Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Face-Lift 258

Guess the Plot

Travels in a Strange Land

1. Amber Mist, earthquake survivor, is astonished to find herself in a strange and wondrous land, a land where inanimate objects turn out to be sentient beings, and cats can talk. But here she is, and she doesn't think repeating There's no place like home is going to get her out.

2. Clare Humphrey, travel book researcher, is disconcerted to find herself in a country where no one jaywalks, bathroom stalls are unscribbled upon, and litter is unheard of. But here she is, and she swears never to return to Singapore.

3. Andrew McAnfry, real estate mogul, is amazed to find himself lying in a cave on an island filled with magical creatures and natives wielding strange powers. But here he is, and after befriending the daughter of the natives' chief, Andrew begins to question whether he even wants to return home.

4. K.K. Farside, sideshow freak in training, is flabbergasted to find herself in a hidden underground world of bearded women. But here she is, and now she wonders, Is it my destiny to save them from the evil shaving cream executives who want to force them to get rid of their beards?

5. Sillibub Harvey, chef on the Orient Express, is dumbfounded to find himself face to face with a herd of zombie cows--cows unhappy with the meal plan--in the kitchen. But here he is, wondering if he'll survive to become a vegetarian, or if the phrase, "your ass is grass" will take on a more sinister meaning.

6. Cedric Lloyd, phone company lineman, is shocked to find himself falling through a multidimensional wormhole while fixing a transformer during a freak lightning storm. But here he is, and to get home, Cedric must brave seven perils.

Original Version

Dear, _____________

It started with the earthquake, or maybe it started before that. Maybe it started with the move. Either way Amber Mist had never dreamed of ending up in another world. A world filled with creatures, plants, and even landscapes from a hundred-thousand different worlds. She didn’t expect to be forced out on her own. She didn’t expect to nearly be killed barely an hour after she had arrived. She certainly didn’t expect to be saved by a small, gray, talking, (of course I can talk! Did you think I was dumb or something?) Cat. How could she expect it? [If it started with the move, then the earthquake would have happened after she was in Toonville. Surely if she found herself in this strange place and then endured an earthquake, she'd remember. So it clearly started with the earthquake. "It" being this whole mess.

1. The move.
2. The earthquake.
3. Amber's LSD trip.]

[Wait . . . are you sure it didn't start when she fell through the looking glass?]

And that’s just the first two chapters.

Now Amber has to find her way through a strange ever changing world. In search of someone or something that can take her home. In a land where you never know what is a sentient being and what is an inanimate object, where fiction casually mingles with normality, where even physics can turn back on it’s self, nothing is ever easy. And amber has taken on one of the most difficult and dangerous challenges possible. [What challenge?] Then just as she’s getting the hang of things the world decides to go crazy all over again. [How can she tell the difference? Is it that just as she's getting used to the fact that cats can talk, suddenly cats can't talk? Or is it that they suddenly start speaking Mouse?] Can she get home before the world its self goes haywire? [You just said the world went crazy all over again. How is that different from going haywire?] Even with friends helping her on her way, with the type of challenges she’s facing, her work is cut out for her. [What are the challenges? Who are the friends? This is too vague.]

Such is the basic plot of my novel, [Actually, such is the setup and the setting; the plot would involve the characters she meets, what happens to them, what their plan is. Right now, it could be nothing but a series of brief encounters with odd characters. We need to know the main characters and the thread that holds it all together. Dorothy doesn't wander aimlessly around Oz; she goes to see the wizard. What's Amber's plan?] working title Travels in a Strange Land. And what of me, the author? There are many obstacles standing in my path as well. My name is Kalinda Little. I am 18 and have never been published before. I have been working on this and other stories since I was ten. I am almost purely a fiction writer. [Not sure what that means, but get rid of it.] Though the most basic plot of my novel is common the content and the way it is portrayed is anything but. Please allow me to share more of my manuscript with you. Thank you so much for all of your time. I am eagerly looking forward to hearing from you. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.

Yours truly,


First of all, thank you for not elaborating on the many obstacles in your path.

If your plot is common, but the content and the way it is portrayed is anything but, you need to explain what you've done that sets this apart from other similar novels.

It seems like Amber is a kid and the book is intended for kids, but I shouldn't have to make that assumption; it should be declared in the letter.

Too many errors, the most glaring being spelling "itself" incorrectly ("it's self" and "its self").

Outside of the talking cat, there's no specific information about this new world.

I'll trust my less-evil minions to encourage you to stick with it, to read everything you can, to continue your education, etc. As for this query letter, it's back to the drawing board, I'm afraid. Good luck.


Anonymous said...

A query letter's purpose is to tell an author or agent about the book, concisely and precisely. This author is having too much fun playing with "style" to buckle down to work. The style has to go in favor of concrete info. What's the word count? What's the genre? What's the plot?

EE's right. Now that you've gotten this letter out of your system, go back and write one, pretending your're applying for a job. And good luck to you.

GutterBall said...

I love GTP#5. Instant classic, that.

Anonymous said...

LOL at K.K. Farside and the land of bearded women.

I thought the title was boring and generic. The query suffers from the same problem. I'm guessing the story does, too.

For me, stories start with characters I feel strongly about, either liking or hating them. From your query, I have no sense of who Amber Mist is. Her name sounds like a soft drink. But what kind of personality does she have? Bubbly and light? Spunky and adventurous? Timid and introspective? Creative and dramatic? Funny and brave? Stupid and klutzy? or Spunky but klutzy? Adventurous and bubbly? Dramatic and stupid? (any choice in any combination)--Just show us some detail about her to clue us in. Preferably facing a villain (who is not nameless, faceless evil).

