Friday, November 01, 2013

Face-Lift 1164


Guess the Plot

The Life that I Have

1. I was murdered a century ago, so you'd think I'd be dead, but I'm immortal. Since I never look any older I have to move to a new town every time I graduate from high school. That's why immortality is a curse, at least when you're 16. If I have to read Paradise Lost one more time I think I'll jam a stake through my heart.

2. I'm twenty two-years-old. I live down by the river in a broken down van with no electricity or running water. My disability and morbid obesity keep me unemployed, and my parents disowned me when I was expelled from rehab. But now I have a plan. And it will work, because Saturday Night Live needs a turn around.

3. I love all living creatures. I'm a caregiver at a wild animal rehab center. On the night of the winter solstice, both a werewolf and a vampire bit me. For twenty-eight days, I was myself. But under the full moon, I became a vicious blood sucking monster. I despair my life and wonder if I shouldn't have become a blood sucking lawyer like my father.

4. I work twelve hours a day shoveling out pigsties. When I get home I watch my 14-inch black and white TV that only gets one channel: Bravo. Which stinks, except when The Real Housewives of New Jersey is on. It's not exactly the life of Riley, but it's . . . The Life that I Have.

5. Terrorized by bullies at school and my abusive mother at home, I begged a vampire to bite me and give me power. Instead the vampire bit my mother, then passed out, drunk. So I found a werewolf, who promptly ran off with the vampire.

6. I get up in the morning, go to work, come home, eat a frozen dinner, watch TV all night, and go to bed. Hey, it's better than being enslaved by Rhodesian diamond miners.



Original Version

Dear Agent I Want So Much To Impress

For Vivi Tell, immortality is a curse. Life is something she borrows, not something she owns. She's spent a century clinging to who she used to be. A sixteen-year-old girl who lost everything: her home, her family, her hopes. And maybe her soul. She has never stopped hating the handsome young man who took her 'real' life, even as she blames herself for what happened.

Vivi allows herself to love only one person, her adoptive mother, Diana. But every few years, they must separate to deflect notice of their shared 'condition.' [If you mean Mom is also immortal, I can see why they would have to move, but not why they have to separate.] Vivi's latest move, to Oak Village, Ohio, begins to bring [brings] changes to a girl who doesn't [didn't] believe she can [could] change. First she is drawn into a friendship with the tough, talkative Shoshannah Silver, a housemate delighted to find herself living with another Jewish girl. Then she attracts the attention of Ian Olmsted, the sweetly geeky vice president of the high school's Astronomy Club, who somehow manages to make a girl who knows she's all wrong feel like she belongs. Despite her own misgivings and Diana's outright forbiddance, Vivi decides to pursue the relationship.

But Vivi's new connections force her to keep secrets from everyone she cares about. [She was already keeping her biggest secret from everyone she cared about, and everyone else. I assume.] She can't share her new experiences with Diana. Shoshannah is hurt by her reticence. Even Ian doubts her trust in him. Those secrets become dangerous when her murderer reappears – with Ian – and Vivi begins a desperate attempt to protect the boy she loves from her own fate. Meanwhile, she herself is threatened when vigilantes who will make no distinction between killer and victim begin to close in on Oak Village – and Shoshannah becomes eager to join them. [When your best friend is eager to join vigilante killers, it may be time to cut the ties. Especially if you are the target of the vigilante killers.] Revealing the truth at last only makes things worse, as Vivi and Ian are each confronted with temptations she has never anticipated.

THE LIFE THAT I HAVE, a YA paranormal coming-of-age novel, is complete at 107,000 words. It is the bittersweet tale of how love and friendship bring a girl who doesn't believe she deserves to be happy out of the past, and into an uncertain present where she must fight for the very soul she's not even sure she has. [If you've shown this in your plot description with specificity, there's no need to now tell us with vagueness.] In asking what a person must accept about her circumstances, and what she can – or should not – change, it offers no easy solutions and no happily-ever-after. I think it would appeal to fans of Maggie Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, Carrie Ryan's The Dark and Hollow Places, and Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road. [Ms. Stiefvater was an Evil Minion in the early years of this blog, and Ms. Ryan joined us when we discussed her novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Thus they are worthy of mention, but this third person has not earned the privilege.]

