Thursday, March 31, 2011

Face-Lift 886

Guess the Plot

Meet Daphne Stuart

1. She's pretty, smart and funny but internet dating just isn't working out. Why won't anybody click on that little button to . . . Meet Daphne Stuart?

2. She's your typical fifth-grader, with a dog, a cat, a Wii, and a vampire for a brother. And you'll want all the other books in the series, too.

3. She's convinced she's the rightful heir to the Scottish throne, so 17-year-old Daphne Stuart gathers a guerilla army of 10,000 kilted Scotsmen and launches a revolt. Britain yawns.

4. She's alone in the world. Her anorexic older sister's in a hospital, her younger siblings have all fled to escape their violent mother, and her boyfriend's acting like a jerk. At least Daphne Stuart still has herself to talk to. And people like you to read her depressing story.

5. Justin is content as a bachelor, but his mother is desperate for grandchildren. Forced into yet another blind date, Justin expects disaster, until he meets Daphne Stuart. She's gorgeous, intelligent and mysterious. She’s also an international spy. Can Justin survive the world of espionage and keep the girl of his dreams, or will he move back in with Mom?

6. Meet Daphne Stuart, She's a fun-loving fifth-grader and newest member of the Sunflowers softball team. Coach Trisha McNiell is the girls' trusted friend and advisor. But when the coach makes a discovery in the locker room, she'll need all her skills to deal with the parents of a boy named Daphne.

Original Version

[Author note: I have two versions; one is "traditional", the other unconventional. The traditional one:]

For Daphne Stuart, this year's shaping up to be one of the worst on record. [Bad enough her vacation in northern Japan is ruined by a tsunami, but why did the only flight out have to be going to Libya?] Her crazy mother is getting crazier, her anorexic big sister sicker, and her younger siblings clingier than ever. One by one the Stuart siblings flee the home and their mother's increasingly erratic moods, until Daphne alone is left. [Becoming clingier than ever seems contradictory to fleeing the home.] [How old are these younger siblings, and where did they flee to? How old is Daphne?] When her physical safety comes under threat, she knows she too must run.

Unfortunately the only place she has to go is her boyfriend's, and he's grown increasingly distant and hostile lately. Something is clearly very wrong in his life, but he's not sharing. In desperation Daphne visits her boyfriend's mother and learns of a family tragedy he's been trying his best to hide. Confronting him about it doesn't work out so well, and Daphne finds herself more alone than ever.

In spite of how things are shaping up, Daphne is still determined to get through the year in one piece. Even if she has to do it on her own. [The end? This is all setup. You've told us how Daphne came to be alone, but it sounds like the real story is how Daphne copes with her situation, and we get none of it.]

MEET DAPHNE STUART, a young adult/drama, is complete at 95,000 words.

[And the alt. version:]

Daphne Stuart has always had family problems, but they've never been her main focus. This year is going to be different.


Family dramas are escalating. The emotionally abusive mother, she who likes to throw plates, imitate a Banshee and then sleep for days, is becoming dangerous to be around. Then there’s the older sister whose recovery from anorexia seems to be reversing itself. And what the hell are her youngest siblings thinking, looking to Daphne for all their mothering needs? It’s not like she learned from a good role model.

Friend drama. Everybody’s suddenly got a grievance, but the boyfriend’s problems make the rest seem petty when she learns what he’s been hiding—a dark family tragedy that has made him increasingly distant and hostile. In short, Daphne’s problems aren’t so special anymore, and everybody’s getting a little tired of hearing about them. [Instead of giving us all the specifics on the problems that now seem petty, you might fill us in on the one that makes them seem petty.]

Bright side?

At least she’s not completely alone: she’s still got herself to talk to. [Just tack "At least she's still got herself to talk to." onto the previous paragraph, rather than using four lines to says it.]


Think positive. Yeah, that one always works. Go into denial? Hmm, tried that, failed. Make big sister eat some food? The doctors won’t let her near enough, since that time she started shouting. Move to a new country? If only she had the money, she’d be straight on a plane.

Okay, so those aren’t Daphne’s best ideas ever. But she’s determined that she will not turn out like her mother, she will not turn out like her sister, and she will be bloody well happy. Watch this space: one well-adjusted teen coming right up.

ETA? She gives herself a year.

MEET DAPHNE STUART, a young adult/drama, is complete at 95,000 words.


The titles to the paragraphs (Problem, Friend drama, Bright side, Solution) aren't needed to establish your voice (in fact, the voice comes through better without them) or to provide information. If you want them in there, make them the first sentence of the paragraphs rather than making them separate paragraph. They're wasting space. True, Evil Editor titles sections of this blog post with Guess the Plot, Original Version, and Notes, but I can get away with that because I'm world-famous.

The second version is better, partly because of the voice, and partly because it goes beyond the setup to give us some of Daphne's ideas for solving her problem. Unfortunately, they're all rejected ideas. Does she do anything that actually helps?

Is the book just a series of problems Daphne must deal with? Even if you've decided for some reason not to focus on one problem in the book, you might want to focus on just one in the query. For instance you could reveal what the boyfriend is going through, and focus on how Daphne feels about trying to help him get through it while dealing with her own family situation.

Or you could shorten the setup to: Daphne Stuart's mother is violent and depressed, her sisters have all left home, and her boyfriend is being sexually abused by his uncle. How in God's name is she going to survive the fourth grade? Then move on to something hopeful, like her plan, or some wonderful person who comes along and brings order to her life.


