Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Face-Lift 593

Guess the Plot

New Day Dawning

1. The release of deadly poison gas throughout the US hasn't killed everyone; the gas has no effect on children and teens. Teenager Amy has taken charge of her town, but can the whole country survive being run by kids? And how will her friends react when they discover Amy's father created the gas that killed their parents?

2. College freshman Jane Woodlawn discovers a mysterious substance clinging to her shoe. The gunk resists her efforts to ditch it and proves to be a snide little glow-in-the-dark Shakespearean ghost which makes itself at home under her bed and recites Hamlet at odd moments. Can she convince this disturbing monster to help her impress Arturo with a few quick love sonnets?

3. Ilonna eagerly awaits the President's inauguration, and the new dawn of peace, prosperity and proper grammar, until she learns that the event is likely to be upstaged by the landing of a group of aliens with a very different agenda for reforming the world. Can she convince them to wait eight years?

4. After being arrested in Disney World for drunkenly urinating on Minnie Mouse, Christian rock celebrity Martin Kiechel finds himself exposed to a slew of blistering attacks from left wing media vultures. The most vicious comes from a blog by indie rock sweetheart Dawn Perlman. So why does he think she's the girl of his dreams?

5. Stories of renewal usually begin with giving up the old life for a better future. In Susan's case it means taking a step back in time to relive her Grandfather's greatest blunder and in the process changing mankind's understanding of the Universe.

6. Lost in an unexplored passage of the Carlsbad Caverns, Tiffany and Mallory discover a world of prehistoric mammals and a tribe of Neanderthals. Can the two girls teach the tribe fashion sense or will they have to make due with red mud and sabertooth tiger skins?

Original Version

Dear Agent:

Amy's life is devastated when a poisonous chemical gas is released on the edge of her small town, Lincoln. All of the adults in Amy's town are either killed or made ill by the gas, but the teenagers and children seem to be immune. [They seem to be immune? Meaning the children and teens are all . . . ZOMBIES?!!!] Within days, the agent has spread throughout her state, soon reaching the borders of the USA. Isolated from a nation in chaos, the teenagers realize they must cope with the disaster on their own. [They aren't zombies? You're missing a great opportunity here. Consider making them zombies.] As Amy tries to deal with her mom's death, she takes charge of her town, working out how to ration food, cook without power, and conserve water. She and her friends form a close family, relying on each other as they struggle to survive. [If you decide to make them zombies, change that to: . . . relying on each other's brains as they struggle to survive.]

Just as Amy is starting to rebuild her world, twenty-two-year-old Lee appears in town. Not only did he survive the chemical gas release, but he has vital information: the chemical is in everybody's bloodstream and will activate when the survivors reach a point of biological maturity. Instead of waiting for help, Amy and her friends are waiting to die. When Amy finds a letter written by her estranged scientist father, proving that he had a part in creating the chemical and that he is immune to its effects,

she sets out to find him, and a cure—before time runs out. [She begins her search at the mall, where her friends are running the stores and everything is mysteriously free.]

New Day Dawning is a YA novel, complete at 50 000 words. I am an editor at [educational publisher]. Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,


When teens are in charge of everything, the world is doomed. Any other conclusion makes this high fantasy.

Are the adults who get ill but don't die incapacitated? Or do they just feel kinda lousy?

Is it specified at what point one reaches biological maturity? Has Lee reached it? I see a lot of potential in losing your virginity being what causes the gas to activate.

It seems like the gas would go only where the wind blows it, and that after a few miles there'd be an insignificant amount in the atmosphere as it spread itself thinner and thinner. Of course, with all the scientists dead, I guess there's no one around to explain the special properties of this gas, so you're off the hook.


DD3123 said...

Might want to change the mechanism of delivery. Gas, as EE noted, dissipates quickly and losses its effectiveness. WWI showed this, as while gas attacks were horrible to endure, they were largely ineffective (not too mention easily thwarted w/ HazMat gear).

Its hard to imagine that any sort of deadly gas could wipe out even a state or a county, let alone the entire US. Actually, the more I think about it, I'm going to say you can't. The volume of gas needed would be astronomical, and you'd need more than a handful of non descript, white delivery vans.

Anonymous said...

Megoblocks: Not if it was an inert gas, but what if it was a substance that combines with, say, water vapor to self-multiply--or a microscopic life form capable of reproducing?

