Monday, September 19, 2011

Face-Lift 953

Guess the Plot

Guilty as Cast

1. Sven Swarsky has played crooks in hundreds of movies. He usually appears in the credits as "Third Gangster" or "Guy With Knife." When someone kills his estranged brother, Sven has his hands full trying to prove his innocence when half the witnesses pick him out of the lineup.

2. When Stojan goes fishing in the Sava River, the last thing he expects is to wound the Fish Princess with his hook. Can Stojan heal the Fish Princess before Poseidon finds out, or has he cast his last line?

3. Accused of casting a magic assault spell, Robert Stanford has the perfect defense: he has no magical powers. But if this were revealed, he would lose his job as a neurowizard. So he hires a magic lawyer, but it turns out he has no powers and will lose his job if anyone finds out. Hilarity ensues.

4. High school psycho Ned Nixon is cast as Hamlet, and everyone he hates also has a major role. He plots to put actual poison in the wine, so their opening performance will be their last. But his prying younger sister Ophelia knows something is wrong with Ned and joins forces with Sherlock Hamilton, varsity team quarterback and computer genius, to stop the fiend.

5. When aspiring actress Bailey James is found holding a gun next to the body of former teen hunk Jake Ryan, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, Ryan wasn't killed by the .22 James was holding, he was poisoned; and two . . . hey, what's his ex-wife doing over by the catering truck?

6. All her life Bonita has longed to play Lady MacBeth, but now that she's cast, the director says she's never quite had the right level of passion. When she finds Michael in the arms of 18 year old Julia, all that passion suddenly surfaces.

Original Version

Dear Sir Evil

I enclose for your consideration GUILTY AS CAST, a 10,000 word urban fantasy.

Tobias Mercen is a rookie defence lawyer who possesses all the wand skills of a blank wall, a situation that’s more than a little awkward considering he’s employed by one of the top magical law firms in the country. When eminent neurowizard Robert Stanford appoints Mercen to defend him against allegations of a brutal magical assault, things head straight out of awkward and smack-bang into bizarre. [Don't you have to demonstrate your abilities before you can get hired by a magical law firm? It's not easy to hide impotence.] [I've heard.]

The trial pits Mercen against Prosecutor Gregory Noakes, an old colleague and friend. Faced with the evidence, Mercen’s hard-pressed to believe in Stanford’s innocence - until an argument down in the cells sees them both raising their fists and neither reaching for his wand. Mercen’s been handed the holy grail of defences: his allegedly magic client is as blank as him [he is]. [Don't you have to demonstrate your abilities before you can get proclaimed an eminent neurowizard?] Trouble is, revealing that to the jury will destroy Stanford’s career, and his [own] right along with it.

Trapped, he approaches Noakes for help, only to find his friend is already aware of the situation; aware, and apparently unconcerned. Mercen is fuming, and Stanford’s indifference to his plight isn’t helping. Their only chance lies in the spell behind the attack, and the knowledge that, their combined lack of magic notwithstanding, some wizard was responsible for casting it. ["Notwithstanding" doesn't mean what you want it to. You want: In view of their combined lack of magic . . . Though a better idea is to delete the whole phrase, as we're smart enough to figure out why it's obvious someone else cast the spell.] Mercen’s going to prove his client’s innocent, even if he has to break the law to do it. [Not much of a connection with the previous sentence. You want something like: All Mercen has to do now is figure out who, and get him to confess.]

My stories have previously been published in [small-time publications]. I am a practising criminal lawyer and have worked in both prosecutions and defence.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely, etc.

[Author's note: This is a short story; as such, I appreciate it wouldn't usually justify its own query. I thought it would be a useful - and potentially amusing - exercise to write one though. Thanks!]

[Evil Editor's note: This was the last item in the query queue. Summer vacation is over, minions; time to start putting some effort into those writing careers. Step 1: Start a new novel. Step 2: When you reach 200 words, stop. Send what you have so far to EE. Step 3: Write a query letter and send it to EE. Step 4: Go back to writing the novel. Too many authors finish their novels and then have to spend months perfecting their query letters and rewriting their openings. Better to have that stuff ship-shape the minute you need it.]


Not clear why the prosecutor is going on with the trial if he knows the accused is innocent.

Not a bad query. Have you considered making Noakes unaware and adding another 50,000 words?

Robert Stanford is a pretty boring name for an eminent neurowizard.


150 said...

You know, I would read this.

I know this isn't actually going to be used to query anything, but two things struck me that might help with the story. First, replace "blank" with "Squib" and this could be Harry Potter fanfic, so reconsider using wands as a focal point, to muddy the waters a little. Second, does a lawyer need to do magic to work on cases involving magic? Patent lawyers aren't inventors, medical malpractice lawyers aren't doctors, and so on. As far as I know, law can be accomplished by totally mundane means. It's an ideal career for a blank.

