Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Face-Lift 1123

Guess the Plot

Better Lives

1. ...through SCIENCE! At least, that's what Toby Canola always believed. Then he took a job at UltraTech. Now he's packed up the SUV, stuffed the wife and kids in with the dog, and is heading out to live off the land in Wyoming...while there's still time.

2. Sam and Jenna it all until Sam's family curse came true and he barely survived his transition. Now she weeps all day and he kills at night. A werewolf in the family does NOT mean . . . better lives.

3. Marc wakes up in a mental institution and is told he killed his date Bethany by driving drunk. Suddenly life sucks. But the whole story's a sham! Marc's actually been kidnapped by aliens who replaced him with a doppelganger to prevent him from becoming the next Hitler, but then Marc discovers the aliens want planet Earth for themselves and it's up to him and Bethany to save us all.

4. Jai searches for a unicorn to harness it's power and save his sister. Shilli scours the forest for a human male to discover if the legends of their prowess is greatly exaggerated. They meet and lead . . . better lives.

5. An ad in Demonology Magazine is headlined "Better Lives." Just make a wish, provide some personal ID info, and sign on the dotted line. But you might want to read the fine print about what happens after death.

6. Everyone at Fenton High School thinks their life sucks, resulting in bad poetry and hormonal angst. Also, awkward teen sex scenes.

7. When a farmboy discovers he's got nine lives, he decides to spend them taking down the evil Empire of Kwhat, thereby impressing his girlfriend. When it turns out he was already on number nine, however, it falls to the girl to fix things up.

8. Ophiophobic Creek Flagstaff and insectophobic Trisha Winslow are doppers who long for more freedom to pursue their lifestyle. They hear Singapore is a laissez faire capitalist dream. So they fly there to open The Bong Shop and discover illegal drug trafficking is a capital offense. They flee into the Malay jungle. Will they find better lives with the snakes and insects?

9. Grandpa Curtis left the planet Saturday, and his old TV is getting incinerated Tuesday. Gloria and Bob are still stuck in the TV in a sitcom from the 60's. Can they escape and find their way into a new flat screen before Tuesday?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Thanks so much for this opportunity for evil feedback on BETTER LIVES, my 94,000 word YA science fiction novel, inspired by Dickens's A Christmas Carol. [Trivia note: My research reveals that every TV sitcom and every cartoon series ever produced that didn't get canceled before Christmas has done an episode inspired by A Christmas Carol. Let me put it in terms you'll understand. If you watched nothing but Christmas Carol adaptations 24 hours a day, to see all of them would take you from now until Christmas. Of the year 2378. And that doesn't include the thousands sure to be produced between now and 2378.]

Seventeen year-old prep school student Marc Andrews knows he’s a bad person, despite his nerdy roommate Tim’s best efforts to reform him. [I'd go with "is" rather than "knows he's."] Marc steals a test, blackmails a teacher, and takes advantage of yet another girl.  [Actually, this isn't grabbing me. Maybe it's the wishy-washy term "bad person." How about something like:

Marc Andrews attends an exclusive prep school, but he should be in reform school. He's stolen tests, blackmailed a teacher, taken advantage of more girls than he can remember . . . and that's just this semester.]

Then he meets Bethany. Not only hot, she calls him on his usual shit. He respects that. And he’s shocked to realize he genuinely likes her. But after their first date, Marc wakes up in a mental institution. He’s told he killed Bethany after passing out while driving drunk. Marc imagines life can’t get any more messed up…until [the ghost of Jacob Marley appears in his room.] [This is science fiction? It sounds like depressing litfic. When does the science fiction come in?] he discovers the loony bin’s a fake and he’s been kidnapped by aliens. [Ah.]

The aliens can see the future where Marc’s the President who starts World War III. After [Because] he proved himself unable to become a better person, they [they've] replaced him to prevent Earth’s destruction. Being an accidental murderer is [was] bad enough, but Marc’s shocked that he attains a Hitler-Stalin level of evil. [Or: Finding out he'd killed Bethany was bad enough; finding out he's destined to be the next Hitler is even worse!] And with the aliens’ empathy machine, he’s forced to experience his victims’ suffering from the averted future.

Marc’s initially grateful to his captors for preventing him from becoming a monster. That is, until he learns an alien faction, that includes the doppelgänger who replaced him, want Earth for themselves. And they’re conspiring to kick off Armageddon as previously scheduled. Marc can’t let the horrors he’s experienced happen for real. It’s up to him, with help from Bethany and Tim, to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process[.] [Then he wakes up, realizes the alien part was all a dream, and buys Bethany's grieving family a Christmas goose.]

I’m a member of the Northern Ohio SCBWI chapter and one of its critique groups. I’ve included (whatever writing sample and/or synopsis the agent wants). I’d be happy to provide the rest of the manuscript.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards,


Turned out we didn't need Tim in the query, as he did nothing except fail to reform Marc.

Despite the advance warning that it's science fiction, the appearance of the aliens is jarring. If you dump inspired by A Christmas Carol and open: I am seeking representation for BETTER LIVES, a 94,000 word YA science fiction novel in which aliens replace a teenager destined to become a 21st-century Hitler with an exact double, we might not be thinking, WTF? when the aliens appear.

Apparently the Armageddon the aliens are planning to kick off won't damage the planet they want as much as WWIII?

Seems like once they've replaced Marc, the aliens would kill him rather than keep him in a fake mental institution that he might escape from. Do they need him for something? 

Is the doppelganger supposed to become president and then help the bad guys kick off Armageddon? If so, why don't they just replace the current president instead of replacing Marc and waiting 20 years for fake Marc to become president?

