Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Face-Lift 698


Guess the Plot

Shift

1. Lifelong Republican Darlene Rickenbocker gives up after her house gets foreclosed and stops by to volunteer for the other party on her way to the homeless shelter.

2. Albert “Shift” Druckenmiller, driving instructor since 1968, has never lost a student. Now, five months before retirement, he meets April, who thinks 'brake' means 'stop at the next Starbucks'. Three broken ribs and a psychiatric evaluation later, Druckenmiller considers the unthinkable; buying an automatic. Oh, the shame!

3. Shortly after befriending Henry, Annie develops a disturbing craving for raw steak. Turns out she's become a werewolf, which creates tension in her home life as her family members wonder which will be the first to have their throat ripped out.

4. Archaeologist Ivar Ingar is bewildered to discover a typewriter buried in the 2000-year-old ruins of a Roman villa. Until he types his own name and BAM! The villa regains its original splendor, complete with its original inhabitants engaged in their original churlish behavior. Is Ivar doomed to re-live some hideous existence in this den of vixens every 2000 years?

5. Edgar starts working the night shift in his local supermarket, and learns the true meaning of friendship when he and his coworker Chad are sucked through a portal in the frozen food section. On the ice planet Mirion V, they learn the true meaning of friendship . . . and frostbite.

6. Claudia's hours are numbered. The kidnappers will soon discover Ted's firm is bankrupt; no fat ransom. Held in a desert shack fifty miles from anywhere, she finds luck. Her lone guard goes to the outhouse, forgetting his keys. She sprints to the Jeep. If only she'd learned to drive a stick shift...


Original Version

Dear Awesome Agent:

Given your enthusiasm for YA fiction and urban fantasy, I hope that my novel, SHIFT, will be of interest.

For sixteen-year-old Annie, being the new girl got old a long time ago. After traveling the country with her free-spirited aunt, Annie knows all about packing up and moving on, but fitting in? Not so much. When she lands in yet another school, Annie surprises herself by quickly befriending Henry, a classmate and fellow outsider. But when Henry helps Annie survive a dangerous encounter, her miraculous recovery from a gunshot wound comes with a catch. Suddenly, Annie has some disturbing new habits, not the least of which is a craving for raw steaks. She seeks answers from her supposed rescuer and discovers that she (along with him and his family) is a werewolf or “shifter.” [She discovers this when Henry tells her? And she buys it?

Annie: Hey Henry, strangest thing, I got a craving for steak tartare.


Henry: Oh, that. I forgot to mention, you're a werewolf.


Annie: Ah, I see.]


While most shifters grow up in close-knit packs, keeping normal humans at arm’s length, Annie’s upbringing places her at an odd middle ground between the ordinary world and the secretive shifters. Meanwhile, her seemingly erratic behavior ["Seemingly"? Howling at the moon, butchering cows and ripping out your aunt's throat is solidly erratic.] generates tension in her once-relaxed home life, thwarting the normality she hoped to preserve. [It was my understanding her home life consisted of traveling the country with her aunt, packing and moving on a regular basis. When did she ever have this relaxed normality she wants to preserve?] When Annie has difficulty controlling her transformations, the complications of being a shifter threaten to overshadow the obligations of her human life. She must choose which half of herself to embrace, or else risk alienating herself completely.

SHIFT is complete at around 55,000 words. Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Notes

The final lengthy plot paragraph is awfully general, and thus boring. Instead of telling us her erratic behavior affects her human life, why not give specific examples of Annie's erratic behavior, of what happens when she can't control her transformations, of the complications of being a shifter affecting her human life? Painting a picture is worth a thousand words.

17 comments:

Portuguese cunt said...

Unlike the comic-book plot we saw last week, this one DOES sound boring. Actually, the first part sounds like it could be good... and then, the description of the plot just seems really ho-hum... there's no real conflict at the end.

Just a general, "Problems with my living situation because I'm a werewolf". Like, what kinds of problems? Too much hair in the bathroom drain?

First half: sounds exciting, maybe.
Second half: need to add a little conflict sauce to spice it up.

Anonymous said...

55K words is like half a book and it sounds like you get to the werewolf business about halfway through. Which is were your real story seems to start. And then you seem ambivalent about the werewolf thing. Maybe you can find some way to start with her knowing she's a werewolf, and make her goals and troubles unique to werewolves, so she doesn't seem to be such a sheep in wolf's clothing.

BuffySquirrel said...

I found the nomadic lifestyle much more interesting than the werewolf aspect. Pls don't ban me for that, EE!

Would be much more interested in knoeing how werewolfiness affects her moving around but it just seems to get dropped in favour of generic stuff. If itinerant life isn't relevant to plot, don't mention it.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I'm a little confused as to how Annie becomes a werewolf. Does Henry bite (or otherwise infect) her or was she born that way? If the latter, why isn't her aunt a shifter too, or at least aware of her niece's condition?

