Friday, July 24, 2015

Face-Lift 1266

Guess the Plot

One Day I Will

1. ...finish that goddamn novel I started for Nanowrimo five years ago, because I always liked that one character but could never quite find the right plot to fit, and now I think I have finally found one that will work.

2. Morton is five. You're five. Right now, Mommy is reading you a book about Morton's mommy telling him he'll do all kinds of cool and big things someday. It feels like you're going to be stuck at five forever. Yes, it's metafiction for the kid lit crowd.

3. Faye has a loveless marriage, hates her friends, and works at Kmart. Understandably, she's suicidal. Then she remembers her longtime dream of becoming a published author and starts working on a novel. If that doesn't push her over the edge, nothing will.

4. a big movie star. Or a professional golfer. Or president. Or at least rich. Or popular. But not today. Today I'm just gonna surf the Internet for cat videos.

5. ...find a husband and start a family. That's what Marion's been telling herself for two decades as she's climbed the corporate ladder while working twelve-hour days. Is it too late?

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

Please consider representing my 70,000-word Women‘s Fiction book [, title]. I’ve researched your agency through Writer’s Market and saw [see] that you handle women’s and literary fiction. [I'd dump this paragraph, put the word count with the title in the next paragraph and change "a mainstream novel" in the next paragraph to "women's fiction."]

One Day I Will is a mainstream novel in a similar vein to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar or the movie The Good Girl. It is the story of a young woman who must find a way to correct the mistakes she has made in order to improve her life and to save herself from a path of irreversible decline. [I'd move this paragraph to the end. It's general. We're much more interested in the specifics in your plot summary. Also, when you compare your book to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar or the movie The Good Girl, all I think is: Suicidal poet and romantic comedy actress Jennifer Anniston. If you must compare to something, choose one, preferably a book.]

Faye Harris, a neurotic but cynical and sharp-tongued woman, witnesses a horrific car accident that nearly kills four teenagers. This catalyst leads Faye to question the course of her own life. [Those four teenagers nearly died; I never should have majored in English.] She realizes that it’s been ten years since she graduated high school. Back then she was eagerly ready for anything. Anything but how her life turned out. The bad choices she made over the last decade plague her: marrying young, forgoing college, and relinquishing her dream of being a published novelist. [Aha! So this is autobiographical.] [You have to be a novelist before you can be a published novelist. Has she written a novel?] Her indecision has left her poor, unsuccessful, and complacent. [Bad decisions aren't indecision.]

She now struggles through a loveless marriage to Aaron, the insecure and jealous type, whose idea of a good time is a night of binge drinking and video games. She suffers at a menial and hellish retail job at Kmart, unappreciated by her bitter and chain-smoking boss Mary. The friends she has she hates: her next-door neighbors Matt and Nikki Sweeney, their epic, drunken fights worthy of the show Cops. [If nothing else, reading an entire book about this miserable dispirited woman is sure to make anyone feel better about their own life.] Plus, she feels alienated from her family: her shallow mother Jaclyn and her drug-addled brother Zack--the closest person Faye has to a confidant. 

Faye becomes desperate to find meaning in her life again. She returns to night school and bonds with a fellow classmate who later breaks her heart. Eventually she falls into a suicidal depression [I'm starting to fall into a suicidal depression. Maybe some binge drinking and video games will cheer me up.] and endeavors the cathartic task of finally writing her novel. [Uh oh. I was hoping for at least a mildly uplifting ending, but this is looking bad.] But if she can’t find a way to set things right, [What things?] she will lose herself forever and be doomed to live and die in her small, sheltered town and within her dismal marriage. [Please don't kill yourself. Many of the Evil Minions have been where you are. Tell her, people.]

Set against the backdrop of rural Maryland, One Day I Will explores the strength found in following one’s dreams and in the redemptive powers of art. Female readers will especially enjoy this book and relate to Faye’s universal hardship of a marriage gone bad and of finding love again after years of numbness. [Females who can relate to a marriage gone bad are those who've been in a marriage gone bad. Not a small number, but hardly universal.]

Thank you for your consideration.


The whole query is about how miserable Faye's life is. You can do that in one paragraph. I can do it in one sentence (After a decade of bad decisions, Faye Harris now struggles through  a loveless marriage and a hellish retail job at Kmart, friendless and alienated from her family.) but you shouldn't try that at home. 

Condensing the misery leaves room to show us how the book explores the strength found in following one’s dreams and in the redemptive powers of art and finding love again after years of numbness. Was the night school classmate an example of finding love again? Or is there a new love you haven't mentioned? Because that first fling didn't exactly turn out well. Is writing her novel an example of the redemptive powers of art? In what way? What's the novel about? Does she try to get it published? If so, how can that possibly make her any less depressed than she already is?

Writing a novel while also holding down a job is going to take a lot of time. She's in a suicidal depression now. I hope she gets some help to get her over the low points.

Maybe it should be called literary fiction. Do you have a story? In which things happen? Basically, a woman tries to find meaning in life by writing a novel? Unless there are some major events you haven't mentioned, I think you need to focus more on what it is Faye has to set right and how she plans to do that. 


Anonymous said...

I didn't even begin to get interested until the third paragraph. Start with "Faye Harris, neurotic," as EE advised.