(A third thought; any intent to make this guy a franchise character? He seems high-concept enough.)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

EE, I tried a Harry Dresden novel last week after you mentioned him. It was... well, maybe I tried the wrong one. It was called Turn Coat, and it brought home to me once more that good writing isn't necessarily what the reading public wants.

So, this query sounds like an interesting story. In fact, it's the only time I can recall the actual query being the most interesting-sounding GTP. The writing, as EE points out in several places, is a bit off. And that may not matter.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Robert Stanford was a candidate for Prime Minister in Canda way back when. Also underwear jokes.

WTF is a neurowizard? Explain please.

I think you may have a cool story here with some tweaking and juggling/jiggling.

Put the first stuff at the end, housekeeping. Open with a killer line.

I am very intrigued and I wish you good luck in the lawerly way. I think you can nail this baby.

no-bull-steve said...

Hmmmm. Well "Storm Front" was the first of the Dresden novels in which he had to defend himself as innocent of magical attacks. Kind of the way Potter had to in Chamber of Secrets. On that note, how the H--- (that's H-a-r-r-y) Mr. Butcher sold a book series with a wizard named Harry as the lead character is rather astounding. I guess being derivative is in these days. And the writing was less than stellar...and the plot hinged on the characters doing things pretty far fetched. Anyway...

I like the lawyer aspect to this query. If the short story sells, maybe you could expand the concept.

* I'm not one oft to comment on the word verification but on Labor Day we had quite the discussion (and I think a challenge) about this word. "Abler"

vkw said...

I liked this because I don't ever think I've read a story about a magical lawyer.

I think it's pretty clever.

I would read it.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

NBS- Yeah, I thought the Harry thing was a bit odd.

But it was the writing that made me set it aside, after about 40 pages of skimming. If Mr. Butcher had been in a writing group I was in, I'd've said stuff like "you told us once, you don't need to keep telling us" and "your character just spent an entire page answering the door".

It was an interesting concept, though.

Dave said...

And you are writing the Queen's English.

Murder mysteries and crime dramas all have the same structure as drama. A crime is found, the innocent is accused, the investigators and lawyers question the witnesses, the trial, the confrontation and finally the confession and denouement.

I don't get that pattern and as a result, I don't find the query convincing. Not for a 10K story.

Why not something like:

When eminent Wizard Stanford is accused of the magic crime of {crime}, he hires defense attorney Mercen who has never cast a spell in his life. The logic of this choice only becomes apparent when Stanford reveals he too is incapable of magic, a fact that must never be revealed in court. FAced with the near impossibility of defending his client, Merced sets out to prove that another wizard cast the spell. And what happens that makes us care for the result?

Now that's 82 words and is OK to sell a short story. Don't go beyond 100 words. This also needs information that you have. You can revised the last two sentences faster and better than I can. My text isn't exciting enough, either.

The difference between a short story and a novel in a query is that you will only get 50 to 100 words to describe your story. It has to get to the point real fast and be real exciting at the same time. It's almost like a book cover blurb. Splashy, exciting, short and quick to read.

Anonymous said...

Seems like your unpopular phrases are reminiscent of lawyerly writing.

Very important to remember that smooth prose and high entertainment value are hugely important in fiction, although they don't rank so high on the priority scale for trial briefs, which can be virtually unreadable but still considered brilliant in their context.

BuffySquirrel said...

The prosecution would need a pretty good reason to continue a case when they know the accused is innocent. Maybe Mercen needs to find out who's pulling their strings. Noakes could lose his job and his credentials.


Anonymous said...

Harry in books...

Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File and another book.

Harry Dresden already mentioned.

Three Harry Bosch novels.

Harry Hole by JoNesbo (7 novels)

Dirty Harry Callahan in 3movies (think Clint Eastwood) 12 books.

Harry Rane by Wallace Stroby.

Harry Harrison: The Stainless Steel

The Harry Caine Mysteries, David Shaffer

Kerin said...

Author here.

Thanks for the input everyone. I'm encouraged by the number of minions that said they would give this a look - now, if I can just find a publisher willing to do likewise!

One thing that probably isn't clear in the query is that Mercen's disability isn't a secret. It's an embarassment to him, but as 150's identified, it doesn't affect his ability to do his job. Mostly :)

Dave - I like your revision of the query - mind if I steal, uh, 'borrow' it? It has the advantage of cutting the whole issue of the prosecutor's decision to proceed. (As to why people should care, I'd answer the question, but I suspect that wasn't the point of asking it!)

P.S. Love GTP #1!

Dave said...

Go ahead and use it.

I don't know if you are publishing for money or recognition. There are quite a few ezines and anthologies out there. Just be prepared to wait.

batgirl said...

Okay, I have one nagging question. If Stanford is in custody, and if he's believed to be a for-real wizard, and accused of a magical attack - why does he still have his wand? In this world, wouldn't that be like leaving a prisoner with his jack-knife, shoelaces, belt, and shotgun?