Thursday, September 24, 2009

What you talkin' about?

Blog browsing this morning, came across Rachelle Gardiner's latest post, on pitching emotional journeys vs story. I posted my 2p there, but felt like this was an 'apt' topic for a new post, because of a revelation last night when I showed my first line of UF to the writing group. It was something like -

9th grade at St. Aggie's all-girls boarding school sucked.

The instant I posted that sentence, I cringed - because somebody who doesn't know the story will immediately be checking off a few YA cliches (Catholic school + angry at world teen + boarding school).

It gets worse when I try telling people what UF is about in a single sentence (as a logline or pitch) -

Here's my rough query that needs to be chopped down and cleaned up a LOT:


W's parents are dead, her older sister's bossy, and her youngest sister is a freak. They move together in a big old house that W doesn't remember living in before, though bossy older sister insists they did, and she begins to see ghosts. Well, mainly ONE ghost, and he's a dog.

So she's nuts. W should have expected that considering her parents went all Baroness Shraeder (sp, I know) and sent her away to boarding school where her only friend was a strango obsessed with detached dead-rabbit feet.

Thanks to oldest sister's intervention, she's now at a new school where hopefully people won't notice her whispering at invisible dogs to not pee on the English teacher's desk, even if he deserves it for killing the joy of reading and writing.

There is a guy at the school and W isn't sure how to sort her conflicted feelings about him. He's like the teenage version of her oft-dreamed rakish highwayman, but he has a reputation for playing with little Kelly dolls. Teenage boys secretly playing with Barbie dolls is - well, it's weird, but to be expected and easily blamed on raging testosterone. But Kelly dolls? Ew!

The guy, unfortunately, is her best chance at understanding why she's being followed around by a dead dog and why her new girlfriend tried to kill her in the school library with all of the books from the A-AL section.

That girlfriend is possessed by a vengeful spirit who either doesn't understand that the world is completely different than it was 7,000 years ago or doesn't care. All that matters is the spirit wants to reclaim her lost life, even if it means kidnapping a dozen children and hiding them between 'here and there', where they will linger until whatever time she decided to do the big horrible devouring ceremony.

W wants to call the police, but guy informs her that the police might put a stop to the devouring ceremony, but wouldn't be able to find the missing children. Only she - a shaman - can.

The bad news is it means she might be stuck with a lifelong job that doesn't pay and opens her up to possession and insanity, should she choose to accept it.


The logline for that vastly confusing muddle?

Um...

A shaman must stop her possessed friend from devouring children before it's too late.

Yuck.

Sweet, cheerful Kelly is possessed by a long dead evil spirit who plans to kill a bunch of kids unless Wesley with her newly discovered shamanic powers can get her act together and stop her.

Slightly better - but a mouthful and cliche territory. :[

But I didn't want to just ramble about my own work.

Rachelle's post reminded me of something that occurs to me from time to time as I read queries for friends or listen to story ideas. The worst thing evah is keeping my mouth shut sometimes, when I recognize a plot from a video game or popular movie. Having read the novels, I know that the writers did have a new and different plot. Not just that, but every writer has a different voice and has the possibility of telling you the same old story in such a way as to make you forget the original until you are looking at the very basic simplified plot. So even if a person starts with a much used skeleton of a plot... readers don't notice if you put on enough flesh, features, and clothes on it.

Yet, that isn't immediately clear when you have to strip all details out and present a dreaded logline (1 sentence) or pitch (1-3 sentences).

I guess my advice is people need to really be careful about what their logline/pitch REALLY says. They aren't just looking for (a) faithful and tidy summary or (b) something REALLY hooky. They have to consider how familiar the end product sounds.

You absolutely don't want somebody thinking that you are writing a Matrix-based novel. Or a Twilight rip off. Or yet another Lord of the Rings rip off. <- Because generally, you're NOT! But if all an agent hears is an overused theme or a formula that was used in Matrix/Twilight/LOTR, then that's what you will be accused of.

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