Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Face-Lift 281

Guess the Plot

The Opposite of Bob

1. Bob is a pimply, poor-mouthed nerd, but when Satan comes calling, Bob sells his soul in order to become his opposite in every way. When his silver-tongued opposite brings the world to the brink of destruction, can Bob overcome laws of physics to save humanity . . . and the only girl who liked him as a nerd?

2. Everything goes wrong for Bob, from getting crapped on by geese to getting attacked by a rickshaw driver to losing his pants. Ultimately Bob decides he must take control of his life or he will never find happiness. So he packs up his belongings and moves to Cleveland.

3. Bob Smith vows to change everything. Not just a little, but a lot: do the opposite. He changes his name to Varthurthra, gets a new religion, starts recycling, sells the house and divorces Nancy, moves onto a sailboat with two parrots, Ted and Todd, and embarks for the Falkland Islands.

4. For the last three months, whoever sat across from Bob Starking at the Senior Center's weekly Pinochle Night died within a week of natural causes. When Charlotte is scheduled to be the next one to sit opposite "The Card-game Kevorkian," can she find a way to change Bob's luck?

5. Wendy goes to work as usual on Monday morning but where is her boss, Bob White Cloud? He had a little accident in the top secret anti-matter booth in the basement. Can she bring him back? Or is it more like time to take over the world?

6. The deranged Dr. Stippleton has created a lurching anti-Bob spy robot to replace Bob, the lowlife scumbag who stole the heart of show-stopping dancer Teresa Underworld. The mad doctor stands poised in the alley, ready to make the switch. But Secret Agent Ted Rugovich watches with binoculars, mafia hit man Bruno Villi waits around the corner, and Teresa removes her stage makeup, wondering if it's time to reveal she's really -- a vampire.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Agent,

Does God play favorites? Are some people blessed and others magnets for misfortune?

The main character in my comic noir novel, Bob, believes so. The Opposite of Bob takes the down-on-his-luck accountant on a roller coaster ride of mishaps, adventure, self-discovery, and love. In the end, Bob escapes his past and embraces a bright future.

I chose to query you because in an interview with The Writer you said, “The one thing that gets me every time is a great black comedy… I’ll read anything involving a road trip.” And, as it happens, my comic noir novel [now] involves the main character making two epic journeys to find what he has lost: himself.

I believe my novel will appeal to fans of Garrison Keillor and Richard Russo. Although I wrote this novel to entertain readers, I believe it also conveys a message of hope. If Bob can overcome his problems, anyone can. [Anything a fictional character can do, any real person can do too.]

I have traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. [If the book is set in these places, say so.] I am passionate about ethnic cuisine and music. I speak five languages and have a Master’s degree in English. I am currently teaching English at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, the U.A.E.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please find my novel’s synopsis and sample chapter below. May I send you The Opposite of Bob?


The Opposite of Bob

Comic Noir Novel of 95,000 words

Middle-aged man encounters surreal mishaps until he stops blaming others for his troubles and takes control of his life.

Bob Seidenbusch still puts flowers by his ex-wife Caroline’s photo on her birthday, though she left him fifteen years ago to find herself in India. [Going to India to try to find someone--even yourself--can take at least fifteen years. The place is crawling with people. It would be like going to a convention of gay black interior decorators and searching for a Republican.] He hasn’t been on a date since Clinton was in office. The tiny house he lives in is a cave, his car is a rust-bucket, and he is balding and twenty-pounds overweight. [A list within a list. Impressive. But can you do a list within a list within a list?] He has not been promoted in eighteen years. The highpoint of his week is the meatloaf special at a local greasy spoon and the chance to talk to waitress/classical pianist, Mercury Jones. His family, his best friend, Smitty, and Lamentation, the grey cat he feeds, are all disappointed with him. Bob wonders if God is out to get him; even his petitions to the Almighty are answered with form letters.

[Dear Petitioner:

The Divine Creator regrets that the volume of correspondence He receives leaves Him unable to respond individually to all inquiries. Hey, I'm just three people, I can't be everywhere at once. Know ye that we readeth all supplications and implorations and consider them carefully.


