Thursday, October 05, 2006

Face-Lift 208

Guess the Plot

The Vanguard

1. While on tour, all of Creed’s band equipment is stolen- again- and Scott is demoted from playing the drums to watching over the tour van. Or is he promoted?

2. A geologist, a mercenary, and a genetic engineer are three members of The Vanguard, a group trying to prevent an evil overlord from gaining dominion over all of Toronto.

3. Derek Melsmith's life has hit rock-bottom, what with the divorce, losing a toe, and the incident with the percolator. But then he lands a job working parking-lot security for the local PTA, and a chance encounter with a Chrysler Voyager gives him new hope.

4. Meghan, Kylie and Caitlyn set the fashion trends at Wilmer Lobb Middle School. But newcomer Darleen Butz is about to turn heads with her cutting edge Daisy Dukes.

5. Jazz singer Carrie Bravo has finally gotten her big break: a gig at one of New York's most famous venues. But when marauding zombies attack during her set, will her need to perform outweigh her pacifist principles?

6. Maurice Snoggs has had a promotion at work. Now he has to expand the KrummKorp Inc. empire into new territory - but is Billings, Montana ready for made-to-measure latex bodyclamp slimming aids? More to the point, is Maurice ready for Jesus?

Original Version

Dear Agent

I am seeking representation for my post-apocalyptic science fiction book, The Vanguard, which is complete at 110,000 words.

A geologist, a marketing executive, a genetic engineer, a university student and a mercenary [walk into a bar.] are all that stands between the remaining citizens of Toronto and the despotic subjugation of a fierce new enemy, the Prince, after the civilization-destroying event called the Reckoning.

[Geologist: Civilization is destroyed.
Engineer: The Prince is trying to take over the city of Toronto. What do we do?
Mercenary: We should form an army and attack his legions.
Marketer: We should talk him into taking over Montreal instead.
Student: Let him have it. It's Toronto, for God's sake.]

These five people belong to a small band of survivors, called the Vanguard, who are dedicated to the return of a rational and civilized society. When a series of barbaric acts reveal the Prince's desire to rule Toronto, the Vanguard become rebels against his dominion. [I don't care how big his army is, it's impossible for an evil overlord to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies once he declares that his ultimate goal is dominion over Toronto.]

The Vanguard covers one of the most pivotal junctures in the group's existence. [What does that mean? What group?] A betrayal by one of their own destroys the Vanguard's hideout, and causes most of their number to be captured by the Prince. [I'm guessing the traitor was the marketing executive.]

They face a decision: succumb to the Prince's nefarious plans, or fight back with seriously depleted numbers. [Can't they just move to Saskatchewan?] Despite secrets that threaten to cause strife between the remaining leaders, they decide that anything, even their lives, is worth sacrificing to destroy the Prince. [I can't see an evil overlord calling himself the Prince. I realize princes are guys, but it still sounds effeminate. Go with the Monarch, the Prime Minister, the Kingpin.]

I have a graduate certificate in creative writing from Humber College, and I am a member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as the Toronto Romance Writers. [You're ditching romance for science fiction? Don't you want to get paid?] In addition, a significant part of my job involves writing articles that appear in professional association publications and websites.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



It's a bit brief, which is good, because I think we need more info about the Prince. A desire to rule Toronto doesn't make it so. What are his resources? Who are his followers, and why? How many people are left? What was the Reckoning?

We don't need to know the occupations of the five unless you're going to talk about them some more. What is it about these five that separates them from the full Vanguard?


Rei said...

I can't see an evil overlord calling himself the Prince. I realize princes are guys, but it still sounds effeminate. Go with the Monarch, the Prime Minister, the Kingpin.

I vote for the Monarch.

"Please. How stupid do I look to you? World Domination. I'll leave that to the religious nuts or the Republicans, thank you."

acd said...

A geologist, a marketing executive, a genetic engineer, a university student and a mercenary [walk into a bar].

The geologist goes, "Gimme one on the rocks."

Bernita said...

I assume the Machiavellian "the Prince" and the inference of a post-apocapcalyptic "city-state" are intentional?

Anonymous said...

I found the name "The Prince" to be a little snicker-worthy also. I couldn't help but picture a certain diminutive but very talented musician who changed his name to a symbol.

I'm not a fan of two-dimensional bad guys, and based on the query, my suspicion is that the Prince is one. Why does he want to take over Toronto? And if society has crumbled into anarchy, why is that necessarily a bad thing? This guy might have the best of motives or the worst of motives; the query letter doesn't tell us which. It just posits that since the Prince is working in opposition to the Vanguard, he must be evil.

As EE suggested, more specificity would help. In your query, you want to say what happens and you also want to outline what the main conflicts in the novel are.

