Friday, February 01, 2013

Face-Lift 1101


Guess the Plot

Cave of Secrets

1. 49-year-old virgin and spelunker Bernard Longhard finally gets a date. Wow, has he ever been caving in the wrong places!

2. A trio of wiccans--Larry Lotter, Donald Deasley and Permione Wranger--discover the Cave of Secrets on the outskirts of Bogsmeade whilst hunting the nefarious You-Knew-Whom. Unfortunately, Catman got there first. Will there be room for brooms once the Catmobile gets parked? Also, unicorns, werewolves and giants unite against the humans.

3. Exploring a cave, aspiring marine biologist Paige Watson discovers a makeshift submarine. Is it a forgotten remnant from some war? Or could it be the secret weapon of supervillain Turtleman?

4. It's a cave, and it has secrets, and that's all I'm gonna tell you in my query, but all is revealed in the book. Presumably.

5. Goblins, orcs, and dwarves all know
Where the naughty children go
The ones who won't go right to bed
Or hit their sisters in the head
The ones who never eat their greens
And will not keep their bedroom clean.

They'll come at night, they'll come by day
To take the horrid ones away
Off to the secret cave they go
Where there are children you may know
Ellen, David, Mary Jean
Jayden, Robert, LaTyrene.

All were naughty,all were bad
They drove their folks and teachers mad
But now they toil, far away
And never get a chance to play
Or dance beneath the happy sun
Jumping up and down for fun.

So listen children, don't be bad
Or make your Mom and Daddy mad
Always be good and nice and kind
Else one day you just might find
Goblins have come to get you, so
Off to their secret cave you go.




Original Version

Evil Editor,

If it really is a submarine, they’ve found more than just adventure. [We don't need this sentence. Save it till we know what "it" is and who "they" are.]

Paige Watson – a cross between Nancy Drew and a young Stephanie Plum – is thirteen when her dad lands a summer fellowship in the Caribbean. Other girls might balk at leaving home for that long. That’s another thing she can’t stand about them. [Another thing? What was the first thing?] [Also, I don't recall Stephanie Plum ever leaving Trenton, New Jersey.] Marine biology ranks way over friends. Cruz Rivera lives on the island of Culebra, and snorkels all summer. [I would start a new paragraph with Cruz. Or move him to sentence 2 in this paragraph.] When they meet on the reef, he knows they’ll hit it off. He’s wrong. Even adrift in the Atlantic, clinging to the same boogie board, she’s the queen of awkward silences and he’s an idiot. ["Idiot" isn't the best word. We want a semi-endearing word for the "hero," like flake, screwball, misfit, kook . . .]

Between the perils of Puerto Rico’s coast and a makeshift submarine deep in a cave, whatever they have – and it’s not friendship – actually clicks. [You just said he was wrong to believe they would hit it off. Now you say they click.] Why would anyone need a secret sub? The only path from the cave leads to a Fish and Wildlife guy, who’s definitely not interested in the turtles he pretends. [He pretends turtles? How about: not as interested in turtles as he pretends.] [Also, if you can't convince a thirteen-year-old you're interested in turtles, you're not trying hard enough.] When the tide changes, gun barrels are flashing and the undertow’s far worse than they expected. [Whoa, I missed it. When did Blue Lagoon turn into Thunderball?]

CAVE OF SECRETS is a story about trusting once again, [That Fish and Wildlife guy wasn't really interested in turtles. I just know it. I'll never trust another human being.] [Unless he proves me wrong by showing me he actually is interested in turtles.] a middle grade adventure at 22,000 words. I’m a member of the SCBWI and several critique groups. I've published a few medical papers in the past, but now write middle grade adventure and fantasy.

I do appreciate your time,


Notes

Not clear how this is about trusting again. If you just tell the story, including the part where she loses trust, we'll get it.

Each sentence should follow logically from the previous one. Too many of these don't, especially in the "Between the perils" paragraph.

