Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Face-Lift 833

Guess the Plot

Trapped in the Masquerade

1. Bad enough it's sweltering inside his bear costume, but then the Earl of Kent steps into an actual bear trap set by Lord Hughes, who's attending the queen's masquerade ball dressed as an 18th-century American trapper.

2. Ingrid Orlov finds it increasingly difficult to step into the fat suit that makes her look like a 700 pound blob. Not because it no longer fits, but because of her crush on Ted, the cotton candy guy. She'd like him to know she's really a 36-24-36 gymnast, but evil taskmaster Frank Birnbaum will fire her if she leaves her trailer without the jumbo disguise.

3. Abby Clary has no idea when she crashes a Halloween masquerade ball that she'll develop magical powers that allow her to magically transport to the year 1273. Now if she could only figure out why anyone would want to transport to the year 1273.

4. Janet Nash lives a lie. Everyone thinks she's a 52-year-old housewife, but she's actually a 27-year-old Russian spy with orders to infiltrate the garden club and acquire seeds of Professor Grimsby's genetically altered rubber tree -- because it might thrive in Siberia.

5. Michael wants to be one of the glamorous fashion designers he loves, so when Satan offers him a fashion line of his own for his soul, he jumps at the chance. He never thought Satan would stick him with a line of plus-size clothes for a cheap catalog catering to trailer park clientele. Is there any way to cut the thread?

6. Halloween pirate Sidney Inkleby embellishes his nose and chin with putty, adds a few fake tattoos and a gold earring and rents one of the most fabulous costumes ever created by Madame Zelda, the devious sorceress of Springfield, who, unbeknownst to Sidney, casts a spell on him. When he steps out the front door, he won't be able to find the car -- because he'll be lost in 1748 Cuba.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

“Lovely?” I laughed out hysterically. “This isn’t lovely; this is far from even being nice. Holding me hostage, keeping me locked away in a tiny, windowless room isn’t entertaining. Being smacked around isn’t hysterically funny. [Not sure I can buy that one, as you were laughing hysterically three sentences ago.] Nearly becoming dinner a couple of times isn’t much fun either. Being stalked by a nameless skeezy idiot who thinks he’s god who thinks I’m ‘the one’ is far from being fabulous.” [First of all, we have no context for this speech. Apparently someone has just said to someone else, "Are you enjoying your lovely, nice, entertaining, hysterically funny, fun, fabulous stay in my closet?" but we don't know who either of them is, so all we know is someone's ranting to a bad person. Secondly, this is no way to open a business letter. The safest bets are to start with your purpose (I am seeking representation for...) or start with your title (Trapped in the Masquerade is a...) or start with your main character (Tammy Charles doesn't know what she's getting into when she enters the haunted hotel...).] He laughed a deep cold laugh. It seemed that he didn’t get the hint. “I love your spirit.” [These last sentences should be a separate paragraph, as we don't normally have two different people speaking in one paragraph.] [Of course, as we also don't normally open with an excerpt from the middle of the book, you'll be deleting everything up to this point.]

In a masquerade, nothing is as it seems, [Actually, I went to a masquerade once where everyone seemed to be a normal person wearing a mask, and it turned out they were all what they seemed.] [Well, except the kangaroo. It turned out to be a real kangaroo.] and Abby doesn’t know what is real, what is a dream and what is real [You already said real.] or magic, and who she can truly trust and who wants her dead until all masks are removed [, at which point she can come back to life]. [You're hitting us with too much vague information about someone we know nothing about. Drop that and start with the next sentence.] Trapped in the Masquerade (89,754 words) is a supernatural tale that explores the idea of destiny versus free will in an action-packed young adult fantasy novel. Abigail Clary’s seemingly sheltered but normal life comes to an end [I suspect most readers will take this to mean she dies. Also, "seemingly sheltered but normal" is not a good description. It's vague, and it implies that a seemingly sheltered life is rarely normal, when in fact the two adjectives don't have much connection, and there's no point in telling us her life seems sheltered if it isn't sheltered. I'm guessing her life, up to now, has been sheltered. I'd go with something like: Abigail Clary’s sheltered life takes a bizarre turn...] when she crashes Emerson Academy’s annual Halloween masquerade ball. The macabre outcomes from [events of] that night expose Abby to a magical garden, prophecies, and an unforgettable means of traveling through time. Abby tries to figure out who she truly is as she attempts to navigate [navigates] through a “cosmic pretzel” that interconnects Abby’s present time to 1273. As she explores her newly found magical powers, she finds herself in the middle of an unstoppable spell that means life or her death.

