Sunday, August 05, 2007

Face-Lift 393

Guess the Plot


1. When teen Mandy Flimm finds a magic potion in a strange silver bottle, she is convinced it will solve her all her problems. She lets her mom take a whiff . . . and it does!

2. Jay Smith is worried. An Oracle has prophesied that within a week he will be dead at the hands of a notorious psychopath. Can alliances with unsavory beings stave off the inevitable, or will Smith's molecules be scattered to the . . . Ether?

3. Esther Orr has given up on finding true love, and instead has devoted her life to raising Springer Spaniels. But will the handsome dog whisperer she meets at the vet's change her heart? Or will his lisp drive her crazy?

4. Her brothers called her Ether because she was so boring, but Esther Boondockle has matured into a curvaceous surgical nurse with a chip on her shoulder. Can psychiatrist Trent Trott help her overcome her deep aversion to anesthesiologists and an urge to murder anyone who asks for . . . Ether?

5. Freddie the Frog is both an atheist and the unwitting heir to the Frog Throne. His fellow frogs swear Ether, the God of Death, is real. When Freddie finds himself in a biology class, he is forced to admit it's true. Now Freddie must prove worthy of the throne and save his fellow froggies from being dissected. Can he do it? Or will he succumb to the . . . Ether?

6. An alchemist attempts to turn ordinary objects into gas, mostly by burning them. Dying of cancer, he figures if his wealth rises into the air with his spirit, he really can take it with him . . . into the ether. Unfortunately St. Peter takes rather a different view.

Original Version

Dear xxxx,

I am seeking representation for my urban fantasy thriller, Ether, complete at 98,000 words.

The Oracle has just told Jay Smith that he has less than one week left to live.

To save himself, he questions the vagrants, demons and creatures that infest Albuquerque's underworld and unravels a crucial piece information. An internationally notorious psychopath named Cromwell, [Sounds more like a butler:

There's a dead body in the library sir.

Thank you Cromwell. Notify the inspector . . . But first, another plate of crumpets if you would.]

and his hordes of monsters, are hunting him down. [It doesn't take an Oracle to predict you'll be dead in a week if there are hordes of monsters hunting you down.] Chased inside a building by the marauding undead, Jay uses his telekinetic abilities to save his life. [He keeps using his telekinetic power to move tables and chairs in front of the monsters trying to get to him, until they finally give up in frustration.] [Let's hope that earlier in the book he used his telekinetic powers to pass the salt shaker or to get a beer. Otherwise it's going to seem awfully convenient that just as the undead (we call them zombies here) are upon him, he suddenly has telekinetic powers.] Cromwell appears and placidly explains that he has spoken to the Oracle and is prophesized to kill Jay. He declares that he cannot do it now simply because the Oracle has told him it is 'not yet time.'

Enraged, Jay seeks out the Oracle and demands to know [Who is Jay Smith to be making demands of the Oracle? Everyone knows you take what the Oracle gives you.] why he was not told of Cromwell's involvement. [Hey Oracle, WTF? You tell me I'll be dead in a week, but you don't even mention that it's Cromwell who'll be killing me? I paid you for a full forecast!] She mirthfully hints that his death is fated and it doesn’t matter whom he kills or where he runs; he will perish. [Maybe so, but at least now he can kill all Cromwell's loved ones. It's called prevenge.] She exclaims his death will be lucrative but refuses to explain to who. [Whom. And mainly to the funeral home.] Jay is now forced to seek alliances and council with unsavory beings to stave off his ‘inevitable’ death. [In a query that has already mentioned vagrants, demons, creatures, marauding undead, and monsters, it's hard to be fazed by unsavory beings.] [Have you ever noticed that characters are never described in query letters as "savory beings"?]

As the clock runs down Jay finds himself losing a duel with Cromwell—and beneath them a soul devouring demon waits to consume the loser. [Apparently the clock was running down on this query and you decided to wrap it up quick.]

Thank you for you consideration.



Wouldn't it be better for the soul-devouring demon to devour the winner? There's no guarantee the loser's soul hasn't already headed for the . . . Ether.

