Thursday, February 18, 2010

Face-Lift 731

Guess the Plot

After the Apocalypse

1. It's dark, it smells bad, and it's impossible to get a decent cup of coffee.

2. Having successfully wiped out most of humankind, the devils throw the best party of all time, themed “After the Apocalypse”. Party favors? Charred human remains. Then the last human survivors, riding elephants a la Alexander the Great, crash the party with disastrous precision. Can Moorpunchspikeeg save her party and her devilmates?

3. For centuries the tribes have been dying out, partly because they continue sending their best warriors into battle against killer robots on behalf of purple-haired people that don't even know the tribes exist. It's kind of like if a pocket of French soldiers were still fighting the Napoleonic wars. Against robots.

4. The world should have ended in zombies, kudzu, and cockroaches. Then came Harry Swatski's dreidelmeister6000 -- the 'it' item for Christmas. Now 99.9999% of the population is under the age of seven, fruit-flavored rain and marshmallow men dominate the streets, and Harry just found the last chocolate AK-47.

5. The TV show "After the Apocalypse" pairs clumsy, earnest, Hollywood has-been Axl Hudson with brusque Cherokee poet-turned-survivalist Dana “Singing Blackbird” Davis, and drops them in the middle of nowhere with a camcorder and a Bowie knife. Adventure (and maybe romance) will ensue! Well, that was the plan, anyway...

6. Rictor Steinwick is insane. The last returning MIA from Vietnam, he has been forced to listen the lyrics of the 1976 song “After The Lovin'” by Engelbert Humperdinck, every day all day long. Now, returning to his post at NORAD Rictor has the power to end the world as we know it. But what will he do . . . after the apocalypse?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Abandoning someone injured is a death sentence under tribe law, but Naranja still almost doesn't help a plane crash survivor. The injured girl has unnatural purple hair, enough evidence to condemn her as a country person. That's more than enough reason for Naranja Verde, leader of Fourth Tribe, to abandon her, death penalty be damned. Though the countries haven't interfered in tribe affairs for two hundred years, the hungry summers, cold winters, and deaths caused by their 'help' live on in tribe memory. Besides, [Besides what?] the Challenge is soon: an annual event where the oldest and strongest tribe members fight metal monsters for their right to exist- and the right of the country they represent, by proxy. It's the reason war ended. The last thing they need is complications. [If the tribes hate country people, and the countries haven't been interfering with tribes for 200 years, I don't see why tribe members represent countries in these fights with metal monsters. What's in it for them?]

But complications are all they get when the country girl's bones are set and they learn the countries have forgotten the tribes exist. [If the tribes believed that the Challenge results determined whether the countries they represented had the right to exist, didn't it occur to them that the countries would at least send some observers to the Challenge?] When Naranja's tribe sends the girl back to her country, she carries with her the news of five tribes, at least one made up entirely of children living in caves. Worse, [Worse than what?] due to an ancient system and high death rates, tribes don't have kids naturally; the tribes are formed from kidnapped babies, some of them royalty with colorful tattoos. Like Naranja's green 'birthmark.'

This year, Fourth Tribe has to deal with more than the usual wood shortages and wild animals as the countries decide the tribes need to come home. Naranja's only sixteen, and right now she's sure any of the dead- from the former Naranja Prendo to her closest friend Listo- could do better than her. [If the dead can do better at something than you can, you need to find a new trade.] But as she struggles with bears, countries, and the ever-present complaints of her tribe, she is determined only that no more will die.

After the Apocalypse is a complete 70,000 word YA novel. It should appeal to fans of The Hunger Games and The Other Side of the Island. May I send the complete manuscript?



If the countries don't know the tribes exist, who is providing the metal monsters? Does each tribe build a battle-bot for the Challenge? Wouldn't it be more fair and more humane if the metal monsters fought each other instead of the oldest tribe members?


Okay, I'm back. I just spent three hours on YouTube watching Battlebots and Robot Wars videos.

This information isn't well-organized, but as it's mostly setup, it's better to condense it into a three-sentence paragraph than to rework the whole thing. Then, once you've set up the situation, you'll have plenty of room for the plot. The situation appears to be that for 200 years the tribes have been sending their best warriors into battle against killer robots on behalf of the countries. Then they discover the countries know nothing about this.

The plot involves Naranja's goal. Is it to end the Challenge? Is it to maintain the tribal existence rather than returning to the countries? How does she go about achieving her goal, who/what's she up against, what's at stake, what's her plan? The tattoo would make a good finish for the plot summary.

I'm not crazy about referring to the countries as "the countries." Are they actual countries? Do they have names? Do the tribes live inside the countries?


150 said...

I stopped reading RIGHT at the point where your main character was named Orange Green.

Word ver = Siveryte. Now THAT's a fantasy name.

Anonymous said...

