Friday, October 15, 2010

Face-Lift 832

Guess the Plot

The Devil You Know

1. You must choose to spend the rest of your life on an island with one of the following: Matthew McConaughey or Ed "Prison" King.

2. A new "Devil" mystery/fantasy/romance/memoir/thriller series. To be followed by: The Devil Made Me Do It, The Devil You Say!, Devil in a Blue Dress and You Devil You. With titles like these, who needs a plot?

3. Angel sees dead people. She thought they were ghosts, but it turns out what she's been seeing are demons, and they force her to choose eternal damnation or insanity. Are the living conditions better in hell or an asylum?

4. They say the devil you know is better than the one you don't. But after dating Ba'alzriel for six long years with no end in sight, Aramythia is ready to look for a new squeeze. After all, there are plenty to choose from in Hell.

5. When Hannah first meets her new college roommate, Giselle strikes her as a little odd. Nice enough, but a trifle . . . off. And that's before Hannah notices the horns, the tail, and the smoking cloven hoofprints that Giselle leaves on the carpet.

6. Executed serial killer Ed Parker Hull, awaiting his afterlife fate, finds both Satan and Adramelech vying for his soul. One he's never heard of, the other has a pretty bad reputation. Is it better to sign on with . . . The Devil You Know?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Angel Dawson sees dead people. [It's sort of a sixth sense. Spoiler alert: she's dead.] The problem is she doesn’t see them well. [She sees them like she's looking at them through her windshield and she didn't scrape off the ice.] “Blessed” with just enough of the sight that ghosts think she can help them [Help them what?] —and get really ticked off when she can’t—Angie has to spend [spends] every second with her ghostly partner Zeke, who amplifies her meager abilities and keeps the not-so-departed from taking their frustrations out on her. [Not clear what you mean by her meager abilities. Her ability to see dead people? If he amplifies this ability, why doesn't she see them well?] Usually, anyway.

As if that isn’t claustrophobic enough, Angie’s mom puts the “over” in overprotective, going as far as restricting her access to friends and taking her out of school to work full time as a spectral liaison with the local police department. [So Mom knows Angie sees dead people. Does Mom know about Zeke?] It’s not at all the sort of life Angie wants, and she’s desperate for a change. [Why does Mom force her to work for the police?]

Be careful what you ask for.

Angie’s mom dies and Zeke confesses that her whole life has been a lie. He’s not a ghost—he’s a demon. And Angie is a demonseer. [Is that a person who sees demons or a seer who's a demon or a seer who knows what demons are planning to do or . . . ?] [It sounds like Zeke's life is the one that was a lie. He knew he was a demon. Angie didn't know she was a demonseer, and if you think you're telling the truth, as I told the judge during my perjury trial, it's not exactly a lie.] As bleak as her prospects were before they’re worse now; she can either deal with the demons stalking her, and be corrupted, or she can refuse and be driven insane. ["Deal with" seems to mean "work with." Cooperate. I'd say "work with," as "deal with" has other possible meanings.]

She immediately knows which she'll choose. Being crazy was never in her life plan but when the alternative is eternal damnation, life in an asylum starts to look [looks] pretty good. But then she helps the police with one last case and brings herself to the attention of a particularly nasty demon. He wants to deal. [I get the impression "deal" has a special meaning in the demon world. If so, I would leave it (and demonseer) out of the query unless you explain what they mean.]

And he’s not taking “No” for an answer.

Written for the young adult market, “The Devil You Know” is complete at 75,000 words and may appeal to fans of Richelle Mead and PC and Kristin Cast. Sample pages are included below and the full manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your time,


How does Angie know she'll go insane if she doesn't deal?

Sending your daughter off to work for the police as a spectral liaison is being more protective than sending her to school? Either the job is safer than it sounds or the school is a war zone.

The first paragraph isn't setting up the situation clearly enough. She sees dead people. The dead people want what from her? Maybe you should skip all that and start:

16-year-old Angel Dawson is a demonseer, a person who can see and communicate with demons. She'd like to be attending high school with the other kids, but the police need her as a full time "spectral liaison."

