Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Face-Lift 1155

Guess the Plot

A Midsummer Night's Fling

1. Vera's young, newly single, and trying to forget her recent break-up from Cord on a Jamaican vacation. At Club Fantastique Vera has many admirers, but will she choose love, or a sure fling? And, how did Cord find her out here?

2. Torrey wants a real girlfriend, but his sights are set on Sheila--cheerleader captain who never dates a boy twice. Love struck, he ambushes Sheila in costumes so she never figures out it's him. But what happens when she falls for his gangsta rap persona? Also, angsty teen musings.

3. Nicola wins the role of Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, only to learn that Oberon is being played by Max, who was great between the sheets during the decade she dated him, but who broke her heart more than once. Will it be true love this time around, or just a summer’s worth of mind-blowing, meaningless sex?

4. Sixty-hour a week, workaholic John Trebuchet hates his neighbors. They party all night and their dog barks all day.The ASPCA investigates when one of the dogs is found--a pile of bones and fur--two blocks away. When PETA shows up at John's door with cans of red paint John wonders if he should have waited till winter to test his catapult.

5. The senior trip is a Caribbean island and Tiffany’s determined to get some strange. She drinks too much with a cute local guy then they walk to the beach. She doesn't show for the return flight. It’s an international scandal. Major networks send film crews and a plethora of detectives descend on the little island. Can PI Zeke Miller solve the case after everybody else has failed?

6. Woody had warned Tony to stay away from the strange woman who hung around the movie set, but she was too hot to resist. Now she's pregnant and Tony thinks it's his, but was it really her he fondled behind the tree in the dark?

7. A couple of eight-year-olds build a ginormous catapult in the woods and fling their baby sister into orbit. When she returns with photos of mysterious craft orbiting the earth, the kids have to run from the men in black and their outraged parents.

Original Version

Dear Ms. Agent,

I queried you last year about another project of mine [my novel, Not Quite Good Enough]. You said at that time that you enjoyed my humor and would like to see my next book when it was finished. I am currently seeking an agent for "A Midsummer Night’s Fling," a contemporary romance complete at 100K [I knew "K" was an abbreviation for "thousand"; is it also an abbreviation for "thousand words"?] that should appeal to fans of the wry humor and playful sexiness in the works of Jennifer Crusie, Victoria Dahl, and Shannon Stacey. 

After more than a decade of dating the man, [aspiring actress] Nicola Charles knows to stay away from Max Fiesengerke. [I could have told her that the moment I saw that his name was an anagram for "making sex free."] [[I recommend changing "the man" to "him". Then I recommend that "him" and "Max Fingerling" swap places in the sentence.] He’s already broken her heart—twice!—and she’s not dumb enough to go up for [risk number] strike three. [We'll see. I predict that she is dumb enough.] After several years of setbacks as an aspiring actress, she thinks life is finally going her way when she’s cast as Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at a prestigious theater company.

Her luck has turned, but for the worse: Max is playing Oberon. The Titania part is a big break for her, but being in close contact [working] with Max every day is about as bad as being water-boarded every night for fun [torture]. Nicola doesn’t want to fall back into the quagmire of Max’s guarded heart, [Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, TSTL.] [It seems to me that Nicola would be the one with the guarded heart, not Max.] but the chemistry between them, onstage and off, is not to be denied. Max has always been a caring and attentive lover if nothing else, so what could it hurt to use him for a good, old-fashioned summer fling? [Yeah, that'll teach him.]

Max knows he hurt Nicola. Twice. But he can’t get her out of his head. Or stop thinking about what it might be like to steam up the sheets with her again. For old time’s sake. The play throws them together again, and Max is more than happy to volunteer as Nicola’s love slave and offer her a summer’s worth of mind-blowing, meaningless sex. [Max is truly benevolent.]

But is it going to be just another midsummer night’s fling, [Another? They dated for over a decade. If their past consisted only of flings, why was Nicola heartbroken?] or have the two of them finally found what they’ve dreamed of all their lives? True Love. [You've provided no evidence that Max has dreamed of true love all his life.]

