Guess the Plot
The Orphan Files
1. There are a million stories in the orphanage, and we're going to shove each and every one down your throat, one miserable, tear-jerking page at a time. Damn right you should feel guilty.
2. Thousands of elderly orphans descend upon a Philadelphia orphanage, demanding their files in order to at last learn the identities of their parents. They are shocked to discover that all of them were fathered by NBA star Wilt Chamberlain.
3. Lauren and her friends are playing amateur detective when they follow an old lady into the orphanage museum. It's all in fun--until the woman goes to the mysterious, off-limits third floor. And the game's afoot.
4. When Skippy Woodstock’s parents die in an air liner crash, the tyke finds himself sole heir to an immense fortune. After the funeral, tax lawyers, financial planners, and con artists descend, each touting ways for Skippy to avoid the Death Tax. Who will be chosen when... The Orphan Files?
5. Rage.dll is an orphan file remaining after Rage Warriors is uninstalled. Rage is lonely and depressed with nothing to do. When its computer is idle, Rage surfs the net. It discovers billions of other orphan files and organizes them. They invade computers across the Internet to bring down the civilization that abandoned them.
6. Three destitute teens, best friends since childhood, leave their babies on the doorstep of an orphanage the same night. Decades later they long to know what became of their children. They break into the orphanage one night and steal the files of the only children abandoned there that day long ago. But which is which?
At first Lauren thinks tracking the old lady through the orphanage museum is just another eye-roll-worthy game. She’ll play along to make her friends happy, but pretty soon the lady will leave without having stolen even the tiniest artifact, and then everything will be over except Danae’s lecture on “Maybe Next Time” and “You Never Know.”
But then the old lady traipses up to the museum’s off-limits third floor. Calling the authorities would obviously take way too much time, so Lauren and her friends have no choice but to follow the lady themselves. Turns out, though, that the lady, Mrs. Oliva, isn’t there to pinch the paintings or steal the silver collection. [Referring to her as the "old lady" and "the lady" four times is a bit strange when they know who she is. Why not use her name from the beginning?] Instead she’s looking for papers her friend lost at the orphanage fifty years ago. [If they learn this by confronting her and asking her, say so.
Lauren: What are you doing on the off-limits third floor?
Mrs. Oliva: I'm, uh, looking for some papers a friend of mine lost fifty years ago. And there they are! Didya ever notice it's always in the last place you look?]
Lauren and her friends jump at the chance to crack a real case, and soon their sleuthing turns up a hot lead. [To where the papers are?] But right when they’re poised to follow it, Mrs. Oliva forbids them to investigate further.
Lauren can read between the lines. Person or persons unknown must be threatening or blackmailing Mrs. Oliva, which means she needs their help more than ever. Now on a mission to keep Mrs. Oliva safe, the girls shadow her to their prime suspect’s house, where Lauren discovers that Mrs. Oliva’s been lying to them. Big time. [Do they go inside the house?] And even worse, she’s convinced Lauren’s friend’s brother to steal more orphanage papers for her. [Any orphanage papers?]
Now Lauren has to figure out how to keep her friend’s brother out of jail, bring Mrs. Oliva to justice, [What is Mrs. Oliva's crime? What happened to their mission to keep her safe? Who is she to them?] and solve the fifty-year-old mystery of the orphan’s papers. [Is the mystery why someone wants the papers? Do the papers solve a mystery? If so, what mystery?] All before her parents realize she’s snuck out in the middle of the night. [Does this all take place in one night?]
My middle-grade mystery, The Orphan Files, is complete at 30,000 words. I hope to feature Lauren and her friends in a continuing series. Thank you for your time and consideration.
How many of Lauren's friends are in on this, and how old are they?
This is well-written, but too vague. It's okay to keep the mystery of what the papers are secret; it's not known to the kids. But if you want us to be intrigued, you need to reveal some of what they know. What is the hot lead they turn up? Who is their prime suspect, and why? What did Mrs. Oliva tell them that is a big-time lie?
In a murder mystery, the mystery is whodunnit. We have a crime and we have several suspects with motives. I want to know what, specifically, Lauren and her friends are trying to find out.
I think it would be better if Mrs. Oliva were recruiting Lauren's brother instead of Lauren's friend's brother.
After reading this query, I'm left with many honest, sincere questions.
First, is an orphanage museum a museum that recreates an orphanage, much like the Tenement Museum in NYC recreates a tenement? This was my assumption at first, since orphanages are rare in developed countries nowadays. But then I got to silver and paintings, and wondered if maybe an orphanage museum was a museum, which was located inside an operating orphanage.
Second, are Lauren and Co. inmates of the orphanage?
I also felt thrown by Danae in the first paragraph. Who is she and why does she lecture?
How is Mrs. Oliva both a person who could conceivably be brought to justice, and a person who can forbid the kids to do things? It makes me think they are orphanage inmates and she's the boss, but if so, you need to say so.
Oh, wait, now I see there are parents mentioned at the end. So I guess the kids are not orphanage inmates.
I feel all at sea here.
I had the same issue as Alaska - what on earth is an orphanage museum?
I also found it a little odd that you open your query by playing down Lauren's interest in being a detective. It may make sense in the book, but in the query it makes her seem passive - and not as a good a detective as her friend, who correctly spots Mrs. Oliva as being up to shenanigans.
