Friday, January 08, 2021

Feedback Request

Guess the Plot 


1. Domino!—Is it a pizza? A board game? A bag of sugar? Super-sleuth Van Morrison claims he's solved the mystery. But will anyone listen? 

2. During a worldwide pandemic, aging superhero Carnival Cavalry tries to popularize stylish two-piece masks. 

3. Five year old Timmy Topple receives a hand-carved ebony domino for his birthday. He loves to stand it up, tip it slightly, and hear the solitary satisfying click when it falls. Next year and every year, his father promises, he will get another. So begins his quest for immortality in a story spanning centuries of (set them) ups and (knock them) downs. 

4. The fields, homes, and shops of Omendios are being destroyed by monolithic obelisks guarded by screaming apes with clubs! The people fear there are more obelisks than they can hope to defeat, but pizza deliveryman Dom Donovan knows if he can topple just one of them, the rest will follow. 

5. When a set of diamond encrusted ivory dominoes goes missing, Detective Zack Martinez knows two things. He needs to solve the case in time to get to his anniversary dinner; and if he doesn't, his marriage will collapse like a . . .  house of cards. 

 6. At the pizza chain’s masquerade ball, Alex's flirtations with Jael blossom into an office romance. She dismisses his enthusiasm for the new organic red sauce as career ambition. At their wedding, when Jael hisses and burns beneath the priest’s blessings, Alex questions how well she really knows him.

7. Sent to a military boarding school by a mother who thinks he's too fickle, Bali experiences one unfortunate event after another, leading to another, until he decides he must run away. Or maybe he should stay. If only he could make up his mind.

[The following is a revision of the query that appeared in Face-Lift 1381. As the book now has a different title, I figured a new Guess the Plot was in order.]

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor, 

At the military boarding school in Haldwani, India, clandestine corporal punishments from the Senior Cadets is accepted as a rite of passage by the juniors. The tall ideals of the old boys have fallen. The seniors rule with an iron-fist with strange codes that either broken or followed, [, enforcing barbaric rules designed to] destroy the juniors. ["Destroy" seems like too strong a word, considering that the seniors were presumably juniors last year, and survived to become seniors. Perhaps "break" or "humiliate"?] while the juniors have no free will. 

When fractious thirteen-year-old Bali Zutshi arrives with the new batch, no one thinks he will survive his first term. Not his House Captain, who makes him endure rigorous training for the coveted Boxing Cup he wants no part of. Not his belligerent cadet guardian, who makes him his errand mule and keeps him on a leash. Not his House Master, who passively watches him suffer from a distance. Maybe not even his single mother, who sent him here to make him a man. [She sent him here thinking he might not survive?] 

Then one day an anonymous letter blows the lid on [off] the culture of corporal punishments handed down from senior to junior under the garb [guise] of tradition. As the administration leads the investigation - [,] the Senior Cadets begin their search for the whistle-blower. Their suspicion? Bali Zutshi. Unsettled, erratic, and homesick. 

Bali has two choices. Run away from school but confirm her [his] mother’s deepest fears about his fickle nature. [Did she send him here to make him a man, or because he was too fickle? I suppose she could believe no fickle child could ever become a real man unless he spent years at a military boarding school.] Or stand up for himself, clear his name and prove that he belongs. [Belongs to what? The seniors? If he clears his name, he's still a junior and subject to being "punished."]  [If seniors doling out corporal punishment to juniors is a bad thing, then the whistleblower is on the right side of this issue. If Bali wants to prove he belongs with those who want the tradition to continue, I'd rather read your book about the whistleblower.] 

When he finds support from unexpected quarters, he begins to see the unraveling of the lost virtues of the culture that once made the school great. Greater forces are at play and Bali must connect the dots to survive the churn. Justice awaits, but the price is heavy. [This whole paragraph is vague. With a lot more specificity it might suggest Bali is finally coming around.] 

DOMINO (~89,000 words) is a coming-of-age story grounded in the harsh realities of a military boarding school in India. I survived five years in one to write this story. 

I am a Marketing Professional. This is my debut novel. I took a sabbatical to complete it. I also have a popular Instagram Page with more than 10,000 followers and growing where I post my own original short stories once a month. 

Would you like to see more of the book? 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 


[Regarding the Title: The title derives its name from how a trifling catalytic incident snowballs into a series of unfortunate events in the story.] [It snowballs like a line of dominoes.]  [The incident and it's aftermath might make for a more interesting plot summary, replacing the list of people who don't think Bali will make it.]


I don't see how this tradition could have lasted so long without the administration knowing about it, if only because some members of the administration probably attended the school.

Making the juniors train for a boxing match and run errands for you don't strike me as the extreme hazing described as "corporal punishment." It's more like the rookies on a football team being made to carry the veterans' equipment bags. Are the juniors being brutalized?

Bali is a junior at the age of 13? Does that mean they graduate at age 14? Or are there levels higher than senior? You said you went to one for five years. Was that ages 10 - 14? If Bali isn't a junior, why are the seniors bullying him? 

There are some improvements over the first version (That Bali was suspected of being the whistleblower seems important, though there was no mention of a whistleblower in Face-Lift 1381), but overall, I don't think it's better. Perhaps third time will be the charm.


AK. said...

Thank you so much Evil Editor for your latest feedback! Will begin work on the third submission right away. I hope to hear from your other readers as well in the comments. Best!

Mandakinz said...

This has an interesting setting. Military boarding school would be interesting enough but especially so in another country with a different culture.

I also like that the story and the character seem relatable. It seems like a familiar type of story with an unusual setting.

To be more compelling on an emotional level, I would like to know why this school is important to Bali and his family.

