Thursday, March 15, 2007

Face-Lift 296

Guess the Plot

One Wrong Move

1. So it was one little mistake. A guy can't make a mistake? Thank God it didn't affect my reelection and now, if I move fast, I can invade Iran, too!

2. Kidnapped CIA Agent Garth Pelter wakes to find a bomb strapped to his body and a chessboard in front of him. If he loses the game, the bomb goes off. But Pelter doesn’t even know how the Prawns are supposed to move.

3. If Lonnie Lambert can get his right hand onto a red circle, he might just win the World Twister Championship. On the other hand, if his arm makes contact with Pretzel Jackson's breast, he's sure to get a black eye. With the ESPN cameras rolling, will Lonnie make . . . One Wrong Move?

4. The Smythe family moves, on average, every eight months. Denver, Chicago, Atlanta -- they've seen them all. When they move to Bucksnort, TN, however, the Smythes meet their new neighbors, the Smiths, who keep a pig for a pet and brew moonshine in a backyard still. Can the Smythes get beyond their stereotyped opinions of their neighbors, or will they have to admit they've made . . . One Wrong Move?

5. Twinkie Thompson thought his fortunes had changed the night old Mrs. Billiard traded a Holstein for his magic beans. He was so happy he ran to the Smith's and got engaged to Maryanne. But in the morning he discovered that beast in the barn was no banal bovine, but . . . a zombie cow.

6. When Monica decides to ride in a hot-air balloon, her life takes off in a new direction. Will her boring friends and family bring her down to Earth, deflating her dreams? Or will she soar to new heights?

Original Version

Attn. Evil Editor:

Funny, absurd and overly cautious--all describe Monica Baker, a 33-year-old single girl with more baggage than a Boeing 747. [Not sure what you mean by baggage, but overly-cautious people usually don't accumulate it in great quantity.] When Monica decides to dump her cautious act and really live--talk up a cute stranger, ride a hot air balloon, brave a hot tub-- [A hot tub?! Throwing caution to the wind is one thing; this woman is a maniac!] her life takes off in a direction she never imagined.

But where's the old Monica? Some want her back. Some need her help. Ex-boyfriend Sammy is a Fruit Loop-eating drummer with a talent for making women hum. [Hum? I gotta get out more. Is that hum like a finely tuned engine, or hum like when they don't know the words?] Teddy, her dad, camps on his La-Z-Boy and buys tulip bulbs and steak knives from The Home Shopping Network. [Regularly? How many steak knives do you need?] Duffy, her mom, can't be bothered as she gambles, downs gin and amasses a collection of gnomes to rival Tolkien. [If you mean to rival the number of gnomes in Tolkien's published works, this is one puny collection. Try the Brothers Grimm, or Discworld . . . Or are you talking about Tolkien's personal collection of garden gnomes, which I understand numbered in the tens of thousands?]

I would be happy to submit "One Wrong Move", complete at 80,000 words. A stamped envelope is enclosed for your convenience, hoping you'll want to see more. [Personification is a fine literary device if not overused. Using it while informing me of your SASE in a query letter is probably going too far.]



That's it? Where's the plot? All we have is four characters and a few tidbits of information about each of them. What happens in the book? What's the new direction Monica's life goes in? Does her new-found boldness lead to hilarious disaster? How so? Does it lead to Happily Ever After with a hunky guy who eats a more mature breakfast cereal? Tell us about it. Is there a villain? A challenge? A pivotal life-changing moment toward which the book inexorably marches? Once we know your plot, if you have more room on the page you can tell us all about Monica's father's shopping choices, but not a moment before.

Isn't that spelled "Froot Loops"?


Sandra Barkevich said...

OMG! ROFL! I love GTP#2.

Sandy :-)
*March 31, 2007 at Sandra's Goings On - Guest Blogger, Anna Campbell - Claiming the Courtesan

writtenwyrdd said...

I have to say, that there's something fishy about GTP #2... Prawns, get it? Nudge, nudge...

Author, in this letter, I think you are striving for a comic tone, but it nosedives. Evil pointed out a couple of the problems, such as your lack of knowledge about LOTR characters. Perhaps try a different tack and drop the humor to share what makes the plot interesting? You share some potentially humorous elements, so maybe just give us more of those and a compelling reason to want to read this book.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that was too sketchy and tepid. Try writing a hundred guess plots and then revise.

I'm not sure who dull-girl-goes-wild plots are exciting for, but I think the transformation is likely to be more interesting if the wild phase involves something more like becoming an international superspy than if she just soars around gawking at stuff from a balloon. That's still kind of slow, passive, pointless. If it was my project, I would skip the whole dull-girl phase and start her off in superspy mode.

Marissa Doyle said...

Ah, yes, Tolkien's garden gnome collection. I understand he used to hide behind his garden wall and lob them at C.S. Lewis whenever he happened to be walking by.

So what inspires Monica's change? And yes, please make her change a little more interesting than just making small talk with stranges and getting in a hot tub. Please. Like taking flying trapeze lessons or studying to become a Japanese puffer-fish chef.

Bernita said...

I'm sorry, but both her problems and her solutions sound - trivial.

Dave Fragments said...

