Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Face-Lift 1132

Guess the Plot

Twice Named Son

1. Madison Paulson's parents wish she was a boy. Jackson Johnson's parents wish he was a girl. The two kids swap places, and all four parents are delighted.

2. When Cy Maestas finds himself being hunted by Earth's beloved rulers, the Orden, he realizes that his only hope is to erase his name from everywhere it's written. Hey, he's never been crazy about the name Cy Maestas anyway. Also, a van full of catatonics.

3. Tribal court has given Johnny Twice Named Son one last chance to turn his life around before they send him to Federal prison. Nothing funny, entertaining or uplifting to see here, just an aging journalist desperate to win a Pulitzer, so cut him some slack, OK?

4. Unwed mother Dancy Darlin has her baby the very night the local news announces the jackpot ticket for the lottery was sold at the beer store where she works. And she's been sleeping with the only two guys who ever buy tickets there! She's just not sure whether to name the kid Johnny Joe or Billy Bob. Luckily, she's also been sleeping with the guy who issues birth certificates at the hospital, so she gets two and names him both.

5. Son Son is sick of his obsessive compulsive parents who repeat every action to make sure they got it right, including the time they submitted his birth certificate. He wreaks vengeance on them by murdering them both twice - once as humans and once as zombies.

6. His mother is set on Jim Bob. His father insists on Chauncy Reginald. Will the fight over this infant's birth certificate spill out of the hospital and end in divorce? Also, switched at birth with the prince of Lichtenstein.

Original Version

Seventeen-year-old Cy Maestas wakes imprisoned in a van rushing through the night, surrounded by catatonics. [The van is surrounded by catatonics?] All he remembers from the last week is a camping trip gone awry. All he knows now, breathless and shaking after a harrowing escape, is that the horrified face in the mirror is not his own. [That was some shabby imprisonment if he's already escaped.] And that the second he stumbles from the road to hide, [It sounds like he jumped out of a rushing van and is stumbling into the woods. So where is this mirror he looked into after his escape?] he’s nearly knocked senseless by overwhelming visions into a million human lives. [I love it when I don't have to work hard to make the plot sound so crazy no one guesses it's the real one. True, someone will probably write in to say "I knew it was that one because it was the craziest or the least crazy or the only one I didn't want to read," but that person will be lying.]

The world has changed. For centuries its beloved rulers, the Orden, have shielded mankind from eerie catastrophic events called ‘gritos.’ ["Gritos" sounds like a breakfast cereal. Ground corn meal, cooked into a porridge consistency with lots of sugar, then shaped into O's, baked till they're golden brown and crispy, and sold in a box with a cartoon possum on the front.] Stunned to discover he’s been unconscious for seven years, [Seems more like 7000 years.] Cy doesn’t know which is more baffling – that gritos have vanished, [My favorite cereal vanished too, about 40 years ago. Kellogg's Sugar Stars.] that he’s trapped on roads by the crushing omniscience lying beyond them, or that the ruling Orden has turned sinister…and they’re hunting him down. [Just so I've got it straight, what planet is this?]

Host to a strange power that makes his own mind an alien thing, [A character whose mind becomes an alien thing I can live with; when the author's mind is an alien thing we've got trouble.] ripped from home and reeling at his physical age, Cy goes on the run. [Hasn't he been on the run since paragraph 1 when he jumped out of a speeding van?] The friends he makes he must leave behind, and those who wish him ill stay unnervingly near. Stripped of everything he knows, he struggles to remain himself - but when the Orden closes in, his only chance to survive is using his omniscience to break a heartrending taboo and erase his last anchor to self, family, and home: his name. [The Orden have almost caught up to me. But they'll never find me if I change my name.]

Close by, the Orden’s leader quietly fights to prevent the world’s stability from causing its own collapse. Humanity has adapted to the catastrophic gritos; its confidence and freedoms will upend society if gritos never return – and trigger disaster and death if they do. [It's a lose/lose situation. So who cares what happens?] If Cy is the key to mankind’s safety, she’ll have him – at the expense of his life. [Is this one of those gag queries?]

