Monday, March 05, 2012

Face-Lift 998

Guess the Plot

The Curse of Dreams

1. When you wake up you're back in your real life.

2. Running away from a bully, Tommy and Devon discover a portal to a world where people's dreams are stored in boxes. The curse part is that if you stay in this world you eventually can talk only in declarative sentences.

3. Mark is delighted when Ginny steps out of his dreams and into his arms. Soon all his dreams are coming true--including the one where he shows up at school naked and must write the answers to his midterms in Sanskrit.

4. Norm is watching Inception, when he falls asleep. He dreams that he is in a movie theatre and that Inception is playing and that he falls asleep and dreams that he is in a movie theatre watching Inception...

5. Apple Inc.’s PR woes are resolved when its Chinese sweatshop affiliate offers its workers a pay hike—but at what price? Around the clock work hours, and no dreaming of a better life. Li Mu Bai, barely awake, escapes this iPrison but the artificial lifeform iSteve is hot on her trail.

6. A sorcerer can place a gem beneath your pillow and capture your dream. Then by placing the gem under another person's pillow, that person has your dream. Presumably the sorcerer has figured out a way to use this for his personal gain while ignoring the fact that it's harmful or deadly to the original dreamer.

Original Version

Dear EE,

I, as an avid reader of your blog, would like to send you the synopsis of The Curse of Dreams, a 50,000 word middle-grade adventure/fantasy novel. [I'm treating this as a query letter, not a synopsis, as it has an opening, a closing, and ten sentences of plot in the middle. A synopsis would take us further into the story.]

When fourteen-year-old best friends Tommy and Devon sign up for the school’s yearly summer camp, they expect a carefree week of hiking in the forest, having fun with friends and singing around the campfire. [What is this, the 1950s? Summer camp is all computers these days.] Their excitement is a little lessened when they find out that their group’s leader is going to be Terrence, a senior who used to bully them during the past year; however, they decide not to let him ruin their summer. But when one of Terrence’s nasty pranks goes awry, Tommy ends up crawling into a strict cave-like passage [Strict? Is that a spelunking term?] and disappears. Coming back a few hours later – Terrence, afraid that Tommy fled on purpose and maybe he and Devon set him up, did not report him gone – he acts strangely, for instance, he refuses a hug from his crush. [I've heard the average length of a sentence in a piece of prose is about fifteen words. If this were a query by Salman Rushdie, I might expect a higher number, but you're querying a middle grade book. You might want to demonstrate you can write an occasional sentence that a middle grader can finish before he's in high school.] [My complaining about the length of sentences in no way suggests that I consider that last sentence to actually be a sentence.] Devon decides to investigate, and discovers the cave is actually a portal to another world; a world where people’s dreams and nightmares are kept, the first in ornate boxes on the shelves of an immense mansion, the latter lurking in a dark forest. [It's not that long sentences are bad, it's that varying your sentence length is good. You don't want the reader thinking, Whew, I finally made it through that sentence. I thought it would never end. I hope the next sentence is a short one so I can regroup. Maybe I'll peek ahead and see where the next period is. Holy shit! It's seven lines down! If this guy were on Twitter he'd NEVER finish a sentence. Dammit, now I've forgotten what the query's about; should I go back to the beginning, or just move on to the next query? That, self, is what's known as a rhetorical question.] Both Tommy and Devon have some fun peeking into their acquaintances’ dreams, then decide it’d be too risky to keep going back and forth, especially with Terrence continuously watching their every step. [I don't want to keep harping on the same dead horse, so let's talk about paragraphing. It's 2012. Attention spans are at an all-time low. I, personally, want to be able to read a complete chapter during a TV commercial break, with time left over to run to the kitchen for a large cookie. Which means if I open a book and see a paragraph that reaches all the way to the horizon, it goes back on the shelf, even if the only other book available is by James Patterson.] Devon breaks his promise not to go back, for he finds himself disturbed by the memory of a mysterious young girl walking around the mansion. [I would think a young girl wandering in the dark forest would be disturbing; the mansion is dreamland, where chocolate and ice cream are freely consumed without weight gain.] Though he does return to the camp, this second disappearance makes things really complicated for the boys, who now have to decide whether to investigate the matter further, or forget it. Tommy tries to leave it behind, but Devon wants to know more about the girl, who, unbeknowst [unbeknownst] to them, disappeared from their town more than a year before. But how did she end up there, [Possibly she crawled into the same cave-like passage.] and why she does never seem to have questions or wishes? [No one comes away from a conversation with a stranger thinking, Odd. She didn't seem to have questions or wishes.] For she only talks in declarative sentences. [That's the big finish? We simply must risk returning to this other world because there's a mysterious girl there who speaks only in declarative sentences? Consider changing the title to The Girl Who Spoke Only in Declarative Sentences. It sounds like a Philip K. Dick novel, his follow-up to The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike.]

I am a young wannabe writer with a BA in Librarianship and a MA in Translation. I speak five languages and have been writing for my drawer for several years now. [I've been writing in my drawers for several years.]

Thank you,


We gotta have more excitement. Does the mysterious girl need rescuing? From what? Is there danger from people's nightmares? Does Terrence wear a goalie mask?

There's a lot of setup here. I can't be sure whether the main plot is the part involving Terrence or the part involving the mysterious girl, but I assume it's the latter. Thus, the setup can be reduced to: Trying to escape from a bully at summer camp, best friends Devon and Tommy enter a cave and emerge into a world where people's dreams and nightmares are stored.

