Thursday, January 20, 2011

Face-Lift 861

Guess the Plot

Spirits of the Unknown

1. Ludlow hears voices in the surf. Wally thinks he ate too many pufferfish, but Ludlow is pretty sure the Spirits are speaking to him. Who are they, and what do they want? If only they spoke English! It all sounds like some kind of repetitive alien hissing/roaring noise.

2. When nature enthusiast Melvin Wilcox inherits his father’s vineyard, he decides the produce will be used for a new eco-friendly wine beverage. Unfortunately the concoction has a slow-acting but devastating side effect: it wipes out the drinker’s long-term memory. Can Melvin remedy the formula before he forgets he owns a vineyard?

3. Balah is a psychic, able to peer into the world beyond the Veil. When strange, amorphous blobs called Riphons begin to call to her, she wonders: is she losing her mind, or reaching the lost souls of another world?

4. When hopeless alcoholic Johnny Beam drunkenly swore to sell his soul for a whiskey, he had no idea his offer would be accepted. Now he’s doomed to a fiery – and thirsty – afterlife, unless he can win an unholy contest of the palate, by correctly identifying the . . . Spirits of the Unknown.

5. Ghosts haunt a spaceship on its way to planet Earth. This has nothing to do with the plot, but everything to do with the title. The plot is set in another solar system, where a brutal civil war has devastated a planet and everyone is a suspect.

6. Sparkle Starshine's investigation shows the house is full of haunting spirits, but spirits of what??? Tiny feet seem to run up and down the walls and in the ceiling. By night they make crunchy chewing noises, gnaw holes in the upholstery, and leave toothmarks on the furniture. Could they be the spirits of wererodents? Is it time to call upon the Ghost Cat?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Tilvanau has survived a murder plot which has claimed the lives of every member in his family. [Not quite. The plot didn't claim Tilvanau's life.] He doesn't know who to trust and grief may be clouding his judgment.

In an attempt to escape, his brother has [Apparently the plot didn't claim Tilvanau's brother's life either.] taken his family, [Didn't claim the lives of Tilvanau's nieces, nephews, or sister-in-law. Who, exactly (if anyone), is dead?] setting a course for earth [If we're not on Earth, I wanna know that up front. A conversation like:

"There's a murderer on the loose! We gotta get outta here!"

"But where will we go?"

"How about Earth?"

. . . is a bit jarring if you weren't aware that the speakers were on the Gohr prison planet, Lycus IV.]
with the murderer hidden inside the ship. The ghosts of his family now haunt the ship [The ghosts of the brother's family? Were they ghosts when they boarded the ship or did the murderer kill them on board?] trying to disclose the killer to earthlings that don't understand their language and Tilvanau who doesn't believe in ghosts. [Are these earthlings on the ship or has the ship already reached Earth?] [Is/was Tilvanau on the ship?]

Meanwhile Tilvanau must face a brutal civil war which devastates his planet, [Where the hell is Tilvanau?! If he's still on his planet, facing a brutal civil war, how are the ghosts on the ship trying to reveal the murderer's identity to him?] and although the woman he loves can help him, she is found to have the greatest motive and opportunity. [I assumed Tilvanau's wife was among the family members who were murdered. So who's this woman he loves?] [Also, motive and opportunity to do what?]

Tilvanau finds himself fighting a war he can't seem to win. [You're talking about the brutal civil war? A guy fighting in a brutal war doesn't think thoughts like, I can't seem to win this war. He thinks thoughts like I hope I don't die today.] He must find the murderer before the murderer finds him. [The murderer was hiding on the ship that Tilvanau's brother took to Earth (see paragraph 2). So how can Tilvanau find the murderer or vice versa?] Everyone is a suspect having motive and opportunity, [Everyone? How can everyone have the opportunity to do whatever you're talking about?] but they all fear he has betrayed them by killing his own family to gain control over the planet. [How would killing his family give him control over the planet?]

SPIRITS OF THE UNKNOWN is a science fiction complete at 95,250 words

Thank you for your time.


Scrap the whole thing. Start by telling us who Tilvanau is. Like, is he the leader of the biggest country on the prison planet, Lycus IV? Then tell us what he wants, who's standing in his way, and what Tilvanau plans to do about it.

