Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Face-Lift 1087

Guess the Plot

Girl in the Dark

1. She's a girl. She's in the dark. Also, some rats, a baseball bat, and a flashlight with failing batteries.

2. After dying, seventeen-year-old Julie finds herself in a Dark world where she must stop a Darkness in its quest to claim the earth as its own. But can she focus on her task when there's a hunky stranger hanging with her? Did I mention it was Dark?

3. When the severed head of iconic 'scream queen' Devilicious is found stuffed in a cooler inside a burning car, homicide Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, she didn't drive herself, and two, that horror film scream-a-thon at the Egyptian won't be the same without her as hostess.

4. Sophia works in Brussels as a high class ‘night escort’. She goes to the most exclusive parties with Europe’s most powerful men. She is privy to many nations’ secrets. Others want those secrets and they are after Sophia. She hides during the day and ventures out only at night. Can Sophia’s ‘friends’ catch the stalkers before she is caught?

5. Shanna is an ordinary teenager, worrying about college acceptance letters and a date for the prom, but when a freak accident unlocks her hidden clairvoyance, her life takes an unexpected turn. Suddenly, Shanna knows things she shouldn’t know, and her idealistic family life is anything but what it seems.

6. Jason, a young Catholic priest in fin-de-siecle New Orleans, sees the Girl in the darkened rectory hallway every night. After a steamy candle-lit bath, Jason discovers a message from the Girl on his fogged mirror. It warns of doomsday -- and asks Jason to help save the world.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Julie's last thought before she closes her eyes is that dying isn't too hard, but dying alone sucks. [Her first thought after she opens her eyes is that sex isn't bad, but sex alone is even better.]

The world looks different on the other side - here, she can see the Darkness, an evil force that thrives on bloodshed. It's out to claim the earth as its own, [Anyone can claim the earth; it's getting earthlings to accept your claim that's the tricky part.] and must be stopped at all costs. The collectors are devoted to doing just that, and see something in Julie worth saving. But her new life comes with a price: she must either succeed as a collector, or die. Again. For real, this time. But even with great gifts - the ability to stop time, a regenerating and ever-young body, and a weapon powerful enough to slice the devil in two - Julie knows she's going to be a big fat fail as a collector. Because Julie knows all about stacked heels. The best spring lip color. How to tell the real Prada from a knock-off. [Knowing those things isn't what's going to cause her to fail. If we must know Julie has great fashion sense, tell us when you introduce her. Otherwise, save it for the book.]

She has no idea how to be a hero. 

[Actually, it's pretty easy. 

1. Stop time. 
2. Take your weapon and slice the bad guys in two. 
3. Go home and restart time.]

Julie's uncoordinated. Unpretty. Not even particularly brave. She might be immortal, but she's no hero. And her mentor, the girl who's supposed to be showing her the ropes, seems like she's more interested in throwing Julie to the wolves. She has Julie wondering[:] if the collectors are supposed to be the good guys, then why do they seem so bad? [In what way do they seem bad?] And then there's the blue-eyed stranger, [Isn't everyone in this place a stranger?] the only kind thing in this new Dark world. Will she live long enough to reveal the secret he carries about Julie's past? [Does that sentence say what you think it says? How can she reveal the secret he carries? To whom would she reveal it?]

Julie's got to get this right. This is her last chance. Last chance at redemption for a seventeen year-old that died alone on some forgotten stretch of road. It's her last chance at something resembling life. Maybe even love. [Love with a blue-eyed stranger.]

She just has to be that girl. That superhero girl.


Girl in the Dark is a YA urban fantasy, 80,000 words.



An occasional non-sentence is fine for effect. But. You have at least ten sentences with no verb. Annoying. Irritating. To me. I start wondering if the whole book is like that. Choppy. Like this. Is there anything wrong with:

Sure, Julie knows all about stacked heels, the best spring lip color, and how to tell the real Prada from a knock-off.

But she has no idea how to be a hero.


She must succeed as a collector, or die--for real this time.

Why are the collectors called the collectors? What do they collect? Should "collectors" be capitalized?