In the worst twenty-four hours of his life, Bob is passed over for promotion again, his dumpster explodes showering him with liquid refuse, and a flock of Southbound geese rain feces upon him. Fed up, he escapes to his father’s cabin only to find it has burned down. In the next three days, his luck goes from bad to cataclysmic: [So that was only the worst twenty-four hours of his life so far.] he is shot by deer hunters, his car dies, he is drugged by weirdoes, he is assaulted by a minister, he is involved in a car accident, he is stranded at a bus station, and he catches a ride with a cursed trucker who crashes into a herd of deer. [We get it, we get it. He's going through a rough period. No need to list every little thing. I mean, who hasn't had a car die on them, or been assaulted by a minister?] [The next day Bob's life goes from cataclysmic to catastrophic as he loses his remote control, gets a paper cut, spills mustard on his favorite t-shirt, gets stuck in traffic, and plunges off a cliff to his death.]

Happy to be alive and resolved to better his life, Bob returns to Minneapolis. [Not a good start.] Things look up, when he, with prodding from Smitty, asks Mercury out. Just as their relationship blossoms, she receives a job offer in Cleveland and Caroline contacts him for the first time in ten years. Torn between the two women, he decides to travel to India and see Caroline, costing him his job and jeopardizing his romance with Mercury. [Jeopardizing? If you ditch your sweetie to visit your ex-wife whom you haven't seen in fifteen years, in India, it's over. Believe me, it's over.]

Bob’s weeklong journey to the Subcontinent is disastrous. The airline loses his luggage and denies his existence. He meets Sundeep: driver, tour guide, legal and cultural advisor, and friend. With his help and lots of cash, Bob sees many of India’s tarnished wonders and survives being arrested for killing a prostitute, [You're allowed to kill prostitutes in India. It's expected.] catching Delhi Belly, losing his pants in a crowded bazaar, and being attacked by an auto-rickshaw driver with a cricket bat. His rendezvous with Caroline never materializes. After a mental “falldown,” he consults an enlightened Swami who tells him, “It’s all your fault.” He leaves India angry, tired, broke, and confused. [An entire list of layered lists. We have the overall list of Subcontinent disasters, which includes lost luggage, failure to meet Caroline, Swami's incisive analysis. Layered in there we have the list of Sundeep's roles. Presumably it's Sundeep's role of tour guide that leads to the list of amusing incidents (loss of pants, Delhi Belly, rickshaw, murder of prostitute), and we close with a list describing Bob's situation upon leaving India.]

In a final twist, Bob runs into Caroline in the Dubai International Airport to discover that she wants him back. [They say if you hang around the Dubai airport long enough, you'll eventually see someone you know. Though not necessarily your ex-wife.] But, he no longer wants her. After mumbling a half-hearted promise to keep in touch, he boards the plane that leads him back to where his journey began. When he arrives home, Bob has to choose between a promotion from his former employer and an uncertain future in Cleveland with Mercury. He chooses Mercury, [but thanks to a clerical error, he ends up on the planet Mercury; Bob just can't get a break.] packs up his cat and belongings, and drives off to meet his destiny.


Obviously you missed the post where we declared one list per query, three items per list. You want to give the impression that the book is funny, so list the geese, the dumpster, and the rickshaw driver. Then get to the important stuff. If you wanted to give the impression it was tragic, you could list the meat loaf, the prostitute, and missing the Caroline connection. Then get to the important stuff. The agent is being exposed to your writing for the first time. She would rather see your ability to elaborate on two or three important ideas than to list twenty-five tangential events.

The query could easily give the impression the book is a series of unfortunate events, with little in the way of character development.

So the "two epic journeys" Bob takes to find himself are to India and Cleveland?

Not sure I'd call his experiences a roller coaster ride, unless I'm going to discuss its ups and downs. Also, not sure about the term "comic noir." Though you seem to mean it as a translation of black comedy, my research of the term (which consists entirely of Google) brings up graphic novels of dark detective stories.

This is probably going to remind people of the Seinfeld's in which George does the opposite of everything, in which Kramer burns down George's fiancee's father's cabin, in which they all go to India, in which Kramer starts a rickshaw business, in which Jerry gets away with murdering a prostitute.

