Thursday, December 30, 2010

Face-Lift 855

Guess the Plot

The S-Word

1. After Lizzie spends the night with Angie's boyfriend, their friendship is on the rocks. Especially when everyone calls Lizzie a slut. Angie feels sorry for Lizzie after she kills herself, so she plots revenge against everyone who ever wronged Lizzie--starting with herself.

2. Milly knows she can escape if she completes the demented crossword puzzle Volcanoman engraved on the floor of the basement before his brain was totally fried. Then she can use the S-word to log on to the security computer and unlock the doors. Otherwise, it'll be curtains when the lava flow reaches Malibu.

3. Single. Special. Sexy. Silly. Dave Freeman's heard all the S words. And tonight, when he finally comes out at the annual Policeman's Ball, he'll show them all what Stupendously Super really looks like.

4. When an orgasm machine is invented, the world goes crazy over it. One flick of a switch results in hours of pleasure. What no one foresaw was that soon, the only way to have one would be with the machine. Is sex now a thing of the past?

5. Janet is the world's greatest salesperson--though office rival Daryl begs to differ. When he challenges her to a contest selling snow to Eskimos, she takes on the greatest challenge of her career.

6. After his wife Carmen's suicide, Charlie feels guilty about the affair he'd been having with their next-door neighbor Keri. Not so guilty that they don't fall into bed together when Keri drops by to comfort him, but still, pretty guilty. Also, a hidden web camera.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Angie and Lizzie are best friends, blood sisters till death do they part. [I think a lot of women would amend that to: ...till death do they part, or until one of them spends the night with the other one's boyfriend.] Then Lizzie spends the night with Angie’s boyfriend and [suddenly death doesn't seem so far off.] Angie can’t look her so-called friend in the face. Even when Lizzie gets branded Queen of the Sluts, and the S-word starts showing up on her belongings, Angie doesn’t come to her defense. ["Doesn't forgive her" might sound better. She shouldn't have to defend her.]

Then Lizzie kills herself and it’s too late to make amends. To make matters worse, [Once someone dies, matters don't really get worse. You seldom hear anyone say, My best friend committed suicide yesterday, and to make matters worse, I flunked my algebra test.] the phrase “suicide slut” starts showing up on the lockers at school. [On whose lockers? It wouldn't make any sense to write that on someone else's locker.] Consumed by anger and guilt, Angie launches a full-scale investigation to catch the person responsible, but it quickly spins out of control. Soon she’s plotting revenge against each of the students who made Lizzie’s life hell, including herself. [In what way did Angie make Lizzie's life hell?] If she can’t put aside her anger and find a way to make peace she’s going to lose her friends, her humanity, and any chance of healing from her loss.

The S-Word is a YA novel complete at 60,000-word. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely yours,


Is the S-word "suicide" or "slut"?

Presumably the lesson to be learned is that if someone is being harassed mercilessly, step in and do something, even if it's someone who recently betrayed you. That's a better lesson than, If your best friend betrays you, forgive her immediately before her guilt drives her to suicide.

It might be nice to include whatever went on between these girls after the sleepover. Was there an apology, a fight, forgiveness, complete avoidance? Also, an example of the revenge she plots against someone?


Anonymous said...

Hi Author, this sounds really tight and focused well on Angie's dilemma.

Comments are nits. I think you got it overall.

* I'd delete blood in sisters - it makes it sound like there will be a paranormal layer and the rest of the query doesn't bear that out.

* How old are they? Is spending the night together normal for this age? That and the suicide and the self-revenge makes it really, really heavy. Perhaps best to reassure the agent by throwing in a number in at least the high teens.

* Lose her humanity? Paranormal again? Can you be more specific? Is she cutting, bulimic, suicidal herself?

Jayme A. said...

I think this sounds like a solid story...reminds me a bit of 13 Reasons Why, but different enough to stand out. I would read this.

