Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Guess the Plot
1. After Jenny trades Susie her favorite doll for a cookie she starts to have second thoughts. She begs Susie to give her back the doll. But there are no trade-backs with . . . The Keeper.
2. Sarah hates working at the family-owned cemetery. Who wants to cut grass and pick weeds over dead people? But then comes the day she falls into an open grave and finds the cast iron gates and the handsome boy who introduces himself as . . . The Keeper.
3. Betsy Charm's never had a boyfriend that didn't kiss and tell. When she meets Gary Simon she thinks she may have finally found a keeper. Now there's just the small issue that he's sworn off romance because his last girlfriend was heir to a fantasy world empire . . . that's now invading.
4. When she lived in ancient Egypt, Mal was the Keeper, the person assigned to protect the Buddhist flags that foretell the coming of a Tibetan demon. She died protecting the flags, and then she killed herself hundreds more times, but now she's back on Earth, and she'll stop at nothing to find the flags and bring them to America.
5. On her vacation in Aruba, a young woman falls in love with a stranger visiting the island on business. When he abruptly ends their summer fling, she imprisons him in a B&B cottage run by her demented grandmother. Meanwhile his fiancée begins a search for a missing groom to be.
6. When hillbilly boy genius Buddy Boone loses 132 golf balls in the sand trap known as "The Keeper," he knows this defies the laws of physics. He digs into the sand and discovers The Keeper is a time warp, but can he convince the buzzing hairy space creatures that his mother is calling and they must send him back to the 21st century?
Dear Evil Editor,
Seventeen-year-old Mal knows exactly how many seconds it takes to drown. After all, she's killed herself hundreds of times since she arrived in the Valley, an isolated landscape between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Breaking the Habit of drowning is Mal's only concern; that is, until memories begin to resurface, [It's Mal who needs to resurface, if she really wants to break the Habit of drowning.] [Why are we capitalizing "Habit"?] flashes of a previous life in ancient Egypt and the set of prayer flags she died trying to protect.
When Mal is reassigned to a body on earth, she is determined to find the prayer flags and bring them safely back to America. Disguised as a study abroad student, [She hasn't been on Earth for thousands of years; why does she need a disguise? Who's gonna recognize her?] she travels to a remote village in Nepal, [What did you mean by, "she's reassigned to a body"? Some guy is walking along and suddenly someone else has been assigned to his body, someone who insists on going to Nepal? What if this guy already had plans for the evening?] living in a dorm room near the base of the Himalayas. She never expects to find friends. [You mean she doesn't expect to make friends? Or she finds friends from ancient Egypt? Or friends from the Valley?] She never expects to fall for Damian, the handsome Russian student whom she's not sure she can trust. [Instead of wondering whether to use "who" or "whom," use neither.] But most of all Mal never expects to find out the truth about her life in Egypt, the Pharaoh, and the prophecy that drives it all - a prophecy inscribed in the symbols of Buddhist prayer flags, foretelling the rise of an ancient Tibetan demon. [You could save a lot of space by telling us she finds friends, falls for Damian, and finds the secrets of life, instead of repeating that she didn't expect any of this.] Aided by her newfound friends, the advice of a monk, and only a moderate dose of sarcasm, Mal must come to terms with the past if there is any hope of protecting the future.
Complete at 84,000 words, THE KEEPER is aimed at a YA audience. Thank you for your time and consideration.
[Author's note (not part of query): The Keeper is the person assigned to protect the prayer flags.]
It's claimed that Mal is seventeen, but I can't tell if that means she has taken over the body of a seventeen-year-old, or she was seventeen when she died in ancient Egypt, or something else.
The last time Mal was on Earth, there was no America. And the prayer flags were in Egypt. So what's with taking the prayer flags back to America?
How can flags that existed two or three millenia ago be found? Wouldn't they have disintegrated by now?
Those are just plot points that can be addressed or not; the main problem is that this is all over the place. You need to focus on the main plot. What is Mal's mission? To find the flags and get them to America? Why does she want to do this? What happens if she fails? Who wants her to fail? What's her plan?
I don't think we need this stuff about drowning hundreds of times. Or the dorm room or the Russian. Thousands of years after she died in Egypt she's back on Earth, and it's up to her to save us all from a Tibetan demon. If that's the story, keep the query focused on it.
Posted by Evil Editor at 9:15 AM
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Okay, it's not just the query that's all over the place. The plot is too. You've taken some interesting elements and mixed too many of them together in a manner that doesn't seem to me to make much sense.
Ancient Egypt-- fine. Very hot. But if she was in ancient Egypt, why not have an ancient Egyptian McGuffin, rather than a Tibetan one? Or why not have the ancient Tibetan prayers be going on in, say, ancient Tibet? And screw ancient Egypt?
