Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Synopsis 17: Cattitude

Jack knows he’s the coolest cat ever. Life had been fine until his Max, his human got married, and the house was taken-over by Shadow, a snooty Siamese, and a puppy called Bo. Max cops the Christmas tree tumbling on his head and other pet-led disasters, and the new bossy lady banishes Jack to the backyard.

Jack’s plot to get the others kicked back to their homes backfires, and he gains two new shed-mates instead. The only thing worse than Shadow’s put-downs is Bo’s insistence on playing. Jack makes a deal: if Bo can be quiet Jack will teach him to climb. Jack figures he’ll never have to pay up because the dog can’t be quiet for more than a minute, but at least it’s a minute’s break.

When New Year’s Eve fireworks terrify them down into the drains, the trio become lost. They are forced to cooperate to stay warm, safe from rats and fed. Shadow catches dinner and Bo follows the scent trail back to where they entered the drains, but only Jack can climb out. Bo learns that Jack lied about teaching him to climb, and Shadow questions whether he will return to save them.

Above ground, Jack realises he is as lost as before. Searching for a landmark, he notices workers entering the drains. He returns and leads the others to the workers, who rescue them. Sort of. Bo gets tied to a post by a worker who’s decided he’ll make a great pet for his kids. Shadow and Jack stow away with Bo in the van and get taken to the workman’s home. There, feral kids strap him to a skateboard and make him perform terrifying stunts, then leave him alone without food or water. The pet rabbit tells them she only survives because she can run fast and survive on grass, and warns him to leave.

Shadow distracts the children into leaving the gate open, allowing Bo an opportunity to flee. Still as lost as before, Jack charms a kind looking human for help, who betrays them by taking them to the dreaded vet’s. But who’d have thought these torturers actually had a use? The vet reads their micro-chips and reunites them with their anxious humans who allow them back into the house. Now Shadow is content to stay, and the three amaze the humans by choosing to sleep in the same basket.

CATTITUDE is a 16,000-word Chapter Book for children aged 8-10.

Comments

Comparisons to The Incredible Journey will, of course, be inevitable. I think, though, if you pitch it as TIJ for the younger set, you’ll be fine. My overall advice is to either amp up the emotion or the humor in the synopsis. For a story like this, for this age group, one of those is going to be your best hook.

Jack knows he’s the coolest cat ever. Life had been fine until his Max, his human got married, and the house was taken-over by Shadow, a snooty Siamese, and a puppy called Bo. Max cops the Christmas tree tumbling on his head and other pet-led disasters, and the new bossy lady banishes Jack to the backyard.

I’d keep this all in present tense. It could also use a little transition between the first two sentences. I notice we never know if Shadow is male or female.

I’m assuming your target agents/editors will be Aussie -- or British. Americans will be trying to figure out the “Max cops” phrase. To us, it sounds like Max takes the blame for the tree, et al., rather than confesses to his wife that Jack’s the instigator.

Jack’s plot to get the others kicked back to their homes backfires, and he gains two new shed-mates instead. The only thing worse than Shadow’s put-downs is Bo’s insistence on playing. Jack makes a deal: if Bo can be quiet Jack will teach him to climb. Jack figures he’ll never have to pay up because the dog can’t be quiet for more than a minute, but at least it’s a minute’s break.

If Jack's is a simple plot, I’d include it here.

Is Bo insisting on playing through yipping? Are his overtures noisy? Otherwise, I’m not getting the connection.

When New Year’s Eve fireworks terrify them down into the drains, the trio become lost. They are forced to cooperate to stay warm, safe from rats and fed. Shadow catches dinner and Bo follows the scent trail back to where they entered the drains, but only Jack can climb out. Bo learns that Jack lied about teaching him to climb, and Shadow questions whether he will return to save them.

New Years and cold (they’re trying to stay warm)? I was thinking this was taking place in Oz. Is it England?

Above ground, Jack realises he is as lost as before.