In addition to contemporary romances I plan to continue writing SF/F works, and I was recently accepted to the 2013 Viable Paradise writing workshop run by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Under my old pen name E.D. Walker, I had two projects end up with small ePublishers who have since closed down. I currently have one of those books, a YA fantasy novel, self-published on Amazon. I am a member of Romance Writers of America. [I don't think this credits paragraph is doing you any good. If the publishers closed down after e-publishing your novels, those are worth mentioning. I'm sure if St. Martin's closes its doors, Jennifer Crusie will continue to include her novels among her credits.]

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.



I think we need to know what Max did to break Nicola's heart. If they agreed to just have summer flings, but she eventually wanted more and he didn't, he's less of a jerk than if he left her standing at the altar a couple times. If you can't make us care about Max at all, we aren't going to want to read a book in which he and Nicola end up together. We're going to want to read the book wherein she takes her revenge.


AA said...

I don't think the colloquial writing throws it off too much. But, I don't like Max. In fact, I don't like either of them very much, and I don't really want them to get together.

How can you make them likeable? I think the TSTL thing comes in here. If you've dated someone for years, you pretty much know whether they're a keeper or not, and she's already pretty much decided he isn't. He seems to be in it for the sex.

I think they should both meet new people, maybe even try speed dating.

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author,

As a big contemporary romance fan I'm a little put off by this query. Mostly, because I have a hard time with the 'dating for ten years' part. Why would she stick around that long if the relationship wasn't going anywhere? And how did he break her heart twice?

Had they broken up and reunited in that decade?

I guess most romances feature the reunion story or the first meeting story, but this description isn't selling me on a 'we knocked boots a lot but I'll be damned if we get together THIS time' tale.

The parts about Max don't even hint at more than casual sex. So, it feels decidedly un-romance, to me. See, that's the kind of crap that happens to real people, like my sister, and it only makes me furious...not an emotion I care to spend time with in my fiction.

If you've got an HEA buried in the book now would be the time to mention it. As it stands, I'm not intrigued.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

WRT the TSTL thing: Writer, if you had a friend who was considering a fling with a guy who broke her heart twice, what would you say? And if she ignored your wise advice, what would you consider her?

No one wants to spend a novel with a protagonist who is TSTL.

This query is three times as long as it needs to be. You tell us the same things over again. The amount of story you've described here could fit comfortably into three sentences, with room left over for a futon and one of those dorm-sized fridges.

As for the credentials, here are things I've never told an editor or agent with whom I wasn't already working:

- what writing workshops I've been to
- what I plan to write in the future
- what small gigs I had before going pro

They're just not interested.

AA said...

Veronica has hit the nail on the head.

Whenever she sees a situation that reminds her of crappy real life, like her sister's, or when I see my aunt who can't seem to find the right man and keeps divorcing them, we don't want to read about it. Why? Because reading is escapism. Especially romance novels, which are meant to be straight-up fantasy.

That's not knocking romance novels, that's just the way they are. It's what they're for.

Can you re-write the query to show us more sympathetic characters? The female lead, for instance, needs to seem smarter, and the male lead should have at least one redeeming characteristic, besides being good in bed.

Beth Matthews said...

Author here.

Thank you for the feedback. New version coming soon.

A few notes about credits...

I mention the Workshop because it's prestigious and it's hosted by two well-known SF/F editors. I feel like mentioning that might show an agent I have some writing chops because I was accepted.

The "continuing to write SF/F" mention is because I want an agent who is willing to represent ALL the work I plan to write and not just contemporary romance.

Beth Matthews said...


I queried you last year about another project of mine and you said that you had enjoyed my humor and would like to see my next book when it was finished. I am currently seeking an agent for "A Midsummer Night’s Fling," a contemporary romance complete at 100K words that should appeal to fans of the wry humor and playful sexiness in the works of Jennifer Crusie, Victoria Dahl, and Shannon Stacey.

After dating her childhood sweetheart Max on and off for years, aspiring actress Nicola Charles has finally gotten him out of her system. Now she just has to stay away to keep herself from getting sucked back in.

