Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Face-Lift 1106

Guess the Plot


1. It was his song, it was his song, it was their song. And after tonight, when James and Stephan declare their love while singing "Lola", will the Cedar Rapids VFW annual fish fry ever be the same?

2. The first Lola doll to come off the assembly line isn't intended for a child. Like the first toy of every line, she's destined to be destroyed by the Breaker, a remorseless quality assurance machine. Sacrificing herself for the good of others doesn't appeal to Lola, however. She's just not ready to meet her Breaker.

3. A prudish succubus from the underworld of Lola is cast upon the overworld of Highla. Her mission is to prove her worth by saving Highlan men from sociopolitical influences that encourage sexual release by hand-to-hand combat. There are no women in Highla, by the way. But will the Highlans let her go home, after she's proved she's hot?

4. Sixteen-year-old Lola moves to Key West. She worked obsessively to finish school early. Now She’s ready for romance. But none of the cute boys will dance with her. So she dresses like a boy; now they’re all flirting like crazy. Then she meets hot hetero Billy. They go fishing, diving and wind surfing. If she resumes being a girl, she’ll lose her “friends” and Billy will think he/she’s weird. But she hates it when he dates those snowbird bimbos.

5. Lola, a champion Toy Poodle, has retired to the maternal life. When thieves break in and steal her 3 precious babies, she does what any mother would do--she enlists the help of the neighborhood animals. Between Brad the crow, Patch and Moll the cats, Joe the pitbull and Ralph the ferret, can they find her puppies before it's too late?

Original Version

“The first toy of every line is intended for disassembly,” Angelique’s one eye shifted away from Lola, staring into darkness.“The First is not just any toy. This is a brave, unique creature. A being that only exists for the sake of others. You will go willingly, your head up, embracing your fate and proud of your calling. It’s your ultimate selfless sacrifice. Prepare to meet your Breaker.”

It wasn’t named The Breaker for nothing, you know. While some might consider this quality assurance machine harmless, neutral, void of feeling, Lola, a soon-to-be-dead doll, knows that it’s out to get her. [Run, Lola, Run.] A special edition doll, created only to be taken to pieces by the Breaker, Lola is led to believe that she needs to be joyful and friendly, carefree and docile, just as her box says, all the way to her doom. [I doubt a doll would be advertised as "docile." Even if these dolls are sentient and mobile in the presence of their owners, the manufacturer wouldn't consider docility a selling point.]

But could she possibly be more than just the description on her box? Lola struggles to discover who she really is and why it is that she cannot, will not, accept her destiny.

On her mission to untangle her fate, Lola stumbles onto the wretched Broken community, possibly the family she has been longing for. The Broken accept her for who she is, and support her in facing her monsters, the dark corners of her nightmares and the possibility of losing her life (and theirs) when she finally comes eye to eye with the godless, remorseless Breaker. [Not clear how Lola's encounter with the Breaker will kill the Broken.] [Were the Broken broken by the Breaker? If so, apparently the Breaker injures you, but doesn't kill you. Yet Lola is described as soon-to-be-dead.]

Against all odds and sinister forces surrounding her, Lola finds herself thinking outside the box, [Nice.] and resolves to fight her fate and the fate of all Firsts. A fate no one has ever contested before. A fate she might not be able to avoid. [That last sentence isn't needed. Who wants to read about someone whose "fate" can't be avoided?]

LOLA is an eerie 75,000 word novel targeted at 9-12 year olds, especially the adventure seeking girls who are into more than just pink and the Biebs. Lola is a strong female protagonist, who is struggling to discover who she is, and believes there is more to her than her box implies.

I have been a journalist and an editor for 15 years and have lately started publishing stories in various horror magazines. My short story “all about Evil” [That's the title I was planning for my autobiography.] was published lately [recently] as part of the horror fiction compilation “Bonded By Blood IV”. [How come when I look up Bonded By Blood IV on Amazon, "All About Evil" isn't one of the stories?]


You don't need Angelique to set up the situation for us. That's your job. We don't even know who Angelique is.

Are there any human characters? I'm not sure a 12-year-old is gonna want to read a book in which all the characters are toys. 

If there are people, are dolls sentient/mobile in their presence? These seem like important points.

What are these "sinister forces" surrounding Lola? If you want to attract those at the upper end of your age range, you might have to focus on the evil aspects.  


Unknown said...

Wow. What an interesting concept! I think EE did a great job of isolating some issues of logic in the query already, but I still have a couple of questions...

Why would they put a test doll into a package at all? Seems like they would have done the testing way before the packaging/branding.

Considering the background of sentient toy stories, does yours trend more toward Chuckie-horror or Toy Story-uplifting? The juxtaposition of 'eerie' and 'strong female protag' and your history in horror-writing are confusing me with regard to the target audience.

Also, I think some description of Lola would help. Is she 'Barbie'-esque, or is she more trendy (Brats/Winx) or is she more adventure (The new 'teenish' Dora)? I only wonder if those girls who like dolls would find the story appealing, due to the darker themes. [Mostly thinking about Barbie-girls who are youngish, whereas the other dolls are marketed to older girls.]

