Monday, August 27, 2012

Face-Lift 1066

Guess the Plot

Of Time and Chance

1. Book 1 in the "Of Vagueness" trilogy; to be followed by Of Things and Stuff, and Of This and That. Annotated.

2. When Pete lands on Chance in a game of Monopoly, his card reads, Go back in time. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Suddenly Bob is in the Dark Ages, wishing he'd chosen the race car or the iron instead of the wheel of time.

3. Bud Green's retirement plan was simple: win the lottery. He bought as many tickets as he could every week for decades. Now, at age 74, he's a winner! Yay! That $17,000,000 jackpot is all his! But here come the bill collectors and tax collectors, and a committee of church ladies, plus Bud's eight impoverished middle-aged children with their drug rehab and cancer treatment bills and that mob of grandchildren who all want him to put them through college.

4. Life is short, but Bob Jones discovers you can make it even shorter by attempting to buzz across the Grand Canyon in a home-built aeroplane. But wait! Here comes a raft! Paddled by 17 scantily clad wenches! Maybe he can crash-land on that beach up ahead! And they'll save his sorry ass!

5. Penniless and recently diagnosed with an inoperable tumor, Jack Pryor has nothing to live for. Then someone claiming to be from the CIA contacts him and offers him a job: break Sheik Idus Zuwari out of Libya’s notorious Abu Salim prison. Can Jack pull this off before he dies? Maybe not, but he's going to try!

6. Gambling addict Greg Lewis borrows $80,000 from a loan shark and puts it on the Buffalo Bills to win the Super Bowl. With 70 to 1 odds he'll be set for life. When the Bills fail to even make the playoffs, hilarity ensues.

7. Why does disaster strike Laurence every October 2nd at 12:49 PM, just when he's ready to enjoy a bite of dessert? At first he thought it was bad luck. Then his girlfriend, Evelyn, took all the blame. Now, he knows he's cursed. The old hag who lived next door really was a witch, and she's still mad about the time he put duct tape on her cat's tail and drove it crazy. Can he ever redeem himself? Maybe not, but he's going to try!

Original Version

Dear Editor:

Of Time and Chance is an 80,000-word thriller.

Jack Pryor is diagnosed with a tumor that will choke off his spinal cord; his ex-wife has early onset Alzheimer’s, and he’s broke. [Do we really care about his ex-wife? Only if you explain why we should. Which you don't.] Unexpectedly, the CIA offers him a job: [Unexpected because the CIA fired him a few years ago? Or because he's a mall cop?] They fear that Sheik Idus Zuwari—a valuable Western ally—is about to be executed, and they want Jack to help free him from Libya’s notorious Abu Salim prison. [Maybe you should introduce him as retired CIA agent Jack Pryor, or ex-Navy Seal Jack Pryor. Right now it sounds like there was a conversation like this at the CIA:

-We need to break Zuwari out of that prison.

-But that's a suicide mission. No agent will...

-Good point. Wait, what if we could find some guy with a terminal illness...]

Libya holds traumatic memories for Jack. Decades ago, while working in the Sahara oil fields, he was falsely arrested and tortured for selling explosives to a Berber separatist; the scars, both mental and physical, remain. Now [Nonetheless], desperate for cash, Jack accepts the CIA offer. [If you want American readers to care about this, I recommend changing the Berber separatist to a barber/stylist.]

He returns to Tripoli. Libya’s bloody revolution rages, with rebels battling loyalists at the gates of the city. Jack is targeted by Col. Kaleem al Barasa, commandant of Abu Salim and the very man who savaged his life.

[-Colonel, The rebels are at the gates. The city is sure to fall.

-Screw that. I just heard that a guy I tortured twenty years ago is in the country; all my efforts will be spent capturing and torturing him again.]

When an explosion eliminates the CIA team and his means of communicating with his handlers, Jack must engage in a solitary struggle to defeat his nemesis Barasa—if he is to save Zuwari and assuage his soul’s renascent torment. [So close. You came so close to getting through the query without consulting a thesaurus.]

Thank you for your time.


So there's a CIA team? Did the CIA ask Jack to be on the team or to lead the team? Because if I were a CIA operative and they told me I was to be on a team, and that the leader of the team was a poverty-stricken, terminally ill non-CIA guy, I'd say, How about I lead the team, and we use the dying civilian guy as a human shield?

