Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Face-Lift 1160

Guess the Plot


1. Busting Mr. Parker's car window in third grade. Throwing for an interception that cost the Homecoming Game. And now, a broken condom after an evening with Miss West Virginia's Third Runner Up.

2. Ed "forgot" to pick up his mother's arthritis prescription so he substituted a few aspirin tablets. What's the difference, the old hag was probably faking her pain anyway just so Ed would live at home and wait on her hand and foot. Anyway, he "forgot" she was allergic to aspirin, so her death was . . . unintended.

3. Agnes didn't intend to fall in love with a Jewish guy; it just happened. She can't tell her parents; they'd disown her. But a lifetime without Fred Weinberg would be a lifetime of sorrow. On the other hand, Fred might expect her to give up bacon.

4. When Casey Montieth missed her archery target in gym, she didn't see the black form emerging from a hole in the field. Now all Hell has really broken loose.

5. For 24 years Dalton Abernathy has struggled to break into literary fiction. His friend accidentally submits some of Dalton's disjointed, mangled, notes from a half-dozen projects to an agent. Now he has a bestseller on his hands, a Pulitzer nomination, and loads of adoring fans.

6. Two weeks before her wedding to rich hunk Bruce, Sylvia discovers him boffing her sister, the maiden of honor. So Sylvia and her friends trick him into a fling with a mob boss's trophy wife. And Sylvia’s intended becomes her unintended.

Original Version

Ag Kelly is a young, flirty flapper who has finally found a [fetching fellow] man who can [fling a frisbee forty furlongs.] deliver a passionate kiss. It's a shame she has to keep it a secret. [If the one thing she was looking for in a man is talent at kissing, she seems kind of shallow.]

Ag's life is easier when she keeps [hides] her late night shenanigans away from her strict Catholic family. Even though they have grown used to her rolled stockings and bobbed hair, they will [would] never understand what she is doing now. This innocent summer crush is just one more defiant act best kept under wraps, [That's pretty much what you said two sentences ago.] and with good reason. It was never supposed to go this far. [That seems contradictory. Is it an innocent summer crush or not? How about: What began as an innocent summer crush has gone way too far.] Despite her attempts to keep Fred Weinberg at arm's length, she is totally unprepared for the intense attraction she feels for him. It's absurd, not to mention sinful.  The desire is mutual and grows quickly into an [a] once-in-a-lifetime love affair. The fact he is Jewish makes matters worse. [That's a long paragraph with a little information. Here it is in one sentence: Ag's strict Catholic family would freak out if they knew she'd fallen madly in love with a guy named Fred Weinberg.]

She tries to deny it. [But there's no getting around it; he's Jewish.] He tries to stop it. She counts the days until a new job takes him away, but now he wants her to leave town with him. She would have to disappear, never to see her family again. She'd be disowned if they found out, not to mention the condemnation that surely would follow. [Once you've been disowned, does it matter what follows? Also, if she disappears, never to see her family again, does it matter if they then disown her?] But ending it would mean giving up her true love in exchange for a lifetime of sorrow. The fear of making the right choice gnaws at her gut [even more than the fear of making the wrong choice] as she struggles to find a way to combine their worlds. [Tough choice. A lifetime of happiness with your one true love or a lifetime of sorrow with the bigots you blame for costing you a lifetime of happiness.]

Either way, she will have to pay for what she has done. [You haven't told us anything that happens in this book other than Fred and Ag fall in love. We need a plot.]

UNINTENDED is a historical romance novel complete at 130,000 words. It is my first novel. I have a Bachelor's degree in English and work in the pharmaceutical industry writing medical and clinical research manuscripts. [Wait, are you the one who writes those two-page, tiny-print side-effects warnings that accompany advertisements for drugs? I can see how it would be frustrating to write that stuff and know no one will ever read it. I'd be tempted to stick a few lies in the middle of page 2, like "Has been shown to cause Ebola virus in most patients," just for laughs. Try it, I guarantee no one will ever see it.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.


It's wordy and repetitive and it's all setup. Here's my character, and here's her seemingly hopeless situation. All of that can be condensed into one three-sentence paragraph. Leaving lots of room to tell us what happens. I assume she doesn't spend 125,000 words making her choice. And that the choice she makes leads to interesting consequences.

That's a pretty long book. If you can cut it down to about 75,000 words without taking out anything important, as I suspect you can, you'll have a better chance of selling it.


PLaF said...