This is my first novel. I have been writing fiction since I could hold a pencil, but haven't been published since college. I grew up in Ohio and currently reside in the Boston area, where I work in civil engineering and do competitive racewalking in addition to writing (many of my best ideas have come to me during a long workout). [The Life I Have is more interesting than the life you have. Dump this paragraph.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

Your refusal to include the word "vampire" is distracting. First I'm thinking, She's a vampire. Later I'm thinking, Why hasn't the word "vampire" come up? Still later I'm thinking, Few people can go this long without using the word "vampire," even if their book has no vampires; apparently she's not a vampire.

Does Vivi kill people and/or turn them? Is she responsible for her adoptive mother's "condition"?

This is well-written, but even without the bio, it's a bit long. The first paragraph could be reduced to:

For Vivi Tell, immortality is a curse. A sixteen-year-old girl who lost her family, her hopes, and maybe her soul, she has never stopped hating the handsome young man who took her "real" life a century ago, even as she blames herself for what happened.

Not sure we need Mom in the query. The main plot seems to be this:

Immortal Vivi moves to Oak Village and falls for the local astronomy geek. One day, to her horror, she sees her geek hanging with the bastard who immortalized her.


So, open with the setup paragraph, introducing Vivi and her "condition." Then a paragraph in which she moves, falls for Ian, discovers he's in danger of becoming as cursed as she is. Finally a paragraph about her plan to accomplish the goal of saving Ian, and the obstacle preventing this (vigilantes are after her).


I seem to have left Shoshannah out, along with Mom. Probably not a bad thing. A heroine, her love interest and a villain can usually carry a nine-sentence plot summary.



8 comments:

AA said...

Couple of problems I see right away.

Why the short, declarative sentences? For instance, this would be fine:

For Vivi Tell, immortality is a curse. She's spent a century clinging to who she used to be: a sixteen-year-old girl who lost her home, her family, her hopes- and maybe her soul. She has never stopped hating the handsome young man who took her 'real' life, even as she blames herself for what happened.

Second- Awkward writing. For instance:

But every few years, they must separate to deflect notice of their shared 'condition.'

"To deflect notice of" is awkward. It's also incorrect.

Then she attracts the attention of Ian Olmsted, the sweetly geeky vice president of the high school's Astronomy Club, who somehow manages to make a girl who knows she's all wrong feel like she belongs.

"who somehow manages to make a girl who knows she's all wrong feel like she belongs" is clumsy. Read it out loud. Also, I stumbled on "sweetly geeky." It's like the "Rural Juror" thing on 30 Rock.

Despite her own misgivings and Diana's outright forbiddance, Vivi decides to pursue the relationship.

"Diana's outright forbiddance" sounds Victorian. There is no way you would say this in real life.

Those secrets become dangerous when her murderer reappears – with Ian – and Vivi begins a desperate attempt to protect the boy she loves from her own fate.

Here you're saying Vivi begins an attempt. And that brings us to another problem.

Look at this:
to deflect notice of, begins to bring, to find herself living, somehow manages to, decides to pursue, is hurt by, begins a desperate attempt, begin to close in, becomes eager to, are each confronted with

I'm not going to comment on this list, just look at it carefully.

I think you should abandon all attempts to sound "writerly."




Veronica Rundell said...

Too freaking long. The query and the book. Most YA paranormal selling these days is 70,000 words or so.

Reading the extraneous clauses in this query makes me think there are constant redundancies/extra words in the novel.

Look, right now there are a lot of YA paranormals out, and vampire stories are in abundance. You need to set your story--particularly if it is a vamp tale--apart from the others.