If the villain is a landscape/nature that is unpredictable, you have to give us some reason to believe it's more than just your contrived set of circumstances.

And you need to work on other details like capitalizing Amber's name and using words like "either" and "its" properly.

You've been writing since you were 10. You'll keep writing. Now go read some great books, too.

See you around.

Anonymous said...

Plot = Goal + Obstacle + Stakes + Action

- What is Amber's goal?
- What prevents her from attaining her goal?
- What is the cost if she doesn't attain her goal?
- What does she do to overcome her obstacles?

Be specific.

If you find you can't be specific, it probably means the book doesn't have an adequate plot. If that's true, it may be time to finally shove your baby under the bed and start writing a new book.

Also, since you're young, I encourage you to educate yourself on how to spot and avoid the con artists in publishing. Spend some time reading the Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware sites.

Stacia said...

And what of me, the author?

I'm sorry, honey, but I think that's the worst line I've ever read in a query.

That doesn't mean you're a bad writer; it means you need to study how to write queries. Just like the fact that this query is kind of a mess doesn't mean you're a bad writer. Queries are hard. It takes practice to learn to write a decent one.

As EE said, all you're giving us here is setting, not plot. We need to know what happens. Amber end up in a strange world and gets embroiled in a plot to steal the throne or assassinate someone or bake the best chocolate cream pie ever, when all she wants to do is go back home? Then tell us that.

Amber Mist sounds more like a beer than a soda to me, but it also sounds like a character in a sequel to Boogie Nights. It's an odd name, a gimmicky one. Unless it's somehow relevant I'd suggest changing it, because it feels fake. It may not in the book, but it does here.

It sounds like you have a fun voice, and I thought the world sounds interesting...but the query needs work. Study the archives here, study Miss Snark, study everything you can find.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're going to need to reveal some basic info. like word count, genre, plot, etc., so the agent/editor knows what they're dealing with. We've talked about this kind of thing before, but revealing your age is not in your favor unless an editor is especially looking for very young authors (does this ever happen?). To most it would just say "inexperienced." It's great that you've finished a book at this age, so keep at it, and don't expect instant success. Meanwhile, take this book out every now and then and reread it -- is it still as good as you thought? Every manuscript needs time to simmer.

Anonymous said...

You'd think by now JTC would get tired of posting his useless comments, but, here he is . . .

Author, While I hope you take the sound advice given here I also hope you never let any critism stifle (did I spell that right?) your imagination.

Do this on occasion: Take a pen and a composition book and start writing anything and everything that flows regardless of how rediculous or useless or incorrect it may sound. Don't think, write! You may be surprised at the original ideas that come out of your imagination when you don't stifle it by thinking.

In my opinion that will make it easier when you have to polish things up and get everything technically sound (which I know nothing about). -JTC

P.S. Amber Mist sounds too much like an adult drink called Arbor Mist.

Anonymous said...

There are too many SPAG errors and too many generic ideas in this query to give me confidence that the book is exemplary. Don't query this. Stick it in a trunk and write another. If you're anything like me, you'll barely be able to read it with a straight face in two or three years. If you can, you'll know it's decent--and you'll have three more years of experience with which to edit it.

Blogless Troll said...


SPAG = Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games, or South Plains Association of Governments? Google also came up with Sheppey Parents Action Group, but I'm fairly confindent that's not it. Apologies in advance for my acronymic ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Troll sans Blog:

Of course it's the Sheppey Parents, what else would it be? Really, SPAG is short for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Anonymous said...

SPAG: I'm pretty sure that stands for Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. However, the A might stand for something too - Apostrophe-angst?

Rei said...

As I'm not one of the requested less-evil minions, I'll lock up my tongue for the duration of this thread. ;)

Blogless Troll said...

Since GTP#5 brought back the zombie cows, this might be of some interest. Paragraph three illustrates how far ahead of the curve EE really is.

Anonymous said...

Maybe your book isn't a total disaster, but your query doesn't give that impression, since it is full of mistakes, and signs of sheer laziness (amber).
The reason you need to correct all these grammar, spelling and usage issues is that it shows that you respect your own work.
If you don't, why should anyone else?

You haven't given us much to go with about the actual plot.
Query letter does not equal back-of-the-book blurb.
This isn't entice 'em time, it's show and tell.

I read this query and know nothing, except that you read a lot of fanfic.
Okay ,the girl-with the mostest beautifullest name evah falls into another world (Middle Earth? Harry Potterville? Narnia?)
So what?

This stuff is churned out by the yard on-line, why should I want to look at, let alone pay to look at, yours?
Whitemouse gives a good set of questions to apply to your writing.
You may want to use them as a starting point for your next project.

HawkOwl said...

"Amber Mist" sounds like what happens when you're pissing outside on a cold day. And also the whole world concept, in its hazy ("misty?") non-committal-ness, sounds a lot like Xanth to me. Minus the puns. And really, the puns is what made Xanth. (See, that's a pun right there! Hahaha! I crack me up!)

Oh, and of course, drop the "I'm eighteen" part. A query letter isn't about us old people praising you for being so precocious. It's about doing business. The most it's gonna do for you is have someone thinking "I guess that's not bad for an eighteen-year-old."

GTP #5 babay!

writtenwyrdd said...

Sorry, you have me to blame for the zombie cows, but EE made it much better.

I keep remembering the Far Side and zombie cows and it Won't Go Away. I need some brain cleaner. (Oh. Darn. Brains!)