Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Huh? or The Plot Does Not Make Sense

In the prior mailbag post, saramurphy asked the following, and I thought it was worthy enough of a question to get its own little post:

When you find that the plot does not make sense do you include that in your response to the writer?

Basically, I don't include that information in my rejection letters to the writer. There's a number of reasons I don't do this, but let's cover the very basic one first.

I don't have time. I use form letters, which I know most people think suck. If I could, I'd have a whole army of minion monkeys typing up personalized response letters, since I really think writers deserve that type of feedback. But the simple truth is that there's one me, one intern at my house, one Spencer who helps electronically, and about 5200 queries a year. Which is a drop in the bucket, compared to other agents, but it's still a lot. If I wrote personalized rejections to all 5200 queries, I'd be doing this until the cows were dead.

Now let's say that I really did have the time though; let's say that I could write personalized rejection letters to everyone who submits to me. Would I say "your plot makes no sense", and tell the writer that? I honestly don't think I would.

When I say a plot makes no sense, it really, really makes no sense. It has me going "huh" and muttering phrases along the lines of "Was this person on crack when they wrote this?". To put it more politely, let's use a totally ridiculous example that I will make up now, for a plot that makes no sense.

Example: My novel is about a flying butterfly who is running for President of the United States. In this far-future novel, flying butterflies have become a sentient species; the fact that they fly should be discounted as unique, but the fact that they talk, now that's something. Anyway, the flying butterfly decides to use his dolphin terrorist friends to secure the underwater vote--did I mention that all of the US is under water now, due to global warming? Anyway, the flying butterfly teams up with the dolphin terrorists, and they also enlist the help of the evolved polar bears, who are now purple. Together, they cover the three basic tenets of the magical United States: air, water, and land. By using their magical powers and combining in a Captain Planet sort of way, the flying butterfly manages to win the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary (there is only one political party now), and become the next presidential candidate of the United States. And oh yeah, they all fight crime.

Do you notice how totally ridiculous this is? Do I have you laughing or sneezing milk out your nose or perhaps dying at the computer? Because, people, I get query letters like this. Not many, mind you, but they are there. Sometimes, people think up plots that might have minor cool ideas in them (i.e., dolphin terrorists), but that are otherwise ridiculous. And I think that the minor cool elements are ok, but I simply don't have the words in me to tell the writer that the rest of their novel is... well.... ridiculous.

Being told that something you've worked on is ridiculous or makes no sense... it's not a nice thing to do to someone. It crushes people's egos. Writers are a strong bunch, and you have to be in this business, but we're all people, and people get hurt. I'm not trying to baby any writers here, but if someone submitted what I wrote above as a query letter to me, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a polite way to tell them that I don't want to read their novel. Which is another reason that agents use form letters, because sometimes, that is the nicest way of rejecting someone.

And now, for your further amusement, I'm going to paste in another ridiculous query letter example. It's written by a former client and a very good friend of mine, Jodi Meadows. Jodi was privy to the writing of this blog post, as we chatted over IM, and she wanted to join in the fun and write a "proper ridiculous query letter". So ladies and gentlemen, I give you the letter:

Dear Mr. or Ms. Agent:

I'm writing to you because you're an agent and I'm looking for representation for my litter box story (although you'd probably want to market it as fantasy or YA fantasy) THE CAT AND THE LITTER BOX, complete at 123,534 words. I've never had an agent before, but I think I'd like one. I think I'm a good enough writer to deserve one, as I've been writing for 30 years, plus my childhood, but that was mostly papers for school. I learned how to write in second grade, and cursive in third. But even before that, I made up stories for my dolls, who all seemed to like them. My cat (Mr. Sunshine) wasn't born yet, and therefore wasn't in my stories.

THE CAT AND THE LITTER BOX is about a tabby cat named Mr. Sunshine, who learns that his wise old mentor, Purrcilla, was kidnapped! Oh noes! (Darn lolcat speak has infected this book!) After Mr. Sunshine went to save her and realized he was her sister (it's so hard to tell when you're a cat and pretty much everyone is separated at birth), they THEN found out that their old breeder was a magician bent on taking all the clumping cat litter in the world so that he could build a giant sandcastle of doom. (Oh noes!)

What's worse, their old breeder (evil magician) actually turns out to be breeding puppies now, and he plans on using the sandcastle of doom to keep them. And once the puppies use osmosis (or something) to get the power of clumping cat litter, there's no stopping them. So Mr. Sunshine and his sister, Purrcilla, have to find the magic litter box of goodness in order to save the clumping cat litter and keep the puppies from getting the powers.




Jan said...

Flying butterflies. As opposed to the ones that can't fly, right?