A novel is like a new pair of shoes; [it's hard to sell if it's too big or too small or too boring or if it has no "sole" so] you should fully try it out to see if the story is a good fit for you. [Fully try it out? Where do you buy your shoes?] I will be able to send the entire manuscript of Trapped in the Masquerade attached in an email on the day of your request or through the mail within five days [(I have a really slow printer)]. I sincerely hope you enjoy the story. Thank you for your time and consideration.



This is way too vague. All we know about the plot is that Abby crashes Emerson Academy’s annual Halloween masquerade ball and apparently gains the magical power to go back in time to 1273. Trying to find out who she truly is means nothing to us. Finding herself in an unstoppable spell that could mean life or death could mean anything.

Start over. Dump the first and last paragraphs. Your first plot sentence can be: Abigail Clary’s sheltered life takes an unexpected turn when she crashes Emerson Academy’s annual Halloween masquerade ball. After that tell us what happens at the ball, focusing on the part where she develops magical powers. Then give us something about the significance of 1273, who the bad guy is, and what the bad guy wants from Abby. And conclude with the decision she must make that explores the idea of destiny versus free will.


Angela Robbins said...

uh, yeah, what ee said

(word verification was spodi:
drinkin' wine spodi ody drinkin' wine...)

Anonymous said...

Everything the Evil One said, yeah, and also:

Watch out for overwriting.

This is gonna be harsh, so hang in there please... I'm looking at stuff like "I laughed out hysterically", "He laughed a deep cold laugh" and "A novel is like a new pair of shoes".

Someone or other once said that writing should be a clear pane of glass through which one sees the story; someone else once said that good writing, like good breeding, never calls attention to itself. Try to keep it simple, both in your query and in your manuscript.

Hope this helps.

Khazar-khum said...

I have no idea what's happening to whom or why. In a query, that's fatal.

Save the fancy writing for the book.

(Huh: MY word verification was 'byingul' as in. Yes, I speak ebonics and spanglish. I'm byingul!)

vkw said...

The beginning sentences didn't do what you wanted them to do. 1. They didn't tell us about the story; 2. They didn't generate interest; 3. They didn't demonstrate a unique voice or idea; 4. And, I thought the dialogue was overwrought with overwriting and unrealistic. (No one talks like that-unless they are in a movie. And, your character isn't).

I have no idea what your story is about. I am a bit intrigued by the date 1273. I am going to google it, just to see if it is interesting.

Here is one example that just shouts "do over"; "an unforgettable means of traveling through time." I have to ask - is there a forgettable means of traveling through time?


Anonymous said...

Okay, someone fess up. You saw no queries in the queue and thought it would be fun to submit one that did everything wrong.

I'm calling your bluff

batgirl said...

Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to include a writing sample in the _text_ of your query. Still less is it a good idea to include a writing sample that still needs some rigorous editing.
There are enough awkward or mistaken usages in the query that I'd be worried the book was more of the same.
Author, I think you may be trying too hard to sound 'literary', and you might do better by letting your own natural voice take over.

Stephen "laughing out hysterically" Prosapio said...

I know what happened. I do this frequently. I'll be writing an email to an agent for representation of my novel, assume I've pasted the agent's name directly from the Preditors section of P&E, hit "paste" and voila! My my weekly love letter to Alyssa Milano accidentally gets embedded at the top.

That's the only possible explanation for this query.

As for the "try it out fully" -- I imagined an editor paraphrasing a line from Monty Pyton's Holy Grail as he throws the manuscript into a pond: "If it floats it's made of wood and I'll burn it!"

Stevepig Prosapio said...

My word verification: walpig

Used in a sentence: On my walpig hangs my artpig.

_*rachel*_ said...

Start with Miss Snark's outline:

X is the main guy; he wants to do:
Y is the bad guy; he wants to do:
they meet at Z and all L breaks loose.
If they don’t resolve Q, then R starts and if they do it’s L squared.

Expand from there. And read through the archives here and at Queryshark; this query makes me thing you need a bit more research into the process.

Anon: This doesn't feel blatant enough to be fake. No in-jokes, either.