Anonymous said...

55,000 is fine for YA.

I don't get how Henry knows so much about the protagonist's werewolf background. Isn't he just a random person she befriended? Probably not, but it looks that way in the query...

...dave conifer

Dave F. said...

IF you watch the trailer for NEW MOON (and I'm going to use this as an example because we read TWILIGHT and discussed it) you see the character Jacob leap from a cabin shirtless and transform into a wolf. It's exciting for the young girls who like the 30 pounds of muscle Taylor Leutner put on his body for the part.

Bring that level of excitement to the query and you'll sell the book. Bring teen angst to the query and it will sell your book. Dating Angst. Boyfriend Angst. Girlfriend Angst. And as in the case of that spelling B musical, stiffy Angst.
Teens love angst. It's their life.

Big Sigh, youth is wasted on the young.

_*Rachel*_ said...

The thing is, this currently has more literary fiction than werewolf. Hence the griping about how boring it seems. Get the interesting stuff in there.

Shift=Ape, Puzzle=Donkey, add in a few dwarves, humans, and talking animals, and voila! I'll spend 10 minutes talking to a random usher about how great your book is.

Anonymous said...

I think the book sounds pretty interesting, and I can't wait to read it! After working in publishing for some time, I've read some awful query letters, and even worse manuscripts, and I have to say that this one does sound promising. I would agree with previous statements - add more of the angst, especially between the protagonist and the love interest - and a little more about her nomadic background. Great job!

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to EE, a publishing pro hanging out here and commenting? Sounds like a plant to me. As other commenters have noted, the author really isn't bringing anything unique to the genre - neither plot nor voice -- by the looks of this query. A girl turns into a werewolf. Okay, and then what? I'd be interested to know what Anon is seeing that makes this sound "promising" and not exactly like the beginning (and do note I said beginning) of half the queries YA editors and agents see in their inboxes every day.

Give us more plot or voice or something that sets this apart, please, Author.

MissFango said...

Dear Other Anonymous,
I commented earlier as the first anonymous, and no, my comment wasn't a plant, but I totally appreciative your conspiracy theory, LOL. It may surprise you that those of us who have worked in publishing actually do surf the web and check out blogs such as Evil Editor - but we do. And I feel that this story has potential. It sounds similar to other YA novels, yes, but there could be themes in the story which could be interesting, for example, the alienation that the girl feels as she discovers she's a werwolf. I appreciate a good, angst-ridden paranormal romance anytime. And besides, I have always found positive feedback to be more helpful.

I have seen so many terrible query letters, some even handwritten on napkins, and so I commend this author for taking the time to have their letter edited first. So you go, Author! :)

Jeb said...

You guys read "Twilight" and I missed it. Was it worth it? Where's the chat?

"Shift=Ape, Puzzle=Donkey, add in a few dwarves, humans, and talking animals, and voila! "

Rachel, you and me....

Author, more plot, fewer generalities, please. And can you change the bit about 'the normality she hoped to preserve' into something more believable, like 'her dream of a normal teenage life slipping ever further from her grasp'?

Evil Editor said...

At EvilEditor.net, you'll find transcripts of all the book chats.

Jeb said...

Thank you, EE.

Now I realio, trulio know I don't want to read 'Twilight'. Even though I read lots of vampire stories. Just don't have the stomach for teen angst since surviving three teens' worth in the past 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Hi EE and minions! Author of the query here. Thanks for all your help. It's been really great getting fresh eyes on the letter. When I submitted, I knew it needed work, but I just wasn't sure where to start.

Since then, I've revised considerably, keeping an eye to the issues that you guys pointed out. I don't intend to query until after the holidays, so any additional input on the revised letter would be much appreciated in the meantime. Thanks in advance!


Dear Awesome Agent:

(Insert personalized info here about why I think Awesome Agent is so awesome.) Given your enthusiasm for YA fiction and urban fantasy, I hope that my novel, SHIFT, will be of interest.

For Annie, being the new girl got old a long time ago. After traveling the country with her free-spirited aunt, the sixteen-year-old knows all about packing up and moving on, but fitting in? Not so much. When she lands in yet another school, Annie surprises herself by quickly befriending Henry, a classmate and fellow outsider.

But when Henry helps Annie survive a dangerous encounter, her miraculous recovery from a gunshot wound comes with a catch. The next night, Annie’s body stretches into an impossible shape, one with four legs and sharp teeth. When she wakes up, outside and alone in a strange part of town, her mind swims with memories of shapeshifting. She seeks answers from her supposed rescuer and discovers that she (along with him and his family) is a werewolf or “shifter.”

