Sunday, January 20, 2013

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

A Human Element

1. Nina Tass has discovered the biggest secret mankind has to offer; a heretofore unknown element that determines conscience. Inject it into a rat and it shows remorse. Remove it from a human: instant sociopath.

2. As the stock boy at a dusty old New Age shop that never sold anything, Josh thought he'd lucked into the easiest job in the world. But that was before his boss accidentally turned him into the anthropomorphic representative of air. Also, a unicorn with myopia.

3. Aboard the Ulysses, the manned mission to Europa, things are not going well. Every time something fails, CANDY, the computer-assisted navigator, is blamed. CANDY, however, is fed up with the weakness of the crew. Will CANDY be the only Earthling to reach Europa "alive"?

4. Biochemist Bernie Shaw has identified the element responsible for triggering the evolution of apes into homo sapiens. When his girlfriend, Heidi, is accidentally exposed to a radioactive version of the element, she transforms back into an ape. Can Bernie reverse Heidi’s de-evolution, or is she headed for unicellularism?

5. Laura is drawn to Ben but would Ben want anything to do with Laura if he knew who she really was? For instance, would it bother him to know she's an alien who became human when the meteorite she rode to Earth reacted with elements in Earth's atmosphere?

6. Aimee thinks she has the perfect solution to the animal instincts that overcome her when the moon is full and she becomes a werewolf: a cabin in the wilderness, fifty miles from civilization. And it works fine until the month she arrives at the cabin to find that a scout troop has set up camp nearby.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Laura Armstrong endures a life of tragedy as those she loves are gruesomely murdered and realizes she must unravel her past to face the killer if she wants to live. [Dump that. I seldom find opening with a one-sentence screenplay log line helpful. There's nothing there that isn't soon repeated, except Laura's last name, which can easily be inserted two words from now.]

Laura can’t escape death. Her parents were burned alive, her best friend’s throat was ripped out and her boss’s head was blown off in her lap. [Serves him right for having his head in her lap in the first place.] And she doesn’t know why. She fears the killer is the one who chases her in nightmares. [Didn't she see who the killer was when he was blowing her boss's head off?] [Actually, as it seems likely Laura would have been mortally wounded if her boss's head were blown off while it was, for some reason, in her lap, I'm forced to consider an alternative, namely that her boss's head was blown off nearby and came to rest in Laura's lap.We must now ask what could blow a man's head off without injuring a nearby person. Certainly not a grenade. Possibly Green Arrow has a meat cleaver arrow that could do the job. Someone else look into that. I'm more interested in how one reacts when one is at work and suddenly discovers the severed head of one's boss in one's lap. Does Laura react with revulsion, shoving the head into the wastebasket? Or does she, recognizing it as the head of her boss, treat it with more respect, placing it on a shelf next to a photograph of her parents and the urn containing their ashes? Perhaps it depends on whether she was wearing old jeans or her new white silk dress when the head landed in her lap, spurting blood all over her.]

It might be connected to the meteorite that hit her hometown lake almost thirty years ago. Ben Fieldstone thinks so. [Ben Fieldstone thinks that the murder of Laura's boss where she now lives is related to a meteorite that fell to Earth 30 years ago where she lived back then? I find it inconceivable that anyone would conceive of such a ridiculous theory.] He was there the night his parents were crushed under it. [They were crushed by a meteorite that landed in a lake at night? What were they doing in a lake at night? And if Ben was there too, why wasn't he crushed?] Laura finds him when she returns home to search the lake for answers. [She travels to her hometown to search the lake for answers even before she has met up with Ben Fieldstone? In other words, both she and Ben independently reach the conclusion that a meteorite that hit the lake thirty years ago is connected to her boss's head being blown off?] [Did Ben even know Laura before the lap incident?] Drawn to one another, they discover they are bound by fate as Laura’s true identity is revealed and that the man who wants her dead [How does she know it's a man? And if he wants her dead, why didn't he blow her head off, instead of her boss's head?] is part of her. [Huh?] With the killer closing in, [How much closer can he get? He's already part of her.] Laura realizes she must fight him alone to save them both. But if they survive, she fears she can’t give her heart to Ben now that he knows who she really is. [I missed the part where you reveal who she really is so that I'll understand why she's concerned. (I'm assuming the educated guess I made in Guess the Plot is correct, but the person you send the letter to may not be as quick on the draw as Evil Editor.)]

I am seeking representation of my novel, A HUMAN ELEMENT, a 120,000-word suspense novel. I would appreciate the opportunity to send you the entire manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Who is she?

I fail to see why Laura would think whoever killed her parents, boss and friend is connected with a meteorite that landed thirty years ago, or with her hometown. Presumably the boss and friend have no connection to Laura's hometown, so it's not the meteorite that connects the murders, it's Laura. If it all makes sense in the book, you need to fill in the gaps so it makes sense in the query.

