Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Face-Lift 370

Guess the Plot

Silver and Dust

1. It isn't easy being the last alchemist alive. It's even worse being the last alchemist's housekeeper and having to deal with all that . . . Silver and Dust.

2. The butler polishes the silver. The housekeeper dusts the parlor. The cook lies slumped over the kitchen sink with one of her own knives protruding from her back. Can Inspector Harries discover the perpetrator . . . or will he lose yet another game of Clue to his nine-year-old niece?

3. On the year's hottest game show, one box is filled with millions of dollars' worth of silver, the other with worthless dust. Contestant Thaddeus Bridges knows which box to choose - but can he overcome his speech impediment in time to choose before the clock runs out?

4. Ryan and Sarah need protection from the outside world, so they build a circle around themselves using silver and dust. The outside world doesn't get them, but Ryan kills himself, and now his ghost is after Sarah to do the same. Maybe they should have used bricks and padded walls.

5. The last two unicorns in existence, Silver and Dust, are being hunted by big-game trophy seeker Mic Branford. Can Jenny and her ragamuffin band of fifth grade misfits stop Mic and help Silver and Dust get to a safe place where Dust can birth her foal?

6. The newest, hippest rap duo this side of Pluto is Silver and Dust. Their hit, "Gimme Your Moon Rocks, Martian!" is playing all over the cross-galactic airwaves. They're on top of the planet--until a couple of crazed, Plutonian soccer moms decide to bring them and their Martian-prejudiced music down.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Silver and Dust is not a cautionary tale. It's just a tale.

Sarah didn't think that ending up in rehab at fourteen was the worst thing that could happen to her, and she was right. There she meets Ryan, and when he commits suicide after a year of intense best friendship he doesn't leave Sarah far behind. And he doesn't leave.

Ryan is invisible and boneless now. [Boneless? I know he's not a ribeye or a chicken breast, so unless he's an invisible blob of protoplasm, you might want to call him "incorporeal."] Speaking from somewhere between her ears he whispers orders and words of comfort, his voice something Sarah cannot share. And even though she couldn't keep Ryan alive Sarah is determined to keep him. They can't move on from each other. That was never part of the plan. [What was the plan?]

When it becomes apparent that neither of them knows how to bring people back from the dead, [Damn. I thought we might have zombies again.] Ryan admits that the only way he can be independent is if Sarah joins him. The living planet, her parents and other friends, aren't enough to pull Sarah forward, and Ryan is pushing her over and over again. He is the lone person who doesn't think she's crazy. Sarah isn't sure anymore. She has a choice.

Ryan kept Sarah's promises, especially the drunken ones. [No, seriously Sarah, when you were drunk the other night you promised to have sex with me on the balcony.] He won't give them back.

This work of literary fiction is complete at 76,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

[Regarding the title, as adolescents the two main characters build a circle to protect themselves from the outside world. They choose silver and dust because that is what they have, and they live in grayness when everyone else seems black and white. It's a little bit of symbolism that makes more sense (I hope) in the context of the book.] [When you say "as adolescents" what do you mean? They're adolescents now. Do they build the silver and dust circle while in rehab? Is there a part of the book when they aren't adolescents?


This query reads like a work of literary fiction. Your query is a business letter. It needs to be crystal clear. Here are some phrases that make sense to you, but that aren't clear to me:

he doesn't leave Sarah far behind Are you saying she's on the verge of suicide?
his voice something Sarah cannot share No idea what this means.
They can't move on from each other Literally? As she is "determined to keep him," I assume they can move on from one another.
That was never part of the plan. Was she in on the plan?
the only way he can be independent is if Sarah joins him No idea what you mean by "independent" in this context.
The living planet No idea.
Ryan is pushing her over and over again To kill herself?
She has a choice What choice?
Ryan kept Sarah's promises, especially the drunken ones. He won't give them back. No idea.

These phrases are all vague. This letter needs to be specific. When you rewrite it, try putting a noun that isn't a person in every sentence. Heroin, alcohol, hospital all seem appropriate, but I'll settle for kangaroo, motorcycle and condom. We need some concrete to ground us; this is all wispy ideas. You can do this. Read the other 409 query letters on this site, or click the literary fiction label below and read just those.

I can't tell which specifics are important, but you could easily include what she's rehabbing from, whether it's inpatient rehab, why everyone thinks Sarah's crazy, does she get out of rehab and take action of some sort, what are these "orders" Ryan's voice gives her?

There's no plot. Sarah's best friend kills himself. His spirit remains, or at least she believes it does. We need more than that. What happens? Why do we care about these characters?

Is the whole book dialogue between Sarah and living/dead Ryan? Because dialogue between two fourteen-year-olds isn't going to appeal for long to people older than that. I assume you'd have said so if the book is intended for a YA audience. Perhaps it should be.

It sounds somewhat like a cautionary tale.


writtenwyrdd said...

