Monday, January 18, 2010

Face-Lift 720

Guess the Plot

Superhero Cell Anomaly

1. Sheriff Carson can't understand it. Every time he arrests one of those pesky superheroes, they manage to break right out of jail.

2. When biologist Sara Abrams examines Arthur Curry's cell structure, she's quite surprised at the fish-shaped mitochondria. Is it possible? Could Arthur be . . . Aquaman?

3. Tex has developed a rare condition known as Superhero Cell Anomaly, which gives him super powers--until it kills him. Now he must decide whether to use his powers to prevent the threatened death of all mankind, or to spend his final weeks soaking up the sun in Florida.

4. After her third suicide attempt, fifteen-year-old Jana is sent to visit her genius-violinist cousin, whose own life is near the breaking point. A summer spent guerrilla gardening, staging a coup on a local soup kitchen, and forming a band called Superhero Cell Anomaly won’t fix everything . . . but it might help just enough.

5. In the year 2012 strange things are happening on the planet Earth. The magnetic poles have switched places, Nevada is oceanfront property, and suddenly everyone except thirteen-year-old Jason McGee is a superhero.

6. Martin's superpowers aren't the type to get written up in comic books. Nevertheless, being able to get cell phone coverage in the depths of New York's subway system has its advantages. But now the phone company has found out and wants answers--answers that Martin can't afford to give.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Tex is the charming, midnight pleasure you find in most women’s daydreams. [Whatever is in women's daydreams is found by them, not by me.] Unfortunately, age thirty-two will be the end of his life, due to a complex jinx in his genetics, giving him the rare condition dubbed the Superhero Cell Anomaly. It goes undetected until it strikes, causing the victim’s cells to burn up into pure energy at an accelerated rate, granting supernatural strength, speed, and awareness, [He's a combination of Superman, Flash and Spiderman. Also Aquaman if he can communicate with fish.] [Can he?] until there are simply no more cells to burn.

He flees for the hot Florida rays for his final months, [He flees? Who's chasing him?] [If my cells are burning up, I'm heading for Antarctica.] but he won’t find leisure there. An intimidating woman, of beauty, brawn, and brain, tracks him down, drudging [dredging] up one of his old cases from back when he was a cop, where he just happened to be in the right place at the right time, saving a little girl from getting run down by a van.

This woman needs to find that girl because it’s her beloved sister, and she has colossal powers that need to be controlled. The little girl lost her memory, so she cannot control her own powers, threatening all of existence. [Her powers are so great they threaten all existence, but she can't defeat a minivan?] Oh, and did Tex mention that the FBI took the girl into their custody, stashing her away in a secret location for experimentation? [Tex knows this, but the girl's sister doesn't? Why would Tex have kept up with the girl after the van incident?] That might make things difficult.

Uncharacteristically seduced by a beautiful woman in need, and testosterone-pumping adventure, Tex decides to help. He embarks on his last crusade, racing two clocks: the one of his death, and the one of the death of all mankind.

Superhero Cell Anomaly is complete at 90,000 words, ready and available at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.



What makes the woman think Tex knows where her sister is? How did the FBI know the girl had powers? How does the woman know Tex can help her? How is it the girl's powers can be controlled if she's with her sister but not if she's with the FBI's scientists? If the girl lost her memory, why would she trust Tex or her sister? You don't have to answer these questions, but you might want to simplify the query so these questions don't come up. For instance:

Ex-cop Tex Houston has a rare condition known as Superhero Cell Anomaly, which gives its victim temporary super powers . . . and then kills him. Tex has decided to live out his last few months catching rays on Miami Beach, but when beautiful Sydney Bristow asks him to help find her missing sister, Lucyliu--whose ability to make the sun go nova could wipe out mankind if it isn't held in check--Tex agrees to take on one last case.

Turns out Lucyliu is in the hands of the FBI's most diabolical scientists. Rescuing her won't be easy, but with boots, chaps, spurs, and a ten-gallon hat, Tex becomes . . . Cowboy, the superhero who dares to take on the Feds. Can Cowboy save Lucyliu before his cells burn up into pure energy . . . and before she wipes out all mankind?

I think you need to describe the girl's powers and how they threaten to eradicate all existence.

The first sentence isn't relevant to anything.

If the woman and girl have names, why not use them?


fairyhedgehog said...

I was so sure it was GTP #4!

Sorry I can't help, author, but EE's rewrite does look good.

Bee Magic Chronicles for Kids said...

EE - words are your tools for sure. Would your write my query for me? (Just kidding but I had to ask).

Gossip Cowgirl said...

Oooh, nice rewrite. Concise and compelling summaries are hard, but so effective when done well.

