Friday, December 09, 2011

Face-Lift 974

Guess the Plot

See You Soon

1. An ancient letter from France is the only clue Nell and Jack have about the fate of their long lost great-grandfather. The war was over, but Major Nelson never got on the boat home to New York. Now, these runaway teen detectives are on their way to Europe to find out why.

2. True confessions of a stalker, in the form of a series of letters sent from the prison where he is serving 18 years for disappearing his last girlfriend. Also, a bungling detective.

3. Kindergarten teacher Wendy Watts is being stalked by a former student from twenty years ago. But little does he know Ms. Watts is no Itsy Bitsy Spider... she packs a piece, and can drop a Very Hungry Caterpillar at 500 yards.

4. Soon is an exchange student from Asia who couldn't adjust to dorm life at Washington State. On his way home his plane is hijacked and lands in Kathmandu where he starts a wild adventure involving a yak, proving that education is not dependent on a set curriculum. Thin air makes him strong.

5. Joe hates saying good-bye, so he always says See you soon. But now that he's about to die of cancer, it seems kind of silly to say See you soon. But he says it anyway, to his happily married ex-lover Anne, who must now decide whether to see him soon even though he dumped her and broke her heart.

6. Leelee has been enjoying Beryl's deployment to Iraq. No fussing about the dust, no bitching over dishes in the sink, no clean-the-goddamned-cat-box-now. But when Beryl calls to say she's on her way home, can Leelee clean the place in time--or will she just have to hire the witch who lives next door? Also, a talking cat.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

After losing a baby at seventeen, now twenty-six-year-old Anne Donnelly wants nothing more than to live a simple life, free of stress and temptation. Because stress produces dreams of her baby, [and temptation produces dreams of Cherry Garcia.] dreams of tiny, pink fingers wrapped around her own. [If you drop the "because" we won't still be waiting for the subject of the sentence when the period shows up.] But her life turns upside-down when she meets Joe, a talented, reclusive musician. After an intense, whirlwind romance, he breaks her heart.

Mickey, her brother’s best friend and business partner, is there to pick up the pieces. He confesses long-held feelings for her. She finds comfort again in his devotion and calm, laid-back personality. [Whattaya mean, "again"?] Until the night she receives a phone call from Joe.

Diagnosed with cancer, his prognosis is fatal and fast. [That makes it sound like he died of a heart attack when they told him he had three weeks to live. The prognosis is death and soon. That sounds a bit harsh. Why not just call it inoperable esophageal cancer?] No matter how much she fights it, the memories of his honeyed voice and their time together come right back. His news causes the circumstances that ended their relationship to waver. [She goes from hating him for dumping her for a fourteen-year-old whore to forgiving him for dumping her for a twenty-five-year-old nurse.] [It's not the circumstances that waver. Her memory of the circumstances recedes with his news.] Though he doesn’t ask, would never ask, Anne’s left to decide whether to be with him in his dying days or stay with Mickey, her comfort, her rock. She will lose Joe. She fears losing Mickey, too. [Mick, I'm off to spend a month or two with my ex-lover. See you soon.] But can she live, soul intact, if she allows Joe to die alone?

SEE YOU SOON, a 75,000-word contemporary fiction novel, is about the people we meet, the decisions we make, and how, good or bad, they define us. [That's so vague it could apply to any novel.]

[Author's note: The title is what Joe says to Anne because he hates good-bye.]


This is a new title and new query for the same book we did in Face-Lift 901.

Maybe the reason Joe didn't ask, would never ask, is because he's phoning all of his dozens of ex-girlfriends to say good-bye, and he only wants to spend his last days with his family or with that special girlfriend, by which I mean the one he dated for three years during which they lived together and formed a true bond of love and friendship, not the one he dumped after a whirlwind romance.

Sure, losing a baby stays with you forever, but after ten years there's been some healing. I'm not sure why the baby is even in the query. Anne is living a comfortable, stress-free life with her devoted [husband?] Mickey when she gets a phone call from Joe, her ex-lover, the one who dumped her for a teenaged bimbo. Seems he's dying of cancer and wants to say good-bye. Anne will have to move fast if she wants to get to Joe's deathbed in time to drive a stake through his heart.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Look, writer, maybe it's not this way in the actual manuscript, but in the query, Anne's coming across as a world-class wuss.

