Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Face-Lift 559

Guess the Plot

Dewey's Robe

1. By day, he's a geeky library assistant whose sole excitement is to sneak looks at the old National Geographics. But by night, he dons his Robe Of Librarianship and becomes like unto a god. Can he correctly shelve the 300s before his boss deduces what's happening?

2. All Dewey got from his Grandpa's estate was a stupid black robe. It isn't even a magic robe . . . or is it? Also, a rapping vampire.

3. As a middle-aged accountant, Dewey Drake has come to accept the mind-numbing routine of his daily life. Wake up, stare at his newspaper over breakfast, go to work, come home, stare at the evening news over dinner. When he survives a car wreck that leaves him disfigured, his niece brings him a robe at the hospital, a robe that will change his life--and hers--forever.

4. Born with two penises, Dewey has his hands full during puberty. Then fate intervenes, in the form of beautiful conjoined twins Sabra and Sharra. Fame and fortune follow, but will there ever be true happiness behind . . . Dewey’s Robe?

5. Reading a diary given her by a man named Dewey Beechcraft, a woman realizes the diary's author is . . . herself, from a past life. Now Dewey's trying to tell her his robe is needed for the soul to leave the body. Of course, does anyone want their soul to leave their body badly enough to put on some old geezer's bathrobe?

6. When a young woman's Uncle Dewey, just before dying, tells her to find his robe and put it on, she has no idea she'll be transported to the mysterious land of Trumbodha, where she'll be hailed as the new queen. She's also unaware that the queen is expected to lead the army into battle the next day.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Ed (Editor),

In 'Dewey's Robe', a paranormal mystery about reincarnation and a woman's reluctant spiritual journey, the sins of the past are neither forgotten nor forgiven, and the desire for revenge transcends death.

Dewey Beechcraft is that favorite Uncle everyone wishes they had. He's also an enlightened soul and for thirty-four years, he's protected his niece, Louisa, from the entity that's trying to kill her. [Any entity that's been trying to kill someone for 34 years, and hasn't yet succeeded, is giving all entities a bad name.] [That sounded familiar. A search of the blog reveals that I use the same gag whenever I don't buy how long something takes (Click on chart to enlarge. If that doesn't work, let me know and I'll convert to normal text.):

To him, it's imperative her life--this life--not be cut short before she can learn what she needs to. [Which is what?] When the entity's attack puts him in the hospital, he realizes he's weakening and it's time to tell Louisa the truth.

As a skeptic and rationalist, she can't believe him...it must be another of his fabulous stories, or he hallucinated. [You don't need to be a skeptic or a rationalist to doubt someone who claims he's been protecting you from an entity for 34 years.

Dewey: I'm not long for this world. I'm afraid I can no longer protect you.

Louisa: Protect me? From what?

Dewey: An entity.

Louisa: An entity? What kind of entity?

Dewey: Just an entity.]
Then Dewey gives her a diary that details all her childhood recurring nightmares--written by a girl who died two years before Louisa was born. This 'so-called' proof of a previous life, along with the strange smells and visions and dreams, and the return of those old nightmares, strains her convictions.

Dewey urges Louisa to reconcile with her estranged parents. She is blessed (or cursed, as the case may be) with powerful empathy, sometimes so strong she can't tell where her feelings end and other people's begin. He wants her to develop this untapped ability, to refine it and expand it and use it to understand others, including her aunt and cousin and ex-boyfriend. Doubtfully, for his sake, she does as he asks, and finds she can reconcile herself to those old hurts and betrayals with understanding and forgiveness.

When the entity possesses Dewey and goes after her family--laying bare their secrets and distorting the truth, determined to drive them to self-destruction--[After 34 years of trying to kill Louisa, the entity realizes her family is eager to to the job for him.] she will have to stop him. She will have to resolve the past...a past she doesn't even remember, or he will destroy everyone she loves. In a harrowing out-of-body experience, she'll discover what she did to make him pursue her so relentlessly and will learn the one thing he wants from her--the one thing she can't possibly give--her companionship, alive or dead.

Dewey's Robe is 117,000 words, third person, multiple POV. Having read your blog, I'm hoping this might appeal to you. My short fiction appeared in Twilight Zone Magazine; my other sales were non-fiction. I am a news director at WCSH-TV. Thanks for your time and attention.