Your first sentence is awkwardly constructed. The following sentences, in varying degrees, are as well, but you've got to get that first sentence under control.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

This was really confusing to me. It seemed like there are a lot of details that make sense in the story but are out of place in the query. "when the country girl's bones are set", purple hair = country girl, colorful tattoos, kidnapped babies. These things just muddy the water. I want to know more about the conflict and why it's important. This is just trying to tell me too much.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone.

- The names were silly.

- The geo-politics were confusing.

- I did not detect a clear plot.

- Your protagonist did not grab me.

Jeb said...

Hmm... human(oids) must face killer robots every X years? At first glance I thought 'Cylons'. At second glance I was just confused and skimmed the rest in a fleeting search for coherence. There might be a good story under there, but this query is not showing it to us.

Stephen Prosapio said...

"as she struggles with bears"

BEARS? As in the Chicago Bears? Are these the colorful warriors of the midway of which thee speaketh??? I had to read the query 3 times in order to figure out (maybe) where the heck the bears fit in.

Sometimes less is more. This query says a lot of things, but I have no clue what the story is about. Worse than that, things are being described in reverse of what they need to be. You have a discovery of kidnapped children without anyone noticing the children have been kidnapped. Without explanation that makes no sense--much like the Chicago Bears offensive game plan.


Marissa Doyle said...

I think the writer of the letter is suffering from "too close to the story" syndrome--it all makes perfect sense to him/her, but not to anyone who hasn't already read it. It happens to almost all of us at some point.

Author, consider starting again, and rewrite this from your main character's POV (Naranja? I wasn't sure if she was the protag or not). Let us know who she is, what she wants, what she's facing. That's the core of the story.

Word ver: beppoodi. Please don't use that as a fantasy name unless you've got a very peculiar book.

K said...

I think it would help if you started with the main plot, and only mentioned the other components in passing. Concentrate on what really matters (the contest, right?)

At this point, you only need to give a basic rundown of your society. Not a full on tutorial. I think if you left a lot of the details about this world out, the query would work better at getting attention, and you'd have an easier time summarizing it.

Xiexie said...

For me, the first sentence had the oddest amount of verbiage: still almost doesn't help. Let's change that to ...Naranja hestitated to help....

I agree with most of what's been said and I'm profoundly confused. Also as an hispanohablante the names feel kitschy: Orange Green, Ready, and Garment (or some version of comprender or prender). Prendo and Listo aren't so bad, but Naranja Verde just kills 'em.

Word ver: gingl --> Jingle's bashful, awkward cousin.

_*rachel*_ said...

This setup confuses me. I'd do two things to clear it up: condense it, and capitalize Countries (or change it to Nations). Currently, "country girl" brings to mind country music, cowboy hats, and the FFA. (That's not a totally unjustified stereotype; I can name at least 2 people from my high school who fit it.)

wv: tionarti, another pretty good fantasy name

Adam Heine said...

The query is almost entirely world-building info, but it doesn't give the reader a reason to care.

Focus the query on the protagonist, what she wants, what she has to do to get it, and what will happen if she doesn't. Include ZERO world-building info in the first draft, then go back and drop in only those details required to make the protag's story make sense.

Also, as soon you mentioned the Challenges, I thought "Hunger Games clone." That's not something you want someone to think. Similar, yes. Clone, no. Show us what makes your story unique.

Eika said...

Thanks, everyone.

I wrote this query, and I admit, I'm going to be in a corner licking my wounds for a few days before I try to tackle it again. I really suck at queries- this was draft nine, and I let EE get a hold of it because I suspected my critiquers were too familiar with it (even the ones who hadn't read the story) to be objective any more.

Ouch. Ironically, the Spanish words as names are a plot point; perhaps I should mention that somewhere, instead of a lot of the other babble? Either way, I'll be starting from scratch now.

Anonymous said...

Yep, I couldn't get past the name of the MC either.

Naranja Verde? Who wouldn't help someone injured because they have purple hair? Really?

Eika said...

Okay, here's a revised version. Much revised.


Dear Evil Editor,

When a plane crashes in the woods and Naranja, the leader of Fourth Tribe, finds an injured country girl, she almost abandons the girl to the elements, death penalty or no. There are other, far more important things to worry about: the Challenge is in a week, they're low on firewood, and there's been a cave-in at the nursery. But eventually, Naranja hauls the girl home.

If they didn't have enough problems before, they do now. Keeping that girl alive requires their healer to pull all-nighters, a health risk when they can least afford one, and the seven-year-olds enrage a bear while gathering firewood. Things go further downhill when the country girl refuses to believe someone Naranja's age could be their real leader, and reveals the reason the tribes have been safe from 'help' for so long is the countries forgot about them- and they're not willing to listen to any explanations.

