Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Face-Lift 1143

Guess the Plot


1. A family deals with blame, loss, and the banality of existence after daddy puts the Pekingese in the microwave.

2. Tess hates Christian summer camp, and all the girls are mean. One night she finds a black briefcase in the woods. She lights up the girls' cabin and doesn't look back.

3. She's 17 years old and undefeated as a cage fighter. The promoters have fixed her next fight so she'll lose, but she's not hanging around for that, not when the fate of the galaxy is at stake, and her nuclear superpower could turn the tide. They call her Ripper!

4. Johnny Fissal likes his coffee hot. His meeting at the NSA went long and his blood/caffeine level has gone as tepid as his favorite beverage. He needs the microwave now, but the cold-eyed and salacious Miss Fusion is heating her frozen dinner with little regard for others. It's time to get . . . nuked.

5. Nick Conner is not your typical ninth-grader. He loves Mozart, history, and "Dr Who". He also loves Amy Bingleberg, but she doesn't even acknowledge his existence. With the Spring Fling dance coming up, can he convince her to go with him...or will his heart be . . . nuked?

6. Earth has been nuked to ash, and the only survivors are some Chilean miners who were trapped underground before the war started. It's the end of the human race, true, but is it also the beginning of the race of mole men?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Activate the thing? Check. [Do random stuff? Eh, maybe.] Control the killing? Not even close. [Hook the agent? Dream on.]

Most times when powers manifest, there's speed, agility, strength and that's it. When Eli calls her powers, the thing takes over. A puppet in her own skin, killing's no longer a choice. Fingers tighten, the wrist flicks and death is a seventeen year old girl. [The first sentence of this paragraph should spell out that with other super-powered people, killing is a choice. Otherwise it doesn't feel connected.]

The promoters call her Ripper. Two enter the cage—one leaves on a stretcher. [That sentence doesn't belong, it isn't connected to the rest.] Eli has what it takes to make a fighter great. Cold. Calculated. [Calculating.] Expendable. She's undefeated, until she's conned into a match she can't win. Her life belongs to them, they'll take it if they can. [She's their biggest star. Their golden ticket. Money in the bank. James Bond to their Albert Broccoli. Kill her off? No way.]

On the run with her sister, the Syndicate thinks she's dead—best stay [keep it] that way. Employers are touchy. Fail to give notice, they put out a hit. But they aren't the only ones who want her. In a galaxy at war, [I feel like I should know before I'm halfway through paragraph 4 that the stakes are galactic rather than personal.] everyone must choose a side [.] Her power can turn the tide. The Watchers will hide her—[Now that it's starting to rhyme, I think you should take advantage of your staccato style and put the query in the form of a rap song:

Everyone gotta choose a side.
Eli's power can turn the tide. 
The Watchers gonna help her hide.]

if she'll win their war. [The ability to kill with the flick of a wrist, while useful in cage fighting, may come up short in a war for control of the galaxy.] They offer control. They offer purpose. They offer a team. What they can't offer her is the truth. [She can't handle the truth.] She's different for a reason. She owes it to herself to learn why.

But some truths should stay buried. What she discovers on a remote planet leaves Eli wondering if she's chosen the right side. There's more to her powers then she ever imagined: a scientist's mad dream, the legacy of a dying race, the fate of a galaxy. [That doesn't help me know what her power is.] Defined by a choice she didn't make, Eli must give up everything to save the sister she'd die to protect and the boy they both love. [The boy they both love sounds like an important plot thread. Maybe he should be featured more prominently in the query.] If she succeeds, she'll be a hero. If she succeeds, she'll be dead. [The incentive to succeed just dropped like an anvil on a coyote.] The greatest danger is the one within. [Not clear what that means. Is she pregnant with Satan's child?]

Dystopian sci-fi for Young Adults, NUKED is Sense and Sensibility in outer space, if Marianne was a foul mouthed, cage fighting fighting orphan. As requested in your submission requirements, below are the WHATEVER AGENT ASKS FOR. Complete at 85,000 words, NUKED is available at your request. In spite of the comparison, neither Jane Austen nor her works were harmed in the writing of this book. [I wouldn't be so sure; it's hard on the ribs when you turn over in your grave.]

Thanks and Regards,


This reads like narration by the main character at the beginning of a noirish movie. If the book isn't written in this style, you don't want to give the impression that it is. If it is written in this style, I recommend toning it down in the query and the book. It sounds like a parody of itself.

