Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Face-Lift 725

Guess the Plot

Accidents and Incidents

1. Harry, the sole bed-wetter of 6th grade, is sick of his "problem" and the students who mock him for it. Then one day he's found, wet-panted, at the scene of his worst enemy's dismemberment. Now it's up to homicide detective Eddie Jackson to figure out which came first: the accident or the incident.

2. Andy (a.k.a. Crimson Fury) quickly learns the difference between the accidents his nemesis causes and the incidents that lead to him to becoming the hero he is today in this story of superheroes, villains, and the boring alter egos everyone is trying to avoid.

3. Or is that Incidents and Accidents? After two years of arguing with her twin brother Kyle about the title of their joint memoir, Priska Brooks is hit by a falling piano. Accident? Priska thinks not. Once her bodycast is off, Kyle's in deep doo-doo. Sibling rivalry at it's best.

4. The memoirs of Des Moines' top medical examiner aren't exactly thrilling reading, so editor Kelso Tompkins decides to enhance the story to make it salable. Now the old doctor is a national hero, and Tompkins is still an underpaid, overworked editor. Maybe it's time the old doctor made his final house call.

5. The first incident was followed nine months later by the accident: Leslie. Now Leslie's in high school, and she's fallen for Cain, which is sure to lead to an incident when Leslie's boyfriend and Cain's girlfriend accidentally find out.

6. Accident: running over a squirrel. Incident: running over your boss. Accident: dropping your coffee at Starbucks. Incident: dropping your pants at Starbucks. Alexander's life alternates between accidents and incidents until he's ready to shoot himself . . . or get eaten by a shark.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

When circumstances bring seventeen-year-old Leslie together with a mysterious stranger and members of the high school elite, she discovers she's not the only one haunted by a painful past.

Leslie was an accident, abandoned by her father before she was born and at odds with her mother ever since. [Ever since what?] Now, with a boyfriend who treats her as an afterthought, her life feels like even more of a mistake. But staying with Keith means keeping her seat at the popular table, and winning the attention of Cain, the school heartthrob, [Who would name their kid after one of the most notorious murderers ever? Okay, maybe someone who had narrowed it down to Cain, Hitler, and Borgo the Disemboweler, but that's about it.] who also happens to be Keith's best friend. As her feelings for Cain grow stronger, Leslie is torn between denying them and giving in, betraying not only Keith but Meredith, Cain's girlfriend whose perfect life isn't as perfect as it seems. [Is it really betrayal to dump a guy when you're dating him only because he sits at the popular table?]

And then there's Dennis, [Who would name their kid after Dennis "the Menace" Mitchell, among the most notoriously evil characters of fiction? Only someone who had narrowed it down to Dennis, Hannibal Lecter, and The Joker.] the loner whose dark past overshadows Leslie's own. As their paths continue to cross, Leslie wonders what Dennis is trying to escape. But can he trust her enough to share his secret, or will he let it destroy him? [Is Dennis the mysterious stranger? If so, that's not clear; being a loner doesn't make you a stranger. If not, why is the mysterious stranger, who is the most intriguing character, mentioned up front and never again?]

Everyone seems to have something to hide--including Leslie. As her fate becomes entangled with the lives of those around her, love and friendship hang in the balance, and she must risk her heart to find where she belongs. [At the social outcasts table.]

I earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and have had poetry published in several literary journals. As a teacher and librarian, I have also worked with teenagers for the last twelve years and believe I know that audience well enough to write for them.

Accidents and Incidents is complete at 80,000 words. I have enclosed an SASE for your response and would love to send you the rest of the novel. Thank you for taking the time to review my work, and I look forward to hearing from you.



Right now it sounds like literary fiction for teens. If Dennis or the mysterious stranger is a vampire, that needs to be in the query. Alaska would be a good place for a vampire, as the nights last 23 hours. If there's no vampire, do you have a good explanation for why not?

This is mostly a list of your characters and a bit of vague information about each of them. Focus on Leslie. Does she go after Cain? If so, how? What are the repercussions? If not, is the whole book high school students talking and thinking, or is there a major event you can build the query around?