This gets you to the crucial deal/insanity decision and the nasty demon more quickly, allowing you plenty of room to tell us what happens.


Dave F. said...

The way the query explains it, Zeke's revelation that he is a demon doesn't work for me. He comes off as Snidely Whiplash twirling his mustache while revealing he's a demon.

Angeline never had a normal life. She has a spirit-protector who protects her from malevolent ghosts and rather than going to high school, she works with the police to solve {ghostly/demonic/what?} crime.

When her mother dies, her spirit-protector reveals that he's really a demon and Angeline is his seer, his gateway to the real work and his mate for life.

This still doesn't say much about how Angelina will defeat this demon and not become a minion in hell. There's the real story and the real selling point -- Angelina is strong enough to defeat evil and make us cheer her victory.

Whirlochre said...

This starts well enough. What seems like an old idea is given a twist (though I don't like the "s around 'blessed') and with the exception of the unexplained police situation, the paranormal meets family life in a promising way.

EE's version is even better.

After this, things go a little astray.

The 'be careful' line is lost in space, and can be dropped.

After the set-up with the claustrophobic mom situation, you immediately dispense with said mom. I've barely time to decide whether I'm drawing breath from shock or anticlimax when you serve up plot diarrhoea, thick and fast, till everything after 'As bleak' leaves me reeling.

The ending, however, I get. Whatever is going on, success depends on 'one last job' involving a Big Boss.

The middle is where this confuses, and your biggest rewrite lies there.

Also, I'm not sure about the context in which you're sending sample pages. If you've been asked for the first five, send them and say so. Ditto, a first chapter. If you're sending pages and haven't been asked, then don't. Ditto sending random pages.

M. G. E. said...

This query has the cliche "affected-voice" style I've seen in so many queries now. It's characterized by certain sentence constructions as follows:

- The Takeaway
Make a statement, then violate it at the end. Has the effect of implying a complication, raising a question in the reader's mind:

"Angie has to spend every second with her ghostly partner Zeke, who amplifies her meager abilities and keeps the not-so-departed from taking their frustrations out on her. Usually, anyway."

- The Complicator
As soon as you've expressed the problem the main character faces, you drop another complication on its head. Invariably it uses this exact phrase:

"As if that isn’t claustrophobic enough..."

"Claustrophobic" here can be any adjective that ties it into your previous characterization of story and character.

- The Portmanteau Quip
A pithy phrase that shows a playfulness with words, yet is basically the same every time. Take a random portmanteau that corresponds to your previous descriptions and select out one part of it to highlight:

"Angie’s mom puts the "over" in overprotective"

- The Proverb Pivot
Provide a generally accepted bit of proverbial philosophy as a pivot to the plot-revelation you're about to uncover:

"Be careful what you ask for."

Followed by explaining why what character asked for ended up as yet another complication.

- The Cliche Cliche
Consciously include a cliche phrase used sardonically, often as a closer. Often used by movie trailers to signal the end of the trailer and provide "punch":

"And he’s not taking "No" for an answer."

I half-wonder if these are all being written by the same person.

I would think an agent would find this sort of query a step-up from a clueless query, but I don't think they get overly excited to see this kind of writing.

You don't need to affect voice by using these query-cliches in order to have a good query. And the best queries I've seen did not use this fake voice.

Nor does writing well require these devices; they are mere ornament and would become seriously annoying if this sort of hyperactive voice were sustained in a novel.

Anonymous said...

The voicey queries cropped up, I think, because of the successful ones posted on Kristin Nelson's blog -- or that is an accurate reflection of today's youth and many writers are good at capturing that voice. I don't know.

But that's not as bad as what Nicholas Sparks has unwittingly done. He's one of the first names to pop up when you google "how to write a query" (at least he was when I started) and I've seen many lines lifted straight from his query. Such as:

"At 52,000 words, NOVEL is short enough to be cost-effective for publishers."

