Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Face-Lift 67

Guess the Plot

Spitting Image

1. A prescient elderly woman, spitting into a dish, witnesses the murder of her neighbor in the phlegm.

2. A homicide detective with amnesia is accused of three murders, including that of his mother.

3. Washed up punk rock star Johnny Stompinator never wanted an illegitimate son... especially not one climbing the easy listening charts!

4. Juanita plans to be the first llama with an exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Only a jealous art teacher blocks her way.

5. When the Mona Lisa comes to life, she's rather crass. Authorities must find a way to stop her from spitting on everyone in the Louvre.

6. A stutterer overcomes his disability and his cleft palate to become a world-renowned mouth model.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Trust is hard earned and easily broken…

Spokane City Major Crimes detective, Doug Holt, the main character of my 104, 000 word novel, SPITTING IMAGE, learns the truth of this statement when he wakes in the cab of his truck, bruised and blood-spattered, to find his gun and badge missing, along with a good chunk of his memory. [If Evil Editor woke up in the cab of his truck, blood spattered, etc., his thought process would be something like:

Hmm? Where am I? Ah. My truck. Must have fallen aslee-WHAT'S ALL THIS BLOOD?!! HELP!! I'M BLEEDING!! Was I in an accident? Can't remember anything. What the . . . Better look under shirt, see how bad it is. No! Might see guts hanging out. Stay awake. So cold. Maybe it's pig's blood. Did I gut a pig last night? Think, man . . . Should I call 911? Maybe I should drive myself to the hospital. Oh, God, I'm dying. Don't let me die, please, I'll start going to church, I'll apologize to Laurie Ann, I'll start reading queries and requesting manuscripts, I'll never utter another curse word . . . Hey! Where the fuck's my goddamn gun?!! Am I shot? HELP!! I'M DYING!! I don't wanna die. It's over. Everyone's gotta go sometime. But I at least wanted to live until they canceled House. The greatest character on TV. Him and Stewie Griffin. Stewie Griffin? What am I talking about? Lois Griffin! If I gotta go, I'm man enough to admit I've fallen in love with a cartoon character. Oh, Lois, Lois . . . Lime Jello. Purple People Eater . . . Stop thinking about crap! Why did I waste so much of my life watching Survivor? The greatest running gag in TV history: the cone of silence, on Get Smart. It never worked! And it wasn't even conical! Wait a minute, they took my gun, did they take my wallet? Nope, still here. Maybe they just took the cash. Nope, twelve dollars. Good. If I come through this, there better not be a scratch on this truck. I wasted my life. I coulda been somebody, if I hadn't laughed at Grisham at the Christmas party. Am I wearing clean underwear? I'd have been at the hospital already if I'd just driven--ninety miles an hour. Why shouldn't I do ninety? I'm dying anyway, I could plow through a fruit stand. No one ever remembers to include the chase scene from What's Up Doc in the list of great movie chase scenes. My foot itches.]

[Note that at no time did I think, Trust is hard earned and easily broken. ]
It gets worse. Evidence in three overnight murders, including that of his estranged mother, incriminates Holt. [If you want to frame someone for murder, you don't have to do it three times. I say Holt's guilty.] He's on a fast track to conviction—destination Death Row—with his former colleagues greasing the rails. And he isn't sure they're wrong. Only his wife Marcie remains loyal. With her blessing, Doug flees in pursuit of answers, [It's surprising that he's free to flee, if there's evidence he committed three murders. Who told him about this evidence? Seems like only the police would have known, but why would they tell him, and then let him go?] a decision neither of them may live long enough to regret.

Doug and Marcie's campaign to salvage Doug's reputation and their family's future leads to disturbing and near-fatal discoveries. [What, exactly, is a "near-fatal discovery?" Suddenly I'm reminded of Bullwinkle saying, "Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat," only it turns out to be a shark or a lion or a bear. That's a near-fatal discovery.] [Bullwinkle's rabbit in the hat trick: the second greatest running gag in TV history.] Tormented by doubt, clinging to faith, in a race to save the other, [The other what?] Doug and Marcie wage separate battles against prejudice [In what way are they battling prejudice?] and time, where victory is defined by one's ability to stay alive.