EE also well noted the unremitting and therefore off-putting misery of this story as well as your description of the plot in terms of emotions, relationships, and presentiments of doom at the expense of events. My thoughts exactly, and I'd add that it's a bit odd that Faye at the age of 28 would be suicidally depressed about the next 50 years of her life, especially if she's active enough to take the crucial steps of attempting education and artistic creativity. Why does she have to stay in her crummy town with her crummy husband? Can't she at least dump the gump? Doesn't K-Mart have a management training program?

By the way, is Faye really, clinically, neurotic? Or is she merely unhappy, albeit intensely so? In any case, "neurotic but cynical and sharp-tongued" snags my brain a bit because I think of "cynical and sharp-tongued" as going quite naturally with "neurotic," no "but" about it.

Other brain snags:

eagerly ready
This catalyst leads

Anonymous said...

I agree with EE, this sounds more like literary fiction than women fiction. Nothing wrong with that but I’d like to see Faye do more than be depressed. I’m sure that the book is different, but in the query she doesn’t do much.

Anonymous said...

I love the title, I think most people can relate!

I agree with EE's comments- Faye needs at least one positive in her life, oherwise why would she tolerte the situation (she has no kids, right?) and just up and leave the miserable wretches she surrounds herself with.

I'd like to add that an MC "hating" her friends makes her come across as passive-aggressive, hypocritical or just plain unsympathetic ( a deal breaker for me, I would not want to read about such a person). Sure, friendships can be a mire of resentments and jealousies but we either tolerate the bad stuff because the friend has at least one redeeming feature, or just move on if the friendship has become really toxic. Otherwise, they're not really friends. Perhaps these people are annoying neighbors or workmates she can't seem to shake off. So maybe your MC actually has no friends?

So either drop the line about hating her friends or elaborate a little more about Faye's friends all being demanding, thankless, two-faced, untrustworthy so-and-so's who've all slept with her husband, dented her car without leaving a note, borrowed her new outfit and returned it with an almighty stain on it and casually dropped an embarassing secret about a past indiscretion in casual conversation.

For a really good example of the corrosive power of abusive female friendships, see Margaret Attwood's "Cat's Eye".

InkAndPixelClub said...

I'm not entirely clear on the connection between the car crash and Faye reexamining her life. Usually, a character witnessing a fatal or nearly fatal event leads to thoughts of "I'm not immortal. I could die at any time. I need to do what I want to with my life right now." Faye seems to be thinking more along the lines of "Gosh, it's been long time since I graduated from high school," which could happen just as easily if she saw four teenagers walking down the street chatting about their plans for college. If the fact that Faye is no longer a teenager with nearly infinite paths open to her is the important takeaway here, I'd focus on the teenagers and not the car accident. If
the point is Faye realizing she has no guarantee of more time to fix her life, then the accident should be the main focus. It could well be a bit of both in the novel, but you may want to pick one to focus on for the query.

A person can pursue her dreams or act decisively and still end up poor and unsuccessful. Faye's problems seem to be that she's effectively friendless, stuck in a loveless marriage, and working a job she hates, not that she somehow missed an opportunity to publish a series of bestsellers and live out her days in a gold plated mansion. I don't feel like Faye's financial situation or her failure to live up to some definition of "success" belong in here.

If you're going to bother to name a character in the query, they need to do something more than show up once, accompanied by a list of their main attributes. A list of all the terrible people in Faye's life doesn't tell me what happens in the book. The query is already long on setup, so limit yourself to quick summaries of what's wrong in Faye's life and only go into further detail if you're going to revisit that particular character later in the query.

I'm going back and forth between wondering why Faye doesn't just get out of Hellhole, Maryland and start a new life and thinking that she needs a lot more help than she seems to be getting in the query. There's nothing obvious preventing her from leaving her alcoholic husband and cutting off ties with her equally boozy "friends." Her financial situation could be keeping her at her job and in her marriage if hubby contributes anything aside from vomit and Grand Theft Auto achievements, but it's not clearly stated. At the same time, you say that Faye becomes suicidally depressed, which makes me feel likes she needs medication and therapy rather than a novel to work on. Yes, people's experiences with depression vary and having something positive to do can help, but if writing the novel is all that's standing between Faye and suicide, I don't buy that she'll be able to convince herself that finishing the novel is reason enough to get out of bed in the morning, let alone put up with all the other misery in her life.

Take EE's advice and condense what you have down to a paragraph and change, plus the one at the end with the title, word count, genre, and comps. Faye starts to reflect on how wrong her life has gone after witnessing a car accident. She hates her job and her marriage is a train wreck. She decides to go back to night school with the goal of (x). She develops a relationship (Friendly? Romantic?) with a fellow student, but (y) happen and Faye is left heartbroken. Instead of giving up all hope, he decides to throw herself into writing her novel because (z). Then you can spend the rest of the query showing how Faye's life improves or doesn't. mentioning what the novel is about and why it's enough to keep Faye going, and describing what choices Faye makes and how they could either lead her to happiness or doom her to remain stuck in this terrible life she has.

Dottie D said...

You are awesome EE. I snorted orange soda out my nose on this one. Author - I can't really add much at all except to agree with EE. You go to great lengths to describe the mc's misery but not much on how she takes charge to get out of it and what problems she faces when she does. I would not want to read a depressing novel unless there was an immediate possibility for a turn of events.

Also, if this is in any way autobiographical, please don't consider suicide. Been there. I'm glad I stuck around even if my novel still got rejected after that. Now I'm working on my next one (novel #5) and I'm doing it for me, not with the hopes of getting published. Amazingly, I'm enjoying my life again. Please don't give up on yourself. It's too easy to do that in this business of constant rejection, but please don't.