TWICE NAMED SON is literary YA speculative fiction. At 99,700 words, it is my debut novel and the first complete of a well underway four book arc. To use my favorites, it is similar to Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS in its deep world-building, Hess’ CHAOS WALKING for its travel and aspects of omniscience, and Zusak’s THE MESSENGER and Pierce’s BEKA COOPER trilogy for its literary style. [Assuming your book sounds like this query, if you ever see me picking up anything by Zusak or Pierce, swat me.]

I’ve worked in documentary for a private foundation, writing the stories of people working for social change. I founded and for eight years ran [redacted], a literacy nonprofit enabling over 2,000 teachers and 25,000 children to build home and classroom libraries. I am in love with roads of all sorts, and I am epileptic, which informs the ruling Orden’s own structure and abilities. [It's nice that you live in a time when you can reveal you're epileptic without people thinking you're insane, but the world is not so enlightened that you can also afford to reveal you're in love with roads.]

Do your worst,

A chica pulling hair out at the brain-flattening exercise of query writing


WTF? This is mostly incomprehensible. Start over. Imagine you're standing in front of a classroom, explaining your plot to twenty-five 8-year-olds. Paragraph 1 is the setup. Tell us where and when we are, who the main character is, and what situation he's dealing with. Stop. Start over; you forgot that we're 8-year-olds.

Paragraph 2. Noting that 8-year-olds have short attention spans and that you're already losing us, dive into what Cy wants, who's trying to stop him from getting it, and what will happen if he fails.

Review what you've got so far. If you've mentioned catastrophic gritos, crushing omniscience, heartrending taboos, or overwhelming visions into a million human lives, start over and imagine the class is now 6-year-olds.

Okay, paragraph 3 wraps it up. What's Cy's plan? What goes wrong? What's plan B? Send your revision as a comment.

Nitpick: The 1st time you mention the Orden, it's plural: the Orden, have shielded... The next two times it's singular: the ruling Orden has turned sinister; the Orden closes in.

Is Cy Maestas the twice-named son? Are his parents in the book? What's his second name? It's gotta be better than Cy Maestas.


Dave Fragments said...

My stars and garters that's a jumble.
Let's try a less is more method.

Cy Maestas wakes after being abducted one night and discovers he is seven years older and the world he knew no longer exists. Centuries before when the Gritos invaded earth, mankind gave over their freedom to the Orden to save themselves from the Gritos. Since then and for all of Cy Maestas' seventeen years the Gritos have been a presence but not a threat. But at this strange awakening, they no longer exist and his fellow humans are immobile, catatonic.

It is left to Cy Maestas to solve the mysteries of his past -- who the Orden really are, shy the Gritos invaded earth, and how can mankind free itself of the influence of alien races.

It's tough to drop a reader or editor into a future world with two alien species.

I have to ask a question about GTP #5 "Son Son is sick of his obsessive compulsive parents who repeat every action"... I knew a visiting scientists named Son Son... Is he perhaps related to Charles Charles or as he was nicknamed Chuck Chuck of Walla Walla Washington? He died of Beri Beri in Bali Bali back in '77.
Just asking...

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author!

To be fair, I was lost in the first sentence. Pretty much couldn't figure out who was driving this catatonic-filled van--and that's also how the query reads..as if driven by a person with no map, no idea of where to find a map...

If you look back through the archives there is a metric ton of advice given regarding how to write a compelling query. And, specificity is required; adverbs, not-so-much. This query contains so much purple prose my iPad smells like lilacs. Translation: SIMPLIFY.

Best advice to you: keep your sentences short and focused on the MC's plight. Give us some setting and get on with the crucial parts of the plot that define your story.

Also, cut your bio down to 1-2 sentences at most. I would leave out the literary comparisons and the epilepsy...it's not central to the book. (I'm in health care and cannot conceive how epilepsy informs the Orden's structure/abilities, so I don't think it will make sense to an agent, IMHO). In reading it I didn't think: "Oh yes, that makes sense!", rather I questioned if it was partly why I struggled with the query--because struggle I did.

Come now, EE! Don't get shirty about Zusak. Despite the deus ex machina ending of I AM THE MESSENGER the story was funny. Who can't admire a male lead who admits he's shitty at sex and his kissing is pretty much crap, too?

Veronica Rundell said...

Dave...you astound me. Author, take some notes!

A M P said...

