Monday, January 26, 2009

Face-Lift 595

Guess the Plot


1. Henchman of King Fenster, minion of Wizard Gertimont, Sir Toby rides his invisible steed to the rescue. But will the villagers of Wackton Waters actually welcome him? Or is he barking up the wrong tree again?

2. Days on the farm are too dull for Toby Olson, so he packs a knapsack and hops the next freight train to Chicago, where each moment is more exciting than the last as he vies with a gun-toting gangster for the heart of beautiful Roxanne, queen of the double tall latte.

3. The last buddy the cat would accept was a puppy, so when Ted and Sally brought home an uncouth idiotic canine mutant, the feline morphed into the fiercest monster in the Adirondacks. Now Ted is watching the house with General Armstrong, while helicopters hover overhead waiting for the order to drop the bombs, and a distraught Sally calls, "Here kitty, kitty!" But is Toby actually in the house? Or is he sneaking up behind the General?

4. Toby Taylor runs away to join the traveling circus. But once they take him in, things start to get weird. Trapeze artists can't fly, the tiger eats his trainer, and the clowns kill the showgirls. Is Toby behind this chaos?

5. Guardian angel Toby is assigned to watch over Katherine, but he breaks the guardian angel rules by falling in love with her. He is brought back to heaven to stand trial, while she ends up in a loveless marriage. Nice work, Toby.

6. Toby McGreevy spends his days wheelchair-bound and drooling through fifth grade, but at night he soars above the houses of his small Irish village exacting sweet revenge for every childish slur cast in his direction on the playground.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

My name is Kevin _________ and I am fourteen years old. [Nice try, lady, but I'm not going easy on you.] I regret telling you my age not because I don't think you'll take me seriously, but because I think that my writing is strong enough without the mention of my age. And while some people tell me that it doesn't matter about my age others tell me that it does matter. But, despite my age, [Is there going to be a sentence in this query that doesn't mention your age? Just wondering.] writing is my life, and though I'm sure that card is played a lot, [You have no idea. And it's like leading out with the two of clubs.] it is a true statement in my case. [Until you discover girls, anyway.] The proof of my statement is that in the last three years I have written five books (all at least two hundred pages), and I've already started on a sixth. [Editors have a short attention span. If you haven't convinced them by the end of page one, forget it. Thus to help you shorten this query, at the end of each paragraph I'll tell you what was important so you can drop the rest.] [Zilch.]

The novel that I am telling you about is my fifth, and it is titled, Toby. Tatem Alexander has lost everything that she had once known in herself. She can't remember who she was, so the prospect of finding herself now seems near impossible. Her life is a circle, never ending, never changing, and she can't find her way out. Thus comes Katherine Renner sporting a bright smile and a claim that Tatem should already know who she is. Katherine has a story to tell: her own. It's one that will change Tatem for forever. [This paragraph has three important points, but two of them are missing, namely how old is Tatem, and what happened to her to bring her to this low point? That leaves, In her darkest hour, Tatem meets Katherine.]

Katherine's life started out on a rocky path when at four, her father died. His death occurred only because he had to give Katherine the gift that would from then on control her life. [Why did he have to give it to her?] The gift is the ability to see angels which can be beneficiary [beneficial] at times, but at other times it can only cause trouble. After her father's death, Katherine's mother became cold and resentful towards her youngest daughter. Her mother even goes so far as to check her in insane asylums. [I don't think they check kids into insane asylums these days. Though it's not a bad idea.] Katherine had no friends except for her brother who was always preoccupied, and her guardian angel, Toby. Toby began to stay closer and closer to Katherine. He would always wipe away her tears, pick her up when she was down, and finish her thoughts and sentences when she couldn't. He chose to grow up with her, as if he were truly a human instead of being an adult angel watching over a human child. [Katherine's father died when she was four, and her mother is cold and resentful. Luckily Katherine had one friend: her guardian angel, Toby.]

Katherine grows up under the shelter of Toby, but as she grows up she begins to get lost in the game of high school. She tries to break free from who she really is but disaster strikes. She looses [loses.] herself in her freedom, and in the wreckage her sister is killed in a freak accident. Katherine crumbles back to Toby, but not without becoming stronger. Their friendship begins to evolve into something bigger than either one of them expected. Soon, Toby and Katherine realize what they have been holding back for way too long. They are utterly and indescribably in love with each other. This brings conflict in between them because it is impossible for a guardian angel and human to be together, it is against the rules. But what they have is too much to be let down easily. They decide to break the rules and fight. Toby kisses Katherine, violating the code between human and angel, and he is immediately burnt back to Heaven [That sounds painful.] where he will stand trial. [What a drag it would be to make it to heaven and then get called for jury duty.] He only does this after promising Katherine that he will do whatever it takes to get back to her. [As they grow up together, Katherine and Toby fall hopelessly in love, violating the human/angel code, and Toby is brought to heaven to stand trial--after vowing he will return to Katherine.]