As lost as he was in the drains? This might be a good place to add in Jack’s motivation. Does he ever consider not going back for the others as Shadow fears? Why does he return for them?

Searching for a landmark, he notices workers entering the drains. He returns and leads the others to the workers, who rescue them. Sort of. Bo gets tied to a post by a worker who’s decided he’ll make a great pet for his kids. Shadow and Jack stow away with Bo in the van and get taken to the workman’s home.

I like the detail of Bo getting tied to a post. That’s emotional. But it doesn’t segue easily into the next sentence. And “the van” makes it sound like we know whose van it is right off. Just rearrange a bit: When the workman bundles Bo into his van for the trip home, Shadow and Jack stow away for the ride.

There, feral kids strap him to a skateboard and make him perform terrifying stunts, then leave him alone without food or water. The pet rabbit tells them she only survives because she can run fast and survive on grass, and warns him to leave.

“Feral” is an odd choice, both for voice and meaning. Who are the kids strapping to the skateboard? Bo? There’s no clear reference for “him” either time it’s used in that first sentence. Why does the rabbit confide to “them” but only warn “him?”

Shadow distracts the children into leaving the gate open, allowing Bo an opportunity to flee.

This sentence breaks voice: During a badminton game, Shadow grabs up the shuttlecock and leaps over the fence with it. The kids give chase and Bo slips out through the open gate.

Still as lost as before, Jack charms a kind looking human for help, who betrays them by taking them to the dreaded vet’s. But who’d have thought these torturers actually had a use? The vet reads their micro-chips and reunites them with their anxious humans who allow them back into the house.

Perhaps a period after “humans” and just a bit about the reunion that leads to being allowed back in the house. Give a hint about the emotional heart of the story.

Now Shadow is content to stay, and the three amaze the humans by choosing to sleep in the same basket.

Should “Shadow” be “Jack?”

I don’t think “by choosing” is needed; in fact, here’s an opportunity to show rather than tell: That night, the three amaze their humans when they snuggle together in the same basket and, tired but happy, fall fast asleep.

CATTITUDE is a 16,000-word Chapter Book for children aged 8-10.

You don't really need to include this info here as it'll be in your query or cover letter (It is something good for the critters here to know, though). I do love the title!

11 comments:

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'm glad I read Phoenix' notes as I did get confused by "Max cops". Odd for me since I'm so steeped in BBC shows and British authors. Ah well.

This repeats: "as lost as before" and needs a new way to be said one of the times.

Overall, I thought it was a bit of a downer for a feel good story. There were some "aw" moments that maybe should be amped up to "OMG" moments so we feel the fear. And the ending needs a bit more punch so we feel the satisfaction of the happy ending.

Why can't Shadow climb? That one puzzles me.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I'm not sure if you need the first sentence. The fact that Jack is - or believes he is - the coolest cat ever doesn't seem to have much bearing on the rest of the story. The important thing is that Jack is living the good life until Max gets married and he suddenly has two other pets to contend with. So dump the first sentence and add in a bit more detail about Jack's life before Shadow and Bo came along.

What "homes" does Jack want the others kicked back to? I had assumed that both Shadow and Bo belonged to Max's wife. So even if Jack is thinking that their home is wherever they came from, wouldn't that be just one place?

I share Sarah's puzzlement over Shadow's inability to climb out of the drain.

And I agree with Phoenix that it's not clear who gets strapped to the skateboard.

This may just be me, but I find the lack of resolution to the wild kids story unsettling. Sure, our heroes get away, but the rabbit is still there. As the owner of two house rabbits, I'm not comfortable with the idea of a pet rabbit spending her days foraging for food and fleeing from crazed children. Can you add in something that would let readers know that these kids will never mistreat another animal?

What happens after the escape from the kids feels anticlimactic. Escaping the kids shows how these animals have learned to work together and get along, which I'm guessing is the point Of your story. Being taken to the vet, which ultimately gets them home, does not.

Sarah Laurenson said...

