Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Face-Lift 1285

Guess the Plot


1. Todd is 16 and he's always wanted to be a girl. He runs away from home and takes a new street identity, "Lily." After a few years of hooking and doing meth, he finds new self-respect and becomes an inspirational speaker at high schools. In the triumphant finale, he wins a $70 million lawsuit against Jodi Picoult for writing his life story as fiction with only slight name changes.

2. In a world where time is currency, the heir is kidnapped as a bargaining chip for a slave's freedom. But does the leader have time to spare? Will the slave run out of time? And would either be good or bad? It's all kind of . . . recondite.

3. Quint invents an AI called "Recondite" that operates on obscurities and abstractions. He loads it into a droid modeled after Robert Pattinson and turns it loose at San Diego State, where it wreaks havoc on the ladies of the French Literature department.

4. An apocalyptic cult named cryptically 'Recondite' hides in the mountains of Montana as a lone FBI agent tries to crack their secrets, hoping for a promotion. Instead, he will get a taste of the end of days.

5. When an agent receives a manuscript with an obscure one-word title, it's up to the more than five thousand member National Pawnbrokers Association to decipher the clues and bring the book to publication.

Original Version

Dear (Agent),

I am sending my query to you in hopes that you will consider representing RECONDITE, a NA contemporary sci-fi novel, complete at 92,000 words. I have included a synopsis and the first 10 pages of my manuscript for your consideration. If you would like a larger sample, or the entire manuscript, you may contact me using the information below my signature. [Zzzzzzzz. Snort. What? Oh, right, queries. Recondite. Wait, that's the title? A word that's obscure, abstruse, and that few people understand? What does it even mean? I'm not interested in a book that makes me feel stupid before I even open it.]

New York City is breeding a terrifying secret. In an underground Compound, [No need to capitalize that.] an ancient community births a hidden society [Are you sure that shouldn't be "an ancient society births a hidden community"?] of people called Recondites. ["Recondite" is a noun?] Enslaved to a debt system where time is currency, Recondite lives are signed away to the Compounds’ [Apostrophe in wrong place.] leader, the Generational. [Since when is "generational" a noun? It sounds like a combination of "general" and "irrational."] With their every move monitored by internal tracking technology, the only way to gain their freedom is to run out of time. [You've run out of time, by which I mean the agent has moved on to the next query. But Evil Editor will forge onward.] ["Running out of time" is considered a bad thing. Gaining freedom is good. Maybe there's a clearer way to state what they must do to gain their freedom.] 

Twenty-year-old Recondite Liam wants out of his servitude, but the disappearance of his sister is the crux in his escape plan. [The crux? That makes it sound like he needs her to disappear. Do you mean the snag/crimp/hitch/stumbling block ?] Riddled with guilt over wanting to leave her behind, Liam decides a trade is the only way to get her back: the Generational’s heir for his sister. [Just one problem, he has absolutely no conceivable way of acquiring the Generational's heir.]

Clueless to her inheritance, twenty-year-old heiress Sahar Ihsan awakes terrified in Liam’s home [The enslaved have their own homes?] with no recollection of how she got there. [Well, that turned out to be easier than I expected.] [Why refer to her as the heir and as the heiress? We might think they're two different people.] Desperate to return home, Sahar tries to figure out their connection. [She has to figure it out? Can't she just ask Liam?] [Also, when you've been kidnapped by a stranger it's often for ransom, and there's no "connection."] [In a world where time is currency, you'd assume a kidnapper would demand time as ransom, but because running out of time is a good thing here, the kidnapper would say, you can have your heir back, but first you have to also take all my time. It makes for a confusing negotiation, akin to a kidnapper in a money-based society paying you to take back his hostage. Which is what happens in "The Ransom of Red Chief." I haven't thought of that in decades.] When Liam is forced to unveil the horrifying secret Sahar’s community has kept hidden from her, Sahar is faced with an impossible decision: take her rightful place as heiress or help free the man she was never meant to meet. [Help free Liam? I thought she was Liam's prisoner, and had to decide whether to help him free his sister.]

