Jayme Woods

Writer. Geek. Adventurer.


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The Power of Cliffhangers (a.k.a. FITZ LIIIIVES!!)

**SPOILER WARNING**

This post contains spoilers for Once Upon a Time, Castle, Sherlock, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Proceed at your own risk.

***I’M SERIOUS! SPOILERS AHEAD***

shield group

See there? Spoilers already.

So, let’s talk about cliffhangers. I have a love/hate relationship with these little devils. On one hand, speculating what’s going to happen next helps fill the time between novels, movies, or (for purposes of this post) television seasons. I mean, seriously, is there anyone who wasn’t stoked to get this little tease on Once Upon a Time:

elsa

Unfortunately, cliffhangers aren’t always just tantalizing glimpses of what’s to come. They often put characters we love in mortal peril. How did Castle escape that burning car? I DON’T KNOW, DANGIT! But I know he did. And I want to know how. It reminds me of a certain English detective who jumped off a building back in 2012. We all knew he survived. But how? HOW? Speculation kept the Sherlock fandom in full swing for two agonizing years.

As a writer, I respect a great cliffhanger. I still can’t hear the words, “Guys, I know Kung Fu,” without a twinge of jealousy that I didn’t write them.

And of all the cliffhangers this season, there’s none that’s got me more invested than the fate of one Leopold Fitz. For those of you who don’t watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz was last seen bobbing unconsciously in the ocean after being hauled up 90 feet by his biochemist partner, Jemma Simmons. If you don’t know why this hurts my heart, grab a tissue and hold on tight:

And that’s the last time we see him conscious. THE LAST TIME, people. No happy reunion where the whole team gathers around his hospital bed. No follow-up scene with Simmons holding his comatose hand and vowing to do whatever it takes to save him. Nope.

That’s not even the worst of it. Once Simmons hauls him to the surface, they’re rescued by Nick Fury. Nick stinkin’ Fury! Think how bummed Fitz’ll be he missed a chance to meet the man himself. It breaks my heart, really, it does.

What’s next for Fitz? We get a few hints. Fury confirms Fitz’s “heart’s still beating, just barely” but warns his amazing little brain went “without oxygen a long time.” At the end of the episode, when the team asks about him, Simmons merely replies, “he’s alive.”

Of all the times for the sunshiny little know-it-all to go laconic on us!

So what does it mean? Well, I did a little digging. Here’s the short version:

THE SHORT VERSION:

FITZ LIIIIVES!!

monkeys rejoiced

THE LONG VERSION:

WARNING: I’m not a medical professional. Everything you’re about to read is the result of poking around on the Internet. If you are a nurse, diving instructor, or someone with expertise in the matter I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

Here’s what we know:
> Ward jettisoned Fitz and Simmons into the ocean somewhere off the coast of Peru.
> Fitz says they’ve sunk “at least 90 feet.”
> When the window blew, water rushed in with enough force to “knock the wind right out of [them]”
> Fitz rigged a device to “let out a burst [of air] at very high pressure” that “force[d] a breath” into Jemma’s lungs

Okay, so let’s do a little back of the napkin math. Average swim speeds are surprisingly hard to come by, so I’m just going to assume Jemma swam 0.5mph, which seems conservative for someone swimming for their lives, even if they are hauling a soggy Scottish engineer behind them.

napkin math

Assuming my ballpark speed is accurate, Simmons made the swim to the surface in just over 2 minutes. This, my friends, is awesome news given the Survival Rule of 3, which says, “On average a person can only survive for 3 minutes without air.”

But Fitz said “at least” 90 feet? At least! What if it was farther? What if Simmons didn’t swim in a straight line? What if Fury’s helicopter exerted pressure on the water and made it harder for Simmons to break the surface? Curse you, Fury, and your stylish shades!

saved my ship

In that case, here are a few more interesting time frames to consider during a drowning situation:

30 seconds to 1 minute – the airway closes. Child’s lips turn blue.
1 to 2 minutes – the child looses consciousness.
2 to 5 minutes – the heart can stop. The child has a chance of survival if rescued now.
5 minutes plus – permanent brain damage is occurring as each second passes.

Whatever the variables, we know Simmons made it to the surface on a single breath without blacking out (while towing said soggy engineer behind her). For an untrained diver who “didn’t pass [her] field assessments,” it’s unlikely she lasted long enough to put Fitz in the danger zone.

But wait! That’s not all. During my research, I also happened across a bunch of other cool stuff like the mammalian diving reflex , the benefits of near-drowning in salt water versus fresh water , and this fun little gem from The Doctor Will See You Now : “About 75% of near-drowning victims who receive medical treatment survive. Of these, approximately 6% will be left with long-term neurological problems.”