Just tell us what happens. While spending summer on the Caribbean island Culebra, 13-year-old Paige Watson meets Cruz Rivera while snorkeling. Together they stumble on a makeshift submarine in a cave. And?

The Nancy Drew/Stephanie Plum reference made me think comedic mystery. This sounds more like thriller. Admittedly the line between mystery and thriller may blur a bit in the middle grade set. Are the kids trying to solve a crime or save the world? Is Turtleman a common criminal? An evil overlord? An eccentric inventor? Less setup/more plot.

GTP #5: Khazar-khum.


25 comments:

Veronica Rundell said...

Okay, first: Khazar-khum--Bravo.

Second, Author: this sounds like an interesting MG mystery, but the query was hard to decipher.

The lines you give about Paige can be discarded. Don't talk about what she doesn't like about others--emphasize her strengths, her character, her desire. You'd want an agent to 'click' with her--so make her endearing, too.

Give some specifics from the plot that move in more linear fashion. It's too big a jump between the makeshift sub to FW guy-and again to gunbarrels and undertow.

Also, I'd be wary of putting a nebulous term like 'click' in the query as the connotation may be damaging to your chances even if the relationship truly is innocent in the manuscript.

In MG, innocence is the expectation. Check out Mary Kole's kidlit blog if you have reason to believe your material is questionable. From the conference talks, blogs, and (craft) books I've read, it is clear that there is a hard line publishers will not cross on this topic.

Tk said...

Khazar-khum wins the GTP awards for 2013 - calling it now.

Author, I'm seconding the confusion about trusting. I was also confused by That’s another thing she can’t stand about them. Marine biology ranks way over friends. I think you mean she has no friends because she's more interested in turtles? but it sounds as if it's her friends who prefer marine biology to her. Or did one of them betray her?

The setting is interesting and the characters seem to have life; good job there.

Chicory said...

Other girls have a problem spending an exotic summer in the tropics? Who are these girls? I'd expect any teen to jump at the chance of heading out to Puerto Rico. She comes across as a bit judgmental for complaining about other girls who get homesick. I love the setting, and the mystery/suspense aspects, I'm just not clicking with your heroine.

Can I just add that #5 is brilliant?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...


Author, no MG editor I've ever worked with has any time at all for romance. (In middle grade novels, that is.) MG love is a non-starter. Curiosity about the possibility of future romance is the furthest you can go, and even there, you wanna dip your toe and run.

Gail Carson Levine gets a pass on this, but the rest of us do not.

22,000 words is on the very short side. EE doesn't like us to say that, but I'm sayin' it.

The query is a bit awkward-- most of the sentences seem unrelated to each other. Be straightforward. Tell us what Paige wants to accomplish and what obstacles stand in her way.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Oh, and nicely done, Khazar-khum!

khazar-khum said...

Thank you all for the compliments. I had a blast writing it. Maybe it's because the goblins and orcs were telling me what to say.

Author: Secret submarine cave! Wow! But I'm so completely confused by the query, I can't tell why anyone is going anywhere.

Romance in MG means that they can now realize the opposite sex isn't loaded with cooties and tarantulas.

Paul said...

OK, this is the author. Thanks for your suggestions so far. Let me see if I am understanding you. This is try #2:

Thirteen-year-old Paige Watson scrambles to explore the island of Culebra. She’d take time with leatherback turtles over any of her “friends” back home.

She snorkels by herself until Cruz Rivera ruins it. He’s so annoying and can’t even get why they’re not hitting it off. Adrift in the Atlantic, clinging to the same boogie board, she’s the queen of awkward silences and he’s an idiot. By the time they’re rescued, whatever they have – and it’s not friendship – is at least a bit less painful.