Is it mandatory for boys his age? Is he a juvenile delinquent and his mom sent him here as a last resort? Is it a prestigious school that Bali wanted to attend but then became disillusioned once he learned what the culture was really like?

If you could elaborate a little on the types of corporal punishment, it might help the reader understand why it's so hard on Bali.
Are we talking slaps on the hand with a ruler? Paddle boards? Worse?

Is there a specific incident that makes Bali consider running away? What happens if he does? Homelessness? No future job prospects? Disappointment to his mother?

I liked the suspected whistle blower plot line. Is there a reason Bali was singled out as a suspect? It sounds like the seniors are hard on everyone. What's setting Bali up as a suspect?

I agree with EE about the paragraph describing the people who expect Bali to fail. I thought the writing had a nice dramatic cadence to it but unfortunately it eats up too many precious words and sentences that could be better spent explaining the school and the Bali's choices.

I hope my (long-winded) comments are helpful and encouraging. Good luck with this project!

AK. said...

Thanks so much Mandakinz! I am happy to hear that there is a general interest in the plotline. I have made notes of all the feedback collected here so far. All valid incisive questions. There are so many layers in the story that I am finding it difficult to narrow it down, yet keep it interesting and coherent. I noticed that EE accepts synopses as well for review. I have one ready, so maybe I could share both in the third submission.

AK. said...

I'll also attempt to answer some of the questions that have been raised:

(1) @EE - You got it right. The tradition has survived because most of the administration including the teaching faculty are old boys of the school who are now in the armed forces.

(2) I didn't cover the details of the corporal punishments in the query letter. Punishments include front rolling on pebbles or a concrete surface, hockey stick shots on the buttocks, kicking, slapping, legs-up-hands-down, etc. Senior Cadets are officially allowed to administer punishments at a specific time of day that don't involve physical contact - for eg. running, push-up, haunching, rolling on grass and so on. But over time, things have deteriorated.

(3) The school runs from grade 8 to grade 12 (high school). Age 13 to 17. There is a strict hierarchy where the Senior Cadets (12th graders) have official powers to manage the operations of the school.

(4) The boarding school is a prestigious one. Bali's mother sends him there because Bali has had a troubled upbringing (survivor of communal riots and a refugee) and she just wants to send him somewhere far away, where no one cares who he is. His Uncle who is in the armed forces advises the family to send Bali there, given its reputation.

(5) Yes, Bali goes through a specific incident which is one time too many.

(6) The seniors are hard on everyone, but given Bali was a victim of the incident + he hasn't been able to settle down + he ran away, which makes him a suspect.

Closing note: Without giving away the ending, I must add here that in essence, the story tries to show that during a specific period in time (a few bad batches of cadets) the school's culture - that essentially built responsibility, camaraderie, and grit amongst the cadets - had corrupted and led to an abuse of power.

I am not sure if it is coming out yet in the query letter, or if it ok for the finer nuances to come out later in the synopsis.

Anonymous said...

The first query seemed more like a coming-of-age story about Bali. This seems a bit more like a story about a once good school gone wrong that needs to be reformed where Bali is the focal character.

If the story is more about Bali it might help to hint at how going through all this at the school is going to shape his character, i.e. what does he want to change in himself and how is this experience going to help him do that.

If the story is more about the school, it might help to detail how/why the school is different now than it used to be and what changes need to be made to get it back there. Also why hasn't the administration noticed or why is it turning a blind eye to what's going on?

FWIW some of the phrasing sounds a bit awkward to me.

Good Luck

Mandakinz said...

I took a stab at your query letter today. I need the practice. This could be a case of the blind leading the blind, but I tried to stick to the facts and keep it simple.

I didn’t fill in my gaps in knowledge with anything silly or outrageous -- my apologies to EE for not being more amusing.

Dear Evil Editor,

When Haldwani, India is embroiled in riots, refugee single mother Mary fears for the safety of her teenage son, Bali.

Uncle Jo persuades Mary to send Bali to SCHOOL X, a prestigious military boarding school. Uncle Jo is confident that away from his mother’s coddling, Bali will thrive.

Bali is warned that the school is tough, but the system is designed to foster responsibility, camaraderie, and grit. Bali is determined to make his family proud and one day move them to a safer city.

Bali accepts the high standards from the senior cadets. Running six miles before sunrise every day, doing pushups on demand, and studying late into the night all seems part of the program.

But beatings, extended endurance training, and humiliation become frequent punishments inflicted by the senior class, whether rules are even broken. When the administration receives a letter threatening to expose the torture and corruption, the seniors go on the warpath to find and silence the whistle-blower. Bali is singled out as a suspect because of his weak nature, his status as a foreigner, and because he ran away once before.

Bali considers his choices. Quit, and bring disappointment to his mother and uncle? Dropping out of school will make it more difficult for him to be accepted and find work in the future - especially given his refugee status. Is it worth enduring the torture that the upper administration chooses to ignore? Does he have the courage to speak up and name those who abuse their power?

I hope this helps, Even if you hate my version, maybe identifying what’s wrong with mine will help you to see what you want yours to say.

AK. said...

Dear Mandakinz - I can't believe you took the pains to literally write an entire query for me. It has come out so well. Reading it now as a reviewer gives me a different perspective. This is very helpful, and I will build upon it!

@Anonymous - thank you for the feedback. Yes, tinkering with the query letter to see what works better in both versions.

CavalierdeNuit said...

This sounds like a middle grade novel. You could totally cut half of it, maybe more. There is nothing about this that sounds like it's meant for adults. It could even be a picture book because there are no stakes. Is English your first language?