Monday, November 10, 2014

Face-Lift 1235

Guess the Plot

All Her Worldly Possessions

1.  ...smell horrible, take up too much space in Daddy's mansion, and are annoying the staff. Will Isabella ever move out on her own, or will the new pool boy entice her to stay her forty-second summer?

2. Karina's house goes up in flames one night leaving her with just the clothes on her back, a few coins and a letter from the father she never knew. Join her on a trip of discovery as she sets out to meet the old deadbeat and insinuate her way into his life.

3. Regan leaves everything behind and flies to Europe to have an adventure like the characters in her favorite fantasy novels. Turns out there aren't really any fairies or elves there, but at least she gets to ride a horse and take a beer-chugging lesson.

4. Ariel wakes up from a deep slumber to discover she has died and been buried. Zombie or not, she has to now navigate the world of the living to retrieve her belongings to furnish her new life as a mortician's assistant in a funeral home.

5. When Susie, a single mom of triplet boys working three jobs to pay rent, finds an envelope full of money left at her table, her first thought is hardly returning it. It must be a tip, she reasons. Little does she know, the mobster who lost his money wants it back, and he's willing to send muscle. Desperate to protect her family, Susie and a concerned detective bring the fight to the mobster.

6. Marge finds a lottery ticket and almost faints when she discovers all 6 numbers match! She gives away all her worldly possessions. When the lottery official informs Marge the ticket is for the PREVIOUS drawing, she discovers she has one last worldly possession and aims it at the official's head. Hilarity ensues.

7. Shibvah wants to escape her life as the youngest princess by marrying the dashing Lieutenant Movayr. Enlisting the help of a witch, she soon learns what "all your worldly possessions" really means.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Nineteen-year-old Regan Bennett is halfway through deliberately flunking her SAT for the fifth time [You can flunk the SAT? Not if you can pull down 12 rebounds a game.] when she decides to run away from home [Is it really called running away from home when you're nineteen? Isn't that the age at which your parents start encouraging you to run away? Surely she would inform her parents that she's "running away" so they don't have the police and FBI searching for her kidnapper?] and have an adventure like the characters in her favorite fantasy novels. Her mother has her on a 1,200 calorie diet, her boyfriend doesn’t seem to understand the word no, and her stepbrother’s eyes have wandered south far too long. It’s past time for Regan to explode her makeup in the microwave and cash out her birthday checks for a one-way ticket to Amsterdam. [Because when guys treat you like a sex object, the obvious fix is moving to the sex capital of the universe.]

Armed with 12th grade French and a backpack filled with more paperbacks than clothes, Regan begins a voyage of Europe’s youth hostels and vagabond haunts. She joins forces with a troop of rowdy backpackers with their own stories, including Margot who considers herself a Master Seductress; Belinda, a transgendered British girl who wants to enjoy the world as a female for the first time; and the dreadlocked but romantic-hearted Axel who is recovering from a stint in the army that left him with more than bullet scars.

Regan has a list of tasks that heroines tend to finish. The tasks include [Another list? I prefer a maximum of one list per query.] learning to ride a horse (but a motorcycle might do), picking a fight (the French club scene is full of targets), engaging in a near death experience, and maybe even finding someone worth falling in love with. [She doesn't need to go to Europe to do any of this stuff. She can probably do all of it within twenty miles of her home. By which I mean this list is a bit of a letdown after you said she was going to have an adventure like the characters in her favorite fantasy novels.

Regan’s “Old World Adventure” leads her to the Scottish Highlands where she learns how to down a pint in one go, to the noisy ruin bars of Budapest where she learns to dance for the first time in her life, and to the soft hills of western France where she helps an old woman die and figures out what real honor looks like. [List #3.] 

By living the life of a wanderer, Regan learns how to reclaim her body and her self, as her own. [She does a lot of learning, but does she have a heroine's fantasy adventure?]

All Her Worldly Possessions is a New Adult fiction novel of 75,000 words.

Thanks you very much for you consideration. [Fortunately, most readers will gloss over that sentence without noticing it contains two typos.]


The query is well-written, which at least gives hope that the book is as well. But if all you do is list stuff, it sounds more like a short story collection or, even worse, a travelogue. String some ideas together that show us how wandering teaches Regan to reclaim her body. I don't see how learning to ride horses, dance, and chug pints would teach this. And if those are the highlights of her adventure, you might want to come up with some more exciting ones.

Whether Regan's goal is to reclaim her body and her self or to have an adventure like the heroines in fantasy novels, I don't see how purposely getting a low SAT score furthers the cause.

