Monday, March 29, 2010

Face-Lift 747

Guess the Plot

Unearthly Beginnings

1. Librarian Jeannie Flaherty knows there's something wrong when every new acquisition that comes into her library involves fog, spectral dogs, alien abductions, and Sasquatch. Could it be a sign that the zombie apocalypse really is happening? Also, undead hamsters.

2. Born into a superhuman race from the planet Iridium, Hugh Halogen really just wants to emigrate to Earth and start a career as a printer-fax salesman. But when he beats every sales quota on record, rival Morris Molybdenum threatens to expose Hugh’s origins unless he slacks off. Will Hugh triumph in his quest for mediocrity, or return to his . . . unearthly beginnings?

3. Molly Walker is the head writer for the Education Channel's hit alien hunting show "Unearthly Beginnings". Handsome Gary Brockman is the series' narrator, bringing Molly's words to life. He doesn't even acknowledge her existence. Maybe having the Zericolans abduct him will finally get him to notice her.

4. While excavating a Mayan temple, archeologist Saul Pannelli finds a chamber with circuitry embedded in its walls. When they hook the circuits to a generator, a beam of light shoots into space. Panic ensues.

5. Loner Charlie gets assaulted by a bully, and wakes up as prisoner of an evil unearthly monster. He escapes, but the evil is inside him, and Charlie must decide if it's worth unleashing the evil to kill the bully, even if it means the annihilation of the human race. He decides it is.

6. Medicinal pot-grower Marv Sweets didn't know what he was getting into when he tried to market hydroponic-grown weed under the brand name 'Unearthly Beginnings'. The Feds he can handle, but the organic foods fanatics can smell the chemical fertilizers he uses from miles away. When his greenhouses are wrecked by Birkenstock-clad vandals, Marv knows he's in a fight to the finish with foes who will stop at nothing to prevent scientifically grown pot.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Unearthly Beginnings:

When sixteen year old Charlie Wilkins falls into the hands of a deranged scientist, he leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life he knew forever. Charlie finds himself in the middle of a bittersweet nightmare as the transformations within him destroy everything he once hated and loved. [We don't really need this paragraph, as it's all covered in the next paragraph. You could keep the first sentence, adding, " . . . in my YA dark fantasy, Unearthly Beginnings," and just dump the second sentence which is too vague to interest us.]

Alone except for his mother, kindly old Mr. McFarland, and his paranormal artwork, [As "alone" means alone, the more exceptions you list the more we wonder why you used the word to begin with. I could say I was alone except for my family, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, the cast of Troy and the fans at a U2 concert in Wembley Stadium, but you wouldn't shed any tears for my life of solitude.] [Also, I wouldn't include artwork on a list of exceptions to his alone-ness. If he's alone except for his artwork, he's alone. A bonus advantage of leaving the artwork off the list is that you can put "and" after mother, so it won't sound like kindly old Mr McFarland is the mother.] [Also, why are we mentioning mother and kindly old Mr. McFarland up front, when they play no role in the rest of the query?] Charlie wants nothing more than to slip under the radar going unobtrusively from day to day. [No need to say both "slip under the radar" and "going unobtrusively from day to day," as they mean the same thing.] But, when he's captivated by the unattainable beauty, Amy Gold--girlfriend of the star quarterback--and his most relentless antagonist, Tom Sterling, [This makes it sound like Tom Sterling and the quarterback are two different people. And that Tom is the quarterback's relentless antagonist.] Charlie pours his emotions and passions into the creation of his own comic book with Amy in the starring role, and Tom as a grotesque snake-like predator. When it is discovered by Tom and his peers, Charlie is pursued and brutally assaulted. [You don't see The Joker and Lex Luthor assaulting the authors of Batman and Superman comics. I thought there was no such thing as bad publicity.] [Evil Editor comic books! Why have I never thought of that?] Left to his own fate, [You don't need that phrase, whatever it means. And start a new paragraph here.] Charlie awakens in a place of indescribable horror, and is forced to become the first human test subject of a monster. Although unaware of it, Charlie is face to face with a creature not quite human, [A monster.] who's [whose] race has been persecuted to near extinction and his [whose] use of Charlie will mark the start of his specie’s [species'] rebirth. Having escaped the inhuman man and his lab, [When did that happen? How long was he a test subject, three minutes?] Charlie attempts to resume his life--but finds that his life is no longer his own. A beast has taken residence within him, and he must fight for control of his body and mind. When his new abilities [What are his new abilities?] allow him to destroy everyone who'd ever hurt him, [i.e.Tom Sterling.] however, he gives himself over to the conversions. Summoning the last bit of will in him, Charlie seeks to end the evil that was unleashed but it might already be too late to save our race from a monster's Unearthly beginnings. [Once Charlie unleashes it, the evil beast is powerful enough to destroy the human race, yet this puny kid was able to hold it back?]

