Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Face-Lift 1307

Guess the Plot

The Darkening

1. Everything Lizzie thought she knew about love and life is turned on its head when her hairdresser makes a fateful mistake, and she learns that blondes actually don't have more fun.

2. As the Goths sack Rome, the only light is the lurid glare of burning cities. Octavia of Athens is determined to stop the insidious, creeping darkness. She seeks help from Charon, the ferryman of the dead, but will even he be able to stop the coming of... the Dark Ages?

3. With every step it is gloomier.
With every word it is angrier.
With every verse it is obscurer.
Thus comes the darkening to his dance. Never again will his audience be the same.

4. When every human being's shadow comes to life in the form of a monster intent on killing its owner, humanity is eradicated. Except for one guy who has stayed in a basement where light can't get at him. But will he survive when a girl shows up at his shelter . . . and she's glowing?

5. Led by the great Owl and a devious Naked Mole-rat, the nocturnal animals of the world have united in their cause: The Darkening. Only a rag-tag bunch of light-loving outcasts can save the great lightbulb in the sky. 

6. Statewide Cheerleading finals are coming up soon, and the team from Oceanview High has to really up their game if they want a crack at the win. Dayley Nuhes has a great idea: head to Seaside Spa and Salon and get their whole look changed from blonde beachbunnies to dusky daredevils.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

John Piscus’ single memory [Here's a writing tip everyone should know: If you never give a character a name that ends with the letter "s," you won't have to worry about whether the possessive form is created by adding apostrophe s or just apostrophe.] [Also, the only conceivable reason to give a character the silly name "Piscus" is because you're writing a limerick about a discus thrower.] is of the day he saved himself but let his wife and daughter be killed by their shadows.

A catastrophic event eradicated humanity by bringing every human’s shadow into life in the form of a monster intent on killing its owner. [That sounds impossible (because your shadow tends to be lying on the ground while you're standing up), until you realize that your shadow is perfectly positioned to trip you. And once you hit the ground, it has you.] John is one of the few survivors, and has to live in darkness with hardly any memory of his past, driven mad from guilt for saving himself instead of helping his wife and daughter. [Are the few survivors people who were in totally dark places (vampires sleeping in their coffins, for instance) when the catastrophe occurred, and have stayed there? Or are they people who were able to defeat their shadow monsters in combat?]

His survival is jeopardised when an equally amnesiac glowing girl shows up at his shelter begging for help. John’s first instinct is to protect himself from her light by killing her, but she reminds him so much of the daughter he failed. The girl is convinced that enemies are coming for both of them and insists they should leave the basement he’s been using for refuge, [Lemme guess, he doesn't believe her.] and risk the wilderness, even if it means exposure to light. [If humanity has been eradicated, then it's safe to assume shadows are pretty much invincible. Otherwise there'd be more than just a few people who've survived. But if shadows are invincible, how could John have saved his wife and daughter? How is anyone alive?

John is reluctant to trust her until terrifying troopers, [Alliteration makes them seem less terrifying; try "terrifying soldiers" or "fearsome troopers."] who are herding survivors and are unaffected by light, attack and incapacitate him and the girl, and take them to a military facility. [There seem to be a lot of characters, considering that humanity was eradicated.] There, John will learn the truth about his past and how the world ended, and uncover the facility’s true purpose. [They're planning to save mankind by extinguishing the sun.] At the cost [risk?] of dying, John will have to [must] rescue the girl from those in charge of the facility [It's easier to rescue someone being held captive if you aren't also being held captive.] or risk losing [lose] not only the one person he cared for since his family’s demise, but also his [last] chance for atonement. [Better than puzzling over the pretty colors would probably be cutting this paragraph off after "true purpose." I doubt John will really feel that rescuing this girl has atoned for letting his wife and daughter die. Especially if they have no safe place to go if he does manage to rescue her.]

THE DARKENING is a 97,000 word post-apocalyptic horror novel. It will appeal to readers who enjoyed the melancholy mood and tone of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and P. D. James’ The Children of Men. [Not much you can do about real people whose names end in "s."]

I am a bilingual Greek who studied and lived in Scotland for five years. My short stories have appeared in online magazines, including Voluted Tales, Eternal Haunted Summer, and 9 Tales Told in the Dark.

Thank you for your time and consideration


You need a better term than "eradicated"; how about "not eradicated."

Are the shadow monsters solid three-dimension creatures? Do they devour their owners after killing them, or are there seven billion corpses lying around on the planet? Once a shadow monster kills its owner, is it free to go do other stuff?