What bothers me the most about this query is that Ag is not clearly defined. What are her goals? What drives her to push the boundaries with her parents. What does she lack in her life? Is Fred the answer or part of the problem?
Religious differences can make a relationship difficult, but what make this relationship compelling enough to make readers want to read it?
Forbidden romance makes things spicy, there has to be a better reason to pursue one than he’s a good kisser. What makes her want to kiss him in the first place?

khazar-khum said...

Yay! Twenties fic!

Catholic/Jewish marriages have been going on for centuries. What Jewish sect does he hail from? I'd assume he can't be Hasidic, but I could be wrong. What's her ethnicity? Irish? In the 20s, an Irish girl would be expected to go be a nurse or teacher. Does her mother have a 'suitable' match in mind for her?

What's his new job going to be? That might matter to her parents.

How old are these people? I'd guess early 20s, but it's hard to tell.

You've given me the basic blurb of a romance, but I have no idea how the plot unfolds.

Jo Antareau said...

Your government shut down appears to have affected the comments section, too.

I agree with what EE said, the plot seems a little thin. I'm sure there's more to it. Most seem to err on the side of providing too much detail, however, this sounds like a short story.

As it's an historical romance, I would suggest you add info about the era and the consequences of being excommunicated by the Catholic church. My Catholic mother-in-law married a Jewish fellow in the 60's. Neither converted to the other's faith, yet the wedding was presided over by a priest in the church, from what I understand the priest compromised - he did not conduct a Catholic mass (or whatever they do when Catholics marry one other) yet he blessed the union. I'm sure there was some controversy in the family when they announced their engagement, but nothing as strong as Ag's familiy's reaction (I suspect that there was a sympathy factor here, as he had lost his entire family in the holocaust). The couple had three kids and remained together until he passed away a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone and thank you for the feedback. Your comments are all constructive and point to what I need to revise. I left out a HUGE part of the plot because, as noted above, I was afraid to give away too much. Please check back as I will revise in the next couple of days and would truly appreciate your additional review. BTW, I laughed at Evil Editor's question about adding Ebola to the package insert. I'd try to slip Ebola in, but it's the dang drug companies who hire lawyers and physicians to make sure the rest of us don't do that. That's why drugs cost so much!

CavalierdeNuit said...

This seems to be too long for what it is. It's women's fiction right? I think 75k is a good length for those books. Have you rewritten this three times plus edited it over 100 times while tearing your hair out and going mad? I read somewhere you should do that before it's even remotely ready.

Don't be afraid to give away stuff on this website. Have you read the archives and fake plots? The reality is no one cares about your book's plot except you, and your potential agent/editor, and your future readers/fans.

Sarah Seufert said...

Hello. Sorry this took so long. As I wrote to Evil Editor, it's important to me to get this query right and any suggestions you have are welcome. Your previous comments were helpful. Unintended is based on a true story and, as written, covers 40 years. I've edited out a great deal of the story (down to 117K words) Basic plot: In 1929, Catholic girl falls in love with Jewish neighbor, gets pregnant, is afraid her family will find out (it is NOT an option to marry him), goes to home for unwed mothers, walks away from daughter, spends rest of her life accepting the heartache as the punishment she deserves. She never marries, never stops loving the man, and can't forget her daughter. In the meantime, the daughter is determined to find her mother and demand to know why she left her. For 40 years, their lives are unknowingly intertwined and eventually they are reunited by the man. Now, after much ado, this is the revised query. Have at it! All suggestions welcomed!
During Prohibition, Ag Kelly heads out for a night on the town. She’s a flapper looking for a dance floor and some bathtub gin, but instead she finds Fred Weinberg, a neighbor she’s known for years. He’s older, charming, and suddenly she can’t keep away from him. He’s absolutely perfect with one exception: he’s Jewish and that will never fly with her Catholic family.

They fall in love and when Ag turns up pregnant, she has no choice but to leave town and enter a home for unwed mothers. After her daughter is born, she wants to keep her, but if she does, her secret is out and there isn't much future for a sinner with a bastard child. But if she walks away, she’ll be forgiven for what she’s done and forget all about her daughter. At least that’s what she’s told.

Six-year-old Agnes Marie watches from the orphanage as new parents come for babies, but no one asks to see her. She can’t be adopted because her mother abandoned her, never signing off on some piece of paper. As the years go by, she dreams of confronting the monsters who left her here. When she turns eighteen, she breaks into the priest’s office and gets her parent’s names. Once she finds them, she’ll demand answers she deserves.