While most shifters grow up in close-knit packs, keeping outsiders at arm’s length, Annie feels stuck in an odd middle ground between the ordinary world and the secretive shifters. She grows closer to Henry, but their relationship is strained by Annie’s divided loyalties. Meanwhile, Annie’s unexpected disappearances generate tension at home.

When Annie’s transformations become more difficult to control, her hope for a regular teenage life slips even further from her grasp. Soon, she faces pressure from her fellow shifters to adopt a more discreet lifestyle with fewer connections to normal humans, while her aunt demands an explanation for Annie’s erratic behavior. As the complications of being a shifter overshadow the obligations of her human life, Annie must choose which half of herself to embrace or risk alienating herself completely.

SHIFT is complete at around 55,000 words. Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Sincerely,

Stephen Prosapio said...

My two cents, for what it's worth (1.5 cents maybe?):

For Annie, being the new girl got old a long time ago.

-- I love the opening line. I'd do something with "new girl" otherwise there's no way to know when the title ends is she the "New Girl Got Old?" 'course not...but you don't want the agent stopping to reread your opening line to figure it out. Try "new girl" or just New Girl.

Annie surprises herself by quickly befriending Henry, a classmate and fellow outsider.
-- She surprises herself with the befriending or by the quicklyness of it. Ahhhh, those treachourous adverbs. If it were me, I'd take out the "surprises herself." If she were that surprised, she wouldn't do it quickly.

her miraculous recovery from a gunshot wound
-- As my agent writes on my manuscripts all the time....."Whoa Whoa. Gunshot wound???? That can't just be plopped in like that. Way too jaring.

The next night, Annie’s body stretches into an impossible shape, one with four legs and sharp teeth. When she wakes up,
-- so the streching was part of a dream??? Confusing.

outside and alone in a strange part of town, her mind swims with memories of shapeshifting. She seeks answers from her
-- "minds swimming" and "seeking answers" are NOT action. They're inaction. Agents don't want to hear about that stuff.

supposed rescuer and discovers that she (along with him and his family) is a werewolf or “shifter.”
--huh? is this Henry?

While most shifters grow up in close-knit packs, keeping outsiders at arm’s length, Annie feels stuck in an odd middle ground between the ordinary world and the secretive shifters.
-- this is not part of a hook.

She grows closer to Henry, but their relationship is strained by Annie’s divided loyalties.
-- again. I'm not getting action here.

Meanwhile, Annie’s unexpected disappearances generate tension at home.
--generating tension isn't action.

When Annie’s transformations become more difficult to control, her hope for a regular teenage life slips even further from her grasp.
-- ahhh that's hookey

Soon, she faces pressure from her fellow shifters to adopt a more discreet lifestyle with fewer connections to normal humans, while her aunt demands an explanation for Annie’s erratic behavior.
-- nah, back to no hookiness

As the complications of being a shifter overshadow the obligations of her human life, Annie must choose which half of herself to embrace or risk alienating herself completely.
-- So what HAPPENS in this book? This pitch makes it sound like this is a 16 year old female shape shifting Hamlet. That's not a middlegrade story. There needs to be action with a protaganist who "protaganates" -- ie. action and adventure that move the story forward. You've got a great concept and all the subtle layers of tension I'm sure add depth to your story, but it's not story in and of itself. Does that make sense?

_*Rachel*_ said...

I like this a lot better, so the only things I can really find to nitpick are word choices. Trust me, if that's all I have to complain about, you're doing well.

I'd say YA Urban Fantasy (though it sounds more rural to me).

Go with "Since most shifters" instead of "While most shifters."

Maybe you could flesh out the "tension at home." Maybe her aunt is pulling her aside for Birds&Bees lectures, or leaving around boarding school pamphlets? Or maybe that would distract from the rest of the query. I just think it sounds a bit vague.

I still like that "fitting in? Not so much" line. For a query about werewolves (I almost never read books about werewolves or vampires, though I'll admit I wrote about a weredragon/werehuman a rum total of once)--where was I? Oh. For a book about this, I do like your query.

Jeb--LB was the best one, with LWW next in line--though MN was the funniest by far and I love the glum puddle. Dad loves the valiant warrior who's all of, what, two feet? Maybe less. Favorite fiction ever, no buts about it. I'm going to drag my friends to the theater 12/10/10. Oh, and the BBC audio is better than the Focus on the Family audio (which, btw, edited out the times Puzzle was called an "ass" even though the word totally makes sense in context)--but both audio are awesome.

Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Author of the query here... Carefully reading the new feedback and sitting in awe of the amount of detail provided.

I love you, minions! So much I want to bake cupcakes for you.

That is all. :)