Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Face-Lift 774

Guess the Plot

Beauty for Ashes

1. John's faith in God was unshakable until God let John's beautiful wife burn to death. Now John has a new religion based on alcohol, gambling, and sex with strangers. Can anything save this man's soul?

2. Carlo Frumi is a student archeologist working at Pompeii. When he pours plaster into an ash mold of a former citizen, the woman whose face emerges from the past haunts him. But is she also visiting him in his room?

3. Norma Jean Walker, white trash stage mother extraordinaire, becomes the prime suspect in a string of arson cases involving the homes of rival child beauty pageant contestants. Can Norma Jean elude the police long enough for her little baby to reach the Little Miss Sweet Corn crowning?

4. On a world where death is as curable as your common hangnail, it's not your body up for judgment, but your urn. To win enough money for "permanent resurrection", Lavidia Clomesty must survive the beauty pageant of the dead. Too bad her murderer also happens to be the chief judge.

5. Elke has always been unattractive, so when Satan offers to make her beautiful if she'll burn down a nunnery, she agrees. Hey, she's not even Catholic. But when she discovers that her long-lost twin sister is living in the nunnery, will she go through with the deal or try to con Satan into letting her renege?

6. Sculptor Christobal's latest project is an enormous statue of Aphrodite made entirely from cigarette ashes. But anti-smoking campaigns have limited his raw materials, so he moves to Greece, which has the highest per-capita smoking rate in the world. Will the real Aphrodite take kindly to being portrayed in ash?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Jonathon Douglas’ future looked bright- he had a beautiful young wife, a job he loved, and a faith in God that couldn’t be shaken- what more could he want? [A smoke alarm.] But his life goes into a tailspin when a deadly fire claims the lives of his wife and infant daughter.

Stripped of everything he ever held dear, he turns his back on the God who betrayed him and embraces a life of sin, [Perhaps you'd like to go back and rephrase your earlier claim that his faith in God couldn't be shaken?] turning to alcohol to escape his pain. Jonathon hits bottom in the seedy underbelly of the Las Vegas strip, when he wakes up in the bed of a stranger. Broken and repentant, he finds that the Lord had been with him all along. [Wait, you're saying he woke up in the Lord's bed?]

[If I woke up with a hangover in the bed of a stranger, I wouldn't conclude that the Lord has been with me all along. What really clues Jon in to this fact?]

John begins to rebuild his life and discover a new future in California, where he meets and falls in love with Jenni, a young Christian woman. But his days of hard living catch up with him in the form of a very pregnant April, his one-night-stand from Vegas. Will his faith crumble again [I'm starting to think this man's faith is about as unshakable as a James Bond martini in a paint shaker.] and can his relationship with Jenni survive? Everything good in his life is threatened once again, but this time he chooses to cling to his faith and trust in God to carry him through. [Thus when God cometh to him in a vision and telleth him April must be killed and buried in the woods, he doth.]

John must be willing to give up everything to do what is right- and perhaps a soul will be saved in the process. [I hope "what is right" isn't getting married to a crack-addicted prostitute he's known for a few hours and who's pregnant with a baby that might be his, so the child can be raised by two idiots who'll resent each other for the next twenty years.]

Beauty For Ashes is a Christian Fiction novel complete at 93,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.



It sounds weird to say he falls in love with a Christian woman. If she were another religion it would be worthy of remark, given his faith--which is shakable only occasionally, like when God is letting his wife and daughter burn to death--but in this case you could be more subtle and say he falls in love with a woman he meets at a church potluck dinner.

I'm thinking a character losing faith in God in the face of tragedy is standard fare in inspirational books, and perhaps seeking solace in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll is too. But when that fails, why not try Buddhism or marathon running or the Peace Corps? In other words, tell us what brings John back to the God who betrayed him.


Eric said...

I get what caused Jonathon to lose his faith, but what causes him to get it back again? Since the setup is that Jonathon rejects God because of tragedy, the solution can't be that he realizes that sin isn't all it's cut out to be. What makes him not just want to clean up his life but also return to God, if in his view God still caused the tragedy? What changes his mind from "the Lord betrayed me" to "the Lord is always with me and that's a good thing"? (It wouldn't be good to have a traitor always with you.)

Perhaps what's bothering me is the "Christianese" or churchy nature of the wording that pops up whenever Jonathon's faith is mentioned. E.g. "He chooses to cling to his faith and trust in God to carry him through." Aaay-men; I feel a praise chorus coming on! Of course I expect some level of churchiness in Inspirational fiction, but here I want to know what makes the character tick, not what platitudes he learns.

In short, a bigger glimpse into the character's thought processes about God would be helpful. Make him a real person with a real crisis and resolution of faith. (I hope you've done this in the book, but I'm not seeing it yet in the query.)

Dave Fragments said...

It's a tried and true plot - Person uses loved one and their faith and goes out sinning then finds faith again in love. But the query sounds thin.

The big deal will be the three way interaction between John, his new love Jenni and April the pregnant one. That's where the lessons or morality will come into the story. I think that's where your query should focus.

Unknown said...

I so wanted this to be GTP #2.

Back to this one.