They scale the cliffs by the shore and discover a makeshift submarine deep in a cave. Why would anyone need a secret sub? Clues point to a Fish and Wildlife guy, who’s definitely not caring for the turtles he pretends. If he’s poaching, Paige wants to nail him. She leads Cruz to his warehouse. By the time they discover smuggled drugs, gun barrels are flashing and surprise becomes panic. To survive, they’ll have to work together, and trust doesn’t come easy to a girl whose been burned before.

CAVE OF SECRETS is a middle grade adventure at 22,000 words. I’m a member of the SCBWI and several critique groups. I've published a few medical papers in the past, but now write middle grade adventure and fantasy.

khazar-khum said...

Author, that's much better. How old is Cruz? He needs to be within a year of Paige, max.

This needs fixing: 'Clues point to a Fish and Wildlife guy, who’s definitely not caring for the turtles LIKE he pretends.'

How do they get adrift on a boogie board in the Atlantic? That right there sounds like enough for a book.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

It's much better, yes. Much easier to follow.

There's still the problem that others mentioned before-- the opening makes Paige come across as unlikeable. The complexities of her feelings about friends back home are something you have time to deal with in a novel, but not a query.

I'm going to talk about the 22k again, and here's why. 22k is really, really short.

Take a look at Peter Abrahams' Echo Falls series. Those are mysteries with a 13-year-old girl as the protagonist. I've got one here... Down The Rabbit Hole. It's bound like an adult mass market pb. It's 407 pages long. Print's a little more widely spaced than adult books, but my estimate is 77,000 words. My own books are around that range, and they're MG. 50-60k would be more average, probably. 35k would be on the short side.

You may wonder why I'm going on about this. It's because market matters. An agent won't want to pick up a book that she can't see a market for. Your plot sounds like upper age range MG. 22k sounds like lower age range. If your book is in fact for the lower age range (7 to 9, say) then you want to re-focus your query to reflect that.

Chicory said...

Oh, this is much better. You're voice is coming through, which makes everything more interesting. Second khazar-khum's comment about the missing word in your sentence about the wildlife guy.

150 said...

I think this version is very readable, but I still don't think it has a strong enough throughline; every sentence should follow from the one before it. Is there a connection between being rescued and scaling the cliffs? How do they get from not hitting it off to being set adrift in the Atlantic?

Veronica Rundell said...

Thanks for clarifying the relationship angle--but I think you might still benefit from softening Paige a bit. The way this reads, she seems unfriendly, not scorned. It may be better if she seems more likeable.

Maybe something like: "13 y/o Paige jumps at the chance to explore the wildlife on Culebra when her dad goes on sabbatical. Wild snakes are better company than her so-called friends back home, anyway.

Though friendly, meeting Cruz only reminds Paige of the heartbreak back home; something she'd rather forget entirely. At least, until she and Cruz end up clinging to a boogie board adrift in the Atlantic. Together, the new comrades save themselves....discover cave, end up foiling a drug/turtle smuggling operation..."

It sounds like a great story, but you might want to hit the buttons--social injury, self-isolation, vulnerability, overcoming fear, new adventure--a bit harder.

Also, I agree w/Alaska. 22K sounds more like Magic Treehouse length. And while those books are chock full of adventure, they are also 7-9 y/o fiction (early MG) not 13 y/o.

Just some thoughts.

BuffySquirrel said...

Who's been burned before, not whose been burned before. It won't matter that much, ie an agent won't reject your query for one typo, but it's better to get it right if you can.

Agree with those who suggest you need to be upfront with Paige's trust issues.

Paul said...

Try #3 here:

Thirteen-year-old Paige Watson connects more with leatherback turtles than people, at least since her mother died.

Snorkeling and exploring by herself on the island of Culebra, she meets local Cruz Rivera. He’s so annoying and can’t even get why they’re not hitting it off. Even when a dangerous tide drags them into the Atlantic, clinging to the same boogie board, she’s the queen of awkward silences and he’s an idiot. By the time they’re rescued, whatever they have – and it’s not friendship – is at least a bit less painful. Sometimes bad company is better than no company.