First of all, yes, EE is right, losing a baby is tragic, but after ten years she should have some other focus in her life than pink baby fingers. (Which is an image that's creepin' me out, btw.)

And she does have another focus, it's-- men. First there's Joe, who breaks her heart. Then there's Mickey, who turned up in her life courtesy of ...her brother.

Mickey's her rock, until Joe shows up dying of cancer.

(Btw, although at current rates, 25% of us will die of cancer, for some reason it's not as popular a theme in fiction as you'd expect.)

Your character is being pushed and pulled and batted through life by men. She's the silver pinball and men are the bumpers and flippers, and she just rolls.

Give us some gumption. Give us some agency. Give us Anne from the neck up.

Anonymous said...

Ok, well, that plot might work for a short story, but you dragged it out into a whole novel. Maybe you wrote about dramas of your own life. Which can be terrifically therapeutic and helpful, even if it doesn't find an audience in the commercial fiction world where agents live. A therapy novel succeeds by achieving non-commercial goals. You don't need an agent for that. If you want to publish it so your friends can read it, there are myriad options. Emailing a pdf would be quite efficient.

Agents are in business. They must find books that will generate big royalties so they can pay the minion and the rent. If it's not commercial, they can't use it.

This plot doesn't seem to be commercial. Why not? Because we think Anne is all about depression and guilt and self pity and what she seems to need is therapy and medication, not some scurvy dog to nurse. It would be idiotic to ditch your life to devote yourself to this kind of old scumbag. And she's not even a nurse so surely the Hospice people could do a better job of it.

We fear the manuscript is a depression manifesto full of repetitive descriptions of bad dreams about dead babies, indecision, bad decisions, and medical ick that we don't want to read. Maybe this is a realistic portrayal of real-life troubles. Too much realism. If she never goes there, it's really not commercial. It could be a more commercial plot if it turns out he's not even sick, he's just onto a new scam, and she ends up helping Det. Doright send him to prison. Or maybe she gets there and literally finds skeletons in the closet. Or, she goes there and it's not cancer at all, his evil doctor ex-girlfriend is killing him with arsenic. Or she goes there, all right, but with a scheme to extort his fortune and finish him off by squirting a bubble up his IV. Or, she gets there and he immediately sucks all her blood out 'cause he's now a vampire. Whatever. There are infinite more commercial possibilities.

If you've already queried a lot of agents with no success, it might be time to acknowlege this was never a commercially motivated project, put it aside, and start a whole new project.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Now I've gone back and read the original query.

In the original, Anne had agency but she wasn't very nice. She dicked people over. Now she's showing her vulnerable side, but it's still not working. She's coming across as *too* vulnerable. Weak.

The problem may be Anne. I'd set this aside for a while and try to write about someone else.

none said...

Anne may have no agency but at least EE didn't dismiss her as a bimbo or a whore.

Tbh, I don't get the dilemma. Joe wants her to comfort him in his last days, but so what? He treated her badly. If he dies alone it'll be the result of his treating everyone else badly, too. How has he changed? (No longer being able to cook and do laundry or find some new woman to do it doesn't count)

batgirl said...

Author, can you clarify the stakes a bit more? What is Anne's actual dilemma?
If she ignores Joe she won't be able to live with herself after he dies?
If she goes to sit by Joe's bedside, Mickey will divorce her? (this doesn't make Mickey look like a very sturdy rock, more shale than granite)

The crux of this story seems to be emotional, so maybe bring those to the forefront - does Anne still love Joe, or is it all guilt? does Joe love her, or is he using her for comfort? Why hasn't she had children - is it her or Mickey who's infertile, and what does that mean to their relationship? All that stuff.

batgirl said...

Oh, and can I say that this is a really good lineup of guess the plots?

vkw said...

I just read this query and the first one - and, we have a problem.