Anonymous said...

Vkw, you inspired me to do the same. Of 1273, Wikipedia sez:

"December 6 – Thomas Aquinas quits his writing of Summa Theologica — a master work of Catholic theology — leaving it unfinished after having a mystical experience during Mass."

Mystical experience, my auntie. He just realized he'd written himself into a corner, that's all. In those days there was a severe shortage of bottom drawers to stick your failed manuscripts into.

Anonymous said...

The problem with "try it out fully" is it's condescending. The agent/editor presumably already knows when and why to request partials or fulls.

Phoenix said...

Author, the good thing is that you were brave enough to submit your query here first. You have a terrific opportunity to write a really good query now that you know what doesn't work. As Rachel suggested, read through some more queries here and over at QueryShark. Absorb for a bit.

We all started out unsure of what a query is. I don't even want to tell you what mistakes I made in the early days. *facepalm*

But we learn.

It sounds like maybe your book needs another close editing pass to make the prose sparkle. While you're doing that, you can work on a couple of other versions of your query. Then come back here with a version that follows the formula a bit more closely and we'll help you whip it into shape.

Hmm, ARC, "mystical experience" eh? Gotta remember that euphemism for the future. Sounds like it could work for multiple occasions...

150 said...

I don't want to make the pile one dog deeper, but I do want to mention to the author that we'll look at a rewrite if you stick it in the comments section: just read some examples, follow the advice and try again. It might, however, be worth your time to get a few beta-readers on the novel itself first.

M. G. E. said...

This is one of the weirdest queries I've seen, its structure a bit manic, its tone a bit clueless, its plot rather scant.

Including an excerpt from your novel as part of the query--I've never seen that done successfully.

Part of the problem with an excerpt is that it's impossible for the author to read that excerpt out-of-context as the agent will see it. For we, the uninitiated, it's a mess; we have no idea what's going on or why.

Two more major sins:
- Fails to be interesting, in the sense of hooking a reader into wanting to read the book.
- Fails to be polished in terms of grammar, style, diction, word-choice, etc.

These problems are fatal to the purpose of your query.
This is a complete rewrite.

Adam Heine said...

"A novel is like a new pair of shoes; you should fully try it out to see if the story is a good fit for you."

Cutely written, but it comes off presumptuous (and a bit pretentious).

There are reasons agents go by queries: queries ARE usually representative of writing skill, agents don't get paid to go through them, and some agents like to have a life outside the office.

Dave F. said...

I feel bad for the author of this.

For nearly ten years, I was "secretary/treasurer" of a technical group that met ten times a year for lunch and scientific talk. I sent out the notices for the meeting.

I had a scientist and a secretary check every damn one of the notices because it was too easy to make one teeny, tiny mistake on a first draft, or second or third. A second or third set of eyes is always useful. It just beats up the old ego a bit. (pout, pout, wink)

So don't feel bad. You are not alone.

Evil Editor said...

The author has submitted a new version, which I've forwarded to Phoenix. I'll alert you when she posts it with her comments.

Sylvia said...

I'll watch for it there.

stacy said...

Great to know the author's taking another crack at this. That's the mark of a true writer.

I'm intrigued about the idea.

Anne said...

One thing i thought of when reading this query:

Abby is the name of the main character in the Hourglass Door Trilogy- young adult novels.

Those novels also involve time travel and are pretty popular right now, so maybe a rename for your character?

The Clumsy Author said...

Anne: I've never heard of the Hour Glass Trilogy until you pointed it out. I gave Abby her name because that was on of the four I picked out for my daughter, but wasn't allowed to use.

Rachel: I took a look around Miss Shark. That was really good site! Thank you for the suggestion.

As for all the other comments, I completely see your points. The first problem was, I really wanted to get everything out and didn't take the time to really edit it like I did with my original manuscript. So have reworked it and posted it on this comment section. Then I went back and looked at it again. This time, I had my creative writing professor take a look at it. Same with the first 200 words. If you'd like, I could resend everything for further consideration. It's up to Evil Editor and you if you want another look at the edited first 200 pages and query letter.

Phoenix said...

The revised query is up over at my place now. We can continue the workshopping there!

Evil Editor said...

The edited query is up at Phoenix's site ( It's #28.

If you wish to post an edited opening, do so as a comment at the original post.