Monday, April 16, 2007

Face-Lift 317

Guess the Plot

Buried Secrets

1. Millions of years ago a falling comet created the crater now known as the Gulf of Mexico. Space dude Bud Winkerstein was on that comet, thanks to a software glitch that caused his space ship to crash into a level-5 time-space warp. At least that's his story when superspy Twinky Thompkins and her well-endowed sailors dredge him and his odd little submarine from the depths.

2. In a secluded corner of the old cemetery, best friends Julie, Kara, and Michelle write down all of their deepest secrets, drop them in a hole, and bury them, pledging never to reveal the location. When the friendship breaks up with a spectacular three-way fight, can any of the girls be trusted to leave those secrets underground?

3. The victim: a murdered archaeology student. The suspects: anyone who didn't want her literally digging up the past. The detectives: two guys who must bury their differences if they're to unearth a killer.

4. When a freak mudslide buries four ritzy homes in Santa Barbara, detective Dan Ruiz is surprised that the homeowners don't want anyone digging around their wreckage. But dig Dan does, unearthing not only a web of infidelity, strange religious rites, and money laundering, but also a child's skeleton.

5. When Josh's mum wants to know what he's burying in the backyard, he tells her it's a time capsule for a school project. Twenty years on, the new owners dig it up during a redevelopment project, and are shocked at what they find inside: a severed left buttock, preserved in formaldehyde.

6. When Nick Sprink gives colleague Donna Ergig the scandalous Neanderthal handshake, she suddenly realizes where he got that sexy supra-orbital torus and those big hairy knuckles. He, too, is a Survivor. After 35,000 years, she has finally found another member of her tribe. But is it too late to start a family? And what's that big-headed French guy doing with the hand ax?

Original Version

Dear Mr Editor

Please find enclosed a synopsis and first three chapters of my debut novel, Buried Secrets. It is a murder mystery of around 95,300 words set in South Africa and would appeal to readers of commercial crime fiction. [No need to explain to whom a murder mystery would appeal.] The completed manuscript is available on request.

Frieda Henning, an archaeology student, was brutally tortured before she was killed. A pentagram carved into her chest points to a ritual murder, but the scene looks artificially posed. [Artificially? Meaning in a true ritual murder, the scene would look realistically posed?] [Wasn't this the plot of a Criminal Minds?] Detectives Andrew Phillips and Lindiwe Makona are newly partnered. Even-tempered Andrew initially finds Lindiwe’s short temper and racial sensitivities hard to deal with, but they must bury their differences to solve a case that becomes increasingly complex.

[Phillips: Looks like a ritual killing.

Makona: What the hell makes you say that, Whitey?

Phillips: Pentagram carved into her chest.

Makona: That's it? Christ, you're dense, even for a Caucasian.

Phillips: Also, her body was nailed to an upside-down cross, her blood was drained and used to paint the number 666 on the wall, and the head of a goat was hanging from her neck.

Makona: Who you callin' nappy-headed?]

The victim’s ex-boyfriend, Shawn Ryder is missing. When he is finally found he is in a coma from a severe beating and he was tortured in the same way as Frieda. Why would the killer murder and then carefully pose the young woman but leave her boyfriend alive? [I thought he was her ex-boyfriend. Obviously he was in on the plot but things got out of hand.]

The victim’s brother, Frans Henning, and his militant right-wing friends quickly become suspects as Frans was incensed that his sister had a non-white boyfriend. Also on the suspect list is a local Satanist. [I'll bet Satanists get sick and tired of being placed on the suspect list every time a corpse is found that just happens to have a pentagram carved into its chest.] Then a close friend of the victim disappears. [That sentence doesn't belong in your "suspects" paragraph.]

One by one the suspects are cleared of Frieda’s murder. [That one does.] When the missing girl is found hiding with a friend, the truth finally emerges from South Africa’s Apartheid past. [What do you mean, it "emerges"?] A time when security forces killed with impunity and believed their secrets would stay buried forever. [Apparently they buried the records of their crimes in an archaeological dig, instead of just burning them. Idiots.]