"May I send you the complete manuscript?"

*Shallow blurb that shows you skimmed the agent's bio. "Your work as a lawyer impresses me."

Stephen Prosapio said...

This query didn't work for me.

"Not even a little bit," I say in overly melodramatic tones.

There is a fine line between "movie trailer" exciting and "trailer trash" blech. I think we can work with this, but some of the wording choices would leave me concerned at similar issues in the novel itself. I'll spell out the issues I have with it. See if others agree.

"The problem is she doesn’t see them well." - what the heck does that mean? It's vague. After reading the query we can kind of see a potential play on words but as the opening lines of the query they bring up all kinds of the wrong questions. "Why would she want to see them well?" "What does not seeing them 'well' mean really?" "Are they blurry or ill defined?" You're immediately pulling us out of the query to try and figure out what the heck you're trying to cleverly say.

ghosts think she can help them [Help them what?) -- Completely agree with EE. What do they want? Why is having them ticked off bad? Then this issue becomes more confusing when we find out she's spending time (so much time that it's "claustraphobic") with a ghostly guide....but why isn't he just preempting any ghosts from bugging her? "Hey sorry dude, she can't help you." End of story.

Angie’s mom dies and Zeke confesses that her whole life has been a lie. - that makes no sense.

As bleak as her prospects were before -- prospects for what???

she can either deal with the demons stalking her, and be corrupted, or she can refuse and be driven insane. She immediately knows which she'll choose.
-- if she knows immediately which she'll choose then this isn't really a major plot point!

But then she helps the police with one last case -- this makes ZERO sense. "Well I guess I gotta be driven insane, but first I'll help the police solve this case" huh???

Sorry if I come across as annoyed...but I am! One or two inconsistencies or incongruencies can be expected. Hey we all do it, that's why we come here. But if pretty much every statement you make conflicts with some other statement you've made (or just practical common sense) then how do you expect people to read 75,000 of your words?

I think you have a cool story idea otherwise I wouldn't have put the time into writing this. You have a lot of reworking to do. My suggestion is to not try and make it "cute" and instead make it suspenseful by letting us know she THINKS she sees ghosts that are actually demons.

Joe G said...

I would probably shorten the stuff about her thinking they're ghosts and get right to the demons. Why don't you just say "make a deal" and then tell us what that deal is? Why would her overprotective mother put her on the POLICE force?!?!?!

Zombie Deathfish said...

Aw, I was hoping for #5. But I can see a good story in here; the query just needs tidying up. For me, the opening is pretty weak. "The problem is she doesn't see them well" is clumsy for me and doesn't really tell me much. Then you throw in the "blessed with the sight" and the fact that ghosts know she can see them... And then that doesn't seem relevant because it turns out they're not ghosts, they're demons (or that's how it reads to me, anyway).

I have trouble imagining an over-protective mother pulling her daughter out of school to work with the police. That doesn't seem over-protective at all. (Also, does this mean everyone knows about ghosts and the supernatural in your story's world?)

I'm a sucker for demons and asylums, so having both in the same book is a bit of a winner for me, but currently your query raises too many questions to work.

batgirl said...

You've done one important thing - shown us what's at stake for our heroine. She either becomes a demon's slave, or is driven insane. That's pretty good.
What you need now, I think, is to establish how she takes action. If you cut the confusing business about her mother, and go straight to the big reveal, you have room for more than Angel being a pawn of her mother, Zeke, and the police, and her making a decision only to be thwarted immediately. You've got a potential strong plot with Angie moving from being directed to making her own decision & taking the consequences - give that more space in the pitch.

I read enough ghost stories that I didn't worry too much about what the 'ghosts' wanted from her, but I agree that needs cleaning up. The thing that did bother me is that she's been working for the police, supposedly seeing ghosts. How does it affect the police and her job when she discovers that they're actually demons? Has their testimony been putting innocent people in prison for their supposed murders, or what? What have demons been doing with their false status?