What she doesn't know is just how close they are.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Hi, Sarah. Okay, so you're working from a true story. Maybe it's a family story, or maybe it's something someone told to you. But either way, it's up against a humongous obstacle, which is this:

Reality doesn't have to make sense. Fiction does.

So it sounds now like what you're describing is a protagonist who doesn't protag, and doesn't make her choices in a way acceptable to the 21st century mind.

Try not to be annoyed by that observation, please.... Of course she doesn't, because the real person, the neighbor or relative or whoever she was, didn't have a 21st century mind. But see, that's just the kind of challenge you get when novelizing reality. Your potential readers have 21st century minds.

The trope of the couple whose love overcomes societal taboos is compelling enough for fiction. The reality of a couple who cave to the taboo... well, it might have appeal if done right, but I'm from Missouri, and so are the agents and editors.

117k is still awfully long.

Try to focus the query on just one character and her goals.

By the way, your description of the story in your preface to the query seemed clearer than that in the query itself, for what that's worth.

PLaF said...

Your initial explanation is better than the revised query. You’re still giving us set up. Here’s what we know:
In 1929, fun-loving Ag Kelly heads looks for fun on the dance floor and finds true love instead. She never intends to become pregnant, but when she does, her Catholic family refuses to allow her to marry the Jewish father of her child.
Instead, she’s shipped off to a home for unwed mothers and coerced into giving up the child. Ag leaves her daughter there, and remains unwed and heartbroken, a self-punishment she feels she deserves.
Eighteen years later, Agnes Marie plots revenge on the parents who abandoned her yet refused to allow her adoption. She’s been looked down on her entire life and she wants answers. She breaks into the orphanage files and learns their identities and last known addresses.
Then stuff happens here such that it looks like Agnes will never find her mother. It looks like Ag will die an old, unforgiven woman.
Then Fred returns and reunites them. He shows them how he’s orchestrated events in their lives for the past twenty years and now they can all be together as one happy family.
See how it all falls down when you don’t tell us what stuff happens or how it’s all resolved?

K Hutton said...

Is this told strictly chronologically? I dunno... it feels like the story could start with orphan Agnes Marie and the rest be revealed throughout the novel, or even be told in parallel fashion with strategic flashbacks. But it seems really awkward to have maybe 40% of a story be with one set of characters and then jump forward 18 years to someone who basically becomes the new protag--making the reader feel like they just slogged through 140 pages of, essentially, set-up.

Is the mother or the daughter the true MC? Even in ensemble cast stories, there's the one who ultimately matters most. If it's the daughter, I wouldn't want that much time with the mother first.

Ann Patchett basically did what you're describing with Patron Saint of Liars. It was a beautifully written book, and I STILL thought the big time jump/MC jump was awkward when she did it. It was also her first novel.

Good luck!

Evil Editor said...

Whether or not you've pulled off the 18-year gap in the book, I agree that the query should focus on Ag or Agnes Marie. (Do they have to have the same name?)

As it is, you spend two thirds of the query explaining how AgMarie came to live in an orphanage when you could just say: After 18 years in an orphanage, AgMarie wants revenge. Revenge on the monsters who abandoned her here, revenge on the system, and especially revenge on Sister Flatula.

Or whatever she wants. That leaves plenty of room to tell us how she goes about seeking answers and how she deals with those answers.

This, of course, assumes that 18-year-old AgMarie doesn't make her first appearance in the last chapter.

Mister Furkles said...


You should start the query with “six-year-old Agnes Marie”. And K Hutton is right about starting the story there too.

Add a word or two in the first sentence to draw the reader into the scene at the orphanage. Something like: “Six-year-old Agnes Marie watches from the orphanage window as new parents come for babies …” The reader will imagine the scene with a little girl’s face looking out from the second story window. The addition of one or two words can do that.

In the second sentence, change ‘never’ to ‘without’ and drop ‘off on’.

Drop “As the years go by,”. It takes the read out of the scene. Then “She dreams of one day confronting …”. And drop ‘here’ because the reader knows where she is.

Drop the last sentence “Once … deserves.” It comes out as:

Six-year-old Agnes Marie watches from the orphanage window as new parents come for babies, but no one asks for her. She can’t be adopted because her mother abandoned her without signing some piece of paper. She dreams of one day confronting the monsters who left her. When she turns eighteen, she breaks into the priest’s office and gets her parent’s names.

That is all the setup you need. What’s the main conflict? What happens?