Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Guess the Plot
Paintings on the Wall
1. Pope Julius II hits the ceiling, so to speak. "I said EYE level, not SKY level, you nincompoop! I'll get whiplash looking at that thing!" Can Michelangelo repaint the Sistine Chapel in time for his holiness's birthday bash?
2. When Caitlin was dragged by naughty sister Midge to the male strip club, she could never have guessed she would be lured to a room where tattooed zombies had disguised themselves as . . . paintings on the wall.
3. As a couple in their late 40s walk through an art museum, they recount to each other a series of vignettes from their marriage, each called to mind by a painting on the wall. You kind of have to be there.
4. Jared gets pulled into a painting on the wall where he befriends a boy dressed as a skunk. Together they attempt to rescue people dressed as animals from slavers who want to turn them into mules.
5. A child elfin prodigy leaves messages in graffiti across the city. He is severely dyslexic; he can't manage handwriting on the wall.
6. It's a regular night shift at the art museum. Barry the security guard digs into his customary bowl of pudding when the paintings on the wall start talking to him about everything from bananas to philosophical revelations. Has Barry stumbled upon evil magic at work, or did his rival spike his pudding?
Paintings on the Wall tells the story of a boy finding his way in a world that is not his own. Upset when his uncle doesn’t show up on his ninth birthday, Jared hides in the study where his mother’s painting collection hangs. His uncle appears and Jared is pulled into one of the paintings. [Did his uncle finally appear at the birthday party or did he appear in a painting?] Once inside, Jared is introduced to a group, hiding from the slavers, [What slavers? Is it a painting of slavers?] who dress as animals. [The slavers dress as animals?] He becomes friends with NEMO, the skunk. [A real skunk or someone dressed like a skunk?] [What's the point of dressing like animals? No one's gonna be fooled by a person in a skunk costume.]
The boys, though not allowed, slip away for a day of adventure. [All the boys? Just Jared and Nemo?] When they return to the forest, they find it burning and the animals taken as slaves. [The real animals or those dressed as animals?] [If I'm in the study looking at the painting, do I see the forest burning?] Their fate is to be mules, bringing goods in from the outside world. [The world outside the painting?] For each day anyone over the age of ten spends outside the [picture] frame, they age a year, dying quickly. Nemo is also captured and with Uncle Remy nowhere to be found, Jared is left alone.
Unsure when or how he will return home or what will happen to Nemo, Jared is scared. The dryad, DREE, offers him solace inside her tree. The trunk opens and Jared is tempted, [period or semicolon.] however, as he is about to accept, his uncle returns. Relieved, Jared tells his uncle everything. He hopes Uncle Remy will enact a miraculous rescue but his uncle declares it a lost cause. Feeling betrayed, Jared approaches the dryad. She promises to help him, in memory of another stolen child, Jared’s mother who went missing when she was eight. [This makes it sound like she's been missing since she was eight. Apparently she showed up long enough to give birth to Jared.] Jared climbs inside.
Remy wakes to see his nephew disappearing into the tree. [He was sleeping?] Unbeknownst to Jared, Remy is a slaver, having traded a life of servitude for his sister’s freedom. He captures slaves and it was his information that led the slavers to the animals. It is only when Jared rescues the animals that he learns of his uncle’s betrayal. He pushes aside the anger and hurt to complete his self-appointed task. [He just rescued the animals. What's this task that isn't yet completed?] His uncle helps in the end, getting injured in the process.
Jared learns about forgiveness, as he rescues his uncle from his role as a slaver. While Remy recovers, Jared charges him with taking the slaves to safety. His uncle agrees under the condition that Jared return home. While Jared is initially reluctant, Dree agrees, saying that it is time for Jared to be a child once more. But how can he return home when he learns that he has been replaced? [The end?]
We spend an awful lot of time on Jared getting into a tree. Do we really need to know he gets into a tree? Does anything crucial happen inside the tree?
Did Remy pull Jared into the painting? If so, why?
The characters you keep referring to as animals: are they all people dressed as animals?
When the boys slip away for an adventure are they going outside the frame? If so, why do they go back in? If not, then it seems there's more to the world of the painting than just what's visible, in which case, why can't they go somewhere in that world to get goods instead of going outside the frame?
What gives this nine-year-old kid the ability to rescue anyone from slavers?
I find this lacks clarity and focus. Focus on Jared and his main goal. I'm not sure the dryad and the skunk are vital to the synopsis. I'd rather hear about the rescue.
