Thursday, February 26, 2009

Face-Lift 608

Guess the Plot


1. During his tour of the sinister International House of Espionage, Jack Strong realizes the dame in the hot pants isn't just another pretty face. But can he convince the powers that be in time to avoid an international incident?

2. The first of a litfic trilogy, in which a naive young man is led into dissipation and eventual murder by a persuasive existentialist grad student. The other titles are Convicted and Condemned.

3. This query is printed with ink permeated with a psychotropic drug. Shortly you will be CONVINCED to request the full manuscript, just as the editor will be CONVINCED to offer, and readers will be CONVINCED to buy. Thanks for your consideration. Yours, Stephenie Meyer.

4. Emily's irritating coworker happens to be a wizard who believes that the key to magic is convincing it to do what you want. But he didn't count on the fact that Emily, by her very presence, nullifies magic. Now he detests her, and not just because he can no longer do all his filing by blinking his eyes.

5. Some broads don't learn. Like Mary Mabel Monahan. Hardened bartender Jake Stone knows a tough cookie when she walks in, all right--but is Mary just a slow learner, or is she really his long-lost brother Mike?

6. Duncan scoffed at the idea of a Higher Power, but when a lightning strike burns all his hair off and leaves him with the ability to persuade anyone of anything, however absurd, he's . . . convinced . . . that not only does a Higher Power exist, but it obviously has a sense of humour.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Emily Daggett's childhood fantasy--find a wizard, be extraordinary, go adventuring--is coming true fifteen years late. [Shouldn't that be "fantasies"? Or is this one combo-fantasy?] And in the worst way possible.

The wizard, irritating co-worker rather than kindly old mage, detests her. She's extraordinary because she can't do magic but instead nullifies it with her very presence. And the adventure? It's a cloak-and-dagger battle that appeals to Emily's bookish ideas about good vs. evil--until she realizes she might have chosen the wrong side.

CONVINCED, a contemporary fantasy, is complete at 94,000 words. I'm a reporter at The Baltimore Sun. Before that I worked in Iowa, the setting for CONVINCED and not nearly as flat as vicious rumors would have you believe. [In fact, the Iowa Tourism Bureau's new slogan is designed to make this point: Iowa: Hey, at least we're not as flat as Kansas.]

Thank you for your consideration.


[Author's note: the title refers in part to the irritating wizard's insistence that the trick to magic is convincing it to do what you want.]


You've listed a few intriguing elements, but I'd like more detail and more plot. Where do Emily and the wizard work? Does he detest her because she nullifies magic? Is he involved in the cloak and dagger adventure? How does she get involved in the adventure, and what are the stakes?

Maybe the fantasy should sound less like three fantasies:

Emily Daggett's childhood fantasy--to have an exciting adventure with a wizard--is coming true fifteen years late. And in the worst way possible.

The wizard turns out to be Emily's coworker Ralph, who clips his nails at his desk, chews his ice, and detests Emily just because her very presence nullifies his magic. Sharing a cubicle with Ralph was bad enough, but now the two have been recruited by the CIA to assassinate the president of Peru. It's a cloak-and-dagger mission that appeals to Emily's bookish ideas about good vs. evil--until she realizes she might be on the wrong side.

That's about the same length as yours, but note the extra detail: the wizard's name, what's irritating about him, why he detests Emily, what kind of job they have, what the adventure involves, how they got involved in the adventure. It also unifies the elements by confirming that Ralph is in on the adventure, making it seem more like a story. And there's no reason you can't add additional compelling details to arouse our curiosity, as this is still pretty brief.


James Pray said...

I was CONVINCED it'd be #3.


It's well and good to avoid lengthy synopsis in a Query, but I would want somewhat more detail than this.

Jamie Smith Hopkins said...

Thanks, EE -- that's very helpful. Agents are always complaining about long queries, but I did wonder if I was going too far the other direction. I'll rework with your ideas in mind.

writtenwyrdd said...

The part about maybe choosing the wrong side is the hook IMO. I'd bring that up immediately. And I'd reduce the multiple fantasy wants to one thing. Sounds like "magical adventure" would be a good term for her fantasy.

