Thursday, July 11, 2013

Face-Lift 1139

Guess the Plot


1. A WonDerFul InNoVaTion In The LitErArY ExPeRiEnce In Which EveRy SylLaBle Is CapITalIzed. Thus, ObViAtIng The Age Old QuanDaRy Of When And What To CapITalIze.

2. Zina Casperelli may be a genius, but Newtonian physics isn't enough to save her grandma and take down an ancient evil. So Zina looks into new theories that give her fiery superpowers. But is it too late?

3. She came down from Yellow Mountain, riding her pony Wildfire through the cold Nebraska nights, whirlwinds by her side. But that was 30 years ago, and now she's stuck in a dive bar in Sioux County, listening to her failure of a husband sing that damned song again. Why did she ever think he'd be better than Wildfire?

4. When Quinn Masters, firefighter extraordinaire and chef with a flair for flambe, discovers a charred body in her garage, she totally throws up. But as the bodies begin to mount, Quinn secretly investigates the murders. The more she discovers, the more worried she becomes. Could she be the the serial killer?

5. Mr. Nelson steps out on his cabin's front porch and chokes on ash. The fires raging around his Mt. Charleston community have driven everyone out, and Mr. Nelson is the only one left. Can he get himself and his cat Mr. Peoples out before the fires consume them?

6. Wildfire busted down her stall and was lost in a blizzard on a cold Nebraska night. How she came down from Yellow Mountain in one of the flattest states in America nobody knows. By the dark of the moon crops were planted, and for six nights a hoot-owl drove her lover crazy howling outside his window while he waited for her return. Thank God, a killing frost and a whirlwind killed the damn bird. They’re gonna leave sodbusting behind and get the hard times behind them. But first they need to understand their unnatural relationship between one man and his horse.

Original Version

Dear EE,

Zina Casperelli is a certified genius, but she’s kind of dumb when it comes to cute, luminescent amnesiacs and secret kingdoms of superbeings. Seeking knowledge, truth, and a happy ending for her memory-impaired friend, Julian, Zina’s trust in Newtonian physics is rattled by the secret science developed by her comatose Granma Rosy. When Julian's accused of murdering his parents, her sense of wonder crumbles with the pieces of his story. [Not clear what that means. Could mean crumbles as the pieces of his story crumble or crumbles as she learns the pieces of his story.] Even memories can be illusions, so Zina falls back on her old school science and some light grave-robbery to unearth the truth. [Is light grave-robbery when you rob only shallow graves? Or is it when you rob fewer graves than most people do?] [The first sentence is designed to pique our curiosity with luminescent amnesiacs and superbeings. But I expect what follows to clear things up, and instead it keeps inspiring new questions with a secret science developed by a comatose woman, a murder accusation, grave robbing... The more you pile on, the more likely I am to give up. I'm looking for a story, and if you just give me pieces of a story my sense of wonder crumbles.]

As she learns new theories and discovers the facts behind her Grandma's affliction, Zina finally has hope that she can bring her back. But first she has to uncover the identities of a trio of masked assassins, face a fiery boogieman in the Seattle Underground, and contend with an ancient evil and his creepy crushing.  

[Not sure what creepy crushing is, but it sounds more comedic than evil. Maybe it's the alliteration. Reminds of of Crispy Critters cereal. Note that even though there's a lion on the box, the alliterative title makes you smile instead of fear for your life. Look at it this way, which sounds more evil: Rocky Raccoon or Darth Vader? Tony the Tiger or Adolf Hitler? Chimichanga or Taco Bell 7-Layer Burrito Supremo?]

Zina can save her Granma Rosy and heal her broken family, [Is "her" Granma or Zina? The only family that's been described as broken is Julian's.] or she can save her friend Julian and heal the secret kingdom. But even in a world where anything seems possible, Zina can’t do both. [Why not? Proving the masked assassins murdered Julian's parents seems totally unrelated to bringing Rosy out of a coma.]

WildFire is a young adult, super-heroic fantasy adventure, complete in 87,000 words.

[The title comes from the fiery super-powers Zina gets.]


Is Zina like the Human Torch? Fiery superpowers don't strike me as useful in proving Julian didn't murder his parents or curing amnesia or bringing Granma out of a coma.

