Friday, October 09, 2009

Face-Lift 683

Guess the Plot

Everything's Not Lost

1. With nothing to live for after his dog dies, and tired of getting beat up by Bull the Bully every day, Victor tries to kill himself by taking a bottle of sleeping pills. He lives, and checks into the psych ward, only to discover that his roommate is Bull.

2. Compulsive gambler Tony Tucker tries to convince his wife, Janet, not to leave him on the side of the road after they get evicted and have to live in her car. All he needs is a grubstake and a lucky weekend. But where to get the grubstake? Then he spots the bank.

3. After their plane full of contraband crashes and burns in the Sahara, Josh and Tammy realize they've got nothing left but each other. Too bad they hate each other. As Tammy takes off hiking toward the Nile, Josh realizes this might be his very last chance to get laid, and follows.

4. Derrick throws a coin in an old well and wishes that everything gone missing would turn up -- namely his keys, passport, and plane ticket. When the continent of Mu appears in the Atlantic Ocean he begins to think something's up. Then, his ex-girlfriend's half-decayed corpse makes headlines.

5. Sharon McGee wakes up on the outskirts of Las Vegas with a headache and a wedding ring she can't remember receiving. Did she really marry the handsome croupier barfing on the other side of a nearby dune? She's got her purse, her car keys, her wallet, and her habit's only got a bit of sand in it. The only thing that seems to be missing is her virginity, and the Mother Superior won't be happy to hear that.

6. Just when Dwight is about to print out the Chaucer dissertation he's been working on for 7 years, his Commodore 64 bursts into flames and destroys the entire document, plus his house and car. He's lucky to escape with his jammies and Mad Felix, the haunted cat with the glowing red eyeballs.


Original Version

Everything’s Not Lost is a complete young adult novel at 50,000 words, written in snarky-yet-endearing first person narratives, uniquely alternating back and forth between two voices. [If they're the voices of Morgan Freeman and Stewie Griffin, I'll definitely get the audio book.] [As the word "unique" means "like nothing else," I wouldn't use it to describe alternating between two voices, which is actually pretty common.]

Meet Victor and Bull… [If it was Victor the Bull, I'd be hooked. Especially if he's as funny as Bullwinkle the Moose. Is he?]

Sixteen year old Victor is a tortured dweeb-of-a-kid who has the most self-absorbed, snobby and altogether useless parents alive. His mother loves to tell him he was a mistake. They ride him about everything just to keep up appearances. Like when he only gets a perfect SAT score on the math, they lose their minds and un-invite him from their upcoming European vacation, so he can stay back with a tutor to get his reading and verbal parts up to, you guessed it, perfect. [If I were Victor I'd purposely miss a few SAT questions if I thought it would get me out of going on vacation with my parents.] His life sucks.

Sixteen year old Bull gets the crap beat out of him by his alcoholic grandfather. His mother conceived him under the boardwalk when she was only 17 and is still just as clueless. He’s never met his dad but dreams of running away to the beach for a father-son reunion. [Dammit, now I can't get "Under the Boardwalk" out of my head.] Yeah right. He likes to take out his anger on Victor. Always has; he's brutal. And his life sucks too.

When Victor realizes the only thing worth living for is his dog, which suddenly dies the morning his parents leave him home, he decides he wants to die. He takes an entire bottle of his mother’s sleeping pills and prays he never wakes up. But, he does.

When Bull tries to ward off his grandfather’s drunken-fist-attack with a loaded gun, accidentally shooting himself in the thigh, [I'm guessing Bull didn't get a perfect SAT score, either.]










Drawings from The Children's Picture Book of Gun Safety, courtesy SkoolKids Books.


that’s when the two boys’ lives collide. [I was under the impression their lives had been colliding regularly.] They both end up in the same psych ward, in the same room [, where Victor continues to get pummeled, not only by Bull but also by a male nurse named Bruno]. Much to their shock they spend the next five days together, and it gets ugly before it gets better. [Why is this shocking?] Group therapy is not only where they meet new friends, and new loves, but it’s where true healing begins. [Been looking for love in all the wrong places? Try the psych ward.]

Victor and Bull tell you their own stories, in their own sarcastically-charming way, with humor and tears, hope and light. [Light?]

I am a proud member of SCBWI. I have received honorable mention in the national Children’s Writers Fiction Contest sponsored by Stepping Stones Magazine for my children’s picture book manuscript, The Question.

Upon your request, I will send you my completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your reply.