Do you need Dennis and Meredith in the query? Meredith's life isn't perfect and Dennis has a secret? So vague it doesn't interest me; either be specific or don't bring it up. Which is more interesting? Dennis's secret, or the fact that he has a secret? If the latter, you need to give him a better secret. Your goal is to get me to want to read your book, which you do by making me think the story is fascinating, not by keeping your own secrets.


josephrobertlewis said...

Here is what I got from this: Leslie is a HS student with a lousy childhood. She's dating popular guy Keith, but she wants to date popular guy Cain, and she's being bothered by loner Dennis.

There are also lots of "mysteries" and "feelings."

Where is the plot? What happens? Does Leslie take action, break up with Keith, stomp on Meredith's heart, and get killed by Dennis? Does Cain admit his love for Keith? Does Meredith slay Dennis to avenge Leslie's death? Do they all turn out to be vampires in the end?

Literarygrrrl said...

I agree with ee. This story sounds like it has a lot of potential, and I love the title, but the query just doesn't say enough. There's nothing screaming at me to read it.

Marissa Doyle said...

I was hoping for #6. Will someone please write it?

I'm with josephrobertlewis--where's the plot? I think there might be one here, but it's so buried in vague language as to be indecipherable. "Everyone has something to hide", but that can't include the the query letter. I hope you'll consider revising and re-posting this.

150 said...

Thanks for getting "You Can Call Me Al" stuck in my head all day, by the way. :P

LASNC1 said...

This is the author of Accidents and Incidents. Thanks to Evil Editor and those of you who've left comments so far. They have been helpful and make me realize I need to include more plot details in the query (btw, the novel is not about vampires or anything supernatural). I will work on it this week and post a revision or at least some ideas for a revision in a day or two. This is my first novel and my first query so I'm still learning, but this blog has been a tremendous resource. I also loved all the Guess the Plot variations, especially #6 : ) Thanks again to everyone who's taking time out to help, as I know a lot of you are also writers working on your own things.

Xiexie said...

This sounds like good solid teen fiction, the query is just too vague right now. We need more stakes, more plot, less vagueness. *Waits for the revision*

Angie said...

Hey #4, are you trying to say nothing interesting happens in Des Moines? Oh yeah, you'd be right.

LASNC1 said...

Hi everyone--this is the author of Accidents and Incidents. I've been working on a revision of the query and have posted it below. Any comments would be appreciated, whether they have to do with content, organization, wording, or anything else. Thanks.

Seventeen-year-old Leslie tries to mend a troubled relationship with her mother while building new relationships with a mysterious loner and members of the high school elite.

Leslie was an accident. All she knows about her father is his name, and all she’s ever known from her mother are feelings of anger and hurt. When her boyfriend Keith starts treating her as an afterthought, her life feels like even more of a mistake. Maybe that’s why she finds herself drawn to Dennis, the new guy she finds smoking in the woods behind school. Because Dennis, who survived an accident that killed someone else, feels like his life is a mistake too.

Then Leslie finds out Keith has been seeing another girl, and her feelings of rejection intensify. That is, until Cain, the school heartthrob and Keith’s best friend, asks Leslie to help him in English class. Cheating takes on a double meaning as it becomes clear that homework isn’t all he has in mind—because Cain already has a girlfriend, Meredith, and in the aftermath of her breakup with Keith, Leslie has become one of Meredith’s best friends.

As her relationships with Dennis, Cain, Meredith, and her mother become more complicated, Leslie realizes she has some hard decisions to make, and that putting her heart on the line just might mean getting it broken.

Accidents and Incidents, a work of young adult fiction, is complete at 80,000 words. May I send you the rest of the novel?

Anonymous said...

I would dump the whole first paragraph completely, because it is just telling what the rest of the letter is trying to show. Redundant. I don't think her father needs to be brought up at all, because it's not really very important to the conflict.

All in all, I still don't think there is a whole lot of meat to this query. It sounds like a bunch of high school drama, which I don't really care about, and I've already lived through it once. I guess my big question is this: Why should I care?

I want to know more about Dennis's accident that killed someone, and what specific actions does her mother do to demonstrate anger and hurt? What exactly are these hard decisions she has to make? And how, please, is her heart going to be broken?

Try this exercise: Rewrite this query using only one proper name: Leslie. Because she is the main character and all of these people only matter because of their relationships with her--/her/ mom, /her/ boyfriend, /her/ best friend.