Personally, I like your title. The "S" could stand for suicide or slut, I don't think you need to specify.

I definitely want to know how Angie takes revenge on that something you could put in the query?

Good luck, author!

mb said...

Nitpicking, but surely it's "till death do THEM part"?

alaskaravenclaw said...

mb is correct: in order to follow the grammatical construction of the wedding vow, it would have to be "till death do them part".

I'm not quite as enchanted as the previous commenters. Sleeping with your best friend's guy is hardly something you'd do by accident; deliberately is pretty much the only way to go about it. Lizzie is not a sympathetic character.

The suicide thing smacks of adolescent pity-party ("They'll be sorry when I'm dead!") and I realize that @#$% sells, so who am I to argue on the basis of mere taste? But bear in mind that the query readers (agent, editors) are not necessarily going to be adolescents, so there may be a cultural disconnect there. I think Lizzie needs to work a little harder for our sympathy in this query.

Jeb said...

I was afraid it was going to be GTP #1.

I agree with those who recommend specifying an age for these girls. I'd also like to see the 'spinning out of control' clarified, and have some idea of the number of targets Angie has acquired. Three is wieldy, the entire senior year not so much.

Anonymous said...

Knew from the gloom-fest and logic issues it had to be #1. Does she burn her own hair and then start a career in ax murder, or what? I'm not seeing how, in a world where it makes sense to kill yourself to atone for sleeping with your girlfriend's boyfriend, it then makes sense for girl #2 to devote herself to avenging the deceased because everyone called her a slut. Especially, because, well, even if girl 2 feels guilty for her own rudeness, how much does the slander really bother someone who not only is dead, but who killed herself because...? Sorry, I'm not seeing how any of the problems here can be resolved by self-harm or interpersonal violence.

arhooley said...

I'm pretty underwhelmed by this story. "Then Lizzie kills herself"? That sure came rolling off the keyboard like, I dunno, the next step in a recipe. Either Lizzie was terribly unstable to begin with or she was in some kind of community or family where being labeled Queen of Sluts can get you jailed, exiled, or stoned to death.

Then Angie nearly loses her humanity?

Although the reversal is nice (Angie going after Lizzie's tormentors), it sounds overdramatized. Maybe you've got a cool Twin-Peaksy feel to it that makes it work, but I'm not getting any magic from the query.

Jo-Ann said...

Having worked with adoescents for more years than I care to admit, I thnk that the author portrayed the roller-coaster of young female relationships well. Yes, the girl who transgresses their code is punished severely and mercilessly.

And, yes, adolescents sometimes make impulsive decisions to harm themselves. However, they tend to have underlying problems with depression or psychosis to begin with - is that the case with Lizzy? If so, it would be interesting to see how the mental health issues are depicted.

I agree with Alaskaravenclaw that Lizzie's an unsympathetic character - most girls know the fundmental rule: hands-off your friends' boyfriends. Lizzy would have to be either very gullible/ drunk/ impulsive or have a secret grudge against Angie to do that. Unless "spend the night with" implies a wake-up-little-suzie scenario and nothing sexual actually happened, but everybody believes it had. This would make poor Lizzy an unfortunate victim of innuendoes and slander. And possibly a less interesting character. And make Angie less sympathetic for failing to believe her or the bf's protests of "but nothing happenend".

Interesting balance - are you going to post a revision on the other site? I'd like to see how it goes.

Joie said...

I wonder if most of the naysayers read YA fiction--which is most definitely what this would be--or whether they spend any time around teenagers at all?

From the query, it's obvious that Lizzie has a habit of making bad choices. It's whether the author can make her sympathetic in spite of them, and make the reader understand why Angie is fighting for her reputation when, by all reasoning she probably shouldn't be. That would make for a compelling read.

