Thursday, August 04, 2011

Face-Lift 939


Guess the Plot

Office Preserves

1. A jar of blueberry jelly endures the boredom of shelf life until office worker Maria remembers the hapless jar. The action kicks into high gear when Maria drops the jar and it flees, gleefully rolling out the door, unaware it's leaving a vivid blue trail of goo.

2. After taking a tranquilizer dart to the neck and waking up in the corporate offices of the galaxy's top "preserve," where Rice Krispy treats are handed out by the ton, Toby fears he's to be a zoo attraction. But an alien named Freddie arrives and explains that this tourist trap is no zoo; it's a hunting ground. And Toby's the game!

3. Civilization has collapsed, thank God, and it's back to nature for the human race. Here and there a few people cling to the old ways in decaying networks of cubicles called "office preserves". But how long can they defend themselves against grizzly bears, feral humans, and tigers with a helluva grudge?

4. Everybody accepts sweet Donna Mae's gifts of strawberry preserves. She has hundreds of the jars lining her cubicles. But when coworkers actually open and taste the stuff, they suddenly realize what's become of all those missing temp workers.

5. 2125, Chicago. After the alien overlords from Beta Centauri have conquered man, they keep human zoos for educational purposes. The Sears Tower holds the most famous zoo of all: the Office Preserve, where Homo Nerdis can be seen in their native glory. Also, nerd sex.

6. After the Zombie Non-Discrimination Act passes, Oliver Penworth sees an opportunity to expand his formaldehyde trade. But when he hires a few of the undead, he learns valuable lessons about tolerance, respect, and proper ventilation in the workplace.



Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Toby’s trip to the zoo abruptly ends when he catches a tranquilizer dart in the neck. He awakens in the corporate lobby of Preser Tech, a place where Rice Krispy Treats are handed out by the metric ton, [To whom? Superman? Can anyone else even lift a metric ton?] secretaries are passed around like candy, and the CEO is an alien named Freddie who eagerly welcomes Toby to his new life – life in one of the galaxy’s best preserves.

Despite the alien’s sales pitch, Toby has no intentions of spending the rest of his life as a tourist attraction, upcoming season or not. [Not clear what "upcoming season or not" means.] What Toby doesn’t plan into his escape are the facts that the food is drugged, his coworkers are insane, [Why does he need to plan these things into his escape?] and his new secretary, [Did he have an old secretary?] Clarice, is obsessed with cutting out his eyes. All of that, however, pales in comparison when he discovers that conservation isn’t what this preserve is for; it’s for hunting. [Pales in comparison for him, maybe, but I'd rather keep my eyes and be hunted than have my eyes cut out and work in an office.]

Toby gets a crash course in survival while Freddie and his loyal patrons go on safari. To Toby’s dismay, he discovers that the only person who might know a way out of this place is his psychotic, knife-wielding assistant. Worst of all, he realizes, if he can’t find a way to placate her soon and pry [out] her secrets, life on the preserve is going to be a lot shorter than he ever intended. [He never intended life on the preserve to be any length, as he didn't intend to be there.] [Does the crash course in survival involve being hunted on this safari, or is he being trained to be the hunted on a future safari?]

OFFICE PRESERVES is complete at 75,000 words. [Bio]

Thank you for you time and consideration,


Notes

If Toby is essentially a prisoner, as suggested by his planning an escape, then why is he given a sales pitch? What are they selling him on?

I also don't get why he has coworkers and a secretary. What work is he doing? If they tell me that tomorrow I'm to be the prey in a hunt, but today they need me to file some reports, I'm not gonna be highly motivated.

Is this set on Earth, or has Toby been whisked to another planet?

We need to know how old Toby is and who your intended audience is. The plot sounds like middle grade, what with silly touches like Rice Krispy treats and an alien named Freddie. But if Toby's a kid, why does he need a secretary? And I wouldn't expect a kid's book to use the phrase "where secretaries are passed around like candy."