RECONDITE is my debut novel. I currently reside in Philadelphia.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Put the first paragraph at the end, and shorten it to one sentence. 

Is everything underground? 

What do you mean by Sahar is "clueless to her inheritance"? Does she not know she's the heir, or just not know exactly what she'll inherit? 

The horrifying secret Sahar's community has hidden from her is that her community has birthed a hidden society of people enslaved to a debt system where time is currency? I doubt she'd find that horrifying. I doubt she'd have any idea what it means.

Dump the whole thing. It's too recondite. Start with something like:

Twenty-year-old Liam wants out of his servitude, but his escape plan hits a snag when his sister goes missing. He decides a trade is the only way to get her back, but first he'll have to kidnap the Generalissimo's heiress. 

Possibly even that leads to too many questions. Maybe start with Sahar waking in Liam's home, where he tells her in clear language what's been going on under her nose.

The important thing is to get to a main character up front. We want to read about people, not communities and societies. And get rid of "Generational" and "Recondite." They're killing you. You know a title sucks when only three people submit fake plots--and I'm not sure whether the first fake plot was supposed to be for this title or another one.


Anonymous said...

Whoa. Todd's story was for "Under the Rainbow," but maybe it all is kind of . . . recondite.

Evil Editor said...

It seems so obvious now. I was thinking if there was a Todd in the movie Under the Rainbow it might be for that one, but it's the rainbow flag, right? You should have said he wins a pot o gold in a lawsuit. Then even I might have got it.

Anonymous said...

It's nice that you've built an obscure secret society, but as far as I can tell, there's nothing about it that I need to know to understand that the enslaved MC has kidnapped the heiress and is trying to leverage her into an escape for him and his sister. The background may or may not be important to understanding the significance of the obscure secret, but I'm betting you can clue us in without.

Is Liam your MC or is Sahar? You start with Liam and his issues, but Sahar is the one making the critical decision (?) at the end. Yes, your story can be about both of them. However, this doesn't look like a buddy story and you don't say it's a romance, so pick one, preferably the one making the decisions that drive the plot.

Liam having a plan for rescuing his sister kind of hinges on him knowing where she is and that she need rescuing. All you've mentioned is she's missing. I'm missing a connection as to how kidnapping the heiress is going to help find her. Is he holding her hostage so the guy in charge will find his sister?

If the plot hinges on the horrifying secret, you need to tell the agent what it is. Soylent green? Aliens? Cthulhu? If the plot doesn't hinge on the secret, it doesn't need to be mentioned in the query.

I don't see why Sahar can't rule as heiress and help Liam get free. With the information provided, those two options don't look mutually exclusive.

"Debut novel" is assumed if you don't list publishing credits.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Using a little known, not widely understood word that means "little known or not widely understood" as the title of your book is not a great start.

To reiterate what EE said, you can't start with world building and broad, generic information and expect the reader to feel invested. Start with a character and why we should care about that character.

The basic job of a query is to answer the following questions:

- Who is the main character? Liam, a twenty year old slave. At least, I think it's Liam, since he's the first person you mention by name. But you spend at least as much time on Sahar and she's the one faced with a decision at the end.

- What does the main character want? Assuming it's Liam, I guess it's to get his sister back? Again, this problem seems to disappear in the final paragraph.

- What's stopping him from getting what he wants? Since I have no idea what happened to his sister, I don't know.

- How might the character overcome this obstacle? By kidnapping the heiress, though since I don't know what happened to Liam's sister, I don't know how or why this is supposed to work.

- What happens if the character succeeds? What happens if he fails? I suppose he gets his sister back, though there seems to be something about a big secret and a choice the heiress has to make that's getting much more attention than the missing sister. No clue what might happen if he fails.

