Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Guess the Plot
The Burning of Issobell Key
1. The tragic story of how the first annual Pyromaniacs Anonymous meeting at Issobell Key went terribly, terribly wrong.
2. Issobell accepts fiance David's invitation to move to an island colony in his home state of Washington. But the religious sect he grew up in acts weird, all this talk of the "Burning Woman" festival. She's getting a baaad feeling.
3. Vacationing in Scotland, Lou takes an interest in the 300-year-old case of Issobell Key, who was burned as a witch. Lou tries to prove Issobell didn't commit all those murders. Not that exonerating her will bring her back to life . . . unless she really was a witch.
4. Salem-born Issobell has it tough. Saddled with illiterate parents, warts and a fondness for newt-eye soup, it was only a matter of time before the mob turned on her. As the flames rise, she wonders how life would have been different if only she'd preferred minestrone.
5. Hundreds of years ago, she was convicted of witchcraft as a teenager and burned at the stake. Now her ghost is back for revenge. The first thing she has to get used to in the American suburb where she's been reincarnated is 21st-century spelling. "Issobell"!? Now she feels like roasting someone.
6. When her neighbor in the tiny Cotswold village of Boring-on-End meets an untimely end as result of an exploding gas cooker, amateur sleuth Amelia Pettipants knows it wasn't just because Issobell made one mean curry. Or maybe it was, and someone's out for revenge . . . someone with a history of stomach problems. Which means 75% of the village are suspects.
PLEASE be brutal! Thanks. [Sure, you say Be brutal, but later when you're in tears because I've suggested you give up this hopeless writing pipe dream and become a pole dancer in some skid row dive, how do I know you won't send your ex-con boyfriend over to teach me a little etiquette, Attica-style?] [On the other hand, how often do I get the opportunity to tell people, Be careful what you wish for?]
Dear Evil Editor,
The Scottish highlands have a rich history of magic and romance, but 26 year old Lou wasn’t looking for either when she traveled there with her best friend. Recently unemployed, Lou [Better to say "Unemployed"; if you call her "recently unemployed" we might think she is no longer unemployed. "Recently laid off" is okay, as is "recently fired." Even better, however, is to not mention her employment status at all, as it has nothing to do with the rest of the sentence or the rest of the query.] wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, [If you're gonna tell us in sentence 2 that she wasn't looking for anything in particular, there's no need to tell us in sentence 1 that she wasn't looking for magic or romance. However, I recommend keeping the romance and magic and ditching the anything, as I much prefer in particular to vague.] except perhaps some answers about her uncertain future. [You may argue that her joblessness is relevant because it's what makes her future uncertain. But I would argue that unless you can explain in the query how a vacation in Scotland is going to provide answers to her uncertain employment status, it's best to leave that out and let us believe she's just traveling.] [Some minions may now argue that maybe Lou isn't here on vacation, but is seeking a job. But I would argue that maybe you should read the next sentence before you open your big mouth.] But the past captivated her from the minute her vacation started, and Lou found herself digging for clues in a three-hundred year old murder mystery. [Queries are more interesting if they're in present tense. Like your next paragraph. Convert this one.] [Also, one could interpret that sentence to mean Lou started digging for clues the minute her vacation started.] [Also, are you sure murder was considered a crime 300 years ago in Scotland? I ask because my research into Scotland's history reveals:
14 April 1736: Efforts to quell a riot by the Captain of the City Guard in Edinburgh, Captain John Porteous, lead to six deaths. Porteous is later found guilty of murder.
7 September 1736: An Edinburgh crowd hear that Captain Porteous has been pardoned. That night they break into his cell and publicly lynch him. None of those responsible is caught.
As you see, the guy who was found guilty of murder was pardoned, and the authorities "claimed" they couldn't find anyone who was part of the lynch mob, even though the lynch mob was right there in the jailhouse.]
Mysterious dreams and bizarre coincidences begin to propel Lou [They propel her. If you tell us they propel her, we can deduce that at some point the propulsion began.] towards the fragments of truth [The truth. The truth is the truth; it doesn't come in fragments. It used to. Nowadays we have to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because in the old days the oath was, Do you swear the testimony you're about to give contains at least a few fragments of the truth? And even the guilty could safely say yes to that.] surrounding Issobell Key, a woman condemned as a witch in the seventeenth century. [As the 17th century was 310 to 410 years ago, I'll assume you were rounding off when you said the murder trial was 300 years ago. Which is okay, though I see no harm in calling it a 320-year-old murder trial, assuming the date of the trial is known to Lou.] As Lou blindly tries to follow her intuition, [She follows. If you say she follows, we'll deduce that she tried to follow. And "blindly" isn't needed unless she's blind, as that's understood when you follow your intuition instead of your senses.] she uncovers the grisly circumstances of Issobell’s trial and conviction: witnesses claimed that she murdered her sister, nephew, and brother-in-law in cold blood. [Those are the grisly circumstances of the crime, not of the trial and conviction.] [More proof that murder wasn't a crime:
Procurator: The woman murdered three people in cold blood. We have eyewitnesses.
Assistant: I know, sir, but what can we do?
Procurator: You're right, without a law against mur--Wait, we can charge her with witchcraft!
Assistant: Ah, Old Reliable. Brilliant, sir.]
With the help of Brian, the gorgeous native tour guide, and Tammy, her skeptical best friend, [If you'd told us the best friend's name the first time you mentioned her, you could just name her now without having to repeat that she's Lou's best friend.] Lou begins to delve [She delves.] into the tragedies of the distant past. But what she learns about her own past may be enough to completely change her life. [That's pretty vague. If she learns that she was Issobell in a past life, and has been summoned here to take revenge on all the descendants of the witnesses responsible for her first death, give us a hint.]
Complete at 60,000 words, The Burning of Issobell Key blends modern and historical settings in a truly unique work of women’s fiction. [1. Everything that's unique is, by definition, truly unique. 2. If you mean no other book is identical to it, that's true, but it's true of every book. 3. If you mean something a bit less absolute, you need a word other than "unique." In any case, if you show the book's fabulosity with a compelling plot description, there's no need to declare it, so let the agent/editor decide if it's truly increduloso.]
Okay, what we've boiled this down to is something like:
The Scottish highlands have a rich history of magic and romance, but 26-year-old Lou is looking for neither when she books her vacation. Still, the past captivates her from the moment she arrives, and it's not long before Lou finds herself digging for clues in a 333-year-old murder mystery.
Mysterious dreams and bizarre coincidences propel Lou toward the truth surrounding Issobell Key, a woman condemned as a witch in the seventeenth century. Following her intuition, Lou uncovers the grisly details of Issobell’s crime: witnesses claimed that she murdered her sister, nephew, and brother-in-law in cold blood.
Complete at 60,000 words, The Burning of Issobell Key is women's fiction that blends modern and historical settings.
That won't be the complete query; first you'll want to smoothly slip in some (or all) of the following: Does Lou find info that suggests or proves Issobell was innocent? Is Lou investigating old records, or basing everything on dreams and supernatural visitations? How do you dig for clues in a 300-year-old murder in a foreign country? How does delving into this case specifically change Lou's life?
Is this a ghost story or a mystery? Is it Brian's hunkiness that makes this women's fiction? Because I don't see why women are the expected audience. Guys like grisly murders and people being burned alive almost as much as women do.