Monday, August 01, 2011

Face-Lift 936

Guess the Plot

The Darkness Rising

1. A blockage in the sewer pipes below a ritzy apartment building has all the sinks and toilets in the building overflowing with sewage and sludge. Can corrupt apartment manager Vinnie Coleman figure out a way to blame the residents and pocket their security deposits?

2. An unspeakable evil lurks beneath Centerville High school and...oh, Christ, can't we come up with better names for these things?

3. Exterminator Mark never expected to fall in love when he was dispatched to eliminate some pests. Nor did he expect that his lover, Karen, would turn out to be a superspy. Now Karen must survive assassination attempts while Mark fights off an infestation that threatens to rise up and destroy the planet.

4. College student Leah Martin must stop the killing spree of a serial killer known only as The Shadow. But every step Leah takes toward The Shadow is a step toward her own dark desires.

5. The evil magician Kha-Cha'Hren controls a dragon that guards a crystal that was created by the god Hroth'Bil eons ago. Now the crystal's evil power is seeping upward and the planet's inhabitants turn to Princess Aleiainala for salvation. But can Aleiainala trust the ruggedly handsome rebel leader?

6. Addison Velrune's homework is eaten by a dog, Zack Martinez's detective agency is taken over by a canine unit, and a high-pitched signal from outer space turns all Jack Russell terriers on the planet from pets to predators. All will be resolved in Book 9.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

The Darkness Rising is my first novel of a planned trilogy, finished at 58,000 words after several large cuts and revisions. [I appreciate that you've saved me the trouble of making the large cuts and revisions, but that's not what I'd call a selling point. Plus, how do I know you didn't cut the scene with the wolfman and the naked coed?] A twisted plot littered with betrayal and deception along with a heartwarming tale of romance makes this science fiction novel stand out from the rest. [I hope you mean your book has plot twists rather than a twisted plot, as the latter doesn't sound all that flattering. Also, the word "littered" doesn't belong in your description. It makes me think "cluttered" or "soiled." I can't recall seeing the term "littered with" followed by anything except "corpses." Maybe "sprinkled," "infused," "peppered"?] [Better yet, dump the betrayal and deception, which set this apart from very few science fiction novels, and just mention the heartwarming romance.]

Mark and his brother John are exterminators of Sector 7, a government organization that eliminates dangerous indigenous organisms on a distant inhabited planet, Salvadon. [If exterminators from another planet arrived on Earth to eliminate dangerous indigenous organisms, guess what organisms would be the first to go.] During a mission, [I wonder if the Orkin guys refer to their visits as "missions"?]

they uncover a parasite, capable of transforming infected into creatures with intelligence beyond human ability or outright killing them in minutes. An ancient race known as the Ometrons developed the parasite to eradicate most of their nemeses and creators, the Arcadians, [Wouldn't it have eradicated only half of their nemeses, while littering the other half with the super-intelligence needed to destroy the Ometrons?] turning it against humans as both races fought in an eternal war over the fate of humanity. ["Eternal" is a big word for a war.] [Are the humans involved in this war? Because when there's a war, I've noticed it's hard to keep humans from joining in.] [By the way, which race wants humans to be eradicated, just so I'll know for whom to root?]

Humanity has no idea about the great war, [We're too busy with our own mediocre wars.] and Mark pays little heed to the seemingly feeble parasite [They uncover a parasite that can kill within minutes, and label it "feeble"? Obviously it didn't infuse them with super intelligence.] as he confronts something his years of training by his widowed father never prepared him for: love. Mark was not looking for love when he met Karen on a mission, but an immediate spark entwines them together. ["Entwines" makes me think they're all tangled up. Besides, sparks don't entwine. A spark could kindle a burning passion. Or a ball of love twine could have them ready to tie the knot.] Mark has no idea that she is an agent of Black Nova, the most notorious spy agency in the galaxy. [Who's in charge of ranking the notoriety of the galaxy's spy agencies? Also, is being notorious a good thing when you're spies? I would think you'd strive to be inconspicuous.] [You didn't see Napoleon Solo and James Bond getting into bar fights over whether UNCLE or MI6 was more notorious.] Her superiors reassigned her to use her position to steal classified government information, but she finds herself in love with Mark and doesn’t know what to do. [What's the conflict? Does Mark the exterminator have classified government information? Whose government are we talking about?]

Karen discovers she’s pregnant with Mark’s child after a mission puts him in the hospital, [He forgot the first rule of exterminators: Make sure you aim the can of Raid away from your face.] and she promises herself to quit the agency to raise her family. [If a couple is going to try to get by on one salary, who should quit, the one working for the galaxy's top spy agency or the one working for Terminix?] The ghosts of Karen’s past life come back to haunt her as she survives an assassination attempt, and the three flee to a safehouse. [The three, meaning Mark, Karen and their baby? Or Mark, Karen and John? John has such a small role, I recommend exterminating him from the query.] Mark unearths Karen’s true identity after a comrade was set-up, transferring Karen to her true enemies under orders of a covert defector in Sector 7. [You've lost me. Which probably means you've lost everyone.] Mark learns of technological information Karen stole from the Sector 7, information that the people who kidnapped her [She was kidnapped? Is that what you meant by she was transferred to her true enemies?] would do anything to extract. The parasite is on the verges [verge] of expanding to an epidemic as the government prepares to do whatever necessary to contain it; Mark vows to find her [, transfer her true enemies to the hereafter,] and send her to another planet before the parasite consumes Salvadon.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



The parasite won't consume Salvadon. After a while a lot of Salvadonians will have become super-intelligent and will figure out a way to eliminate it.