If your story is about Liam trying to get himself and is sister out of slavery, focus on that. He's got a plan to escape, but his sister disappears. He seems to have some idea of what happens to her, because he thinks he can abduct the heiress and get his sister back in exchange for her safe return. The what happens? How does a lowly Recondite manage to abduct the leader's heir? What happens next? Why is Liam telling her some long hidden secret instead of making a bargain with the Generational? Tell us the plot in a clear and straightforward manner. You can always go back and punch it up later. In this draft, your writing is making the story harder to understand.

End with the title, word count, and genre. Agents already know that you're sending them a query (as they're reading it), that you're looking for representation (that's why you send a query) and that you can be reached through your provided contact info. You can mention that you've included any number of additional pages that they've asked for. They will likely know that you're willing to send more if they request it.

Anonymous said...

DANG, I hate it when I miss a chance for a punchline.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to wrap my head around this: "the only way to gain their freedom is to run out of time." But time is currency, so . . . you mean if they're time-bankrupt they have nothing of value, so they're free? Or you mean the time they have is a debt, so once they "spend" some fixed amount, their debt is paid? How do you calculate one's time account? It seems to me it would simply be your lifespan, which can't be calculated in advance unless someone is planning to kill you.

Liam is forced to unveil the horrifying secret Sahar’s community has kept hidden from her? Why doesn't he leap at the chance to rub her privileged little nose in it? And why is Sahar's choice "impossible"? And why does she even have to make a choice? Why can't she free Liam AND assume the throne? Is Liam's fate entirely up to Sahar in the end?

Please don't answer these questions in a comment or even (necessarily) in another version of your query; if these questions are settled nicely in your book, rewrite the query so that you convey the plot and the conflicts without any holes in the plot or the logic.

St0n3henge said...

"If you would like a larger sample, or the entire manuscript, you may contact me using the information below my signature."
Yeah, they pretty much know this already, considering they get hundreds of these query-thingies per day.

As EE pointed out, "crux" is the wrong word.

"Riddled with guilt over wanting to leave her behind, Liam decides a trade is the only way to get her back:" At this point it doesn't matter whether he wanted to leave her behind. He apparently doesn't. You can pretty much leave out anything that doesn't move the story forward.

"Clueless to her inheritance..." This is awkward. You probably mean "Clueless as to her inheritance..." but that's too stilted. "Unaware of her inheritance" would work fine.

I, also, am confused at the end. She has to help free him in order to get back home, but she can't do any such thing while she's being held captive. What a Catch-22.

You're trying to be too writerly and esoteric and you need to dial it back a bit. Come back to Earth just long enough to write the query.

Mister Furkles said...

New York City is breeding a terrifying secret.

With seven million people in NYC, how can they all have a secret? Also can secrets be breed? The problem it that this kind of sentence at the top of the query raises a red flag. Words are the hand-tools of the writer's trade. Every time you use them haphazardly, the agent/editor must think your story will cost a fortune to edit.

Also, when you raise the red flag on your first plot sentence the agent/editor will be looking for more and your query has more.

Imagine an agent has two hundred queries to read this afternoon. It's already 3 PM and she just wants to be done in two hours. She sees this task as one of elimination of those that are poorly composed. It takes a minute or two to read a query and she doesn't have that much time. So she just reads far enough to determine that a query is poorly composed then puts it in the reject pile.

Your first plot sentence gets you half way to the reject pile. Then ancient community births a hidden society completes it. You're in the reject pile.

Revise and focus as I&PC has suggested.

Anonymous said...

8.5 million.

SB said...

I learned a new word today. :-)

I agree that the query needs a lot of work, but the story sounds like something I'd be interested in reading.

When I read "crux", I thought that it might be that his plot to escape did require his sister to get taken, thus he'd be making a selfish choice which could be pretty interesting in a MC, and then later he changes her mind to save her. Based on what comes next, I'm actually not sure if that wasn't what was happening or if, like others think, the author just used the wrong word. This could definitely be made clearer.