Apparently Jay has reason to believe he can save himself. Has the Oracle ever been wrong? Maybe that's the wrong question; has the Oracle ever been right?

So, is that the whole plot? Oracle predicts death, Jay tries to survive? There must be more. Who is Jay Smith? Did he go to the Oracle or did she come to him? Surely Cromwell isn't planning to kill Jay simply because the Oracle predicted it. Why does an internationally notorious psychopath want some guy from Albuquerque dead? Randomly? How is it that Cromwell has contact with the Oracle? I'd replace some of the less important stuff (like the death will be lucrative) with some of these answers. We're not going to care about Jay if we know nothing about him except that he's being hunted.


Bernita said...

Yoy know, in a world infested with demons, oracles and other unsavory creatures, a psychopath seems somewhat ho-hun.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I thought this query sounded fascinating, but it felt very rushed and like a crucial plot element was missing. I'm guessing that there is some important plot element between the oracle and cromwell that has not been disclosed by the author - maybe because you think it gives too much of your story away? But here is not the place to be coy. I think you need to be more forthcoming and give us more plot details. Otherwise, all you have is a fugitive type story, but with demons and psychopaths instead of US marshalls. Give us a little more.

Dave Fragments said...

[Have you ever noticed that characters are never described in query letters as "savory beings"?]

They were in the histories of the Donner Party and their New Years Feast. I think the words were "savory and succulent, just like chicken."

Dave Fragments said...

This is a case of how prophecy hurts a story. We just had a fun discussion of how silly we could be with a gypsy fortune teller. That discussion could apply here.

Years ago there was a movie titled "Color Me Dead" with Tom Tryon where the mystery was not whether the hero was going to die, (n the first scene he drank a poison with no antidote) but whether he would avenge his death before he died.

That's the story you need to query. Your story is not that an Oracle predicts death, it's what the subject of the prophecy does with that knowledge. Isn't this more like "Jay Smith must align himself with demons in a futile attempt to evade his prophesized death." And if Jay Smith lives, I presume that the prophecy has some twist to it that no one fully understands. Or Jay Smith gets reincarnated.
Or Geroge Orr (Esther's brother) dreams it all away.

Anonymous said...

Remember to keep the story's priorities in mind when crafting your query. For example, we know practically nothing about your MC, yet we have the whole "Enraged, Jay seeks out..." paragraph that does nothing to enlighten the reader about the circumstances at hand. It's repetitive: the query has already indicated the Oracle predicted his fated death and Jay has already been scouring the underground for counsel.

The query gives me no reason to care for Jay. He apparently has all these underworld ties; maybe he's a hit man or a trafficker in baby's blood, or something equally reprehensible. Maybe a psychopath is the best thing that can happen to Albuquerque. Maybe Jay should die.

The following is my rough revise based on your story elements:

When Jay Smith, [reknowned paranormal art dealer trafficking in work with a decidedly demonic theme,] consults an Oracle about [his future business ventures], she has a surprise for him. Jay has less than a week to live -- and his death won't be an accident. Forearmed with the knowledge the Oracle has always been right, Jay's determined to find a loophole and figure out a way to defy fate.

Jay has only six days to discover who wants him dead, and why. When his [list of respectable Albuquerque clients] turns up dry, Jay goes underground, questioning the vagrants, demons and creatures that infest the city's seedy underside. From them he learns [Theo] Cromwell and his horde of monsters has just hit town. It doesn't take long before Jay is hunted down by Cromwell, a psychotic [international art thief whose last caper was thwarted when Jay used his unique telekinetic abilities to switch out the stolen paintings].

When Jay and Cromwell at last come face to face in a monster-smashing duel, it appears fate will out no matter. For beneath them, a soul devouring demon has risen ... and it's anxiuosly waiting to consume the winner.

Chris Eldin said...

Cromwell just seems so funny! It's probably not the effect you want. I agree with ello that a crucial plot element is missing.

Robin S. said...

"It's called prevenge" and

"She exclaims his death will be lucrative but refuses to explain to who. [Whom. And mainly to the funeral home.]" were my favorites for this one.