What is the plot? The first query suggests its about Anne coming to terms with her own faults by running away to her home town and then deciding she loves the other guy and hopes he is still hanging around waiting for her.

This query sounds like she has to make a choice between her current love interest and the dick that kicked her to the curb like yesterday's trash just because he was diagnosed with cancer. Now, sick and unable to runaway from Anne and because dying people find it difficult to find life-long or even short-term lovers, he pretty much will have to settle for her until he dies or like EE suggests - he's called all of his exes because he doesn't want to die alone and Anne is the only one - or maybe not, who knows, that bothers to show up for the hospice party.

I am really not sure what Anne's problem is. I would think if she was with Mr. Right and her ex calls up to say good-bye and she wanted to forgive him, she would go to him and say good-bye. Mr. Right would be waiting for her return in a few days.

Is Anne really thinking to start up again with bad boyfriend - even if it's only a few months and the guy is in hospice? Really? Dying of cancer is ugly, painful and shouldn't spur much sexual desire in anyone - especially the one dying.

We need to focus here on the plot and not baby fingers. Maybe the resolution to Anne's problem with men will be therapy that focuses on recovering from the death of the infant, but that's not the plot.

Here's the plot - I think - it's hard to tell.

Anne has difficulty with relationships. She attracts stable, wholesome men but then breakes their hearts by pursuing or yearning over relationships with bad boys.

She abandons yet another great guy for her a wayward ex when he calls to tell her he is dying. Anne rushes to his side, resumes the ill-fated relationship but after his death realizes she is more messed up than ever.

With the support of family, a little self-love, therapy and reflection, Anne realizes that she is the problem. She also realizes that she must learn to deal with the lost of an infant ten years ago by forgiving herself and God.

Healed, she is ready to try again, but will Mr. Right still be waiting for her? (Let's hope not because a real Mr. Right would have moved on by now because he is stable and wholesome - and would not be languishing over the loss of a messed up Anne. Besides, Anne should be a different person now and not the person he fell in love with.)

Also - with that therapy and refleciton, hopefully Anne has learned to cope with her grief in other ways other than skipping from one relationship to another leaving a wake of broken hearts after her. Rather, she learns to love herself, live independently and alone. No doubt, true love will find her now.


Zachary Gole said...

Okay, this was the hardest "Guess the Plot" in a while... usually I'm pretty good at guessing which one is the real plot, but this one had me stumped.

But, anyway, on to the story.

EE says this is "a new title and new query for the same book we did in Face-Lift 901". After comparing it with Face-Lift 901, I have to wonder whether the book has changed a lot too, because they don't seem to be describing the same book. In 901, it seems that Joe dies fairly early in the novel, and most of it is about her dealing with Joe's death -- while in this query, it seems that for most of the novel, Joe's about to die, and the story is about her deciding what she's going to do about it.

Maybe you did completely rewrite the novel between queries, or maybe it's Face-Lift 901 that was misleading and the novel was mostly about her coming to terms with Joe's impending death all along. In either of those cases, no problem. But if neither of those is the case and if the implications of Face-Lift 901 are accurate and a significant portion of the novel does take place after Joe's death, then you've only described the beginning of the story in this query and left out the main conflict.

Author said...


Thanks for all the comments - unbelievably helpful as usual. I've done a revision - maybe it's more clear?

To Anonymous - wow. I've spent years working hard at my craft, and to suggest I simply send my hard work to friends via PDF...yikes. It's not even remotely a therapy novel.

Also, whether or not I made the intentions of my characters clear in my query, I'd like to think there is a market for intelligent, emotional writing. Not everyone wants to read about murder and vampires.

Here goes:

When Anne meets Joe under the full moon on the beach in Key West, she’s at once taken by his smoky eyes and colorful tattoos. Joe, a reclusive, restless musician without a home or a family in turn finds understanding and comfort in their similar, haunted past and her caring nature. When they’re together, nothing else matters, not her usual nerves, her inexperience, or his prior choice to live a solitary life.

While traveling across the country to surprise him on tour, he’s high, and hanging on the arm of a groupie. She chastises herself, refuses to take his phone calls, refuses to listen to more than a few words of explanation. Fool her once, shame on you...bottom line, she won’t be fooled again.

