and waste hours and hours of time as s/he continues to dance around their hook and then wonder why they keep getting form rejections -- or to arrow in on the real issue and ask them to focus on the true roadblock?

I've been hanging around this blog a long time, and my absolute greatest delight has been seeing authors reach that breakthrough moment when they finally "get" it and take once-weak queries and make them strong. Who knows which stranger's words helped them most? We're an honest bunch, and even the people I disagree with I truly respect for saying something to try to help -- and for no reward but to see someone else's work shine.