You might consider structuring your query like this:
1) This is the world my story inhabits.
2) This is my bad guy. This is why he's bad.
3) These are my good guys. This is why they're good.
4) Bad guy has created problem A.
5) The good guys attempt solution A in order to oppose the bad guy and solve problem A, BUT complication A happens, creating problem B.
6) Can the heroes overcome problem B? Can they overcome problem C which is happening at the same time as problem B?
7) Thank you; here are my writing credits.

Anonymous said...

[Can't they just move to Saskatchewan?]

Honestly, have you ever been to Saskatchewan? I can only imagine it will be even flatter after the apocalypse. (Easy, Hawkowl, it was a joke.)

As for taking over Toronto, I say let them. And no megalomaniac in his right mind would have anything to do with Montreal.

Anonymous said...

Why is it always the LEAST interesting "Guess the Plot"? The only thing interesting was the reference to Toronto, and that was cause I thought it was a joke.


The query seems generic: a band of good guys trying to keep a bad guy from ruling the world. Just like...Sponge Bob Square Pants (the Movie).

What makes yours different and interesting?

HawkOwl said...

Toronto??? Not only, like EE said, would no one respect a villain whose lifelong dream is to rule Toronto, but I'd have a really hard time relating to a bunch of dudes trying to save Toronto from the bad guy. Really. The Prince might even be an improvement. It's Toronto, for crying out loud. Try setting it in Fort Saint John. Or even Halifax. No one would want Fort Saint John or Halifax in enemy hands.

Other than that, the writing sounds flat and uninspired, like you wrote it at work between lunch and afternoon coffee. I wouldn't want to read more.

Anonymous said...

[I can't see an evil overlord calling himself the Prince. I realize princes are guys, but it still sounds effeminate. Go with the Monarch, the Prime Minister, the Kingpin.]

I disagree. "The Prince" conjures pictures of Machiavelli's Prince for me, which immediately predisposes me against him, which is probably what you're going for, author.

Otherwise, I agree with EE (as usual) and want to have his children (also as usual).

This sounds interesting, although I don't read much dystopian sci-fi. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

From what I could glean, this sounds like a pretty standard story. Reminds me of that old TV show "V" where there's a small resistance movement fighting the bad guys, who destroy their various headquarters, which in turn is pretty similar to Star Wars, only then it's an Emperor and Dark Lord of the Sith instead of a vague Prince.

Toronto's a great city, BTW. I've been there before and had a good time.

Nancy Beck said...

Author, when I first saw the name "The Prince," I thought of that old Mystery Science Theater "gem," Prince of Space. No, the Prince in that one was the good guy.

Sorry about that.

As others have said, this sounds too generic, run-of-the-mill. Why don't you have a go at what whitemouse suggested? It might spice up the query.

Good luck.


HawkOwl said...

Eh. I have no affiliation whatsoever with Saskatchewan.

Anonymous said...

I'm not seeing any science fiction in here. Post-apocalypic does not equal sci-fi.

I don't mind The Prince if you're making a Machiavellian statement. As long as you don't having him wearing purple or driving a red corvette, I'm fine with it.

I also agree that you're going to have to do better than Toronto if you want to branch out of the Canadian market. I hate to be US-centric, but the fact is that most US citizens couldn't accurately place Toronto on a map, let alone think that it's really an important city.

And really, why stop with Toronto? If he were truly evil I think he'd go for all of North America.

GutterBall said...

REI and ACD? Yeah. Hawaiian punch out the nose. Thanks, guys.

PS: I love the Monarch! Best. Villain. Ever.

Undercover said...

As a Torontonian, I can only hope the apocalypse wipes out the Gardiner Expressway.

Agree that since Toronto is not an American city nor an exotic foreign location, the chances of this book appealing to the masses are small.

Hmmm. Why would the Prince want Toronto...

I'm still thinking...

I can only surmise that the rest of North America was obliterated off the face of the map.

Although we do have some great restaurants.

Dave Fragments said...

My problem with having a bad guy named Prince, is twofold:
1) the singer currently or previously or maybe yet still, known as Prince, and
2) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Steph_J said...

The Vanguard.


What a great word. Sold me on the title. That word just jumps out at me. If I was scanning the selves of a bookstore and saw that word, I’d pick up the book and check it out. The story sounds interesting enough to read, but I’m really impressed by how good that word would look on a book on my shelf. I’d like to see it written in big bold ivory colored letters set against a gloss black background. I’d place it at eye-level on my bookshelf, and even if I never read the book, I’d smile every time I looked at it. What a great title for a book!

I would agree with Evil Editor (and many of the other posters), that you might want to consider changing the name of the despotic subjugator. Ever since the “The Artist Formerly Known As…” held that name, it has lost all semblances of royalty and power. It’s quite possible that even Satan has insisted his minions stop referring to him as the Prince of Darkness after “I Would Die 4 U” was released.