[Author's note: Dewey's robe enables the soul to leave the body.]


This could stand to be shorter. As it happens, the paragraph in which I made no comments can be tossed. Just insert the word "empathic" in front of "niece" in paragraph 2, and you've salvaged the only important point from the boring paragraph.

It could be made more specific, as well. What does Dewey want Louisa to learn? What does the entity want revenge for? What are the family secrets?

Dewey must be more than just "enlightened" if he can hold off something trying to kill Louisa for 34 years. Doesn't he ever sleep? What are his powers? Either he has powers or the entity is a wuss.

I'm not sure I'd call it a mystery. It could be some sort of dark fantasy. Without knowing what the entity is, it's hard to say.

That was the last query in the queue. If you've been wavering on whether to submit yours, now's the time to take the leap.


Dave Fragments said...

The revelation of a past life is the opening paragraph of the story.

It's like the dead body in a murder mystery. It's there and it's the first thing you read and THEN, the rest of the book is about how the mystery is solved and the murderer brought to justice. That's the interesting story.

And by analogy, logically and all that stuff, "Uncle Dewey tells Louisa that she has a hidden past that might cost her, her life" is the attention getter. The one liner we all need. What maintains the reader is what she does to survive. Her survival is the equivalent of the solution to the murder mystery.

That will involve the OOBE and the familial reconciliation and whatever else you have written. Put the exciting stuff in the query.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Is this Louisa's story or Dewey's? Seems like the query focuses on Dewey most of the time and yet the story line says to me that the focus should be on Louisa.

It also seems like you're putting too much in the query and yet not enough. Too much plot not enough hook. This approaches a synopsis except you kept the ending secret. It leaves me feeling like there's not much reason to read the book as I already know most of what's happening.

Whirlochre said...

The main problem with this is the length.

The writing and pitch are good but there's simply too much to take in for a query. So chop some out.

Robin S. said...

That chart made my day. Wayfarer.

writtenwyrdd said...

While the premise sounds interesting, the story as described has no real grab for me, probably because the letter tells about Dewey and not the pov character, Louisa. What does Louisa do in the story?

Also, I find it really annoying when someone uses an asterisk and a note at the bottom of the letter to explain something, in this case the title. Just tell us in the body of the letter, please!

Evil Editor said...

Actually, I've asked those whose titles aren't clear in the queries to explain them to me so I can come up with real plot descriptions that could be fakes. I tack explanations onto the queries in brackets so readers will know I got my information honestly, and didn't make it up.

Which in no way says whether or not I think this title should be explained in the query.

none said...

Ah, eh, 439, I remember it well.

In my defence, if you are basically stealing from an archaeological site, you probably want only to take one item at a time, as otherwise you might attract unwanted attention. Was my thinking.


Anonymous said...

Well, I stand corrected about that footnote and I apologize for castigating the author of the letter. But can I say I don't care for that title even with an explanation? A ratty old bathrobe is rather unappealing!


fairyhedgehog said...

Who submitted #4? I felt guilty laughing (I should be more grown-up) but I did anyway.

pacatrue said...

I still think you can use the time gag a couple more times before it's through. Most of us have the memories of chihuahuas.

Anonymous said...

In the second paragraph you say "everyone wishes they had." Everyone is singular (indefinite). Everyone wishes he had. Or she had. Or he or she had. But not they.

Blogless Troll said...

A search of the blog reveals that I use the same gag whenever I don't buy how long something takes

The classics are always funny. Plus, the logic is sound.

E.D. Walker said...

"(1)117,000 words, (2)third person, (3)multiple POV"

1. Too many words. Also, in your query save space and say 117K or even 115K instead of writing out 117,000. besides, it looks messy. ;)
2. I don't think you need to mention this. Don't we pretty much assume everything's 3rd limited these days unless you say otherwise?
3. Again, unnecessary. These aren't exactly ground-breaking, out there modes of writing a novel (and there's nothing wrong with that) so I don't think the agent really cares.

EE said it, this letter is too long, another very synopsis-y one to me. And I felt like it's Louisa's story but the bulk of the letter is focused on Dewey and then there's this awkward shift. (did anyone else wonder where his brothers Huey and Louis were in all this?)