Together, they scale the cliffs by the shore and discover a makeshift submarine deep in a cave. Why would anyone need a secret sub? Clues point to a Fish and Wildlife guy, who’s definitely not caring for the turtles like he pretends. If he’s poaching, Paige wants to nail him. She leads Cruz to his warehouse. By the time they discover smuggled drugs, gun barrels are flashing and surprise becomes panic. To survive, they’ll have to work together, but trust might be the one thing on the island Paige refuses to explore.

CAVE OF SECRETS is a middle grade adventure at [something much greater than 22,000] words. I’m a member of the SCBWI and several critique groups. I've published a few medical papers in the past, but now write middle grade adventure and fantasy.

I do appreciate your time,


EE and Minions,

I hope this version is moving the right way.

I really appreciate all the feedback you have given so far, but I am nervous about how the query has changed. One of the cornerstones of Paige's character is that she doesn't recognize the impact her mother's death has had on her until the end of the book, but I've put it right at the front of the query -- and that feels completely out of place. The consensus sure seems to be get the information clear, and if I have to sacrifice some of the voice and feel of the book, that's fine. What's the risk that an agent will want a different story based on reading this query?

Cruz's age is in fact a year older, but I wouldn't put that in the query, right?

I appreciate your points on length and will begin considering what sub-plots need tweaking.

Thanks again for everything.

khazar-khum said...

Howzabout: Ever since 13-year-old Paige Watson's mother died, she's been connecting more with leatherback turtles than people. When local boy Cruz Rivera tries to join her on her snorkling explorations, all she can think of is how annoying he is, and how much she wants to be left to her thoughts.

By using 'boy' you clarify his age range, which should be enough.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This reads much better. The opening no longer alienates us from Paige; instead, we feel sympathy.

What's the risk that an agent will want a different story based on reading this query?

Not very high. What matters with the manuscript is whether they like what they're reading, not whether they say "Whoah, Paige isn't coping with her mother's death as promised!"

Mind you, now: They do have to like what they're reading a lot.

One more thing... I would be inclined to leave off the medical papers. Some agents say that doctors have some writing issues. Obviously there are exceptions, but you may be better off not being taken for a doctor/ medical researcher.

(It's just something I've seen on two or three agents' blogs; it may not be a universal agent-belief.)

Veronica Rundell said...

Author! So much better! This query has all the right elements.

I don't think it's a problem that the MC doesn't recognize the impact of her mother's death until late in the game. I DO think it's important that you highlight it as why she is an introvert.

I also have techincal papers published. I agree w/Alaska re: don't include them.

Best of luck!

PLaF said...

Veronica gives an excellent suggested opening. It smacks of adventure and hints at international romance!

When you say: She snorkels by herself until Cruz Rivera ruins it.
How does Cruz ruin it? Name one specific instance that shows us how his presence is unwelcome or annoying. (BTW I’m hoping they have something in common, which is why they keep bumping in to one another, but she misconstrues his intent, i.e. he’s concerned about turtles, too, but she thinks he’s egg hunting.)

Delete: “He’s so annoying and can’t even get why they’re not hitting it off.” This might be a good 13 y/o angst-filled comment within the story, but it doesn’t add anything to the query.

I’m confused about how scaling a cliff would help them find a cave with a submarine. How did the submarine get up the cliff??

Love the question: why would anyone need a secret sub?

Delete: she leads Cruz to his warehouse. It begs too many questions that don’t need answering here.

Still needs work: by the time they discover smuggled drugs…trust doesn’t come easy to a girl who’s been burned before.

It’s not clear how this ties in with the beginning of the story. Trust isn’t her problem, getting close to someone is. What does she learn from turtles and drug smugglers that helps her resolve relationship issues with Cruz…and solve the mystery of the secret sub?

The story sounds fun - don't give up!

Anonymous said...