Explanations like how the tribes were set up as an alternative to war, and when a tribe goes down, so does the country it represents. Useful knowledge, like that twenty of the tribes died out directly due to country involvement. Information they could guess: with the death rate so high, tribes are given children taken from countries- babies the countries thought were kidnapped. All of it's crucial. To them, none of it matters.

The countries think the tribes need to come home. They're willing to use every resource available. Naranja thinks they need to stop trying, because she has one resource they don't: desperation. There will be no 'help'.

After The Apocalypse is a YA novel complete at 70,000 words. It should appeal to fans of The Hunger Games and The Other Side of the Island. May I send the complete manuscript?


Tom Bridgeland said...

Eika, I am sorry. This is not quite but almost as confusing as the first version. Maybe it is less confusing because I read the first version too so I can guess a bit where you are going.

In the first paragraph you mention a death penalty, then drop that unexplained.

Later, you say that the countries want to help. Why? Why don't the tribes want help, if they are in such bad shape? Either leave it out or paint a brief one-sentence explanation.

Keep going! Queries are hard. Mine is in the queue now.

K said...

Here's how I'd go about this: You say it's similar to Hunger Games? The only thing we know about their world from the "back flap" is that there's an annual, mandatory competition to the death. The specifics weren't told to us until we actually read the book.

I think you need to do some of that with your query. Zoom in on what REALLY matters in the end. Whatever you think your most gripping story line is, run with it, and ignore most every sub plot/world building detail. At least for the query.

Steve Wright said...

I'm afraid this is still pretty confusing - like Marissa Doyle said about the first version, it sounds as if it would make sense, if we were familiar with the story - but we're not.

I'm getting the impression that these "tribes" are representing the "countries" in some sort of proxy war thing - is that correct? If so, you might want to describe this explicitly in the query. I'm also getting the impression that the people in these tribes are very young. (Aside: seven-year-olds fighting bears? I'd be inclined to bet on the bears.)

Still not clear on what actually happens in the story, beyond Orange Green rescuing Purple Hair. "She has one resource they don't: desperation." What is she desperate about?

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Well, this is getting closer but it's still hard to figure out the plot from all the extraneous detail.

I feel your pain, Eika. Sci fi and fantasy queries are a bitch to write since there's so much explanation needed. If I were you, I'd figure out how to pitch this in one or two sentences before going any further, i.e. Centuries ago, the countries agreed to fight their wars by proxy, sending tribes of their best warriors into the wilderness. Now Naranja is preparing to lead the Fourth Tribe against the Challenge, only to discover that the countries have forgotten their existence... Really boil it down to the essence of the plot and then build out your query from there.

The thing you're still missing is why Naranja and the tribes don't want to return to the countries. Wouldn't that be a good thing to not have to fight to death every year?

Anonymous said...

I'm still very confused.

1. The countries have forgotten about the tribes. This I understand.

2. The countries collapse when the tribes lose a Challenge. This makes no sense in light of Item 1.

3. The countries are sending babies to the tribes.This makes no sense in light of Item 1.

4. The countries want the tribes to come home.This makes no sense in light of Item 1 and Item 3.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I think you can chaulk this one up to another query attempt that doesn't work. No worries, Edison failed thousands of times on his way to success.

After two query versions I still don't know what your story is about, so it's going to be hard for me to offer suggestions on how to fix it. There is a formula on one of the agent websites, Nathan Bransford on how to structure elements of your story in a query. My other suggestion is to go to a library or book store and read at least 100 descriptions on the backs of books to get a sense of how they boil their complex stories down to simple and very interesting elements. There must be a way for you to do that with your story. Good luck!

Heather M said...

What if, instead of writing a new query, you get some practice by simply telling us in one sentence what Naranja's goal is?

Oh, and--really, the rest of y'all don't like Orange Green? I thought it was intriguing...

Heather M said...

And please, please remember a query is written for complete strangers who've never read your book, and lose the "country girl" phrase in the next draft. Absolutely everyone who reads this in your query for the first time thinks you mean someone from the rural USA. Or realizes you can't possibly mean that and is confused and annoyed. "A girl from the countries" (or better yet Countries) would do just fine.

Heather M said...

Hey Eika, don't give up. I've been checking back here every now and then to see if you've said anything new, but there's nothing, and I just want to say, don't give up. I like your story. I'm intrigued by your world, and I already like your character for Pete's sake--maybe there's something about a teenage girl tearing her hair out with all the problems of leading a tribe, I dunno. Anyway, I want to read it.

So you see, there's nothing wrong with everything you've done so far, in the grand scheme of things: it's all been quite good writing, and it's hooked at least one person here! It's just that you're having difficulty performing the precise task of writing a query; you may need a better grasp of the way in which a query is different from, for instance, the blurb on the back of the book. Before you try again, and write excellent book-jacket copy and frustrate yourself because it's not a good query, study a little more and see if you can see the distinction. But keep trying, because I want to buy your book someday!