Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Face-Lift 821

Guess the Plot


1. There's a robot, a pretty girl, flying saucers, and mad scientists! It's "The Tempest" in space! Whaddya mean, it's been done?

2. Raven-haired and temperamental, she storms across the land in search of some object that will save the king. Gypsies, fae armies, oracles, and mages hamper or assist her. Accordingly, the king turns out to be a villain, or not.

3. Janelle just found out she's a "Tempest": a human hurricane. In fact, she's the strongest tempest in the world, destined to become the scariest hurricane ever. Plus, she's been kidnapped by the evil Tempest High Leader and taken to an island to be trained to kill without mercy when she becomes a hurricane. She will be the main weapon in a war against all mankind. And you thought you were having a bad day.

4. No one knows exactly what inspired Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. Now on a trip to England 15 year old Miranda discovers the truth about the play, Shakespeare and her family’s own dark secret. Could she really be descended from the magical Duke of Milan?

5. Hillbilly boy genius Buddy Boone applies his iPhone ohmmeter app to an experiment inspired by Benjamin Franklin's kite-in-a-lightning-storm trick -- and accidentally makes contact with seven very hungry aliens from Star XQI3 who land their spaceship behind the shed and launch a deadly bid to take over the world.

6. Restaurant-owner Joe is known around town for his screaming matches with the wife. As he walks into the restaurant, he trips over her body, a steak knife in her chest. He has a few ideas who might want to frame him for murder . . . and he's determined to show them the true meaning of rage before the cops can lock him up.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Life blows for sixteen-year-old Janelle. Literally. She just found out she’s a human hurricane, a Tempest. That’s what the stupid gray spiral on her arm means. Just touching the ocean will make her turn into her stormy, deadly self. No wonder her dad seemed so nervous when he tried to tell her. [If your father informs you you're a human hurricane, you're not going to be worried about the day you ravage the Caribbean, killing thousands; you're going to be wondering how your father became delusional so fast.]

As if things aren’t bad enough, the evil Tempest High Leader, Andrina, just kidnapped her. Now Janelle has to attend Morgen Institute, Andrina’s boarding school for Tempest kids. But it’s no tropical paradise on this Caribbean island. Behind the perfect beaches and dorm parties lies the ugly truth Janelle’s dad hid her from all her life. Morgen Institute trains Tempests [to] kill without mercy when they become hurricanes. Whether they like it or not. [I don't think I'd let my students anywhere near a perfect beach if their touching the ocean would unleash a hurricane. My boarding school would be in western Mongolia.] [It sounds like you're saying the ugly truth her dad hid from her all her life is that Morgen Institute trains Tempests to kill without mercy. The ugly truth he hid from her is that she's a Tempest. Thus I'd change "the ugly truth Janelle’s dad hid her from all her life." to a colon.]

No way in hell is Janelle going to kill people. But Andrina won’t let her go. Because Janelle’s the strongest Tempest in the world, destined to become the scariest hurricane ever and kill thousands. [That's not enough people. If she kills 7000 people, that's about one of every million people on Earth.] Now she's the main weapon in Andrina's war against mankind. [That's like a pitchfork being your main weapon in a war against the United States. Can you make Andrina's war be against Aruba instead of mankind?]

Time’s running out. In order to escape, Janelle has to face the truth about herself…and what it really means to be a Tempest.

TEMPEST is a 67,000 word young adult fantasy. It may be the first book of a series.


So, are all hurricanes former Tempests? Or are the Tempests extra hurricanes thrown into the mix?

Not to downplay the destructive force of a hurricane, but if you're at war with mankind, you might be better off training human earthquakes to strike dams and nuclear power plants. More people die from taking aspirin than from hurricanes.

Something about this feels more middle grade than YA. Maybe it's that younger kids are more likely to buy into the human hurricane idea. Or maybe it's that phrases like "The stupid gray spiral," "the evil Tempest High Leader," "The strongest Tempest in the world," and "scariest hurricane ever" sound like they'd appeal more to a less mature crowd. Adjectives that aren't so general and overblown might help. Or calling it middle grade.


Anonymous said...

This doesn't hang together for me. What his Evil soul said. Wouldn't her dad try to to rescue her? If not, is he worth mentioning in the query? Stupid spiral? I would think it is important, odd or strange. Hard to follow the logic.

Eric said...

This might explain why I haven't seen my friend Katrina for a while.

Even "the scariest hurricane ever" doesn't put much fear in the hearts of the sections of mankind who live in the Midwest.

Except possibly for "No way in hell" this is middle grade writing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not clear on how Tempest High runs. How are kids trained to become merciless killers "whether they like it or not"? Maybe conditioned, not trained -- although dorm parties at a Caribbean paradise don't seem to fit with that notion. Is Janelle the first tempest ever to rebel in all the ages of tempests hitting the earth? You'd think there would have been a Spartacus before now. Why does Andrina want to destroy mankind?