Does that mean Fitz is looking at a 94% chance of full recovery? I don’t know. So why am I telling you all this?

WHY I’M TELLING YOU ALL THIS

There’s no denying I’m a fangirl, but first and foremost I’m a writer. And, as a writer, it’s important to remember readers today have access to an unprecedented amount of information. The above is what happens when you give a fangirl an hour alone with Google. An hour. That’s someone bored in the doctor’s waiting room or looking to fill the S.H.I.E.L.D. shaped hole in their Tuesday night. Let that soak in. It’s more important than ever for writers to do our homework!

Second take-away: Once you’ve done your research, remember this is a creative decision, not science class. The perfect storm of awesome could bring Fitz back to our screens (unharmed) in the first episode next season. Or the perfect storm of suckitude could give him a whole checklist of near-drowning complications that spur Simmons to perfect GH-325. Or any scenario in between. As long as the writers deliver an equally awesome payoff when the bill comes due, I don’t think anyone will complain.

In the meantime, it’s fun to speculate. What do you guys think? Will Fitz make an immediate recovery? Or does he have a longer road ahead of him? I’d love to hear your thoughts (and theories) in the comments.

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Greetings from the Revision Cave!

I’m happy to report my first draft revisions are all wrapped up. I actually finished a few days ago *just* in time to meet my self-imposed deadline – the October 8 release of The House of Hades. If you’re wondering, “deadline” means I refused to let myself buy HoH until I finished. Motivation thy name is Percy Jackson.

With the revisions now in the hands of my trusty CPs, I’ve also had a bit of time to catch up on things like scrubbing my bathroom (joy) and throwing a proper viewing party for Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

If that tablecloth looks familiar, it’s because it’s the playing card from my sister's Now You See Me  party butchered into what were supposed to be checker squares. Just go with it.

If that tablecloth looks familiar, it’s because it’s the playing card from my sister’s Now You See Me party butchered into what were supposed to be checker squares. Just go with it.

Unfortunately, my brain’s still in revision mode. While watching Wonderland, all I could think was, “Man, this could’ve used some editing.” I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. I’m sure as heck not saying I’m not tuning in next week. I think we all know I am.

What I’m getting at is this: the Wonderland pilot gave me clearer perspective on my own revisions. It was hard, painful even, to bring the ax down on some of my “darlings,” but most debut authors don’t have the benefit of an established world like Wonderland (or a franchise like Once Upon a Time). We’re inviting readers in for the first time. If we take a lengthy detour into the Mallow Marsh readers might not wait for us to get unstuck.

mallow marsh 2

Sometimes these little detours, while dear to the author, are more like speed bumps for the reader. They kill the momentum when the audience just wants to know when the heck Jafar’s going to show up.

While we’re on the topic of villains, one of the most common complaints I’ve read online is that the Red Queen on Wonderland was trying too hard to be the Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time. Don’t sell your characters short trying to make them the “next” Hermione Granger, Percy Jackson, or KHAAAAAAAN (sorry, couldn’t resist). Give us someone new to love/hate/ship.

But that’s enough shop talk for me. I’m going to enjoy the rest of these lovely white chocolate coconut bars…

If you're wondering why these aren't on a cute serving tray, it's because it is impossible to pick one up without eating it. Seriously good.

If you’re wondering why these aren’t on a cute serving tray, it’s because it is impossible to pick one up without eating it. Seriously good.

…before I hear back from my CPs and attack the Mallow Marshiest bits of my revisions with the ferocity of a feral Cheshire Cat.

Are you wrestling revisions? Did you enjoy Once Upon a Time in Wonderland? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


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Query Lessons from City of Bones

WARNING: I am not an agent or an expert of any kind. Everything that follows is based solely on my experience in the query trenches and my personal taste. If everyone wanted the same thing, we’d all be dating your grandmother, as the saying goes. What works for me may not be what works for you or for others.

Confession time: I’m the only person on the planet who still hasn’t read City of Bones. Before I saw the movie trailer, it was a few books down on my TBR list. After I saw the trailer, it got moved to the vague “whenever I get to it” pile where TBRs go to die. The movie just looked so dark and heavy. So not my cup of tea.

Fast forward a few weeks. My sister goes to see the movie. Loves it. Drags me kicking and screaming. After the end credits, City of Bones jumped to the VERY NEXT spot on my TBR list. I’m also now the proud owner of my very own stele prop replica:

Oh so shiny!

Oh so shiny! 🙂

That’s right. I now own merchandise from a movie I didn’t even want to see.