I would drop the first three paragraphs at least. We don't need to know she's a cage fighter. Start with Eli's power. How it's the key to winning a war and both sides want her. Is her dilemma that both sides have their good and bad points? Or is it that she doesn't care who wins the war, she just wants to use her power to impress her sister's boyfriend, because she loves him?

If you want to convey the idea that your plot is like Sense and Sensibility, show us that in your summary. Don't tell us.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

1. Why was the Syndicate on the run with Eli's sister? (That's not what you meant, but, with the dangling modifier, it's what you said.)

2. Eli is a boy's name.

3. This sounds nothing like Sense and Sensibility, and it's probably just as well. Readers who heart Jane Austen may not necessarily be the same readers who heart teenage killer protagonists.

The voice in the query seems like you're trying too hard to impress, and not trying hard enough to tell us about the story.

BuffySquirrel said...

The resemblance to Austen's novel escapes me. There's no 'two sisters in love with the same boy' in that book iirc.

Those short choppy sentences are hard enough to read in the query. There's no way I'd read a novel full of them. If the query accurately represents how the book is written, then that's good--and bad. Hmmm.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I suppose the Watchers could represent Mr. Willoughby. They were all sweet talk at first, but then they turned out to have Ruined Colonel Brandon's ward.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Wow. I've conveyed any number of things which I did not intend. This is good feedback and precisely what I needed.

The novel is not writtten in this style at all. I was going for a movie trailer feel here. Clearly, I've trimmed way to much. I've set a false expectation, which is not a good thing. I'm droppong the Jane Austen reference for te same reason. It creates baggage I so don't want to deal with.

There's a lot going on in the book. My fear was being overly verbose, but I've over compensated and gone too far the other way.

150 said...

Hi, Anon. Just describe what happens, in order, in simple, clear language, so we know what your MC is trying to do and why, and what happens if she fails.

(word ver: ICACRUS. Captcha wanted to sound educated in Greek myth but flew too close to the sun and fell down blazing.)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Don't go for a movie trailer feel. This is a business letter.

Reduce everything that happens in your story to one sentence, under 20 words in length. That will tell you what's essential. What's essential should go in your query.

If you find yourself unable to write the single sentence, then go back and revise your manuscript again.

150 said...

If you find yourself unable to write the single sentence, then go back and revise your manuscript again.

Hey Alaska, this gets at something on my mind lately. I agree with your prescription, but note that here "revise" means "make a massive change and rewrite most of the book." That's fine and necessary, but also overwhelming. Do you have any resources on how to undertake a huge revision? Most how-to-edit articles are lightweight polishing-prose stuff, which leads to writers making minor changes in manuscripts that are structurally broken, never addressing the real problem, or even knowing it's there.

Some of my local writers recently asked me for resources on how to revise a novel, and I had a few on hand, but I'd love to see any more that you (or anyone) use.

khazar-khum said...

150, short of a solid, tough beta reader, I can't think of one.

CavalierdeNuit said...

Everything I was thinking and more has been said.

I think the best resource for revising is a collection of readers' opinions:


150 said...

Cav, that's a good link for evaluating the individual elements of a book, but I can't imagine how to use it as a systematic approach to structure.

For the record, my on-hand links were:






Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author,
I hope you come back with a revision. This sounds like a great read despite the query.

OMG, pregnant with Satan's spawn? EE, you know no bounds. Praise Jeebus for that.

Thanks for the revision links 150. I'm elbow-deep in a major revision, so I can appreciate and relate.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

150, I don't, really. Sorry :(

As I go along in this business I've learned two things:

1. Method is so individual. That is, nobody's method is going to work for anyone else. It's very interesting to read books about writing, but ultimately, everyone kind of works out their own salvation.

Personally, I make heavy use of scissors, tape, paperclips, sticky notes, and colored markers when revising, but to each her own...

2. Writing is 99% revision anyway. Because of that, I don't make nearly the effort I used to make with first drafts.

(I used to submit first drafts. /cringe)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

150, ps-- I guess one thing that could be helpful to others and not just me:

Outline the story after you've written it. That will tend to show where the problems are. Fix the outline, then fix the manuscript.

Greg L. Turnquist said...

In Charles Bronson's "The Mechanic", his employers absolutely try to take him out for violating protocol, even though he is portrayed as the best in what he does. Syndicate mob bosses have always come across to me as getting upset when an underling violates protocol. The mob knows there's always someone else to take over.