If the faction that wants Earth for themselves is gonna wait 20+ years to make their move, maybe they should be replacing whoever's gonna be China's leader in 20+ years.


BuffySquirrel said...

This makes no sense to me. If the aliens want Armageddon to happen, why remove Marc at all? Why not leave him to get on with it? What's the advantage of having one of their own cause the exact same events he would have caused?

Also, what use is an Armageddonised Earth to anyone?

And why put Marc through the empathy process? I can see why the plot requires it, but you need more than a plot reason. You need an actual reason that makes sense within the logic of the story.

And as EE says, they need a compelling reason to keep Marc alive at all.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writer, let us talk about "shit". I don't care if you use that word in your novel. That's between you, your editor, and all the school librarians who will have to decide whether to shelve the book and field irate calls from parents.

But a query is a business letter. Business letters contain the word "shit" at their peril.

(Someone is almost certain to chime in here and defend your right to swear. No prob. I defend it myself. But not in a business letter.)

Some of your sentences are stilted, the "shit" sentence being an example. Read the query aloud, perhaps to your critique group, and BOLO for awkward constructions like "Not only hot, she" and "kick off Armageddon as previously scheduled".

Now, here's the biggest problem I have with this query:

Marc’s initially grateful to his captors for preventing him from becoming a monster.

Wha-? No. No, he's not. Nobody is ever grateful for being corrected. All right, maybe The Mountie and Captain Carrot are. But lesser mortals are not. I'm not grateful when I get a bad review. You're not grateful to me for criticizing the above sentence. And we are presumably more mature, less adolescent people than Marc.

Even with the empathy machine, he's going to be resentful. And he wouldn't believe the aliens. Hitler? No way. Marc's just a free-spirited guy who likes to do things his own way. IHHO.

And anyone's initial reaction to the aliens' whole save-the-humans schtick is going to be "Why do they want to save us? What's in it for them?" Let Marc wonder that right away... in fact, their insistence that he's a budding genocidal maniac might just fuel his doubts about them.

IMHO said...

Agree with EE and Squffy Buirrel.

Now, if the aliens were an advance scouting unit whose mission was to kidnap a bunch of humans to study, to figure out how to enslave the human race and have ready-made servants, and the actual invasion force will arrive in two months (tick tick tick)...

Plus a nitpicky detail -- you can't be an 'accidental murderer.' Murder requires intent, either to kill a particular person or to do something so reckless it can be reasonably envisioned a death will result (firing into a crowd, driving drunk, etc)

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author!
It seems as if plot holes have engulfed this query and it's up to Tiny Tim to give us the feel good ending.

Maybe it's me, but I don't get a Christmas Carol vibe off this at all. I get more of an Independence Day vibe, except, for some odd reason, the dude in charge of saving our asses is an ass himself.

Now, I'm sure the story is more compelling than this query lets on. So take it back to the nuts and bolts. EE gave you some great ideas for structure; you need to fill in the rest with a plot summary that makes sense.

BuffySquirrel said...

I wondered about the 'accidental murder' thing, as it would certainly be impossible under English law, but I get confused with US law, which seems to call murder what we would call manslaughter. So I didn't want to look ignorant or nuffin!

Dave Fragments said...

In the USA "First Degree Murder" is with intent and forethought. "Second Degree Murder" is without intent or forethought and is mostly a result of negligence but not always.
In many jurisdictions "Manslaughter" is 2nd degree murder -- causing the death of another by negligence or careless actions.

Negligence that harms another
(person or property)
is also a crime in many legal definitions.

Obviously those jurisdictions create the distinction that planning, taking a weapon, and killing someone is different than driving your car too fast, losing control, and killing others on the road. The latter case being manslaughter, the former being 1st degree.

AA said...

It's tricky, Buffy. There's first and second degree murder, then voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. There's a lot of overlap.

This would have been charged as either second degree murder or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. That would depend on whether the teen is tried as an adult (at seventeen, he can be), previous drunk driving convictions or reckless driving offenses, whether anyone at the party testified that the girl got in the car voluntarily or seemed to be forced, etc.

It's more likely, considering his age, to be a manslaughter charge (as an adult) with an added drunk driving charge. If he's old enough to be drinking and driving they'll argue he's old enough to be tried as an adult. With this degree of recklessness involved it could be voluntary, especially if they say it was total reckless disregard of the passenger.

I doubt a teen knows any of this. If he sees himself as a murderer he's feeling guilty.

AA said...

I also agree with Buffy on the plot holes here. Why not just swoop in during WWIII and take advantage of the chaos? I get this is just a faction of the aliens, but I'm afraid this is a bit much. We've got good guy humans, bad guy humans, fake bad guy human, bad guy turned good guy human, good guy aliens, and bad guy aliens.

And yeah, why keep Marc alive? They used to do this on old tv shows, because 1. Some networks had violence censorship and 2. you needed all heroes alive for next week's episode. It doesn't work too well in a book. People abduct people for leverage. If know one knows Marc is gone, there is no reason not to bump him off.

Veronica Rundell said...

Buffy--no worries. Accidental murderer is the wrong term stateside, too. Involuntary manslaughter/reckless homicide are the two most common charges brought against drunk drivers.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I already like Marc because I have a weakness for prep school bad boys, but his world seems to just get crazy. I'm confused.

There's too much going on in your query (I'm guilty of this too).

How does Marc change? Does Bethany help him change? It seems that Tim is a limp sidekick. I'm more interested in Bethany.

You have a lot of room for Bethany to make a better man of Marc. Show us how Marc changes. He should be a man by the end of this adventure, and have some ethics.