It would be ironic if the explosives that wiped out the team were the same ones Jack sold to Berber separatists twenty years ago.

Why don't you make Jack an actual CIA agent? Then he can be assigned a mission instead of being offered a job. If I'm broke and need a job, I still think I'd balk if the job is in Libya and involves breaking someone out of a notorious prison.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Ah, the inoperable tumor! Currently rivaling the absentee Faerie dad as one of the most popular query tropes.

Say a guy in real life had a tumor that was going to choke off his spinal cord.

Would that guy be most likely to:

1. Seek out the best possible medical help, anywhere in the world, in hopes of getting rid of that bad boy?


2. Do whatever is on his bucket list?


3. Return to a place where he had a horrible experience years ago, to risk what remains of his life to save a guy he apparently never met?

If you're not sure, ask someone who has an inoperable malignant tumor. (Provided that wouldn't make you feel, how shall I put this, exploitative.)

But first, ask them how they're feeling. Like:

1. Ready to fly to a war-torn country to break some guy out of prison?


2. Ready for another round of chemo?


3. Ready for a nap?


Sorry, that touched a nerve, obviously. Anyway, the tumor and the ex-wife feel extraneous to the query. They have a kitchen sink feel (as in everything but the). Write your shoot-em-up thriller about Libya and leave the medical thrillers to others.

Anonymous said...

There are good reasons why so many of the most popular spy novels were written by former spies. Maybe you can go read some of them over again and ponder the subtle differences between their world and yours. More homework on the Libyan revolution might help. Or maybe it's just really set in the wrong time/ wrong place.

Impairing your spy with a tumor and an ex-wife is like saying his mission was a bit dull so to make the book interesting you decided the guy should be fraught with medical complaints and unrequited love or domestic disorder, or whatever. Maybe that would work in a comedy, but it doesn't sound like you wrote one of those.

Also, if he keels over and does a melodramatic death scene in Book #1, what does that do to your potentially lucrative sequels?

Jo Antareau said...

I got a chuckle from all the GTPs, except the actual one which kind of gave it away.

I agree with AR's comments. The story could work as a thriller without the terminal illness. If you want your character to start in a reflective mood, missing the action of his youth and the possibility of making a real contribution to the world, just give him a mid life crisis. And have him volunteer at a third world orphanage ; ).

The premise didn't really entice me to read, but then again thrillers make my eyes glaze.

Evil Editor said...

I imagine if your system for guessing which plot is the real one is to choose the one that's least funny, you'll get it right about 1/6 of the time. The same frequency as if you choose randomly.

sarahhawthorne said...

You're stacking the deck a little too high against Pryor. He has terminal cancer AND his wife is sick too? I dunno, at that point I'd be in lay-down-and-die mode when my risky overseas mission goes horribly wrong.

I'm guessing that the reason the CIA recruits him is because as a former prisoner he's familiar with the Abu Salim layout? If that's the case, say so. And why would the commandant of an infamous prison be so interested in one American contractor who passed through his prison years ago? If Barasa was in charge of an infamous prison, he has to have had thousands of prisoners, some guilty, some innocent. What made Jack stand out that he would remember him years later?

And like EE said, give us some sense of Jack's qualifications to survive and to successfully pull off the mission solo.

pacatrue said...

I've been out of the query game too long to offer much help (because once upon a time I was oh such an expert at it), but I was tripped up a bit while reading the query, so....

Basically, I don't have a good feel for the protag. He was in Libya working "decades" ago, which is at least 20 years, which means he's in his 40s? Obviously a real agent can be any age, but I am guessing this is going to be an action adventure agent who pulls himself up moving trucks, and, if so, 40s is probably the max age (no offense to the 50 and 60 year old secret agents out there). Anyway, as EE says, spend some time at the beginning setting us up regarding who the protagonist is.

Anonymous said...

It's "Navy SEAL, " Sea, Air, Land. Somewhere down the line the periods were dropped from the acronym. But SEAL is *always* capitalized.

Agree on the query.

Evil Editor said...

You forgot to tell us what the "E" stands for.

Anonymous said...

The E is part of SEa.

Evil Editor said...

We need an abbreviation for the word "sea."

For "sea?" It's a three-letter word with one syllable. How much shorter can it be?

Quit arguing and come up with an abbreviation.

How about S?

I don't think so. Let's go with SE.