I've had articles published in CANADIAN LIVING MAGAZINE and THE VANCOUVER PROVINCE, British Columbia's best-read news source. I look forward to your reply.


It's okay. I don't understand why he learns that trust is easily broken if he doesn't even remember what happened, but beyond that, I would simply answer a few of the hanging questions. It's short enough so there's room for some more information.


Anonymous said...

My vote for running gag is every time Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff and makes a little poof at the bottom...but Get Smart is easily the funniest show ever, so I approve your taste. Cheers.

-A, who also never gets tired of people who open up an umbrella while falling or as protection from an anvil

Anonymous said...

You seem to put a lot more time into your cornball jokes than providing real insight to anyone.

Maybe you should forget the blog and find an open-mic night somewhere.

none said...

anon#2, you seem to have missed the point. Never mind.

Cheryl said...

If EE dropped the blog and performed stand-up, we'd all have to pay a cover charge for his brilliance.

Beisdes, I think there is insight in his cornball jokes. Mainly, get to the point and don't say something stupid.

Joyce Ellen Armond said...

I think EE's comments are a teaching tool. The lesson: Queries must be concrete, so we do not invite the query reader to fill in the blank spaces with amusing personal commentary.

In the examples here and in my own drafts, I see a consistent mistake of being in love with our clever turns of phrase, instead of using the query to serve the greater work -- the novel we're trying to sell.

If we can't get our egos out of our queries, isn't that a big red flag that we haven't gotten our egos out of our books? What editor/agent/publishing professional wants to work with someone like that?

I'd rather learn from blogging professionals than rejection letters my own self.

Anonymous said...

anonymous #2, Hence the moniker "Evil Editor". -JTC

tlh said...

That was awesome. In every sense of the word.

Anonymous said...

Thank God I didn't have hot coffee in my mouth this morning as I read this masterpiece!

Evil Editor, you out did yourself today.

Anonymous #2: There are other sites less humorous--and less informative.

michael gavaghen said...

What we are trying to do in a query is take a 400-page novel, distill its essential story elements, and a sense of our approach, and maybe a hint of our style, into a single page.

I think having lived with the book for years, we're prone to make assumptions and connections that the query reader just doesn't see. So Evil Editor points those out to us.

Crissakes, EE was pretty damn complimentary on this face-lift. That he jumped all over the opening sentence like Albert Pujols offering at a hanging slider ought to suggest rethinking it.

Do you really think there's no "real insight" in that?

Watercolorz said...

In the examples here and in my own drafts, I see a consistent mistake of being in love with our clever turns of phrase, instead of using the query to serve the greater work -- the novel we're trying to sell.

This is so true. It seems that as a writer you starting thinking of ways to be clever instead of clear, which is the heart of the query.

I sometimes wonder if writers use this little bit of razzle dazzle to divert from the fact that is really hard to condense the ideas of 300+ ms pages and make it interesting.

No one ever remembers to include the chase scene from What's Up Doc in the list of great movie chase scenes.
Soo off topic, but I went into labor watching this movie, but that’s another story.

I think there is a chase purist rule that you can’t laugh hysterically during a REAL chase scene. ~W

Anonymous said...

what's an "overnight murder"?

do you have to pack an overnight bag to commit one? Does it take all night? That'd suck if it took all night.

I'm from Spokane originally--I'd buy this. Sleazy and corrupt public officials in the Inland Empire certainly has realism on its side.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that was so funny. Please don't ever stop entertaining us, EE.

Rei said...

[quote]I think having lived with the book for years, we're prone to make assumptions and connections that the query reader just doesn't see. So Evil Editor points those out to us.[/quote]

Exactly. I've been surprised at what gets picked on over on Elektra's "Crapometer". We, as authors, work with a deep knowledge base about our work, and that hinders our ability to write good summaries.