When you say the troopers are unaffected by light, do you mean they don't have shadows?

Is there an explanation for why only human shadows come to life?

It seems like everyone would be wiped out so fast that there'd be no one alive to alert those who weren't wiped out to stay in the dark.

Possible explanations: 1. The troopers aren't affected because they aren't human. 2. Not everyone is affected because shadows becoming monsters isn't an ongoing phenomenon; if you were in the dark at the time of the catastrophe, you survived and no longer have to worry about your shadow.

Possibly it would help to know what the catastrophic event was and who (if anyone) is behind it.

Most of my comments involve the premise, not the query. The query needs to shine a light on some of the issues I've brought up, instead of keeping us in the dark.  


Anonymous said...

A query isn't the same as a cover blurb, you can give away all the secrets (although, you do want to leave off the ending). It would help to know if the shadows coming to life was a one time event, a recurring event, or if all shadows are now in a permanent state of monster. (Hey, do multiple light sources give you multiple monsters to deal with? Do they gang up on you or fight each other?)

The definition of eradicated is "destroy completely; put an end to."
If there is one person left alive, humanity hasn't been eradicated (unless you're using a more metaphorical sense of the word), or the one person left isn't human. If you say something that's obviously not true, it does leave the agent wondering about the accuracy of everything else and the book itself. Use words that mean what you're describing.

MC: John
Wants: Survival? Atonement?
Obstacle(s): Shadow monsters?, terrifying troopers?, guilt? <- I don't know what's in the way if I don't know what he really wants
Plan: Does he have an ultimate plan? If so, give specifics that lead towards the resolution and show what it'll be like

Not a big fan of convenient amnesia, especially when there are a lot of ways characters can remember their life and still not have a clue as to what's going on.

Tk said...

When there is a male and a female character and only the man gets a name, it always bothers me. Could you name her?

I don’t think you need the second paragraph. You could just go straight to “When troopers raid John’s shelter and imprison him with other survivors, he…” Then there’s room to answer some of the questions raised.

Anonymous said...

I would need a more acceptable premise to suspend my disbelief. There are too many questions about the shadows right now. But with more development it might work for me. For instance, maybe the MC discovers that shadows are not really caused by light but the shadows have tricked us into believing this for millenniums, playing on our human need to understand the world around us. The shadows have been hiding in our shadows waiting for the right time to strike, which for some reason is now. But then there is the MC who has noticed people being killed and their shadows gloating over their bodies, and he has access to a Library of Alexandria sort of info depository and He figures out Hey! shadows are a hoax! And the real story begins. He's a defamed scientist whom everyone thought was crazy. Of course, you still need a reason for the shadows to kill everyone and a means by which the shadows kill everyone. Tricky stuff. Especially when the shadow of the MC knows what he is doing and would logically kill him right away. Tricky stuff.

SB said...

On the other side of "eradicated" is "decimated", which means to destroy one tenth of but people use it to mean destroy almost completely (so, sort of as if it means to destroy all but one tenth, though they don't even use it that intentionally). That always annoys me. Part of good writing is learning to use the right word for the occasion.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for going over my query. I'll try to answer your questions, though to answer them all you'll either need to read the synopsis or the book itself.

I'll start with EE's questions as they appear in the critique, then move on to those who commented.

Yes, those who survived were the ones that happened to be in a dark place at the time of the event. Shadows gain substance the minute light touches humans. So, yes, they are three-dimension creatures, and they devour the owner but no one else. In that sense, shadows are invincible. Once there's very little left of the owner's remains (or light ceases to exist), the shadow dies as well. John's wishful thinking of saving/not abandoning his family is a typical one. If we lose someone close to us and we blame ourselves for their death (even if there was nothing we could have done) most of the time we think we could have done something more to save them. The facility's purpose is part of the climax, so I couldn't include it in the query, right? I'm not supposed to spill the beans, rather make the agent want to read more, right? That's what every agent's advice I've read says, so I went with that approach. If I'm mistaken, please let me know. If I remove the paragraph that follows "true purpose," as you indicated, then I lose the stakes of the story. As an agent, do you think that what I've mentioned up to "true purpose" is enough to show what's at stake for the character? The troopers' shadows are like yours and mine, meaning they remain inanimate and harmless. There is an indirect explanation on why only humans are affected at the climax of the story and at the climax of the character's arc, but if I included it here, I would have once again given away too much, right? Yes, the vast majority of humanity was wiped out in two days more or less. There is no communication between people unless they happen to live close by (a few miles or as long as it takes to go somewhere and return while there's still night). To answer your very last question (about what happened to the world), an accident took place and a nanite cloud (nanotechnology is involved here, after all this is a post-apocalyptic story, therefore scifi) with flawed code altered parts of humanity. Who did it is also related to the character's arc and his past.