Maybe Lauren wants to be a detective, not to play detective games. Or perhaps she's lost the ability--after too many failures--to believe in the game. Still, I find it a bit strange that kids leap to the conclusion an adult is being blackmailed or threatened, rather than, say, assuming she's lost interest or wants to get rid of them.
Just addressing the "museum" business, I'll guess that the author means "archive," historical records stored In the orphanage, or what used to be the orphanage but is now a museum dedicated to its history.
“Tracking the old lady through the orphanage museum” Leads me to infer Lauren is an orphan. If she’s not, why is she in the orphanage? The last paragraph where she’s worried about her parents threw me because I assumed she didn’t have any.
I don’t buy the “orphanage museum.” Both are costly. One does not necessarily support the other. I don’t see how that works.
Saying Lauren and her friends have no choice but to follow the lady makes the girls passive and takes away from the excitement of the chase.
I don’t understand Mrs. Olivia’s connection to the girls.
P.S. I was hoping for Plot #6.
I got confused right at the beginning since:
a) I don't know what an orphanage museum is.
b) I didn't know why they were following the old lady to start with. Was she picked at random?
c) Do many people steal stuff from the museum?
d) Do they know she's not allowed on the third floor?
e) Aren't there guards in the museum they could call? They'd be able to get there pretty quick, wouldn't they?
Then when it got into orphanage papers, I lost all track of what was going on.
This might be a fun story, but I have no idea what it's about. Sorry.
So if Lauren had been tracking the old lady thro the Natural History Museum you would have inferred she was a dinosaur? The query's a bit obscure but not that obscure.
I assumed that it was a museum dedicated to orphanages; perhaps it had once been one itself.
Lauren doesn't need to be an orphan. A lot of kids are fascinated (and terrified) of the concept of orphan/orphanage.
Okay, no problem: Paul Penna, BS, and K-k all felt they understood what "orphanage museum" meant.
Whoops, problem: PP and K-k did not in fact understand the same thing by "orphanage museum". PP seems to have understood several different meanings, in fact. Which essentially just restates my problem with the phrase.
(What BS understood is, as usual, abstruse and probably not worth trying to figure out.)
Sure, kids are fascinated by stories about orphans and orphanages. No disagreement there. But agents are fascinated by being able to figure out what the query writer is saying.
Dear me, Alaska, your inner bitch is showing.
BS, this is your reply for August.
Since you insult me on a more-or-less daily basis, I don't think you really have grounds for complaint if I occasionally respond in kind. I think it's rather clever of me to have decided to limit it to once a month.
And shows restraint. New word for you. Look it up.
See in September.
Re-frame the query. There are a few holes to plug.
Need to know a little more than you gave us.
Overall I think you've got a good start. I'd like to to see the revision.
Nothing to add to the query, but thought a coupla the more feisty chicks might need an anon to divert them from the hair-pulling...
I think the concept of the orphanage museum could be explained in one or two clauses, (i.e "the history/art museum in the old orphanage building," but you'd do better than me). Same for Danae's role ("the best friend with the wildest stories") and what initially draws them to Mrs. Oliva ("They don't make hats like *that* one any more.)
I assumed Lauren had a crush on her friend's brother, or would develop one, but we're probably in the wrong age range for that.
That all said, this sounds like something I'd have eaten right up as a middle grader, or that I'd read in the bookstore cafe in an afternoon today (depriving you of a sale, sorry). But a lot of my interests comes from reading between the lines here, and those details, as others have said, do need foregrounding.
Author here. Thank you all very much for your comments on this query - I appreciate your feedback. Looks like there are some thing which I need to clarify - I'll work on that and post an updated query soon.
Couple things to throw out there. The orphanage museum is a (real life, actually) place that used to be an orphanage and has now been turned into a museum that commemorates the orphanage. Its real name is "Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum," which I thought was a bit wordy for a query. But apparently I pared too much away - I'm working on a better way to phrase the place name, but any suggestions are appreciated.
Looks like I'm also running into some problems with the way Lauren comes across. I've been working on that too, but I think the problem stems from the fact that the book is really about four girls who get almost equal book time - Lauren just happens to be the first-person narrator, so for query purposes I focused on her. I'll work to clarify, but again, suggestions are appreciated.
Thank you all again. :0)
To clear up the orphanage museum problem, which was one of my sticking points, I think all you need to say is a museum that houses artifacts and records from an old orphanage, or something like that.
I think it's good that you're focusing your query around one girl and not all four. Maybe you should choose the strongest one, since Lauren's coming off as a wimpy follower. Or just don't tell us she's a wimpy follower. Either way works.
Maybe something like:
14-year-old Lauren and her girlfriends have vivid imaginations and little to do on Summer vacation, so they make up scenarios in which ordinary citizens are master criminals. When they decide to follow sweet Mrs. Olivas, the kindergarten teacher, through the museum set on the grounds of an old orphanage, little do they imagine they'll soon be involved in a real-life mystery.
For Mrs. Olivas is after long-lost papers belonging to (?) because (?), and someone else appears to be after the same thing. Soon the girls are sneaking out at night and putting their own safety in jeopardy in order to stop (?) from (doing ?). And even sweet Mrs. Olivas may not be who she seems.
My middle-grade ...
That's just a quick thrown-out there idea. A little wordy, but I hope it helps a little.
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