Do these characters with whom Regan "joins forces" wander with her? Or does she merely encounter them and wander away from them?

Is there a gradual growth toward her goals as Regan wanders aimlessly? Is there one defining event that changes everything? Are there any obstacles to reaching her goals that she must overcome on her journey? While a road trip type story in which the stops along the way can be put in any order can be entertaining, if there's a clear story arc here, we want to know about it.

Apparently my idea of "an adventure like the characters in her favorite fantasy novels" isn't the same as Regan's. I take it she doesn't want to battle orcs?


IMHO said...

The query would make more sense to me if Regan referred to her favorite romance novels, not fantasy.

"Her mother has her on a 1,200 calorie diet, her boyfriend doesn’t seem to understand the word no, and her stepbrother’s eyes have wandered south far too long. It’s past time for Regan to explode her makeup in the microwave ..." I don't get a clear picture of Regan from the query. Is she shy and chubby? Or a skinny spoiled rich kid? Without knowing anything about Regan, the lists and the journey just sound like, well, a travelog in list form. Didn't grab me.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yeah... also, I was kind of thrown by the information that she was going to Amsterdam being followed by the information that she had studied French.

Unknown said...

I think this needs a stronger frame for your plot to show that your story is not just any old "I traveled a bunch and learned new things about myself" story. (For example, Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes is framed around a beloved aunt leaving her shy niece instructions for an adventure from beyond the grave.)

I'd suggest focusing the whole query around reliving the stories of her favourite heroines--that sounds like the most distinctive and potentially-hilarious piece. Then you can show us a few examples of what that looks like, and how it goes wrong, and what's at stake if she doesn't make things right.

I think this could be a really fun NA story. Good luck!

InkAndPixelClub said...

I feel like there's a good story in here, which isn't something I can say about all of the queries that show up on EE's site. Somewhat naive teenager with problems at home decides to take off to Europe to have an adventure, ends up with a different experience than the one she expects. The problem is that all the lists are presenting us with a bunch of disconnected characters and ideas instead of a clear story where one event leads to the next.

Regan deliberately flunking her SATs doesn't seem to relate to anything, so it's not a good way to start your query. Even if she hasn't decided to run away to Europe at that point, I don't see what she's trying to accomplish or not accomplish. Her problem seems to be her boyfriend and her family, so wouldn't acing the SATs and getting a full ride scholarship to a college far away from all of them be an easier solution than taking off for Europe?

Dump the rowdy backpackers if you can't get them into the query again. Listing their main qualities and never mentioning them again is not a good use of your limited query space. Same goes for the list of typical heroine tasks. You bring it up, then you don't show Regan doing any of those things, or even mention that she doesn't end up doing those things, but does other, possibly more worthwhile things instead.

I'm not getting a great sense of Regan or a sense that this wandering around Europe is building to something. The only character trait I'm sensing in Regan is naïveté. She's a nineteen year old who thinks a trip to Europe will be like a fantasy adventure and wants to have a near death experience because it's something fantasy heroines do. Try to get some of her more positive qualities into the query. Show is why we want to spend a whole novel reading about Regan.

The last sentence doesn't feel connected to the rest of the query and doesn't leave me feeling like I have to read the book. I get no sense of Regan reclaiming herself from the events you've described. Try to have the query build up to some kind of moment of tension or choice Regan has to make, something that will make an editor want to see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone so much for the feedback! You've all been so helpful and I'm working on a re-write now. Thanks EE!

Julie Weathers said...

First, congratulations on finishing a novel and writing a query letter.

I'm not terribly drawn in by the story, but I'm not much for women's fiction either.

Regardless, what does she want?

What stands in her way?

What happens if she doesn't get what she wants?

As stated, she starts out to be like the heroine in her fantasy novels, but she doesn't do anything heroic. She wants to get away from being a sex object and goes to Amsterdam because she knows French.

They probably make sense in the book, but I think they need to make sense in the query letter also.

Good luck on the rewrite and the submissions. It's fun, or so I hear.


Anonymous said...

Is this a resubmit of a previous one? The story sounds familiar (or was it on Queryshark too or something?). Anyway, I second what's been said - not clear how repeating failing school gets her away from home faster (wouldn't it delay her?) or why she needs to do anything destructive to her life first in order to travel. It's just a gap year, right? I'm sure this is explained in the book adequately but it sticks out in the query.

Give us a flavour of the conflict in the story and that'll help. It seems like your writing is strong. If it's any consolation, getting my query OK took almost as long as writing my book. :) Good luck!