I realize that when you write that they would sacrifice anything, it is an attempt to show the direness of the situation. Not that I would change it (and it wouldn’t stop me from buying a book with a really neat title), but I always find myself questioning the word “anything”.

”Despite secrets that threaten to cause strife between the remaining leaders, they decide that anything, even their lives, is worth sacrificing to destroy the Prince.”

Would the Vanguard sacrifice the ideal of a rational and civilized society if it meant destroying the Prince?

MH said...

Without question the Prince should be re-named The Despotic Subjugator.

Or something like The Oligarchic Despoiler.

Or indeed, Colin.

Anonymous said...

Hello! Author here! Thank you for your comments, they are certainly very helpful. I found writing both the query letter and the longer synopsis agonizing - and clearly I'm not done yet! I did want to answer a few of the questions that have arisen, realizing that I will also have incorporate some of those answers into a revised query.

1) The Prince - is under the delusion that he is descended from royalty & therefore has the right to rule. I am going to consider changing his name, and Colin is right up there on the options :) He has the misfortune to be starting his world domination tour in Toronto, because that's where he happens to live - see point 2.

2) Toronto - is larger than most US cities with the exception of New York, Los Angeles, and I believe Chicago. This may be an unforgivable Canadian lapse, but I had assumed most Americans would have a passing familiarity with it. And Toronto is a port city with easy access to the US... However, I'm not too concerned, as several authors have used Toronto as a setting, notably Robert J Sawyer & Kelley Armstrong, and while I don't necessarily compare my writing to theirs, it is gratifying to see that Toronto as a setting doesn't have to be a death sentence for a book.

3) Sci-fi genre - I have, since submitting this query, decided to go with sci-fi/fantasy as a genre, however the story does feature genetically altered cats helping the Vanguard. I didn't think I had enough room in the query to get into this. But then, this may be different enough to distinguish my Sponge Bob story from everyone else's!

Anyway, thanks again all, and especially Evil Editor for this site.

braun said...

Sorry, author, but setting it in Toronto does make it sound like a joke, at least to my American mind. I would be equally amused if you set your story in someplace like Detroit, bustling burg though it may be.

If "The Prince" is a reference to Machiavelli, I say keep it and play that angle up. If not, yeah, the name has gotta go.

Bernita said...

Dear Author, some writers solve the problem by naming the future city something different but recognizable to those who know( such as "Trana") thus avoiding the hee-hee, centric, knee-jerking.
Have seen LA written as "Ellay" in futuristics, for example.

Anonymous said...

Or, "San Angeles" from Demolition Man.

Dave Fragments said...

Don't worry about having too little science content for sci fi. Just a little goes a long way.

Take a couple of the Star Trek stories for instance - Frank Gorshin as a man who is half white and half black chasing another who is half black and half white (opposite sides thanks to makeup) and finally arriving at a world destroyed by war. That wasn't much of a sci fi theme but an impressive story.

Or Rod Serling's town that is plunged into darkness on the day they are to hang a man in revenge.

Or the Star Trek by Harlan Ellison - (city on the edge of forever) that despite the setup (all scifi) derives all of its power from a depression era love story. The sci-fi aspects only serve to set up the heartbreaking story. And the sci-fi aspects all pale in comparison to the love story. This is a good example of a genre used to set up drama and not being the sole attraction.

Anonymous said...

Evening, all -

Friend of the author/fellow Torontonian here, and as an aspiring writer myself, I, too, have wondered if I should use Toronto as a setting. On the one hand, it smacks to me of having little brother syndrome, where it looks up to larger siblings like New York and London and wants to prove it can be just like them in fiction. On the other hand, why shouldn't it?

I guess I'm just wondering why it is that centering a story in New York or L.A. or London or whathaveyou implies it will make an inherently more engaging read (which I'd bet even Canadian readers would generally agree with).

I don't think it's a matter of more history south of the border, because I don't see Egypt or Africa (each with a wee bit more history than North America) as the focus of much fiction.

Nor is it sheer population, because Shanghai doubles New York's population, and again, there's not much Shanghai fiction around these parts.

Is it just that Canada lacks the world-wide clout of the U.S., and its cities don't smack of the intriguing or exotic like London or Sydney, so it gets left back to tread in a kiddie pool of relative mundanity?

Anyone have any thoughts or insight? Because I love me some hometown, but hey... any psychological edge I can use in my own writing wouldn't be shunned...

Evil Editor said...

I don't think there's a problem with Toronto as a setting so much as there's a problem with Toronto as the place an evil overlord wants to gain dominion over in a post-apocalyptic world. We've seen enough James Bond to know the truly evil guys want the whole world.

Whether books set outside the US have lower sales in the US I can't say. Hasn't hurt Harry Potter.

Anonymous said...

Much delayed, but...

...I was so hoping it was plot #6. Latex, Jesus, and Billings. How could it miss?