Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Guess the Plot
A Window of Opportunity
1. Josh figured he might be a fry cook all his life. Then one day Debbie was sick and the manager handed Josh the headset for the drive-thru window.
2. Joe Smith has plans to ask Lucille to marry him. Their drive-in movie date goes so well, he decides to wait until the credits roll. Meanwhile, ten million giant glowing worm-things-from-space splat on the pavement and creep all over the car, leaving slime trails on the windshield that obscure the view. Has Joe missed his chance?
3. 32 episodes based on real life in which various dilemmas present themselves and, for potty mouth protagonist Bob Jones, masturbation is the answer to them all. But where? When? How? Plus his friend Dwight, whose entire vocabulary consists of permutations of 'fuck', and a cowgirl who thinks they're both idiots.
4. When the plane he's flying on crash-lands 65,000,000 years in the past, Bob and his fellow passengers realize they're stranded. They also realize that the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs will show up eventually, so they'd better figure out how to deflect it before it arrives.
5. When Rachael loses her job as secretary to the CEO of Jerol's Jewelry, she throws herself from his office window in despair. On the other side, instead of a 36-story drop, she finds the magical world of Gelda. The natives are enslaved, forced to mine precious metals and gems by a cruel and greedy dictator: her former boss. Can she save both a mystical race and her 401k?
6. Zola Smith should have told Jack how she felt in 1987, but now he's not only married, he has three kids and a dog. Zola spends her day smoking, drinking, and reading about Britney Spears, painfully aware her own life is just as ruined.
[All Hail the Evil Editor!
Below is the synopsis of my science fiction novel A Window of Opportunity. I beg you and your minions to gnaw it to pieces so it can be rebuilt better and stronger. ]
Yesterday was the worse day in Bob's life. ["Worst." Making a glaring mistake in your first sentence is like walking into a job interview and realizing you forgot to wear pants.] Maybe. [I'd go with "So far."] Today wasn't over yet. [We seem to be in Bob's POV, and since today isn't over yet for Bob, we should say, Today isn't over yet. The rest can be in present tense as well, except when describing something that happened earlier.] However, Bob knew today wouldn't include the sheer terror of clutching his knees while his plane to Seattle crash-landed into a lake. Not that today was without its problems. Bob's cell phone couldn't pick up a signal, even from satellites, and that had never happened before. [Interestingly, Bob's cell phone was working fine when he turned it on at 50,000 feet, moments before the jet plummeted into the lake.]
[A chart to help determine whether yesterday or today was worse for Bob.
Yesterday . . . . Today (so far)
Plane crash . . . . No bars on cell phone]
Not surprising since he hadn't seen anything familiar on the ground during the approach to the lake. No Pacific coast, no cities, just unbroken jungle.
Nearly two hundred people needed food, water and shelter, but nothing could come from the plane until it finished settling into the lake.
[Bob: We need to get the water off the plane.
Pilot: It's too dangerous. The plane hasn't settled to the bottom of the lake.
Bob: But what will we drin-- Did you say "lake"?]
[Bob: Okay, the plane has finished settling into the lake. Now can we go get some food and water?
Pilot: The lake is too deep, we'd need SCUBA gear.
Bob: Where are we gonna get SCUBA gear?
Pilot: There's some on the plane.]
The flight crew gave out as little information as possible. Bob assumed they had no idea where the plane had crashed and didn't want to panic everyone. Instead, they focused on calm, orderly action to meet immediate needs. The only thing the crew couldn't hide was that the radios in the survival kits couldn't contact anyone.
Foraging parties found odd things nearly every trip: a circular footprint large enough to lie down in, [Made by the world's biggest pegleg.] birds with teeth and fish that didn't look right. [They had tiny human heads.] Neither the amateur astronomer nor world travelers recognized the constellations. ["I can't see the constellation that looks like a goat anywhere. And where did that one that looks like a sheep come from?"] After taking a series of photos, the amateur astronomer began running a search in a star charting program to match the photographed sky to an approximate location. [They couldn't bring any food off the plane after the crash, but one man had the foresight to bring a camera and star charting equipment.] [How many stars would show up on a photograph of the night sky?] It took less than a day to determine the sky overhead didn't match anything in the database. [A day? Does he have a computer or an abacus?] However, the Moon was the same, if slightly larger. The next step had the program calculating star positions moving backwards in time.
It took over two weeks to produce an answer: [Two weeks running a program? On a laptop? My battery dies if I run my laptop two hours.] they were 65 million years in the past. [Bob immediately decided this was the last time he booked a flight with Northwest.] Slowly, acceptance of their plight seeped through the survivors. There would be no rescue. [They would never find out who won Survivor, Micronesia.] They needed to leave the plane. Move to somewhere with better resources, somewhere safer. [If I've lasted two weeks in a world crawling with dinosaurs, without being trampled or eaten, I'm not exploring for somewhere safer.] They needed to build and grow. The meteor that killed the dinosaurs was coming.
(The title indicates a side-effect of the central premise -- the meteor is coming. If it arrives too soon, there isn't time to do anything about it. If it arrives too late, their descendants will have forgotten there's something to worry about. In between is a window of opportunity to ride out the disaster in bunkers or deflect the meteor.) [Deflect the meteor? If I were suddenly living in the time of the dinosaurs, the meteor couldn't get there quick enough to satisfy me. No way would I be trying to deflect it.]
This is like the TV show Lost, except it takes place 65 million years earlier.
It took man till the 20th century before he could even think about trying to deflect a meteor. And these people are going to pull it off in 64,998,000 B.C.?