Max knows he hurt Nicola. He was young and stupid then; a wild, ambitious kid who didn’t know how to love someone. But now he’s grown up, and he’s never forgotten Nicola, or conquered the way he feels about her. So when his production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" loses its Titania, Nicola is the first person he thinks of to fill the role of his fairy queen.

But the course of a theater production never does runs smooth, and the onstage antics in the play are nothing compared to the bedlam backstage. As Max and Nicola try to negotiate the still-simmering attraction between them, they must also wrangle with a diva company manager, coax their neurotic costars into performing, placate a prickly costume designer, and adjust to a revolving door of directors that make Spinal Tap’s drummer problem seem tame.

Can Nicola and Max possibly keep the drama on the stage and hold the show together until the final act? And will their romance end with this last midsummer night’s fling between them? Or have the two of them finally captured what they’ve dreamed of all their lives? True Love.

In addition to contemporary romances I also plan to write SF/F works, and I was recently accepted to the 2013 Viable Paradise writing workshop run by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I am a member of Romance Writers of America.

Kelsey said...

Your second version does make Max less of a jerk, but there still isn't much real conflict preventing them from getting together. C'mon. She's into him and he's into her. The thing keeping them apart is... their own fears? That's it? I mean, I know it's contemporary romance, but still. There's gotta be more meat to the conflict to sustain a whole novel. For example, if they loved each other but Nicola was a barely-recovering alcoholic and adding a new romance into the mix could threaten her sobriety, then I'd understand how their own demons could keep them apart. But as is, I feel like I'd spend the whole novel wanting to give them a good shake and tell them to just GET TOGETHER ALREADY.

Good luck!

Kelsey said...

And sorry, to be clear--when I say "I know it's contemporary romance, but still," I only mean that it doesn't have to have life-or-death stakes like a thriller, etc. I'm not being dismissive of the genre.

Veronica Rundell said...

Okay, this version is decidedly better, but I agree the conflict is low. I'd rather see Nicola having gotten so far past Max that she's in a decent relationship. And, the Max-reunion playing fits with her emotions, or something.

Or, she's recently divorced and not ready to commit, despite his wooing...

Something other than, burned me once. Because, that's really not an impediment, especially if it's going to be 'a fling', anyway.

Evil Editor said...

P1: I assume you just don't want to name the other "project of mine" here, and that you will be specific in the actual query.

Delete "had."

P2: Possibly you could mention here why Nicola wants Max out of her system.

P3: "Conquered" is the wrong word. I would trim that sentence to:

But he’s never gotten over his feelings for Nicola.

P4: Delete "does."

P5: Delete "possibly." Should "act" be "performance"?

Not crazy about 3 consecutive questions. The first two could be combined into a statement: As Nicola and Max try to keep the drama onstage, Nicola can't help wondering if their romance will end with the last performance.

P6: Agents aren't easy to come by. Would you decline representation from one who doesn't handle F&SF? If so, query only those who handle both. If not, why risk scaring one away by hinting you will decline?

khazar-khum said...

There really needs to be someone else for Nicola. If she's Tatiana, who's her Bottom? Give her a choice for her conflict, one we can believe in.

gj said...

What do the h/h want (besides the sex)? How is the fling going to complicate what they want (the goal that's not the fling)?

If you can answer those questions, it will help to establish that there's actually a plot, with external conflict and stakes. As it stands, the only conflict is internal, meaning there's lots of motivation and angst, but no plot.

AA said...


The way this is written now, it seems more like a romantic comedy, like a TV show or movie. In that case, there usually isn't anything substantial keeping the leads apart, just their different personalities and relationship baggage.

Usually, though, something will happen in the "third act" that makes them need each other's support. It can be elaborate or simple.

For instance: Max keeps trying to win back Nicola with more and more outrageous schemes that involve other members of the cast and crew. But they all fail in a comedic fashion, thus "proving" Nicola's belief that he is an immature screw-up. (Note: This is "situational" comedy.) Max finally gets desperate and a stunt goes wrong, sending someone very important in the production to the hospital. This threatens both the romance and the show.

