Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Face-Lift 1250 (Already 1/4 of the way to 5000!)

Guess the Plot

Oliver and the Underlings

1. Oliver has been trapped inside a query for months now. Will the creatures who live inside the book help him find a way out before EE rips the query to shreds? 

2. Puberty is a trying time for any teenage boy, but when Oliver finds his balls have learnt to talk life becomes intolerable. Not only do the sentient Underlings chime in at the most inopportune moments, especially when girls are present, but the hot and sweaty atmosphere is making them increasingly irritable. Can Oliver make peace with his testy testes in time to get a date for the junior prom?

3. Fifteen-year-old Ollie is an awkward genius. He invents tiny micro photo-robots, the Underlings, and plants them in cheerleaders' underwear. As girls disrobe, face-blocked photos are posted to a porno website. When three of them are abducted. Ollie knows all about it while the cops clueless. If he gives the data to the police, he goes to prison for teen porn. Somehow he must free the girls and capture the criminals himself.

4. Oliver Wendell Livingston wants to start a ska-steampunk band, like Springheel Jack or Steam Powered Giraffe. His financial adviser father decides to buy him a band that already exists--the struggling Underlings. But can they make beautiful music together, or will Oliver have to retreat to the family basement?

5. Bad enough that the creepy old man who's been after Oliver's mother for years turns out to be Oliver's grandfather; now monsters are coming out of the closet all over town. Oliver puts together a team to deal with the chaos in this middle grade story filled with adult sexual innuendo.

6. Oliver the poodle is highly protective of his family. So when he discovers a group of little goblins living behind the fireplace, he tries to warn the humans. But will they listen before it's too late?

7. Oliver has grand dreams of starting his own Mafia family. Unfortunately, he’s an orphan, his entire family wiped out by an unfortunate accident with a cheese grater and five peaches. If only he could find some underlings willing to crown him their godfather.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

All eleven-year-old Oliver Bradshaw wants is a normal life. A safe place he can call home. [A lavish wardrobe.] Some friends. That's hard to have when his [friends mock him for having a name that's an anagram of "lavish wardrobe" and his] mom is running from a creepy old man, his dad is missing, and monsters are coming out of closets all over his new town. [It's about time wolfmen and vampires and monsters came out of the closet.]

When the monsters kidnap Oliver's classmates, Oliver must enter their world to get them back. [Why is this Oliver's responsibility?] [Grammatically, "their" refers to Oliver's classmates.] [Where is the monsters' world and how does Oliver enter it? Can anyone enter it? By walking into a closet?] He needs an army for this rescue mission. What he has is his quick-to-scare best friend, a devil-may-care bully, and a friendly monster that looks like a wad of chewing gum.

Oliver quickly finds the monsters' world to be a complicated one, full of fighting monster clans and weird technology powered by magic instead of electricity. While there, he runs into his grandfather, a traveler between the two worlds. His grandfather is searching for Oliver's missing dad, kidnapped when Oliver was just a year old, and has recruited the ugliest, meanest-looking monsters in the entire underworld to help him. If that weren't bad enough, [Why is that bad? If you're on a mission in monster land, don't you want the best monsters on your team?] his grandfather is the creepy old man his mom has been running from for years. [Not clear why mom didn't recognize the creepy old man in all those years.]

If Oliver can't sort out his true allies from his enemies, not only will he fail in rescuing his dad and his classmates, but the monster war will spill into his own world, and nowhere will ever be safe again. [He needs a better goal than "sorting out" his allies and enemies. He needs to shut down access to his world by the monsters. How's he plan to do that?]

OLIVER AND THE UNDERLINGS is a 50,000 word middle grade fantasy novel.

By day, I work at a university, writing software to transfer electronic student records from one computer to another. By night, I write fiction to transfer stories from my imagination to the imaginations of others. I view both professions as a kind of magic. [Cute paragraph. Get rid of it.]

I have published short fiction in markets such as Spider, Stories for Children, knowonder! magazine, and Kids'Magination. I am also a graduate of the Institute of Children's Literature and the Gotham Writers' Workshop, and I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Thank you for the opportunity to present my work to you. My novel is complete should you desire to see more.



You say nowhere will ever be safe again if the monster war spills into our world, but as the monsters are already coming out of closets all over town and kidnapping people, is anywhere safe even now?

It's kind of listy. A list of stuff Oliver wants, of stuff that's going on, of characters who are his underlings and of stuff he finds in the monsters' world. Try to limit yourself to one list, and tell us the story rather than listing elements of the story . . .

. . . Which will be easier to do if you focus on one plot line. When monsters cross into our world and kidnap all of Oliver Bradshaw's classmates, it's up to Oliver to recruit a hostage rescue team. Unfortunately, the only allies he can find are his quick-to-scare best friend, a devil-may-care bully, and a friendly monster that looks like a wad of chewing gum.

