Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Face-Lift 1265

Guess the Plot

A Byte of Happiness

1. R2D2 and C3PO finally consummate their forbidden love, now that droid marriage is legal on Endor.

2. The adventures of Carl, the Carnivorous Computer.

3. 7 bits was not enough, so Meka-R17 goes on a quest to the Citadel of Code to finally achieve a full byte of happiness. 

4. Lonely Gerald Haney constructs a robot he hopes to mass-market as a nanny, chef, or ???? As he's preparing to meet with investors, his beloved cat dies. His tears fall on a porous surface of Prototype 2.0, a chemical reaction takes place, and suddenly 2.0 is begging Gerald not to duplicate or sell her.

5. When Esmerelda sneaks into her brother's room to find out why he's so obsessed with his old computer from 1998, she gets sucked into the monitor, and ends up trapped in one of his games. Will her brother make her stay, or help her bring home a hidden treasure?

6. Harry Cuza has nearly broken the code for hacking the Bank of Romania database. He only needs one more character, but with 256 choices, he's afraid the wrong value will bring Interpol to his door. Instead it brings the Vampire Apocalypse.

7. As the only woman in her software engineering department, Morgan gets no respect from her coworkers or her boss. Well, except Roger. How can she justify bringing down the company with a sexual harassment lawsuit when she can barely keep her clothes on when Roger's around?  

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

In 1998, with Internet technologies gaining momentum, Morgan Turner discovers that her recently acquired electrical engineering degree is enough to get her unexpectedly reassigned to a software department on her first day of work. [What department was she originally assigned to? Did they hire her not knowing she had this degree?]

She is the only female engineer in the entire department, and her new coworkers’ reactions range from apathetic to hostile regarding her lack of programming knowledge and, not that they would admit it, her gender. [Being apathetic about her gender is a good thing, right?] Her oppressive boss, Dave, makes it clear from her first day that he views her as the team’s secretary, which forces her to fight for every scrap of technical work she gets. [No one wants her there, and it's not even her field, and presumably the department she was originally hired by needs her. Whose decision was it that she should be reassigned?] One of the established software architects, Roger, becomes her advocate, and what begins as a mentorship evolves into a deeper connection.

Morgan is determined to be accepted in her male-dominated team, and to keep her clothes on around Roger. If she succumbs to temptation, she might find her promising career [You haven't made her career sound at all promising.] over before it even begins. [The first rule of the software department is: You don't take your clothes off around Roger. The second rule of the software department is: You don't take your clothes off around Roger.]

A BYTE OF HAPPINESS is a completed, fun, [If you want us to know it's fun, show is in your plot summary.] coming of age, [What age is Morgan "coming of"? She's already an adult. Does the book begin when she's a kid? Even if it does, I wouldn't call it this unless you show the arc of her growth in the query.] 108,000 word women’s fiction novel. It will appeal to fans of Sophia Kinsella [Sophie. Not knowing how the author you're comparing your book to spells her name may suggest that you've never actually read her books.] and Jennifer Weiner, while adding the comical, collegial interactions reminiscent of The Office. [If the book is comical, showing it with an amusing event or a lighter tone is better than mentioning a TV show.] It features a strong female protagonist in a STEM field. [You've shown us this; no need to tell us. Though you could make the "strong" part more obvious. She does fight for work and she's determined and she resists, but I worry that Roger will be instrumental in her success. What does she accomplish through her strength?] Thank you for your time and consideration.



It's well-written, but it's not exactly compelling. All you've done is describe the situation Morgan finds herself in at the beginning (I assume) of the book. We want to know some of the important things that happen. Aka the plot. Do you have a story to tell? 

What's Morgan's main goal? To change the mindset of the company so other women don't experience what she has? To gain the acceptance of the men in her department? To punish the sexists who are making her miserable? What's her plan for achieving her main goal? What goes wrong? Does she have a Plan B? What will happen if that fails?

Condense your entire summary into one three-sentence paragraph (possibly starting with the first sentence of my Guess the Plot). That'll leave room for two more paragraphs telling us what happens in your book.


khazar-khum said...

For a rom-com, the setup isn't bad--it's a lot like 'Working Girl'. It will need a supremely light touch, though. Sadly, that's not what we're seeing here. We're getting a plot and some characters, with a generous helping of name-dropping. If this isn't a rom-com, well, it sounds like something you might see on Lifetime, with Lindsey Lohan as Morgan and James Deen as Roger.

khazar-khum said...

Hey Evil--

Instead of *just* query letters for novels, maybe you should request that people float their writing ideas in general past the Minions. Got an idea for a story, book, screenplay, Nanovel? Give it a query and send it out for the minions to chomp on. Maybe it will get more material incoming.

Anonymous said...

Author, your novel may be incredibly diverting and involving, but you're not conveying it in the query. EE has pointed out numerous wait-what?s that stall the funny. By the way, isn't Y2K looming? Is that the ticking time bomb that serves as the central plot device? Does the department need a hero(ine) who can learn COBOL overnight and debug a million lines of 30-year-old code?

I like k-k's idea. Float your concept kind of thing? I know it's hard sometimes for me to keep my critique on the query alone when it seems a book with all kinds of problems has already been written.

Anonymous said...

The set up doesn't make sense. This is going to be a bit of a rant. Sorry.

