Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Face-Lift 960

Guess the Plot

Devil's Oil Painting

1. Taking a break from his demanding job of tempting mankind, Satan relaxes with a new hobby: capsizing oil tankers and using the ocean as his canvas.

2. When Petunia's art teacher vanishes, she discovers he sold his soul to Satan 700 years ago for the ability to paint . . . and now he wants Petunia to trade her soul for his so he can get back to his studio.

3. Despite having his own gallery in the best part of Manhattan, Satan's work isn't selling. He hires Jane Dumont to help with this marketing crisis, unaware she is an angel in disguise on a secret mission to inspire him to redeem himself.

4. Wannabe artist Nigel was never as talented as his brother Simon. In desperation he cuts a deal with Satan, selling his soul in return for the ability to paint with the Devil's own oils. He begins work on a picture he knows will be a masterpiece, not realizing that he is about to unleash Armageddon.

5. "The Cavalcade of Death" is a horrific painting from 1567 that depicts a world overrun by Hell. Some think it's evil incarnate. Only security guard Michael Angeles knows the truth: he's the angel sent to keep it from breaking out of its frame and wreaking havoc on the world. And he's getting bored.

6. When an online auction site offers for sale a poorly-executed landscape by failed art student Adolf Hitler, European countries with anti-Nazi laws threaten to shut the site down. Meanwhile, the Devil's Oil Painting goes for $1.32. Reserve not met.

7. The new company offers to paint houses for a song-- with a new oil paint that's guaranteed to last for eternity. But it turns out houses painted with Devil's Oil glow in the Netherworld, guiding demons up from the depths. Once they get into the woodwork, they're worse than termites. You might as well just move.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Petunia's best friend is her paint brushes. [Either "friend" should be plural or "brushes" should be singular.] She loves them every day. [I don't wanna say that sounds obscene, but it at least sounds kinda weird.] But it is not enough for a career. [What is not enough for a career?] Before she knows it, she's a broke realist artist, living on raman noodles and faded dreams. [Finally something concrete. Dump the first three sentences and begin: Artist Petunia Dali is living on ramen noodles and faded dreams when . . . ] Then a brilliant mid-career artist walks into her life, complete with luxurious life-style (he has a cook and a house cleaner and his canvases are the finest lead-primed linen...).

She falls hard for this dream teacher, George, yet he remains aloof. He shows her how to create great images, helps her to gain his discipline. She prospers, buys a car, gets famous. [Do we really need to know she buys a car?] But, she never understands him and never feels that he is really there.

Then, one day George vanishes. [Now she really feels he isn't there.] He doesn't appear at his major historical landscape retrospective. Petunia finds a note from him on her easel: "Try to rescue me, or I can never return."

She searches his studio, and finds a clue to who he really is. And it's not pretty. It's not artistic. [What does that mean?] But he is her teacher, and she must save him.

George, really Giotto di Bondone, offered his soul to the devil in return for the ability to paint, and now, seven hundred years later, the devil has claimed his prize. George trained Petunia so that she could give her soul for his, and he could return to his studio. [Nice guy. What makes him think the devil, after waiting 700 years for his soul, will take Petunia's instead? He could probably get Petunia's just by offering her the ability to paint.] When Petunia finds George immobile in a vat of blue paint in the devil's house [I realize the devil's house would probably not be decorated in Martha Stewart-approved fashion, but vats can be real space eaters. Is this the only vat of paint in the devil's house? If you're the devil, and you have a vat of paint in your house, wouldn't you go with red?] with the devil grinning at her, she finds herself in a quandary: help the teacher or stay alive.

She chooses both.

"Devil's Oil Painting," is 60,000 words and complete.

Thanks for your time.


Petunia? Really? Has anyone else noticed that once a name is attached to a cartoon pig, it quickly goes out of favor?

How does Petunia find the devil's house?

If the teacher wants to turn Petunia over to the devil, he doesn't deserve to be rescued. Does she know that was his plan? Because I'm not taking on the devil to rescue someone who wanted to turn me over to the devil.

