Friday, January 15, 2010

Face-Lift 719

Guess the Plot

The Edge of Real

1. Assistant Medical Examiner Dr Selena Rodriguez had never seen anything like the body of the winged man in the morgue. Now her house has disappeared, her boss was murdered by a pizza delivery man, and a mysterious woman has ordered her to drive a Corvette to Las Vegas. What else will she find on . . . the Edge of Real?

2. When terrorists claim they've deployed a weapon capable of spreading the Ebola virus across America and beyond, everyone wonders if it's real. But when the army's response is to send three teenagers to deal with the situation, the whole world realizes we've fallen off . . . the Edge of Real.

3. Tired of being turned down when he gets brave enough to ask a girl out on a date, teen genius Corbin Bean decides to make his own perfect woman out of his engineer father’s spare parts in the garage.

4. Convinced that his 30th-story window ledge is the threshold to a fantasy universe, Rick Bumble decides to leave behind his miserable, jobless, girlfriendless life for the chance at otherwordly happiness. This book tells the stories of 29 neighbors glimpsed at high speed as Rick plummets past after stepping over . . . The Edge of Real.

5. Gloria Melano is a thirty-year-old ghost with a wacky family and a pretty good life--until her home is invaded by a ghost-hunting TV show. Now she's busy dodging the medium's surprisingly effective spirit-cleansing tactics. And worse, the show's diehard skeptic is proving to be the man of her dreams.

6. Lima and his best friend Leema have enjoyed countless years of hide and seek living on the Edge of Real. Never mind that Leema is a llama, who enjoys tea and biscuits. Or that Lima has 3 sets of hands. When Sarah Snuff and her dimension-blasting laser open a rift to the real world, can Lima and Leema snuff out Sarah's diabolical plans?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my YA Thriller, The Edge of Real, complete at 75,000 words.

As the only teenage operatives in the Army’s classified Paranormal Resistance & International Surveillance Mission (PRISM), intrepid brothers Caleb, Kyle and Eli are pretty good at protecting the world from evil forces capable of controlling political leaders’ minds or infiltrating the military from thousands of miles away. So when word comes down that the Black Castle terrorist cell is active again security levels zing to red in countries across the globe and the Army calls in its most talented young agents to neutralize the threat.

But this time the danger is all too human: a biological weapon capable of spreading the Ebola virus across America and beyond and killing millions. [Get rid of two of the brothers and make the third one Jack Bauer as a teenager. I envision a long-running series.] Now Caleb, Kyle and Eli must team up with the daughter of a missing biologist, and patiently combine their extrasensory skills with her knowledge of dangerous viruses and the scientists that work with them to stop the terrorists. Time is running out [If time is running out, why are they working "patiently"? You wouldn't see Jack Bauer doing anything patiently with millions of lives on the line. He'd be torturing people night and day.] when they finally locate the terrorists but the dangerous device is already on its way to the target, worse yet - the bomb is alive. [I'd drop the last five words. When you say the bomb is on its way to its target, we don't wonder if it's a dud.]

In college I worked for the school newspaper as a reporter, winning two awards for my writing. More recently I wrote a monthly humor column for a local magazine and had a request for an option on one of my teleplays (Academics). [Needless to say, I turned down the request when they refused to grant me total creative control or to let me play the lead. As if this Clooney guy isn't totally washed up. Screw 'em.] Thank you for your time.

Best regards,


The query is okay, but if you made the team three teenage girls, it might appeal more to the only teenagers who actually read books. Also, the Ebola virus is pretty heavy for YA readers. If it were a computer virus that would make all cell phones stop working, teens would be more likely to see it as a doomsday scenario.

It's obvious you came up with PRISM first and then tried to find words that worked and settled for a mediocre "I" and "M." I recommend calling them the Paranormal Encounter Surveillance Team, which is more appropriate for what they do, and for any team of three teen-aged boys.

The whole point of telling us the acronym is PRISM is so the next time you mention it you won't have to write out the whole name. But you never mention them again.

If I ran an organization that dealt with evil forces, and a terrorist group was threatening to do what these guys are threatening, I wouldn't assign the mission to the only members of my group who were teenagers. If the boys fail and humanity is wiped out, I'm gonna have egg on my face.

You say, But this time the danger is all too human. But the danger is a virus. Are you saying the danger is human because the Black Castle cell are humans? Weren't they humans in the past?

If the point of sending the teens to deal with the terrorist cell is because of their paranormal abilities, why aren't they pulled off the mission when it's discovered that the danger isn't paranormal, and replaced with people qualified to handle this threat?


Eric said...

What EE said-- the whole point of having paranormal investigators is so they can discover paranormal things, not thriller things. It's like having Mulder and Scully discover a threat from Al Qaeda: not really what fans of either genre are hoping for. As it is, you have a good thriller premise, but the "teenage paranormal agent" angle doesn't seem to fit.