I have my doubts about the measurability of biological maturity, though, especially if there's a 22-year-old running around. Maybe that explains why the agent isn't 100% deadly.

Believability aside, I thought the query was pretty well-constructed.

Dave Fragments said...

You can be 22 and your body not consider itself an adult. Talk to oncologists. There are conditions that are cancers for adults and not for children and I have known people in their 21st year be discovered with still benign problems.

none said...

This reminds me of an episode of Star Trek. Whether that's good or bad probably depends on how you feet about Star Trek :).

I like the idea of a bunch of kids running things, except in the book they probably succeed.

none said...

feet? feel!

Sqrls should not type. Their paws aren't made for it.

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of "Night of the Comet" where the only survivors were people who had been shielded by steel when the deadly comet flashed by. It left teens in charge, too.

Dave Fragments said...

The plot isn't that unusual or far fetched. It's perfectly workable.

The latest zombie movie - 28 DAYS - was based around a rather virulent blood-born virus.

So was "The Andromeda Strain" which was about viral agents from space... and it's remake "The Andromeda Herniation and Rectal Prolapse" (sorry, I just couldn't resist the stab at that pile of bad writing).

Michael J. Strazynski's seven episode "CRUSADE" (and the network series by the same title) was an alien virus spread over the earth by alien spaceships and the survivors had to find the cure.

"Children of the Corn" was a nasty "kids kill adults" plot and then carry on with human sacrifice.

But my fist thought was the old movie "LOGAN'S RUN" where people were killed at the age of 30 for some bizarre reason.

Even the oldie but goodie "SATAN BUG" where the viral agent was never released, still stands as a good piece of writing.

The science can be made to work.

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm more a believer of Lord of the Flies than Night of the Comet hilarity, so this struck me as a bit of a silly plot. I would expect the tone to be rather light hearted instead of the darkness you describe; so that disconnect works against the story's appeal for me.

I tend to feel like the query letter is illustrating some grave plot problems, such as dispersal methods of a bioagent and the reality of kids figuring out how to run a town in a manner that sounds just like the adults would.

I would suggest you spend less time talking about what the kids are doing to keep their town going and just mention that dear old dad seems to be immune and she's on the hunt for him before she and the others grow into death.

I don't feel like I'm sounding helpful here, but I honestly don't like the plot you describe and wouldn't read it.

Xiexie said...

I thought this was a nice query letter, but for me the plot harkens back to the Kiwi tv show The Tribe.

(Same deal: virus(y-thingy) kills adults, children must make their world work and form clans, gangs, groups, etc. to survive. Great show, lasted 5 series.)

Anywho, I don't think the gas thing is too implausible (hahaha, even I didn't know that I had that word in my repertoire) especially going along the lines of what 150 suggested.

none said...

I hope Dave's being ironic.

Dave Fragments said...

Ironic? I dunno.
I was defending the plot. I thought it was unfair to pick apart the plot based on the query. My opinion.

When you reduce most plots to less than a dozen words they all sound a little foolish. Think "Boy meets girl. They fall in love and commit suicide together."
or "Man hears ghost, kills stepfather." as Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet. Or how about "Man kills father, marries mother and puts his eyes out in shame, in three parts."

Even the SciFi movie with this plot: "We have an alien-possessed, whooly mammoth on the loose and if we don't kill it, the government will nuke the town." as bad as it sounds was written by some script writer and accepted at Sci-Fi Channel as a movie of the week. Hell, I'd beg on my knees for even a credit like that on my resume.

The plot in the face-lift sounds off because the query is a bit off. I can make any science work witih enough talkie-talk (even outright BS). What about those two blockbuster movies "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" both of which violate a half dozen laws of physics? It's the story that makes you believe or suspend your belief. So help the writer figure out the query.

I was, however, less than kind and gentle to some of those plots in the original posting.

batgirl said...

As a query, it looks pretty solid. The plot sounds like a mashup of The Girl Who Owned a City (aka Ayn Rand for Kiddies) and David Palmer's book Emergence.
Both Night of the Comet and the Star Trek episode (Miri) had the threat of madness and death at a certain age, too. But it's not whether a plot is original, it's what the writer does with it.

none said...

