Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Face-Lift 536

Guess the Plot


1. Two-year-old Lyle Buffet has an existential crisis when he can't decide between the red lollipop or the orange one. Will he decide before his mother abandons him out of frustration at the grocery store?

2. Lee Trenton knew better than to be afraid of vampires. In fact, he made a fine living off of them, running a scam mail-order coffin service. But when he gets an order from Dracula himself, which one of them will end up being the sucker?

3. When Kalinda has a one-night stand with Steve, she never dreams that she'll soon be taking him home to meet her parents. Or that theyll be followed there by three supernatural beings. Or that Steve is a vampire. All she knows is he's great in the sack, and that makes him a keeper.

4. Graham Payne always knew his calling in life was to be a dentist. But when his wife leaves him for a candy factory owner, his sanity shatters faster than a rotten tooth. Armed with his trusty drill, Graham declares war on sugar--and anyone who sells it.

5. When Julia takes a shortcut through the creek, eight magical leeches attach themselves to her ankles. Julia, pale and feeling weak, climbs into an unattended dryer at the launderette and undergoes a transformation akin to that of Gregor Samsa without the hardshell: she becomes one of the . . . Suckers!

6. Paul Taylor Barnum's Freak Show isn't just entertainment, it's escape. For years, Paul's been running it as an cross-dimensional underground railway, helping refugees from across the multiverse relocate in more friendly worlds. But when the locals start to catch on, and publicity threatens to close down the circus, Paul has to pull the greatest con ever and hope that his great-great-grandfather was right.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my urban fantasy novel, SUCKERS, complete at 100,000 words.

When Kalinda's one-night stand disappears before dawn, she's bummed out but not too surprised. The surprise comes when he reappears weeks later, waking her up from a horrible dream about banana crumb cake, [There's a limit to how horrible a dream about banana crumb cake can be. Did she accidentally use crushed red pepper instead of sugar in the recipe? Thank God her one-night stand broke into her house while she was sleeping and woke her before she served it to the Ladies' Auxiliary Club.] and says he's a vampire. She's still trying to wrap her head around the idea that a guy named Steve is a vampire—and wondering what kind of blood-borne pathogens she might have gotten from him— [If someone tells me he's a vampire, I'm not trying to wrap my head around the idea until I see him morph into a bat.] when he admits that he's being hunted...and they've followed him to Kalinda's apartment. He doesn't know why they're after him, but the math is simple. Three supernaturals against one vampire and one human means that it's time to run. Even worse: the only safe place Kalinda can think of is her parents' house. [Why does Kalinda have to run? Won't the hunters just follow Steve if he runs?]

Kalinda's career as a freelance technical writer did nothing to prepare her for this. Mysterious figures are prowling around the house, her parents' desire for grandchildren is resulting in a disturbing level of interest in her sex life, and she's trying to figure out whether Steve really has any feelings for her or whether the only thing they have in common is a desire not to be eviscerated. [The undead. It's so hard to read them.] The two of them trap the hunters only to discover that they've been hunting Steve for the wrong reasons. [I hate it when that happens.] Either there's been a horrible miscommunication or someone is out to get Steve. When they discover Steve's kitchen drenched in blood with a message written in blood on the table, they figure it's probably the latter. [That depends on the message. There's a difference between Hey Steve, dropped in and borrowed a couple beers, See you tonight--Tom and Die, Spawn of Satan.]

As they try to figure out how to keep themselves and Kalinda's family safe from the master vampire stalking them, Kalinda wonders about something else, too. Is she safe from Steve, or is the crush spawned weeks ago by an eighties song reference and a bottle of domestic not-light beer going to lead to her death? All she knows about Steve is that he was fantastic in bed and her parents love him: one positive, one negative. [Two negatives: you forgot the one where he subsists on the blood of living humans.] Does she have enough courage to deal with bloodsucking killers or a potential relationship with Steve? Are those different questions?

She'll tackle those questions later. Right now, things are getting weird(er), as it becomes clear that there's more to this than a little confusion over whether Steve killed his maker. Kalinda has a sneaking suspicion that despite all their attempts to hide, the master vampire knows exactly where they are and is just playing with them—but playing means that people keep dying; every new message means another person's death. The few vampires that Steve has met in his five-month life as a bloodsucker are nowhere to be found. The best plan that he, Kalinda, and their newfound enemies-turned-allies [When did this happen?] can come up with is to go after the master vamp in his own lair. [So the math is now four supernaturals and a human against one vampire? Piece of cake.]

Sometimes, the best plan is still a very bad one.

I'd be happy to send you sample chapters or the full manuscript at your request. While this is my first novel, I have had short stories published in [several places]. Thank you for your consideration.