Not saying your plot doesn't hang together logically, but I couldn't follow your description of it at all. Vague references and strange wordings (boneless? 'speaking from somewhere between her ears'?) abound in this query and that isn't helpful to your cause.

Where you confused me:
"Ryan kept Sarah's promises, especially the drunken ones."
Do you mean this literally? If so that's odd and I am left wondering just what you meant. How would you keep a promise as if it's a physical thing? This apapears to be an important point, so I need to be able to understand your meaning here.

"Speaking from somewhere between her ears he whispers orders and words of comfort, his voice something Sarah cannot share."
Why would she want to share, and why would orders and words of comfort seem to be on the same level of acceptability? To me they appear to be conflicting things.

"He doesn't leave Sara far behind"
I thought that meant she was either suicidal or that his spirit didn't leave. Or, you might have been saying he was trying to drive her over the edge to join him.

"Ryan admits that the only way he can be independent is if Sarah joins him."
'Independent' juxtaposed with 'joins'...Confusing. Is he trying to be rid of her, or trying to free his spirit to go soaring up to the pretty white light and into the Great Beyond?

"The living planet, her parents and other friends, aren't enough to pull Sarah forward, and Ryan is pushing her over and over again."
Okay, visual aids needed. If Ryan is pushing and the earth etc. are pulling, that would make her more sane, right? If you are trying to tell us that the ghost of Ryan is trying to push her to die, too, like literally off a cliff or building or something, fine, just say so. If he's trying to drive her to suicide or insanity, say that. Clarify this.

What is your main plot in one sentence or less? I couldn't tell you from reading your letter.

What saved this query for me was this: "when he commits suicide after a year of intense best friendship he doesn't leave Sarah far behind. And he doesn't leave." This still needs some editing, but it's a good hook (to me, anyhow.)

I liked that hook and I wanted to like your plot. The letter fails you as it stands. Even with the problems in the letter, I'm left with the sense that the basic idea could very well be sound, interesting, and even really good. I loved Lovely Bones, and this might have a similar audience. But you need to define the message and plot and tell us if the story is a quest for sanity, a rescue of a lost soul, or what.

Unknown said...

Given that it's literary and not paranormal, I'm assuming that the ghost of Ryan is just Sarah's memory of him, urging her toward suicide. Right? Either way, you ought to clarify.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I agree with what EE and WW have both said.

In addition, I'm not sure what you mean that this is "not a cautionary tale. It's just a tale." Seems like an odd statement to open a query on.

Agent: So, what differentiates YOUR story, author?
Author: Well, gee, let me first tell you what it's NOT, and then tell you it's nothing more than a story. That's right: it's just a story.

That hook sentence fell flat, flat, flat with me. Replace that sentence with what makes your work stand out in the field of literary fiction and make me want to read on.

Ryan not leaving after suiciding and the question as to whether he's really real or just real in Sarah's head is probably your starting point as a hook. After that ... well, I got nothing. I don't know where the story is going, where the conflict is, what's standing in the way. Literary fiction can be a little more lax in the story development arena, but you still need to show the queriee you've got some real style behind the book to make up for lack of commercial plot points. This query doesn't do the job of convincing me of that, I'm afraid.

Give us the point of the story in very concrete terms. I think I have high hopes for your story, but the query isn't doing its job of convincing me that the work hangs together.

Ooh, a great batch of GTPs this time around! Um, do I detect a bit of editorializing on your part there, EE? :o)

Anonymous said...

Totally overlooked this on first read: Sarah meets Ryan during REHAB, and he's keeping her DRUNKEN promises? Is rehab a failure with her then? Or is he keeping promises she made before she met him? Clarify, please.

writtenwyrdd said...

BTW EE, I nominated you for a Thinking Blogger Award, because your blog is my #1 favorite thinking blog. I wasn't sure if you'd ever been given the nod, and you do not have to participate, of course. But still, you deserve to know that people appreciate your hard work and humor. Or maybe you just like causing the minions to continually ruin keyboards??

none said...

Other things it's not: a cabbage, a werewolf....

Peter Damien said...

It felt like an emo song. The storyline presented in the query letter, and the way it was presented. I expected it to be coming from a fourteen year old wearing an excessive amount of eyeliner.

(Which is not necessarily the intent, or you at all).

The query letter, apart from comments about being vague -- which I agree with -- also struck me as timid. As if you hadn't done this very much before, if it at all, and you were tip-toeing around your own plot for fear of breaking it.

Unknown said...

The plot reminds me strongly of Tanya Huff's Fifth Quarter, plus teenyboppers and minus the interesting fantasy elements.

Bonnie said...

I think the root of your problem is that you're trying to sound literary, so you replace straightforward explanations with more elaborate phrases that seem poetic on the surface but don't really mean anything. I came away with what is probably the opposite impression of what you wanted -- that you aren't very careful of the meaning of words, and don't really know what you're doing. I suspect your writing isn't like that, but if I were an agent or editor reading this, I wouldn't take the chance.