Anonymous said...

This is the second part of my previous post.

I'll try to asnwer the questions from those who commented.

MC's wants are survival and atonement. The first two sentences of the third paragraph are meant to show that ("his survival is jeopardised..."). Obstacles: the world, light, troopers. His plan is based on his need to atone. That formulates in his head after he and the girl are taken to the facility. It's part of his arc. Both his and the girl's amnesia is not a convenient trick. As I mentioned earlier, nanotech has altered part of the way humans exist (that is unknown to the MC at the beginning), though in his case it worked a little different (also part of his arc to discover what has happened to him). The same is true for the girl.

The girl doesn't know her name. John never bothered to ask or give her one. Her only concern is to figure out why she glows, not what she's called. The reader understands that indirectly through the story. Also, previous versions of the query (this is probably the 20th revision) did not include the second paragraph you mentioned. However, after a twitter pitch event, where professional editors were involved, the feedback I got for the query stated they wanted more worldbuilding. So I added this small paragraph. To be honest I'm also not entirely convinced I need to have it, but after having read soooooo many critiques on this query I'm at a complete loss as to what should or shouldn't be in a query.

Wow, that was a long post. My question to Evil Editor (and those who were kind enough to comment): does the query make you want to read more? Assuming of course you were into scifi, post-apocalyptic, speculative fiction etc, would you go on to read the synopsis or sample pages? If I include everything you and the other commenters asked, the query will no longer be 300 words long, but several pages. The reason I'm asking this is because most of the questions raised are part of the story's climax. Should I answer them even if it means giving away everything?

Thank you all so much for helping me with this!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The point here isn't to answer the questions raised but to rewrite the query so that the questions don't arise. An agent isn't going to ask any questions. An agent is just going to move on to the next query.

Evil Editor said...

You want the agent to request your manuscript because you write well and have an intriguing story. Not because she wants to know what happens next in your book. She's not going to reject you because you spilled the beans; she might reject you because your query inspires more questions than it answers.

Answering questions need not increase the length of the query. It's just a matter of being specific instead of general. For instance, instead of a catastrophic event say an unleashed nanite cloud. Instead of saying the shadow is intent on killing its owner, say it devours its owner and then dies. Etc.

You're making it sound like the book is 85,000 words with an amnesiac sitting in a dark basement and 12,000 words that you can't tell us about because they're the climax. You can tell us why survivors are being herded into a military facility without giving away the ending, which is how John does or doesn't escape with the girl.

Write a three-sentence paragraph introducing your main character and describing the situation including the girl's arrival.
Then a three-sentence paragraph about the facility. What's happening there that's so bad John wants to go back to living in a dark basement on a world with few humans?
Then a three sentence paragraph about how he plans to deal with the situation, what goes wrong, what will happen if he fails.

If the nanite cloud has dispersed so that shadows are no longer a threat to the survivors, make that clear. Otherwise, there's no real hope for anyone, whether they escape or not.

I don't see guilt and atonement being query-worthy themes for a science fiction story. They're fine in the book, but you should probably stress the science fiction aspects of the plot in the query.

Can you write the query without mentioning shadows? For instance, When an unleashed experimental nanite cloud makes light lethal to humans, few survive . . . and those who do are being hunted down and herded into a military facility. I mention this only because the shadow monsters inspire most of the questions. If the reader thinks ultra-sensitivity to light is the problem instead of shadows of one species turning into monsters you might be better off. (In the book, of course, the shadow monsters are perfectly logical, but in the query there's no room to sell the idea.)

Shadow said...

Even at night, there are shadows. Moonlight, starlight, and firelight all cast shadows. Unless the surviving humans basically become Daredevil, they will not be able to function all that well in complete darkness, nor would they be able to venture outside EVER. Unless fume has obliterated the stars? Unless only bold, defined shadows come to life? Unless only shadows cast by sunlight are dangerous? This was honestly my biggest question throughout. I could almost buy living shadows (Peter Pan) as long as there are some logical rules governing their power. EE is right -- if the shadows were as dangerous as you make out, NO ONE would be left.

Even with a few strictures on their power, people would try as hard as they could to stay in the darkest environment possible, especially if you weren't sure exactly how much light they needed to come alive, but it would explain how some people did, and do, survive. If they spring to life at any amount of light whatsoever, meeting the glowing girl would kill him at once.