Anonymous said...

*warning "helpful" advice below*

Remember too that there should be continual conflict throughout the book, something to keep it going. The set up is good, very interesting even. But is the rest just her trying to deal?

Food for thought: What problems does she face trying to fix things? (That's really what I want to know more about)Or maybe she realize she can't fix other people but only herself? What's the climax? Every character has problems, most characters have crappy backgrounds but why out of all those books do you want me to pick up yours? What would I learn? What will I come away with?

In writing a book myself I try to ask myself questions like those often.

I really think this is an awesome premise, and if the middle and ending are just as interesting and well thought out as the beginning you've got here I'd definatly read it! Keep it up!

150 said...

I've been all over this blog post lately, so I'm just gonna link it.

Most of this query is 1 and 2. You should be getting to 3 at the start of the second paragraph, at the latest. Then you have time to mention 4, maybe 5, and hint at how 6 might go if 4/5 go catastrophically wrong. We just want to know what happens and what the main character does about it, and what happens if she fails.

Like I said over on Phoenix's blog, if you can't fill out this outline easily, you might have an overall structural problem.

I also notice that this is up on FictionPress. Publishing professionals may consider that using up its first electronic rights. If you're going to shop this, it may be wise to take it down and change the title.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so they're each qualified for a serious psychiatric diagnosis. That would spell trouble, all right. So is her plan to get everyone into therapy, or to ditch the family and run away to make it on her own, or what?

Anonymous said...

I agree with EE that the 2nd is better and with the reasoning behind why...and with 150.

Authors, when someone says, "I really want to know more about _______ (the mysterious "thing" crucial to your plot point that you're trying to hide)." It's not a good thing! It's not meant in a way that's interesting. You're not going to trick us. We're not going to be so taken with the vagueness of your mystery and read your whole book to see what it is. What's going to happen is we (and agents and editors) are going to suspect you don't know how to write with enough specificity to capture and hold a reader's attention for hundreds of pages.

Joe had a really big problem. If he doesn't solve it, his life might end.


Joe's in love with his brother's wife. She's madly in love with him. All would be great except Joe's brother is the biggest mob boss in New Orleans.

It's the DETAILS that make a story or a query interesting. Without them, your story's not going to fly.

In this query I'm interested in the psycho mother and the anorexic sister who's eating less. Problem is that stuff is all set up. There's no specific plot here other than a teenager having nebulous problems. Be specific!

St0n3henge said...

"In short, Daphne’s problems aren’t so special anymore, and everybody’s getting a little tired of hearing about them."

You're right. they're not so special, and I'm already getting tired of hearing about them.

This is what you need: A main, central decision/choice that Daphne has to make.

Second, complications that make the choice harder.

Third, some type of resolution that the reader will accept. Not one that solves all her problems (that would be unrealistic) but maybe 75% of them.

Look in your story for this conflict or choice, the complications that make the choice harder, and the final breaking point that leads to a decision. Then a resolution.

Here's an example from an old Jimmy Stewart movie:

Jimmy marries a young woman. They have a small apartment. He has a good job. They have a baby. Everything's fine. (Your story doesn't have this part. That's okay.)

Your story starts here, with the complications: His mother can no longer care for herself. She moves in with them. There isn't really enough room. Nothing wife does as a wife or mother is good enough for mother-in-law. Business is not so good anymore and Jimmy can't get a raise (not enough money for raises). He works overtime instead. Marriage is strained.

The choice is: should they get divorced? Jimmy would take care of his mother, and wife would move back in with her parents and the baby.

A complication: Suddenly the baby gets sick from a rare flu. The treatment drug is in another state, but there were no jets back then, and no pilots will fly in this blizzard.
Baby gets sicker and sicker.

Resolution: Pilot risks his life to come through at the last minute. Baby is saved. Couple decides not to divorce. Money problems not solved, but mother-in-law relaxes a little when she sees the wife is capable. The resolution is incomplete but that makes it more realistic.

This is a simplistic example, but you see clearly the conflict/resolution arc, which is why I chose it. Both versions of your query contain only the "complications" part. You need to find the other parts and tell us what happens.

And yeah, take that story off any websites. You can mention the story on websites with a brief synopsis instead.

Trisha said...

Yes, it's up on FictionPress, an early version, and I intend to take it down :D I've been working at taking other stuff down on there already.

Thanks for the comments so far. ;) Much appreciated!

Xenith said...

This is a tad long. A query letter is usually one page/250 words.

Who is the protaganist?
What dilemma does he face?
How does it get resolved?

Answer each question in less than 25 words. That's the skeleton for a good query letter. It may not be your finished version, but it will give you the bone structure you need.

Courtesy of Miss Snark. I'd also add "What's at stake?"

Anonymous said...

GTP #5 is brilliant.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

The sense I'm getting from both versions of the query is that Dapne Stuart is a not particularly remarkable person who is interesting solely because every single person in her life has major psychological issues. Daphne's determination to be happy and well adjusted in spite of her family history and situation sounds promising, but it's all the way at the end of the query. I feel like I need some reasons to care about Daphne, maybe some idea of what she wants out of life beyond escaping the constant tragedy of everyone around her or what traits she possesses that just might enable her to overcome the worst year ever. As is, I'm worried that the story is just going to be misery piled on top of misery and that I'll want to bail out long before Daphne has the chance to.

Trisha said...

Thanks to the latest commenters - you've given me some good stuff to think about for sure.