One last thing: Don't toys go through constant quality assurance testing? It seems to me Lola might be #4000 off the line and while all her contemporaries are ecstatic to be heading off to the stores, poor Lola is headed for the Breaker. It would really isolate more of that pre-teen angst of separation from peers and uncertain futures.

All the best!

150 said...

Wouldn't a provable first model of a toy be extra-valuable on the collector's market?

75k is awful long for middle grade.

I don't know that I'd mention an SNM credit, as they are notorious within the short-horror community for not paying, and are unknown outside it.

I almost want to say the unusual format is effective, but I can't help but think this would be stronger if it took the form of a standard query letter, where you tell us about what the character chooses and why, and what the consequences are.

khazar-khum said...

I really like the idea here. There are a lot of people who love the concept of sentient toys--look at the popularity of the "Toy Story" series.

I think Veronica is right: It might be best if Lola thinks she's going to be sent to the toy shelves, but instead is pulled out to meet the Breaker.

Lola--is it her 'brand', or her own personal name?

Lee said...

Thanks all for your help. I would say that the story leans toward the Coraline type of horror, where the main characters' lives are in real peril, but it is still a children's story. This also explains the female protag thing - my feeling is that there are just not enough books that a 10 year old who likes suspense can relate to.
Lola is the brand, by the way. She is a special edition Lovable Lola doll who just happens to turn out to be a Kick-ass Lola doll.
she is soon-to-be-dead because most Firsts are completely taken apart by the Breaker. but Lola finds the select few who survived, just a handful of misfits, living in the shadows.
I'll give it another shot then. Thanks.

sarah hawthorne said...

I like the concept.

I wasn't clear on why there would be a delay between Lola's creation and her date with the Breaker, though? Seems like she'd be popped off the assembly line and tossed right in before any more possibly defective dolls could be produced. Unless she's subjected to lighter QA first, being played with, etc.

Maybe it's because of Toy Story, but I didn't really read this as horror or as eerie until you said it was supposed to be. It seemed like straight up adventure.

And I would leave out the dig at girls who like pink and/or Justin Bieber. Lots of girls 8 to 12 fit that description - why tell a potential agent or publisher that a huge segment of your target audience isn't going to like your book?

Good luck!

Jo-Ann S said...

The story sounds like fun. And children like to be scared, just ask Roald Dahl. So dont hold back on the creepy elements.

I like the concept of a sub-culture of disassembled toys subsisting in the shadows of the toy factory. But this triggers another question - is it a sweat shop in Asia or an idealised setting?

Sentient toys were popular in kidlit back in the the first half of last century - think of the Velveteen Rabbit (circa 1922) and half of Enid Blyton's creative output. Their popularity waned from the 70's onwards, but I think Toy Story rekindled the genre.

Nevertheless, I think editors are wary and see them (along with talking animal stories) as a mark of the first-time author.... so the writing really needs to kick ass!

Mister Furkles said...


According to agents’ websites, your query is too long. You can drop the entire first paragraph and combine the last two into one. (You also have two 40+ word sentences which are okay for a textbook but not welcomed in a query.) Then the last paragraph could look something like this:

LOLA is a 75,000 word MG novel. I am a professional journalist and editor with years of experience at the Gotham Daily and the Paris Review [or whatever]. My short story “All about Evil” was published in “Bonded by Blood IV”.

I pasted your query into an online readability analyzer and it scored grade ten. That means that it is easily read by students at the tenth grade reading level. That is perfect for newspapers and magazines. Not so good for nine-year-old girls. I guess a nine-year-old who reads MG novels is reading at the fifth or sixth grade level.

So break up those big sentences and cut excess adjectives and adverbs. If you get it down to 200 words, there is room for more critical information. Who is forcing Lola to go in the Breaker? What does she do about it? More about the conflict.

MG girls don’t know anything about manufacturing, so don’t worry about that. But Veronica has a great idea. Girls at that age are very competitive and it can be hell for girls who are on the outs with the others.

It sounds like a great story.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'm glad I stopped myself from commenting earlier. I'm one of those people who is creeped-the-frack-out by a doll main character. I wasn't sure how common my aversion was, so I decided to wait. Not very common, apparently.

There are quite a few doll-as-protag MG novels extant. Most don't do that well, I assume because it's hard to get reader identification going. (Note that in Coraline the dolls are not protags and are the bad guys. *That* I can relate to.)

This sounds like a new twist, though.

75k isn't really long for MG. That is, it's pretty close to the top of the acceptable range, but it is acceptable.

Heck, I've done it twice.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I guess a nine-year-old who reads MG novels is reading at the fifth or sixth grade level.

Or a 12th grade reading level. Most children's reading skills progress by leaps and bounds after the first year. It's not at all uncommon for children in upper elementary to jump several years of reading level in a few months, so dumbing anything down for them would be a mistake.

Besides, I've never heard a middle grade editor mention reading level. I wouldn't worry about it.

none said...