Electrical Engineering jobs are a lot harder to come by than software (most people I know with engineer degrees work in software for this reason) and engineering jobs (of any kind) aren't the top of jobs where people are magically reassigned. Why would she switch?

Most software companies I interviewed with/worked at only cared if you could program, the degree was secondary, if that. This is a field where you can get a job with 'equivalent experience.' She's not qualified for the job if she can't do the work.

Engineers care a lot about whether you can do the work. A lot of us/them care more about machines/programs/etc than they do about people (to some extent). Additionally there's not a lot of personal interaction. I've heard these are two of the reasons you don't find a lot of women in these fields (ymmv). Most people will assume she's not an engineer when they first meet (statistical averages, they'd be right more often than not; I personally found it amusing more often than annoying since you get the other reaction when they realize they've made a (possibly offensive) faux pas. A lot of engineers are (overly) sensitive about missing a few social skillz).

This features an incompetent female protagonist (lack of programming knowledge? seriously? so much of this job is about applying knowledge rather than knowing, and about being able to find/research how to make things work rather than knowing) in a STEM field (I'd turn down the book for that reason alone, let's try writing about competent women in STEM fields) with a generic plot (woman in predominantly male work environment meets harassment, finds romance) slapped on top.

I would suggest you talk to (competent) women who've worked in software and cover some of the issues they actually run into, get away from generic. Or at least show that you've done so in your query if you have in the book.

/end rant

InkAndPixelClub said...

Aside from plot, I'm missing any sense of Morgan's character that would make me care about what happens to her. I don't know whether she's excited or terrified by this sudden move from whatever she was originally hired for to software development. I don't know if she' super serious about her work, if she pulls out really smart arguments about why she should be working on actual software developer that leave her boss no choice but to give her real work, or if she takes all the indifference and negativity thrown her way with good humor and undefeatable optimism.

All you've said about Roger is that he sticks up for her and becomes her mentor, which don't sound like great reasons for her to be contemplating putting her job at risk to get naked in front of him. It almost seems like they wouldn't have a relationship of Morgan were in a more supportive work environment. So the story portion of the query ends with a choice between Morgan pursuing a career that I'm not convinced she cares about having and pursuing a man who I don't understand why she's attracted to.

Rework the query to focus more on Morgan's perspective and the specifics of what she's doing, thinking, and feeling. Give me some reason beyond "he s the only guy at work who's nice to her" why Roger might be the man of her dreams. Make it clear why she has to choose between her career and Roger. I'm guessing he might be her superior, but you don't actually say that, so there's no obvious reason why a simple office romance would mean disaster. It'd be nice if there was some kind of ticking time bomb or an event where the work/romance conflict comes to a head that you could end the query on. Does Roger get involved with another woman. Does he or Morgan get an amazing job offer across the country? Is there anything besides Morgan's libido that forces her to make the decision now instead of later?

Limit the last paragraph to title, genre, word count, and book comps. Like EE pointed out, you want the editors or agents to read the story portion of your query and decide for themselves that it's fun and comedic and features a strong female protagonist rather than you having to tell them that it's all of those things and leave them to wonder how well you' re pulled off those qualities.

Mister Furkles said...

Anonymous was pretty much point on with the rant. By the seventies, quite a few women were majoring in CompSci, computer systems, or engineering. In the 80s, from 1/4 to 1/3 of the SW developers were women, and some managers were women. Far from resenting the presence of women, the guys were happy to work with attractive young women. Some few were too happy and, lacking adequate social skills, could be pests.

By the nighties, it had nearly reached parity. And it is especially hard to imagine an electrical engineer graduating in the late 90s without knowing some common computer languages. (How could she test her board designs without using software?)

At least in systems software or embedded software, I much preferred working with EEs to working with CompSci graduates. The thing is digital EEs know how computers work and have no difficulty reading the processor documentation. Can't say the same for a lot of CompSci graduates.

The story would make more sense in some kind of physical engineering discipline. Or maybe Morgan could be a biology graduate. Still, hard to imagine a full department (maybe 25?) without any women SW developers.

Julie said...

This is the author of the query here. I wanted to thank all of you for giving me some great feedback. I needed untainted eyes to see the massive holes in my query letter. I feel confident that my novel addresses the issues that were raised, and now I have a better idea of what to incorporate into my query.

The setting of the story, an electrical engineering grad with limited programming experience being assigned to a software department mirrors my own experiences. I was the only woman in a department of well over twenty-five men at a large technical company. While I didn’t encounter quite the amount of drama Morgan does, I did run into the typical problems such as people being surprised that I was an engineer and even more surprised that I could learn to code as well as they could. While as an electrical engineering grad, I had some programming experience, mostly assembly, Pascal and C, this was nothing compared to the amount of programming and architecture skills my fellow software engineers with computer science engineering degrees had. This was the late nineties, though, and people were scrambling for software engineers/programmers and like someone said above, electrical hardware engineering jobs were harder to come by.

Thanks again for taking the time to review my work. Take care!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writing from one's own experiences is always difficult because reality does not have to be believable.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should cut the middle sentence of the last paragraph and instead briefly mention your past as an electrical engineer at a tech company. I think it's relevant to your ability to write this story.

AA said...

There's no story yet. She's working in an office with a bunch of guys who don't like her, then falls for the only one who can stand her and immediately wants to take her clothes off. If you want to set Women's Lib back 100 years, that's up to you, but you still need to tell what happens.