Friday, June 15, 2007

Face-Lift 356

Guess the Plot

Eleasa's Trap

1. It was just a large, rusty leg trap originally used for bears, and outlawed by environmentalists and animal rights activists years ago. But to Eleasa, it was the only way to land Mr. Right.

2. Her captain often wondered why Eleasa would volunteer for the graveyard shift: solo patrols on remote country roads. Although he's happy her radar gun catches speeders like a spider catches flies, he gets concerned when her abandoned vehicle reports match up with the missing persons reports. When vampire hunter Dusty McClain drifts into town, the pieces start falling into place.

3. When 14-year-old Bl'ino discovers the mystical Stone of Aardon, he thinks it's his ticket out of the most boring town on Stegrus. No more curfew, no more gym class, no more stupid math homework. Only after he activates the portal, only to find his homeroom nemesis waiting for him on the other side, does he realize he's fallen into . . . Eleasa's Trap.

4. Can a pregnant fishwife find happiness with the earl who knocked her up one drunken evening? Cara decides to toss the Goddess of Fate, Eleasa, for her unborn child's future, and wins the chance to make her dreams come true. Or does she? There's always a catch when you gamble against Eleasa.

5. Marvin Spalunky, henpecked husband of Eleasa The Gossip Queen, finds a map which points to pirate treasure buried somewhere in their subdivision. But soon his neighbors are digging holes in their yards. Eyeing his grandfather’s WWI rifle hanging over the fireplace, Marvin realizes if he wants the treasure, he’ll have to permanently shut . . . Eleasa’s Trap.

6. When a mysterious probe from outer space lands, Eleasa gets moles and prairie dogs to dig a deep hole underneath it. When the trap door opens, the probe falls in, and Eleasa kills the occupant. Oops. Turns out the occupant was one of her distant relations. And now Eleasa's in big trouble.

Original Version

Dear Agent

Eleasa's Trap is an 86,000 word science fiction novel.

Eleasa's life is finally settled. She has a loving husband and has proven her skills by creating unparalleled intelligent life forms. On her planet, Adeen, specialized animals, plants and microbes rather than machines are created to meet human needs. [Ah, like on The Flintstones.]There are people that think she's gone too far, threatening human control. [One minute you say her life is finally settled. The next minute you imply that mobs of torch-bearing villagers are out to lynch her.]

An alien spacecraft is spotted in orbit around Adeen [through the giraffe-o-scope]. When her old mentor, Icron, declines the job of leading the defense, the job is offered to Eleasa. She accepts in spite of the danger and quickly organizes people around the planet. [Shouldn't she be organizing the plants and animals and microbes? Especially the microbes? Hasn't she read War of the Worlds?] She's successful at killing the occupant of a probe sent down from the orbiting craft but discovers that the occupant was a distantly related human. Long ago Eleasa's ancestors also came from another planet but they lost the technology for space flight. [Actually, they didn't lose it; all the giant winged space camels died out.]

[Commander, I'm afraid we can no longer explore space.
Why not?
We lost the technology.
Damn. Did you check behind the couch cushions?]

Eleasa orders that if another probe lands, they must make contact with the visitors and that no more are to be killed. Her enemies still see the visitors as a threat. Her husband Acalon is killed when he uncovers a plot to kill Eleasa and any future visitors. [I'm beginning to see why Icron declined this job.]

Peter comes down from the spacecraft hoping to rescue his best friend who was in the first probe. Now Eleasa must get both herself and Peter to safety before they are the next victims. [Your best friend? Oh, that guy. I murdered him. Now come with me; I'll get you to safety.] First she has to figure out how to communicate with him, [She has to figure it out? He's the one with the space ship. Doesn't he have a universal translator?] and then get him to help even though she's the one who killed his best friend. Together they fight off attempts on their lives and uncover Acalon's killer. They prove to the ruling council that Peter and his shipmates should be allowed to stay on Adeen.

The book is complete by itself but is intended to be the first book of a series. Thank you for reading my query. I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

[The title comes from the way Eleasa kills the first person. She has small animals create a trap under the probe. [Hamsters driving little tiny backhoes.] The door opens suddenly dropping the probe a long distance and breaking it open. The door shuts before the people in orbit get any clue as to what happened. A combination of methods are used to kill every living thing in the probe, before Eleasa investigates what is inside.]


First of all, it feels listy. It's not a list of characters or themes, it's a list of stuff that happens. It's a bare-bones synopsis without much elaboration. Which, by its very nature, feels boring and simplistic. If you're writing for an adult science fiction audience, they're going to expect more sophisticated writing, and the agent is going to be worried that the book sounds like the query. The query is your first shot at showing your writing ability.

