Monday, October 17, 2011

Face-Lift 962

Guess the Plot

The Rule of Three

1. Una has no idea she's one of the last three sirens in the world, a girl whose song can kill. Then she gets drunk and sings the Star Spangled Banner at a party, with disastrous results. Hey, at least she wasn't singing it at Yankee Stadium.

2. Linnie knows all the rules: third time's the charm, three strikes you're out, third date is the big one. When her third date with third baseman Manny Trio lands on the third, will she finally get lucky?

3. This triumvirate thing isn't working out so well for Juli C. but that's nothing a little politicking, backstabbing, and assassination can't fix. Also, a state-of-the-art trebuchet.

4. Nothing comes easily to Arnold Bitterbaum, but he usually does ok on the third attempt. That's fine for learning to scramble eggs, parallel park, and spell "thermodynamic," but when he joins the army, hilarity ensues.

5. Dewy drives himself nuts as an OCD autodidactic who can only function in moves of 3's, 6's and 9's. The discovery of irrational numbers turns him into a multiple personality with ADD. Then he discovers methylphenidate and shifts his focus.

6. Hagoria has three kings, and they're all insane. Can Walt, a plucky blacksmith's apprentice, find a cure for their madness in time to avert a revolution? Or is it a better idea to let the revolution happen? The author's not sure.

7. Three bears; three coins in a fountain; three girls with dragon tattoos. Let’s face it: Bad things come in threes. I’ve already been turned down by 2 editors. But, hey: Third Time’s the Charm! Right?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Seventeen-year-old Una Aspinall’s just gotten into college, and she’s more than ready to leave home. Skipping her senior year and going straight to Boddington College via early admittance will give her the freedom that her overbearing single mom won’t.

The first step towards independence is a party at her best friend Kylie’s house. Una’s always been the good girl. That night, vodka, pot, and an outfit of Kylie’s help Una lose her inhibitions. Getting wasted is fun, and the party games are awesome. Una’s first kiss ever happens with her crush Matt during Spin the Cell Phone. She’s so giddy that during Truth or Dare, Una sings the Star Spangled Banner in her underwear. But as she’s singing, Matt drops dead. [It was on the line "O'er the land of the freeeeeeee," right? My TV screen shattered once when Mariah Carey hit that note right before the Super Bowl. Haven't forgiven her yet.]

Una’s estranged father invites her to his family’s Nantucket house for the summer to help her recover. But instead of spending a relaxing summer on the beach, Una learns she’s a siren, [She learns it? By offing a few more people at a beach blanket sing-along?] one of only three in the world, able to breathe underwater and kill with her song. [Can she kill by singing underwater? If so, I recommend including a scene in which she's attacked by guys with spear guns like in the movie Thunderball. She defeats them by launching into a burbling rendition of "Blood in the Water."]

Her stepmother sucks, her dad’s never there, and her half-sister Dylan’s beyond irritating. However, her cousin Stellan is hot, brooding, and a challenge. When they finally get together, Una realizes she could actually get to like her new life. [College is her new life. A couple months at the beach is her vacation.]

Then her stepmother kicks her out for supposedly being a bad influence, [Obviously Stepmom isn't aware that Una can kill her softly with her song.] [If they make this into a musical, "Killing Me Softly" will be the stepmom's swan song.] ["Stepmom's swan song" is a great tongue twister. Say it five times fast.] breaking up Stellan and Una in the process. Una retaliates by telling the whole world that sirens are real. [I don't see how this is retaliation. What does her stepmother care if the world knows sirens are real?]

Now she’s got exactly the kind of attention she doesn’t need. The media is relentless, another siren family claims she belongs to them, and the merciless Board that governs them all needs to make Una pay. [There are three in the entire world, one of whom didn't even know she was one, and there's a Board that governs them? In what way did they govern Una before she knew she was a siren? Are there any sirens on the Board? If not, isn't that like the US congress having no Americans?] [If someone can kill me just by singing, I don't think I want to govern her. My governing would consist of saying things like, "Sure, do whatever you want," and "Una, you're looking lovely today, why don't you go shopping?"]

A young adult fantasy novel, THE RULE OF THREE is complete at 91,000 words. My work has been published in Quarterly West, and this is my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.



The main plot line is that Una's a siren. Let's shorten the setup and get Una's Sirenity into paragraph 1.

While visiting her estranged father in Nantucket, seventeen-year-old Una Aspinall learns that she's a siren, able to breathe underwater and kill with her song. Suddenly she has exactly the kind of attention she doesn’t want. The media is relentless, Una's sucky stepmother throws her out, and another siren family claims she belongs to them.

There's your setup. Now add two paragraphs in which you tell us what happens. Include the romantic angle if it's important, assuming readers won't find romance with a cousin yucky.


Anonymous said...