Maybe consider combining opening sentences from your different versions:

Thirteen-year-old Paige Watson connects more with leatherback turtles than people, at least since her mother died. So when her dad lands a summer fellowship in the Caribbean, she scrambles to explore the island of Culebra. She envisions a summer of snorkeling and hiking . . . alone.

Kelsey said...

One thing you might want to consider-- in try #3, the paragraph setting up P and C's semi-friendship is almost half the query (excluding the paragraph with genre, word count etc.). In your novel, is it half the story? I'd suggest compressing it a little, taking a hard look at how exactly each sentence builds on the information revealed in the previous sentence, and seeing what captures the essence of their relationship in the strongest, most concise way. For example, I think your last sentence: "Sometimes bad company is better than no company" doesn't add much to what you've already made clear, and I think the 2nd-to-last sentence is a stronger one to end on, anyway.

Also, an encouragement: changing "...to a girl burned before" to "trust might be the one thing on the island Paige refuses to explore" is MILES better at capturing an appropriate MG voice. I had this whole rant about that earlier sentence written out, and then realized you'd already changed it : P

Cheers, fellow author!

Paul said...

I would love to bounce one more version off of you, and I really appreciate your suggestions so far:

Awesome Agent,

Since thirteen-year-old Paige’s mother died, she’s connected more with leatherback turtles than people. Her dad lands a summer fellowship on a Caribbean island, where she explores by herself – the way she likes it – until meeting local boy Cruz Rivera. He’s brash and arrogant and has no clue why they aren’t hitting it off.

When a dangerous tide sweeps them into the Atlantic, clinging to the same boogie board, they settle a few differences. After they’re rescued, Paige lets him hang out, even if he is still an idiot. Scaling cliffs by the shore, they find a sea cave with a makeshift submarine. Why would anyone need a secret sub? Clues point to a Fish and Wildlife guy, who’s trying to cover up something with the turtles. If he’s poaching, Paige wants to nail him. They sneak into his warehouse and discover smuggled drugs. Gun barrels start flashing. They just want to survive, but if they work together, they might actually topple the drug runners.

CAVE OF SECRETS is a middle grade adventure at _____ words. I’m a member of the SCBWI and write middle grade fantasy and adventure.

I do appreciate your time,

Evil Editor said...

I would get rid of: After they’re rescued, Paige lets him hang out, even if he is still an idiot.

I'm not sure we need the sub in the query. It leads me to wonder not why anyone would need a secret sub (Hey, who wouldn't want their own submarine?) but why anyone with a sub would have it in a cave up on a cliff. It's not much use if it isn't in the water.

I have to wonder whether middle grade readers wouldn't respond better to a villain who was poaching turtles than to one who's running drugs.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree that making the bad guy a threat to the turtles of whom Paige is so fond would raise the stakes.

I think this looks good. I would try to find a more precise word than "connects". And add "complete" after "middle grade adventure".

Btw, you're going to be doing extensive revising, right? When you're done, this query will probably no longer suit the ms.

150 said...

Hi, Paul! This is better.

I'm speculating here, so I could be completely off base, but your continued emphasis on the swept-to-sea part strikes me as odd. It makes me think the book contains two stories that don't really touch: one in which a lonely girl makes a friend, and one in which two friends solve a mystery. My instinct says that the making-friends plot should not be totally resolved until the end, and the secret-sub plot should be introduced almost immediately in the beginning. If that's what you did--awesome! Show it in the query! If not, are you sure your book hangs together structurally from beginning to end?

Veronica Rundell said...

I think the first paragraph is great, but the second paragraph is a bit choppy.

I rather like EE's idea of turtle smuggling. Frankly, I'm not sure how many 13 y/o's would recognize drugs by sight. (And maybe I'm naive, but I'm hoping it's a precious few.)

I only wonder about the content b/c MG is so highly scrutinized. There are so many awful things adults do, witnessing any of them could be dangerous. It's your story, but at the end of this journey it would excellent if your book was also marketable.