How do these people get from the plane in the lake to the shore? I would assume they swim, using their seat cushions for flotation, but who would expect a cell phone or laptop to work after taking it for a swim?
You somehow survive a plane crash. It's a miracle. The phones don't work--not surprising as you're in a jungle in the middle of nowhere-- so someone suggests you split up and walk in different directions and hope someone reaches civilization. But one man convinces everyone to wait while he determines where you are. After two weeks, with food supplies dwindling, he finally announces his findings: "We're 65 million years in the past." And everyone buys this? More likely they would kill him on the spot, and start walking.
I can't tell if this is the story of the 200 survivors, or of Bob. Bob disappears from the synopsis. If he's not the most important character, I wouldn't open with the cutesy "worst day of Bob's life." If he is the most important character, keep him in the synopsis so we don't lose interest in him.
A synopsis should take us through the whole story, not leave us wondering what happens. This is all set-up. You explain how they got there and how they figured out where they were. The story is what comes next, and we get none of it.
Posted by Evil Editor at 7:59 AM
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I was SO hoping it was #5.
Besides wincing at the tense changes throughout, I kept feeling that you were missing the opportunity to tell me a pretty cool story. Put us at the point where they discover when & where they are and that the meteor is coming. What's at stake? Do any of the passengers think they shouldn't survive the meteor? What do they do about it?
I actually think the premise sounds interesting and you could make something of this, but the synopsis needs all the changes EE describes.
Okay, a couple of things. First, you list some strange things for people to be doing after a plane crash-- running a 2 week computer program? Second, you don't list the 'normal' things that would happen after the plane crash-- struggle to survive, perhaps?
Besides all that, though, this letter doesn't tell the story of the book, it tells the set up. You want to sell the story, show what makes it different.
I think that writing from Bob's perspective is probably a good tactic.
Good luck in the revisions.
"This is like the TV show Lost, except it takes place 65 million years earlier."
Actually, it may yet be exactly like LOST.
We lost LOST after the first season, so who knows?
I'm not buying this plane crash-landing into a lake and everyone (and their electronics) surviving. I need to be convinced that's even possible. Couldn't the pilots find some ground on which to land the plane?
This gets bogged down in details. A paragraph or more to say they discover they're in some really weird place? You could do that in a sentence, or two. "Show, don't tell" isn't really as appplicable here.
Haven't we Pliocene much of this plot before?
Yeah, what everyone else said: get to the crux quicker. "Bob and his fellow passengers thought they were lucky to survive the plane crash--until an on-board astronomer figured out that they had landed millions of years in the past. Faced with starting human civilization from scratch, in a place and time it was never meant to be, the survivors of Flight 815 must..." ...something.
Honestly, my biggest problem with the setup is that I always took the "65 million year" figure to mean "between 60 and 70 million years" which means that your window of opportunity is, well, big enough to let a meteor through. What's the urgency?
What EE said.
What's the tone of the novel? The synopsis is all over the place with tone, I'm afraid. Sound like it's going to be humorous from your first paragraph, but then it switches gears. Not that a story can't start out light and go dark, but this one would have to happen in the first few pages, and that's maybe not so good.
How far does this synopsis take us into the story? I'm not getting a real sense of the danger they're facing. Okay, yes, no hope to return to the present, a jungle (no botanists aboard, apparently, to notice the differences in vegetation) to contend with, and a couple of strange animals. A huge footprint can be scary but your synopsis spends more time calculating the movements of the constellations than it does on the footprint. Does anyone run into a dino? Or a dinobus?
And, gosh, the meteor is coming? Um, how do they know it's, like, NOW? 65 million years is, of course, a rough estimate of when it hit, give or take a few hundred thousand years. Not sure there's enough of a countdown here to generate suspense. Any number of civilizations could rise and fall in the time before the meteor comes.
I think the premise could be a fun one (I'm a real dinofan), but we need, I think, more immediate danger and more immediate stakes coming through in the synopsis, as well as an inkling of what the rest of the book is about.
Two obvious things need to be said at this point.
First, "Bob" would probably be a better name if you spelled it backwards.
Second, there's a fatal flaw in having these people travel back in time so far. Since they arrive prior to the first people's deaths, there can be no zombies. Unless some of the plane's passengers died in the crash. That could work.
By the way, does your novel get into the theological and Darwinian implications from a species origin perspective? Or maybe this flight originated in Los Angeles and was full of stars like Brittney, so the passengers weren't evolved much past the point of primordial slime anyway. That must be it.
Yeah, this guy with his 2 weeks of computer running is just a bad idea. That would be as boring as watching me write. Does the two weeks pass in five words or do we have to read 200 pages to get there? Why don't they just look up in the sky and see the blazing comet as they hide from the tyrannosaur on page 3?
"fish that didn't look right. [They had tiny human heads.]"
Oh my God, the visual on this was a scream.
I agree with pjd that there's a good story in here somewhere, once the holes are fixed.
But I do have a problem with how the plane crashed into a lake, and how that's a good thing for them, if it's submerged. Is it just stuck in muck? Muck would maybe be better than submersion. Except then, dinosaurs could see them. Hmmm.
OK- tell us how this works when you get a minute, please.
I feel for you on the difficulties in writing an effective synopsis.
Thanks everyone for the commentary (checks off "be a warning to others" from the to-do list). I think I have a good idea of where to go with revisions. Is it acceptable to post a revision in the comment thread and request additional comments?
I also think there's a good story in here somewhere. I wrestle with telling it coherently. Especially in 400 words or less. :-)
Is it acceptable to post a revision in the comment thread and request additional comments?
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