We know very little about the story. Julie dies on a highway, and finds herself being mentored as a collector, someone devoted to stopping some "Darkness" that thrives on bloodshed. And there's a stranger. What little we know is vague. 

The Darkness wants to claim the earth as its own? What does that mean? What specific things has the Darkness done in this attempt to claim the earth? Has it killed three people? Has it caused a World War? Is it a visible entity or just a nebulous idea?

Her mentor seems to be throwing her to the wolves? What did her mentor do? We want specifics about the plot.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This wasn't badly written, except for the choppy fragments. There's a whole sub-genre of YA in which the protag dies on page one, and while I keep hoping the fad has ended, it's probably in its third or fourth afterlife by now.

This is where I would've stopped reading:

Julie knows she's going to be a big fat fail as a collector. Because Julie knows all about stacked heels. The best spring lip color. How to tell the real Prada from a knock-off.

You've been trying to build the stakes --I hope-- and suddenly you throw stacked heels at us and we just go "huh? What happened to the save the world thing?"

From there on Julie begins to seem shallow. Don't do that. Keep the focus on the task and the stakes high. Don't be afraid to give us details. Eschew cleverness in favor of clarity.

Also-- and this may be an issue with the subgenre rather than your story-- don't you think death, well, changes a person? If there's something left of our personalities after we die, don't you think it maybe looks back and shakes its head sadly at the idea that it once cared about stacked heels and spring lip colors, and prettiness or lack thereof? That's merely btw.

Other than that it does seem like you have a story here.

IMHO said...

Last chance at redemption for a seventeen year-old that died alone on some forgotten stretch of road.

Grammar nitpick: "... for a seventeen-year-old WHO died along...."

PLaF said...

Rats, I was hoping for 4 or 5…
In your opening line, Julie asserts ‘dying alone sucks’. I kept waiting for a plot element that would bring this assertion full circle, but never found it.
If it the thought doesn’t have an arc in the story, I suggest leaving it out.
The stakes of “dying again for real” do not seem particularly high to me. What makes this worse (or just different) than dying the first time?
There’s not a clear explanation of how the character develops in the story, so I wonder what it’s really about:
If Julie dies at the opening of the book, then is what follows the tale of discovering who she was in time to make a difference in this afterlife?
If not, then tell us what she like before she died and why does that make the afterlife so difficult (hence the need for redemption).

150 said...

I'm unsure how failing as a collector means her death: is it that the Darkness will kill her, or will the other collectors drum her out of the corps?

I could stand to hear what kind of creature Blue-Eyes is.

I'm not sure that "hero" is the proper designation for what Julie seems to be doing, except in the everyday-hero sense used for firemen, cops, and soldiers.

More specifics.

Unknown said...

I thought we all died alone, just as we come into the world. Pretty much. No?

I didn't understand why an unattractive teenager is so interested in fashion. In my experience, it doesn't work that way. I'd leave it out of the query since it just brought up too many unanswered questions, although I'm sure it makes sense in the book.

I'd put the fact that she's seventeen earlier in the query. I thought she was an adult until way down toward the end, and it changed the way I looked at the MC.

Like EE, I want to know what the collector's collect and why Julie thinks they're bad. And what is the Darkness?

I think if you concentrate more on the actual story rather than peripherals like a weapon that can slice the devil (caps?) in two, or all the fashion stuff, you'll have a better query.

I'd like to read a revision.

Kelsey said...

I liked the idea of a girl who'd rather pick out lipstick than save the world suddenly being thrust into a 'hero' role, like the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer plot.

IF something similar is your story, you should make it clear the reason you're including these fashion tidbits is to demonstrate her character growth throughout the story. I'd also like to see more of what she WANTS--she seems a little passive in the query so far. Obviously she wants to survive and to stop the big bad, but what else? Is she trying to get her old life back? Is she trying to find acceptance and friendship with the collectors? Is she taking on the hero role reluctantly because she has self-esteem issues and her growth arc is that she learns to believe in herself?

All that's to say, I don't mind if she's shallow (and I don't necessarily equate fashion sense with being shallow), but only if that's how she is in the BEGINNING, and how she changes is the story.