The query will sound less listy if each sentence follows logically from the previous one. To you they may do so, but you know the story. We need smoother transitions between ideas. Choose the main ideas you want to stress and develop them. You don't have to tell us the whole plot.

I assume you'd have said so if this were for middle graders. Would kids enjoy it?


Anonymous said...

It also seems like the story really starts after Eleasa meets Peter, but that's exactly when the query becomes vague and ends.

Shorten the backstory and tell us more about the interesting bits.

Marissa Doyle said...

"Hamsters driving little tiny backhoes" dear Evil, you are truly in fine form this evening.

To the author:
Focus on the characters--who they are, what's at stake for them. Romance writers can sometimes get a little too hung up on Debra Dixon's "GMC" (goal, motivation, conflict) but I think applying it here would be helpful. For every main character, write out this statement: "____________ wants X because of Y, but can't have it because of Z" where X is the character's goal, Y is their motivation for wanting that goal, and Z is what's keeping them from having that goal. Figure that out both internally (emotionally) and externally. Make us care about the characters. Get us invested in them so that we want to know what happens to them and want to read the book to find out.

OMG, my word verf is "arcchdvl"

pacatrue said...

My question throughout was why Eleasa or her mentor are the leaders of planetary defense? Is creating useful animals the job of the world leader?

Another recurring thought was that it's hard to believe that people with stunning control of cellular mechanics and genetics have not thought of things like gun powder or rockets, which could be useful for both flight and defense, albeit more than rockets are needed for interstellar travel.

Despite this negative sounding comment, I like the idea of the world. One key, however, is to make sure people don't think of Beastmaster when reading the query.

Geez, I sound so negative! And I like it. Oh, well. It's always easy to criticize.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping this would be GTP #2!

Author: Some questions, please. I'm not sure I understand the plot. The alien space probe appears, and it's shoot first, ask questions after. Then, simply because the aliens turn out to be humans, Eleasa automatically no longer considers them a threat, but "visitors"? Why the change of heart? And I'm not sure who her enemies are. Do these enemies become her enemies once she decides not to kill the visitors? Or are these the same people from the first paragraph who think she's gone too far?

I'm also not sure how the trap mentioned in the title explanation works. The orbiting craft can apparently spot the probe on the ground if they have to shut the trap door. And Eleasa doesn't think the people in orbit will be any the wiser when the probe simply disappears?

Why are Peter and his shipmates there anyway? Why would they want to stay on Adeen?

The mentor, Icron, doesn't appear again in the query. S/he can be safely left out. No need to clutter with too many details and names that aren't important.

Your manuscript probably answers the questions, but they were the ones I thought of while reading the query.

Dave Fragments said...

Let's try something like:
Xenophobes demand that Eleasa destroy the first alien species that lands on the planet Adeen. When Eleasa discovers the alien is a long-lost defendant and a second spaceship now orbits her planet, she faces a quandry - kill the alien as she is ordered by the xenophobes or convince her government that the alien is friendly. Falling in love with the alien complicates her mission.

Try that one on for size.

Bernita said...

This reads like the sort of a rough outline one jots down when planning a plot, not like a synopsis or a query.

writtenwyrdd said...

Giraffe-o-scope? Hamsters with backhoes? OMG Evil, I wish I had your wit.

Author, I think this might be a good story, but like EE says, it sounds rather simplistic and portraying any plot that way can make it seem full of illogic and holes. This work being SF, it's doubly so.

I didn't like the trap with the door closing and opening. Sounds stupid as described, and I rather doubt that it works at all. But that's just me.

Based on this letter I wouldn't want to read this book. Read some of Frank Herbert's non-Dune books (The Jesus Incident and The Dosadi Experiment) for some of the best world building that involves biological science.

Anonymous said...

Overall, it does seem to need a bit more attention to logic. Maybe everything works great in the book, but here, your events don't seem to follow their causes properly. More continuity would help also. Things introduced in the beginning that seem interesting and important like making animals, seem to be put aside and forgotten as other ideas attract your attention. It might be better to develop a few of your most stunning and original ideas more fully here and reserve the others for later works.

Here's a simple yes/no test for focus:

Are the main characters introduced early in the book still the main characters at the end?
Is the Big Problem introduced early in the book the same Big Problem that gets resolved in the last scene?

If the answer to both questions is no, your plot structure would probably benefit from getting more focused.

The beginning of the book is like a proposal to the reader. The author says: these are my characters, this is how their world works, they've got this big Issue, and if you stick with me, baby, it's going to be a 350 page ride to a great resolution that's worth every penny of 25$ and a place on your shelf for the next 20 years.