There are too many details that aren't important to the plot. I can appreciate wanting to show humor to set this apart from the many non-comedic stories in which man is hunted for sport, but start by summarizing the main plot (Toby's predicament and what he plans to do about it) with a logical progression of events. Later, if you have room, you can work in a few examples of humor.

19 comments:

Matthew MacNish said...

Except for the alien angle, the hunted human being has been done before. Actually, it's probably been done before even with the alien angle.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback, just to clear up for any further feedback:

"Rice Krispy Treats are handed out by the metric ton, [To whom? Superman? Can anyone else even lift a metric ton?]" -- They are handed out to the workers / people as they are drugged to keep them docile.


"[Not clear what "upcoming season or not" means.]" - In the beginning, "the season" is mentioned, but its not until Toby sees the first coworker killed that he realizes they mean hunting season and not tourist season.

"food is drugged, his coworkers are insane, [Why does he need to plan these things into his escape?]" - I put these in here because if he eats too much of the food, he'll be too drugged to care anymore, and he can't enlist the help of coworkers because they are insane (and love being there, and will stop anyone who tries to leave).

"his new secretary, [Did he have an old secretary?]" - In a sense, yes. The preserve is a faithfully reproduced office building. Since Toby is a "manager" he gets a secretary just like he had one in the real world.

"life on the preserve is going to be a lot shorter than he ever intended. [He never intended life on the preserve to be any length, as he didn't intend to be there.]" - I was thinking he intended it to be short, in the sense of, I want to get out of here ASAP, but not so short as in, I'd like to die to get out (which would be even faster).

"If Toby is essentially a prisoner, as suggested by his planning an escape, then why is he given a sales pitch? What are they selling him on?" He's given a sales pitch about how wonderful life in the office is. They have everything for him he could ever love and want (a jab some contemporary lifestyles that trade life outside the office for life in it). It's part of the way the aliens introduce new stock into the preserve. Sell them on what they want, supposedly, and pump them full of drugs just to be sure they don't get onery.
Freddie doesn't tell him about the hunting part, not because he's scared of what Toby might do, but because he thinks Toby isn't smart enough to understand how important the preserve is.

"I also don't get why he has coworkers and a secretary. What work is he doing?" Filling out meaningless forms and stamping things. That's about it. The drugs keep new stock throgouhly sedated until their mind goes to mush. Those born on the preserve simply don't know anything else.

Anyway, back to the drawing board :)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Faced with an inbox full of queries to get through, secretaries are passed around like candy isn't a line I would've read past.

But if that's a risk you're willing to take...

There are some interesting elements here-- the mad assistant who's his only hope-- but the plot sounds dicey. The biter bit: X, who's always been unkind to Ys, suddenly wakes up to find he's a Y. But how, and why? Is this the zoo animals' revenge, or has he been kidnapped by aliens, or is it All Just A Dream?

Aika said...

Sales pitch versus the need to escape confused me as well. Also that he's apparently now an office worker, but someone is going on safari in the cubicles? You could make this explicit.

Also, is this enough plot? Is shutting down the preserve (or the original zoo) also part of the stakes?

I sometimes try rewrites to figure out the query. This was how I understood yours. I didn't get middle grade at all.

Toby’s trip to the zoo abruptly ends when he catches a tranquilizer dart in the neck. He awakens in the lobby of Preser Tech, a Rice Krispy Treats and secretaries are . And the CEO is an alien named Freddie who eagerly welcomes Toby to his new life – life in one of the galaxy’s best preserves.

Despite , Toby spending the rest of his life as a tourist attraction. What Toby doesn’t plan into his escape are the facts that the drugged and his coprisoners are insane. he discovers that ; it’s for hunting.

Freddie and his loyal patrons . To Toby’s dismay, he discovers that the only person who might know a way out of this place is his psychotic, knife-wielding secretary. If he can’t find a way to placate her soon and pry out her secrets, .

Evil Editor said...

Okay, now that it's clear it's not a children's book, I suggest getting the Rice Krispy teats out of the query and the book. And give the alien an alien name.

Usually the point of hunting human game is that it's a bigger challenge, but if they first turn the humans' minds to mush, how hard can it be to hunt them down?

