Friday, October 23, 2009

Face-Lift 689

Guess the Plot

Godmother's Wand

1. When her fairy godmother's wand breaks, Penelope must go on a journey to the Field of Happiness to find the Fairy Stones. But two nasty trolls want them too. Along the way, Penelope meets a cheery collection of cuddly, chattery animals and learns the true meaning of friendship.

2. Young Nate has often wondered why his godmother Julie has larger hands, a deeper voice, and a more prominent Adam's Apple than most women. But the truth emerges the day he sees his . . . Godmother's Wand.

3. Over the river and through the woods
With Godmother's Wand we go
The vamps know the way
To slaughter and slay
And spill blood in the snow.

4. Godmother is at war with the Tooth Fairy, who has her wand. Enlisting dentist Bunny Hopeful to get the wand back before the world loses its teeth is her only option. Will Bunny brave the fangs of the fairy minions and save the world from unemployed dentists?

5. When Harriet steals her fairy godmother's wand, she doesn't know that in the wrong hands the wand does the opposite of what it's asked to do. Hilarity ensues for a while--until Harriet wishes for peace on Earth and starts World War III.

6. Saved from a fall by her fairy godmother, Mary must now prove she deserves to live, by rescuing her boyfriend from the depths of Hades. But first she has to avoid being killed by the giant flyswatter her fairy godmother is helpless to stop.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor,

When hapless thirty-year old Mary Howard falls from her second story porch, she finds herself suspended in mid-air being lectured by a large flamboyant lady dressed in pink who’s waving a clumsy wand. Mary has been rescued by her fairy godmother, Gretta. Almost. Gretta was a little too late due to a cosmic divorce, consequently Mary is only 40 percent alive. The rest of her is on the sidewalk.

Mary must prove to the Creator that she is worthy of being given life. In the meantime, Mary is alive enough to attend a fancy dress party, visit her parents in disguise and have tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. [If you're going to suspend the plot summary to list a few random things that happen, you need to come up with more interesting events than attending a party and drinking tea. I guarantee Dan Brown's query for The Da Vinci Code didn't say, Meanwhile, Langdon has time to grab a croissant from a Paris bakery, check his email, and take in a show at Moulin Rouge.] Along the way, a mysterious nemesis appears, who threatens to destroy Mary and chases her with a giant flyswatter. Gretta tries to protect Mary, but there are limits to what she can do. [If you can't even protect a 30-year-old woman from a flyswatter, it's time to hang up the wand.] Ultimately, Mary fights off the nemesis and unmasks her as… one of the pieces that broke off when she fell. [That broke off her body? Which piece? How much of her body is Mary missing? We seem to have gone from mundane to silly in this paragraph.]

Meanwhile, Mary’s lackadaisical boyfriend, Todd, has ordeals of his own. Todd is tricked by a spiritual crank into descending to Hades, the Baltimore location, to rescue Mary’s soul, [Trickery or not, if you're willing to descend into Hades for your girlfriend, you don't strike me as the lackadaisical type.] and finds himself in mortal danger. Mary is Todd’s only hope. She must rescue him and herself and prove that she is worth resuscitating. It all ends happily ever after.

“Godmother’s Wand” is 21,000 words and classified as magical realism. [That's not a term you'd want to apply to a children's book. And 21,000 words isn't going to cut it as an adult book. Is this part of a book called Three Novellas? Who's your audience?]

Thank you very much for your time.


Gretta sounds more like a guardian angel than a fairy godmother. Possibly because of the Creator aspect.

Why does Gretta's wand make it into the title? Does Mary take it to Hades?

Is the Creator a character in the book?

Everything may make sense in the book, but if something seems nutty in the query, it won't help your cause. Like, if Mary's arm is chasing her with a giant flyswatter, I'd leave that out. Even if it's for children. It's not an important part of the main plot, which is that Mary must earn her life by rescuing her brother from Hades. Focus on the main plot.

Your chances of surviving a fall from a second-story porch aren't all that bleak, even without a fairy godmother. Surely you wouldn't have so much velocity that when you were suddenly stopped, pieces of you would break off.


Anonymous said...

I thought it sounded like a plot for a short story. Charming as it is, the manuscript doesn't seem to be quite the right size. You have a few options:

1] get out the subplot scissors and divide this into coherent chunks of about 5000 words which you can sub to lit mags

2] keep the best bits and condense them to about 5000 words that can be subbed to lit mags and put the rest in your leftovers folder

3] condense it to kid-size and pitch it as a 'chapter book' or other kid genre.