Notes

If you're in the psych ward because you tried to kill yourself because your life sucks, partly because there's a bully who beats you up every day, you might have the sense to tell them you don't want to room with the bully. Or does he want to room with Bull, figuring Bull will succeed where the sleeping pills failed?

If Vic takes the sleeping pills the day his parents leave for Europe, and wakes up the next day, how does he end up in the psych ward? Does he just go there and say Let me in?

I would expect Bull was taken to the hospital with a gunshot wound and that it was either claimed to be an accident or he was arrested for attempted murder. What's the diagnosis that puts him in a psychiatric hospital? Killing Gramps seems perfectly sane to me.

Most of this is introducing the two characters. The main plot is set in the hospital. If you condense the setup to something like:

Sixteen year old Victor is a tortured dweeb-of-a-kid who has the most self-absorbed, snobby and altogether useless parents alive. His life sucks. Then his dog dies.

Sixteen year old Bull gets the crap beat out of him by his alcoholic grandfather. His life sucks too. And he likes to take out his anger on Victor.

With nothing to live for, Victor takes an entire bottle of his mother’s sleeping pills and prays he never wakes up. But he does. Meanwhile, Bull tries to ward off his grandfather’s drunken fist-attack with a loaded gun, accidentally shooting himself in the thigh. Both boys end up in the psych ward at the same time--and in the same room.

. . . you should have room to tell us about the real plot with some specifics.

22 comments:

Taylor Taylor said...

EE is a genius.

batgirl said...

A minor point - what is a 'drunken fist attack'? Because I read it as granpop being a master of Drunken Style Kung Fu. Maybe 'drunken beating' would be simpler?

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I like the idea of the bully and victim unexpectedly landing in the same psych ward.

But I feel there's a disconnect between what you say and what you show. You keep insisting your tone is "snarky-yet-endearing" and "sarcastically-charming", but to me Victor and Bull come across as a sad sack and a violent brute - as they would be if they suffered the abuse you describe. Can you convey your snarky tone through the query, maybe give us a sense of their voices?

Dominique said...

Sometimes you hyphenate things that do not need to be hyphenated. This causes confusion.

There's a lot of back story in the query, or things that read like backstory. If you cut that down, you can get more in about the plot.

Matthew said...

You should send The Children's Picture Book of Gun Safety to Plaxico Burris.

I second the opinions of Sarah and Dominique.

Eric P. said...

I would much rather read a snarky, humorous, and sarcastic (yet endearing) narrative about dealing with annoying roommates than a story about angsty teenagers who don't get along with their parents ("They just don't care and nobody understands me!" You and everybody else, kid). Unhappily for me, your query promises the former but delivers the latter. Since I found teen angst insufferable even when I was 16, I couldn't get into it much.

Now if you really have the former, do show us. EE's suggestions (cut the backstory and give us the plot) are as sound as his snarkiness is funny.

Matthew said...

*Ahem* Burress...Plaxico Burress.

Anonymous said...

Can you try to let a little of the voice into the query? I think if your story gets to the psych ward roommate situation quickly, and does in fact have the goods your promise in terms of voice, this could be a good read. As long as it's not a YA version of James Frey's "memior."

EE, one of your best, ever. And I know *you* will agree that that is saying a lot.

BuffySquirrel said...

EE, you obviously don't know much about psych wards. Someone I heard about couldn't get the staff to believe her bed was on fire till they saw the smoke. Nobody's going to listen to Victor begging to be roomed elsewhere.

PicardyRose said...

Is the psych unit played for laughs? Humorous things might happen there, but if it's just supposed to be funny that anyone ends up in one, like that's a big joke all by itself, people are more likely to be offended than amused.

Faceless Minion said...

I don't know much about psych wards, but it doesn't seem reasonable that someone who tried to commit suicide is paired with someone who tried to commit murder. Can anyone who knows if this is possible weigh in?

I have vague memories of hearing about someone I knew who tried to commit suicide being kept under constant surveillance in the hospital, but I could be remembering wrong or there could be other factors I'm not aware of.

Anonymous said...

I don't have the impression this is even meant to be an accurate portrayal of an actual psychiatric hospital, it's an imaginary place the author chose as the setting for his story. Think of Scifi. Imaginary characters, imaginary place, etc. It's fiction. Get it? The fact it's not managed like you think actual psychiatric wards ought to be is sort of missing the point.

Aimee States said...

"It doesn't seem reasonable that someone who tried to commit suicide is paired with someone who tried to commit murder."

I feel guilty for laughing.

Dave F. said...