If you can write it using only one proper name, and still have it make sense, and convince me to care about the characters, then you can rewrite and add one (MAYBE two) additional names.

josephrobertlewis said...

I still feel it is too vague and needs plot details. Such as: Leslie helps Cain cheat on a test, and they got caught, so he gets kicked off the golf team and she gets grounded for life. Then Dennis crashes his car into her house, which burns down, killing her mom. Then Meredith throws a clothing-optional sleepover party... you get the idea.

Evil Editor said...

It's definitely more specific, and thus better than the previous version, and you don't need to worry about readers who've already lived through high school drama, as the audience for a novel about a 17-year-old is 15-year-olds, not adults.

The last version said she had the hots for Cain. This one says she has the hots for Dennis and Cain has the hots for her.

In 80,000 words, something has to happen besides Leslie being torn between three lovers. Is there some major climactic event the whole book is inexorably moving toward that you could mention? Maybe the prom? She agrees to go with both Keith and Cain but now she really wants to go with Dennis, who doesn't want to go at all, so Leslie ends up with no date. Horrors.

Or maybe she tries to commit suicide because Meredith finds out about her and Cain and bans her from the popular table?

Or maybe focus on the popular table. Leslie has had a miserable life but has finally reached her ultimate goal: a seat at the popular table. But now her seat is in danger, as she's fallen for Dennis, a loner who wouldn't be caught dead at the popular table.

I'd drop either Cain or Dennis from the query and focus on the other. Either she dumps Keith for Dennis and loses her seat at the popular table, only to discover that kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray, or she dumps Keith for Cain only to realize Meredith was the only true friend she had. What does Leslie learn in the end? That should help you figure out where to focus the query.

Marissa Doyle said...

Agreed that paragraph one doesn't do much and can be discarded.

It's better, but there are things missing here, and I think they're related: what Leslie wants, and who she is. Communicating some of this can be done with voice; this letter is awfully bland and colorless, which makes Leslie seem passive. A good query letter should not only communicates the main arc of a story but also give a flavor of the writing style.

Cut out the plot details (way too many names here) and tell us a little more about what's happening inside Leslie's head. Make us care about her and what happens to her.

LASNC1 said...

Just wanted to check in and say thanks for the latest comments--they continue to be helpful as I rethink my query. I will try to post a revised version later this week.

LASNC1 said...

This is the author of Accidents & Incidents. I've considered your comments & written another query. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Dear Evil Editor:

Leslie was an accident, and even at seventeen, her life feels like a mistake. Her mother alternates between criticizing her and giving her the silent treatment, she has a seat at the popular table but no close friends, and her boyfriend seems to be drifting further and further away. When he dumps Leslie for another girl, she wonders how much more rejection she can take.

Then she’s befriended by Meredith, who is everything Leslie wants to be, and for the first time, doesn’t feel like an outsider. There’s only one problem—Leslie’s crush on Meredith’s boyfriend, which leaves her torn between loyalty to her new friendship and the growing attraction that threatens it.

As Leslie navigates these rocky relationships, she finds herself continually crossing paths with Dennis, a new boy whose loneliness overshadows her own. Despite his tough-guy fa├žade, Dennis seems to understand Leslie in a way that no one ever has, and to need her as much as she needs him. Because Dennis, who blames himself for the car accident that killed his father, feels like his life is a mistake too.

Set against the backdrop of holidays and high school parties, the hallmarks of every teen’s life, Accidents and Incidents follows Leslie on a journey of self-discovery as she begins to understand the pain that drives those around her, and in doing so, realizes she’s not so alone.

Accidents and Incidents, a work of young adult fiction, is complete at 80,000 words. May I send you the rest of the novel?

150 said...

holidays and high school parties, the hallmarks of every teen's life

They weren't for mine. I wouldn't mind "the hallmarks of teenage life" though.

Is the tone of the story as melancholy as the tone of the query? If so, great; if not, try to make them match.

Good luck!

josephrobertlewis said...

This rewrite is clearer and more coherent, but it is still missing a critical query ingredient: Story.

What is the plot? What happens in this story, besides teenagers meeting and having feelings?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Sounds like the story is sad and introspective. Is this mostly in her head? Is there action? A precipitating event?

Right now, it's her pity party and then she has a glimmer of hope. Only that hope is threatened because she's falling for that guy. Then a new guy comes along with a matching pity party and she's all into that.