GTPs were fun, especially 3 and 4.

Cromwell reminded me of
anti-royalists and English history.

This sounds like it could be good, but the query needs some
direction - which it looks to me you've just received.

Good luck with your book.

Anonymous said...

OMG, yes: "prevenge" is terrific!!

Anonymous said...

Terrible, I'm sorry.

The plot is one-track minded (survival) and the circumstances seem very trite.

Also, why is the MC so special? Why does he have telekinetic abilities?

There needs to be more meat to the plot, maybe the MC befriends one of the enemy. (or even falls in love?)

Anonymous said...

Did anyone check this Oracle's credentials? I mean the Oracle tells Jay he'll be dead in a week; he tells Cromwell he's destined to kill Jay (within a week?).

Isn't it kind of like me predicting "a sudden, painful event will force Bob to travel in tight circles" just before I break Bob's leg with a baseball bat?

Janet said...

Prophesized is not a word.

jjdebenedictis said...

Have you ever noticed that characters are never described in query letters as "savory beings"?

Betcha the zombies would describe Jay that way.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, only males can be "savory beings" due to the scientifically proven fact that females are constructed largely from sugar, spice and all things nice.

Ain't nature incredible?

Anonymous said...

Also, if this Oracle is known to be right, Jay can just sit back and watch Cromwell and his zombies make fools of themselves trying to kill him because he knows he has a full week left to live and nobody, not even a psychopath, can get to him before his time is up.

none said...

A psychopath named Cromwell? What's wrong with calling him Lincoln or Washington?

Anonymous said...

Prophesized is too a word!

It's what the Oracle says when the lady at the dress shop asks....What size?

writtenwyrdd said...

The very opening of this letter set the wrong tone for me, making the intro of the fantasy elements like a slap in the face.

You say, "The Oracle has just told Jay Smith that he has less than one week left to live. To save himself, he questions the vagrants, demons and creatures that infest Albuquerque's underworld and unravels a crucial piece information."

I know you told me it was urban fantasy, but I immediately forgot that line when you say he's got a week to live. I'm thinking he's dying from disease or something. Just me, but that was the reaction. And I think I got there because of the line "only a week to live." There are so many tales of this, and they are all thrillers. So my little trained brain went into that preformed groove and followed it to the logical conclusion-- which wasn't there when I read about the fantasy elements.

Again, might just be me, but the lack of specificity right away is a problem. You could start with a much more grabbing, dynamic opening line, such as "The chance encounter [with an Oracle] tells Jay Smith he's got a week to live-- unless he solves the [problem]." Something that gives us the reason he's in a bind. Then you can go on to saying he queries the underbelly of Albuquerque and does whatever to get to the resolution.

I hope that's of help to you.

Anonymous said...

A protagonist called "Jay Smith"? Just makes me think of the Jay and Silent Bob films by Kevin Smith. I'm pretty sure that's not what you were going after, author. Might want to think again about giving your characters names that have been used before.

Nancy Beck said...

Enraged, Jay seeks out the Oracle

This was the first thing that didn't make sense to me: Wouldn't Jay be scared, at least at first? (I could see him being pissed or enraged down the line, but not right away.)

And what EE said. Who is Jay that he can demand stuff of an Oracle? I take it from you that the Oracle is quite powerful, so that line of reasoning doesn't make sense.

"Unsavory beings" - which ones is he going to hang out with? I think you need something more concrete here. You nicely detailed them earlier, so why not pick one or two of those you earlier described, and go with it here?

I also think the next-to-the-last paragraph doesn't do it for me. It sounds like you gave up or something; it sounds boring to me. I think you'll need to punch it up a bit.

I think this has potential, but more details are needed in certain bits, and that ending part needs to have more urgency.

Good luck with it.


Nancy Beck said...

Ooo, just read phoenix's take on this. :-) Nicely done. Hooked me from the start.

Might be worth keeping in mind.


Anonymous said...

How does one become an internationally famous psychopath without being locked up? Does he appear on Oprah regularly, or what?