Friday, October 12, 2007

Face-Lift 436

Guess the Plot

Dog Days

1. Wake up, lick owner, pee outside. Run around. Nap. Pee outside. Dinner dinner dinner, walk! Poop outside! Tease cat, lick owner, sleep. Repeat.

2. Danna competes at dog shows with her beloved miniature Poodle, winning ribbons wherever they go. When gorgeous hunk Brett Grandam begins showing his Borzoi, will Danna stay true to her breed?

3. Laketown's SPCA thinks it'll be a great fundraiser--a calendar of the cutest dogs in the pound. But when local photographer/restauranteur Sun Yi Park is through with the calendar's models, the town's got more to worry about than setting up a Paypal account.

4. Escaped slave Samantha thought her dog Charlie was an ordinary dog--until she discovered that genetically engineered dragons had been programmed to capture him. Can she free the other slaves and prevent a war with the talking trees while also protecting Charlie?

5. Life was simple for Miss Buttons and Miniver. Young widow Anne McDonald provided plenty of tuna, and cat perches that let them see the birds and squirrels outside. But when Daniel Richardson, a breeder of champion spaniels, starts to help Anne open up her heart again, Miss Buttons and Miniver realize this is the beginning of the . . . Dog Days.

6. Terminal cancer patient Steve Marsden makes a deal with the devil: his eternal soul in exchange for 7665 extra days of life, just long enough to see his infant daughter grow up and get married. But Satan mischievously grants Steve 7665 dog days, which pass at seven times the speed of human days. Can Steve get his daughter married off by the age of three?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am submitting this query to you because you are so deliciously evil, you love middle grade and fantasy is your favorite genre.

My elevator pitch: In a world of talking trees and flying dragons, a thirteen-year-old slave and her not-so-ordinary dog escape the farm for the forest and the city only to find that no place is safe on the eve of war. [My elevator pitch: Twelve, please.]

Thirteen-year-old Samantha thinks Charlie is a normal dog. But the Farmers are more interested in recapturing him then [than] in bringing back their escaped slave. The reclusive, bark-skinned Treens in the forest readily accept her because Charlie’s by her side. The city people who are supposed to be helping her try to steal Charlie. [Easy to read that sentence as the subject and wonder what happened to the predicate. Perhaps dashes after "people" and "her"?] Not to mention there are genetically engineered dragons programmed to catch him. [Everyone seems to know what's so special about Charlie--except his owner? I'm sure I'll understand why, as soon as you reveal Charlie's amazing quality/ability, which you'll be doing any second now, right?]

All Samantha wants is a safe place to live. Instead, she’s caught in the middle of a city / forest / farm hate triangle. She learns the truth about the Treens, the animals (including Charlie) and the Farmers’ children - the children that the city people say are the Farmers’ army. Can she and her ragtag, dysfunctional group – a city boy, a farm girl, a young Treen, and a dog – [Wait a minute, a girl from a farm with her dog, accompanied by a ragtag group of three, talking trees, going to the city for help . . . Is this Munchkinland?] free the animals and the Farmers’ children [If the children are being held captive, how can they be the farmers' army?] before war destroys the farm, the city and the forest?

Dog Days, my first novel, is complete at 18,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Is the impending war to be fought among the city, forest and farms? If so, why are they going to war?

Are the talking trees mobile? Or do they just stand there talking?

Who is holding the animals and the farmers' children captive? Why didn't Samantha already know this, as she's been on a farm?

18,000 words will easily fit on about 80 pages, which makes your book the thickness of 40 sheets of paper. That's pretty thin for a novel, even for middle grades. More importantly, that's not many words in which to describe a world that consists of three separate lands, that has talking trees and dragons, where 13-year-old girls are enslaved, where war is imminent, where one dog is the key to everyone's hopes and dreams. I worry that the book, like the query, needs more information.

And what's so special about Charlie, and why hasn't Samantha noticed it?


Anonymous said...

I wonder if perhaps there’s too much going on for a novel of this word count and as a result the query lacks focus. I like some of the elements, though.

EE (or any minions) – what are the word count parameters for middle grade novels? Are there any strict guidelines or does it all come down to needs of the story? MG word counts vary so much it’s hard to know what to aim for. The first Lemony Snicket is pretty short but then of course there’s the first Harry Potter which is much longer.

Chris Eldin said...

Author, If I've seen you on the SCBWI boards, I'm going to duck and hide.
But honestly, the lower end of a middle-grade novel is in the 25,000 word range. And even that is light. You need to bump it up closer to 30,000 words.

Or, you could pare it down and have a picture storybook (Like the original Curious George series).

And one comment about the query--children typically want something else besides a safe place to live. That sounds like a mundane goal.

I think this could work. It sounds fun and imaginative. But first you need to define the genre you want and edit accordingly.