Now you can move directly to Devon exploring the Mansion of Dreams and meeting a mysterious girl who seems perfectly normal--until he realizes that she speaks only in declarative sentences! Then you add a couple short paragraphs in which you tell us what happens, bringing out the most exciting parts, which may or may not include solving the fascinating mystery of why a girl never utters exclamatory, imperative or interrogative sentences.

I anxiously await your query for the sequel, The Boy Who Never Used Prepositions.


kbradley67 said...

Interesting concept. But I have to agree with EE, who is this story really about? And you mention a second disappearance. Is it the two boys who are exploring you speak of or another girl who disappears? This is unclear to me. Build up the suspense.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

You know, I was going to be my usual mean nasty self till I got to you speaking five languages. I really appreciate that in a person. I used to speak five but am down to three at the moment. It's time people stopped treating us like some kinda freaks.

Some thoughts:

First, two fourteen-year-old boys being sent to camp might think about many things, but I doubt singing around the campfire is one of them. Make your characters more real. And less timid. They shouldn't decide it's too dangerous to go back and forth. There may be kids who would think that, but those kids probably shouldn't apply for jobs as protagonists.

Second, stakes? Missing girl is good. Missing girl who can only speak in declarative sentences is a yawn. I assume there's a real threat of some kind here. You're not giving too much away if you tell us what it is.

Everything in the the first three sentences of your synopsis (up to the word "disappears") could be said in one sentence. That would leave you room to make your characters more oomph-y and your threat bigger. If the manuscript doesn't actually have big threats and oomph-y characters, then revise it or trunk it.

Rashad Pharaon said...

Hmm. I can see one of the issues. This reads like hybrid synopsis-query: a quynopsis, if you will lol. I would recommend looking at the back-cover of similar books and maybe using those as a point of reference to add pizzaz to your sentences? Notice how they alternate short and long sentences? And how proper word choice creates a perfect flow?

I also recommend ANNIHILATING redundant descriptions such as: strict cave-like passage and changing it to just....underground passage, or something similar?

I really like your idea. I just think you need to take each individual sentence, put the power words towards the end, and recraft the grammatical structure. Make it leaner. Meaner.

Make it bite.

You've got good material to work with.

I liked the rythm of this passage (I did change the last word and took out a comma):
Devon decides to investigate and discovers the cave is actually a portal to another world, a world where people’s dreams and nightmares dwell.

Happy Re-writing! :)

none said...

EE dear, I think in your last sentence you meant something other than declarative. No? You spoilt your own joke!

Eh. Where do they put the dreams that aren't so easily classified?

'I am a young wannabe writer' doesn't seem like the best way to introduce yourself. Agents want books they can sell.

Whirlochre said...

This needs filtering through the strict, cave-like passage of Quynopsis.

The stuff that gets dumped out of the nozzle, you can use for synopsis v2 pending further minionic suggestions. Anything dropped into the gunge tank can be saved for a future query.

Once you're clearer about the format, the re-telling of the material should pose less of a problem. Currently you have broad brush stuff all mixed in with finer details and it's a little confusing.

The detail about your five languages is interesting but I'd lose all the other apologist stuff in that final wannabe perfect paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Escaping from a bully at summer camp, best friends Devon and Tommy hide in a cave and enter the portal to a world of dreams and nightmares.
Dreams fill the mansion, nightmares lurk in the dark ( cold/spooky) forest. The boys peek into a few dreams, Devon is disturbed when he sees a young girl walking up/down the staircase (or float through a stone wall). (He could recognize her, see below for reason.)
When the bully, their camp counselor, discovers (what the boys have been up to or something) he (takes action) and/or refuses to allow Devon and Tommy out of his sight (or ties them up).
But Devon (action, escapes/manages to do something) and (tries to help the girl or solve the mystery/problem of the girl or something.) The bully (interferes again) but Devon, determined to (action) returns to the mansion and the mystery girl to discover (fill in).
Add a paragraph here with more stuff. (I hope you can find an alternative to declarative sentences. That efficiently pushed any puff of wind out my sail. ) The Curse of Dreams, complete at 50,000 words is a middle-grade adventure/fantasy novel.

You’re heavy on backwash. Lots of great advice with examples in the archives. Delete unnecessary details, get to the dead girl and what Devon does to help her/solve the mystery.

PS Might work better if the dead girl was his classmate/friend. If a kid saw a ghost he might be too terrified to jump in. If she’d been his friend he has a reason to help/get involved.

150 said...

I only speak in declarative sentences, but that's just because I am incredibly overconfident.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

In elementary school we learned there were three kinds of sentences:


This struck me as not nearly enough kinds. But imperative is (for most people) not that common: Go away! Come here! Take those damn rabbits out of here! And interrogative just means a question.

IOW you can get an awful lot said using only declarative sentences.

Evil Editor said...

HOLY CRAP!! They forgot to teach you exclamatory sentences!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am agreeing with EE's comment in his notes, "That's the big finish?" Use of the declarative case isn't in question.

Fomi said...

Thank you SO much! Will re-write it soon :)

Some comments: the girl is not a ghost (she's alive), and the declarative mode is weird because she never says "what's your name?" or anything to the boys who pop up there (they do not notice it this way, I said it). And the dreams aren't coming out like that, you just see them.

Thanks again!

Fomi said...

Hey EE, can I repost a waaay improved query with the same exact title?

I thank you all for the great advice, I have even rewritten parts of the story now. Much cooler this way.

Evil Editor said...

A new version may be submitted as a comment to this post. I'll alert everyone when it's up.