I'm not so much interested in knowing the answers to my questions as in pointing them out so that you can rework the query such that the questions don't come up or so that they are answered in the query. You want everything to seem perfectly logical so the manuscript, where everything IS perfectly logical, gets requested.

Aika said...

Ha, now I know why EE uses square instead of angle brackets. Sorry writer, here's what I understood from your query without the bits in angle brackets mysteriously missing :)

Toby’s trip to the zoo abruptly ends when he catches a tranquilizer dart in the neck. He awakens in the lobby of Preser Tech, a [place than looks like an ordinary corporate office - except that there's an unlimited supply of] Rice Krispy Treats and secretaries are [literally chosen out of a pool, like picking candy]. And the CEO is an alien named Freddie who eagerly welcomes Toby to his new life – life in one of the galaxy’s best preserves.

Despite [being offered bribes like his own secretary and a corner office], Toby [knows Freddie isn't giving him a choice about] spending the rest of his life as a tourist attraction. What Toby doesn’t plan into his escape are the facts that the [snacks are] drugged and his coprisoners are insane. [Then] he discovers that [Preser Tech isn't a conservation area]; it’s for hunting.

Freddie and his loyal patrons [camp in the lunchroom and build shooting blinds behind the photocopiers]. To Toby’s dismay, he discovers that the only person who might know a way out of this place is his psychotic, knife-wielding secretary. If he can’t find a way to placate her soon and pry out her secrets, [he'll never survive/get back to the zoo].

Anonymous said...

"Usually the point of hunting human game is that it's a bigger challenge, but if they first turn the humans' minds to mush, how hard can it be to hunt them down?" The whole thing is a satire on both office "life" (as it is not) and hunting on preserves (where they do at times, drug animals, and it is not sporting like at all). I started the basic idea of the manuscript after watching a youtube of a hunter ambushing a bear (on a preserve) from a treetop, and the hunter was very proud of himself. So I started thinking, what if people were just walking around their office and got bagged? Anyway, it ran off from there. So yes, it's not sporting for the aliens to drug the people. As such, I'm suspecting I need to really run up the satire flag.


"You want everything to seem perfectly logical so the manuscript, where everything IS perfectly logical, gets requested." Right. So I'm going to have to stew on all this a while. Thanks again!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

What are loyal patrons, precisely?

There are many meanings of "patron", but none of them is "follower", so I wonder if patron is really the word you want.

Evil Editor said...

I assume it means customers (of the hunting business).

Evil Editor said...

To me it wasn't clear in the original query that the hunt took place in the office building. I assumed it was a place the hunted were kept until it was time for the hunt. It will certainly seem more satirical if that's obvious.

I do think Rice Krispy treats by the ton is the kind of humor middle graders would like, and that unless that's an important point in the book, that chocolate or brownies or ice cream would be better.

Dave said...

If this manuscript is a satire, then make the query reflect the satire. There are lots of satiric books of wild and bizarre Sci-Fi. Make the query sound like fun and silliness. Think Adams, Pratchett and those type stories...

If this is more serious Sc-Fi like the last Predators movie where fighters are zapped onto a alien world, then treat the query as serious drama...

Right now, I can't tell where this story falls between those two extremes.

As I understand all this, Toby is zapped to an alien planet where he's told that he's the latest exhibit in their zoo. in reality, what appears to be a cushy job on an alien planet turns into a no-holds barred hunt with real weapons and Toby as the trophy buck. The aliens want to mount his head on the wall of their hunting lodge. His assets are his wits, his drugged and half-crazed secretary who wants his eyeballs in a glass jar, and a MacGuffin (the jawbone of an ass?).

Or to borrow from the film Predators:
A group of elite warriors are hunted by members of a merciless alien race known as Predators.

arhooley said...

Evil Editor @11:15 AM

Rice Krispy teats -- MG or adult?

Anyway, Author, like EE I had questions at numerous points in your query, but I wouldn't want to see the answers here; I'd want the query to be rewritten so that I would be both intrigued and satisfied by your description of the story.

