Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Face-Lift 1033

Guess the Plot


1. Bored with the other vampires in the nest, Lisle goes hunting for fresh companions. Soon she's swarmed by hipsters and wanna-be's. Will she have to bite them all to find the one she wants to keep--forever?

2. While gazing at her latest painting, artist Alysse is literally drawn into the fantastical world she created in her head. For the first time ever she's happy. But will she be happy when she finds out she may be trapped inside her head . . . forever?

3. Jack Miller is living a normal life in the suburbs of America until his wife receives a call that will change everything. Her mother has been bitten by a vampire and cast out of her neighborhood. Now the mother-in-law-turned-undying-demon must live in Jack's guest bedroom...forever.

4. Katie Holloway always signed her love letters to her hockey goalie fiance Malcolm Daley “Forever yours”. The words take on a new meaning when Malcolm dies in a freak Zamboni accident and is buried in the newly opened Eternal Springs cemetery where the residents don’t rest peacefully. Can Malcolm prove his undying love, or will Katie convince him once and for all that “forever” doesn’t mean spending the rest of her days as a zombie bride?

5. High school seniors Katherine and Michael hook up, make the beast with two backs, and believe they are destined to be together "forever". Then Katherine gets a job at a summer camp, meets a hot tennis instructor, dumps Michael, and finds herself destined to live on the ALA list of Most Challenged Books... forever.

6. The diary of a leprechaun. Complete details of his interest in milkmaids, his campaign to rid the isle of wee pesky elves, his fear of vampires. Plus, a pot of gold, two dozen silly sheep, and an unreliable talking fish.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Alysse is expected to do well at everything she does, all because she is an only child. Her parents are very strict, claiming that they gave up everything for her to be successful. Nevertheless, as much as Alysse tries she cannot understand Maths, speak Greek or run a marathon. [We give up everything for you, and you can't even speak Greek?!] The only thing she can do is paint. Her favorite thing in the world is drawing out whatever is in her mind, usually resulting in what looks like scenes from a different world, which are so fantastical, you cannot help but stare. When her mother discovers that she was not accepted to any college but the Academy of Art, Alysse realizes what people mean when they say words can kill. [The Academy of Art? You pathetic no-talent fool, I wanted you to go somewhere where you'd learn to do something useful. Like speak Greek. How are you gonna survive if you move to Greece and don't know how to say, "Where's my government handout?] She finds herself staring at her latest drawing, the most absurd of them all. After a few minutes a strange force begins pulling her towards the painting. [I once wrote a short story in which a strange force was pulling me toward Carthage. Or was it Corinth? The cool thing about strange forces is that anytime you need a character to go somewhere but you can't think of a logical way to get them there, you can just have a strange force draw them there, and no one can complain that you have a plot hole because strange forces override everything.] Her body crosses the portal between the real and the invented when she finds herself in the little world originated in her mind. She thinks she is happy for the first time, but it is not long until she realizes that she can never leave that place again. [At long last I've found true happiness. Get me the hell outta here!] She is stuck inside her head, [If this were a Twilight Zone episode, which is what it sounds like, it would end here with Alysse either horrified as she realizes she's stuck inside her head forever or happy as she sits in a padded room humming a tune and playing with finger paints and her doctors look through the window and shake their heads.] and she has less than a day before the exit is closed FOREVER. [You said she could never leave. Two sentences later you say she can.]

I look forward to hearing from you.


Presumably you are merely seeking feedback on whether your plot is hooking us, and are aware that a query letter needs word count, genre, and a more obvious indication of what the book's title is.

Paragraphing would be nice. It shows that you have some basic organizational skills. Plus some editors would rather reject you without reading your query than slog their way into a paragraph that they might be trapped in . . . forever.

This is all setup. We know who Alysse is and we know what her situation is. We want to know how she handles her dilemma. Are there people in her new world? Does anything bad happen there? What are the consequences of staying versus getting out? If staying is bad, is there a villain trying to keep her there? The main character is in her happy place; why should we care if she never gets out?

What is her body doing when she's stuck inside her head? Is it in a coma? Does she have any control over it?


T.K. Marnell said...