I was just thinking that neither Satan Bug nor Andromeda Strain has particularly believable science. Which doesn't imo make them bad films. But they don't really support your contention :).

Adam Heine said...

I like the idea a lot. I was hooked from the GTP, and the query, while not totally-blow-me-away-fantastic, did not ruin the story idea for me.

Scientifically, Dave's right. It can totally be made to work, and it has many times.

As far as originality, it's not the first story of its kind (heck, I'm even now trying to sell a novel with almost the exact same apocalyptic scenario!), but it's also YA. I'm sure there are completely original YA books out there, but I haven't read them, and it never matters because the young adults in question don't know the cliches upon which they're based.

The only potential hole I saw was that Lee is 22, and when I read "biological maturity" I assumed puberty. Fair enough if that's not what you mean, but maybe you can give a hint at the approximate age at which this maturity typically occurs.

Adam Heine said...

After skimming the query again (trying to ignore EE's hilarious zombie comments), I like it even better than before.

Though the letter from Amy's dad is awesome. You should totally print that image out with your query ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey, author here. Thank you all for your comments. This wasn't as bad as I was dreading!
I found the discussion about the plot really interesting. The hardest thing about writing this query was definitely trying to make it sound plausible without going into too many boring details. From the discussion, it looks like I might need to elaborate a little.
Regards the biological maturity issue, I wrote this just after I got my wisdom teeth out, and so that's where I was going with that. I take the point about "biological maturity" sounding like puberty. I'll come up with a different phrase for that. Thanks again! You guys are awesome :)

none said...

Not with a gas, it can't.

Stacy said...

I liked the plot and I liked the query. This is probably something I'd pick up once it's published.

none said...

Oh, wisdom teeth? I'm safe, then--mine are still jammed up there somewhere! lol

Anonymous said...

I would like to read this. I don't understand the assumption that kids wouldn't/couldn't take responsibility in an adult way. After all, a few hundred years ago teens had adult responsibilities. And I like the clear, non-hyperbolic language of the query, and the hopeful tone in dealing with a really dark situation.

writtenwyrdd said...

It's not that teens couldn't do as the adults do; it's that they probably wouldn't do an exact replication, and that is what the query sounds like they are doing. Which is why I suggest the author skip over that part.

The query is written pretty well overall, IMO, but I think it illustrates plot problems or what MIGHT BE plot problems. The letter needs to make the plot sound plausible is all.

Good luck author. There's nothing wrong with a plot idea that's been used before!

DD3123 said...

150: " Not if it was an inert gas, but what if it was a substance that combines with, say, water vapor to self-multiply--or a microscopic life form capable of reproducing?"

You'd want to go viral/bacteria and then that can be airborne. Then you most certainly could use a "cloud" to disperse it -- be it from canisters, sprays, etc. Airborne pathogens also are extremely contagious. Thrown in a bit of a dormant period and you've got one that has the potential to spread like wildfire before its noticed.

Joanna "I don't understand the assumption that kids wouldn't/couldn't take responsibility in an adult way."

Depends on how serious you want to get I suppose. Reality has shown this to be true. Teens across the board have grown up under extreme times and pressures very quickly. Easy example would be if one or both parents die / gravey ill and they now have to raise their younger siblings.

none said...

I think there's a difference between being a teen with adult responsibilities in a world of adults and being a teen with basically a bunch of other teens and kids as your peer group. Let's face it, most kids when unsupervised by adults are NOT NICE.

Anonymous said...

Hi author!

You might be able to address some of our comments with specificity.

"poisonous chemical" -> Neurotoxin? Biocide? Enzyme inhibitor?

"made ill by" -> Paralyzed? Comatose? Congested?

"in chaos" -> Devastated by gang warfare? Ravaged by teenage drunk drivers? Invaded by Sweden?

And of course, biological maturity:

"biological maturity" -> Puberty? The age of 21? The point at which growth hormones level off? The first gray hair?

Good luck!

Unknown said...

My only real issue with the query is the plot line has been done to death. Whether the agent of death is a deadly gas, virus or biological mutation. Why is your story different and better than the rest?

What skills does Amy have that make her a likely choice to run the town?

Also, after you tell me all adults have been killed off and there's no power (which would also mean no gas for the cars), I'm a bit confused as to why there's a 22 year old left and how he's getting around so easily.