Matthew said...

I like the premise. It sounds like Crank only better.

Dave Fragments said...

I've been thinking about this for a while this morning. First, I think that the title Superhero Cell Anomaly focuses the reader on the wrong thing.

I remember the first season of the TV show HEROES and it was enjoyable because we were learning about all the characters thrown into new superpowers and personal struggles dealing with their families and the end of the world (or whatever you call that explosion). However, in subsequent seasons, all of the fun left the show because it got lost in the struggle for superpowers and technicalities. It's not the superpowers, it's the personal story of each characters that is important to the readers.

And I think that is what is missing from your query. Tex Houston is going to die. Boo Hoo. But before he dies, he has to find that little girl he saved years ago because if not, she's going to destroy the world after he's dead. Pity!
That part of the query doesn't work for me as you can probably tell by all of the sarcastic wallow I'm enjoying. (sorry)

What is the story behind Tex and the missing girl? Why are their paths crossing years later? Is it fate? Is it chance? What makes her so important to Tex? What compels him to save her? I think this is what is missing from your query.

There is an old Edmund O'Brien film titled DOA that shouldn't work. It's a dumb plot of an affair that results in murder to cover up the illicit sex. And worse, the main character opens the film telling the audience that he's going to die and the entire story will take place in flashbacks. YIKES, is that boring and depressing. Who would watch that? But you see, that's not the real story we see on the screen. That's the basic plot but not the story. In his death the viewer comes to know the the man, his hopes, his dreams and most important his faults.

Another film that functions like this is "Sunset Boulevard" which is about an aging actress shooting her n'er-do-well lover. That's the plot but that's not why we watch that movie. We watch because of the human tragedy in the story -- The aging actress who refuses to grow old, Joe Gillis' descent into a gigolo, his rejection of Betty and in the end, those characters break our hearts.

I think that's the problem with your query. The real story, the emotional story has yet to be revealed. Whatever that interaction is between Tex and the girl with the superpowers is the story.

Remember, we want to feel the characters. We want to love them.

So I may be all wet with this but that's my 2 cents.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

This query felt a little all over the place. There was a lot of information in the query, but not the information the reader needs. It needs to be tightened and have more of the right sort of information in it.

Steve Stubbs said...

I think the part about the yen gallon hat betrays a fundamental misunderstanding. The hero's name is Tex Houston, but he is an Eskimo from a village sixty miles outside Anchorage. He does not have a ten gallon hat and does not know what spurs are. He also does not understand why people expect him to have a Texas accent.

That is one reason all his cells are burning up.

Hanne said...

Evil Editor is brilliant.

The only thing I can think to add - I didn't understand why the now-grown-up little girl's deadly superpowers were a big deal, since presumably they're burning her up too and she'll be gone soon too. ?

Mother (Re)produces. said...

I find the characters flat. Impossibly beautiful woman, hot guy who is the stuff of female fantasies, kid with super powers out of control. (also not clear on why the loss of her memory means she can't control her powers.)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Much can be learned from EE's rewrite!

First, if you have a WTF disease that defies conventional science, best to leave out the particulars in the query. Over-describing bad science in a very non-technical way will likely not pass the dip test for agents who routinely deal with thrillers. It may work in the book after the appropriate setup, but given so much attention here on the query page, it kinda screams out at you (in that amateur sort of way).

Second, describing characters by using sterotyping adjectives that mainly focus on their looks isn't necessary. The woman has beauty, brawn and brain and is intimidating to Tex, yet he's seduced by her beauty to help? That she's beautiful -- since we're told that twice -- is about all we know of this lady.

Third, details don't take any more words in a query than vagueness, yet can mean the difference between a "yes" and a "no". Consider the redundancy in these two vague sentences: "...and she has colossal powers that need to be controlled. The little girl lost her memory, so she cannot control her own powers, threatening all of existence." Details help keep the query crisp.

Fourth, don't get mired in the details. Especially the ones that don't matter. Tricky things, those devil-in-the-details details.

I agree with Matthew that the premise is good. However, the writing itself needs to be tightened -- a lot; otherwise, I would worry that the actual ms would have the same flaws as the query.

What I'd like to see discussed here sometime is focus and handling for plot-driven stories vs. character-driven ones. Is there a difference? Should there be?

Unknown said...

I had one HUGE plausibility question from the start which killed this for me. If the Superhero Cell Anomaly goes undetected until it activates and kills the person, how does Tex know he has it and that it's about to go nova so he can take a vacation?

Focus on the people and the main story line - Tex is trying to save the little girl - the rest is window dressing. But, it does sound like it could be a good story.