Bernita said...

Is this literary horror?
Otherwise, why would want to read a depressing tale of drug-damaged kid bent on suicide?

Anonymous said...

Schizophrenic girl meets borderline personality disorder boy in substance abuse rehab and they fall in love. He, of course, is soon overcome with separation anxiety and kills himself. She is then haunted by auditory hallucinations of his malevolent voice urging her to do the same so they can be together forever. Will she get meds and vanquish this toruture, or die?

The premise that schizophrenic type voices are real turns up occasionally. If I was an agent I'd be looking for a plot, not just 300 pages of angst. I'd also be looking for assurance that either the work is not autobiographical or the author is doing well on meds and does not have unresolved issues that would interfere with, or be exacerbated by, the publication process. This query is way too sketchy.

Anonymous said...

"Author" here.

People who surmised that I haven't done this before are correct, but I really felt that this submitted version was the best I could do on my own, and I'm very, very glad that I sent it in. I've also composed two synopses of different lengths, and was careful to not repeat myself in the query letter, but it seems that was a foolish decision.

The story follows Sarah for fifteen years (the same number of years that Ryan was alive), she acquires another close male friend who is healthy and loves her because, amongst other reasons, Sarah reminds him of his favorite cousin, who also committed suicide. She flunks out of college, though, and is evicted because she won't stop drinking or talking to Ryan, even though everyone around her is convinced that she's suffering from psychotic hallucinations.

It is only after Ryan accepts that he can't come back to life that he starts pressuring Sarah to kill herself, because their promise to stay together bound them to each other, and he can't move on to what's next without her.

The most important aspect of the novel, in my opinion, is that the reader is never sure whether Sarah is actually being haunted or she is mentally ill because Sarah herself isn't certain, at least not by the time the book ends.

My deepest gratitude to the Evil Editor and everyone who took the time to respond, because you've given me much to think about and work on, and hopefully my future efforts will be stronger, clearer, and less likely to make people suspect that I myself am schizophrenic. Thanks again.

Peter Damien said...

That stuff you put in your response, there? And that way you wrote about your storyline?

Put it THAT way in your query letter. Your tone is different responding to a blog comment trail as opposed to writing a query letter. It sounds more natural.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, there are a couple of really good ideas in your comment that would do well in the query, like the following (only tightened):

It is only after Ryan accepts that he can't come back to life that he starts pressuring Sarah to kill herself, because their promise to stay together bound them to each other, and he can't move on to what's next without her.

That's a more concrete reason for him to hang around.

And I didn't get that Sarah is not sure whether Ryan is real or not from the query. Sounded like she thought he was definitely real. So that would be an idea to throw into the query, too.

Not sure what the significance of the 15 years is. But does the story start when she's 14 and end when she's 29? If so, we need an idea of what transpired during that time. Is Ryan trying to get her to kill herself for that length of time? Obviously he's screwing with her life and his presence is not allowing her to heal herself. But is there something more?

I'm glad you commented. Pete is right. Sometimes we try too hard in the query and it comes out all wrong. But then the author says in a post what they REALLY meant to say in the query! Working it through like that is how we grow as writers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Pete and Phoenix for your feedback, guidance, and encouragement.

Fifteen years is just how long it took me to tell the story, but I was pleased at the coincidence that this period of time also happened to be the duration of Ryan's life.

Ryan is encouraging in his own way, supportive and controlling, as long as he thinks it's possible he can come back and be his own person (instead of being stuck in Sarah's head). She moves to New York and goes to college and even gets a boyfriend, and Ryan is just the person who knows her best and never leaves her. She trusts him more than anyone else.

But once he understands that he's a half-person, heard but not seen and only heard by one person, as long as she lives, he starts manipulating her to do what he views as necessary. She stops talking to her parents, the boyfriend breaks up with her, and her close male friend moves out of their apartment because he's sick of watching her sickness.

Sarah finally listens and slits her wrists, but she's not Ryan. She cries for help (to Ian, the close male friend), and while she's unconscious when she's taken to the hospital she survives.

As the book ends she's on medication and still talking to Ryan, but he doesn't answer her. She's not sure whether what she did to herself was enough for him to finally move on, or if he's just too angry to speak. She doesn't know if Ryan was her voice all along. But she's also sober and ready to start over. I don't think it reads quite as depressing as it sounds here, but it's still a sad story about the incredible lengths people go to to keep from letting go.

This entire face-lift process has been more helpful than I could have predicted. Once I get over my embarrassment I am going to begin again with a completely new document. I am so glad the evil editor exists.

Peter Damien said...

Nothing to be embarrassed about. And do take what you've written here, in your comments, when you go to revise your query letter. It's not my kind of book, but you held my attention in both your messages as you described it.

It DOES make me glad that the only person who tells me what to do, sometimes, is my wife.... :)