This got me thinking. Movie trailers can teach us a lot about querying. I’ve heard agents warn you should never, ever, EVER pattern your query like a movie trailer. If, like me, you wondered what that meant, watch the teaser for City of Bones:

Before I saw this trailer, I was loosely aware of The Mortal Instruments, its characters and premise, etc. For the sake of argument, let’s say I wasn’t. If my sister had tried to sell it to me following the structure of the trailer, it probably would’ve gone something like this:

Sis: Imagine this. A random dude murders someone in a really crowded conspicuous place, but no one can see it except Clary. Not even her hot bespectacled friend.
Me: Why? Is she crazy?
Sis: No! She’s just not a Mundane.
Me: What’s a Mundane?

Okay, at this juncture my sister and I both would’ve replied, “A Muggle.” In fact, that’s exactly how we did describe the movie to our dad. But since you can’t exactly say that in your query, the rest of the conversation may have gone something like:

Sis: A Mundane is someone who isn’t human.
Me: I don’t know, man. Clary looks pretty human to me.
Sis: Well, she isn’t! She’s a Shadow Hunter.
Me: What the heck’s a Shadow Hunter?
Sis: Shadow Hunters are half-angel, half-human warriors locked in an eternal battle against evil!
Me: Ooookay. So… why do they need Lily Collins?
Sis: Because she’s different.
Me: [does double-take at trailer] Was that Kevin Zegers?!
Sis: Focus! Clary’s got a map inside her head, alright?
Me: Why didn’t you just say that? [glances back at trailer] Does the map lead to Kevin Zegers?

If you don’t know why this is funny, you need more Air Bud in your life.

If you don’t know why this is funny, you need more Air Bud in your life.

Do you see where I’m going with this? This particular trailer got so bogged down in world building that it didn’t get a chance to showcase what made City of Bones awesome. When agents say not to structure your query like a movie trailer, I think this is partially what they mean. My first query was a mess because I was so in love with the world I’d created I wanted to shove all of its beautiful intricacies into my query. But guess what? All that world building didn’t need to be there. It just ate up precious words that could’ve been used to showcase what really mattered: why an agent should want to read more.

I’m reminded of an article I read a few weeks back, What Separates ‘City Of Bones’ or ‘Divergent’ From ‘Twilight’ or ‘Hunger Games’? Simplicity. The author, Scott Mendelson, gives advice that lends itself directly to queries:

“You’re selling a movie [in the case of a query, a manuscript], not a rule book on the fantasy world in question.”

and

“Don’t sell the rules of the game, but rather sell why the moviegoer [reader] would want to play.”

If I may be so bold, I think this is the cardinal rule of querying. I’m not saying you should be vague and cagey in a query. That’s just as bad as being overly specific. However, I think you need to be able to distill the bigger picture into a brief, snappy hook so that you can spend the rest of your 250-300 words, as Mr. Mendelson puts it, “teasing the actual adventure being offered [not just the world where the adventure takes place] or offering character beats that might make me want to spend time with these people.”

In the case of City of Bones, I might’ve said: “When Clary’s mom is kidnapped, she must venture into the dangerous world of demon hunting to get her back.” Boom. Is it more complicated than that? Yes. Is the scope of the world grander than that? Of course. But by simplifying the hook you give yourself room to show how grand and complicated your manuscript is. If the trailer for City of Bones had hinted Clary’s first love might just be using her to get the treasure map inside her head, I’d have been all over it. Hello, internal conflict and potential heartbreak! Throw in a tease about the conflict Clary might feel trying to choose between her old safe life (i.e. her funny, loyal, awesome best friend) and the rush of something new and dangerous, and I’d have been like:

Why, yes, this is Tinkerbell from Once Upon a Time.

Why, yes, this is Tinkerbell from Once Upon a Time.

The moral of the story? Conflict is key.

I’m not saying a simple query tweak would’ve sold my first manuscript. It was just as messy as my query. But if your manuscript is in good shape and you’re still not getting the responses you’ve hoped for, you may need to approach your world building with a wider lens so you can really dig into the specifics that make your book unique and engaging.

Still here? In that case, here are my last two cents: it is imperative to capture the tone of your manuscript in your query. While watching the trailer for City of Bones, I found myself thinking: Why so serious? The movie is actually very funny in places, which I love, but the trailer is all gloom and doom and weepy violins. Don’t do that.

Above all, don’t give up. You CAN do this!

Thanks to everyone who’s read and good luck to anyone in the query trenches. I hope this post helped a little.

Also, for hanging around until the end, here’s a hula dancing snowman. Enjoy:

Frozen snowman