There are imperfect and downright unlikeable characters in literature all the time, and yet we're able to empathize with them enough to become invested in their stories. Unfortunately, it is really difficult to tell whether the author is skilled enough to pull this off from the query alone. The concept is solid, in my opinion, but the query itself could use a bit more polishing to make us really understand why Angie is going to bat for Lizzie, despite the fact that there are a lot of reasons she probably shouldn't.

Anonymous said...


Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that a teenager I was very close to committed suicide once upon a time. Because what-the-hell, that actually happened.

And let us say that several people who felt they'd wronged or slighted him experienced guilt.

And let us say that each of these people went to his parents and said "I did, or didn't do, or said, or didn't say, such-and-such to your son."

Now, I admit this wouldn't happen in a YA novel, but it happened IRL: to each of these people, most of whom were teenagers, the parents of the dead boy said, "Oh, I'm sure that wasn't why he did it. I'm sure it didn't matter at all. Please don't worry yourself about it."

Because that's what really happens: inevitably, the needs of the living come first. Bestselling YA novels notwithstanding, a witchhunt for the folks who drove the suicide victim to it isn't usually on the agenda.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting concept, but when I read the query I had a tough time telling Angie and Lizzy apart. It made the query confusing for me. You may want to try to make the girls a little more individual.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the reason you have trouble telling Angie and Lizzy apart is because their names rhyme with an "-ie" ending. That's usually a poor decision to make when naming characters for the sake of mental separation. I too had a touch of that going on.

The only part I thought was a bit weird was the idea of Angie(?) going after everyone who made fun of Lizzie.

It doesn't ring true psychologically or practically. I mean, we hear about graffiti, is there more to it? Maybe you should build up the hazing aspect more from before her suicide so that we see it goes beyond just teasing.

AA said...


Problem I had with this query: If Lizzie sleeps with her best friend's boyfriend, she IS a slut. And after this she kills herself- why? It's easier than trying not to be a slut anymore? There have got to be more reasons.

It would be okay if you just hint that there are more reasons and not spell them out. It might also help Lizzie seem like a more sympathetic character if she is seen as troubled and not just unselectively promiscuous.

Anonymous said...

Dear Author,

It should be Lizzie who can't look Angie in the face. Sleeping with the boyfriend cancels the friendship. Why would Angie defend her former friend?
Soon she’s plotting revenge against each of the students who made Lizzie’s life hell, including herself.
Now Angie is going to get revenge against herself? She's angry because someone wrote suicide slut on a locker?
She's really angery over the suicide of her former friend before she could work out with why Lizzie slept with her boyfriend and get closure. She should be angry at the boyfriend as well. You don't mention anyone making Lizzie's life hell before she died. She made Angie's life hell didn't she?
This doesn't fly to well on my brain. I'd go at the query in a different way. Angie's best friend sleeps with her boyfriend then kills herself. Angie feels guilt/anger for many reasons but mainly because of unfinished business with Lizzie. The boyfriend has a part in this so I wouldn't leave him out. Blaming the whole school for Lizzie's suicide seems unreasonable to me. Lizzie needs a reason to kill herself. I hope it is a good one. The suicide slut whatever you mean it be aspect trivializes the story to me. Why did Lizzie kill herself? Abusive relative, leukemia?
Last, two names ending in "ie" may not be the best choice.
Good luck,

Anonymous said...

You expressed it so well. Revenge seems out of place to me in a teen suicide.

Phoenix said...

Sorry, this is a rant and has absolutely nothing to do with the query because it doesn't belong in the query, but it makes me crazy. Where's the boyfriend's responsibility in all of this? Why isn't HE a pariah, targeted as the male version of a slut? It takes two to tango, and he's as responsible as she is and just as capable of saying no. Plus, I'm betting the boyfriend was the one to tell others that he and Lizzie slept together because, well, only a cold slut would brag about conquering her best friend's beau, no? But Angie seems to be turning her anger on Lizzie alone and holding her boyfriend blameless. Aarrgghh.

