Friday, December 08, 2006

Face-Lift 241

Guess the Plot

Dead Woman's Pass

1. After mild-mannered Amelia Pettipants is hit by a bus, dies, and returns as a zombie, Dallas Cowboys' scout Fierce Weeney discovers her uncanny arm strength. Now it's fourth and long in the NFC championship game. Can Pettipants hit T.O. on a post-pattern to get her team to the Super Bowl?

2. Separated from her parents during a train crash in a blizzard, twelve-year-old Samantha Bright has done everything she can to survive. Can she hold out until the St. Bernard with the hot cocoa arrives? Or will she feast on the remains of her governess?

3. Waitresses Betty Jean Pettijean and Hetty Lou Pettigrew lucked out when a pass to the opening of the new Wax Museum was found in the tip jar. But one of the exhibits looks strangely like their boss, Nettie Dawn Pettijohn.

4. Sophronia Ilkes does NOT want to be known as the Virgin Zombie. But all the zombie males have lost the urge, and most even the equipment. Is Ronie brazen enough to entice a living man to devirginate her? More to the point, is she fresh enough?

5. Village snoop Amelia Pettipants discovers the body of Lady Bulgrim stuffed into the red phone box at the end of the lane, a Eurorail Pass flattened across her nose. Both the village doctor and Miss Nasale, the French teacher, have disappeared. Will the busybody sleuth discover the murderer before the next train to Calais?

6. To escape the serial killer who's after her, Annie flees Connecticut for the safest place she can think of: Dead Woman's Pass, the highest point on the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu in the Peruvian Andes (approx.13,650 feet). But the killer is one step ahead of her.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my 88,000-word suspense novel which takes place in Cuzco, Peru, and Connecticut’s Gold Coast. Because of your interest in suspense and women’s fiction, I think Dead Woman’s Pass will be a good fit for your agency.

A young, socially naive veterinarian lands the job of her dreams in the emergency department of the local veterinary teaching hospital. After she suffers a brutal rape, the police tell her what she can barely comprehend—her assailant is wanted in a string of murders across the South. In order to survive, she must disappear. [How is it known the killer will obsessively come after her, rather than leave the area and choose another random victim?]

Plunging her car into a swollen river on a moonless night, she buries what’s left of her life in the silt deposits of the Tennessee River. Her old life and identity are dead. Annie Elliott flees to the safest place she can think of—the sacred sanctuary of the Incas, tucked in a remote rainforest high in the Andes. [Are you kidding? That's the first place he'll look for her.] [Shouldn't she have driven her car to the airport instead of into the river? I assume she takes a plane to Peru. They're going to want to see her driver's license a few hundred times at airport security. Did she bury that part of her identity in the silt deposits?] But she doesn’t feel safe at all. [Hey, if you don't feel safe in the sacred sanctuary of the Incas, you're never gonna feel safe.]

All Rick Helms wants is a family of his own. But when his pregnant wife, Lanie, succumbs to acute leukemia just months after the wedding, that dream dies along with her. On a much-needed vacation to Cuzco—a trip that Lanie had planned before her death—Rick is forced to confront his grief. [Annie choosing to hide in Peru seemed preposterous. The death seems awfully fast. That Lanie had planned another major trip so soon after their honeymoon seems odd. And that Rick goes on the trip alone while grieving strikes me as implausible. I certainly hope nothing else far-fetched happens in the next couple lines.]

On a train high in the Peruvian Andes, their worlds collide when Annie saves Rick from gun-toting guerillas by yanking him from a moving train. Stranded miles from Cuzco, there’s nowhere to run and only one way out—an arduous trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. [There should be at least two ways out: the direction the train was going, and the direction it was coming from.] Dead Woman’s Pass weaves a bittersweet tale of friendship between a man and a woman whose lives have been ripped apart—and a serial killer who will stop at nothing to fulfill his mission. [Still not sure why this is his mission. He goes from a random killing spree across the South to a single-minded hunt to the ends of the Earth for one specific person?]

I’m a Connecticut native, veterinarian and writer, with a passion for suspense novels. I’ve lived in Peru, hiked the Inca Trail, and the country and its people hold a special place in my heart. [Wait a minute. Are you saying this whole thing is autobiographical?] I am currently working on my next novel. [In it, an Ohio woman goes on one blind date and later finds she can't get rid of the nerdish guy, so she burns down her house and moves to Outer Mongolia.]

I have enclosed a synopsis for your consideration. If you’d like to see more, I’d be happy to send the completed manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you.



Can't Annie go to Peru for some reason other than to escape a serial killer? Like a vacation? Then she and Rick can run from the gun-toting guerillas instead of the serial killer. What serial killer in his right mind is going to drop everything to follow someone to Machu Picchu? I realize Hannibal Lecter tracked down his warden somewhere, but that was different. He was craving a specific cut of human flesh, one that would complement his favorite Chianti.