If you can't organize your information and express it clearly in the query, the reader will assume your book is also a mess. Let's hope it isn't.

If the spirits in the title are the ghosts of Tilvanau's or his brother's family, why are they "spirits of the unknown"? Aren't they spirits of the known?

Let's assume the motive/opportunity phrase applies to the murder of Tilvanau's family. If the woman Tilvanau loves was found (by whomever) to have the greatest motive and opportunity, why does everyone think Tilvanau did it?


alaskaravenclaw said...

Writer, as you've set the story up right now, it's a murder mystery, set (I think?) on a spaceship.

If that's not the plot, if something more science fiction-y is the plot (classically: How would we react to situation X, created by some scientific cause or other? How would it change us, society, or whatever?) then you need to focus your query on that.

arhooley said...

When you start over, mind your grammar. "He doesn't know who to trust" should be "He doesn't know whoM to trust."

Anonymous said...

When you start over, mind your grammar. "He doesn't know who to trust" should be "He doesn't know whoM to trust."

Uh, I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

Uh, I don't think so.

No, it is you whom is wrong...

arhooley said...

Anonymous, is it the capital M you object to? It's merely there for emphasis. Behold these constructions:

Trust her
Trust him
Trust them
Trust whom

and above all

Trust me

Evil Editor said...

You left out

he trusts
she trusts
they trust
who trusts

I recommend: He trusts no one.

Chicory said...

EE was right that the rumors of the family's death have been greatly exaggerated if the hero, his brother, and his brother's family all survived. Specific details would help this query a lot.

Dave F. said...

Is this like "Pandorum" where nothing was real and nobody was sane but they all were food?
Or is it like "Sphere" where everything imaginable happened?
Or is it like "Solaris" filled with rhetorical and metaphysical musings broken only by boredom and George Clooney's buttocks?
Or is this "The Lathe of Heaven" where everything is George Orr's dreamstate?

There is a rich tradition of completely incomprehensible sci-fi stories set on spaceships or with powerful devices. So I'm not criticizing the plot. I'm trying to figure out which twist is involved in who is real and unreal.

BuffySquirrel said...

This is like those stories I get in slush from time to time, where first you think there's one character, then you realise there's two, then suddenly there are three or more, all previously unsuspected.

Who is the protagonist, what is their goal, what's at stake, what's preventing them achieving their goal, what will be the consequences, etc.

Members of Tilvanau's family have been murdered, and he and everyone else is a suspect. Tilvanau must find the murderer before he/the woman he loves/everyone on the planet is imprisoned for it. Meanwhile, the murderer is hiding on board a spaceship carrying the surviving members of Tilvanau's family to Earth. And so on.

Phoenix said...

Since most authorities agree "who" can be substituted for "whom" when used as a direct object in informal writing, the REAL question is not whether "whom" is technically correct here (it is, but who really uses that construction except uptight editors with control issues*), but whether a query letter is considered to be formal or informal.

I say it's informal. Who's with me??

Author, if, as I suspect, T is a member of the planet's ruling family, be sure to let the reader know that upfront. Otherwise, T comes across as a common foot soldier who really can't influence much of anything by himself, least of all the war.

The ghosts on the ship and that mystery seem to be more of a hook than another planet embroiled in civil war. Maybe you can focus your query on that aspect?

*I do, in fact have control issues, but I'm not uptight when it comes to slippery grammar rules; hence, unless house style specifically dictated otherwise, I would let "who" slide. I would also edit out every use of "hence" and "thus" I came across because they really sound uppity. Don't you think?

arhooley said...

Improper grammar snags my eyeballs. I see no reason to use it when it's avoidable. I let it slide in conversation, but a writer presenting a polished letter about his or her wonderful writing should use "whom" properly.

Anonymous said...

As it is we have the impression you couldn't decide whether to do a murder mystery, a techno-thriller, or a sci-fi fantasy one-man's-quest-to-save-the-world-with-a-token epic. So you wrapped them all into a single thrill packed book and this multitude of plots is now clashing like a train wreck in your query.

vkw said...