But Pelter doesn’t even know how the Prawns are supposed to move.

The Langostinos take the prawns, crabs take clams unless they are in tomato sauce and Octopi move anywhere they can slither.
Add seaweed for fiber.

Brenda said...

Wow. Hot tub, huh? What a daredevil she is.

I read books like this - well, what this is aiming for, but this left me wanting to know NOTHING else. If this was the back jacket, I'd say HUH? and pick up something else. Give us plot, give us conflict, motivation. Pick up Deb Dixon's GMC and USE IT. We need to know her Goal. We need to know her Motivation (and it has to be a BELIEVABLE motivation) and we really, really need to know the Conflict.

EE: Like a finely tuned engine. Geeze.

Evil Editor said...

Well, that's what I thought at first, but then I realized, the guy's a Froot Loops-eating drummer. What woman would want anything to do with him?

Robin S. said...

Maybe the drummer's only appealing BECAUSE of his engine-humming skills. Maybe that's it. Otherwise, The Froot-Loops
semi-eternal youth thing would be a deal-breaker. Even for a little while.

Anonymous said...

Oh right. The drummer guy. Yeah, if that's the case, I'd go with the Second Hum Reasoning. I had my mind on ... other things. I do think you need to get out more though.

Anonymous said...

When I read "more baggage than a Boeing 747," I corrected it in my head to read: more emotional baggage than an emotional Boeing 747.

I found the image of an emotional 747 disconcerting.

I still look skyward, expecting the worst.

pacatrue said...

OK, I don't have my book writing book with me. What's Aristotle's term for lending importance to the character? Or Aristotle's term when translated into English? I think that's what the author needs to find for the character and put it into the query, but it's more subtle than ramping up her problems.

In genre fic, people make the MC important in really obvious ways - they make them the Chosen One, give them unique magical powers, turn them into a superspy impervious to bullets, make her the only witty and intelligent woman in the Ton (except for her friends who are in the sequels), make her the only person who can stop the serial killer, etc.

This author has a much more difficult - and potentially more rewarding - task. She has to make the character important, but she can't use the InstaGravitas options. You seem to have a character for whom getting in a hot tub is an exciting step. Most of the comments so far seem to want you to have written a different character. Assuming you don't desire to do so, then there's work to do.

Somehow, in this query, we have to like this odd person and feel for her when she doesn't have the courage - what? to be seen in a swimsuit? to have her body in hot water? to not be able to see her feet under the bubbles? If you can create the MC vividly enough in our minds that we understand that a hot air balloon and a hot tub really are exciting for her, then you will succeed.

I struggle with this mightily in my own writing. I seem to veer wildly from average people doing average things to fighting space aliens. It's not easy at all to make the everyday world fascinating, but this seems to be what you are after.

There are lots of women, and men, I know for whom it is indeed a giant leap of courage to appear in a swimsuit on a beach or to put their toe in an ocean teeming with sharks. We'd all make fun of a query that describes a novel in which someone goes crazy and lays on a beach chair for half an hour, but that's life for many people. Make us understand that this is a big step - and make us love her and want her to take these steps. If she's just pitiable, then who wants to read that? We want to read of someone we love who's flawed. Or better put. We want to see how the ordinary junk we deal with can be a delight, not just ordinary junk.

In fact, I think establishing this character, making her interesting, and then saying what comes of her desires is your primary goal in the query. To that end, you can drop all the other characters in the query letter. Obviously, they affect her life, but until her life is established in the agent's mind, the others are taking up valuable space that you need.

Robin S. said...


I just copied your comments and saved them on my desktop.

Anonymous said...

PG Wodehouse wrote piles of novels about people trying to achieve small things, but their modest goals are always treated as matters of great importance. You might want to go to the bookstore and study the backs of his books to see how they are described and read a few re Jeeves & Bertie or Blandings to see how things develop. The books are short. Some have been in print 80-100 years. The appeal = 100% the wit of Wodehouse. His aim is true and the wit shows even in brief excerpts. Some of your shots at the humor and imagery targets missed in the query so it gives me an expectation that the pages will be equally in need of revision. Also I'm not sure what tone you're shooting for and I'm a little anxious maybe you never quite made an explicit decision about that -- which usually leads to problems in the text.

pacatrue said...

Wodehouse is a great reference, anonymous 8:42. This also makes me think of A.A. Milne's adult fiction from the 20 and 30s. I guess those aren't great examples, as many are out of print, but they often deal with people "trying to achieve small things." They were very popular until he wrote Winnie the Pooh, and then all of the whimsy and humour in the adult stuff that had been praised was designated as childish and too light for consideration. Anyway, I really enjoyed his pseudo-romance Two People. Again, you read the book for Milne's wit more than anything else.

Let there be wit.

Xenith said...

An overly cautious girl had a Fruit Loop-eating drummer with a talent for making women hum as a boyfriend? Or is that why he's an ex?

Wonderwood said...

Wow, paca. What a well presented, insightful comment. You want to take a look at my first few chapters for me? ;-)

Author, if I were you, I'd follow paca's suggestions to the letter. Got your money's worth there, my friend. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that spelled "Froot Loops"?

You forgot the circle-R (®).