How do you get yanked from a moving train? I mean, you're sitting on a moving train, enjoying the view of the ravines below, and suddenly gun-toting guerillas burst into your car. It looks like you're a goner--and then someone unexpectedly yanks you off the train?

No doubt you've made all of this believable in the book, but in the query it sounds forced. If this is an adventure story in which Rick and Annie become a romantic item, I'd skip the heavy stuff like the rape and the serial killer and Lanie, make Rick a bachelor, and set the whole thing in Peru. Also, change the guerillas to gorillas, and change the title to Gorillas on a Train.


Bernita said...

As EE points out, the motivations of your characters seem unrealistic.
Why would a serial killer get his petti-cotes so seriously in a knot as to chase a mild-mannered veterinarian all the way across continents?
It had better be an extremely slow-moving train, as well.

Anonymous said...

Me too; implausible. Sounds like a bored veterinarian's daydream; one who also enjoyed a recent vacation and wants to return.

Heather Dudley said...

What I want to know is how the killer knew she was going to freaking Maccu Piccu and stayed a step ahead of her, when she presumably didn't tell anyone? If it was the last place on earth anyone would look for someone, why did he look there, and how did he know to do so before she got there?

This is taking my suspension of disbelief and stretching it so far beyond the breaking point that I'd start laughing.

Anonymous said...

There some incredibly unbelievable occurances that get Annie to Peru. Since the strength of the story is probably your knowledge about Peru, why not cut out the improbable actions that get her there? Like:

1) A serial killer who suddenly fixates on Annie, complete out of character with his "profession".

2) The police tell a rape victim that the smartest think she could do would be to drive her car into the river and go to Peru.

3) A dying woman, who knows she is dying, plans a high-energy trip to the Andes Mountains with her husband.

I'm guessing that once you get her and the hunky guy to Peru, it settles down and isn't so, uh, not believable.

Maybe you could think of a better reason for somebody (besides a serial killer) to follow her to Peru. I'd get rid of the swollen river on the moonless night too.

Why is Connecticut's gold coast (which I've never heard of) in the query? Sounds like Annie comes from somewhere near the Tennessee River.

Stick with what you probably know a lot about -- Peru. Just my opinion.

...dave conifer

Anonymous said...

p.s. Don't put any stock into anything I say. If you look into the archives you'll find that nobody's queries or openings have been ridiculed more than mine!

On the plus side, I did come up with a good GTP here (#1) now that I don't do continuations anymore...

...dave conifer

Anonymous said...

Anne Elliot is the main character in Persuasion--I was distracted by trying to find the connection.

I was intrigued, though, by WHY this serial killer was so unserially interested in her.

pacatrue said...

I just hope that the cuddly alpaca figures prominently. You could write a sequel for middle grades. Alpacas on a train.

At some point the protagonist should proclaim:

"There's gosh-doggin' alpacas on the gosh-doggin' train!"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, trouble with dueling subplots. I'd go to the scene where they get on the train and put all the prior pages in a box to be transformed into some other books later. Then cut all remaining references to the Dead Wife and the Serial Killer and focus on the action in the Andes.

Or actually, if this was my project I'd turn the Dead Wife into a Zombie and the Serial Killer into a Vampire and put them both in pursuit and on the train, with the gorillas. Dead Wife and Serial Killer being melodramatic stock characters I'm bored to death of. Zombie and Vampire are equally stock but silly is more fun than melodrama. Like the guy in the movie said -- misery is not attractive.

Dave Fragments said...

Hey, I write about aliens and anthromorphs and transformations and living robots. PLots are plots. Weird plots are weird plots.

This is girl suffers loss, girl meets boy, they fall in love and some bad guy tries to prevent the wedding. hmmm... It's not Romeo and Juliet.

It might be the Bridge of San Luis Rey... Why did all those people die on that bridge?

Two people meet in a far off place by coincedence and fall in love in spite of their pasts (which are horrendous) and then there's that killer stalking one of them.

This only works if we believe that their meeting is a coincedence. That's where your description dies an ignominious (spelling?) death just twitching and gasping for air.

Start with "Dead Woman’s Pass weaves a bittersweet tale of friendship between a man and a woman whose lives have been ripped apart" and describe your tale from that POV. The raving lunatic rapist ceases to be the main impetus for their actions. This man and this woman are not out to have fun, they are running away from their lives, hiding from their losses when they meet. They fall in love and then the lunatic provides a more dramatic ending than their love for each other. Or this bit of their ordeal cements their love. Write your letter from that POV.