Anonymous said...

No way in hell is Janelle going to kill people. But Andrina won’t let her go. Because Janelle’s the strongest Tempest in the world, destined to become the scariest hurricane ever and kill thousands.

The above is one reason it doesn't hang together. Not going to kill but destined to kill thousands. If Janelle is the srongest in the world why cant she break free from
I tell my students never start a sentence with "but"
"because" "so" or "and". I'm not the best grammarian in the world.
Hope that helps. You'll get better comments. I woud like to read more.

Anonymous said...

If she's using hurricanes Andrina's war is really against insurance companies, not all of mankind. Unless she plans to slowly send mankind into economic oblivion through a series of systematic rate hikes.

Also, and this is just a guess, but if Andrina is a combination of Andrew and Katrina... I wouldn't.

_*rachel*_ said...

I know someone who collects bottles of ocean water. If I were Janelle and thought of that, I'd keep a thermos of it on me at all times.

It could be fun if the school has more varied natural disasters. And if it was just hurricanes, I'd have it at least an hour from the sea, if not farther.

Cut down on the hurricane lingo and beef up on specific plot. I need to know more of what actually happens here.

Dave Fragments said...

This sounds like a bad SyFy channel movie.

A hurricane releases two types of energy - 1) condensation of hot water vapor to create rain and 2) the kinetic energy to swirl the clouds (winds). It's the little heat engine that could.

#1 releases 6.0 x 10 to the 14th power Watts which is about 200 times the total world wide energy generating capacity.
#2 releases about 1.5 x 10 to the 12th power Watts which is about 1/2 the world wide energy generating capacity.

That's just too much energy to pass through the "suspension of disbelief."

There is a book out there called THE PERFECT STORM. That was the scariest weather phenomena in all of our lifetimes and that, is not an exaggeration. But we don't read the book to be in awe of the storm, we read the book because it tells the story of the Andrea Gail.

The query is more involved with hurricanes than Janelle's story and that makes it seem like ho-hum sci-fi.

Marissa Doyle said...

So once Janelle becomes a hurricane, does she cease having consciousness or awareness and just become a giant low pressure system? When she hits the waters off New England, does she die?

There's maybe an interesting idea here, but I'm not sure it's been pulled off. And I have to agree that the story feels more MG than YA.

Joe G said...

I dunno, I think Dave F. hit it on the head. The idea is outlandish to a fault. It sounds like a comic about a forgettable X-Men character or a bad sci-fi channel movie. The whole human hurricane thing to me... and the idea that there are enough people out there who are human hurricanes to warrant a school... I don't really get it. I know schools for people with superpowers are hot in books right now, but it feels like you're scraping the bottom of the barrel for a school idea.

I mean, like... maybe if she was the only human hurricane... or maybe if she was the goddess of the weather or something, and the story hinged on swaying her toward good or evil... maybe she needs a sexy boyfriend.

I dunno. I feel bad to say it sounds a bit silly. I just don't really get it. Why limit yourself to hurricanes when there's a wealth of natural disasters available to anthropomorphize? I'm off to work on my book about a girl who transfers to a school in Italy where she thinks she'll be studying fashion, but discovers she's the reincarnation of the human volcano Vesuvius (of certain fame), and things in Italy may or may not be about to get a whole lot meltier...

M. G. E. said...

I've noticed that writers try to affect "voice" by aping certain sentence construction lead-ins. These have become a sort of query cliche:

- Life blows for...
- No wonder he/she...
- As if that wasn't bad enough...

If I'm noticing the trend, so are the actual agents and their slush-reading lackeys :P

What's lacking here is a reasonable rationale for the antagonist. Because grooming hurricane-children to kill off humanity is a plan reserved for villains with a room-temperature IQ, and a chilly room at that :P

Hurricanes suck at killing people, so I suggest that be what you change.

If it were me, I'd write it as the hurricane-teacher having a sort of nihilist philosophy where she just wants you to be the best dang hurricane you can be even if it means someone dies, but your protag doesn't want to hurt anyone. Though that's still pretty weak in motivation, it would drive the plot more internal. But for MG or YA that might be too submerged already.

It's a weak plot because if she can keep from becoming a hurricane she will, and if she can't you don't have much of a story.

@ Eric: "This might explain why I haven't seen my friend Katrina for a while."
- el oh el, well played, sir :)

@ Joe G: "Why limit yourself to hurricanes when there's a wealth of natural disasters available to anthropomorphize?"
- I dunno, but I had a friend called "Tidalwave" 'cause he could pull off a mean bellyflop from the highdive :P

Anonymous said...