In what way is Zina's friend Julian "luminescent"? Did he become luminescent when he lost his memory?

The story seems to be Zina's friend Julian loses his memory and her grandma loses consciousness. Zina can't help either of them ... until X happens, giving her fiery superpowers! Now she has hope, but assassins and a boogieman and an ancient evil don't want her to succeed because it'll interfere with their plan to Y. To make matters worse, Zina can use her power only once.

Once you get the plot written out clearly, you can embellish it with intriguing details and voice.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I can't tell what's going on in this query.

Also, it contains a dangling modifier. Please learn what a dangling modifier is and try not to do it again.

It's in this sentence:

Seeking knowledge, truth, and a happy ending for her memory-impaired friend, Julian, Zina’s trust in Newtonian physics is rattled by the secret science developed by her comatose Granma Rosy.

Rewrite this query in simple sentences. Tell us what Zina wants (simply, and try to keep it to one thing). Tell us what stands in her way. Tell us what she does to try to overcome that obstacle, and why it doesn't work, and what will happen if she ultimately fails.

That is, give us a character, a goal, and stakes. And don't confuse us too much.

David B Goode said...

Thanks EE and Alaska. You know, you rewrite that stinking query enough times and it doesn't even look like English anymore. I'm glad you agree. Sort of.

Taking your advice, I've stripped the query down to the basic plot elements (as best as I can discern them) and rewritten it. My worry is that it's lost some pop, but it's certainly gained clarity.


Zina’s family has been a wreck since her grandmother fell into a coma eight years ago. Doctors couldn’t explain her condition, driving Zina, now a genius high schooler, toward a career in medicine with a passion for neurology.

When she finds a helpless young man with amnesia, she helps him, despite fears of his strange energy emissions. The two are discovered by a secret society of superbeings who claim Julian as one of their own. They restore a portion of his memories and reveal that Zina’s grandmother was once part of their society and that Zina is tied to them by blood.

When Zina discovers her own fiery superpowers, she confirms a prophecy calling her the harbinger of an ancient monster who hides within the society. This evil will restore Zina’s grandmother's mind to her body if Zina will give him Julian, who he needs to restore himself to power again.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

David, glad you're a good sport :). If you wait a bit, you'll probably get more comments, and then it's usually best to wait several days before starting to rewrite.

Your new version is clearer, you're right. But it leaves me with doubts:

1. Catastrophic illness can wreck the lives of close family members. Been there, got the bloodied tee-shirt. But can it wreck the lives of grandchildren, eight years on? It's possible, but we'd need to see evidence.

2. The term "genius" isn't one we use in education... in fact, we avoid it. The words I remember from one of my textbooks are We should reserve the word "genius" for those who accomplish significant things in the world. Rather than in the classroom, if you follow me.

3. Watch out for vagueness. The third paragraph of your rewrite suffers from it. Don't say "an ancient monster who hides within the society". Say "Mitch McConnell." And if your plot hinges on a prophecy, it's probably best not to say so.

Wait till the upstate vote is in, and then give yourself a cooling off period before you rewrite again. When I get comments from my agent or editor, I always wait for 24 hours before even asking them any follow-up questions, let alone rewriting. Waiting is just a necessary part of the process.

Evil Editor said...

This version is clear, but it's mostly setup. You introduce the characters and the situation in which Zina finds herself, but little about what happens. Why does Evil need Zina to give him Julian? What makes Julian hers to give? Why doesn't Evil just take Julian? Where do Zina's super powers come in? What will happen if the monster is restored to power?

David B Goode said...

Thanks Alaska. Patience is sadly not my strongest virtue.

I'll take your advice and sit on my hands.

CavalierdeNuit said...

You could make this New Adult and put Zina in college on a scholarship from the beginning. That would be showing us she's very smart.

Strange energy emissions? From which body part?

One of my favorite books is Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille. I'm not sure if this will be a title conflict issue for you.

Your book sounds original and intriguing, but there are some issues with clarity. Please apply above suggestions.

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author,
A few questions:
How old is Zina?
How can she harness her power and control it in what seems to be a rather time-compressed situation?
Think about the x-men. Every single one of those super beings required time to practice their unique craft. Even Harry Freaking Potter took years to master skills to best voldemort...and he was also THE CHOSEN ONE, as is Zina...