I am a South African, currently living and working in the UK. My career is in marketing and I have extensive experience writing marketing and communications materials, which has taught me to rewrite, edit and accept criticism. I am also used to working to deadline. This is my first completed novel. I am planning to write a follow-up featuring the same detectives.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

[I am enclosing a full synopsis with the letter. I have tried to make this different to the synopsis, but I still worry that it is repetitious. Is it still a good idea to cover as much of the story as possible in the letter?]


To answer your question, this is about the right amount of plot to put in the letter. A bit less would also be okay. Presumably your synopsis goes into more detail. If it doesn't, you don't need to include it. Your letter should convince me I want to read your book. Your chapters should convince me you write well. Your synopsis is where I look to see what truth emerges, when you failed to include that in the letter.
I assume the killer is someone who's been in the book, and not someone who turns up only after the murder is connected to Apartheid. Mystery readers like to guess who the villain is, which is harder if he makes his first appearance at the denouement.


stick and move said...

Phillips: Looks like a ritual killing.

Makona: What the hell makes you say that, Whitey?

Oh man. Still laughing. I'll leave the critique to the rest of the minions, I'm just gonna laugh for a while longer.

GutterBall said...

#4 actually sounded pretty cool. And as per could they tell it was the LEFT buttock??

Anonymous said...

I just got back into town and have to say, this might be the best crop of guess-the-plot entries I've seen. Except the left buttock thing. Sorry, GTP author, you had me until it turned out to be a buttock.

Twill said...

The part with the victim's brother makes no sense at all. "Oh, yeah, let's kill her, but her non-white boyfriend we'll just beat up."


blogless_troll said...

I'm all for fooling people with false confidence, but "debut novel" sounds pretentious. I like the rest, but you should probably drop the sentence about the Satanist, or at least don't call him the "local Satanist." Makes him sound like a shop owner.

Robin S. said...

"I'll bet Satanists get sick and tired of being placed on the suspect list every time a corpse is found that just happens to have a pentagram carved into its chest."
I hope you don't get tired of doing this, at least for a long while.

The book sounds like it could be a good read.

And gotta love GTP #1. Twinky Thompkins with a "re-spell". Are the well-endowed sailors male or female? I mean, that could go either way, and I know which way I'D want it to go.

Dave said...

BTW - I read the line about "But dig Dan does," to my Schnauzer and the poor little doggie died, dead as a doornail from despicable, undeniable, dodgy alliteration.
I sent it to my Danny friends and dey said dat it's dumb as a Dodo boid.

functioning fruitcake said...

I agree, all these GTPs are fantastic and I had rare trouble telling which one it was (I guessed the girls in the cemetery).

Anonymous, you can blame EE for the buttock in GTP #5 as I had left the contents unmentioned (but as I had hoped EE filled the details in with the perfect touch of gross and weird).

To the author, this is a good effort which has all the elements in place. The only true problem is the glossed-over resolution sentences about Apartheid past and buried secrets - I'd suggest giving more of a clue what you mean at this point rather than being vague.

A few suggestions on how to tweak it. The main thing I'd do if it was mine would be to shift a couple of things around: I'd move the introduction of the detectives down so that it came just before "The victim's brother..." . Or alternatively, I'd open with it. Currently it seems out of place.

Other suggestions: move up the mention of the missing friend as it's not foregrounded enough given that her disappearance and subsequent reemergence is pivotal to the plot (at least, so I understand it to be). And perhaps delete completely 'One by one the suspects are cleared of Frieda's murder'. And delete mention of the Satanist - it jars.

csinman said...

I'm surprised I'm the first person to mention this, but I think the author is confusing "devil-worshippers" with "Satanism." Satanists are very unlikely to carve pentagrams on anyone's chest, as they are usually fat, goth gamers, much too busy playing Blood Rayne to bother with ritual sacrifice.

And I know this isn't exactly helpful, but: In that 90's sit-com Boy Meets World, there was a character named Shawn played by Ryder Strong, and another character played by a Will Friedman. When I saw the names of the victims I couldn't help but remember TGIF.

takoda said...

EE's dialogue made me snort coffee through my nose!

functioning fruitcake said...

Csinman, my immediate reaction to 'Shawn Ryder' was to picture Shaun Ryder the lead singer from the Happy Mondays as the victim of a drugs deal gone wrong.

No offense, Shaun Ryder. I believe you have been straight for a long time now.