Posted by Evil Editor at 10:51 AM
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Agree with EE. That description lacks clarity. After reading this, one wonders if the story also needs revision. Apparently the book is meant for kids, but what age kids? And how long is it?
Also, this isn't a screenplay. Printing your characters names in CAPITAL letters is not standard. Makes them look like acronyms, adding to the confusion.
Naming your character Nemo might not be a great idea, considering the name is currently famous as a character in a Disney movie. Less confusion will be generated among the tykes if you use something a bit more obscure/original.
Commas are like sugar. A little bit adds zest to life, but too much can give you cavities, diabetes, and god knows what.
Okay, I guess commas aren't like sugar.
But take a look at this sentence:
Once inside, Jared is introduced to a group, hiding from the slavers, who dress as animals.
Each of those commas stops the reader. That's what commas do. The result is, instead of prose that flows, prose that hiccups.
The overall effect is choppy and list-sounding: this happened, then this happened, then this happened.
Mm, I'm also gonna suggest you rethink your title. While any title is just a working title at this point, Paintings on the Wall sounds a little too literary and middle-aged for middle grades.
What they all said.
I like the idea of kids morphing (I assume that's what they're doing) into animals, you could have a lot of fun as a skunk. More fun than, say, running around in a skunk costume.
The query reads like a synopsis in places. If nothing else, slash the line about "Jared learns about forgiveness". It sounds suspiciously like you're hammering a message in the text.
The final line "but how can he return home when he finds he has been replaced?" comes out of nowhere.
Replaced by whom? If that's the main plot point, then everything else is set up/ backstory. Either drop that question altogether or build the query around it.
Having said that, a story about an imposter/ alternative self from a parallel universe could really go places.
After the clarifying, though, I like the story. I like the uncle who is both the bad guy and a good guy.
The thing that confused me most was why going into a tree helps rescue the animals. Is it like a painting within a painting?
Dear Evil Editor,
You and those in the comments have cetainly highlighted the areas which cause confusion. I have had difficulty seeing this myself, sitting far too close to the story. Also, my ideas of what are important seem to have just taken up space needlessly. I have attempted a complete overhaul with new focus in mind:
Paintings on the Wall tells the story of a boy finding his way in a world that is not his own. On the night of his ninth birthday, Jared’s uncle appears in a painting on his wall and pulls Jared in for an adventure. Jared travels from painting to painting, meeting the people who occupy the Frame: a world which consists of every painting ever painted.
Inside, he befriends a group of people hiding from the slavers which terrorize the Frame. Dressed as animals and having given up their names to maintain anonymity even amongst themselves, they welcome Jared and Uncle Remy into their community. With a skunk-boy as his newest friend, the two boys escape from adult supervision to experience adventure in other paintings. However, when they return they find the forest on fire and the animals captured.
Jared turns to his uncle for help hoping to rescue his new friends but to his surprise, Uncle Remy declares rescue a lost cause. Feeling betrayed, Jared sets out on his own to find and rescue the new slaves. But unbeknownst to Jared, Uncle Remy refused to help because it was his information that led the slavers to the community. Twenty-five years ago, Remy traded a lifetime of servitude to rescue his sister from the slavers and as a talented painter, Remy paints the facades that keep the Frame hidden and spies as he travels.
With help, Jared tracks down the painting that the slavers occupy and plans a rescue with the nine gifts Uncle Remy gave him for each birthday. What Jared also didn’t know, until he entered the Frame, was that his uncle had been preparing him since he was born for a life in the Frame. Gifts of protection, disguise and last resorts allow Jared an edge he shouldn’t have had as he pits himself against a group with strength, numbers and time on their side.
With his nine gifts Jared rescues the slaves despite a variety of close calls and learns about his uncle’s betrayal as he goes. But with his family’s safety as his only motivation, Remy saves Jared and Jared learns about forgiveness as he in turn saves his uncle from his role as a slaver. Afterwards, they part ways with Remy taking up the slaves’ cause and Jared returning home at his uncle’s urging, to be a child once more.
Thanks again for your time and help!
On his ninth birthday, Jared gets the best present of his life: his uncle leaps out of a painting and drags him inside to have picture-hopping adventures together. In the Frame, Jared [has one or two specific adventures] and meets Nemo, a boy dressed as a skunk, who's just as willing as he is to sneak off and explore. What could go wrong?