If you get a better idea about how the world should work or what the Big Problem should be or what the Main Characters should be like halfway through the book, that's fine. Readers will think you brilliant if you go back to the beginning and make it seem like you had that great idea from the start. But if you just do the easy thing and keep altering your plot line and the switching to new issues, different characters, other worlds, etc, like 97% of the other unpublished authors do, you'll end up with another trunk novel.

Anonymous said...

phoenix, thanks for the shout-out for GTP #2. I wrote that. But my favorite was #5.

Anonymous said...

From the author: Thanks to everyone for taking the time to add comments. It becomes obvious to me that I must focus on fewer key concepts. For those who asked specific questions here are some of the answers - oh no! It’s a list.
People and civilizations change what type of technology they focus on. When they do, knowledge is often lost. For example, no one today really knows how to make Damascus Steel. In the book it is clear that Eleasa’s people are aware that earlier civilizations knew how to build space ships, cars and telephones, but her people think that what they have gained by their approach is more important than what they have left behind. It is a point I cut from the query in the process of trying to condense it.
Eleasa hides the fact that she was responsible for Peter’s death until late in the story because she expects Peter to be pissed. He is pissed when she tells him but by then he knows she has saved his life.
Eleasa has two main duties. One is to protect Adeen. The other is to use the genetic material from the invaders to create improved life forms to help the people on Adeen. The main defenses are based on biological approaches so Eleasa’s skills are perfect for the job.
Yes, the standard approach is “shoot first”. Eleasa’s people have extremely good records going back hundreds of millennia. They know that the most mechanically advanced civilization in the past was destroyed when visitors came from space and used microbes to kill most of the people. There were other similar incidents after that. However, none of the visitors in the past have been human. One of the conflicts in the book is that some people believe that human visitors are just as dangerous as non-human ones. Yes, her enemies are the same ones that think she’s gone too far.

Both those on the ground and those in space have methods to see each other. Telescopes or their biological equivalent aren’t all that complicated or advanced. You can see a moderate size satellite with just your eyes if the light is right. Eleasa’s trap has the main advantage of isolating the craft and any microbes in it completely. Just blowing the craft up could spread microbes and cause a major disaster. It is obvious in the story that they are aware that there may be people still up in space that will know that something has gone wrong. How could they hide it? So they try to make the craft just disappear. Then the people in space don’t know something went wrong but they don’t know what.

Peter and his shipmates are there for the same reasons that explorers set out across our oceans.

Dave, I like your paragraph.

The main characters at the start of the book are the main ones at the end. The crisis in the first five pages is the one resolved at the end.

Robin S. said...

Like all of them, really enjoyed GTPs 2 and 5.

Author- Seems to me this query letter is one of those that may not be doing justice to the work itself.

The idea of your novel sounds interesting, although I don't know much at all about your genre.

I've had a few glasses of wine when we were out tonight, so I'll go ahead and admit the only Ray Bradbury fiction I ever read was Dandelion Wine (I really, really liked it, but this may have been quite a while ago) and it wasn't science fiction.

Does Harry Potter count? I read several of these to my kids, when they were kids. I guess that's fantasy - sorry, no help.

Anyway, your story sounds very interesting - and Marissa sounds right to me with her advice on focusing in a different way when rewriting - whitemopuse sounds right to me about changing the focus and excluding some of the backstory elements- at least, no more "to be included" than would be necessary to render the query intelligible to the reader of it.

Good luck with your query letter.

Anonymous said...

"Just blowing the craft up could spread microbes and cause a major disaster."

Um, I like that you have an argument for this trap, but I beg to disagree with you that this is the best method.

Here's an example of why that's not a good idea: It contaminates the soil. The stuff isn't killed or quarantined effectively in soil. In fact (real life example) the bovine spongiform bacteria (mad cow) is so hard to kill that the soil from farms where it was found is treated like nuclear waste and buried in those concrete containment facilities like where nuclear waste is kept. The bacteria must be incinerated at extremely high temperatures to kill it. (This data was from an agriculture inspector up on the Northern Border.)

And another problem I have with your explanation: If they are trying to prevent being infected from otherworldly germs and stuff, the scientists like your character would need samples to study. And burying said samples would be counterproductive to creating a defense.

Bad logic. I'm sorry, no cookie for you, Author.

Anonymous said...

From the author to the last comment: I would agree with you if that is what happened in the book. What happens in the book is that the craft is dropped into a sealed chamber and the door snaps shut after it falls. The inside of the chamber is then sterilized. The fall insures that there is a crack in the wall of the craft so that the interior is also sterilized. This process is what actually kills Peter's friend. It is in the process of "harvesting" and analyzing everything in the craft that they determining their relationship to Peter's friend.