The plot description is too long. It's also confusing. Focus on the romance:

When Mark is sent to Salvadon to exterminate some pests, he falls in love with Karen, who just happens to be a superspy with a price on her head. Seems the Ometrons want her dead for siding with the Arcadians in the war to decide whether humanity should be wiped out by parasites or bombs.

When pregnant Karen is kidnapped, it's up to Mark, armed only with a garden fogger, an insect sprayer, and a bug zapper, to take down the Ometron Empire and rescue his true love.

Now add no more than five sentences explaining the plan and what goes wrong.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This query has me ruminating on how much I disliked the Stainless Steel Rat books. Why did I read them? They were there.

There are a lot of small errors of usage in this query. That would lead one to suspect (correctly or incorrectly) that the manuscript has them too.

It's only taken us a few centuries to learn that once you start eliminating "dangerous" organisms from a planet, merry hell breaks loose. That might make an interesting story.

There are a lot of story elements here. Which is the main one? Build the query around that.

Anonymous said...

Maybe its just me, but there seems to be a ton going on for 58k words.

arhooley said...

I bet you'll catch more readers with a romance that's "sizzling" rather than "heartwarming."

And I'm with Anonymous on cramming all this into a 58k-word book. It's presumably too late since the book itself is already written and the series outlined, but it seems to me this story needs breathing room. You could get it by marrying the leads off at the end of Book I and introducing the baby in Book II.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Is anyone else finding it a tad sexist that the super spy falls in love, gets pregnant, immediately promises to quit her job to take care of the baby, promptly gets kidnapped, and has to rescued by her boyfriend the exterminator?

The title isn't doing anything for me. It's extremely generic and gives me zero idea of what your book might be about. Something like "The Parasites of Salvadon" or "Love in the Time of Alien Engineered Parasites That Either Kill You or Make You Super Smart" would give readers some clue of what to expect.

Adele said...

Take out everything that the agent doesn't need to know.

You've made large cuts and revisions? Congratulations, but that doesn't mean the novel is any better for them, so leave out that info.

You say your novel stands out from the rest? In a good way? My friends all say the same thing about mine. Leave out that whole sentence. It's clunky and the agent doesn't care what you think.

Condense the plot to its essentials but aim for clarity, and fix all your grammar problems. If you don't know what's wrong with "transforming infected into creatures" or "entwines them together" or "a comrade was set-up", find a friend who does know and talk that person into being your proofreader.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Ink and Pixel Club: Why yes, I found it sexist as hell. (Also one of my many objections to The Stainless Steel Rat.)

But tolerance levels seem to vary so widely for that sort of thing. In a world where Fascinating Womanhood has a higher amazon sales rank than any of my fascinating novels, a spy eager to turn in her decoder-ring for a pacifier and desperate to be saved by a bug-killing lord'n'master seems downright mild.

Khazar-khum said...

I'm not finding Karen's role sexist as much as confusing. If she's a spy, why does she want to get pregnant in the first place? Unless it's established that she's tired of the spy life and wants to run off somewhere and settle down with her man. Is it?

Kathleen said...

so the woman is a super spy but she wants to quit and have a baby and the insect guy is going to send her to another planet out of harms way while he fights evil? uh huh.

Evil Editor said...

In spite of what the cartoon shows, we should take into account the possibility that the dangerous indigenous organisms Mark deals with are lions and tigers and bears but with superhuman brains. Meanwhile, Karen is an agent, but not necessarily a super spy. And the Ometrons have her.

Xenith said...

58K? Is this an adult book? It's a tad short.

a government organization that eliminates dangerous indigenous organisms on a distant inhabited planet, Salvadon

This, and some of the other stuff, raises all sorts of questions that you probably don't want a slush reader asking. (Like, haven't they got better contraceptives in the future?) I'm sure it makes sense in the book but in the short space of a query it just makes me wonder how well thought out the word building is, and when it comes to SF/F, that's important.

a high-pitched signal from outer space turns all Jack Russell terriers on the planet from pets to predators.

No change there then?

AA said...

How far in the future is this? They still have names like Mark, Karen and John? In a sci-fi, I expect something like, Eon and his brother Yon (short for Appollyon) are on a mission when they meet a spy named Aria.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

You have great comments to cogitate on author.

Studying the archives here and at Pheonix Sullivan's site will give you better footing. Query Shark is valuable reading if you don't faint at the sight of blood.

Good luck with your revision.

BuffySquirrel said...

Parasites don't cause epidemics. I realise this word has been so massively misused in recent years (obesity epidemic? riiight) as to almost lose its meaning, but try to use it correctly anyway. People in publishing tend to appreciate the appropriate use of words.

Don't lead off with the planned trilogy. If this is your debut novel, an agent will want a standalone novel that they can sell. If it has sequel potential, great, but it must be capable of standing on its own.

Don't talk about cuts and revisions. Agents expect you to do that work before submitting. It's a bit like telling them your novel is written in words.

Don't tell them how good the novel is. Show them how good it is with the writing in your query--which in this case is going to involve deleting almost everything and starting again.

Be clear about your genre. If it's SF with romantic elements, stick to the SF elements in your query. If it's Romance with SF elements, pitch it as a Romance.

Does this government organisation exist only to exterminate wildlife on this one planet? Because that's how the query reads. I suspect you meant something else.

There are intriguing elements in this story--the exterminators, the war over humanity's fate of which humans are unaware--but they're getting hidden in the infodump. Stick to a clear throughline for the novel--what are the protag's goals? what are the obstacles they're facing? what's at stake? what happens if they fail?

As for what happens to John, I'm guessing he gets infected, becomes super-intelligent, and gets the heck out of Dodge.

Anonymous said...

Three parasites that can be considered pandemics are malaria, babesia and leishmania.

The difference between a pandemic and epidemic has to with geography and numbers of infection.

A pandemic is global in the extreme, an epidemic has higher numbers of infection than would be expected.