Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Face-Lift 561

Guess the Plot

Extra Lives

1. On the eve of the release of their latest video game, a company's chief game developer is murdered. Only Elliot Finch, game programmer, can solve the case--although some detective wants in on the glory. Also, a kid who speaks only in code.

2. He strangled, shot, stabbed, poisoned, ran over, drowned, burned, crushed, and hung the cat. But it was still alive because the witch next door had given it . . . extra lives.

3. Jason Liebenkrantz escapes his despair over mortality by playing video games day and night until his soul is drawn into his Xbox. The quality of life in there is pretty low, and the women are all 2D, but at least he gets plenty of . . . extra lives.

4. Computer games mean everything to Bob: escape from his nagging mother, and a chance to prove his father wrong about being a dumb nobody. When an anonymous contact offers Bob the code for unlimited lives in Roger Bopping IV, it could make Bob the world champion - or get him banned forever from competitive gaming.

5. Mortally wounded in a battle between Good and Evil, Morvin discovers he can recover and continue the fight by shoving two quarters up his ass. Can he defeat the spawn of Satan before running out of coins or developing piles?

6. Morris the Cat meets the zombies in this action packed thriller of kitty redemption. Does Morris have enough lives left to defeat the zombie master?

Original Version

Mr. Ed:

Elliot Finch isn't a detective. [I'm hooked already. You don't know how sick I am of mysteries in which the main character is a detective. I mean, if Miss Marple can solve a murder, the average plumber or flight attendant or video game developer ought to be able to handle it.] He's a programmer for Advirture, a video game development company on the verge of releasing Talent, a major breakthrough. But the company's chief developer has been found dead in the back halls of E3, the largest video-game exposition in the country, and Finch is the only one with enough inside knowledge to unravel the tangle of back-office deals, lies and double-crosses surrounding the murder.

In the world of video games, one hit can make a company and one miss can destroy it. It's populated by [What's populated by? The world of videogames? A company? Or the book?] people like the thirteen-year-old prodigy who refuses to speak in anything but code, the CEO so afraid of other people that he's hired an actor for personal appearances, and the motion-capture model trying to hide her addiction to on-line role playing games. Each of them has a stake in the success or failure of Talent, and every company on the E3 floor has a motive for seeing Advirture collapse. [I would think that if they're on the verge of releasing the game, it must be in production, as they'd have to make huge numbers of them before they could release it. I don't see this murder stopping the game from coming out.]

Someone is willing to kill to either steal the new technology or prevent it from ever reaching the shelves. With the help of a veteran detective, Finch has to find out who is responsible before their plan to destroy Advirture requires the death of Finch himself.

Extra Lives is a 90,000 word mystery. My short fiction has appeared in X and Y.

Thank-you for your time.


You seem to have what you need for a mystery. A dead person, some suspects, and a detective. Unfortunately, your crime apparently will be solved by Finch, who is less likely than the detective to find new murders to solve in future books in the series. Just thinking ahead.

If everyone on the floor of the biggest video game exposition has a motive, I don't see how unraveling the tangle of deals, lies and double-crosses gets us anywhere. There's a reason most murder mysteries have five to eight suspects. 30,000 suspects is unwieldy.

Spoiler Alert: I think it would be an enlightening exercise to see how an experienced editor reads between the lines to solve a murder mystery. If you plan to read the book, stop reading now.

Okay, who are the suspects?

1. The 13-year-old kid.
2. The CEO.
3. The model.
4. The actor.
5. Finch.
6. The dead person's heir(s).
7. Lord Mountbatten.
8. Someone so insignificant he wasn't even worthy of being mentioned in the query because he barely appears in the book until it's revealed at the end that he had a long-standing grudge with the deceased.

We immediately eliminate Finch. Even though he isn't a detective, he might be needed for a sequel if the book takes off.

The kid is out. There'd be no satisfaction in having a kid get the chair. Plus, the final confession would be in code, so we wouldn't understand it.

The heirs are out. You don't set the book in a gaming expo if the spouse or kid did it. You set it in an English manor.

