Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Face-Lift 792

Guess the Plot

Fortune Cookie

1. The art of war is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin...in bed.

2. Trying to free yourself from sex addiction by talking to stripper is like trying to lose weight by taking job at Dunkin Donuts.

3. Working at fortune cookie factory will lead to enlightenment--and the girl of your dreams.

4. You will be a best selling author, the fortune said. Ten years and 8,455 rejections later, Shiela Karski snaps and goes on an arson spree, targeting fortune cookie warehouses all over North America.

5. Korean-American fifth grader Grace Yi is tired of classmates and even teachers who lump all Asian ethnicities together. So when she's assigned to make the school's Chinese New Year Festival "authentic," she decides to make a few small changes. Hilarity ensues.

6. When champion Poodle "Fortune Cookie" disappears from her crate at the Long Beach dog show, detective Zack Martinez knows two things: the teamsters didn't steal her, and he'd better bring home some Beggin Strips for his wife's chihuahua.

Original Version

Dear ____________:

Ethan Cortier can’t get out of bed, he can’t function, and he can’t enjoy the things he used to love. The only pastime that barely interests him now is a secret sex addiction that makes him hate himself the next day. [If you can't get out of bed, sex is the perfect addiction to have.] [On the other hand, if you can't function, it's the worst.] When he meets Bianca, an aspiring pianist working as a stripper in a shady club with a shady boss, he discovers that it is easier to confess his vice to a complete stranger than a loved one. [Confessing to a woman you just met that you have a sex addiction. I may have to give that a try.] After all, there is nothing for him to lose after she’s gone.

Bianca is facing eviction and unemployment. [Apparently she's as bad at stripping as she is on the piano.] On the night they meet, they speak openly and honestly about the secrets and problems they have kept from their friends and family. [He admits he has a sex addiction and she admits she has pianist envy.] In the short time they share, they connect, listen and offer nonjudgmental advice. Though they never expect to see each other again, they do, and over the next few months, they each find themselves falling in love with the stranger who knows their worst secrets. [Eventually, the sex addict can't keep his hands off his pianist.]

I am prepared to send Fortune Cookie, my 70,000 word literary fiction upon your request. This is a multiple submission. Thank you for your time.


[(Not part of query): The title, Fortune Cookie, refers to the main characters picking up Chinese food one night. They miss out on the fortune cookies since the restaurant just ran out. The waiter tells the male character "You don't need dessert, she's sweet enough for you!" pointing to the female character. The bad joke indicates that the female character will bring some happiness into the male character's life.]


Better title: The Sex Addict's Pianist. Hey, if you didn't want a bunch of pianist jokes, you should have made her an organ player.

We know a few things about each of your characters, but all we know about the plot is that the characters meet, give each other advice, and fall in love. I know it's literary fiction, but doesn't anything interesting happen? Is there a villain? Does Ethan meet Tiger Woods in rehab? Does Bianca's shady boss threaten her? Does she play Carnegie Hall? Give us something.


Bibi said...

Yup, she's got to play Mr. Hall. Evil, you made chuckle, then laugh and hoot like an owl. This was the best. Really hard not to choke on potater chips reading this. Another one for my wall. Man, hilarity ensues. Thanks, needed the uplift.

Anonymous said...

Sir Evil, is it acceptable for unknown and unpublisheds to refer to their work as literary fiction in the query? I assumed that was a tad presumptive and maybe not a good thing if trying to woo representation. Thanks, Bibi

Evil Editor said...

It sounds less presumptuous than calling it literature. And it's better than calling it boring plotless crud.

Ellie said...

I have this half-baked theory of late that the problem with most query letters is people start summarizing at the beginning of the book and just sort of go until they hit three paragraphs. So you get a lot of setup, maybe a hint at the first inciting incident, and then you're left with very little sense of what actually happens in the book. Which is a pretty major function of a query: it's not just back-cover copy designed to entice; it's also a reassurance to the agent that you know what the heck you're doing and they're not going to be annoyed if they request a full and it falls apart halfway through because you ran out of plot.

The remedy for this, I believe, is to write the ending of the query first. Think of what readers will be rooting for your characters to do. Think of why somebody would be distraught if they left the book on the bus. "Oh, no!" they might say. "Now I'll never find out if Protagonist finds the Macguffin and gets the Girl!" So you write that: "Protagonist will have to defeat the Obstacle and the Other Obstacle if he's going to find the Macguffin and get the Girl." Then you put it down for a bit, come back, and think, "What do I need to say before that so this makes sense to someone reading it for the first time?" So you put in a paragraph before the one you've already written, explaining that "The Macguffin is the blah blah and Protagonist wants it because blah blah..." as needed.

It is, as one can surmise, a slow day here at work and I'm inclined to bloviate. Heh.

Chicory said...

I wish someone would write #5.

Anonymous said...

Author, I apologize for the vague advice I'm about to give.