I'm not sure what "mid-career" artist means, but if the guy's been painting 700 years and the devil is ready to take him, he sounds more like an end-of-career artist.

Perhaps after eliminating the vagueness in the first couple paragraphs, you'll have room to tell us how Petunia plans to get the best of the devil.

Shouldn't the title begin with "The"?


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The plot seems to suffer from a severe case of why-would-s/he, as pointed out at each turn by EE.

As for the name Petunia, I was thinking "Poor Petunia. Didn't get into Hogwarts, and now her art teacher is demonic."

But he is her teacher, and she must save him.

That line is gonna fall flat. We've all had teachers we wouldn't **** on if they was on fire.

Anonymous said...

What EE said. Plus, the devil wanting to keep some dude in a vat of paint in a house in the 'burbs is not working. According to the standard legend, the devil's victims are much worse off and not so accessible. If you want to keep this, make the bad guy an evil wizard, not the devil.

This query sounds like you have some great ideas but maybe the plot needs doctoring. Hopefully the next draft can also have 40,000 more words.

Whirlochre said...

This all starts in the wrong place, and in a very fractured way.

The Big Idea is that Giotto is still alive so I'd lead with that. At present he comes in only at the end and had it not been for EE's last blue comments luring me in I'd have passed on what passes for your hook and never got to find out about Giotto.

Unknown said...

There are some really wonderful GTPs for this one. I'd love to see 3, 4, 5 or 7 written.

As for the story, is this YA? It's hard to tell since we don't know Petunia's age and it's not a typical YA topic, but the word count suggests it. What genre is this: YA? Urban fantasy? Romantic fantasy? The answer to that question will help you decide what details need to be in your query.

There are some believability issues with the query. After all, if Petunia's connection to George is only that he's her art teacher and unrequited lust, I doubt she's sufficiently motivated to deal with the devil or trade her soul for George's. The "but I will do anything for him because I love him" motivation might work with YA because she's young and impulsive, but I think it would be a hard sell in other genres. While I am sure her rational is clear and compelling in the story, it comes across flat in the query.

Also, there's nothing in the query that tells me why Petunia, specifically. My best guess is because she was the resident apprentice when the devil came calling. Why did George pick her and, more importantly, how did training to be an artist give her the skills she needs to battle the devil?

Oh, is the devil listed in the yellow pages? How the heck did she find his house?

The lenght of this may also be an issue for you if this is targeted to an adult audience. General word count there is 80-100K. Fantasy tends to run closer to 100-120K since you have some world building to do. Spend some word count in the story on world building to explain why this devil isn't the Christian one, which most of us will assume he is, and how he's got a house somewhere Petunia can find. I don't get the sense from the query or the lenght that those elements are fully developed.

You hint at an alternative to selling her soul in the ending of the query (save her teacher or say alive- she choses both). Let me know what that choice is: Ex:
The devil wants her soul in return for releasing George but Petunia offers (knows) . . .

The idea is really great. Good luck with it.

PLaF said...

There should be stronger initial conflict between Petunia and George. “He remains aloof” and “she never understands him” do not compel the reader to keep reading.
What has George been doing for the last 700 years and why does he decide to teach Petunia? Is he on the hook to the devil for more souls in exchange for another 100 years for himself? Does he fall head over heels for her, then decide he can’t turn her in?
What about George’s rescue note prompts Petunia into action? And what about him is worth saving?
Why does the devil keep his victim in a vat of paint? What scheme is he about to hatch?
This is where the plot thickens and hero has to thwart (or succumb to) the plans of the villain and save her friend in the process. If you have this in your story, it does not come across in your query.

150 said...

Okay, crush notwithstanding, HE TRIED TO SELL HER SOUL. At that, your obligation to your teacher (and hopefully your attraction to him!) ENDS.

Anonymous said...

Review the Pirates 2 movie, in which Jack Sparrow tries to escape his pact with the devil, aka Davey Jones. Then rewrite.

vkw said...