I know teens are angsty and full of self-pity, but this doesn't make me want to read the book.

LASNC1 said...

Thanks for the comment about tone--I think the tone of the novel is introspective and wistful--maybe that's close to melancholy, but maybe I need to work on it a little to make it a little less melancholy. Parts of the book are melancholy & parts aren't.

On to the plot issue. To me, Leslie's relationships and how they change her is the story. There's no one plot event that precipitates everything, and at the same time, there isn't one event that everything is building towards. It's not that nothing happens in the book--to me a lot happens--but the book is more character-driven than plot-driven. Isn't that okay? I read a lot of teen chick lit and a lot of it seems to follow this pattern.

I don't know how to answer the pity-party comment--unless it is to say that Leslie does pity herself in the beginning but she gradually learns to stop when she realizes what other people are going through. And that's what allows her to put the past pain behind her & build stronger relationships with the people in her life.

Maybe it would help if I outlined the plot in terms of events and if any of you think those are worth mentioning in the query, I could work on that. Here goes:

Leslie has a fight with her boyfriend at lunch and walks out of the cafeteria, where she meets Dennis for the first time. That afternoon Leslie and her mother have a fight (the first of many that are interspersed throughout the book), then she goes out on a double-date with Cain and Meredith. At this point she starts fantasizing about dating Cain because he's . . . well, hot . . . and also because she's unhappy with her boyfriend, who generally ignores her or fights with her (kind of like her mother). A couple of weeks later she and her boyfriend Keith break up at a Halloween party at Cain's house (this is after she's been in at least one "flirting" situation with Cain so her fantasies are starting to get stronger). Meredith offers to take her home, & she ends up spending the night at Meredith's house & finds out Meredith's sister was killed 3 years ago in a car accident & her family still hasn't recovered. Now Leslie feels guilty about her feelings for Cain & decides to try to let them go--but Cain keeps pushing things and there is a moment in the hallway when they almost get caught. By now she and Meredith have become really good friends so her guilt is even greater. But Cain is mad that she's blown him off so he just starts giving her the cold shoulder, and she starts to see what a jerk he is.

Meanwhile, she has run into Dennis a couple more times and has gotten a job working the same place he works. She ends up spending Thanksgiving over at his house and finds out he was driving the car in an accident that killed his father, and still blames himself. Leslie and Dennis get closer as he confides in her and as she confides in him about the father who left her and the mother who is angry all the time.

By the time Christmas & New Year's roll around, Leslie has realized that Dennis is the guy she should be with. But he goes home for the holidays & she thinks she might've blown her chance. So she goes to a New Year's Eve party with Meredith & Cain is treating her a lot the same way Keith treated Leslie at the Halloween party. And Leslie & Meredith catch him with another girl--this time, Leslie takes Meredith home & comforts her.

When Dennis comes back, he and Leslie finally admit their feelings for each other(in the parking lot after work) and they kiss. He's come to terms with his father's death, she's come to terms with her mother (forgot to mention there are a few scenes with the mom interspersed throughout), and they are ready to start a new year together.

So that's a basic plotline. Does any of it belong in the query?

Thanks for the input.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Yes, books can be character driven, but the query still needs to be attention grabbing.

Can you condense the plot or Leslie's growth into 4 sentences? What is the main theme here?

Maybe ask yourself why someone would want to read this book. What would they get out of it?

What is the main conflict? Is it Leslie and her mom? That doesn't seem to be the driving force of the book according to your outline.

Is this, at heart, a romance between Leslie and Dennis? Sort of a 'don't judge a book by its cover story'? That seems to be one theme based on your latest post. But don't use that cliche in your query!

Anonymous said...

Can you drop a big problem into the school to unite/disrupt the whole social order? Pops and unpops have to work together (conflict). Some pops rise to the ocasion as do some unpops. Maybe the student body takes on a big project - a new gym, sending Sally's little sister to get that new prothesis so she can dump the crutches and live a life without being pitied. Then someone burns the gym down, or steals the leg money. Then we see true character - emerge - good, bad, ugly...
I believe characters drive plots. It feels like characters are driving emotions here. If you saw Armageddon or 2012 the characters are all working on the same problem from different angles. Admittedly, the problems they dealt with were pretty big... Good luck, like giving birth eh? Keep at it. Bibi