Now then. This may be way different from Leaving Las Vegas and way better, but when I read this query I think, "I've already seen this movie." Can you flash your style or provide some eye-catching detail to distinguish yourself? "Offer nonjudgmental advice" may be accurate, but it doesn't exactly have a voice. Does Ethan have an oblivious mother, an unhelpful therapist, a prostitution or masturbation routine? Does the "shadiness" of Bianca's strip club come to anything in the plot, or is it just there for atmosphere? If it's the former, perhaps make a mention; if it's the latter, I'd take it out of the query.

Ellie said...

And I agree with Chicory; I was really really hoping it would be #5.

Polenth said...

It doesn't sound like there are any obstacles to them falling in love. What gets in the way? Disapproving families? Self doubt? Mutated penguins attacking?

Stephen Prosapio said...

Spew alert of the day:
"it's better than calling it boring plotless crud."

Ahhh Literary Fiction. We love you, but it's kind of like being called "Maestro" by others vs. asking to be called "Maestro." I've heard it's best to describe yourself as "commercial fiction" vs. literary fiction.

As for this story... I dunno. The stripper with the heart of gold falling in love with her customer with a sex addiction? I've known women in that profession and that's kind of like having a bartender fall in love with an alcoholic, a pizza delivery boy falling in love with the obese woman with the eating disorder, the editor falling in love with the compulsively bad writer. Ain't gonna happen.

So since this is fiction and less plot driven, I'd include the elements of the character that would lead HER to make the decisions she does. She seems more the focus character of this study to me. This pitch doesn't give me any reason to read about the sex addict.

vkw said...

I've a warped sense of humor or EE has game today, because his comments made me laugh out loud.

I don't know what to say author. I read the query, I understand the plot and, well I don't care. I don't care if the pianist becomes famous, Eathan overcomes his sex addiction or they fall in love.

First, understanding addiction is very important. Why does one person have a problem when they pick up prostitutes and another doesn't? Why can one person download porn and be okay and another becomes addicted? Why can one man be a player with 16 girlfriends and is addicted and another has 17 and it's not an addiction?

I would start there. Addiction goes beyond shame and guilt. He also sounds depressed. Addiction and depression are best friends, (and eventually become inseparable), but usually its the addiction that leads to the depression. That's important to address more thoroughly.

Anyway, the number one problem with the query is that you have given me absolutely no reason to care about your characters. Tiger Woods' story is interesting because all of the girlfriends popped up, he lost his wife and children, his fortune is in jeopardy, the scandal is all over the media, he lost sponsorships, he went to rehab and now we get to speculate on the divorce and whether he still has game and whether he'll recover from the media nightmare.

We have reasons to care what happens even if the reason is only because train wrecks, especially those involving famous people, are interesting.

Eathan in depressed and has an addiction. I don't care. The stripper is wannabe pianist. (There's got to be more to this because usually there is something more to choosing to become a stripper than paying the bills).

Well, I'm rambling, but give me something to believe in, give me a reason to stay, give me a reason to turn right around and hope Eathen and his new interest succeed.

_*rachel*_ said...

Aw man, it's not #5? Rats.

Putting aside the fact that you couldn't pay me to read this book, the query needs more zing. You've got half the romance plot; the other half is generally someone/thing majorly getting between them. You know, like a plot. Without some odds, their love isn't going to be too impressive.

Hate to say this, but are you sure it's literary fiction? You might classify it as erotica.

ril said...

And it's better than calling it boring plotless crud.


Min Yin said...

I just want to point out that stripper does not equal prostitute.

150 said...

is it acceptable for unknown and unpublisheds to refer to their work as literary fiction in the query?

Literary fiction is a genre, Bibi. You might as well ask whether it's acceptable for an unknown to refer to his work as science fiction.

Anonymous said...

Though they never expect to see each other again, they do, and over the next few months, they each find themselves falling in love with the stranger who knows their worst secrets.

This third character seems pretty pivotal to the story -- at least, this is where it gets really interesting -- so I would probably suggest naming him/her.

Anonymous said...

This third character seems pretty pivotal to the story -- at least, this is where it gets really interesting -- so I would probably suggest naming him/her.

Joke or no? I really can't tell.

Anonymous said...

I agree with VKW. If the story is character-driven, I need to have some feelings--ANY feelings--about the main characters. I neither despise, pity nor like the addict. I feel bad that the stripper-who-wants-to-be-a-pianist is facing unemployment, but lots of people struggle. Why should I care about her plight?

Is there some reason that they SHOULDN'T fall in love with each other? (Besides the fact that they've already shared their Worst Secrets, which seems to me to be a fabulous way to start of a relationship--"I'm in love with you despite knowing your greatest flaws. How will we deal with this lack of dishonesty?") Is Ethan married? Does his addiction mean he couldn't ever be faithful to Bianca?

Just some thoughts.

Joe G said...

I think the stripping pianista should be a flautist.

*ba dum ching*

Anonymous said...

I wanna know what type of sexual addiction he has...then I'll determine my level of interest.

Sylvia said...

This made my day. What a great facelift.

There's not a lot to add but for me, it helped when I understood that I needed to get specific. If you can look at each sentence and see if you can refer to a specific secret / action / moment in the book (even if the query refers to multiple instances) then I think that can help.