I don't mind the large element of the absurd in your story; what I'm missing is a sense that you are in control of it. You need to show Toby's panic and the random weirdness that's thrown at him while assuring the reader that You've got this.

vkw said...

I kind of understood the query was a satire but it is just not quite there.

What I think needs to be done is demonstrate in the query the brain-less, zombie-like workers are sitting in their cubicles, doing essentially nothing while they are hunted by an alien race for sport.

And, they like it.


Add in the MC's only hope is his assistant that wants to cut his eyes out. (Like many assistants want to do here on Earth).

Everything else is fluff, noise, interference, irrelevant.

I would get rid of the Rice Krispy treats and make it free soda-pop - too bad its laced with drugs.

Or free beer or free, three martini lunches.

You know - something humans would love to enjoy on a daily basis for free. I think one can only eat so many rice krispie treats before going . . what is appealing about cereal and marshmallows and sugar? Isn't say chocolate a better choice or beer? Offer free beer . . well that's different.

Satire does not necessary mean uncessary exaggeration - like "metric ton".

Anonymous said...

@Dave, it's definitely HGTG fun. Not Predator at all

@arhooley, that seems to be what I need here. I'm not worried about the manuscript not being in control. It's been through a number of beta reader wringers, it just seems the query needs to follow suit :)

@vkw, It's really all the food. The Rice Krispy Treats are just the particular treat Toby goes for first (he's offered cookies, brownies, etc). Soda, breakfast, dinner, etc. is all drugged. So I suppose specifically naming RKT isn't that important. I do like the angle on describing office life some more in the query. Maybe I'll try something with that much more in focus, as that's how it plays out more or less.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Soda isn't food, it's artificially colored high fructose corn syrup... you could hardly make it worse by adding drugs. It's the source of more than 50% of the calories consumed in the US, and God knows what percentage of our medical costs.

Dave said...

Now just one minute Anonymous 4:35

SODA is carbonated water added to ice cream, ice and flavorings whipped into a drink and topped with whipped cream.

Soda Pop is canned or bottled carbonated drink like coke or pepsi or root beer or vernors or Dr Pepper (I am are you?)

and plain old POP is what healty, red-blooded, steel-pounding, football-loving Pittsburghers drink because SODA with an "R" on the end is a word only used by Elite, snobby, stuck up New Yorkers from the rich side of Manhattan!

Anonymous said...

But, now author you have the problem that if everything is drug your MC is going to die of starvation or be just as weakened as those who are drugged.

Sarah Hawthorne said...

sarahhawthorne has left a new comment on your post "Face-Lift 939":

Anon said: The whole thing is a satire on both office "life" (as it is not) and hunting on preserves (where they do at times, drug animals, and it is not sporting like at all). I started the basic idea of the manuscript after watching a youtube of a hunter ambushing a bear (on a preserve) from a treetop, and the hunter was very proud of himself. So I started thinking, what if people were just walking around their office and got bagged?

Ah. I didn't get at all in the first draft what was being satirized here, but now I do. The aliens aren't Predator types but fat, lazy hunters who don't want to go after the Rambos of our world - they're content to bag the sedentary office workers.

If I were you, I'd skip the whole "what do the aliens want" angle and just cut straight to the high concept, i.e.:

Humans - the most dangerous game of all? Not humans like Toby, mild mannered middle manager for Thompson Paper Products. But that's before a trip to the zoo ends with a tranq dart in his neck. Now he's being held in a carefully replicated "human environment preserve" that looks exactly like an office building, being fed nothing but drugged Rice Krispies treats, and soon to be the target of privileged alien trophy hunters who aren't fussy about what condition their game is in, as long as they're guaranteed a human head.

Toby's only chance of survival is psychotic secretary Clarice...

And then so forth and so on.

Anonymous said...

"But, now author you have the problem that if everything is drug your MC is going to die of starvation or be just as weakened as those who are drugged."

Nope. Already have that in the story. It's part of why Toby has a time limit to get out quick -- as if being hunted wasn't bad enough :)