4] get more plot and write 20,000 more words and then start pitching it to agents as a novel for middle graders

5] get a bigger plot with more adult sensibilities and write 80,000 more words, then start pitching it to agents as a novel for adults

Steve Wright said...

There seem to be quite a few elements here which look like they've been thrown in to pique my interest, but which are, in fact, only adding to my perplexity. Cosmic divorce? Hades as a location in Baltimore?

I think you should either explain these, or leave them out - because, given your plot description, my perplexity doesn't need to be added to. It seems that you've got a gender-switched Orpheus-and-Eurydice thing going on, complicated by... the heroine's own detached body parts coming after her? With a fly swatter? What have the heroine's body parts got against her? - apart from her apparent propensity for going on pointless side trips when she should be getting on with the plot? I mean, if I was 60% dead and probably rising towards 100%, I sure as heck wouldn't be wasting time on fancy dress parties...

... Yes. Well. As I say, I'm pretty thoroughly perplexed. And, while I firmly believe that stories should be as long as they need to be (and no longer), I rather wonder whether you can dispel all my perplexity in only 21,000 words. It does seem awfully short, considering.

_*rachel*_ said...

The beginning of the query, especially the description of the fairy godmother, has some life in it. The rest just doesn't sound believable. And it's really, really short for a novel.

Khazar-khum said...

A division of Hades in Baltimore? Is corporate HQ in Detroit? or LA?

Falling from a 2nd story window is common. My stepmother's sister pushed her out the 2nd story window and she's OK...well, OK, she's not the best example, but you get the point.

Falling from a 20th story window, now, that's a spectacular thing to survive.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to everyone who's commented, and especially to Evil Editor.
I can see that I didn't explain the plot very well. This is a novella aimed at middle-aged people.

There are two plots going on: When Mary fell off the porch, she was split into multiple Mary's by accident by her f.g. The main-Mary has to shape herself up (learn to clean, to make a living, to enjoy herself, etc...) in order to be brought back to life. Her f.g. helps her. The other versions of Mary, shadows, devour one another until the most powerful remains, ShadowMary, and goes after the main-Mary. The f.g. just manages to rescue Mary, but decides to send Mary to study at "The Better Angels," a camp run by Abraham Lincoln, to learn these skills as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the second plot: Mary's boyfriend finds her body, is visited by ShadowMary, who has been tricked by a Mr. Crank, into believing that her soul is in Hades. He decides reluctantly to rescue her, romantically thinking of himself as Orpheus. The three of them walk through the Baltimore ghetto to Hades (located in an abandoned row house), he's trapped, and is rescued through Mary's new skills...

I think I'll take out the flyswatter detail.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

For whatever reason, I didn't have a lot of problems with this query. The story sounds hilarious, and the weirdness of it intrigued me. My nit lies with the phrase: clumsy wand. Was the wand clumsy, or the hand that was holding it?

The paragraph about Todd started to lose me a little, and I think you might be able to make the ending more specific to the story. Maybe something about Mary being more interested in living than living happily ever after.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Khazar-khum, for that comment. She specifically lands on her head (which is hard to survive).

But, maybe I will make her fall off of the fourth story.

Anonymous said...

From reading agent blogs etc my understanding is that whatever the merits of a 20K word novella, there's no market for them that would support the investment of their time. So you can skip the trouble of looking for an agent and just go straight to Duotrope and look for places to sub it to on your own, like you would do with a short story.

Anonymous said...

Your longer version in the comments makes more sense than the query.

Is this close:

"In a misguided attempt to protect her, Mary's Godmother (Greta) accidently splits Mary into multiple beings. While the original Mary must prove herself worthy of a second chance at life, her doppelgangers fight for dominance. The strongest doppelganger convinces Todd, Mary’s boyfriend, that they need to save her soul from Hades to allow her to reclaim her life. Thinking himself a modern day Orpheus, Todd enters Hades through a Baltimore ghetto and is trapped.

The doppelganger challenges Mary in an attempt to steal her life. Greta once again intervenes and the doppelganger is defeated. Mary is sent to ___________ to master the skills (tell me what they are) which will allow her to reclaim her life and save Todd. She then (saves Todd how?) and they live happily ever after. " ??

If so, try to focus on Mary's challenges and resolutions. Also, Mary sounds a tad passive but I'm sure that's just the way I tried to fill in the blanks. This seems like a bigger story than 21,000 words would allow. Good luck.


Anonymous said...