Anyway, good luck!

Dave Kuzminski said...

18,000? That's not a novel. That's a short story that just might possibly qualify as a novelette.

Lightsmith said...

I like that it's the girl's dog who has the hidden powers (or whatever the dog's deal is). It's a nice twist from the expected, which would be to give the hidden powers (or whatever they are) to the heroine. However, you should reveal the dog's secret in the query. An agent will want to know whether the secret is cool or lame, and unless you spill the beans upfront they will probably err on the side of "lame" and reject it.

The elevator pitch isn't working. It doesn't effectively communicate what the hook is, and the part about the heroine finding that "no place is safe on the eve of war" is too vague.

The 3rd paragraph of the query feels choppy. There is no logical flow from one sentence to the next. For example, I expected that following the sentence, "Thirteen-year-old Samantha thinks Charlie is a normal dog," would be something like, "but then one day she walks in on him playing the piano - blindfolded!" But when the next sentence was instead about the farmers, it threw me.

I'm not crazy about the title, but according to The Rejecter, titles mean diddly to agents. Here's the link:

The story sounds like it could be good, once you expand it to novel length. ;-)

Good luck!

writtenwyrdd said...

The conflict is not clear, and that muddies the query. It sounds like you have too much plot for the story. The story is "girl escapes slavery with a dog who is Not What He Seems," with an unknown ending. Her goal is originally escaping slavery, from the sounds of it. But what is she aiming for? It cannot just be "a safe place."

And, to echo EE, it really did sound like Oz. Some of the elements sound interesting and different, like the Treens. The genetically engineered dragons made me think overdone, though.

Anonymous said...

Author here.

Just back from a writing retreat weekend and exhausted.

The 18,000 was a guess at the word count. It currently stands at 21,000 and climbing. I did finish a complete draft this past Thursday and now need to add in more of the 'story'.

It was a weird experience writing this book as I seemed to be channeling someone else. I had no idea what was about to happen until I saw the words on the page. Probably why the query is unclear. I mean besides the fact that I need work on writing queries.

The dog is genetically engineered - as are the talking (and walking) trees and the dragons (and cats and some of the people).

This story revolves around individual world view and how where you grew up influences what you think is 'normal'.

Thanks for the comments/questions. I will look them over more carefully after I've napped.


Anonymous said...

In case anyone does pop in here again, I'll post the summary I'm working on so that, hopefully, your questions can be answered. The summary is helping me better understand the world I created.

Underlying premise: What do we accept as normal because we grew up with it?

Main characters:
Thirteen-year-old Samantha knows the dogs on the farm. She escapes that slavery with her dog, Charlie. The tree creatures think Charlie is something special. Samantha has no idea what they’re talking about. She likes these reclusive giants of the forest who offer her and Charlie a safe haven.

Fritter, a young tree creature, accepts Samantha because she is with Charlie. Any genetically altered animal, which is not being controlled, is welcome. He believes every creature wishes to be free, because the tree creatures chose freedom when they escaped from the city geneticists.

Roland is a city boy. Everyone from the city knows the dangerous tree creatures are to be avoided. He saves Samantha from them and takes her and Charlie to the only safe haven he knows. But Charlie looks like dinner to the starving city people. And he is a wealth of genetic engineering knowledge to the city geneticists.

Mandy grew up in the forest. She’s stuck in the dangerous city, where her only child was stolen ten years ago. Afraid to venture out, she pines for the forest and her adoptive tree mother.

Laura, Samantha’s ex-best friend, escapes her farm slavery by becoming one of the Farmers. She chooses to track down Samantha and Charlie instead of becoming a breeder for the Masters’ genetic experiments. She is fascinated that Charlie seems to obey Samantha of his own free will and not by being controlled.

Samantha, Roland, Fritter, Laura and Charlie face their internal prejudices to form a ragtag group. They decide to rescue the genetically altered animals and children from the farm.

Other characters and groups:
Bernie is the leader of the experimental children born of the Farmers and altered by the Masters. His goal is for them to escape the farm no matter who or what outside of his group of designer children is sacrificed.

The city geneticists concentrate on designing mythological creatures. They create one to solve the food shortage in the city only to have the tree creatures escape. In retaliation, they spread rumors that the tree creatures are dangerous and should be destroyed on sight. They create dragons that will sense and capture other genetically altered creatures.

The Farmers use child slave labor on the farm so they have more time to genetically alter the plants they grow. Genetically engineered beings are meant to be controlled. They use electric collars to control the animals the Masters have altered.

The Masters believe in experimenting with existing animals and humans rather than creating a whole new ‘species’. They use the knowledge they learn from experimenting with animals to create ‘better’ humans. They know the city is running out of food and may attack, so they are creating an army to protect the farm.