The actor is out. No motive unless he's fallen in love with the CEO. But the CEO is afraid of people, and probably hasn't even met the actor.

Already we've cut the field in half.

The CEO is too obvious. If it turns out to be the CEO everyone's gonna say, I knew it was the CEO. They'll be disappointed. If it's the CEO, I suggest you change the ending before sending the manuscript off. If this were your sixth Elliot Finch mystery, you could make it the CEO, because by now everyone trusts that you wouldn't make it the obvious person.

So we've narrowed it down to the motion capture model, the person who was never mentioned, and Lord Mountbatten. This is where it gets tough. We need to think about motive. The victim was a major player in the design of the game. The model wouldn't have had much contact with the victim unless they had something going on the side. A crime of passion? I don't buy it. I think the motive had something to do with the breakthrough technology. Also, being addicted to games, the model would want the game to be released so she could play it. Killing the developer just delays that.

Now you're thinking you see the brilliance of having included Lord Mountbatten on the list, because we can easily eliminate him on the grounds he died in 1979, when the video game industry was dominated by Ms. Pacman. But not so fast! For the insignificant character never mentioned in the query turns out to be . . . Lord Mountbatten Jr., international adventurer, video game executive, heir to the Mountbatten fortune, and . . . cold-blooded killer. An interesting twist, but . . . having had no trouble determining whodunnit, I of course wouldn't request this manuscript.


Julie Weathers said...

I think it's an interesting premise, but it would need a solid reason for the murder. People in the gaming industry change companies all the time so it would be unusual for the success of a game to hinge on one person.

Brice Broaddus gives you a peek just into the art side of it. It's a long, long process with a large cast to bring it together.

If you pull this off, it would probably have a decent audience so I wish you luck with it.

December/Stacia said...

I really like the setting, I think it sounds fun. But for me what makes the query not stand out is the lack of info about Filch (Finch? See, I can't even remember his name.) Is he a nebbishy dork? Is he a supercool hipster? Is he an obsessive Dr. Who fan who constantly quotes Dr. Who and sleeps with a picture of Billie whats-her-name cradled in his arms? Does that Dr. Who obsession make him see a clue no one else would see, because they didn't watch the last Christmas special and realize how forklifts were used on the Titanic? That sort of thing.

What makes him interesting, why should I care about him? Why is he the only one who can help the detective?

JMO, but I think the setting is really interesting, and some of the other characters you mention sound interesting, but nothing that makes the MC interesting, and he's the one we're going to spend the whole book with.

writtenwyrdd said...

The GTPs made me think of Tron so much that it was difficult to filter that thought out of my head.

That said, I think the first sentence is off. Why not say "Elliot Finch is a programmer, not a detective"? That way no one has the opportunity to feel like a non-sequitir has occurred at the onset of the query.

Overall, the query reads as rather dull. What's the emotional hook, the risks that Finch undergoes? And I don't find the list of people all that interesting.

wendy said...

Oh EE, you never fail to entertain and educate as well. Very eye-opening, thank you.

I like this one. I agree with december/stacia that we need to know more about Finch. I like the way the other players are definite characters, and I agree with EE that it isn't clear if you have a good killer from you query. (which seems to be important)

What's really got me going about this story is I can't help but wonder if something acted out in the video game tells a personal secret one of your characters would kill to keep quiet!

Fun story. I would read read read on and I don't even like video games!

Good luck with it!

pacatrue said...

It was obviously Mountbatten's son. You could tell that from line 2.

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't get the bit about new technology. Is this a game and a platform? Or am I meant to think of software as technology? That would be a new departure for me, but maybe I'm out of touch!

Overall, this doesn't grab, but I think that with a more exciting query, it could be very grabby. Not that I read murder mysteries much, but I'm persuadable :).

Adam Heine said...

The query is fine. I have a potential problem with the kid who speaks code (and potentially other geeky aspects of the novel). Basically, if you're targeting gamer and geek culture, then you'd better be freaking accurate in your depiction of that culture or they will murder you (pun intended, apology to follow).