The language used in this query is stilted and awkward with outdated phraseology unsuited to today's YA market. A query is a business letter. It should describe the plot and hint at the voice. The voice here, to me, reads antiquated. Too formal for teen readers. IDK if this is how the novel reads, but the agent will sense it from the letter. Be wary.

Rethink. Rewrite. Good luck.

CavalierdeNuit said...

A coming of age novel about a girl who's 100 years old? That makes no sense. I know how you can be different: don't put your immortal teenage characters in high school. *gasp* They're way too cool for school.

Why does a 100 year old girl who looks 16 need a mother? Vivi should be fiercely independent by now, and not in high school anymore.

Take the immortality away from her, and she can be coming of age in a small town, but make her immortal, and she needs to be bigger and better. High school is beneath her, unless she makes a few friends of that age outside of school. But if you were 100 and immortal would you want to spend time with people who have been on the planet for 15 or 16 years? I wouldn't. I would find others of my kind, or make the cool teens immortal.

Who and what is this handsome young man? I don't care about Ian. I care about the handsome young man who "killed" Vivi.

Ilex said...

Hi, EE -- the author/querier here.

Thanks for the mostly kind comments, and for making me laugh at myself reading them. That's a neat trick there!

I've made a few of the more obvious changes, but I'll have to let my brain stew over what else to do, especially as I'd been thinking about rewriting the whole query from scratch even before submitting it to you.

It's clear to me from your notes and the minions' comments that I'm not getting the essence of the story across here. It's not a "paranormal romance" -- Vivi and Ian break up at the end, because vampires and humans are too different to stay together, and I object to all the stories where the love interest accidentally dies at the end so the vampire can "bring them over" without guilt.

(And yeah, Vivi and Diana are vampires. But I let myself get intimidated by the number of agents who say they're just sick of vampire anything, and in many ways, the book has more of a contemporary slant than a supernatural/superpower/we're-so-speshul slant. It's got plenty of action, but it's a character arc story.)

Which gets me to, I call it a "coming of age" novel because when it opens, Vivi genuinely believes she cannot change, which has kept her stuck for a very long time. Then, by allowing herself to have some of the experiences she missed or has deliberately avoided (love, sex, a close friendship with a girl her own age), she finally begins to focus on the present rather than the past, and realizes that she's not so frozen as she thought. (And at the end, she decides not to go back to high school, thus removing herself from that teen vampire novel trope.) Her love affair with Ian, while intense and deeply meaningful, is a springboard to her embracing the life she has now.

And hey, I totally agree that my life is boring. But some agents insist on the inclusion of some kind of bio. When they ask for it, that paragraph is in. And when they don't -- trust me, I'm not offering it.

I'll get back to you with a rewrite within the next week (I expect.)

Until then, thanks for the detailed comments.

Ilex said...

@ Veronica Rundell

I'm not arguing here -- just discussing!

I do know that the book is long. But most YA paranormal novels these days aren't standalones -- they're trilogies, with 70k words followed by 70k words followed by yet another 70k words. I can see why this appeals to publishers, who get to sell three books. But they so often feel padded and unsatisfying. I've personally started avoiding reading most trilogies on this account.

I've got one complicated plot which fits into one long book, and then is done. I've given some serious thought to trying to split it up into two or three volumes. But I don't see each thread as carrying enough weight to make an entire plot arc for its own book. As a reader, I don't think the 107k word story feels as bloated as the word count makes it look, but of course, I'm also biased.

I'm still asking beta readers to tell me if they can see 20k words to cut out. And I'm hoping they'll be honest when something is too long or boring.

Anonymous said...

It's not your beta readers' job to find 20k words to cut. It's yours.

CavalierdeNuit said...

Anonymous, that is very true.

150 said...

Ding dang, is 84 years a long time spinning your wheels. Even if Vivi's whole thing is that she's immortal, why must she have been immortal for that long?

Do try to kill those 17k extra words. For a big chunk like that, structure and pacing analysis is probably your best bet. Under 100k is a much better place to be than over.

Have you submitted your opening? I'm curious how this sounds.