When does the novel start? With the first wife's death and the loss of faith, when he wakes up in April's bed or when he finds new hope in CA? I ask this question since all of the stuff that happens before John, April and Jenni collide seems like backstory.
Your plot is a tried and true one. So, your query is going to have to shine and tell me why your story has a new take or is better written than every other "loses loved one, blames God, falls into sin, finds new loved one, and renews belief" story out there. Right now the query is just the main genre plot line. Like Dave says, focus on the three- or four- by adding God into the mix conflict that happens in CA in your query.

Anonymous said...

I am fine with the plot. It's tried and true - and yet when we see a romance novel - beutiful heroic heroine falls for roguish, handsome man with mysterious past that usually involves being secretly a spy, rich or criminal, she denies her feelings, conflict happens involving rescuing, swooning and danger, they fall in love and marry or have sex, perhaps both . . . it works. Part 2 - the antagonist returns.

But I agree, seldom does the sinner wake up and realize their life is spiraling out of control and they need God as they recover from a hangover and try to find taxi money to get the one-night stand home. They may realize they better stop drinking and when they can't stop turn to God for help, or they God hits them over the head with a frying pan.

And, I agree doing the right thing should not be falling for the one-night stand and ending his new relationship.

I don't think that is what God would want. Of course, abandoning the child wouldn't be in the cards either.

Anyway. Tried and true is okay but focus on the redemption part since that is important and will help your novel shine out amongst all the other spirtual based novels.

Stephen Prosapio said...

That was the funniest EE commentary in quite some time and the cartoon is priceless!

I must say that my faith in the publishing industry is absolutely unshakable...until I get my next rejection slip!

Rebecca Christiansen said...

Someone has to write GTP #2! And the cartoon was freaking amazing.

I second what everyone else said. To me the plot seemed to be very "he does this; this faith is shaken. He does that; now it's back!" and I don't think that's what the story should be about. I'm kind of wondering, what's the point? You have to focus on what causes the ups and downs in his faith, because the ups and downs themselves aren't the story.

And when you spell Jonathan with an o all I can think of is tuna (tuna in French is thon). But that's probably just one of my weird quirks.

angela robbins said...

Agree with the others. Not much I can add; however, I can't stay silent about how hilarious the crit and cartoon were, EE.
Oh, and that I loved GTP 2.

J.M. said...

I get incredibly annoyed with people who preach faith in God to the suffering masses UNTIL . . . they're made to suffer themselves. "Repent ye and endure his might -- whoa! What? This crap applies to _me_? In that case, there is no God in the entire universe!"

Maybe John is more complex than that. I just have no use for characters with big ideas and small minds.

Khazar-khum said...

Thanks for the love for GTP 2!

When my shoulder heals enough for me to write for more than 45 seconds at a time, I will start on it.

_*rachel*_ said...

To me the thing that makes this plot stand out is the John-Jenni-April thing. Try emphasizing that more, especially if it's the main part of the book.

Thinking about it, I've decided: Christian fiction is a lot like romance fiction, except that in the former, the relationship in question is a spiritual one with God. Personally, I like more subtle approaches, like C. S. Lewises and J. R. R. Tolkeins.

M. G. E. said...

Until recently I didn't understand why EE begins each Face-Lift with a "guess the plot" section.

Now, I think the reason is because it highlights the importance of a title in both creating reader-interest and hinting about what the book is actually about, hooking the reader, and the "guess" activity highlights how a title can succeed or go wrong in the associations it creates.

As for this title, I'm not sure it's successful. It has a structure similar to "Like Water for Chocolate," it implies a trade-off, and a dilemma. But beauty is just a concept, it cannot be traded or even grasped.

If it was "Beauty in Ashes" that would be quite a statement, one of finding redemption within the midst of destruction. That might be more appropriate to the plot as given.

Beyond that, the query is also used by the agent as an indication of the writing quality of the piece. Errors found there are assumed to be rampant in your manuscript. Thus the importance of truly crafting a query.

So, here's a list of things you may want to revise:

- "future looked bright"
- "beautiful young wife"
- "life goes into a tailspin"
- "[faith that] couldn’t be shaken"
- "what more could he want?"
- "everything he ever held dear"
- "hits bottom"

Etc., etc. That's just the first paragraph. I think you get the picture.

A more subtle issue is double telling. When you say "deadly fire" kills, the 'deadly' part says already what you say later. Double telling weakens your prose. Cut out 'deadly' from that line and you both remove an adjective which makes your prose zip a bit faster, and you avoid double-telling.

As for the plot, you need a much bigger "aha" moment than just waking up in a stranger's bed for us to buy him turning his life around again. Something more threatening. Something like... oh, contracting an STD >_>

Anonymous said...

To me the thing that makes this plot stand out is the John-Jenni-April thing. Try emphasizing that more...

I agree. Nothing makes me believe in God more that a good three-way.

_*rachel*_ said...

You know that's not what I meant, Anon.

Michelle Massaro said...

Sorry it took me so long to get around to commenting here on my own query. First of all, thank you all so much for your insight- it is very helpful! I am going to take this, completely rework the query, and try to resubmit it here (I'm a glutton for torture).

In the book, God is not a silent concept; John "hears" the Lord speaking to him but rebels against it. I think I need to bring that out more (as one poster mentioned).

Arhooley expressed annoyance with people who ditch their faith in tough times- well, that's exactly the point. This guy finds out that he's not as strong as he thought when push comes to shove. But by the end, the character grows.

A lot of you had really great points, and again, I appreciate them all. For the record, I laughed out loud at the cartoon too!