How about something like this:
"Emily Daggett always longed for a magical adventure. So when Emily finds herself embroiled in a good-vs-evil adventure along with her cranky wizardly co-worker, she's determined to enjoy herself despite the dangers. Except she begins to think she may have chosen the wrong side."
(Or something like that!)
And I hate the title. It's completely irrelevant. But that can be fixed. ;)

none said...

EE's criticisms are right on the nail, but still...I want to read this :).

About Me said...

I like the main idea, just draw out the plot a bit more in the query.

batgirl said...

Oh yeah, I'd read this. Especially once you add more solid plot info. Is there a romance subplot?

Robin Wendell said...

Sounds interesting. I few more details and I'd like a look. No zombies right? BHW they teach a course at Columbia on Zombies!

writtenwyrdd said...

I should have said I'd read this too. In a red hot minute.

Jamie Smith Hopkins said...

The title has been changed -- it's now "The Opposite of Magic." I don't know if that's any good, but at least it's more descriptive than the previous title.

Thanks, folks. And yes, Batgirl, there is a romance subplot.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

The first line has me a little confused: Emily's childhood fantasy is coming true fifteen years late. Does this mean she's wanted to be extraordinary ever since she was five, and is now twenty? Or does it mean she's now fifteen, and has wanted to be extraordinary since the day she was born?

To the writer of GTP 3,

Te amo.

batgirl said...

I like the new title. It's intriguing and gives a hint of what the story's about. The first title gives too little away.

Jamie Smith Hopkins said...

Chelsea, she wanted to be extraordinary since age 11 and is now 26. Thanks for pointing out that it could be taken a variety of ways -- I assumed the long time lapse would convey the idea that she's an adult now.

Xenith said...

it's now "The Opposite of Magic." I don't know if that's any good, but at least it's more descriptive than the previous title.

Much more appealing, and it doesn't sound like an airport book (fast-pased usually thrillers. sold in airport shops, with a one word title (this is deliberate, it attracts attention or something)). Maybe they're called something else these days.

As for the query, what's at stake for your character?

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Ahhhh. I see what you're driving at. If you want, you could do something like, "Twenty-six year old Emily Daggett's childhood fantasy--find a wizard, be extraordinary, go adventuring--is coming true fifteen years late."

However, I seem to be the only one who noticed this so it may not be an issue at all! Love the new title :)

Adam Heine said...

I liked the ideas in the query, as well as the voice. Agree with EE and others that it needs some more detail.

I kept getting stuck on the fact that her childhood fantasy was to "find a wizard". That seems like a slightly lame childhood fantasy - wouldn't she want to be a wizard?

Though maybe it's just me. I mean, I did want to be a wizard when I was a kid. In any case, I like writtenwyrdd's suggestion of changing it to a desire for "magical adventure." It fits the story and doesn't raise questions about the details of her fantasies.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Sounds cute and fun. FWIW, I'd read pages.

Jamie Smith Hopkins said...

In case anyone's still checking this comment thread and wants to offer further critiques, here's my attempt at a fix:

Emily Daggett's whimsical childhood fantasy--find a wizard and go adventuring with him--is coming true. Years late and all wrong.

The wizard, co-worker Alexander Hartgrave, is thirty and infuriating rather than old and kindly. He doesn't want her tagging along with him anywhere because her very presence nullifies magic--the polar opposite of the power she'd wanted.

But it's just what Hartgrave needs when hit-wizards track him down near the Midwestern college where he and Emily work. The wizards kill anyone who stumbles upon the secret of magic, he tells her, and she's eager to stop them. Until she discovers she might have chosen the wrong side.

Anonymous said...

I like the revised version much better.

Evil Editor said...

Yes, much more specificity in the same amount of space.

So Hartgrave is claiming that he stumbled upon the secret of magic and is thus a target; that he's not a "true" wizard?

Jamie Smith Hopkins said...

Hi, EE -- Hartgrave tells Emily that nearly everyone is hardwired to do magic, but they don't because they have no idea magic exists. He says the wizarding group picks off those who figure it out. Call it eliminating the competition.

Hartgrave does says he's a target, but it's not a case of real wizards and not-so-real ones. It's magic-users vs. magic-users.

This seemed a bit much to try to explain in a query letter -- but no doubt someone here could do it.