And why has the character killed herself hundreds of times? Teen suicide can sell very well, but that doesn't explain why this character is such an aficionado. It doesn't seem very connected to the story.
These disparate plot elements don't seem to be coming together. It feels like too much forced into one story.
(Sorry to be harsh... I've done the same thing myself, with a story that went to many editors, after my regular publishers rubbed their chins thoughtfully and said "Um, no." Some of these editors were kind enough to explain just what I'd done wrong. It is now occupying the virtual desk drawer. If it ever does want to get published, it will have to be rewritten so that it focuses on just one of the cool plot elements I thought up.)
I wondered why a set of Tibetan Prayer thingies end up in Egypt and then must be brought to America. That's making it hard for me to see anything else.
What they said: too many subplots. Instantly knew by the crazy mix that this had to be the real plot. The heyday of ancient Egypt happened long before the Buddha came along, and Egyptian iconography was remarkable for its conservative nature, so getting us excited to read about these connections between the religions of ancient Egypt and Tibet / Nepal requires a bit more attention than you gave it here. And then there's the suicide habit, body-snatching, urge to get to America, etc.
It seems like an excessively ornate set-up to get us to the real plot = teen romance.
When you're writing a query you have to show the agent that your plot makes sense.
I think you have a reason why the Egypt/Tibet/America hopscotch works and I think you have a good reason why Mal keeps drowning herself. But you have to let the agent in on it.
I agree with EE. Find the main goal, motivation, and conflict. Stick to that and you will have success.
Though I am confused about the Ancient Eqypt setup when Mal is obviously facing a Tibetan demon. How does the Eqypt/ Tibet thing relate? If the demon affected both then we need something about that.
I would almost drop the drowning part altogether and move to something like:
Mal is back from the dead. Re-incarnated after 1,000 years with the task of protecting the world from a nasty demon.
Aided by a monk, an annoying but cute Russian boy, and re-emerging thoughts of her past life, she treks across Tibetan lands in search of the "Prayer Flags". The flags can banish the demon back to the underworld.
And go from there... my creative juices kind of dropped to low-levels, but I hope you can catch my meaning. Hope this helps... but definitely refine, tone down, and focus on the main goals, conflicts, and stakes the main character is facing.
I hate to admit it but I would read number 2.
You know for me, the drowning bit was the most interesting thing in the query, but that's because I wasn't really sure what the paragraph was saying. I thought the main character was cursed to relive her death over and over.
I think a big problem is that she starts out dead, she gets to be alive again, and she proceeds to try to have a normal life. What's the tension between the fact that she came from the underworld and the fact that she's in the normal world now? Does she have a time limit? Do dark forces wish to return her whence she came? Is she pursued?
Maybe I missed this, but it would add an element of suspense. I think it might be a good story though.
Donald Westlake wrote a short story in which a guy who commits suicide is doomed to relive, not just his suicide, but his wife's discovery of his hanging corpse, over and over again throughout eternity.
I think it was Donald Westlake.
I too picked this out in the GTPs knowing it was the real one. It's really a hodge podge of stuff and I'll not reiterate all the issues already raised. The story could be a good one or could be a bunch of disparate elements forced together in a failed attempt to "sound interesting".
Simplify the query if not the story. I really like how Slush's version started out!
That sounds like an awfully creepy story!
I'm pretty sure Damian is a Greek name, not Russian. Dmitri would be the best Russian alternative, I suppose, but that's already a pretty common name in the romance/YA/paranormal field.
I've no idea why Mal keeps killing herself, nor do I know if it's relevant, unless she's being eternally reincarnated to search for the prayer flags?
I'm aware that my country pretty much pioneered the whole 'going to Egypt and taking stuff wholesale for our museums' (and we won't talk about the 'using the entire history of the domestic cat for fertiliser' debacle), but the suggestion in the query of taking these flags to America got my hackles up. They don't belong there, and I fail to see why they'll be any safer there than, say, in Egypt, where perhaps they do belong.
Flags have a poor chance of surviving, as EE says, although there is, I believe, one flag that's survived from the Roman Empire--is it in Lebanon? A hot, dry climate gives fabrics their best chance iirc. Anyway, if there's demons, presumably there can be flags that are preserved through some kind of magic, too.
I'm presuming Mal is drowning herself in an attempt to get out of this Limbo she's in, although repeating the same futile approach doesn't make her come across as particularly bright or inventive.
(my suspicion is we're captitalising Habit cos Breaking the Habit was the working title, until someone pointed out it sounded like a film with Whoopee Goldberg)
And please, no more Damians! It's not even a Russian name. (Male) Russian students, in my experience at least, are called Anton, Boris, Ivan, Sergei, and the like.
If you feel like changing the title, Habit of Drowning would make a good one.
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