"He wants her to develop this untapped ability, to refine it and expand it and use it to understand others, including her aunt and cousin and ex-boyfriend." This is a) really a very awkward sentence and b) a case where you gave specifics (good) but they were the wrong kind (bad). We don't need Louisa to "refine" "expand" and "Use" (isn't it implied she'll be using her power as she refines and/or expands it?) her power when the query's already too long. And we don't need to know anything about her random relations when they're not mentioned anywhere else in the letter.

And I hope you don't just call it "entity" in the MS. If it's a ghost, demon, alien -whatever- just tell us! Don't play coy with major plot points in a query letter. Specificity is a good thing in queries.

Evil Editor said...

If Dewey's been protecting Louisa 34 years when he ends up in the hospital, how come he calls her "little one" when she visits him (in the New Beginning just below). If that's the opening of the book, it could give the idea she's a child.

Anonymous said...

If the query letters have dried up, how about a reverse guess-the-plot exercise? - i.e. you provide a plot summary and we all try to write query letters for it. (Or even just the hooks, which would save you from all the 'I have been writing since fourth grade and have published fourteen snippets in _Wombats Monthly_' paragraphs.)

Otherwise I'm going to feel guilty enough to pull out my Drawer Novel.

Evil Editor said...

We have done that as a writing exercise at least three times, the plot summaries being chosen randomly from fake plots. The last two times it didn't inspire very many responses, though I'm never sure if that's a reflection on the exercise or if it was assigned on a week when a lot of people were busy.

Anonymous said...


How about writing hooks for classic novels? - kind of a reverse engineering exercise?

fairyhedgehog said...

You have to write a novel before you can write a query letter, don't you? I'd have thought that would cut down on the number of query letters available, depending on how many novels each minion writes in a year. My score so far this year: 0.

I've got three under-the-bed novels but there's no sense in writing a query letter for any of those.

I'm writing a query letter for my current WIP as a way of working out what the plot is. I'm not sure that's exactly what you're looking for.

Unknown said...

Author here

Hardest thing I've ever done, writing a query. Thanks for the comments, I needed help.

Too much plot, not enough hook, I agree.

My original title was 'The Business of Defying Gravity' but then I heard the song from 'Wicked': Just You and I Defying Gravity, and dumped it.

'Everybody wishes they had'. You are correct! 'Little One' is just a nickname, sorry for the confusion.

I will keep working on this. Thanks again.

Stacy said...

Personally, I think we're ripe for a bad analogy exercise myself.

Anonymous said...

As ripe as a tomato that's plump and red and drops off the vine with just a tickle, and lands in your palm with a squish because the back side of it is half eaten by a worm or something.

Robin S. said...

I freaking hate writing query letters.

Good for you for giving it a shot.

talpianna said...

Pacatrue, you rotten plagiarist! MEMORIES OF CHIHUAHUAS is the name of my autobiographical WiP!

none said...

Well, you don't have to have a novel to write a query letter, fh, but EE gets a bit put out if you submit a query that's just an experiment!

EB said...

Goldfish. We have the memories of goldfi--

What was I talking about?

fairyhedgehog said...

That's what I thought, Buffy. I wouldn't want to annoy EE.

Evil Editor said...

I've been known to get annoyed with hoax queries. If people don't know they're hoaxes they may waste a lot of time formulating advice (or Face-Lifts).

However, if you actually have an idea for a novel, and plan to write it, and want to throw together the query first for some reason, perhaps to see if everyone else thinks the idea is ridiculous, I don't mind.

fairyhedgehog said...

Thanks EE. I may give that a go when I get back from holiday, if that's still OK then.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't mind "everybody wishes they had" -- and I'm a grammar geek. Thing is, English doesn't provide us with the proper gender-neutral pronoun for this occasion, so "they" has taken over by default. What I usually do in these situations, though, is rewrite the sentence so I don't have to deal with it.

Anonymous said...

mb, the risk is that some people (here, I think a lot of people) will notice and unless it is clear that an author is breaking a rule on purpose (and hopefully for some artistic reason) the reader may think that the author doesn't *know* the rule. Then it becomes an issue of competence. Would be different in dialogue. In that case, the error is imputed to the speaker. Here, it goes to the author himself. (Or herself. But not themself...sorry, couldn't resist.)

But seriously, why risk that credibility gap when it could so easily be reworded? "They" isn't default enough for this not to leap off the page for some people. Like, say, editors.