Tell us how she masters some aspect of her skills, and how this enables her to bond w/Julian, perhaps. Tell us how conflicted she feels by the Evil One's indecent proposal. This is plot. This is conflict. This should be in your query.

I agree with Alaska that eight years is a LOOONG time to be still falling apart over comatose granny. People gotta eat, they gotta pay bills, etc... They get over it. Move on. They don't forget, but it's not an ever present crushing family rending issue after a time. And that time is likely much shorter than eight years.

Queries aren't easy. Start simple. Clear sentences that reveal plot and character while enticing us to WANT MORE.

Keep trying. Send us a revision...later, when you've had time to think about it.

Anonymous said...

Fake #3 nearly made me ruin my keyboard by spewing Fancy Flavored Water all over it. OMG, I nearly died laughing at that one....

David B Goode said...

Fake #1 still makes me giggle. Also, I do think about the X-Men - every day, just after lunch.

Veronica, Zina is 16. And she doesn't manage to control her power within the book. So, even when she has them, she has to rely on her brain. Is this something I should mention in the query?

"how she masters some aspect of her skills" - She's a student at Bronx High School of science, she's interned at a clinic, and she's been driven to research by her grandma's collapse at her 8th b-day party. Is one of these enough, or something else?

And I need a better way to explain the grandmother. Zina's parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all live in these co-dependent, dysfunctional relationships. Zina remembers everything being better when Granma Rosy was around. It may or may not have been. Additionally, Zina's lost other family members who she finds out were superbeings, so Grandma's representative of this lifetime of loss. I wasn't sure I should dig into that in the query.

Thanks. Super feedback. And it is tough. There's SO MUCH in the story. What's important? What's not? But I'm honing it, and I appreciate the help.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I wouldn't say it's not always crushing and rending. Well, maybe it's not after 8 years, but it certainly is after two.

It's the grandchild part I'd question. People expect their grandparents to become incapacitated, and anyway, unless the rest of the family has already died or fled, the grandchild's unlikely to be the one the burden falls on.

If the protag's 19, and her grandma's been in a coma since protag was 11, then it's gonna seem normal to her (the protag). Grandma's always been a coma.

Anonymous said...

Your revised version is clearer, but I’d suggest introducing Zina before introducing Zina’s grandmother’s coma. Consider the logical way readers process information: this is the main character, and this is the conflict. Rather than: this is the conflict, and this is the character dealing with it.

Then give us a really compelling reason why it’s all up to Zina to save her grandmother. Did her grandmother say something mysterious just before falling unconscious? Has Zina learned something that has convinced her some unnatural force is causing the coma? Children don’t normally attempt to educate themselves beyond the level of medical specialists in order to help a grandparent. It says a lot about Zina that she’s pursuing this, but you need to convince us a real teenager would actually do it.

Then try to tie Zina’s goal of saving her grandmother to her involvement with this new guy, Julian. She can’t just “find a helpless young man with amnesia”. Her choices and actions have to drive the story. Maybe her research leads her to this unusual case of amnesia, and she seeks out the patient in the study.

And then, she can’t just “be discovered” by a secret society, and then later “discover” her own superpowers. Show us more cause and effect. Show us a brilliant and resourceful heroine who is MAKING this story happen.

Veronica Rundell said...

Thanks for the response. It's clarity will help in the revision.
When it comes to YA I'm always interested in the protag's age--it makes a difference in terms of themes. Instead of saying she's a genius, tell us she's a student at the elite Bronx School of Whatever.

No offense, but how smart is she to not notice her own family members having seems inconsistent. Highly intelligent people are curious. They see things others don't. Why must she remain oblivious? Convenience? Why couldn't she know, and also be frustrated that she manifests no powers of her own?

I still quail at the time frame of gram's coma. I wonder if it couldn't have happened at her 13th birthday. A 13 y/o would have had a very different bond with grams than an 8 y/o. One that would be more potent, more compelling.

Yes, definitely mention that she's a fledgling super. And highlight how it is her wits that save the day...