Is this school between the upper west coast of Africa and the Cape Verde Islands? Because that's where most Atlantic hurricanes form. However, some form in the Caribbean, or in the Gulf of Mexico. And then of course you have your Pacific hurricanes. So the school maybe takes field trips?

I'm kind of a hurricane afficionado. I love watching them form. They can blow up in anywhere from 12 hours to a long, drawn out process of two weeks or more. Thing is, though, they're fully detectable on satellite or radar during every stage of their development. And the NHC watches 'em like a hawk. Usually the storm is an "invest", a yellow circle on the NHC weather map, then orange, then red, then it becomes a tropical depression and gets a number, then a tropical storm, then a hurricane... then it dies. Usually, thank God, hurricanes don't actually make landfall. Powerful hurricanes (like Igor and Julia right now, and like Earl a few weeks back) usually tend poleward, hit cooler water, and weaken.

Guess what I'm trying to say here is the idea of them going to school seems very far-fetched. It's true this is an original idea. But it's very hard for a reader to suspend disbelief while children turn into hurricanes.

Anonymous said...

M.G.E., the query cliche that's been making my teeth hurt lately is "So-and-so never expected that..."

...followed by something that *nobody* ever expects, eg that one's beloved 10-year-old rottweiler will suddenly begin dancing "Swan Lake".

Adam Heine said...

The world building feels kinda weak. Not just that hurricanes aren't the most dangerous natural disaster in the world (as has been said), but what are the characters' motivations? Why do the Tempests want to kill people? What does Andrina actually want to accomplish? It seems like they're just bad for the sake of being bad, which weakens the protagonist's motivation to "Don't be bad."

Evil Editor said...

the query cliche that's been making my teeth hurt lately is "So-and-so never expected that..."

...followed by something that *nobody* ever expects, eg that one's beloved 10-year-old rottweiler will suddenly begin dancing "Swan Lake".

That one's been around at least since face-lift-198

_*rachel*_ said...

Speaking of which, I got the weirdest spam mail yesterday. The subject line was about hurricanes Julia and Igor, and the first line was about the government and the economy. And then it launched into a Keats poem about storms, sans line breaks.

Does Janelle ever get spam like that?

writtenwyrdd said...

This doesn't appeal to me at all. And it really does feel like a mid-grade story. Setting a novel in high school is generally what makes it YA.

There are several things that bother me here and make me not want to read the novel as you describe it.

First, you keep reusing the word Tempest, and it makes it confusing, especially when make is sound as if Tempest High is her original school. If it's the high school of the 'gifted' Tempests, then you need to reword the mention of the Evil Leader. If by some unimaginably lame coincidence Janelle is already attending Tempest High, you need to change the school's name.

Second, the plot sounds pretty lame. She's a human hurricane, and the worst thing she has to deal with is going to high school? Even if it's an evil high school, the stakes need to be higher than that. Just learning to be killers isn't stakes enough, it's the setting in which the stakes need to exist.

You also have these kids being made into killers, but the very idea is off putting to me for two reasons. 1) Because if all it takes to form a hurricane is to drop one of these kids into the ocean, the Evil Overlord doesn't NEED to train them. It's a point-and-shoot operation, drop them from a helo and bob's your uncle. 2) because a hurricane is not particularly useful as a means of death. Most of the time, people want their killers to be selective, you know? So unless you have a plan for global domination and mass disaster for some reason, it's a no go for me. (And if you do want to have mass destruction for some reason, you have to tell us here.)

You need to get to the meat of the matter faster in the letter instead of trying to be clever. You want people to want to read your book, and the hook is what happens, not how cleverly you refer to it without actually saying anything. Additionally, I'd recommend dropping 'blows' from the first sentence.

Also, the way you describe the high school makes it sound cool and your janelle like an idiot for wanting to leave. Really, make it less than fun and the inhabitants unhappy, at least some of them.

I just cannot see the stakes being high enough as described to hold up to a novel length work. Sorry. I think you need some form of desparate action needed within the context of being kidnapped to an evil high school.

150 said...

You want people to want to read your book, and the hook is what happens, not how cleverly you refer to it without actually saying anything.

Da ha ha. I am going to embroider this onto a sampler and hang it on my wall.

writtenwyrdd said...

I wanted to add, Author, that I do not usually criticize plot but how you represent the plot in the query. In this case, however, an exception seemed appropriate.

Just keep working and don't be discouraged!

Anonymous said...

Loved the book and movie Dave. Sad tale of the Andrea Gail. White Squall was another gripper. Living in Atlantic Canada for many years gave me an empathy for the folk from the Rock. Fishing is a hard and dangerous life without facing the perfect nightmare on the seas (waves).

Joe G said...

The dancing dog isn't necessarily as far fetched as one might think.