The cover letter was of little value. I'd dump most of it and condense the synopsis into something that'll fit on one page.


Anonymous said...

This query reminds me of the ones by the history teacher. There were two about two different Abe Lincoln stories. And the third was the Sunshine Kids one. They also involved road trips and a series of odd events and characters. Assuming this is not the same author, who has now moved to teach in the UAE, it might be worth the time for the author to dig that series of queries up. The reason why I'm thinking so is that those queries suffered some of the same issues as the current one, but they steadily improved from query to query. The current author might find those types of improvements useful in sprucing up his current query.

OK, I took the time, those queries were:


Again, I'm not holding these up as model queries. But they might be useful to mine for ideas on improving queries.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you could successfully adapt several episodes to short story format which might then be published by lit mags. Subbing shorts is a slow ugly process hated by all but it might be the only way to get the actual fiction pub credits that are so exciting to agents. EE's right, that cover letter isn't helping.

Plus, if your eposides do have that much in common with TV shows, you probably need to make some plot changes.

Blogless Troll said...

Pining after your ex for 15 years is, even in a comic novel, not believable. Maybe 15 months, and that could be used as the trigger for all his troubles. Just a suggestion.

writtenwyrdd said...

I wrote this great,lengthy commentary, and blogger ate it. Darned blogger.

My thoughts as I read the submission were that the three sections read like slightly differing versions. It was also hard to follow.

What I would suggest is sometthing along the lines of
1) Have a compelling reason for protag to leap to ex's aid, such as a child of his she's never before mentioned, or a lie that compels him, or something most people might respond to.

2) Omit the mention of Cleveland, and probably omit Cleveland entirely. It sounds like it is plot flab and might easily be removed (but I could be wrong!)

3) Omit the girlfriend in the query at least, unless she's going to show up in India. Then maybe mention her while she's in India.

4) Omit the fifteen years of longing. This is a comedy, so a pathetic mess isn't going to be funny, or I wouldn't think so. maybe you can pull that off, but at least don't mention it in the query along with the word "comedy."

You have some interesting elements, but I think I recognize all the symptoms of my very own personal and unsalable trunk novel, and I think the biggest problem may very well be a flabby plot. So consider what detracts from the humor (such as that fifteen years of longing for the ex, which is pathetic). Take that stuff out of the query (and maybe the book, too?)

I'm sorry that this isn't as nicely worded as the first version. I did think this sounded potentially interesting because I enjoy a good quirky comedy. Carl Hiassen, Tom Robbins, Robert Rankin...

none said...

I'm sorry to tell you, EE, that the attack of inability to breathe (due to laughing too much) brought on by God's form letter has led my doctor to advise me not to read this blog any more.


Dave Fragments said...

When you say: "Does God play favorites? Are some people blessed and others magnets for misfortune?"

I immediately thought of the Book of Job in the Old Testament. It is interesting from religious, philosophical, and literature points of view.

But Bob just seems to be cursed for no reason. If you invoke God choosing favorites and punishing people for no reason (Job). then you need to return to that in the book. That first line of the query letter promises something and then doesn't deliver it. That's not nice to do to anyone.

If there is no supernatural connection in the book, drop the supernatural commentary.

AND - the CLEVELAND connection:
What? It's an old legend that WC Fields has inscribed on his headstone "It's better than Philadelphia" ...
As a native of Pittsburgh and a despiser (life long) of Cleveland, I'll take a rare stand to speak up for the heaping pile of garbage that is Cleveland - (think football, people).
It isn't funny.
Saying I'll take Cleveland over Paris, or New York, or Rome, or Bombay, or Dehli... isn't funny.

Husbands or wives leaving for strange lands to find themslves is cliche. I had a coworker whose husband ran away with a man. So big deal. I have a neighbor whose wife mates with the other neighbor, big deal. I had a coworker who divorced his wife Maria and married another Maria and both wives work together, who cares. Wierdness is routine today. I had a coworker get a sex change (now that was unusual, but not strange).

PJD said...

Wow, EE, well done. Author, I've got a mixed message for you: On the one hand, I thought most of your lists were amusing. This is as opposed to some other "and plots" we've seen where the events seem odd just for the sake of being odd. On the other hand, after the first paragraph of your synopsis I was only reading it so I could get to EE's comments, and I sort of lost track of what you were actually saying. Sorry.