Well the plot works for me. There's always this moment in any of these stories where the characters look at each other and explain their rationale, why they behave this or that way -- make that believable and it will work.

And I have no idea what you really wrote in the 88,000 words.

GutterBall said...

Can Pettipants hit T.O. on a post-pattern to get her team to the Super Bowl?

Only if TO isn't whining that day. And feels up to playing. And then...maybe.


I hate to say it, but I do agree with the pundits who say to drop the rape and serial killer thread. It's like you have two stories going here that collide somewhere in the middle.

I understand the need to make an adventure story as nail-biting as possible -- believe me, I do! -- but both serial rapists and serial killers have very specific patterns from which they don't deviate. That pattern is both their power and their comfort. A last-minute jaunt to Machu Picchu is definitely a pattern deviation.

However, if two people happened to vacation in the same spot at the same time, that's not such a stretch, even in the Incas. The guerillas (or even gorillas) on the train sound much more likely to chase these plucky Americans than a serial killer from Tennessee. You could still be action-packed and death-defying.

After all, it sounds like the climb is just as arduous as the pursuit. I think that has massive potential to be thrilling.

HawkOwl said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought a terminal cancer patient wouldn't be planning trips to Peru.

For once I pretty much agree with everybody... Too much plot. Then when you remove all the excess baggage from your plot, it's going to be basically a love story, and I hate that, so I still won't read it, but at least the people who do read love stories will read it.

Good luck with it.

PJD said...

Wait a minute. Hold the phone. I grew up in Connecticut. Connecticut has a Gold Coast?!?

What is it, Mystic? New London? (Oh, sorry, that's the Glow Coast with all the nuclear subs.)

Oh, wait. I see. Description here. I must say, people living in this area calling it the "Gold Coast" seems a bit... I don't know... pretentious. Uh... hopeful. Desperate. They should call it the "Green Tail" or something (it's more like the stubby tail on a dog with no legs than a real coastline, and as far as I know there's never been gold discovered there; all the money comes from the misinvested pensions of little old ladies in Florida).

Sorry, but when I saw "Connecticut's Gold Coast," I couldn't take any of the rest of it seriously. That's why I have nothing to add to the other critiques.

Anonymous said...

When a friend of mine's bus got hijacked in Colombia (or wherever, it was South America) they had to make the bus stop, first, and it's a lot smaller than a train.

The plot doesn't hook me, because it sounds so implausable.

Dave Fragments said...

How about this for a plot:

Our hero discovers his divine and foretold birth by slaying a dragon. He goes on to marry his Aunt (who by a quirk of fate is his half sister) and then in a drugged stupor, gives her up to his best friend. He is slain for his adultery and his wife/aunt/sister flies away on a winged horse with his fortune.

And all of this was foretold, three times. Dwarfs included. And there's a magic helmet, a magic sword, three prostitutes and three witches...

Now guess the story from that plot...

Anonymous said...

airplanes are hijacked and they are not stopped first. i can see terrorists already aboard before striking. i agree, query needs tweaking.

Anonymous said...


Don't let them worry you into changing your plot if you know it works. Rather, take their incredulity as a sign that the query isn't representing your work as well as it might.

Some good advice has been given on how to fix your query. Sift that out and try again.

Anonymous said...

Anon, while I take your point about hijacking airplanes, I think it would be logistically difficult to hijack a train by loading all your personnel (and their hard-to-hide automatic rifles and assorted accoutrements) on the train prior to departure. blocking the railway or causing the train to derail would be much simpler.

What I was (badly) implying was that the whole train hijack concept seems too glib.

Anonymous said...

Dave, if I give you The Ring are we engaged??

Dave Fragments said...

Parts of Africa, an indeed many other parts of the word, have a saying that matches our (the USA's) "don't leave home without it" for AmEx.
It's don't leave home without AK... That's the AK-47, the Kalichnikov.

If the country is routinely armed, then why would AK-47's be hard to hide? A train or bus hijack and robbery in remote settings? That's not inconceivable, in fact, for many years travelers have been warned to to venture too far out into the coutryside because of the banditos, drug runners, rebels, militias and all those bad guys.

It's not the plot, it's the query letter's focus.

and by the way - my previous posting of an outrageous plot (hero marries his half-sister (aunt) etcetera is The Ring of the Nibelung. One of the most outrageously plots ever created.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Dave, have you been peeking at my manuscript? You (and Gutterball) nailed it.

The plot isn't the problem, the query is. In an attempt to write an enticing hook, I went a bit overboard. Thanks for pointing out all of the holes!

Anonymous said...

My friend suffered from pancreatic cancer, and she and her husband made a special trip to Costa Rica so she could have a fabulous time before she got too sick to have a fabulous time.

See, it could happen!