Seems like the "she's a siren" part of the plot needs more development. Or else dump that and focus on her family conflicts and 'coming of age' difficulties. As described here the conflicts don't seem to match the magical power. Sounds like you wrote a literary novel and the fantastic subplot is maybe a distraction. Or maybe you started on a great fantasy but then got detoured into realism. Or maybe it's just an unfocused query problem and you really need to zero in on the main plot and leave out the subplots.

dev_lena said...

A couple of questions: I assume she has killed Matt with her song - or why mention it. How does learning that "help" her recover? I'd imagine a 17-year-old would spend years trying to deal with the guilt. A romantic attachment so soon after the incident, to a cousin or not, makes her an unlikable character. Also, why was Matt the only one affected at the party? It's all probably addressed in your MS, but I think I'd like to see some of these things also stated in the query.

Do you need the parts about the overbearing mom as well as all the details about the progress of the party (as opposed to stating, say, "a party gone wild")? Trimming those would help you focus more on the story.

Good luck!

none said...

She just inadvertently killed someone and she's fretting about her crappy family? That's cold.

vkw said...

Step-mom's got it right, Una is a bad influence. I would have kicked her out too.

Sure it's not illegal to date your cousin, but it is not a good idea either. Now, let's just set aside all those genetic problems, (they are exaggerated by the way), it's the family boundary issues that go haywire when your nephew is now your son-in-law and your sister is now, well's she's still your sister but here's a clue - if you have to stop to think about familial relationships after a marriage, there are boundary issues. Not a good thing.

Una's weird and cold. A board to govern three people? Or is this a magical board that governs all magical creatures?

Is this a twisted Harry plot? Except without the good parts like a bad guy, just a brooding killer teenager?

Matthew MacNish said...

Hah! This board sounds a lot like my company. More VPs than employees.

And are we talking some cousin on cousin action here? Because I have to admit, while a little gross, that definitely sounds intriguing.

One last thing, kids who smoke it do not use the term: pot. That is something concerned parents and Dare instructors say. If you're going to mention it in the query you might want to find a term that would fit more with the voice of a teenager.

150 said...

I'm not following the cause-and-effect thread of the plot. In rewriting the query, that might be a good place to start.

Evil Editor said...

While it may not persuade anyone that Una isn't cold, it should be pointed out that she didn't know she was responsible for Matt's death at the time, and may not have learned she was a siren till halfway through the summer, by which time, being a teenager, she's forgotten all about the incident.

Possibly Matt died never knowing Una had a crush on him.

Presumably Una has sung "The Birthday Song" at numerous parties over the past ten years without killing anyone, so why Matt and why now?

vkw said...

When I wrote Una was "cold" what I meant was she's not very likeable.

She doesn't like anything/anyone except for the crush that she accidentally killed and her cousin, which she probably shouldn't be having a relationship with.

Then when her stepmom kicks her out for being a bad influence, (no doubt said stepmom has learned about the party-hearty, pot smoking, challenge seeking escapades and, having no support from real dad because he's not around according to the author, she does the only thing she can. Besides isn't Una on her way to college? Vacation is over, study hard, email us), Una seeks revenge and then seems a bit confused there are consequences for behaving badly. A lesson she didn't learn the first time or second time.

Here's my advice - go to college already Una - don't seek revenge, leave your cousin alone, mend your relationship with mom and dad when you are older and they have more time for you. give up the booze and the drugs. Remember - success is always the best revenge. As far as that siren thing - after becoming a better person then deal with that. as it is your now, the Justice League is going to be after your butt, if your board doesn't take your license first.

Maybe she's not cold, but I fail to see a single redeeming quality either.


Evil Editor said...

No redeeming qualities?

Never been kissed, always been the good girl all the way through her high school career, which ended a year early because she was such a good student she was accepted to college after her junior year, despite being raised by an overbearing single mom. So she blew off some steam at a party after her last day of school; up till then she's been Miss Goody Two Shoes, and her only crime was singing the National Anthem, which she didn't know would cause someone's death. She's supposed to go into mourning because a guy she had a crush on, who probably never gave her the time of day, died a couple months earlier?

dev_lena said...

EE, a lot of villains are brilliant too, but this doesn't necessarily make them likable. :)

Once the MC learns she'd caused somebody's death, the shock of it would (normally) be a more central part of her life than it follows from the query. It may be the case in the manuscript, but it doesn't come through here. Even seeing a classmate die could send a lot of kids into therapy. Killing someone, albeit unintentionally, and then focusing on Evil Stepmom and Crappy Childhood – that earns no brownie points with me.

I hope a rewrite will address the issues raised and will help us like, or at least understand, the MC better.

none said...

If you cause someone's death, and feel nothing, that's cold. I don't care if she never knew the person at all. Guilt would be a normal human reaction in that situation.

none said...

Also, people in my country manage to date and even marry their cousins without finding it gross or inappropriate. Culture is king.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writer, let's talk sentence balance.