It's too long. You have four long plot paragraphs, and three is plenty. I'd delete the fourth one, as most of the sentences assume we know things you haven't told us. There's been no mention of Steve killing his maker or new messages or vampires Steve has met or the enemies becoming allies.

When you have a crush on a guy and he tells you he's a vampire, whether you believe him or not you are well-advised to seek alternative companionship. Especially if the second time you saw him was the night he broke into your house and woke you from a dream about cake.


Anonymous said...

To me this sounds like an Idiot Plot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiot_plot

Nobody seems to be making decisions along rational lines. I'd get frustrated with this pretty quickly. It might help to include details about why Kalinda can't hit Steve on the head and tell him to get out, why they can't run to an anonymous hotel so that her parents aren't in danger, why they stay together once they stop the hunters, and so on. Others may disagree.

Also: for the second time in a week, someone please write #6.

Loerstem said...

De-lurking to voice my appreciation of the Gregor reference. Good old Kafka.

Never commented before because what can you add to EE? Too much detail. The voice was fun, and will work better in a shorter query.

"The undead. It's so hard to read them."


Ulysses said...

You've got the hook, but it's buried in a lot of stuff I don't need to know (at this point, I don't care what she's dreaming about, or even that she's dreaming). All I need to know is that her one-night stand is a vampire who puts her in danger by appearing at her bedside while he's being hunted.

For the rest of it, I need to know who the antagonist is and what complicates their confrontation. I don't read about the real antagonist until the fourth paragraph, and I don't understand why the master vampire is messing with Steve instead of simply staking him.

pacatrue said...

Well, blogger lost a long comment. Short version:

Take out the technical writer mention since it really just says she has a normal job (no evidence that it's important to the plot) and might sound like the author is writing herself into her first novel. Also concentrate as much as possible on what makes this novel special. My understanding is that agents see several vampire romance queries a week. Yours must be different.

Anonymous said...

Way, way too much plot detail for a query letter. Most agents would put it down a third of the way through, I suspect.


Beth said...

I like the humorous tone, but it's waaayyyy too long. Most agents are looking for one paragraph of plot, two tops.

I can't help thinking Steve must be a real schmuck, not to mention a weenie, for leading the hunters to Kalinda's house and putting her in danger. What the heck is he expecting her to do? Do battle for him while he hides in the closet?

Never could get past that, I'm afraid.

none said...

Yeah, why does Steve turn to her?

EB said...

I hate the conceit (more in movies than fiction) that a one night stand can develop into True Love. Why would you accept this behavior in your protagonist when, presumably, you'd scoff at it in real life? Reverse the genders, would you buy it? Just because there are vampires doesn't mean you toss out reasonably normal behaviors among your characters. Otherwise, well, it makes Kalinda seem shallow? needy? She hooks up with a dude and then she's pondering wedded bliss in the midst of all this blood sucking. Why wouldn't she just give him the boot? What is Kalinda's motivation? The big O, I suppose. Wonder where I can find a girl who loves a romp in bed so much that she's willing to wander through blood-splashed rooms for me.

The comment about Kalinda wondering about what blood-borne pathogens she might have contracted from Steve sounds makes me think of HIV and the hep. Not sexy. It implies either he bit her or they had unsafe sex. Sure, fine, whatever. But do you want that in your query?

Too many needless details, not enough explanation of the conflict that drives the plot.

Dave Fragments said...

Aw gee, 150, the greatest con ever perpetrated is convincing the world you don't exist.

Baudelaire, McQuarrie and Singer all know that. Kevin Spacey just gives voice to the line.

I wrote GTP #6 BTW. And I have no claim on the idea.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of "one time at band camp..." in there. Remember, author, we don't know these characters the way you do and can't remember who's who from one sentence to the next. If you have an endless series of events, each seemingly involving new guys named Steve, it isn't a very pleasant read.

Whirlochre said...

I concur with most people so far. The tone of this is jaunty and fun but it's too long. And I'm officially bored by vampires.

This ought to prune down nicely however — there's not a vast amount wrong with it.

batgirl said...

GTP # 6 is brilliant. It could be a series.

Anonymous said...

Just throwing my two cents in...

I like that your lead is pushed from her ordinary tech. writing reality into the wild world of agitated vampires. Those life changes should produce some interesting conflict as will the love-hate thing she's got going with her parents.

My concerns are that I don't understand why he comes to her for help, why she goes anywhere with him and why I should care about either of them. Something is missing, at least for me.

Also, I think you may need a more intellectually challenging beginning to keep your prospective query reader entertained. (And keep them reading!)

Good start!

talpianna said...

#6 could be a movie. We could call it MEN IN BLACK....

Sylvia said...