Where are these agent websites that dictate how many words should be in the sentences of a query?

Unknown said...

I don't know if word count per sentence is outlined online, but in "Give 'em What They Want..." and other query guidebooks the stress is on making the letter crisp and readable, and the plot understandable.

Sentences cluttered with clauses and modifiers are often clunky and incoherent. In the original query the two sentences that drew most of EE's criticism were rather long. I can't believe this is coincidence because it is a pattern in queries all over this blog.

none said...

If you can't write a coherent long sentence in your query, you probably won't have written any in your novel, either. You're therefore not ready to query anyway. *shrugs*

Unknown said...

Agreed, but I think query authors pack sentences with excess concepts/buzzwords, afraid they might miss THE plot point that will be the THE HOOK for Agent Q and it all comes out as gobbledy-gook.
[36 words, if you count 'gobbledy' and 'gook' seperately.]

There is not such pressure in the novel, as authors have thousands of words to play with and hundreds of pages to fill.
If we are to critique the query for its betterment, it is important to comment if sentence structure impacts its voice, flow and coherence.
By the same token, EE often points out sentence fragments that detract from a query. For those who read these blogs as a way to learn how to craft a query, it's important to highlight that sentence construction is important.
I would argue that simple construction leaves fewer chances for misinterpretation of plot points in a story to which the reader is otherwise naive.

Lee said...

Hey all,
i'm giving this another shot. taking most of the comments into consideration and as Veronica said, scared of leaving out anything important. So here gos nothing:

Dear editor,

A Special-edition Lola is on a mission to beat the murderous Breaker in LOLA, (complete at 74,400 words) an MG horror novel.

Born as a First in a rundown toy factory, Lola learns that her rendezvous with the Breaker is lurking right around the corner. As with every First that is created only for the sake of others, she is led to believe that she must approach her death willingly, head up, embracing her fate and proud of her calling.

Overwhelmed with the horrible journey that awaits her, she is instructed by the shady cult-leader Angelique to remain calm, joyful and carefree, just as her box says. All the way to her doom.
But could she possibly be something more than just the description on her box? Lola struggles to discover who she really is and why she cannot, will not, accept her destiny.

With only days to alter her fate, Lola plunges into the delicately balanced society the toys have built, hidden from human eyes. The Broken, a handful of forgotten misfits, live in the shadows having barely survived the Breaker. They encourage Lola in confronting her monsters, facing the dark corners of her nightmares and risking the loss of her life (and theirs) when she finally looks the remorseless Breaker in the eye.
In order to survive, Lola must think outside the box, break all the rules and fight her fate and that of all Firsts. She must prepare to meet her Breaker.

I am a professional journalist and editor with years of experience at various print and web publications. My short story “Disconnect” was recently published in “Bonded by Blood V”.

none said...

Sentence construction is important, yes. Criticising a sentence merely for length is dumbing down.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Lee, the revision gives us a much better idea of what's going on in the story. Trouble is, the first two sentences are going to be pretty confusing to someone who doesn't already know this is a story about a doll.

Unknown said...

Hi Lee-- I really think you're close. I did a bit of rearrangement with tweaks to your wording that keep Lola the focus and also takes the passive voice out.
For your consideration:
Lovable Lola’s life is destined to be brief. A first-run in a dilapidated toy factory, this Lola is meant for the Breaker, a quality assurance test machine, not the toy store.

With only days to experience life, Lola explores the delicately-balanced society of the Broken, those toys who survived their encounter with the Breaker. While shady Angelique instructs Lola to embrace her fate, Lola thinks outside the box. Encouraged by [INSERT TOY HERE], Lola confronts her monsters, faces her nightmares and decides to risk it all when she finally looks the remorseless Breaker in the eye.

Because, no matter what her box says, Lola cannot—will not—accept a destiny that means her doom. Though created only to be destroyed, this Lola won’t go down without a fight.

LOLA, (complete at 74,400 words) is a middle-grade horror novel.

I am a professional journalist and editor with years of experience at various print and web publications. My short story “Disconnect” was recently published in “Bonded by Blood V”.

none said...

Umm, doesn't look to me like you took out all the passive voice.

Mister Furkles said...

To me, it is mostly setup. You tell us the danger Lola faces but nothing about what she does. The story must be about what Lola does. Try writing it as one sentence. “Faced with destruction, the prototype doll Lola tricks the Breaker test machine into breaking himself.”

Then expand it to about 60 words. After that, add voice and something about the character of Breaker. Mostly you want to tell a story in brief.

Unknown said...

Fair enough. It's a different take I thought might help the author--re: sentence streamlining.
Truly it will benefit from more plot points, but this was all the detail available.
The second paragraph is crucial here. Particularly, that sentence about meeting her monsters, and etc was where I cut a number of words that can be replaced with detail. Might want to consider dropping that whole sentence and adding two that actually give plot.
Might also wish to alter the third paragraph to let the reader know if Lola is successful. (And how...)
[I'm rooting for her!]