Friday, July 01, 2011
Guess the Plot
The One at the Helm
1. The one at the helm could be the self. Or it could be madness (think Mr. Hyde). Or it could be God. You, the reader, decide in this story of a woman struggling with the darkness within, who visits a psychiatrist who goads her into physical combat during the session. Also, a terrifying angel.
2. The ship is full of wheel-shaped handles: steam valves, fuel cutoffs, the ones that shut the watertight doors. So as the ship plows towards the rocks and the injured captain yells, "Turn the wheel hard to starboard!," Festus has to think for a minute.
3. It's 1793, and Captain Andrew MacDougall of HMS Relentless navigates dangerous seas as his crew dies off man by man of a mysterious illness. Then they all rise as mer-zombies and force his ship to sail to various hellholes that zombies like.
4. In a world ruled by superstition and euphemisms, seaman Treller panics on his first voyage and calls the one at the helm 'Captain.' Penalty: the plank. Picked up by a ship full of people for whom a spade is a spade, can he stop talking around the subject before they toss him back into the sea?
5. The Helm is a biker bar on the outskirts of town. Jo is a waitress there. When blue-eyed Fritz starts hanging out, Jo is smitten. She never thought she'd fall for a white supremacist, but those eyes! Could Fritz be The One?
6. Leona will need that sharp eye and rough tongue of hers to pilot her hotel franchise business through the floating minefield of corporate takeovers and executive machinations. But if stepping all over the little guy brings success, the world will be singing the praises of Leona’s hotel empire long after she's gone.
I read on your website that you are looking for strong writing and voice in the area of literary fiction and I think you will enjoy my interpretation of magical realism.
In a story that could be described as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde meets The Alchemist, a young woman finds herself grappling with an unruly mind. Dissociating from the darker parts of self has strengthened them against her so that we open on an island with a madman in control. He is an external counterpart of the developments within. [Within what?] [It's not clear what you're talking about. What is the madman controlling? The island? Is there a real island?] When she tries to destroy him, she ends up on a locked ward with a savior of her own design, an angel (yes, an angel—a terrifying one) who is also deviant for he comes from the same deranged mind. [As the madman? As the girl?] Whatever you focus on becomes your fate, he warns, [So she immediately focuses on being a billionaire with a freezer full of Ben & Jerry's and no annoying angels hanging around.] knowing himself the embodiment [I don't know what "knowing himself the embodiment" means.] and fearing his darkening moods. But her obsessions are drawing her deeper within. [Within what?] [What are her obsessions?]
Enter Sage, the voice of wisdom who surfaces in the form of an unorthodox therapist. [In the form of? So Sage is some magical being who she thinks is a therapist?] Goading Aurora [Finally we find out the main character's name.] by poisoning a child in her office [If this doesn't send up a red flag, nothing will. Did she research the therapist's credentials?] and resurrecting a rapist from her past, the doctor draws her into physical combat with the parts she has repressed. [Physical combat, like with weapons? Fists? In the therapist's office? You decide to see a therapist, and s/he goads you into physical combat? At your first session? Is it the same session she poisoned the child at? And you're still there?] But violence begets violence and instead of defeating anything Aurora finds herself in yet another hold, another pattern, [another holding pattern,] another Catch-22. Before Sage can guide her into awareness and lead her on the path to mastering her mind, modern medicine intervenes with its bandages and drugs. Aurora resists its diagnosis and cure. Caught up in her own experiment and quest for meaning, she finds she needs the darkness. But is it as valid as light? And with the angel’s devotions becoming punishing, [I don't know what that means. You're probably starting to think I'm a moron.] is it worth her life?
A novel of antitheses, THE ONE AT THE HELM explores what it is to be human from the inside out. At 65,000 words, it is a psychological journey into madness and health, control and relinquishment; a novel that asks what brings the darkness? And must we know it to know light?
[insert bio here]
Per your guidelines the first five pages follow. I am happy to send the complete novel at your request. In the meantime, I appreciate your attention.
PS In case it isn't clear where I get my title, The One at the Helm could be god, the self, one of the personae that take control when we lose it (i.e., madness), all those things that we default to when we choose to give our power away. Oh yeah, and there is that ship into which the dominant persona shoves the repressed parts in the opening.
This is a bit better than the original version, which the author replaced at the last minute, having anticipated my complaint that there was no plot. Unfortunately, there's still no plot. I can't tell if there's an island or a locked ward or an angel or a madman, or a psychiatrist's office, or actual physical combat . . . or if it's all in Aurora's mind.
Start over. Does Aurora believe she's losing her mind? Why, what events/symptoms gave her a clue? Does the therapist she goes to have a name, or just go by Sage? Is most of the book set in the therapist's office? Where else is it set?
Try telling us what happens without mentioning one single thing that isn't real. Tell it as if the reader is nine years old. I'm confident that if you do those two things, you'll have a much better query, and then we can let Phoenix refine it into a winner.