You've convinced me. If that's an example of stuff you really see in your in box, form rejections are far, far kinder.

Jenny Rappaport said...

jan, yes, a flying butterfly. Didn't know they existed, did you? =)

All those other butterflies out there merely levitate...

Jodi Meadows said...

Query letter contest! Query letter contest! (But, eh, for good queries, maybe. Not bad ones. Unless they're GOOD bad ones? I will be your minion judge if you like... *cackles*)

Gina Black said...

But I want to read the story about the kitties, the clumping cat litter and the evil magician.

Kimber An said...

Oh, dear, these poor writers need a good critique group. It's impossible for me to get to one in Real Life with my schedule. That's why I'm so thankful for


There are a bunch of others. I prefer Critique Circle because of their credit system for giving and receiving crits.

Celeste said...


Amie Stuart said...

the magic litter box of goodness

Is that related to the magical healing coochie?


I say we have a ridiculous query letter contest.

kiwi said...

... that's just cruel. if you didn't like my story about the flying butterfly you could have simply sent me a form rejection.

That said, I have this great manuscript about a driving car (as opposed to a parked car; another ten book series altogether) that wants to go to the moon? Interested? Anyone? It would make a great movie. Oh, and my gold fish loved it.

kiwi said...

... oh, so agree with Amie stuart; a ridiculous querie letter contest.

Loved this post, Jenny, extremely amusing.

Jodi Meadows said...

Gina, don't tempt me. I've written entire books as jokes before. I'll do it again if you're not careful!

Amie, the magic litter box of goodness is, as you may have guessed, something that humans are far too dim to comprehend. Although with a name like that, I'm willing to put forth that it doesn't *smell* like a litter box. So. Good, obviously.

Kiwi, yeah, I told her you'd be really embarrassed about the flying butterfly book, so then she went and decided to pretend like it was *her* bad idea! Can you believe the nerve!? ;)

SaraMurphy said...

:) Thank you. lol

Ty Johnston said...

Wait a sec ... kiwi also wrote a flying butterflies and terrorist dolphins novel?

Wow. I thought I was the only one. Maybe we should get together and do an anthology.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Personally, I am excited about the totally ridiculous query letter. I'd read that story. :-)

It has all the best elements: cats, dogs, and magicians.

Demon Hunter said...

That was hilarious. Do you really get anything close to that? Do you just shake your head and wonder if it's a joke?

Sleepy Writer Ada said...


That is brilliant.

You need to sign that Jenny. You must.

kiwi said...

Jodi, you are so right. I've been on the phone with my legal team this morning. They're suggested legal action is warranted on grounds of plagiarism and miss-representation of forementioned literary genius. They're also suggested I go saramurphy for the sum of one million dollars for asking a question that provoked this post ... and there was some talk about the Pope ... and Walt Disney, legal speak, didn't quite get it.

And Ty, love the idea (didn't you write that cult classic THE CAT WHO THOUGHT HE WAS A DOG BUT WAS ACTUALLY A KITCHEN SINK that had been melted down and turned into the casing of a nuclear missle?) A truly masterful piece of masterliness, (literarily speaking) .... but, what's the point of an anthology when a certain unscrupulous literary agent who will remain nameless is likely to ripe-off our literary genius and sell it as her own!

Gods, the nerve, indeed!

Ben S. D. said...

I would SO read "The Cat and the Litter Box."

Write it! Now!

SJ said...

lol You're a busy person.

Rachel said...

But Ms. Rappaport, MY novel IS about the tragic beauty of life as much as it is about robots! How can you say that one roomba's journey through sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll to find himself and finally get his trap cleaned by the rotorooter of his dreams doesn't make any sense? It makes perfect sense to ME...

Next thing you know, they'll want a title that doesn't involve unprintable characters... yeesh!

Rebecca Mother of A Tribe said...

Ha ha ha!

Brandi Ballard said...

I can't imagine how you can stand to spend your day wading through this kind of tripe. I've known lots of people that, when they hear that I'm a writer, they want me to read their work and give them my opinion. Usually it's downright migraine inducing yet they are so proud of it. I'm not trying to be a jerk, it's just normally awful writing. You know, the kind of people who don't know the difference between to, too, and two or there and their. Do you ever share any of the really awful ones with fellow agents?

Meg said...

Oh noes!

Anonymous said...

I was shaking my head over the first example and actually did spew tea over the second. LOL. Thanx for the first laugh this morning.

Liz Kreger

Dennis said...

Oh my God...Ms. Meadows' query is hilarious! I'm not sure what's funnier, "oh noes!" or "And once the puppies use osmosis (or something)."

Great stuff. I didn't think one could be funny without swearing. Now I know.


- Dennis