On the other hand, if Osama was really an alien.... Is there a plot twist we should be clued in on?

Also, you could use a few more commas here and there.

Steve Wright said...

Where it says "the bomb is alive", my guess would be that it's literally alive - that it's a person or an animal being used as a carrier for the virus. Probably a person, who's going to jump into a reservoir, or exude a cloud of virus in an airline terminal, or something else to contaminate a lot of people over a wide area....

How'd I do? Do I win a cookie?

Anonymous said...

Steve wins a cookie. ;)

Bernita said...

The last sentence in your first synopsis paragraph could use a comma between "again" and "security."
I think EE's last point is the most crucial.

Phoenix said...

EE's were the points I wondered about, too.

In addition, I'm trying to figure out from the query what the brothers are after. We'll say the biologist's daughter does have some idea about the viruses and the scientists her dad was working with (though a lab that deals with deadly viruses wouldn't be my first choice for a "Take Your Daughter to Work Day"). But is there some correlation between that and stopping the terrorists? Are the terrorists some of these scientists? Did they kidnap the girl's dad and turn him into the bomb? Otherwise, how will knowing about viruses and scientists help stop the terrorists?

In other words, is the Army relying on the brothers' paranormal powers to help find the terrorists or neutralize the bomb? Or both? I'd also like another sentence to clarify if the "they" who locate the terrorists are the brothers.

You don't have to give it all away, but revealing a few cards in your hand will make your query stronger.

Also, I'm assuming the evil forces aren't what's capable of mind control, so yes, please, a few more commas. Plus you have a human danger, dangerous viruses and a dangerous device. A little less "danger", if you please.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping for guess the plot 5.

So has the ebola virus somehow turned airborn? I thought it could only be contracted by body fluids.

It could be an interesting novel, but I agree with Bernita that Evil's last comment is the most important.

Dave F. said...

Ebola can go airborne on rare occasions. Normally, it is transmitted through bodily fluids, blood mostly.

There is a non-fiction book out there called "THE HOT ZONE" by Robert Preston that discusses hemorrhagic viruses in grim detail.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is the sort of thing teens are hoping to read, but I'm skeptical. Trout Fishing in America was the biggest hit at my high school, until some idiot informed the librarian it wasn't actually about fishing and got it banned. I suspect you would have more success with something like GTP #5.

Kathleen said...

you might consider introducing the boys paranormal abilities right away, so it makes more sense why they might be involved as agents.

Dave F. said...

security levels zing to red
As a person who had to work at a federal agency under the "red, orange, yellow, blue, green" alert system, I can definitively tell you that nothing "zings" to red. I understand "zing went the strings of my heart" and "Tommy zinged Becky with a spitball" but security levels never "zing"...

This is possibly the pickiest point you'll ever encounter.

Security levels are a matter of degree as to what the levels mean. If green is "no threat" then red is "threat." It green is peace then red is war.

When the USA Homeland Security Color-Coded Level went from yellow to orange, all visitors had to be invited by an employee and cleared 10 days in advance by the Washington DC office and no cars could be parked within 50 feet of any building. Every car entering the site was searched and visitors had to be escorted at all times (that means washrooms too). That was what the rise in risk level meant. The red level indicated that the agency was under direct threat and an attack was imminent or actually occurring. In that red case, security has to patrol the buildings armed and possibly non-essential personnel would be evacuated or maybe housed in place. Danger and death are walking the hallways. Nothing "zings" at that level.

Those levels represent a risk analysis. Basically there are only three threat levels to anything -- normal, damage or destruction to equipment and buildings onsite or offsite, damage or death to people onsite or offsite. Do you see how that works? Security levels do not rise to red when an organization issues a press release. The levels rise to red when the threat is real, the risk is mortal, when the danger is living or active and on the move to do damage to life and limb. Fire is active. Assassins are living. This is not what is called a "clear and present danger." Those are legal words indicating action must be taken against something. A clear and present danger is a man with a gun or an open hole in the ground that one could fall into... It's not security level anything to be precise. A security level red is one where armed and dangerous operatives are actively moving to the site or on the site and threatening death and destruction. Security level red is war.

When you say the security level zings to red that has the specific meaning that an attack is ongoing or imminent. However, in your story's case, the "living weapon" is only moving and not unleashed. The risk only goes to red when the living weapon begins to cause harm, that is, people get sick and die of whatever ebola-like illness you invented. That disease spreading stage is the "red" level and not the "getting the device into position stage" because even more has to be done to contain the disease after the device is activated than stopping the device before it is activated. This is picky but I've seen this plot point abused over and over again. I can spoil a bunch of books and movies with explicit details but I'd rather not.

Color me picky, today. It's a shade of mauve or taupe.

Adam Heine said...

My main problem with this is the same problem I have with a lot of YA plots: why teenagers? What makes these boys better equipped for the task than, say, more experienced adults?

wendy meyers said...

Thank you all for your help.

There were some interesting points made today. I haven't really had time to process all of them, yet.