Thanks again to everyone for taking the time. The ideas give me a handle on what to improve. The comments both negative and positive are encouraging. The negative - because I think I have covered them in the book already. The positive - well there just isn't anything better than someone saying they think they would like the story. I hope I have told the story well enough and that I will learn to write a query that does it justice.

Anonymous said...

That Eleasa just jumps in and readily kills the first guy turned me right off of rooting for her, I'm afraid. Your further explanation helps clear up why. I think it's important to include that bit of background so she doesn't come off looking like an irrational xenophobe herself.

Here's my attempt at making the characters a bit more sympathetic and make the query a bit more cohesive. Along with Dave's one sentencer, maybe it will help you tighten things up:

ELEASA'S TRAP is an 86,000-word science fiction novel.

When an alien spacecraft of unknown intent is spotted in orbit, Eleasa is tapped to lead Adeen's planetary defense. As a [nanotechnologist / technobiologist / bio-engineer / whatever] whose specialty is creating biologically altered plants, animals and microbes, Eleasa is well-suited for the task, especially since the last interstellar species who landed on Adeen used microbrial warfare to wipe out much of the population.

With [biotechnology] help, she kills the occupant of the first probe to land, discovering to her regret he is a peaceful envoy for a group of distantly related human explorers. But the ruling council has their own reasons for wanting the explorers dead: [reason they won't accept Eleasa's evaluation of the situation]. And Eleasa discovers just how far they'll go to ensure their [reason] when her beloved husband is caught in the crossfire of a murder plot aimed at her.

The landing of a second probe triggers a race between Eleasa and the council when Eleasa rescues the occupant, Peter. Together, Eleasa and Peter fight off [assassins, electric eels with genetically enhanced voltage, and a whomping tree] -- and uncover her husband's killer along the way. Revenge is sweet, but sweeter still is [how she convinces the council to stop their xenocide -- I haven't a clue how that happens, but I hope it's exciting. A simple "Guys, look, Peter and his folk are OK dudes" doesn't make for much of a climax.]

While ELEASA'S TRAP is a stand-alone story, it also has series potential. Thank you for considering my book for representation/publication. I look forward to your response.


Anonymous said...

I always hate when authors tell us that their book is so good that they expect the masses will demand an entire series! I can't imagine that agents don't find this to be arrogant and, at the same time, naive. I'd leave it out. Am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Book #1 of a planned series usually has major plot elements that remain to be resolved in later volumes, which would seem odd if it was a stand alone gig. It makes sense to mention the existance of a plan. As for the idea that its pretentious to pitch a series, it seems to me you should pitch what you've got, which might well be Book #1 of a series. A lot of mediocre queries talk about series. That's not what makes them mediocre, but it doesn't rescue them, either.

One book the agent is not excited about is plenty for one query, no need to tell her about 4 more just like it... You could leave the series issue to discuss when she decides she's interested and calls. I would definitely want some kind of general outline ready to show before I pitched a whole series, though, not just some vague ideas to mumble about.

Bernita said...

Um...anon, agents are not homogenized.
Some are keen on potential series, some are not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bernita and anon12:33,

Turns out I WAS wrong. Thanks for explaining why authors mentioning the series thing. I learn something new every day. I still wouldn't do it but it makes more sense...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, let me just add that I would fix or cut the ambivalent statement that the book is 'a stand alone that could become a series'. Authorial indecision about such a fundamental matter would not inspire the agent's confidence.

Rule #1 of getting an agent = Never send a query that says you don't know what your book is.

If this project is ready for publication you surely wrote it as one or the other and you'll do best pitching it as such or leave the series-or-not thing to be discussed when pages/synopses are requested.

Unknown said...

Eleasa hides the fact that she was responsible for Peter’s death until late in the story because she expects Peter to be pissed. He is pissed when she tells him but by then he knows she has saved his life.


Anonymous said...

From the author

Phoenix - I see where you're coming from. I need to think about your ideas. Thanks for the comments.

Spooge26 - Haven't you ever been pissed at someone when you know you should be greatful to them for something they've done?

Anonymous said...

Eleasa hides the fact that she was responsible for Peter’s death until late in the story because she expects Peter to be pissed. He is pissed when she tells him but by then he knows she has saved his life.


Hilarious! I can only guess that there was a typo in the explanation. She doesn't tell Peter that she killed him (Peter) because he (Peter) will be pissed. As expected, he (Peter) is pissed, but also realizes that by killing him (Peter) she saved his (Peter's) life.

I guess anything's possible but I don't get it.