So much so that if you've got a kid who speaks in code, that code better be accurate. But my thing is, why the heck does he speak in code? How? I write code, and it's dang hard, if not impossible, to speak to humans in it. It's not a language meant for humans. We can understand if/else statements pretty well, but what about for loops? While loops? Print statements? For that matter, which programming language is he speaking in?

That's not stuff you need in the query, but these were questions that made me wary. Of course, the chances of an agent/editor also being a geek/gamer/programmer are really, really slim. So you might not need to worry.

Oh, and sorry about the pun up there. It just sort of came out.

stick and move said...

This sounds like a great premise, to me. A fun story with lots of potential. I'm guessing it's aimed at the general mystery population, and I trust from the query that you know about the game designing industry. I hope you do, and include some interesting facts, but if you're aiming for the big audience, don't overdo it. I agree the query needs another sentence or two about Finch.

I'm no expert, but I think the query is pretty close to ready.

Dave F. said...

I rewrote this comment and deleted the original because I think I wasn't clear enough.

Lord Mountbatten?
His death was one of the great losses of the twentieth century. A true hero.
Being Anglophilic today, aren't we?

GutterBall said...

Truly, you have a dizzying intellect, EE. And here I thought it was Professor Plum. Guess I wasn't paying as close attention as I thought.

Author, I think December hits some excellent points. This is a fun query, which is good, but there's not a lot in it about who this Finch guy is. All we really know is that he works in game development and he's not a detective.

Now, I'm the world's worst about saying there's a forest without illustrating the trees, so I'm a little pot-calling-the-kettle-black, here. Take me with a grain of salt. You know, like a margarita.

At any rate, I'd probably read this just because I like mysteries and I like games (though I'm not quite up to gamer level). Good luck with it!

talpianna said...

Obviously the killer was an AI program, and not a person at all.

And there's no such person as Lord Mountbatten, Jr.; he had no sons and was succeeded by his eldest daughter:

Patricia Edwina Victoria Knatchbull, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, CBE, MSC, CD, JP, DL (born 14 February 1924) is a British peeress and daughter of the 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and his wife, the former Edwina Ashley. She is the elder sister of Lady Pamela Hicks, and first cousin to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Known before 1946 as Patricia Mountbatten, in 1946 as the Hon. Patricia Mountbatten, and between 1946 and 1979 as Lady Brabourne, Lady Mountbatten succeeded her father when he was assassinated in 1979, as his peerages had been created with special remainder to his daughters and their heirs male. This inheritance put her in the House of Lords, where she remained until 1999, when the House of Lords Act 1999 removed most hereditary peers from the House.

So there!

Evil Editor said...

Despite your research, you failed to discover that there also is no Elliot Finch, no victim, no CEO, no suspects. Like Lord Mountbatten Jr., they were all made up. It's a common ploy of fiction writers.

talpianna said...

I am horror-stricken at what I have done! When I began this
correspondence I had no other purpose than to relieve the tedium of your sick-chamber. Dillon told me to cheer you up. I tried to. I
thought that you entered into the spirit of the thing. I had no idea, until within a few days, that you were taking matters au grand serieux.

What can I say? I am in sackcloth and ashes. I am a pariah, a dog
of an outcast. I tried to make a little romance to interest you,
something soothing and idyllic, and, by Jove! I have done it only
too well! My father doesn't know a word of this, so don't jar the
old gentleman any more than you can help. I fly from the wrath to
come--when you arrive! For oh, dear Jack, there isn't any piazza,
there isn't any hammock--there isn't any Marjorie Daw!

(Thomas Bailey Aldrich)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Tal!
My daughter was assigned to her in Bosnia.

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, he wouldn't be Lord Mountbatten Jr., either, lol.

BuffySquirrel said...

No piazza? I hope there's some pizza at least!

talpianna said...

Buffy, I regret to inform you that this classic story was written long before the introduction of pizza to the United States.

I got a large part of my literary education by reading my parents' old high school and college English Lit textbooks; that's where I encountered this one.

I had hoped to discover that Lord Mountbatten's heir was Prince Philip, his closest male relative, who would make an excellent villain.

talpianna said...

No Elliot Finch? Sez you!