17 and is still just as clueless

17? That's legally old enough to have sex in most states. The really clueless kids start earlier at maybe 14 or 15.

So you are writing a story about:
A teenage Bully being raised by his abusive grandfather and single mother is committed to a psych ward where he clashes with a nerd who has been put there by his rich and uncaring parents.

Or possibly:
Troubled teen boys meet in a psych ward and heal each other.

Those aren't exciting.
The dramatic and enticing part of the story is how they interact and what happens as they both come to realize that they have more than zero, zip, nada, nothing.

Focus the query on their present interactions, not what led them to the psych ward.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and you could consider changing the title to Boy, Interrupted.

Adam Heine said...

I'm with Sarah from Hawthorne. I did not get 'snarky-yet-endearing' nor 'sarcastically charming' out of this query. It makes me think that's what you want the voice to be, while the voice is actually more like what's shown here.

I've raised a number of teenagers, and even the most mature of them think I'm useless and clueless sometimes. The least mature think think that of me all the time. Because of that, I saw these protagonists as immature, not down-on-their-luck. I'm not sympathetic with them at all, which is probably why I don't see the tone as endearing or charming.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Wow, EE. I would so read the book you describe. Did you know you're good at this? ;-)

Faceless Minion said...

Yes, this is supposed to be a fictional account of a fictional psych ward. I'm sorry you don't think the setting should be believable.

Personally, I like my sci-fi to follow most of the laws of physics and have explanations for the ones it doesn't. Ditto on the behavior of cops in mysteries, accuracy of setting in historical fiction, etc.

I would recommend trying to get more of the tone of the novel and more about the boys interaction into the query. If the author would like to try again, we'll give them more feedback.

K. M. Walton said...

Author here. Thank you all for your feedback. I put this query on Absolute Write and heard similar feedback. Here's the problem though, those first paragraphs aren't backstory, they ARE the story. The psych ward doesn't happen till mid-way.

And yes, it is an actual psych ward, well researched an all, trust me. The boy who accidentally shot himself in the thigh ended up there because his gfather lied to the police and said he was trying to commit suicide - there was a struggle with the gun - boom, Bull is accidentally shot in the thigh - suicide diverted. The gfather did this to protect him. It was actually the first nice thing his gfather had ever done for him.

I took out the "snarky-yet-endearing" and "sarcastically charming" descriptions.

I will definitely re-post a revised version. Back to the drawing board...

Author said...

Revised Query:


Dear Agent:

Sixteen year old Victor knows he’s weak. He’s got the most self-absorbed, snobby and altogether useless parents alive. His life sucks. Then his dog dies.

Sixteen year old Bull knows he’s angry. He’s sick of taking the drunken beatings from his grandfather. His life sucks too. And he likes to take out his anger on Victor.

With nothing to live for, Victor takes an entire bottle of his mother’s sleeping pills and prays he never wakes up. But he does. Meanwhile, Bull tries to ward off his grandfather’s drunken fist-attack with a loaded gun, accidentally shooting himself in the thigh. His grandfather lies to the police, claiming it was a botched suicide attempt to protect Bull from jail. It is the only nice thing he’s ever done for Bull. Both boys end up in the psych ward at the same time--and in the same room.

Much to their disgust they spend the next five days together, and it gets ugly before it gets better. Group therapy explodes with their fellow patients’ stories and pain, yet neither one will speak in front of the other.

No one visits from their families. No one calls.

Then, a mysterious brown paper bag shows up at the hospital for Bull. It’s filled with snacks, a post-it from some guy named Frank and an old newspaper clipping of a poem titled Parent’s Creed. For reasons they begin to understand, both Victor and Bull are brought to tears after reading it. Buried underneath their pain, underneath their weakness and bravado, self-loathing and anger, are just two sixteen-year-old boys.

Will they ever realize how broken the other is, how similar their pain is? Will they learn how to survive and be happy?

Faceless Minion said...

The word count & title are missing from this version.

I don't think you need the questions at the end or the last sentence of the paragraph before that.

The first part might work a little better with:

paragraph just about victor (include the incident with the sleeping pills)

paragraph just about Bull (include the part about his grandfather, you don't need the part about why the grandfather lies)

paragraph about the psych ward.... (after this it looks good to me).

Hope this helps.

Adam Heine said...

"For reasons they begin to understand..."

I didn't like this phrase. It was too vague for me, and a little awkward. I'm not sure if it would be better to include the actual reasons or if just saying "Victor and Bull are brought to tears after reading it" would be good enough.