I'm okay with "thus" and "hence", it's the "whoms" that get in my way. I guess we all have differing opinions.

Regardless -

Who is the MC? we need more than a name

What does he want? Why can't he have it?

Who or what is standing in his way?

How is he going to overcome this obstacle?

What is his desired outcome?

Why should we care whether the MC gets what he wants?

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm with arhooley--a query letter is a business letter and not informal. The problem with using informal grammar is that the agent doesn't know if you're being informal, or don't know any better. I'd err on the side of correctness...or take EE's suggestion and bypass the issue with a different construction.

Someone whom is not normally anonymous said...

I don't know whom wrote this query, but it is the single most confusing query I've ever read.

"Who, (or whom???) exactly (if anyone), is dead?"

My suggestion is to start off with "When a murderer claims the life of _____'s _______ (specific family members ie wife and kids...or parents...or whatever) aboard a starship _____ (if that's where the murders took place).....

and then rewrite from there.

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't think that word means what you think it means....

People can be uppity. Words aren't uppity. They can make the author sound uppity, perhaps. In this case, I think they just seem a bit old-fashioned.

Up up up.

Anonymous said...

"Whilst" just drives me crazy when I read it in the middle of some hot and heavy, bodice-ripping, lusty love scene.

And to complain about the words uppity, hence and that other word, is snotty and snobbish OR, something like Groucho Marx would say to disturb Margaret Dumont.

Harrumph, harrumph, harrumph.

Phoenix said...

Buffy, I think it means exactly what it does mean.

It's used as an anthropomorphism, written with a wink, wink (note I used the word "hence" prior to my denouncing it in an attempt at irony, which apparently fell flat). I am trying to cut down on my use of emoticons this year or I would have ended that sentence with a winky one. Guess not using them isn't such a good idea ;o).

But I'll cede you "old-fashioned."

Still friends? I have kitties for you.

BuffySquirrel said...

Snotty or snobbish are not the same as uppity. Uppity is getting above your station. As it happens :).


Jayne said...

WTF just happened? Or is happening? Or will happen? And to whom?

This may be one for the worst-dressed list.

("guessess"... no shite!?)

Faceless Minion said...

As long as we're quibbling
'is a science fiction'?
It might just be me but that sounds off.

is a science fiction novel
is a science fiction story
is a work of science fiction
is science fiction

Joe G said...

I hope not to read the word whom for the rest of the day. Next we'll be arguing about splitting the infinitive. I'm a big fan!

I think the title of this book should be Motive & Opportunity.

batgirl said...

'whilst' may bug you, Anon, but 'whilst' and 'amongst' are Britishisms and sound normal and unaffected in the UK. 'Orientate' and 'pressurise' seem to be normal British usages as well, so I try to suppress my twitch when I see them.
Derail continued.

Like everyone else, I don't know what happens in this query. Author, want to give it another shot, with specifics?

BuffySquirrel said...

Not splitting the infinitive is on the same level of crapitude as 'he means she'. That said, sometimes it looks neater not to split it.

fairyhedgehog said...

It's almost worth disagreeing with you, Phoenix, for the sake of kitty pictures!

Except that I don't in fact disagree with you hence it would be wrong and thus I haven't disagreed. (Couldn't fit a whom in there.)

Author: to me the biggest problem was that I couldn't sort out what was going on and following BuffySquirrel's advice to make clear

Who is the protagonist, what is their goal, what's at stake, what's preventing them achieving their goal, what will be the consequences, etc.

seems good to me. Good luck with your revision!

Orlando said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. I see how in my efforts to keep the query within 250 words I left out too much information.

I will send in a revision and I can't wait to see your comments. I hope "who/whom" is the only issue with grammar. I didn't see anything other suggestions on the subject of grammar and I will admit I had to take 6 books from the library to teach myself grammar again when I started editing the novel. I hope it has helped.

It's funny I looked up "who/whom" and it didn't seem to need it in that particular sentence. "To whom this may concern" requires (whom), even in Windows Word. "They don't know who to trust" does not. I may be wrong but that's how the grammar books showed it.

Either way I appreciate greatly all your inputs and will take a seriously good look at all of them.

Thank you all.