If Alysse's parents are immigrants, I would mention that before the disappointment that she can't speak Greek (and if they're not, then I'm very confused). I'm also a little confused by the "words can kill" bit...you can be poetic in the novel, but here the point is that she and her parents fight. You can easily tidy up the whole thing and leave more room for what happens after being sucked in with something like this:

"Alysse is expected to do well at everything she does. As her immigrant parents' only child, she's supposed to be brilliant at maths, run marathons, and speak Greek fluently, but the only thing she can do is paint. When she's rejected by every college but the Academy of Art, her parents are sorely disappointed. Alysse escapes to her room to work on her latest painting, a fantastical scene that looks like it could be from another world. Suddenly, as she stares at her canvas, she's pulled into the absurd world created in her mind...[rest of query here]"

No offense intended, but this sounds like the stories I wrote in high school. I tried the trapped-in-her-head track for my first novel in senior year, and it was a total bust. I'm not sure there's enough material here for a full-blown book. If there is, it isn't presented in this query. Is Alysse the only person in her made-up world? Or does she develop alter egos? Is there some magical being responsible for the mystical force that she can fight or fall in love with? I can't tell whether I'd like the story yet because you haven't told us anything substantial about it.

BuffySquirrel said...

It's hard to work out what's wrong with this query--aside from, as EE says, it being nearly all setup. I think I find much of the setup hard to accept. Yes, there are such pushy parents, but I think we don't need much beyond 'Alysse has two very pushy parents who expect her to excel in all subjects'. It's not because she's an only child. It's because they're barmy.

Further, children learn. They can't help it. Why then is Alysse unable to learn? What's wrong with her? What happens when she tries to learn Greek or to run? Or does she literally spend all her time drawing? In which case, I'd think her parents have bigger problems than a lack of college places.

The questions raised by the early part of the query make it hard to engage with the story that's being presented. It's not about answering those questions; it's about preventing them being asked.

Alysse has two very pushy parents who are never satisfied, and when they learn that the only college prepared to give her a place is the Academy of Art, they freak. Then Alysse gets drawn into the fantasy world. Then...whatever happens then.

PLaF said...

What is Alysse’s real problem – her parents? Failure to excel? Accidentally uses magic paint? I assume she’s in high school, so where is the drama? How does crossing the portal between the real and the invented change this problem? Who does she meet that can help or hurt her in trying to solve this problem? What does she learn? How does she apply what she has learned to solve the problem? Is Forever the real title? Are there vampires in her artsy wordl?

khazar-khum said...

Once she's in the happy place, does she find out that this is really where she was supposed to be? Is there a changeling, a fantasy Alysse who only speaks Greek and is the bane of her Flawenty-speaking parents? Do they change places? Can Alysse paint changelings into their proper homes?

I'd read that.

sarahhawthorne said...

This is an old story, but one that can still work - IF Alysse's surrealistic world is amazing enough.

Compare your story with "Coraline," "Spirited Away," "Labyrinth," or even "The NeverEnding Story." The 'real world' problem is only a framing device to the fantasy world, which is where the heroine must complete her quest.

Start over: Alysse's parents expect her to excel at everything - sports, academics, languages - but all she's really good at is painting. After another epic fight with her mother, Alysse sits down in front of her canvas... and suddenly finds herself transported into the world of her imagination.
And then what happens?

vkw said...

I thought the premise was good, but it is all set-up. Alysse's parents are expecting her to be something she is not. She escapes her shame/guilt/anger by allowing/being/ pulled into a painting where she is happy.

she soon finds out (how? tell me its a changeling. I just don't think we have enough changleing stories out there) that if she doesn't escape her fantasy world by tomorrow at midnight, she will never be able to leave. And, the problem with this is? (If someone lives in heaven, why do they want to leave?)

khazar-khum said...

Maybe her real parents in her new land have been desperately searching for her for years, and this is an answer to their prayers.

Jo-Ann said...

Dear writer,
Ancient and Modern Greek are very different languages, and I suspect she's being pushed to learn Ancient Greek to read classical literature in the original, a skill which screams "expensive education" but has no practical application in the real world... other than to impress others with an expensive education, and therefore fast-track her to a managerial career in the British civil service (yes, minister). In which case, living in her own head sounds like a much nicer alternative and I can hardly blame her for choosing this option.

The classical Greek stuff might tie-in nicely with the world-in-head if its inhabited by the pantheon. Except she flunked Greek and can't converse with them, but that's ok, it's in her head and they kindly learn English for her benefit. Or speak in tongues, hey, they are gods, after all.

Ok, that was a diversion... what was I going to say? Yep, what the rest said, your story has potential but it's all set up.

Dont give up, start over and have some fun with Alysse and her paintings.

Mister Furkles said...

Every story needs a main story problem that the MC will try to resolve. Other than being in a dream world, she doesn't appear to have a main problem to solve.

A. M. Perkins said...

My biggest question was definitely at the end: she has a terrible life with terrible parents who verbally abuse her, yet, when she's pulled into a world of pure happiness, she freaks out that she might be trapped there.

Color me confused.

While it may make sense in your book, I'm not understanding the truncated version. Here it sounds like a choice made to further the plot, not a choice your character would actually make.