In the next ten years that Katherine is alone she does many things she regrets like dating different men, eventually marrying one, and getting pregnant with his baby. In all her haste to escape all the things she had lost [She should want to regain what she lost, not escape it.] Katherine's lies that she has told herself to keep herself going catch up with her. So when Toby comes back to her after all that time, [Apparently there's no right to a speedy trial in heaven.] she is stuck between her husband, expected baby, and the man she truly loves. [Man? Don't you mean alien creature?] Katherine finds herself sliding away though, and eventually through chance and pain she is able to get herself out of her mess [She loses the baby, and her husband accidentally eats chili filled with arsenic.] and return to Toby. Together they begin their lives together. In time, Katherine finally decides that she is ready to have children. Toby has to support her though he knows that the consequences are vast. Katherine has her children, two boys, and in the second week of her youngest son's life she passes away. But in her short life, Katherine has left a legacy. She gave both of her boys the gift that she had held on to for so long. [Toby returns ten years later to find Katherine married and pregnant. He uses his angel powers to eliminate these annoying problems, and moves in with Kate. He knocks her up a couple times, but then she dies, which ain't easy when your guardian angel is living under the same roof with you.]

When Katherine finishes her story, she reveals to Tatem that she is really her guardian angel, and she is here to help Tatem find herself again. But when Katherine reveals herself to Tatem, she has to leave. [That seems somewhat contradictory to the previous sentence. I'm here to help you; see ya later.] Tatem becomes hysteric, [hysterical] but in the end she does exactly what Katherine always planned. Tatem finds herself again. She mends broken bridges with her family, and begins to take back up her great love: writing. She also finds the love of her life, Katherine's youngest son. And when it is all said and done Tatem writes the book that she was meant to write. The book that tells the story of Katherine and Toby, and how through adversity and their growing problems, they stuck together and kept believing. [This is okay information.]

The book is narrated by Tatem the whole time. Tatem scatters certain tidbits that Katherine has written around in the novel. The book has a word count of 136,297. It is divided into ten parts. My book is not told in a straight forward manner, it is mixed up within each part, and at the end of each part it gives all the answers. I believe that this is the best book I have written in my short career, and I hope that you will give it a chance. Thank you for reading! [Only the word count is important here, and it's way too high. I guarantee you could tell this story in half the words. And let's face it, when a complete stranger comes up and starts telling you her life story, you aren't going to sit there and listen for 130,000 words. In fact, when she gets to the part where she says, And then I died, you're probably going to slowly back out of the room.]


What you have here, not counting the first and last paragraphs, is a synopsis. Your query letter should include a short synopsis, but not this much information.

Is Toby an adult in appearance when he enters Katherine's childhood life? Because it's a little weird falling in love with her when she's in high school. Can't he find an adult to break the rules with?

Having a guardian angel doesn't seem so great. Toby lets Katherine die and Katherine ditches Tatem after just telling her what probably seems like a wild story.

Katherine can see Toby because her father gave her the gift of being able to see angels. How is it that Tatem has the ability to see Katherine?

Do you know you're going to die when you give this gift? I can see giving up your life to save your child's but giving it up so your child can see angels? When she's two weeks old?

I don't think we need to know in the query that the ability to see angels is a gift. Let us make our own assumptions about who can see them. (We'll assume you can see only your own guardian angel.)

It's not clear what Tatem's situation is at the beginning. For all I can tell, she has amnesia. But she has broken bridges with her family. If Tatem's going to be in the query, we need specifics about her situation. Otherwise, maybe the query should just be about Katherine and Toby. Especially if they're ninety percent of the book.

We need to know who this book is for. What age group is your audience?

All of which is made irrelevant when I suggest that you will be a better writer when you're 16, and even better when you're 18, so why not continue writing books, and set them aside when finished. When you're in college you can pull them out and read them and use your improved skills to make them even better. What's the hurry?


DD3123 said...

I stopped at paragraph 2 (then made myself read more for the wonderful commentary :) ). This is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to long, wordy and dry IMHO.

batgirl said...