Are our teens still not being instilled with values around responsibility and accountability and a parity between the sexes? Are improprieties in a relationship STILL the girl's fault alone? How sad :o(

chelsea said...

Author here,

Hello all, and thank you for your comments on my query. Based on the subject matter alone, I didn't expect to get a lot of positive responses so I'm happy there are people who liked it. And I'm happy that the logic made sense to some, although I clearly need to clarify a few things, including that the girls are seventeen.

There are two big reasons I was compelled to write this story: one, being that I recently became close to a person whose best friend committed suicide, and two being that while there is a lot in the news lately about bullying leading to suicide, a lot of people (teenagers and adults, sadly) still don't see that bullying someone for being a "slut" is a part of all that. I'm actually kind of amazed that some people didn't think Angie would care that Lizzie was dead simply because Lizzie made a mistake.

To Phoenix and others who had an issue with the boyfriend getting no blame, don't worry, I agree with you completely. The story isn't representative of how I think things should be. It's representative of how I think things are. Thus Lizzie gets ostracized and Jake gets a boy-will-be-boys slap on the wrist. (Although Angie does hold him responsible, more and more as the story goes one, even though the school doesn't.)

I clearly need to better explain that Angie's desire for vengeance is more of an inner struggle than a spree of Batman-style revenge. And I need to better explain the "suicide slut" tie in, or else leave it out entirely.

Thank you all!

AA said...

"I'm actually kind of amazed that some people didn't think Angie would care that Lizzie was dead simply because Lizzie made a mistake."

I didn't read that anywhere in these comments. The comments seem to be saying that Lizzie is not a sympathetic character. Well, the way this query is written, she isn't. We care when a real person dies. We need a good reason to care when a character in a book dies.

Also, keep in mind that you're seeing this from an adult's point of view. Teens are not so forgiving. They feel they can't afford to be. If the society in your book was run by teenagers with no adults or authority figures, Lizzie would probably have been killed by the other girls for breaking the social rules, not just hazed. You can still see this sort of thing in primitive cultures, though there are fewer of them to study nowadays.

Teens are sociopaths, but they can't really help it. Their brains haven't fully matured yet. If no one's brain ever matured past this point, this would be our everyday reality.

This isn't immorality, it's a different kind of morality. Your morality says teens shouldn't bully other teens regardless of what they've done. Their morality says, "We're trying to force her to conform. It's best for her and society. If she breaks under the strain, it's sad, but it just proves she wouldn't have been able to handle society anyway."

If you went to a tribal community as a missionary and tried to sell them your religion without first understanding their culture, they'd feed you to the Great Python. I hope you're not trying to "convert" kids with this story without first studying a LOT of adolescent psychology.

At any rate, the story isn't coming across as realistic in this query. It just doesn't ring true somehow. Hopefully that's just the query.

M. G. E. said...

"I clearly need to better explain that Angie's desire for vengeance is more of an inner struggle than a spree of Batman-style revenge."
- Yeah, I was wondering what you actually meant by that. I went so far as to wonder if she was going to kill these people >_>

Also, how can any revenge on these people be an internal struggle?

"And I need to better explain the "suicide slut" tie in, or else leave it out entirely."
- I'd probably leave it out, as it sounds difficult to explain concisely, and a larger explanation would void the focus of the query.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hi Chelsea,
I don't believe the subject is being questioned.

The first sentence made me stumble giving me an uh oh for what was coming. I'd work on that first.

Seventeen year old Angie believed she and Liz were (give us the age from the get go). When Angie learns Liz and Angie's boyfriend slept together she is devastated. When Liz's death by (pills, slashing wrists)Angie...

What does Angie want? Revenge is acting on anger and fuels it IMO. Hope that helps and good luck.

BuffySquirrel said...

Am fascinated by the attitudes coming across in the comments here, particularly the 'she IS a slut' comment. $*%&^ OFF. or, come on, what?