Getting there is the easy part--every bedroom in town is a portal to monsterland. But . . .

Now you can tell us their plan and what goes wrong and why failure is not an option. 


InkAndPixelClub said...

Set up Oliver's situation without the "all he wants" list. None of these are things he seems to be prusuing in the story, plus he seems to have at least one best friend already.

I second EE's point that there's no clear reason why this is Oliver's job. What skills or knowledge does he have that make him the only person who can save his classmates from the monsters?

Magic instead of electricity is only interesting if you can explain how it's different visually or in a way that's important to the story. If magic is powering lamps in the monster world, but turning on a light looks exactly the same as it does in the human world, then so what? I'd consider dropping this line in favor of describing the general look of the monster world or the threats Oliver is up against.

You seem to be trying to set Gramps up as a guy who potentially can't be trusted, but it's not working. What you have now is "To his horror, Oliver discovers that he has a potential ally in the monster world: his own grandfather. What's worse, Gramps has recruited a team of powerful monsters to hlep him find Oliver's dad." Oh no? Just saying that Gramps is creepy or that Oliver's mom has been running away from him isn't convincing me that he's bad or untrustworthy. If Oliver's mom has been telling him terrifying things about the creepy man or Gramps is so hell bent on finding his son that he's teamed up with some truly dangerous monsters who might somehow use him to do something bad, say that.

Potential editors and agents don't usually care about your day job unless it gives you some kind of extra insight into the subject of your book. Cut that paragraph and stick to your published works.

khazarkhum said...

Monsters coming from closets is a main feature of "Monsters Inc."

Second, Grandpa sounds more like an ideal ally than an enemy. Or is Oliver's mom really in cahoots with the monsters?

Anonymous said...

I don't get a sense of what the book is about from this. The main gist seems to be a rescue mission, but you spend a lot of space on what Oliver wants, which doesn't seem to have anything to do with the rescue mission.

He wants a normal life? Then why is he running around dealing with monsters? (Is that normal in this world?) The rescue mission is just one more normal day in the life of?

He wants friends? You say he already has a friend (see list of people he's taking with him) He thinks rescuing everyone=insta friendship?

He wants a safe place to call home? So his goal is to get rid of monsters? Make friends with the monsters so they're no longer dangerous? Live in a quiet spot in the monster world? Not sure how the rescue mission can tie in to this one.

Why is it his job to rescue his classmates?

InkAndPixelClub said...

Khazarkhum> The premise does bear some similaities to "Monsters Inc." (and "ParaNorman," though I doubt as many people will notice those), but the idea of monsters coming from closets is not so unique that I think the author needs to change it. I've seen it used at least two other places, one way before the Pixar film ever came out.

It is, however, a good reason to explain the importance of, downplay, or remove the unqiue power source of the monster world. "Monsters Inc." also featured a monster world with a unique power source: children's screams. But that was key to the plot of the movie because the two main character worked at a plant that collected the energy source and the difficulties and ethical concerns of harvesting screams were a major part of the story. Here, magic as a power source doesn't seem to tie into anything.

St0n3henge said...

This query is a bit kitchen-sinky.

I'd start with monsters coming out of closets and kidnapping kids. Oliver is the only one who can save them (Because?).

When you get to the grandfather, be careful of innuendo. You can say Oliver's mom warned him that Grandpa was a very bad person, or something like that. BTW, where is the mom? Did everyone just leave this kid alone?

The query brings up a lot of questions, such as: Does Oliver decide to put in with Grandpa, at least temporarily? He doesn't seem to have anywhere to actually go. Why does Oliver think he can rescue his dad and his classmates? Why did the monsters need or want them?

I don't even know why a bully would agree to accompany Oliver, or what would be the use of taking someone very fearful to the land of monsters. Isn't Oliver just putting them in unnecessary danger? And even a friendly monster probably wouldn't fight its own kind. Is there a reason you need a team? It's a very weak team.

"If Oliver can't sort out his true allies from his enemies..." I can't see why he would expect to have allies. He's in the land of monsters which is populated by monsters. I think he has to assume they're all "Charlie."

George Anthony Kulz said...

Thank you all for your extremely valuable feedback, especially Evil Editor. I'm amazed at all the good nuggets of help buried in this scathing review. :-D Much appreciated!

CavalierdeNuit said...

This one was hilarious. Fake plot 2 was my favorite. I'm interested in why Grandpa is such a creep. Is he a molester? Seems like you're all over the place with this, but it would not be difficult to organize.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Author, I have no trouble believing that there's a good story here; you just need to get it into the query. I'm looking forward to seeing a new draft.

khazarkhum said...


It's much better to get it here, where people give a damn, than to get a form rejection from someone who is only interested in what's for lunch.