I agree with AR. Flower's teacher helps her to become famous but remains aloof. It sounds like he is older than she is as well even if one ignores the fact he is really 700 years old.

She discovers he sold his soul to Satan to become famous.

It s*cks to be him.

Why should Flower care? I wouldn't care. I am famous and wealthy. My sad sack of a teacher didn't fall in love with me, boo hoo. I am rich and famous. I've moved on. I have a boy toy to keep my mind off of old teacher and apparently a car too!

Then I discover he's fake anyway. His talent is from the devil! That makes him either a Loser or disturbed.

I am now pleased he didn't fall for me. So far the most decent thing he has done.

But wait - he sells my soul to the devil so he doesn't have to pay up?

He's more disgusting than I first thought.


Burn the house down.

There's your story.


I like the blue vat of paint. That's orignal. Bet there's something special about the paint. You may want to put that in the query.

Though - going thru seven circles of hell, is more exciting.

dev_lena said...

Loved the idea. On another note, the structure of this query makes it read like a shortened synopsis - it's so step-by-step. Try to shorten the paragraphs and lump them together so that you have space to address some of the questions raised by EE and the minions. Also, you may need a stronger hook. The first sentence made me think it's MG about a lonely girl with a gift.

none said...

Too much backstory. Start where something happens.

After years of ramen noodles, realist painter Petunia Dali can't believe her luck when George, a rich, successful artist, walks into her life set on becoming her mentor. Yet mentoring is all George is interested in; despite her obvious attraction to him, he remains aloof.

When George disappears, leaving only a note begging her to rescue him, she's horrified to learn that she's supposed to save him from the devil. For George is really Giotto di Bondone, who sold his soul for art seven hundred years before--and the devil is now ready to collect.

Worse, Petunia's new artistic skills are tainted by the diabolical bargain, giving the devil the chance to collect her soul in trade for George's.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

B. Squirrel's query is great-- and it hangs together logically. If this is how things really go down in the book, great. Use her query and be sure to mention it in the acknowledgements.

But if this isn't how it goes down in the book, you're gonna need to do some rewriting, writer. Of the manuscript, not the query.

R.T. said...

As usual, EE is very perceptive and has found lots of unexpected weak spots in the query. Thanks for that.

Buffy Squirrel's reshaping is nice, if clunk-monsters.

I made the mistake of assuming that people know what it's like to follow a calling and to fall short. Like, maybe getting published outside of this blog. Then be mentored by a master, who teaches you everything. Suddenly you publish the next Catcher in the Rye. AlaskaRavenclaw: think Dumbldore and Harry (master/student). Harry was willing to help the guy out a little.

150 said...

No, this is like if Dumbledore turned out to be Voldemort all along. And if you think it's okay to be exploited to the extent of ETERNAL DAMNATION because someone taught you a few tricks, hey, need a mentor?

R.T. said...

I like B Squirrel's query too. I think some of the points need further development: What is George's motivation for picking Petunia? Why would the Devil wait 700 years, or trade souls? --Friend of RT Posting Here

none said...

Some people may well know that. For the rest, the author needs to bring them to know it. S'part of the job.

Joe G said...

Woah, defensive author, huh? I would pay attention to EE's criticisms of your style before anything else. The plot is a little weird, but the writing in the query was what really made the flow of ideas nonsensical.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

RT, What 150 said, in re Dumbledore.

I did have a teacher who helped me become a successful author. He expected nothing in return, certainly not my soul, but I dedicated a book to him anyway. Even people who marry their teachers don't hand over their souls. To the devil, no less.

Btw, speaking as an educator: Dumbledore's a fairly sucky teacher. A headmaster who sits in his office all day with the door locked? Well, it's a hands-off management approach. The best teacher in the books is Remus Lupin. He explains the concept then allows practice in a relaxed environment where mistakes are okay.

Snape is quite good technically in terms of lesson planning, but falls apart in the execution.

Stephen Prosapio said...

"...but he falls apart in the execution." Literally!

BA Dump Dump!!!

Anonymous said...

heh heh heh.