It's a process. Don't be afraid to think on it over the weekend and then some more. It took forever to write the manuscript. Bad queries will keep it in the drawer forever.

Tk said...

Hi David,

Anon 7:26 posted while I was typing a response to you and now almost all I have to offer is: do what they say!

Did want to add though, that I liked the pep of the original and hope you can repep the final version.

Z is kind of dumb at human relationships
Z blames Granma's coma for family woes
Z's confident mad neuroscience skillz solve all
Z learns she and her family have superpowers
Only the evil supervillian can cure Granma (but why?)
Z might be betray a friend (does she?)

How can Z hand a person over?
Why do people want to assassinate Z?
Is the neuroscience going to work or not?

Not intriguing:
Creepy crush

khazar-khum said...


As a horse crazy kid in Southern California, I listened to that damned song until my speakers bled.

150 said...

I'd have a lot less trouble believing Z's reactions if Grandma had collapsed a year ago, rather than when she was eight.

David B Goode said...

Thanks to everyone for some very helpful feedback. I took the weekend and didn’t think about it at all (thank you Skyrim).

There was a great deal of focus on Zina’s age when her grandmother went into a coma, that her intelligence should have given her a clue about her superpowered family, and other plot details. But the plot is set, and in the context of the story, these details really do make sense. I can’t fit all the reasons into the query.

That told me I needed to refocus the query. The story is, at its heart, about a really smart girl who’s about to give up on life when something miraculous happens. That’s when she seizes agency and motivation and plunges into a world she didn’t know existed to find out she was already a part of it. And she deals with a web of lies - everything from Grandma Rosy’s coma to Julian’s parricide to Ultimas’ schemes - all of that is tied together. And she messes up a little less often than she succeeds, and in the end realizes she can’t have everything she wants. She has to pick, and both choices suck.

If anyone is interested in the manuscript, I’d love some feedback on it. But in this forum, I’m really looking for feedback on the query.

Tk, that was a great list of intriguing/confusing/not intriguing.


Zina Casperelli is a sixteen-year-old science prodigy brimming with self-destruction who blames the dysfunction of her family on her grandmother’s coma.

While sneaking home from a nightclub, Zina discovers a reason to take her life off of cruise control in the form of Julian, a new friend who shines like star. She delivers him safely home to the Hidden Kingdom, a secret society of god-like beings. And when he’s accused of a murder he doesn’t remember, only Zina has the motivation and brilliance to prove his innocence.

But discovering her own powers reveals Zina’s familial link to the secret society, and a portent that she is the harbinger of Ultimas, an ancient evil slumbering within the Hidden Kingdom. Ultimas needs a new body before the one he’s inhabiting rots, and he needs Julian to give that body life. Ultimas has the ability to restore Zina’s grandmother, and maybe her family, but only if Zina will be his and not interfere with his plans for Julian. And if Ultimas succeeds, he’ll continue the genocide he began ten years ago. Zina has to stop him with fiery powers she can’t control, friends who can’t see eye-to-eye, and an intellect that’s proving to be too smart for her own good.

Evil Editor said...

P1: "brimming with self-destruction" could mean suicidal or that she messes up everything she touches. Big difference. Replace it or delete it.

P2: Does she run into Julian, who's already a new friend of hers? Because if she's never met him till she's sneaking home, I wouldn't be so quick to call him a friend.

"take her life off of cruise control" means ... stop her life from moving at a constant speed? "Take control of her life" would be clearer.

"Julian, a new friend who shines like star." I would normally assume that was meant metaphorically, but in the original he was "luminescent," so I'm not sure what to think or why it's important.

If I give a stranger a ride home, and as soon as we get there he's accused of murder, I'm heading home, relieved that he didn't murder me, not setting about proving his innocence. But that's me.

P3: How does Zina know Ultimas needs Julian to give his body life and is willing to restore Zina’s grandmother, if Ultimas is slumbering?

"only if Zina will be his" What does that mean?

"And if Ultimas succeeds, he’ll continue the genocide he began ten years ago." If someone needs your help to continue his genocide, do you really consider helping him in return for his bringing your grandmother out of her coma?

"an intellect that’s proving to be too smart for her own good." That sounds off. Like her intellect is a separate entity. Plus it suggests she would have an easier time defeating Ultimas if she were less smart.