Quick note: when comparing your work to another author's, methinks it good to spell it correctly ;-)

That is, the Chaos Walking trilogy was written by Patrick Ness, not Hess.

Dave Fragments said...

I have a questions for the author. I usually don't like to ask plot type questions but this is bugging me.

Cy Maestas wakes in a van at the age of seventeen. It turns out that seven years have passed since his last conscious thought.
a) Was he abducted at age ten?
b) Did he or did he not grow?
c) Was he in stasis if he didn't grow?
d) Is he a ten year old who passed through puberty and all its traumas while being asleep. If so, does he have any social skills beyond those of a ten year old?
e) if he was abducted at seventeen and spent seven years in a void is he still seventeen physically and mentally?

If this is a Young Adult novel will the readership accept the fact that at ten he was kidnapped and the intervening years are blanks?

khazar-khum said...

Hi Author

If he's 17 when he falls into stasis, and 24 when he awakes, that will be rough, but nowhere near as rough as going under at 10 and awaking at 17.

Another epileptic here. If you are using that lovely disconnect of time and such as a driving force in the book, it needs to be clearly understood by the reader.

Here's what I mean. You're sitting at the computer, working on something that you hope might be worthy of EE, when you begin to feel uneasy. Colors start slipping. The world around you continues on, like a film--until the film breaks, leaving you at a standstill. You can no longer connect with anyone, or anything, and soon drop into a state of unconsciousness.

Upon awakening, the world has changed. The last image you recall is no more. Things, people, colors, have moved and are now stable. But they are not where you left them. People are speaking at you, endlessly asking you how you feel. It can be overwhelming enough if you know the people talking; if you don't you have the strange feeling that you have somehow been removed from all that is familiar and dropped into another place.

As your recovery continues, the images settles and snap firmly into place. You recognize that the strange lady talking to you is your friend. Your balance is off, making standing and walking difficult. Once you stand, the floor keeps heaving.

About now is when the headache hits. It feels like someone took a baseball bat to the rear of your skull. Sometimes it's like those brainfreezes you get from ice cream. Either way, it's nasty, and the pounding is horrendous. If you can, you take the painkillers that stop it. Maybe you feel so wrung out that you have to lie down. After an hour or so, you feel more or less normal.

If that kind of disconnect adventure is what Cy is feeling, he'll be better able to articulate them at 24 than 17 because he will have more experience with the world.

BuffySquirrel said...

Usually I stand up for the more incomprehensible queries, but I can't do anything with this one. Merf.

150 said...

*tags in* Hola, chica! Despite everything, query-writing is not, at it core, one of the arcane arts. It's just telling the first half of a story in the most brief, clear, interesting way possible. It just seems horrible because you have to do it for YOUR story. Don't give up. Be straightforward. Straightforward is your friend.

I'm taking a stab at a rewrite, but I'm hung up on the plot point that the gritos have stopped even though the Orden has stopped protecting against them. One, why is it bad that we neither have bizarre events nor a powerful class to fight them, and two, how do we know the gritos aren't coming back?

Cy wakes from a camping trip to a different face...and a different world. He's been missing for seven years, and in that time, the hallmark of his planet, the eerie catastrophic events called gritos, have completely stopped.

Cy suspects the change has to do with the alien omniscience sharing his brain, and someone agrees. The leader of the powerful, supernatural Orden suspects mankind will tear itself apart without the regular catastrophes. She's determined to bring them back. If that means killing one young man and the god in his brain, so be it.

All of which might keep Cy on the run for another seven years...

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I loved the first 90% of I Am The Messenger (writer, if you're gonna comp, which I don't advise, get the title right). But the ending wasn't just deus ex machina, it was The Worst Possible Ending Ever.

Don't do a bio at all, unless the specific agent specifically asks for it.

I'll just add...

On your rewrite, avoid vague language. Get specific. Here's what I mean by vague language:

The friends he makes he must leave behind, and those who wish him ill stay unnervingly near. Stripped of everything he knows, he struggles to remain himself...

This lacks the impact you want because we haven't the foggiest who he's leaving behind, who's staying near, how he's leaving them, how they're staying near, what he's losing, what "remain himself" means... we need something concrete.

(We all know that "Orden" means order and "gritos" means screams, right? So will everyone else who sees this, presumably?)