The vet resolution sort of bothered me, too. Generally, the rule (which means it can be broken, but you need to know how to do it) is that kids want to solve the problem themselves and not have an adult step in and solve it for them.

In this story, you're asking your readers to be the animals and they do solve quite a few problems on their own - except the last one that actually gets them home. It's something to consider.

Jo-Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jo-Ann said...

Author here –
Thanks to everybody who took the time to comment. You all made very good points.

Phoenix, yes New Year's Eve is summertime in Aust. However, regardless of the season, being underground in the dark, damp drainage system the three would be at risk of hypothermia with moist fur sticking to their skins (and if it rained, they’d be at risk of drowning). Staying warm by huddling would be essential to survival.

The term “cops” in that context means that the worst of the pain befell him (as in, “during the brawl, he copped a knee to the groin”). I was aiming for poor clueless Max ending up with the pointy end of the tumbling Christmas tree.

It was not spelt-out in the synopsis that the Siamese is the wife’s pet, but the puppy was a wedding present, so the two interlopers are new to one another, too (the Siamese was the step sibling, and the puppy the new baby).

As for the Siamese not managing to climb out of the drains, I'll add something to the query about her being much smaller than Jack, and Jack only just being able to manage the leap required, but that regardless, she felt loyal to the puppy.

I was worried about the ending being abrupt/ and deus-ex-machina, so my fears were well founded. I guess in real life, lost animals get reunited with their owners courtesy of the microchips, but it doesn't sound good enough for a story. In the narrative, the two adult cats compete to tell the most horrific veteran-of-the-vet story and are humbled when a vet turns out to be their saviour.

I take your point about the bunny, Ink and Pixel, perhaps the rabbit should be the neighbour's pet.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hi Jo-Ann,
Opening line - I was thinking coolest cat as in some hep cat from bygone days. Beatniks and smoke filled coffee shops and stuff. Your target audience won't have my dating problem. You target agents might.

I think a stronger opening line would assist the sale. I liked this. The threesome is very Incredible Journey.


I have a problem with Jack being banished to a backyard. It was his turf. Surely his owner isn't a total wimp in this marriage of blended animals.

Just my thoughts. I like the writing and think this is going to be a fun read.

Good luck.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'm wondering if you start with something like "Jack's life was purrfect - a life of kibble and soft bed luxury. Then they came along and ruined everything."

And then describe who they are and what happened.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hi Jo-Ann,
Opening line - I was thinking coolest cat as in some hep cat from bygone days. Beatniks and smoke filled coffee shops and stuff. Your target audience won't have my dating problem. You target agents might.

I think a stronger opening line would assist the sale. I liked this. The threesome is very Incredible Journey.


I have a problem with Jack being banished to a backyard. It was his turf. Surely his owner isn't a total wimp in this marriage of blended animals.

Just my thoughts. I like the writing and think this is going to be a fun read.

Good luck.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

BTW Shadow is the name of one of the pooches in the movie. May want to rethink that one.

Jo-Ann said...

I'm glad I went back to look at the comments as a few more appeared since I last looked. Thanks for taking the time to comment, people!

I'm going to rework aspects of the story. Expect a redux in a few months!

I've not read the Incredible Journey, so I'd better check out a copy. Shadow may not be the best name for a Siamese anyway, given her coat is a light colour. Suggestions to cat names open!

As TS Eliot said "the naming of cats is an important matter, it's not one of your holiday games".

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Jo-Ann> Just so you aren't confused if you do check out The Incredible Journey, the animals have different names in the book and the recent movies. The animals in the book are Luath the Labrador retriever, Bodger the bull terrier, and Tao the Siamese cat. In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, they are known as Shadow, Chance, and Sassy, respectively, with some Minot changes to their breeds. Interestingly, the two dogs kind of swap roles between the book and the movie; Luath is a young dog and Bodger is a senior while Shadow takes the role of loyal and wise elder in the movie. And the cat switches genders.

The animals don't talk in the book, so I think you're more likely to run into comparisons with the movie.