As for the questions regarding "why teens" when an adult would do just fine? Teens want to read about their own kind doing things they wish they could do (but would never get the opportunity to do in real life).

It's just the way it works. Think Doogie Howser M.D..

And EE, you say at the beginning that the query is "okay" which says to me that it may draw some interest. However, down the line you commented on a structural point that could be fatal:

"If the point of sending the teens to deal with the terrorist cell is because of their paranormal abilities, why aren't they pulled off the mission when it's discovered that the danger isn't paranormal, and replaced with people qualified to handle this threat?"

There are paranormal elements to the threat (which I need to communicate better). And even thogh they are teens they are the best agents available for the job.
I guess what I'm asking is, is the story fatally flawed?

The idea came from watching Star Wars and seeing Luke have to turn off all the electronics and tools in his cockpit that were supposed to make it easier for him to hit his target and trust his human intuition in order to successfully hit the target on the Death Star and destroy it.

Anyway, in my story I made the boys' original world the weird paranormal based existence, and they become fish out of water when that's not enough to solve the problem at hand, and they have to rely on their more normal talents.

So do you think this might work, or am I lost in the woods? Wouldn't be the first time.

Thanks for you help guys. I'll get there eventually.

_*Rachel*_ said...

The first sentence gives the impression that the reason they're the best is because they're young, which probably isn't why. Reword it a bit and you'll be fine.

The most popular reason for using young operatives: they're less suspicious. See Cody Banks, Alex Rider, etc. There are other reasons, like genius (Ender & jeesh), royalty (Alek in my current read, Leviathan), you've got to start training young (read any book where the MC starts as a midshipman). I'm betting on a combination of special abilities and the first reason.

You aren't killing yourself in this query; you get the basic plot across without making recycle-me-now mistakes like queerying( But you could explain things a little better, and add a little more zing.

Evil Editor said...

It can work, but we should know why the boys are the best for the job. I assume the more experienced members of PRISM have paranormal abilities. I also assume this threat is important enough that PRISM would be putting most of their agents on it, not just three. Perhaps these three have a specific mission that requires their special talents, while others are handling other aspects of the operation?

Adam Heine said...

I understand why you'd want to write about teens for a YA market. What I meant was, in a believability sense, why are these teenagers specially chosen to save the world? What makes them suited for the job when more experienced adults might not be?

Like, Luke was the only remaining possible Jedi, the son of Darth Vader. In Ender's Game children were chosen so they could be trained from an early age (and Ender happened to be more brilliant than all of them). Children were chosen for the Hunger Games as a way to subdue the populace.

But in all of these, there was a reason the protagonists were teenagers rather than adults; the stories wouldn't have worked with adults.

If the only reason the chosen agents are teenagers is because you're writing for a teenage audience, then the story might be flawed. But certainly not fatally. You just need a reason.

And if there is a reason these teenagers can do what no adults can, then maybe that should come out in the query (although it seemed to only bother me, so maybe it doesn't matter).

Phoenix said...

Hi Wendy. I think just some rearranging and a bit of clarification are all this query needs to make it stronger and to give it more of a "realistic" feel. An MG novel can be more of a "just is", but a YA novel needs a bit more grounding, IMO.

So, my take:

I am seeking representation for my 75,000-word YA thriller, The Edge of Real.

As operatives in the Army’s classified Paranormal Resistance & International Surveillance Mission (PRISM) division, intrepid brothers Caleb, Kyle and Eli are pretty good at protecting the world from evil forces. Their supernormal abilities have already proven quite useful for controlling political leaders’ minds and infiltrating military forces from thousands of miles away. So when word comes down that the Black Castle terrorist cell is active again, security levels zing to red in countries across the globe and the Army calls in the talented teenage agents to help neutralize the threat.

The danger this time strikes close to home: a biological weapon capable of spreading a new strain of Ebola virus that could kill millions is about to be unleashed somewhere in America. The only clue: a missing biologist who might somehow be involved.

It's up to the brothers to use their extrasensory skills to find the terrorists and stop them before the virus can be released. Teamed with the daughter of the missing biologist, Caleb, Kyle and Eli justify their reputations once again by pinpointing the location of the Black Castle cell [in its Jersey bunker]. But when Army forces charge in, they discover the weapon is already on its way to an unknown target. Worse yet, the weapon is alive and intelligent -- and it doesn't plan on being found.

I've won two college awards for journalism, have written a monthly humor column for a local magazine, and have an option on a teleplay. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript for The Edge of Real.

wendy said...

Okay! I think I've got it now... (maybe).

Phoenix, I could just kiss you for the rewrite. I've redone this thing so many times that it's become a frankenstein version of its old self. Your fresh perspective has has given me some.

Thanks for the clarification EE, very helpful.

And really, thanks to all the minions for the ideas you shared. I can't list them all, but I am pulling a thought or two from almost every comment.

You guys are the best!