I don't know about agents, but the first paragraph made me wonder if the query was a joke.

It's an ambitious project - the whole life of a woman, the love of an angel, the renewal of hope. And anyone of any age who can sit down and write that many words has the persistence and dedication necessary for a writing life.
The other necessary quality is the ruthlessness to cut at least a third of those words.
Good luck, author! Be cruel to your creation.

batgirl said...

Oh yeah, and all kinds of love for GTP #4 and the twist on Toby Tyler.

Chris Eldin said...

Dearest Evil,

Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book just won Newbery!!!! So exciting! I love this book. Can't wait for the book chat.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin!

Well, the query's pretty bad, but your writing seems better than average, and you're obviously dedicated. I'd look at the first few pages to see how the writing holds up.

Now go write five more.

Anonymous said...

If this is a real query, you need to research querying. EE has his/her/its own ideas about what makes a good query; other editors and agents differ. This one wouldn't appeal to any publishing professional.

Your novel seems to tell an interesting, if overreaching, story, but you need to read more. If you are already reading a lot, you're reading the wrong things. Read literature (from more than one century) and get a firmer grasp on vocabulary and language usage. That will mature your writing even more than gushing out masses of verbiage. Yes, you write better than most fourteen-year-olds, but it still reads like you're fourteen; i.e., lots of enthusiasm, no discipline.


(Google/Blogger never takes my password. I've given up and will be anon until they fix the problem.)


Anonymous said...

Oh, dear, but this query has problems, problems enough that I can only wonder at the manuscript. (But, as others have said, such ambition at fourteen--and I vividly recall my own--shows promise.)

I'm just going to point out one small thing. "[Katherine's father's] death occurred only because he had to give Katherine the gift that would from then on control her life. The gift is the ability to see angels..." I was anticipating that her father was going to become her guardian angel, as, um, proves not to be the case. (And actually, this is perhaps not such a small thing, because Katherine's death is necessary--I guess--for her sons to have the ability to see angels; did Katherine kill herself? It sounds like her father killed himself.)

none said...

Hmm. The idea that humans can become angels is somewhat, erm, what's the phrase? apocryphal. Not that everyone will mind. After all, much religion these days bears little resemblance to the source material.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Wow, Kevin! I think it's fantastic that you've completed 5 novels already. That's something you've done at 14 that most people never do. That's something to be proud of!

Now, mechanically, you write well. Your sentences are, for the most part, clear and well-structured, even if your word choices aren't always correct. You can already craft sentences better than many adults I know. Remember that. But I also have to say there's more to writing than sentence structure and plot. And that is, indeed, where your age does come into play.

I will assume you've read "Romeo and Juliet" in school by now. A talented 14-year-old would undoubtedly be able to come up with the basic plot. In some ways, it seems as though a 14-year-old devised the plot, as far-fetched as it is ;o). A teen would readily be able to write the emotions around two characters so madly in love with one another that they are each willing to sacrifice themselves to that love. But to craft the texture and subtext of the story is beyond a young teen's skill. Why? You'll hate the answer. It's because you haven't lived enough years or experienced enough things yet. Just like you can learn to craft better sentences with practice, you learn the finer points of storytelling through practice and life experience.

In "Toby," you're ambitiously writing about adults and adult situations. But you really haven't had much adult experience, either by observation or by being one, to catch the nuances necessary to make your situations completely believable. Now, that doesn't mean you have to write about only things you've experienced, but you do have to have enough of a foundation beneath you that when you do write about stuff outside your experience the story is still firmly grounded.

And you know what? There isn't anything that can rush that. To gain experience means simply putting in the time. That's what EE means when he says at 16 you'll be a better writer, and at 18 better still.

For heaven's sake, don't STOP writing and don't ever take your eye off the prize. Enter contests now. Participate in workshops. Critique other writers' work. Just don't be disappointed if you don't "break out" until you've matured a bit more. And remember: It's not an indictment against you -- or your age.

Wes said...

EE has given you great feedback and advice. Get more from more people. Join a critique group, even an online one. Keep trying, but don't spend all your time at your keyboard and in the library. Learn about the world and people.

Oh, BTW, if you find one of those insane asylums that would take my kids, let me know.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Hi Kevin,

When re-crafting this query, I'd suggest focusing on a few specific things.

1. Focus on Toby and Katherine. The stuff about Tatem is obviously important for the novel, but for the query it really complicates things. I think the story of Toby and Katherine will be enough to tell an agent what the book is about.