But I agree, the Prada references needs to come early in the query (if they are, indeed, crucial to her character growth) so we readers don't get thrown for a loop, as AlaskaRavenclaw points out.

I agree that being a fashion diva AND not being pretty seems too unusual to simply throw in. I'd suggest either taking it out, or adding a few more words to explain why this is and why it matters. (Does feeling ugly *drive* her fashion obsession? That would be an interesting character.)

Good luck and I'd also like to see a revision.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys -
Thanks EE for doing this. It doesn't hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would.
The constructive criticism made a lot of sense. AlaskaRavenclaw, I especially liked your clarity over cleverness comment - I was totally doing that (cleverness, or the attempt of it). Not on purpose, which is a worse offense. PLaF, in my rewrites, I think I focused on the choices my character makes rather than how she changes; I feel like its crammed with stuff now and reads too much like a summary, but maybe I can work that in. At this point, I feel like everything's in there, and it's not pretty. 150, I put specifics, maybe too many now.

Lisa and Kelsey, thanks for the specific pointers. They made sense and gave me a compass. i needed that. The MC is shallow, she does grow. It's just at seventeen, she's preoccupied with trying to be pretty, not saving the world. Definitely Buffy the movie, or even Penny from Big Bang. She doesn't start making the choices that show this growth for awhile, and how do I show the significance of the choices without showing this new world, which eats up a ton of words in the query? Tricky. This new query is clunky, for sure.

Here's the new one, it's way long (still under 400) :

What a waste of seventeen years, Julie thinks as she dies.

She's surprised and frightened when she wakes up in an ancient castle full of people called collectors - after all, she should be dead, and the Oubliette is something straight out of a Dracula flick. Before she's even wiped the sleep from her eyes, the collectors have thrown her into a one-on-one battle with a terrifying beast; she barely survives. The Darkness, invisible in the mortal world but hellish, smoky gargoyles in the Dark world, attach to humans and turn them into consciousless killers. PK, a collector and Julie's mentor (a term Julie snorts at - what kind of mentor sends her protege to her death?), tells Julie that she's survived the first two tests - coming back from the dead and defeating the Darkness - one test left, and she'll be a collector. It's a prize Julie has no interest in winning.

The other new collectors seem eager for the challenge, but she can't stomach the thought of fighting another monster. Besides, these good guys don't seem so good...except for one guy. The blue-eyed stranger acts like he knows Julie, even though she's never seen him before in her life. So Julie plans to escape. PK warns her there is no home waiting; to keep the collectors firmly entrenched in the Dark battle and not wondering about the might-have-beens, a ruling party called the elders wipe the collectors' memories clean of anything personal from their first life.

But, and big problem, Julie does remember, at least a little - the night she died, for example, and her real name. This puts her in danger - the elders kill off collectors that remember because (as PK knows) memories create complications - they lead to attachments to a mortal world that they don't belong to anymore. Run, PK says, and the elders will find you. They have pulled her back from the dead, and she belongs to them.

Julie doesn't care - she'd rather risk it all and be free than be someone else's exterminator. There might be someone who can help: Luke, the stranger with the blue eyes.

Girl in the Dark is YA urban fantasy, 80,000 words.

Evil Editor said...

I'm afraid this isn't cutting it for me. You've told the story in 80,000 words. Now you have to tell it in 200. Basically, you're spending the whole query telling us about Julie's situation, about the new world she finds herself in. We want the story.

Give yourself one three-sentence paragraph to tell us Julie's situation. Something like:

After dying in a car wreck, seventeen-year-old Julie discovers that there's an afterlife. But this isn't heaven; she's in an ancient castle straight out of a Dracula flick, filled with people called collectors who spend all their time fighting something they call the Darkness. The collectors want Julie to join their ranks, but first they want to erase all of her memories.

Now give us three more sentences that tell us what Julie wants and what's at stake. She wants to escape and...what? What will happen if she doesn't become a collector?

