Monday, June 15, 2009

Face-Lift 643

Guess the Plot


1. Sarah McFrap has spent her life in the shadow of her mother's coupon clipping mania. Now, fatally ill and nearing death, Mother entrusts Sarah with her prize collection of coupons. Can Sarah redeem them--and herself, in her mother's eyes--before it's too late?

2. A series of bizarre deaths--someone drowns in a pile of barley, someone has a fatal encounter with a dishwasher, etc.--has the police thinking accidents, but one psychologist realizes there's a serial killer on the loose, one he might be able to lead down the rocky path to . . . Redemption.

3. When gorilla poacher Vitaly Potapenko breaks his leg and a shrewdness of apes nurse him back to health, he decides to seek out and free every gorilla he ever captured . . . if they're still alive.

4. In the summer of 1967 Jodi Nash stepped on a butterfly in Central Park, starting a cascade of unanticipated consequences that culminated in several foreign wars, the collapse of numerous international megacorporations, climate change, global economic blight, and decades of bad hair. Now Jodi seeks redemption by planting a butterfly garden behind her rest home. But is it too late?

5. When ex-navy seal and martial arts champion John Hawk dines in a fancy New York restaurant, he forgets to tip the waiter. A man of honor, Hawk realizes his mistake when he gets home and immediately returns to the restaurant. He gives the waiter five dollars and an awkward apology, and then goes back home without incident.

6. A soda bottle on its journey to be redeemed for a nickel deposit must survive encounters with vampires, werewolves, elves, lava, and a half-demon/half-angel who hates recycling.

7. Raoul Washington has been collecting coupons for almost all of his ninety-one years. When his doctors give him only six months to live, Raoul goes on a cashless spending spree that threatens to bankrupt the nation's retail outlets.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

A young girl kills her mother, makes herself a packed lunch and has a great day at school. The same girl sits and watches her father bleed to death instead of going for help... [Thus begins my children's picture book, Madeline's Revenge.]

When Dr Ian Templeton, psychologist and profiler, dumps a pile of newspaper cuttings on her table, newly promoted Inspector Alex Willard [has him arrested. Thus begins my green mystery, The Serial Litterer.] sees a lot of coincidences. Ian sees a serial killer. People who walk away from abuse charges are dying in eerily appropriate accidents: drowned in grain, crushed under a car, falling on a knife in a dishwasher. [By "appropriate" accidents, I assume you mean something like:

Detective: What was the cause of death?
Coroner: Drowned in a pile of oats.
Detective: Ironic. He used to make his kid eat oatmeal.
Coroner: Now that's what I call child abuse.

Detective: What was the cause of death?
Coroner: Killed by a knife in her dishwasher.
Detective: Ironic. She used to force her kid to load the dishwasher.
Coroner: Shoulda told the kid to put the knives in point-down.

In between getting inside the heads of convicted murderers to find their victims [I like a justice system where you convict someone of murder first, then look for a victim.] so other cases can be closed, Ian confronts his own painful past to understand this new killer. This is a killer who believes they are a good person, they are doing the right thing – and Ian can save them. [Who's "them"? The killer, or the killer's future victims? Apparently you're using "they" and "them" to avoid revealing the murderer's gender, which guarantees it's female. It wouldn't be the now-grown-up girl who appeared in the first paragraph of the query never to be mentioned again, would it?]

With little evidence to go on and no-one else believing there is a real case, Ian and Alex work outside the rules. [Alex is one of the ones who didn't think there was a case. And she was just promoted to inspector. And already she's working outside the rules?] Ian has to force the killer into the open, even though this could trigger more murders [like a toaster murder or a running with scissors "accident."]. When Ian is attacked by the press and kicked off the team it looks like game over: he will never get near this killer. [There's a team? I thought Ian was the only one who even thought there was a case. Is the team working on this case? If not, how does Ian being kicked off keep him from getting near the killer? Seems like he'd have more time to chase the killer if he no longer has to work on whatever the team is doing.]

But this killer has her own ideas and these involve getting very, very close to Ian. [Oh, now you don't mind revealing it's a woman. May as well reveal it earlier and avoid the awkward-sounding plural pronouns. Or change the earlier sentence to something like: This killer is no cold-blooded sociopath; this is a misguided person trying to make the world a better place . . . thus avoiding any pronouns.]