Six months later, Joe calls to tell her he’s dying. Pancreatic cancer. He found out the same day she flew to see him. He only wants to know she loved him, and to tell her he still loves her, has since the first time he saw her on the beach. After a little digging, she finds out he’s alone in South Carolina, probably with only days to live, and that he hasn’t told anyone else. She’s happy with her life. But Joe held her heart once, taught her how to let go and live. She will lose Joe. Her new life will change drastically. Can she live, soul intact, if she lets Joe die alone?

SEE YOU SOON is a 75,000-word work of contemporary fiction.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

BS: WTF? Nobody did AFAICT.

Author, the revision seems closer to an idea of what your story's actually about, but I'm still not sure.

And the second paragraph's got unclear POV, exacerbated by the dangling modifier in the first sentence.

While I didn't want to say so, I kind of had the same impression Anonymous did that this was a therapy novel, although the details seemed a little too farfetched to be from real life. (Still, some people have very farfetched lives.) A more precise statement of what the book's about may help you there.

Reduce the plot to one sentence, then build the query from there.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, well, that plot still sounds like you could cover everything in 5000 words or less. Your cliffhanger question doesn't seem to pose much of a dilemma. In real life all ex-boyfriends eventually die and the ones who treated everyone badly die alone. That's his problem, not hers. Remember Scrooge? His late life patheticness didn't pose much of a problem for other people or their souls. Maybe you can rewrite from the jerk's pov and see if that works better.

This query might work better if you make it more clear if you spend most of the book on the fling etc and then just finally get to her dilemma at the end, or if the phone rings on page one and it's the dying duck and she then emotes for the rest of the novel.

none said...

Maybe you should read some of the queries on the blog and see how they're put together. There might even be one or two that EE has praised.

However, the more query versions I see, the more convinced I become the flaws are in the novel.

St0n3henge said...

I sense your frustration, author.

First of all, I can see why someone would want to return to a former boyfriend who is dying no matter how badly he behaved. Just because someone disappoints us or lets us down doesn't mean they are evil and deserve to die alone. Also, to say someone "needs therapy" is a modern response to an old problem. In the old days, people would go to the country to rest and reflect with relatives or close friends. So these aren't really problems as plot points.

Taken as a whole, though, they cause trouble.

I think the real problem here is that we aren't connecting with the characters.

I need to really understand Anne as a person. If I see her as a person who must break her addiction to rebels, then running to Joe and possibly losing Mickey comes across as the wrong thing to do. It makes Anne a weak protag. Of course, she can still redeem herself.

If I see Anne as someone who must learn to break her reliance on men in general, who must learn to become independent, heal from her losses and become a whole person, wanting Mickey, the "safe, comfortable guy" to take her back at the end makes her appear weak again. It's a big let-down. "Will he take her back?" isn't the question, so much as, why would she want him to? It seems then that she hasn't grown or changed.

Also, there seems to be a logical flaw: If she is so worried about losing M., why does she leave him? Why can't she work through her emotional healing with M.? If she can't, we feel that he just can't be the right man for her. It's possible she feels she can't trust him with her grief because it involves an ex.

Maybe M. really is trustworthy, and A. has underestimated him. But then, if he loves her, why doesn't he come find her and say, "Let's work through this together?"

Besides all this, the MC's weak-willed ambivalence comes off as annoying. "No matter how much she fights it," and "His news causes the circumstances that ended their relationship to waver," are examples.

Note that others pointed out the lack of a main dilemma. Her decision to go to J. or not isn't the main dilemma, because it happens too early in the story.

Will M. take her back? isn't either, because it isn't her choice. Most stories have a main dilemma, because that is the source of drama, or interest.

Mickey is a lump here. I have no idea what his reaction is to anything that is going on. I can't really tell if Joe is a bad person who is stringing Anne along, or if he's just a grown-up child who is afraid of commitment. These questions are important.

I also don't see why A. doesn't lie to M. about her reason for leaving (to see J.) and hope he never finds out. This seems more realistic to me.