Then wrap it up with three sentences that tell us about her plan and what goes wrong and the dilemma/conflict she finds herself in.

That's all we need. If you can make us care about Julie and wonder how things will turn out for her, we just might want to read the book.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree with EE.

That first line doesn't make sense-- is that what people really think when they die? When we think of a young person dying it's the lost future that seems tragic, not the lost past. Anyway, it's a log line, which you don't need. The how-to-query sites that assure you that you need a log line are wrong. Log lines seldom work.

I feel like you aren't focusing on what's important about your story. Try to reduce the whole novel to a sentence-- not a clever sentence or log line, just a statement, under 20 words long, that tells what the story's about.

Now make your query about what's in that sentence. Avoid dwelling on details that aren't central to the story. (I'm thinking the monster fight is one such detail. Also, "barely survives" is confusing when she's already dead.)

Mister Furkles said...


I think you came back too soon. Pay particular attention to EE's rewrite advice. To see how it works, get over to QueryShark dot Blogspot dot Com. Read the successful queries. See how they match EE’s criteria – but not all of them do so. You may benefit from reading the advice of the query shark (aka Janet Reid) or Miss Snark (misssnark dot blogspot dot com). They say the same thing as EE but say it in a different way.

There is quite a bit of craft and a little art to writing these two hundred word queries. It’s actually hard. It is easier to write one for a book you’ve read than for one you’ve written. Every time I try to write one for my WIP, I find myself cramming in intriguing items from the story – well I think they’re intriguing, you’d likely say they suck.

Take time off; then start over. Follow EE’s formula. Be brief and very bland with the first version then add just a little bit of cleverness.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mr F. Would you believe that I have haunted all those particular sites, read the successful queries, and then sat down? "It's actually hard." Yes, yes, yes. Harder to write a query for a book you've been living in for a year plus? Yes. And I laughed about that intriguing plot points "you'd say they suck." I've thought that exact same thing. I hope that you pull through the slush, if you haven't already.
Mr EE, you have given the formula you mentioned above a few times - when I wrote the first query, in my head I had answered all those questions. But then, the critiques that everyone gave made sense. I'll try both exercises, EE's formula and AlaskaRavenclaw's expanded sentence approach.
"If you make us care about Julie and wonder how things turn out for her, we might just want to read your book." Good starting point. Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Hi Author,

These are the sentences from your query that I think start to get at your story (slightly modified and rearranged):

"Seventeen-year-old Julie is surprised and frightened when she wakes up in an ancient castle full of people called Collectors. After all, she should be dead."

"The elders have pulled her back from the dead, and she belongs to them."

"One test left, and she'll be a Collector. It's a prize Julie has no interest in winning. She can't stomach the thought of fighting another monster."

"So Julie plans to escape."

"There might be someone who can help: Luke, the stranger with blue eyes. He acts like he knows her, even though she's never seen him before in her life."

That's 100 words, and it's mostly set-up. So you have plenty of room to tell us more of the main story.

Anonymous said...

Author here. That edit sounds so much better. But what about answering the questions that EE and th others brought up in the original query? Is that what the other 100 words should do?
Is interesting what you chose to leave out - nothing about the Darkness, for example - which leaves more room to elaborate on other things. Or else include it in the next 100 words. I'm still working on the formula EE set up, but your comments give me some insight on what might be the more gripping points of the plot.
Thanks to all of you for taking the time to critique -

Anonymous said...

Hi Author,

It seems to me that this story is more about Julie’s battle with the elders and her escape from this horrifying destiny rather than her battle with the Darkness. The Darkness almost seems more like part of the setting. So, to answer your question, how much you say about the Darkness really depends on how that Darkness directly affects Julie’s story goal.

What is Julie’s story goal? Is it to defeat the Darkness once and for all, to escape her destiny as a Collector, to maybe save her own family from being targeted by the Darkness, to not die alone a second time, to get back to her old life? Whatever it is that Julie wants, whatever it is she’s fighting for with everything she has, that’s what you focus on in the query. If the Darkness is essential to that fight, include it. If it’s not, then save your words for what matters most to Julie.

Hope that helps.