Plenty, it turns out: when the boys return to Nemo's painting, they find the landscape on fire and the other residents gone. Uncle Remy, who has escaped capture by [however], explains that the Frame is also home to a group of slavers* who go from painting to painting kidnapping the subjects. He insists there's no point in trying to save them, so Jared and Nemo set off to face the slavers on their own. But the slavers have strength, numbers, and time on their side, and worse...Jared starts to wonder if Uncle Remy is one of them.
Pub creds, thank you, enclosed, blah.
*I'm not a fan of this exact term, since it could also be a verb, but whatever.
I think the story might be good, but if your book is as wordy as your second query and that first-paragraph note to us, get another beta-reader and fix it.
*looks again* Oh shoot, it's a synopsis, not a query. Well...just pretend I rewrote the second half in the same way.
Author, your new synopsis actually interests me in the story. It's a huge improvement.
Do read everything you write aloud, though. If only to prevent this sort of thing from happening:
On the night of his ninth birthday, Jared’s uncle...
I'm a middle grade author, so here's my Expert Opinion™ (worth what you paid for it).
This sounds to me like an interesting story that might attract agents and editors. Unfortunately your sentence structure can be a bit awkward in places. Do read the synoposis aloud to yourself... and then give your manuscript the same treatment. If you're still not catching stuff like the nine-year-old uncle when you read aloud, think about taking some classes.
If there's an art-snob angle to this that you can gently work into the synopsis, eg by mentioning a famous painting or two, that's likely to add to the appeal. (Look how well Finding Vermeer did, despite being dreck.) The line about forgiveness will not appeal. Funny thing about Morals in kiddylit: Parents love 'em. Kids and editors hate 'em.
The rewrite is clearer, but still not without some confusing aspects.
* At the end of paragraph 2, you refer to "the forest" as if this is something the reader should already know about, but this is the first time a forest has been mentioned.
* In the first paragraph, I'd change "On the night of his ninth birthday, Jared's uncle" to "On the night of Jared's ninth birthday, his uncle"--as originally written, this could be taken to mean it's the night of Jared's uncle's ninth birthday. (Granted, probably most readers will know what you meant, and maybe I'm nitpicking here, but still, best to be as clear as possible.)
* The last sentence of paragraph 3 (starting with "twenty-five years ago") seems a bit unfocused and confusing. I'd rewrite it and maybe consider splitting it into more than one sentence.
* I'm not sure the mention of the "nine gifts" in paragraph 5 works. I get that it's referring to the gifts his uncle gave him as mentioned in the previous paragraph, but suddenly referring to them as "nine gifts" may throw the reader off a little, and lead him to wonder what the other gifts are. Maybe (in fact, probably) the exact list of gifts isn't important for this synopsis, but in that case why invite unimportant questions by specifying that there are nine of them?
@150 - It seems very odd to me to object to the term "slaver" because it happens to have a homonym that's a verb. A lot of nouns "can also be verbs"--including, from your own post, "book", "fan", "note", "query", and "term". "Slaver" is the most usual word for people who deal in slaves, and I think it's entirely appropriate in this context; I don't see any reason to change it.
Oh, one more thing: Although you didn't mention it in the revised synopsis, in the original version you mentioned that the boys "would be mules". I hope that didn't mean they were literally turned into mules, because that might lead people to think you were ripping off Pinocchio—having boy slaves turned into mules is way too close to the Pleasure Island bit of that story. (And even if it was meant figuratively, I'd still avoid the term in the synopsis, just in case people take it literally and, again, think you're ripping off Pinocchio. Though, again, you didn't use the term in the revised synopsis anyway, so if this is the case then that's now a moot issue.)
(Okay, guess I cross-posted with AlaskaRavenclaw about the nine-year-old-uncle thing... though if I'm not the only one bothered by that, maybe it wasn't such a nitpick as I thought it might be.)
Pinocchio. Yipes. My mom read that to me 40 years ago. I still have nightmares.
Yeah, I know it's no big deal, that's why I just mentioned it and left it there. It's a word I found in my own stuff recently, and disliked, so it was on the top of my head. I went with "slaverunners."
Personally, I'd find "slaverunners" much more obtrusive and off-putting than "slavers"; if I were reading a book that kept referring to "slaverunners" I'd wonder why the author insisted on using such an unnecessarily long and relatively obscure word when a perfectly good two-syllable word already existed for the concept.
But yeah, I guess ultimately it's a matter of personal taste; one man's mead and so on.
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