Having sex one time with one person is sluttish now? What the hell is a slut, anyway? Oh, yes, right, it's any woman who has sex. Well, that's most of you, right?

Get a feeling the some of the commenters here would be right out there yelling SLUT SLUT and writing on the lockers. Sheesh.

Sure, if Lizzie has sex with her best friend's boyfriend, that's a shitty thing to do. But, HELLO, it doesn't merit the treatment she gets. Very little would. So, then, we get the line that of course she couldn't have been driven to suicide by bullying--even though people sometimes are--there has to be something wrong with her. Hello, blaming the victim, much?

So little sympathy for someone who gets punished all out of proportion with her mistake. What a hard-hearted lot you are!


Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hey Buffy,
Web definitions for slut
slattern: a dirty untidy woman

Nothing about sex in that.


Anonymous said...

Evil: If this is out of line please do not publish my comment. Thanks.

Hey Bufffy,
I respect comments. I respected yours but I've gotta say your comments these days don't help the writer. Maybe instead of criticizing all of the comments maybe we need to take a look at the query and try to help the author.

Anonymous said...

Evil: If this is not appropriate please don't publish. Thanks

Dear Buffy:
Having sex one time with one person is sluttish now? What the hell is a slut, anyway? Oh, yes, right, it's any woman who has sex. Well, that's most of you, right?

No, if I have sex with my best friend's significant other I am not a very good friend but he's not a very good boyfriend either. This has nothing to do with slutiness. Whether I have sex or not has nothing to do with me being slutty or my comments.

chelsea said...

Buffy, I can't even articulate how much I love you right now. And I agree with everything you said.

"Slut" is an empty signifier. Ask 100 people to define it and you get 100 answers. It means nothing, but is used to dehumanize human beings.

Thank you :)

chelsea said...

EE, if I want to submit a revision for Phoenix's site, should I post it here?


Evil Editor said...

You may, but I'd just forward it so you may as well send it to her.

AA said...

I think I should clarify my earlier comment. (This does have something to do with the actual query.)

Lizzie is a slut- according to the teens who will be reading this novel. At least the way the query, so far, presents the story. I'm sure not all teens will feel
this way but most of them will. Sleeping with your BFF's current boyfriend is a big no-no. Even sleeping with her ex is iffy if there's a chance they'll get back together.

A YA agent might look at the query and think that if the author doesn't know how to make Lizzie sympathetic to the intended reader (NOT mature adults) that she isn't skillful enough to make those readers want to read the story. (There's no use trying to define "slut" for them, or any word, for that matter. They use a word the way they use it. It's their culture, not ours.)

An agent who specializes in YA knows what teens will read and what they will not read. Morality stories are not well received, so the book must be all the more skillfully written.

That was what I meant.

BuffySquirrel said...

Thank you, Bibi. You are probably right.

It's a good friend who'll tell you you're wrong right after you ranted very loudly :).

In these comments, people have clearly identified that, although I might find Lizzie sympathetic, the target readership may well not do so. So something 'extra' may be needed for an agent who reps YA to see in Lizzie a character that teens will identify with despite her somewhat dubious behaviour. I don't think it needs much. Just something Angie perhaps discovers about Lizzie's life after her death, or about what *really* happened between Lizzie and Angie's boyfriend.

Perhaps the trigger for her switching to Lizzie's side might be finding out how the boyfriend really views the encounter and its consequences? Well, it's not my story :).

Jo-Ann said...

Art reflects Life, and sadly, the double standard is alive and well amongst contemporary teens.

Young women are branded as sluts if they are indiscrete (or do I mean indiscriminate?) about their choice of partners, and young men are studs. Or, at least, seen to have limited responsibility for their actions: it's normal to take what's offered without consideration of the consequences, 'coz the poor darlings are just victims of their raging hormones.