Nicola finally catches on that Max is sincere, but they don't have time for romance right now- the show must go on, and that means they must pull together and salvage it.

This effectively keeps the main characters apart romantically until the very end.

It doesn't have to be this storyline, but note that what you have in this query is two people with nothing really keeping them apart on a backdrop of amusing goings-on, which is not technically a story.

+1 Internets for the Spinal Tap reference.

Beth Matthews said...

Author again. NEW new version if anyone still feels like commenting.

Thank you to everyone who's posted so far. :)


I queried you last year about my first contemporary romance, “Beauty and the Bouncer,” and you said that you enjoyed my humor and would like to see my next book when it was finished. I am currently seeking an agent for "A Midsummer Night’s Fling," a contemporary romance complete at 100K words that should appeal to fans of the wry humor and playful sexiness in the works of Jennifer Crusie, Julie James, and Shannon Stacey.

After dating her childhood sweetheart, Max, on and off for years, aspiring actress Nicola is finally ready to move on. It’s time for her to focus on her stage career and stay away from Max--before he can break her heart again.

Max regrets hurting Nicola, but he wants another chance. So when his play loses its leading lady, giving Nicola the part seems like the perfect opportunity to win back his old flame.

But the course of true love—and a theater production—never do run smooth. As Max fights to reignite Nicola’s love, the onstage antics become nothing compared to the bedlam backstage: a neurotic cast, a prickly crew, and an evil diva of a director who’s got designs on Max.

As Nicola and Max battle to keep the drama onstage, Max can't help wondering if their romance will end with the last performance. Or have the two of them finally captured what they’ve dreamed of all their lives? True Love.

In addition to romance, I write SF/F works, and I was recently accepted to the 2013 Viable Paradise writing workshop run by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I am a member of Romance Writers of America.

Evil Editor said...

I don't like "become" in paragraph 4. The onstage antics don't become anything. You could say they're rivaled by.... Although it seems the backstage antics should be the subject of the sentence. The backstage antics--a, b, and c-- outsomething the whatever.

Veronica Rundell said...

It's better. If this were a freebie I'd read on.

I still think there needs to be some competition here. Some competing love interest that would mess up the whole romance thing, because it still reads like they get together quick and the backstage antics are fourth fiddle and not truly problematic.

All new relationships have hiccups; they are not all the plot of a novel however.

And, as far as the query goes, I keep skipping the first paragraph. The first sentence just kills my attention. I think it would be better if it were more concise.

AA said...

"If this were a freebie I'd read on."

This is valuable feedback. You're trying to sell the book, not give it away, so you need to get this to the point where we'd pay to read on.

You have a concept. That's good. But let's look at what that means.

Old school example: What is the plot of the original Super Mario Bros. game? (Guess my age.)

It may have a storyline now, but originally it did not. Mario, a plumber, must face a lot of strange dangers in a loopy world to rescue his true love, a princess, from a castle. Now that's a concept, but not a plot.

Did the game have a backdrop of craziness? You bet. Strange turtles, menacing flowers, gold coins and magic mushrooms were only a few of the zany goings-on.

But still, a concept on a backdrop of craziness did not constitute a plot. It could certainly keep you entertained, but wasn't novel-ready.

If I was going to turn this into a kids' book or movie, I would use a simple storyline. Mario has to rescue his childhood sweetheart from the evil Bowser who has locked her in a castle. No one thinks he can do it because he's just a plumber. Obstacles include guard turtles and fireball flowers. At one point Mario becomes discouraged and almost gives up, but then he discovers how to turn into Super Mario and save the day.

For an adult movie or book I need more. For instance, I add: Mario's brother Luigi. He's an unemployed slacker who still lives with mom & dad. He has to help Mario and gets the chance to learn what he's capable of. I could also add a female character that likes Mario, but he only has eyes for his princess. And I could add an overarching story element such as a plot by Bowsers to take over the kingdom.

Do you see? We're asking, what are the "bones" of your story? What is the structure of your plot?

If, as I now suspect, you can't find it, then you probably don't have one. In that case, work on the ms.