2. Narrow down your plot points: What happens first, what happens next, etc. It doesn't matter that the book might move in a more cyclical manner. The query needs to give a beginning middle and end, or at least a decent hint of those things, for an agent to really grasp the plot.

3. Do not focus on your age and please don't lead with it. Regardless of people's comments about age and experience, if you write well and tell a believable story, your age will only matter for one reason: you'll need a parent or guardian to sign a contract with you.

4. No, seriously. Don't lead with your age. Let your work speak for itself.

5. Don't use the number of book you've written as an example of your talent. Being able to write a LOT does not translate to being able to write WELL, and unfortunately, to agents this will likely read: I have written many novels but not one of them has been published.

6. Don't mention that book doesn't move in a linear fashion or that it's separated into ten parts. Give an approximate word count and tell if it's Middle Grade or Young Adult or whatever. That way, your last paragraph will read something like, "Toby is a middle grade novel and is complete at 130,000 words. I would be happy to send you sample chapters or the complete manuscript." Or something to that effect.

7. This may sound weird, but you don't have to write the query like you're a person talking to another person. I would suggest looking at the back covers of books written for this age group and using those covers as an outline.

8. I am pretty confused on how Katherine deals with her husband and unborn child situation. I would advise explaining how she gets out of the marriage and what happens to the kid. "Chance and pain" could mean a great many things.

This is a very interesting premise and it definitely made me curious about how the novel reads :)

none said...

Ten years of practising three hours a day. Go for it.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you for the amount of writing you've done and the number of projects you've completed. To finish five novel length works by 14 is nothing to sneeze at.

There are plenty of teenagers who have been published (I still enjoy S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders") so I won't tell you not to go for it just because of your age. What I will say is that youth is only a selling point if your work is up to professional standards. Up until then your age is working against you and your query had better be flawless, especially when you're taking on such an ambitious plot. Those vocabulary mistakes, the unwieldy length of both the query and the m.s., and that awkward opening paragraph all send up red flags that your reach may be exceeding your grasp here.

The best way to bolster this up right now is to trim like mad and get some professional experience. Enter contests, take workshops, and write and submit short stories.

writtenwyrdd said...

Your first paragraph needs to be cut, and like everyone else says, it's too long a query. Keep it to one page.

The simplest start point seems to me to be the elevator pitch. Basically, come up with a sentence or two that describes the kernel of the story. X happens to Y and she/he must do Z to solve the problem or all Q breaks loose. (I borrowed that from Miss Snark.)

Keep at it, and do post your revision here!

Stacia said...

Ditto what Phoenix said, basically. Keep trying. You'll be amazed when you're sixteen to reread this book and see how much stronger your work has become; I look back at my first novel and literally cannot believe I actually thought it was any good at all. It's painfully bad. But I made it through those first attempts, and so can you. And the fact that you're submitting queries here tells me you're actually seeking out and spending time in online writers groups and forums and really learning how the industry works; that's an amazing point in your favor, especially given the number of adults out there who seem to think publishing should change to work exactly the way they want it to and why should they bother learning the ropes? Sigh. (Sorry; little tangent there.)

Don't give up. And if this is what you really want to do, don't EVER let anyone tell you it can't be done. They're wrong.

Anonymous said...

You have been given invaluable advice in all the previous comments. Heed it and you will succeed -- if you keep tapping the keyboard.

I have one thing to add -- Your youth is an asset. Your mind and body are at a peek of receptivity. You can see and touch and feel things with an intensity that perhaps will be hard to recapture when you are older. Right now you have something to offer your peers and adults if you write about your current experience. If you can capture that present moment in your writing it will always captivate. That talent is like a seed that when nurtured, grows roots that understand the past and leaves that seek truth in the future as naturally as they turn towards the sun. The trick is, you can’t plant a seed yesterday or tomorrow, it has to be planted right now.

I hope you continue with the novels, shop them, refine them, and at least, be sure to keep them -- I bet there’s some great stuff in there and like Gwendolyn in Lady Windermere’s Fan, if you keep them you will always have something sensational to read on the train.

Best of luck in your writing!

Anonymous said...

PS -- As you can see from my last comment using the wrong words, (also innovative spelling), is something that one does not invariably outgrow. These things will make some people very irritable. If you can't line edit your own work get someone else to do so before you send it around. I do -- but not for comment writing. Life is too short and I save my time for having fun :)

Anonymous said...

Forgot to say: Stick around, it's fun here. :)