Anonymous said...

Author, I actually like the description you included in your response, the paragraph starting with “The story is, at its heart, about a really smart girl . . .” It’s not a hook, but the writing is straightforward, and I get a clear sense of the conflict. Also it has attitude, sort of like, This is the story so deal with it. If Zina has a similar attitude in the novel, then you really capture that in the description.

The query, on the other hand, is distant. This guy Julian appears, Zina delivers him to god-like beings, he’s accused of murder, Zina discovers her own powers, Zina’s powers and intellect surpass those of all the god-like beings, and she’s the harbinger of a genocidal, body-snatching evil. Oh, and her grandmother is in a coma. It’s all just WAY too much too fast. I suggest focusing on the main conflict, and whenever you throw in something unusual like a hidden kingdom or a shining person, let the reader have a few sentences to get oriented before moving on to some entirely different unusual thing. Walk us through this, like you did in the description.

sarahhawthorne said...

Hey Author.

I think this is getting much, much closer. You've trimmed out a lot of unnecessary details and are honing in on heart of the story.

The problem that I see is that you've still got a big old motivation hole at the center of this story.

Zina's got problems of her own. So why does she take on vindicating a boy she just met? Does she love him? Is she trying to preserve her entree into the secret society that could save Grandma? Since her choice to investigate is a key beat, we have to understand what motivates it in order to understand what follows.

Tk said...

Hi David, queries are hard, aren't they. I also like the paragraph Anon picked out - can you use any of that? eg Zina Casperelli is about to give up on life or She has to pick, and both choices suck.

What if you leave out the genocide? It's not unique that a fantasy villian wants to kill everyone, and wanting Julian's body demonstrates evil. Mostly, though, it makes her choice a nonchoice. To me, the focus on sorting things with her family is a more compelling arc - perhaps because more relatable.

Also think you need to move start of P3 up and end of P2 down. Since the earlier list helped, I'll try another. Seems your beats are:

(Zina+emotional need)
16-y-o science prodigy
since Granma in coma, family is dysfunctional
selfdestructively sneaks to nightclub

(Hidden Kingdom+complications)
meets and goes home with Julian
=secret world of god-like beings
plunges in; uncovers a web of lies, ie:
most of her family come from the Hidden Kingdom
what's wrong with Granma isn't a coma
has fiery powers she can’t control

Julian is accused of a murder he doesn’t remember
evil Ultimas will claim Julian's body if J's guilty
only Zina can prove J's innocence
U has the ability to restore Granma/family
Zina'll need to be very smart
being very smart may not be enough

AA said...

This is better. Not great, but better:

While sneaking home from a nightclub, sixteen-year-old Zina Casperelli discovers a reason to take her life off cruise control in the form of Julian, a new friend who shines like a star. She delivers him safely to his home- the Hidden Kingdom, a secret society of god-like beings. When he’s accused of a murder he didn't commit, Zina, a science prodigy, has the brilliance to prove his innocence.

Zina discovers a familial link to the secret society, and magical powers she didn't know she had. The bad news: her arrival has awakened Ultimas, an ancient evil within the Hidden Kingdom. Ultimas needs a new body before the one he’s inhabiting rots, and he needs Julian to give that body life. Ultimas has the ability to heal Zina’s ailing grandmother and restore her broken family, but only if Zina will not interfere with his plans for Julian. And if Ultimas succeeds, he’ll continue the genocide he began ten years ago. Zina has to stop him with fiery powers she can’t control, and an intellect that’s proving to be too much for her too handle.

There's still one problem: Why should I care? It's another fantasy adventure novel with another Chosen One who turns out to have Magical Powers She Doesn't Know How To Control Yet and who has to Save Everybody. I need a reason to care about the characters and what is happening in the story.

My brother was in a coma once. Really. He came out of it. That's the story. Mildly interesting, but not shockingly so. He was in prison at the time, of course. Still is. He believes he was poisoned.

Got your attention?

That's a true story. Write something as interesting as that and you've got MY attention.

David B Goode said...

Thank you all so much. I really appreciate the responses - both the quality and quantity. I'm noodling together a new query (along with a full synopsis) based on the great feedback.