A lot of your sentences start with long noun phrases as the subject, followed by teensy, weak verbs. Here's an example:

That night, vodka, pot, and an outfit of Kylie’s help Una lose her inhibitions.

I found this sentence confusing-- once I was in long-noun-phrase mode, "Kylie's help" looked like a noun. I had to re-read to figure out "help" was the verb.

Try to rewrite this query with stronger verbs and skinnier noun phrases. Make Una the subject of more sentences, so that less is happening to her.

The sudden leap from Matt's death to Nantucket threw me. Never mind whether she ought to mourn Matt or whether she's aware she's killed him-- once you've got a kid dropping dead, we don't expect to suddenly swerve away from that to hot cousins and mean stepmothers. If Matt's death is important enough to be in the query, give it some follow-up.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, in the UK --

"Despite the long list of degrees of forbidden relationship, you can marry a cousin (courtesy of Henry VIII who changed the law to marry his cousin!). However, it would be sensible for you both to consult your GP to ensure that there are no factors in your family's health records that would make your decision to have children inadvisable on medical grounds."

So check with the doctor first... And don't tell your mum.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, naturally this made me run to wikipedia. Turns out marriage between first cousins is legal in twenty states, including, come to find out, Alaska.

Presumably the actual parties involved don't find it gross or inappropriate either.

I'd still say it's very unusual. In fact, I've never known cousins who married. My grandmother claimed to have been married to her first cousin, but she claimed to have been married to lots of people, and the truth of the matter is that the dear woman was probably never married to anybody. And none the worse for it.

I did know an elderly couple who were first cousins who dated. They broke up though.

Evil Editor said...

I would argue that a 17-year-old who witnesses a death in May and then moves in with her estranged father, who ignores her, and her stepmother who torments her and her half-sister who constantly irritates her, and then in July discovers that she's a siren, has every right to dwell on all of these factors, not just the death. Call me cold, but my mind would be on the fact that I'm a siren a lot more often than the fact that my crush died a couple months ago. Even if I thought I might have unwittingly caused it.

Hey, for all we know, she didn't cause Matt's death. After all, no one else has ever died while she was singing. I want to see what the autopsy report says.

Anonymous said...

I have known people who messed around with their cousins as teenagers but never intended marriage.

Anonymous said...

Once I read 'hot cousin' I really didn't process anything else on the query letter.

Until that point, I thought a siren was an interesting creature. And one I haven't read about before.

Xiexie said...

Evil stepmom is a trope and also random -- i.e. explain it better in the query. More about her being a siren is needed cos that's what hooked me.

Does she have to fall for her hot cousin? Or is he a step-cousin? Cos then there's no blood relation and it's more removed and less uncomfortable-making. (Tho my friend's Steve's parents are first cousins and when I found out it was more of a "really?" moment rather than an "ewww" moment; however, for some it would be an ewww moment.)

Is it just me that assumed because Mom is a single Mom, that Dad wasn't in the picture? (I'm just asking in general, this.)

*Echoes other minions' nits*

Xiexie said...

I also agree with EE that I don't find Una cold. A self-focused teenager, I don't find cold-hearted at all. I find it quite typical. Also, she's been a good girl. Let her have her raucous nite. She deserves it.

This query still needs to focus on whether this is coming-of-age, fantasy, or more of one with the other.

Anonymous said...

Once I read 'hot cousin' I really didn't process anything else on the query letter.


Not clear what your point is.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

EE, it's more a question of how we feel about Matt dropping dead. We're the ones reading the query. The query writer chose to include it in the query, thought it was important enough to the story.

So we read Matt's dropped dead and we're all "Hell's bells! Here's a coil!" or words to that effect.

Then, boom. Gone. No further mention.

My complaint is stylistic, not emo. Why mention Matt's death at all if we're going to veer away from it instead of develop it?

Evil Editor said...

It's not uncommon for writers to spend the whole query on the setup, in this case bringing up Matt's death to explain why Una is spending the summer with estranged dad, to explain why she's in the right place at the right time to learn she's a siren.

Or, if Matt actually died because he OD'd on drugs at the party, bringing up is death could be because when Una learns she's a siren she convinces herself that she's to blame for Matt's death and goes into a guilt funk when she had nothing to do with it. That would be an interesting development.

Then there's the possibility that Una and Matt were close friends, Una caused his death, and she is a cold-hearted girl who's already moved on to the next guy.

Guess we'll have to read the book.

Zombie Deathfish said...

I like sirens. I find it hard to believe a 17-year-old has never sung in public before though. Or am I the only one forced through choir at school?

For me, romancing the cousin is icky, and the paranormal elements seem underdeveloped (a Board to govern three people, the world going crazy when they find out sirens exists, the other siren family...(is that comprised of the other two sires?) all seems rather disjointed.