Good luck

Stacy said...

My only real issue with the query is the plot line has been done to death. Whether the agent of death is a deadly gas, virus or biological mutation. Why is your story different and better than the rest?

Ugh. That's gotta be something that's displayed through the story description in the query. I don't read a lot of dystopian books about virus or poisonous gas release, so it could be that I'm unfamiliar with this type of plot. The only book I can recall off-hand is The Stand.

If the author wants to address this question, I do think s/he would be better off reworking the query (even though I think it's pretty good the way it is) to let the originality of the story shine through, rather than trying to defend the storyline by explaining what makes this story different and better.

Beth said...

I was skeptical but willing to be convinced until I got to the line about Amy "rebuilding her world."

One might rebuild one's world after a job is lost, or a career destroyed, or a loved one dies. But what you have set up here makes that phrase seem horribly trite. When all the adults died, that meant the collapse of government and services. There are piles of corpses everywhere and no way to deal with them. No doctors, no undertakers, no police. Disease is rampant. Children are running wild, unsupervised, dying of accidents or starvation. Poisoning themselves from eating the wrong things.

This is the devastation you need to capture in the query, I think. There's no way a single girl can rebuild anything from that. All she can do is try to survive.

Anonymous said...

Hi, author again. I've been mulling things over. Thanks for your comment, Beth. I originally had "rebuilding some semblance of her world." Do you think I should stick with that? Because I don't mean to say that Amy reconstructs the world (or even her town) as it used to be, I just mean that the teenagers in Lincoln get to a point where they're not just reacting to the disaster, they're starting to think about and plan for the future.
Regards the chemical debate: like EE wryly pointed out, there isn't actually anyone around to explain what really happened. Of course I want my novel to have integrity, though, so I'll keep thinking about if my explanation in the story is believable enough. I'm also trying to find a better word for "ill." It was a poor word choice. The adults that survive in Lincoln get sick, but they also go kinda crazy. But saying "crazy" sounds, well, crazy. Maybe I should just stick with "sick."
Thanks for taking the time to give me feedback :)

Beth said...

I just mean that the teenagers in Lincoln get to a point where they're not just reacting to the disaster, they're starting to think about and plan for the future.

I think you ought to say that, actually. If, that is, you mean they're planning how they're going to feed themselves and the rest of the survivors next month or next year, or how they're going to round up all the children gone wild and somehow care for them. If they're talking career plans and college, then maybe not. :)

In the world that you're describing, it would probably take a hundred years for society to rebuild itself, and even then, it would never be the same.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi author. Don't know if you're still checking back (heck, I don't know why I'm checking back!), but to the point of your "ill" question, I think adding in something about the crazy adults might also up the stakes. Are the kids having to cope with insane adults on the loose? Also, since Lee doesn't appear to have much of a role in the query except to come to town to explain things to Amy (how DOES he know all this?), maybe you can fudge in the query how that knowledge is imparted in a way that doesn't open it up to questions.

And since I think that rewriting your first two sentences so that they're active rather than passive is called for, I'd combine all that into something like:

When an invasive neurotoxin spreads through Amy's small college town, she watches nearly every adult she knows die. Worse, she wishes those who don't die immediately would, since the toxin causes a rabies-like psychosis. Why she and the other under-20s in Lincoln don't appear affected is a mystery. One she can't ponder for long, though, as the toxin speeds its way across the U.S., and unattended power grids, emergency services, and police forces grind to a halt.

Seventeen-year-old Amy rallies the town's children and takes the leader's role as they struggle to survive hunger, illness, and marauders from nearby cities. Seeking refuge on the college campus, Amy finds a paper written by her estranged scientist father proving he had a part in creating the deadly neurotoxin. More alarming, what's protecting her and the others from the agent is linked to [a pituitary growth hormone / myelin in the brain] that usually stops being produced by age 18. Instead of waiting for help, Amy and her friends are simply waiting to die.

When she finds a clue that there may be an antitoxin and that her father may still be alive because of it, she sets out to find him, and the cure, before time runs out.

NEW DAY DAWNING is a YA novel, complete at 50,000 words. I am an editor at [educational publisher]. Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,

Beth said...

I don't know what Author will think of it, but I like it. You have such a knack for queries, Phoenix.