Selected Comments

no-bull-steve said...A case of trying way too hard. The whole thing sounds like a bad (and I repeat bad) X-files episode. And EE is right. 80% makes no logical sense the way you've worded it.

BuffySquirrel said...

Laura can’t escape death. Her parents were burned alive, her best friend’s throat was ripped out, and her boss’s head was blown into her lap. She's even pursued by the figure of the killer in nightmares.

Seeking answers, Laura returns to her home town. There, she reconnects with Ben, who saw her parents die thirty years earlier when a meteorite struck the lake in which they were skinny-dipping.

another plot paragraph?

When Laura’s true identity is revealed, she realises she must fight the killer alone to save both Ben and herself. Yet even if they survive, will Ben accept Laura now he knows she is a brutal eunuch from outer space?

Ink and Pixel Club said...Honestly, I don't see how Laura could conclude anything from the string of bizarre deaths of people around her except that she has horrible luck. Is there some reason why Laura and Ben believe that this is all connected to the meteorite falling nearly thirty years ago? If there is, say so.
I don't get the sense that much happens in this story based on the query, The deaths could be exciting, but they're either in the past or involve people who we know nothing about except that they mean something to Laura and they're dead. Other than that, Laura traveling to the lake seems like the only action in the story. Everything else is discovery and realization that feels insubstantial, possibly because we don't know what the characters are figuring out.

Why do Laira and Ben think the meteorite has something to do with the deaths of the people around Laura? What is Laura's true identity? Who - at least generally - is the killer how is he part of her? Why does Laura have to fight him alone? Why is she worried about not being able to give her heart to Ben when their survival is a much more pressing concern? (Maybe I'm not clear on the correct use of the phrase, but "give her heart to Ben" makes it sound like she's worrying that she can't choose to pursue a deeper relationship with Ben rather than fearing that Ben won't want to be with her now that he knows her true identity, whatever that is.) Being cryptic about these parts of your story is making the query confusing and even dull, not mysterious or intriguing.

arhooley said...But onward.

Drawn to one another, they discover they are bound by fate as Laura’s true identity is revealed and that the man who wants her dead is part of her.

Let us diagram.

I. Laura and Ben discover
A. they are bound by fate
B. the man who wants Laura dead is part of her
II. as discovery "A" occurs, Laura's true identity is revealed

Is that what you meant? It's an awful jumble for a query to say nothing of a sentence.

Why must Laura fight the killer alone, especially if she and Ben are bound?

But if they survive, she fears she can’t give her heart to Ben now that he knows who she really is.

Why do I care? For all I know of Laura and Ben, they're as nice as Bonnie and Clyde.

vkw said...Is Laura the murderer? Is that the big secret?

So that would mean that the boss had his head in the MC's lap and so she blew it off.

Well that makes sense, although a sexual harassment lawsuit would be less messy and more profitable. And, one wouldn't get arrested for murder.

Of course we have no idea why she killed her parents or best friend. I think it is far more likely to assume the MC is a psychopath with dissociative disorder than believe a meteorite had anything to do with it.

 Anonymous said...In retrospect, everyone realizes their first novel was an incoherent mess. That is why man invented trunks to hide them in.

Phoenix said...I think there was an episode of Bones (spoiler-free) where someone got their head blown off by, yes, a high-powered rifle, so EE's theory MUST be right if a TV show backs him up. There was a crowd, but I don't believe the head landed in anyone's lap.

This also had me thinking of the (spoiler-free) meteorite touchdown and Chloe's Wall of the Weird in Smallville.

Then I skipped to thinking about Spidey when (spoiler alert) the Venom symbiote became part of him.

I'm afraid, though, those are the only coherent thoughts I had on reading this query. Part of that was due to my not being able to figure out what was going on in the query and part due to EE's blue-lining.

I also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what the D and Y stand for in the CANDY acronym in GTP #3. I sooo want to write about a nav system named CANDY now.

Khazar-khum said...CANDY: Computer Actuated Navigational Drive sYstem
It's a long-standing tradition to name the thing and then figure out an appropriate acronym.


John C. Updike said...

I suppose I will find this if I re-read what's been posted but a meteorite that comes to Earth would need to be pretty small without doing a lot of rearranging of the terrestrial furniture. So is this a little space rock? Or something bigger? This may not be generic to the discussion.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Wow. That no-bull-steve guy (in hindsight) sounds like a jerk!

Pri said...

Honestly, I find this query very interesting [wait! let me finish my thought here!]because it actually provides insight on how wrong most writers still are about what is a query.
People, get something into your heads: the query isn't for the general public. Nobody is going to read your query at the back cover of you book, so there's got to be no fear of revealing too much. Agents are not common readers; yes, they must be enticed by the plot, but they must also know if this is something they can get published without reading the whole manuscript.I's hard to think like that, but's better than playing knock-knock jokes to guess the main characters, for once.