Of course it stinks, and not all teens subscribe to that view. So kudos to Chelsea for tackling "hot button" issues (how viciously young people can turn on each ohter, and suicidality). From her posts, it seems that she's attemtping to highlight just how destructive hypocritical attitudes are.

Well done, you've made me want to read the completed work - but I'm not your intended audience. I left my adolescence years ago.

BuffySquirrel said...

Although I confess I find the idea of a separate teen 'culture' a bit absurd. It's the adult culture, reflected back at us--some parts are rejected, some parts are exaggerated, but it's still all a response to our views and attitudes. Unfortunately.

Joe G said...

You know, my initial thought was that I thought the query was trying too hard to be provocative, but it seems to have gotten a lot of different reactions so maybe you're treading the right water. All the same, I would be careful about being flippant in tone. The query has a lot of touchy social ideas and sort of a cutesy writing style which is, I think, what is making people uncomfortable.

I think it was a fair criticism to wonder where the boyfriend is in all of this. I mean, stories about girls fighting over men are numerous (Cinderella, Mean Girls, A Midsummer's Night's Dream, we could do this for a while...). It's not really as provocative as you might think. I think it's much more provocative to suggest that girls DON'T have to fight over men...

Wouldn't "'til death do they part" mean that you are parting until you die? Kind of a funny way to misspeak.

chelsea said...

I love that people are still talking about this! It warms the cockles of my little heart. This is clearly a topic that people feel passionate about, and I've gotten a great deal of insight into what the query is missing.

Jo-Ann, thank you for the encouragement. For what it's worth, all my works are feministic, so when I tackle issues like the slut/stud dichotomy, I try to do it in a way that makes people question the rules regarding sex and gender. (Although I clearly can do more to illustrate this in the query, as it's not coming across At All.)

Buffy, once again I completely agree with you. The idea of a separate teen culture baffles me. Some of the most compassionate, creative people I know are teens, so while they might react strongly to a betrayal, I've yet to meet one who would react in a a Lord of the Flies type of way.

Joe, I think you may be on to something with the writing style. I tried to infuse some of the voice of the narrator while keeping respect for a very tragic subject, which is a difficult balance. Clearly, I haven't struck it yet, but I'll keep trying!

I've put together a (first) revision based on people's comments, and the wonderful Phoenix has agreed to put it on her site. It goes up tomorrow, for anyone interested.

You've all been amazing. Thank you.

chelsea said...

Oh, btw, for some reason I was thinking of Til Death Do You Part as, Until death comes and you part, rather than, Until death parts you.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't "'til death do they part" mean that you are parting until you die?

No, 'cause that's not what it means. Death is the subject here, doing the doing ("to part"), as it were, upon the object ("us/they"). It means until death parts us/they.

Anonymous said...

It should be Lizzie who can't look Angie in the face.

And after this she kills herself- why? It's easier than trying not to be a slut anymore?


It's easier than being bullied and judged, maybe?


AA said...


It's easier than being bullied and judged, maybe?


Anonymous- Most of the thousands of the kids who were bullied in school DON'T kill themselves. That's why we still have adults.

I was trying to show a logical problem with the query- temporary social conformity would have solved the problem just as well as suicide, without the "side effects." I wanted to know what it was about Lizzie that made her choose suicide instead of letting it blow over like most kids. The bullies always find a new target.

What most kids do is lie low until the bullies find another victim, and at seventeen, she knows High School won't last forever. The query wasn't clear on this point.

Joe G said...

Wouldn't "'til death do they part" mean that you are parting until you die?

No, 'cause that's not what it means. Death is the subject here, doing the doing ("to part"), as it were, upon the object ("us/they"). It means until death parts us/they.

Well, the syntax is off. Properly (or in modern times) you'd read it "Until death parts them." That's why the phrase is commonly "Til death do them part".

Like, you wouldn't say "Death parted they", you'd say "Death parted them". They implies that death is a conditional state of being rather than a physical thing that will separate them.