Hi King's Falcon, Thank you very much for that. You described Mary's situation excellently and I will probably use it.
In reply to anonymous about Duotrope: I do not know what Duotrope is...

And, thank you Chelsea, happily ever now is much better than happily ever after.

Why don't agents like novellas?
They are short, and perfect for the one hour airplane ride.

Evil Editor said...

Publishers don't like novellas because the most expensive part of a book is the cover, which means the cost of printing a novella isn't much more than the cost of printing a novel. Which means the book will cost as much as a novel, even though it's only 80 to 100 pages. Readers will look at the price and say, Why should I pay 6.99 for 90 pages when these 300-page books cost the same? That's like buying a six-pack of Coke when the twelve-pack is cheaper.

Agents don't like novellas because publishers don't like them.

Another problem with a 100-page book is that it's as thick as 50 sheets of paper, which makes it hard to read the spine, and less likely to be picked up in a bookstore.

Novellas were popular in the early days of aviation for just the reason you mention; then Lloyd Casterbridge invented the bookmark, and that was all she wrote.

Steve Wright said...

Heh. I recently finished reading Sergei Lukyanenko's "Night Watch" trilogy (which, like all the best trilogies, now has four volumes)... Each book consists of three sections, and each one is a complete story in itself, albeit loosely linked to the others.

So, effectively, each one of Lukyanenko's books consists of three novellas. So that's how you can get novellas published. Sneaky, these Russkies.

Dave Fragments said...

It's very hard to get a 20K or 25K story published. Even some ezines require you have a query letter. I know. I have a story that length.

BTW - given life is a phrase from the board game "GO" where a space can be "given life" and also a blessing from the Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions, i.e. "given life like RA for 10,000 years."

pacatrue said...

You might try a collection of novellas and stories, anonymous author. Those are notoriously difficult to sell as well, but not completely impossible. Witness Jhumpa Lahiri and the Pulitzer. However, you are probably going to need more of a track record, meaning you've published a couple short stories in other markets first.

Anything else you can bundle with this?

Anonymous said...

Jhumpa Lahiri, a very lyrical writer. I am to her as a toaster is to a nuclear reactor.

Well, as a matter of fact, I do have two more planned: Godmother's Baby and Lord Yiddlepop's Fire. But can you imagine the query letter for three novellas?

Dave Fragments said...

Yes, if you can write the stories, you can write the query.

Three chapter book stories set in the fantaty world of NNN. In the first, a young girl gets split into a a good and bad versions and has to find a way to save her brother from Hades, a tenement in Baltimore.

The second story is about the first baby born to a fairy godmother. HAve you ever wondered what spoiled is about?

And in the third story, Yiddlepop unleashes a fire on the world that just might not stop burning. It's not the fires of love we have to worry about.

That's the way it might be. Those are made up and maybe two sentences long. You can craft three sentences for each story and present them as cheery, bright and entertaining. Which is what they actually are.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave, quite good!
You have all been very helpful and I greatly appreciate it.

Xiexie said...

I the zaniness of this works for me. I like Kings_Falcon's version and that seems to get it, but I say don't lose the zaniness.

I also agree with Dave about the 3 novellas things as one book. It could definitely work especially if the characters were all related in some way with [insert mythical world/situation here].

pacatrue said...

Hi Author,

I'm sure other short story / novella collections have been pitched before on this site, but here's one I remember from a long time ago. EE weighed in a bit and didn't seem to think the collection idea was hopeless.

Sylvia said...

I liked the summary given in the comments much better, until I got to this:

"The f.g. just manages to rescue Mary, but decides to send Mary to study at "The Better Angels," a camp run by Abraham Lincoln, to learn these skills as quickly as possible."

which pulled me up short again, going huh? How'd he come into this?

But maybe it's just that I'm not good at zany.

Anyway, I happened to notice that Elisabeth Bear (noted Sci Fi writer) uses 25k as her target for her current WIP. Also the romance e-books are all around that length. So I agree there's not a lot of point (right now) in looking at agents and you should be submitting directly.

Duotrope's Digest

But it seems to me that in the up-and-coming worlds of e-readers, your length will soon be trendy. :)

But the good

Anonymous said...

Hi Sylvia, the camp is based on Lincoln's quote: the better angels of our nature, and it's a self-improvement spa (like the Golden Door) run by angels for profit in Paradise Cove, Hawaii. The idea is that rich spirits can pay to be improved and reach the level of angel. They use a system older than the 7 deadly sins,where melancholy, Mary's problem, is a sin.