It would be like asking one of those people who camped out for weeks in front of the theaters in Star Wars costumes in order to get the first tickets to concisely summarize the plot of the original Star Wars trilogy (after all, three two-hour movies is about the amount of content found in your average SF/F book). Find a person who's lived in a cave for the past couple decades and read that concise summary to them. You'd hear:

"So are Jedis a race? Or is this a job?"
"So Vader - Anakin - is trying to kill his son to get him to join the Empire?"
"How does a 'star' shoot out a laser that can destroy planets?"
"Obi wan appears to Luke? So Obi Wan isn't really dead? Didn't you say that he was?"


The ideal person to summarize a work is someone who just read it for the first time -- someone who's not obsessed with it and only knows the general plot. We have to try and get ourselves into that mindset ;)

Anonymous said...


That's a good point. You look at a page so many times, its flaws just kind of vanish into the scenery. You deal with all the intricacies of world-building (whether it's SFF or some guy's life in Spokane) and you forget that the reader doesn't already know all this shit.

And then you have to find some way to reveal it without being heavy-handed or redundant.

Best thing is to have someone read it cold. They see all the things you've become inured to. That's why this blog (and the crapometer) is so valuable.

Anonymous said...


You can always tell when the FedEx guy delivers the new Bong of the Month Club shipment to Yves's house.

Brenda said...

Man oh man, I love House.

But what I really want to know is, who's Laurie Ann?!

Anonymous said...

House IS awesome. Funny thing, though, I loved Hugh Laurie when he played the idiot Prince Regent in Blackadder III, too.

And it always surprises me that people will submit here, and on Miss Snark's blog, and somehow expect to be the one person in the cosmos who isn't gonna get ridiculed. Some people.

Daisy Bateman said...

Did this show up on Miss Snark's Crapometer a while back? I swear it sounds familiar.

Anonymous said...

What I really want to know is . . . are ya gonna go my way?

Kravitz rocks

Anonymous said...

And I nominate EE's "I'm dying" passage as the best run-on gag in existence. :)

Anonymous said...

And hey!

How come you live in BC, but your book's set in Washington? Think just cause you have a Canuck setting, no one's gonna read it?

(You're probably right!) ;)

-Kis, the proud Canuck

Anonymous said...

I don't think that we can necessarily assume that anon#2, aka "The Entitled Whiner" is necessarily the author of the query, who may be taking the ribbing with good humor but just hasn't checked in yet.

At least I hope that's the case.

meanwhile, anon#2, this is a BLOG, not a public service. Grow up, already. Is "insight" really what you want from some anonymous source who's probably really a 16 year old girl looking to have some fun.

Oh no, wait. 16 year old girls don't pretend to be middle-aged guys on the internet. I think I got that backwards. Nevermind.

Anonymous said...

Goodness. I didn't realize anyone was waiting for my response. To answer some comments...the story is set in WA as opposed to BC because, well, Canada doesn't have the death penalty as a judicial option, and Washington does. And I have nothing to whine about. I asked for a critique; I got it. Fortunately, I'd made the decision to revise _before_ reading this post, so I'm not devastated or even hurt. Bemused, mainly, as a NYT best-selling author helped me craft that query.

Thank you to all,

Spitting Image Query Author

Anonymous said...

Just goes to show ya that novelists ain't always so hot at queries...:)

Anonymous said...

"Vancouver shaaaaakedown . . ." Nazareth rocks!

Anonymous said...

Evil Editor, are you my clone? Three of my favorite shows/movies ever--Get Smart, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and What's Up, Doc, which does, in fact, have one of the funniest, longest chase scenes in history. Babs should have stuck with comedy.

Beth said...

Canuck writer--

EE said: It's okay. I don't understand why he learns that trust is easily broken if he doesn't even remember what happened, but beyond that, I would simply answer a few of the hanging questions.

This is actually the most praise he's given any query in awhile. You're on the right track.

(And I know who you are...[waving]. See you in October, hopefully.)

Anonymous said...


Thank you. I hope to see you in October, too!

Canuck Writer

Go Oilers! Go!

Beth said...

Canuck writer--

Nonsense. The Hurricanes are going to win.