That's the second "one time at band camp" reference that I've seen today. I guess it's a set phrase that's passed me by until today for some reason. Perhaps I shall always remember the 25th of June as the day I found out what happened at band camp.

Assuming, of course, that someone is going to explain it to me?

Anonymous said...

From Steve's point of view: He's in major trouble, life (unlife?) is in danger and the most competent person he can think of to help him with his problem is...a technical writer he barely knows with no experience with the undead? She hasn't got the resume to help him. Why doesn't he ask one of his vampire friends instead?

From Kalinda's point of view: A guy she's known for less than 24 hours breaks into her home and puts her life and the lives of her parents in danger...and this isn't a turnoff? I'd be turned off. I'd be ticked off. (Just one single woman's point of view...)

-Sarah T.

Anonymous said...

(from the author)

Okay, this apparently didn't come across at all: She IS pissed off at him. Very. She runs with him because the other option is hoping that the guys chasing him will accept "Hey, I'm just a bystander" as a good reason not to kill her. The vampire you know is better than the undead bloodsuckers you don't.

Also, he doesn't go to her for help. He thinks he's lost his followers and stops by to apologize for bailing on her after their one-night stand, but now that I'm looking at it, I can see how I failed to make that clear. :)

Question: Should I focus more on explaining the plot or on explaining Kalinda's motivations?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Sylvia, "this one time at band camp" is a reference to the movie American Pie, although I haven't encountered it in this context before.

Sylvia said...

I definitely think you need to spend some time on the motivations - at the moment it's a lot of action that doesn't hang together particularly. When he shows up, she's pissed off, he disappeared before dawn. But when he says he's been followed, she freaks out that they are in her house etc. Reduce the total dots but connect them, if that makes any sense?

Anonymous said...

Hi author,

Motivations ARE plot. Otherwise you have an And Plot:

Because I am nuts about referencing the Turkey City Lexicon in this thread for some reason.

Even explained, those character actions seem silly. She goes with him rather than calling the cops? He pauses being chased to make nice with a one-night stand? It might help to explain what makes them think these actions are a good idea, a la "When Steve explains that the hunters will kill anyone with his scent on her, K realizes she's a target" or...honestly I can't think of a good reason for a man to break into an ex's house while he's on the run. Or ever. But presumably you could, so use that.

Dave: Did you just call me Satan? And why am I so flattered?

pacatrue said...

You might try writing the 1 sentence summary, then the 1 paragraph one; and then expanding it back out to the 3 paragraph one. It sounds like your plot is roughly:

When an attractive but dubious one night stand, Steve, is accidentally chased into Kalinda's home by bloodthirsty supernaturals, Kalinda discovers her would-be one-time lover is a vampire and that her only choices are to escape with him or die. After being a punching bag for too long, Kalinda turns the tables by helping Steve discover who his pursuers are and how to get rid of them once and for all. Unfortunately, the best chance appears to be helping Steve and their friends attack the strongest vampire lord in the tristate area. Kalinda is then faced with a choice: risk her own life in a mad scheme of violence for which she is totally unprepared or risk losing the love she never wanted.

OK, that's kind of uhhh sucky. The key is that I was trying to get the motivations for Kalinda that lead her towards the book's climax in a very small number of sentences. You should rewrite with the actual plot and like good writing and stuff.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I LOVE the concept behind the plot here - a girl has a one night stand who's fantastic in bed, he disappears, then reappears just in time to get her into trouble with vampires. I think the plot itself isn't all that new and fresh, BUT the tone that its written in is very fun and makes me very interested to read the whole book. However, everyone else is very right about the query being way too long, and that also makes me wonder if the book, too, is way too long and in need of some serious editing and cutting, etc.

My suggestions:
Cut all details not relevant to the main plot - who cares what her job is? and yes, she probably IS wondering about what pathogens she got from him, but this is not nearly as big of a concern (or so it seems to me) as the fact that, you know, he's a vampire! - and that itself will trim down the query nicely. Also, the whole last paragraph could be cut as well. I'd shape the query like this: he bails on her after a one night stand, then returns to apologize but accidently leads these other vampires to the house (I saw you mention his reasoning for being there in the comments and yes, it's a MUST that you clarify this in the query!), and then theres trouble brewing at her parents house between staying away from the vamps and trying to keep her parents off her back.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering what age group the author is targeting. The protag runs to mommy's house for help, so how old is she? She's living elsewhere and is having sex, so I'm assuming at least 18, but can't be much older than that. I'm guessing the protag is 20? If she's much older than that, I wonder why she can't come up with a better place to run. Maybe it's explained in the book, but I think that detail needs to make it into the query. Qualifying comment: I don't know squat about urban fantasy. Or writing query letters.