REDEMPTION is a 97,000 word psychological thriller, and, of course, I have the opening chapters ready and waiting to be sent to you on request – or we could just go straight to the full manuscript if you like. [Hell, let's skip that part too. Just email the manuscript to the printer.]

My previous published writing has been in the business world – I wrote the “organisational behaviour” chapter in the Wiley and sons series of books, the Fast Forward MBA. [As the term “organisational behaviour” is about as vague as it gets, change that sentence to: As for my previously published writing, perhaps you're familiar with chapter 14 in book 3 of The Fast Forward MBA? Yep, that was me.]

Thank you for your consideration


I'd leave off the kid who kills her parents at the beginning. It isn't connected well enough. All it does is make me wait for an explanation that never comes.

If I were a psychologist I'd be more interested in helping the people who were abused by the killer's victims than in helping the killer, who's sure to be locked up a long, long time.

Not clear what you mean by "eerily appropriate" accidents. It's appropriate that a person who was abusive and wasn't punished should drown in grain?

Is the killer trying to get close to Ian because he was an abuser who wasn't punished? Is he forcing her into the open by claiming to be an abuser who wasn't punished? If the latter, seems like it would be hard to get that information to the killer if he doesn't know who she is. If the former, not gonna make him the most sympathetic protagonist.


150 said...

I'd read either of the coupon ones. Or a combination of them.

Anonymous said...

More logical clarity & evidence of your knowledge of how homicide investigation works would help. You didn't say where/when it's set. It might work for an early 19th century setting but I can't imagine a contemporary forensic psychologist would go dumping piles of newspapers on detectives' desks for any reason, never mind trying to get them to investigate a series of "accidents" as the work of a serial killer. Etc.

Matt said...

Is there any way I can bet $100 that Alex is the killer?

This reminds me of Along Came A Spider 2: Morgan Freeman's Partner Did It

You should show us how this is different than all the other detective novel's. I don't see it yet.

E.D. Walker said...

But this killer has her own ideas and these involve getting very, very close to Ian.

So...Alex is the killer...

This feels a bit too long and all over the place. And the whole "looking for a serial killer" trope feels SO overdone.

I don't see a really fresh hook in this. I think this needs to be clearer and more concise, and we need to see what sets this book apart from all the other "Let's stop the serial killer before he/she gets me!" books.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

I so wanted to read #6


Steve Wright said...


It all seems workmanlike enough, but - as others have pointed out - as things stand, it looks a bit derivative. In fact, I looked at it and said to myself, "Psychologist and profiler with a troubled past? Newly promoted DI? Academic analysis reveals a serial killer in apparently random events? This is Val McDermid's Wire in the Blood, isn't it?"

Unless you actually are Val McDermid, I suspect this is not the reaction you wish to provoke ... can you tell us a bit more about what's unusual and, well, novel about your novel?

clarkkers said...

I almost thought #6 was the real one, it just sounded bizarre enough to be a manuscript. #5 is hilarious. It gets the best fake plot award.

none said...

I don't find this serial killer remotely believable. Fortunately, there's never been a barrier to publication.

_*rachel*_ said...

As far as word choice/sentence structure goes, check out the places EE made blue notes; they're the places where your word choice could be improved. IE, the "they" sentence, the "appropriate accidents," etc.

This isn't really my genre, but I'm going with the others: it's Alex.

I got confused about who's killing and why. It's an abuse victim killing abusers, right? Are the abusers alleged or convicted?

Please don't say Alex is going to reveal herself by knowing a bit too much about the next case. You know, "We're going to visit a knife death up at the Kramer place," when they don't yet know it's a knife death. That's used too often.

none said...

Well, there's one good thing here--you obviously successfully misled a lot of the minions about who the killer is. Bodes well :).

Anonymous said...

you know - this process is GREAT -- there is NO WAY you can realise how your writing can be interpreted until, well, someone interprets it!!!

and of courseit's not Alex, bad as my writing is, even *I* would not be THAT derivative and predictable LOL

great info from EE and the comments so thanks guys and off to the rewrites!!!


PS anonymous only thanks to google issues!

batgirl said...

Good luck, CJ - remember you can post a rewrite to this thread, and EE will alert the minions to descend on it once more!