I didn't however think this would be useful to the author to mention..;)

Secret Scribe said...

Thank you Evil Editor, and all those who have commented - your ideas and comments have been noted and I am doing some serious rewriting. I really liked the GTP too and wish I had thought of some of those plots.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person who thinks that referring to Makona's "racial sensitivities" makes her sound like a freaking fruitcake (as demonstrated by E.E.'s hilarious dialogue) which seems inappropriate in a novel where the killing was racially motivated?

Also, "incensed that his sister had a non-white boyfriend"? You mean...a black boyfriend? Or a purple one? Or what? I think you'd be better served by "black" or "person of color."

Author said...

I am seeking representation for BURIED SECRETS, a police procedural murder mystery of 96,000 words. Set against the unusual backdrop of contemporary South Africa, it will appeal to lovers of mysteries everywhere, much the same way that Donna Leon’s novels have a broad following in this genre.

A well-liked and religious archaeology student was brutally tortured before she was murdered. The scene is staged in a way that points to a ritual murder but the contrived set-up does not convince newly partnered detectives Andrew Phillips and Lindiwe Makona.

For one thing, the victim’s ex-boyfriend is missing. When he is finally found he is in a coma from a severe beating and he was tortured in the same way as the victim. Why would the killer murder and then carefully pose the girl but leave the young man alive? The detectives quickly identify the victim’s militant right wing brother as a suspect and the ritualistic aspects of the crime lead them to a practising Satanist living in the area. A close friend of the victim disappears and Andrew and Lindiwe don’t know if they looking for another body or if there is still time to save her. Then the ex-boyfriend is attacked in hospital. Andrew is determined to solve the crime and thereby ensure the youngsters’ safety, but the suspects they have are cleared of the murder one by one, and they don’t have any new leads.
They finally track down the missing girl - hiding at a friend’s place. She fills in the details of a crime linked to South Africa’s Apartheid past and a killer who believed his secrets would stay buried forever. The killer kidnaps the girl from right under their noses and Andrew comes face to face with the killer in a final confrontation.

I am a South African, currently living and working in the UK. The novel is set west of Johannesburg, around the area where I grew up. My career is in marketing and I have extensive experience writing marketing and communications materials, which has taught me to rewrite, edit, accept criticism and work to deadline. I am working on my next novel.
I have included a synopsis, the first three chapters and an SASE for your reply (the pages need not be returned).

Thank you for your consideration.

Dave said...

Good job. This is much, much better. It's not quite there yet. But it's much improved.
I dislike the first paragraph. But it's your query.
I think that this:

When the body of a well-liked and religious archaeology student turns up ritually tortured to death, newly partnered detectives Andrew Phillips and Lindiwe Makona suspect the victim's ex-boyfriend, but the victim's militant right-wing brother leads the detectives to a practicing Satanist, a red herring. When the ex-boyfriend is attacked a second time and the victim's best friend is discovered incommunicado, fearing for her life, she tells of a murder linked to South Africa's Apartheid past and a killer who thought his secrets would be hidden forever. Andrew and Lindiwe must confront their troubled pasts and a killer's desire to send past crimes to the grave in order to save the young girl.

is the sum of your second paragraph. The mention of the militant right-wing brother does not connect to the story as this is written. His involvement seems forced. You need to fix that.
Also you need to pump it up just a little. This is like advertising copy, make it happy, beaming and smiley-faced.

And your third paragraph is OK.

writtenwyrdd said...

This is much better, but I also dislike the first paragraph comparison. I'd leave that out.

Another problem I have is with the description of a Satanist as a killer. You are aware that this is largely a prejudice and Satanists per se aren't generally criminals? Crazy people who hear Satan in their heads aren't satanists... And if you are talking about a religious element of the indigenous people, Satanism is the absolutely wrong way to describe it.

Just saying. Because your mention of religious victim and satanist suspect make you sound like a wing nut religious zealot...which might affect the reception of your letter.

Anonymous said...

Thank you both. I am really struggling with this thing. Problem about the Satanist thing, it is in the book. They talk to someone from the Occult Unit and he sends them to a guy he has been watching, who is a practicing Satanist. Do you think this is going to be a problem in the book? It turns out that he had nothing to do with the murder, but is a bad guy (not because of his beliefs).

The Author