Since I paid more attention to EE's comments than the query, I'll focus my comments on EE's commentary:

1. The place is crawling with people. It would be like going to a convention of gay black interior decorators and searching for a Republican.
I didn't like this analogy. With over a billion people in India, there's a one in seven chance you're already there, so if you go there looking for yourself, you have a good chance of just missing yourself at the bus station. A better analogy might be like trying to find the candy heart with the smiley face on it in a ten-ton vat of candy hearts. Or maybe not.

2. A list within a list. Impressive. But can you do a list within a list within a list?
You totally outclassed the querier later, EE, with your list within a list OF lists within a list. Or something like that. The programmer in me wishes you'd made it recursive, though.

3. Best, God
Oh, wow. Sublime. The entire letter from God rocks. But this... I think it says everything there is to say about the querying process, don't you?

That is all.

Blogless Troll said...

The first time I read this I couldn't put a finger on what was nagging me, but here it is: You have Arthur Dent, but no Ford Prefect, and that doesn’t work. You don't necessarily need a Ford Prefect-like character, but there has to be some other unrelated goal that pushes/pulls/drags Bob through the story. Things just can't happen to him, no matter how funny they are. Even Bob deciding on his own to go to India and find his ex, instead of waiting for her to contact him, would work. Without that, it kinda sounds like male chick lit and there's probably not much of a market for that because women already know a)men are idiots, and b)it's their own fault. Doesn't take a swami for that.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, one more thought, author. The name Bob. I have nothing against using that name, per se, but perhaps the juice has been completely wrung out of it for comedic purposes? I mean, it's always a bob, like that's got to be funny.

Anonymous said...

blogless troll has a great insight there. You could make the ex the Ford character.

Anonymous said...

I want to know more about the cat.

Bernita said...

The Form Letter from God is priceless.

Nancy Beck said...

Loved number 5, esp. this part:

Can she bring him back? Or is it more like time to take over the world?

And the form letter from God was great.


Author, although I found the first few paragraphs funny-ish, my eyes began to glaze over at "Happy to be alive and resolved to better his life, Bob returns to Minneapolis." Describing every last thing that happens to Bob is probably going to glaze an agent's eyes as well.

I'd do as EE suggests and condense everything. Although this refers to Miss Snark's Happy Hooker Crap-o-Meter, this might give you a good starting point:

X is the main guy;
Y is the bad guy;
They meet at Z and all L breaks loose.
If they don't solve Q, then R starts and if they do it's L squared

I'd also suggest taking a look through EE's past entries for ideas as well as MS's archives for the Crap-o-Meter entries to see what worked and didn't.

I'm currently trying to cobble something together, so I know writing queries is tough.

BTW, I'd lose the paragraph with all your degrees unless it pertains to the story somehow (for instance, if you can speak French fluently and one of your characters does, too).

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Excuse me while I clean up my keyboard after reading the letter from God.

Author: Your list of events is pretty entertaining in a lot of places, but what wasn't mentioned and bothers me is how *typical* some of it is without an indication that you're parodying that.

Lots of people go to India to find themselves, despite the much-discussed difficulty of doing this. Are we supposed to take that seriously, or is it a joke? Also, putting flowers by her photo is creepy. You put flowers by the graves of dead people, and if you can't find a grave to languish near, you just stay in bed with the covers over your head, not substitute your kitchen counter for a graveyard.

Sundeep sounds like the classic Wise Native, which always bugs the hell out of me unless you make it clear that the character himself is fully aware that he's playing a part and is choosing to play it. Otherwise, Tonto stopped being cool ages ago.

And, dude, murdering prostitutes isn't funny. Murdering wise old swamis might be funny, because those bastards can be really annoying. But including randomly slaughtered prostitutes is like kicking a whore when she's going down. Um. That simile didn't quite work out, but still: Abusing prostitutes is a cheap shot and we don't have enough information to know why we should think it's funny.

You have some parts that seem like they could be funny, perhaps hilarious, but that's the problem--without context, no one can tell. We just wonder about the things that don't seem to be funny and don't know why they're there.