Thursday, October 04, 2012

Face-Lift 1073

Guess the Plot

School of Secrets

1. At a new private high school, the art teacher lectures about counterfeiting and the science teacher lectures about blowing up bank vaults. 13-year-old CJ and his classmate Ian discover that their new school is actually an educational experiment to identify and train future government agents. And suddenly school doesn't suck.

2. The curriculum? Unknown. The teachers? Masked and hooded. Yet somehow Dwayne's parents think it's the perfect boarding school for their son. Dwayne disagrees...until he finds that he's being trained to be a ninja/spy at the . . .  School of Secrets.

3. 1664. It's been nearly two years since Moliere's subversive "School for Wives" premiered. Alain Montremart longs for that kind of Royal patronage. What better way to get Royal attention than to write a play about King Louis XIV's gay brother, and then threaten to produce it if the money isn't forthcoming?

4. In Jack's new school, teachers take attendance and just watch the students. Other students whisper but won't talk to Jack. He takes a test and gets a zero. The teacher won't tell him the answers or explain the questions. So Jack blows up the school.

5. Belinda Little, Seattle nature photographer, becomes alarmed as she witnesses strange mass gatherings of animals -- troops of apes in the treetops, pounces of prowling cats, murders of crows in downtown parks. While scuba diving in Puget Sound she discovers a shiver of sharks guarding an underwater laboratory, and swims straight into a deadly . . . School of Secrets.

6. 17-year-old Natanyu is one of the 100 chosen scholars who must memorize the list of thousands upon thousands of Secrets of Suppuppa. Most of the Secrets are just silly gossip about people long dead. But there's one secret in the list that somebody will kill to preserve. And the fate of the Kingdom of Suppuppa could hang in the balance.

7. Ever had that dream where you find yourself in class and everything seems normal until you realize you're totally naked? Charlie has no idea what his teacher's name is or even what subject he's supposed to be learning. Not only does he not have the answers to the pop quiz, he doesn't even know what the questions are. And nobody will tell him a goddamned thing.

8. Mr. Seng, the principal, is a Cambodian war criminal. Ms. Frost, the guidance counselor, was a hooker/drug kingpin for 32 years. The kids know all this, of course, and don't care. But is there a plot afoot to rig the election for homecoming queen?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Nerdy thirteen-year-old CJ will do anything to get out of PE – including taking the entrance exam for the Holmes Academy, a new private high school opening in his area. Smart as he is, CJ is surprised to be offered a full scholarship to the elite school, where he won’t be the only brainiac in his class. The first day CJ is shocked to discover that the only kid he knows at Holmes is Ian Childers, a class trouble-maker that CJ avoids at all costs. But only weeks after the Holmes Academy opens, Secret Service agents with ear pieces and black suits start hanging around and a student disappears.  [Delete the word "But"; it suggests that this sentence is somehow related to the previous one. Then start a new paragraph with "Only."] Why do only CJ and Ian seem to notice? [You don't need that sentence. It suggests that everyone except them is in on it.] Putting aside their differences to investigate, they combine Ian’s computer skills with CJ’s determination to find the truth. When CJ learns that Ian hacked his way into the school by altering the entrance exam results, their new trust is threatened. Then, a sudden glimpse into Ian’s life convinces CJ that breaking the rules to get a spot at Holmes was justified, just this once. [This is a subplot we can do without in the query.]

Together CJ and Ian investigate their classmate’s disappearance [Yes, that was stated in the previous paragraph.] and accidentally uncover two secrets. First, their missing classmate has joined the Witness Protection Program, and her new identity is about to be sold to the criminals who want her dead. [If they are purposefully investigating their classmate's disappearance, I don't see how you can call uncovering this secret accidental. It's like saying I was trying to bake a chocolate cake and I accidentally ended up with . . . a chocolate cake. Uncovering information is the whole point of investigating.] [Also, don't they wait until after the witness testifies against the criminals to give her a new identity and send her to Arkansas?] Second, there is a secret about the Academy that no student is supposed to learn – that it’s actually an educational experiment to identify and train future government agents. No wonder the art teacher is so interested in counterfeiting and the science teacher can lecture for hours about blowing up bank vaults! [It sounds more like an educational experiment to train future criminals.] But just as the truth about the missing student starts spilling out, Ian’s older brother accidentally triggers a fight with a dangerous drug dealer. Now CJ and Ian must avoid the drug dealer while hacking into the FBI server to find their missing classmate’s new Witness Protection Program identity and warn her. Risking their own lives, [Spoiler alert.] the boys save their classmate and Ian’s brother, all while protecting the secret of the Holmes Academy.

I am seeking representation for School of Secrets, a novel for middle graders. Complete at 40,000 words, the story explores unlikely friendships as two boys break free from their past reputations.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.


I'd focus on the missing classmate and leave Ian's brother and the drug dealer out of the query.

When you discover that someone has been placed in witness protection, is it a good idea to keep digging for more information?

The identity and location of the classmate is supposedly not easy to learn. Yet one of the few people trusted with the information is selling it? And the evidence that he/she is selling it is sitting somewhere for CJ to discover it? Are they selling it on Craigslist?

Should we assume the girl's entire family is in witness protection? Surely they wouldn't ship one thirteen-year-old girl off to Idaho to make a new life for herself.

It's too long, but once we get rid of the subplots it should be about right.

Did you consider a main plot in which the students discover they're being trained for a specific mission? Possibly a mission in which they're being used for nefarious purposes and they turn the tables on their teachers/trainers? Or a plot in which a student goes missing after the students have been through a lot of training, and they use their skills for the rescue? It seems a 13-year-old with no training would be in over his head.


150 said...

More like private EYE school, amirite?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Okay, I have to say this is the coolest premise for a middle grade novel that has wandered onto this blog in many a long month.


In addition to all the stuff EE ding'd, I also wondered why, in a school where students were apparently selected for just the qualities that CJ and Ian display, they are the only ones curious about their missing classmate. And if it's a schoolful of nosy parkers, is it the best place to hide someone in the Witness Protection Program?

I am not sure what the Secret Service is doing in the story, either... their business is not really that secret. They protect the president, basically. So unless the missing girl is the president's daughter...?

It sounds like you've got a story here that will evoke some interest, if you can get the query letter right. Restructure the query letter so that it shows:

1. The set-up, briefly and non-repetitively. (The enemy-become-friend is a nice touch.)

2. The challenge. A girl is missing, nobody knows nothin'; only CJ and Ian seem to care. (Keep it believable-- does her family care? This is why in the MG biz we are so fond of disposing of the parents on page one.)

3. The attempt to overcome the challenge. When CJ and Ian try to act, they find themselves in even deeper doo-doo, their lives are threatened or whatever and... done.

Don't tell us the ending. Your job here is to make the agent want to read further.

Good luck with this. If your manuscript is polished, and if you've researched all your real-world stuff thoroughly (Secret Service, Witness Protection Program) I think you could be onto something here.

BuffySquirrel said...

It struck me that the Ian's brother/drug dealer plot is a distraction, not just in the query, but possibly in the novel. The conflict should grow out of what the boys are up to, not be shoe-horned in from outside. But maybe it works in the book.

I'd rework the second sentence. The second half reads as if it's been tacked on rather than as if it has any relationship with the first part. Also, srsly, he changes school just to get out of PE? Also, srsly, this school for training government agents has no interest in physical fitness? At all?