This dark fantasy novel for young adults, complete at 62,500 words, is available for review upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Is there a connection between the comic book and the monster? Like, did those who assaulted Charlie give him to the monster?

Calling the deranged scientist a monster and a creature may give the wrong idea. Does he look like a human?

Turn that long paragraph into three.

The monster (or his creation) has the power to destroy the human race, yet his own race has been persecuted to near extinction? By whom?


Stephen Prosapio said...

I have to go first? Ugh.

EE seemed to note most of the problems on here. The major problem is that there were so many of them it's hard to get any sense of what this story is about. Also there is a big "HUH?" section where it goes about a kid in school to some scientist/monster/whatever when there was no indication that was what this story is about.

Maybe it's just me but Amy Gold and Tom Sterling? Are they HS students or porn stars?

Fix those names. They as well as a lot of the wording comes across as cliche. This almost reads like an out-dated "what happened last week on flash gordon" type synopsis. There is a difference between drama and melodrama. "Brutally assaulted?" This is YA -- he was beat up.

"Charlie wants nothing more than to slip under the radar" GACK! Everyone wants something more than that...and if this character doesn't, he need not be the protaganist of a YA Fantasy novel! Protaganists protaganate, they don't let action around them just happen while they try to slip under the covers. That doesn't work.

So what does Charlie want? To become a world class artist? To work for Marvel? To win Amy? Figure that out and then figure out what's blocking him from that and go from there.

Chicory said...

This story sounds interesting, but I found the query a bit confusing. I thought Charlie was alone with his mom, neighbor, and artwork after escaping the monster. Then, toward the end of the query, he escapes the monster a second time. It took me a minute to realize most of the query was a flash-back.

Since Charlie's kidnapping seems to be the inciting incident I think that's where the query should start. Then you can spend more time explaining how getting kidnapped by a monster destroys Charlie's life.

Dave Fragments said...

Try starting at Charlie's encounter with the monster and his "infection"... I hesitate to use the word impregnate.

After being beaten by the quarterback for dating head cheerleader, wannabee comic book artist Charlie finds himself confronting an unearthly monster who wants to use him to repopulate the world in the monster's image. Charlie flees but soon discovers the monster growing inside his body, making him stronger, deadlier and inhuman -- the progenitor of a new and alien race.

That's a short version of what I think your story is all about. It's not enough for the query but it gives the reader a hint at the character, his predicament and what he might do to save himself and the world.

_*rachel*_ said...

Wait, what?

I'm confused. You had this angsty teen thing going, needing only a little cutting, and then WHAM! monsters, and you're skipping over the plot like a rock over water.

Be more clear on what happens with the monster, and make a smoother transition. Right now it reads like you changed channels; pull details of the two parts together.

Submit a revised version and we'll look at it.

Tom Bridgeland said...

The query is too busy. Cut out anything that isn't directly important in the main plot.

Heather M said...

What you've got going for you is that you're giving your character a tough choice. Tough choice = plot. That's good.

That's if EE and I understood correctly, because that part is darn confusing. Charlie apparently "gives himself over to the conversions" (i.e. lets the monster get the upper hand inside him?) in order to hurt his enemy, but in the next sentence, without your mentioning a change of heart, he's using his last bit of will to "end the evil that was unleashed." Now I THINK that means he decides to let the monster control him and then changes his mind. (And honestly once he's given in to it, it's too powerful for him or realism goes out the window, so you may need to change that. It's often impossible to go back on a decision. That's what makes decisions dramatic.) Anyway, that choice--is it worth unleashing this dangerous evil to hurt the people who hurt me?--needs to be the heart of your new query. And also your new book, when you revise. Remember--ALL writers revise. ESPECIALLY published writers.

For the query--you don't need so long setting up the situation. The shy, small geek secretly in love with the beauty, her big bully boyfriend--it's well-known stuff. You don't need "When he's captivated by the unattainable beauty"--he's probably been captivated by her forever! It never made any difference--until her boyfriend found his comic book. So reduce all that to one sentence or two: "Charlie, a shy loner, draws a comic book in which the unattainable beauty Amy Gold is his, and her quarterback boyfriend Tom Sterling is a loathsome snake. Unfortunately, Tom finds it." Then get on to making the mad-scientist/monster stuff a lot clearer and easier to understand, and end by focusing on the choice. Will he or won't he.

Hope I'm not being too directive.

_*rachel*_ said...

Heather M, I think it all depends on what exactly he lets the monster have. If he's still got enough scraps of free thought and willpower, I can see him winning in the end.

That's actually a pretty compelling idea--having to struggle against something you previously supported/gave in to. It's just as, if not more, compelling if he does it on purpose because there's no other way to win in the end.

Author, is this something that happens in your book? I didn't catch it the first time through, but, looking back, I think I see it. If this does happen in your book, put it in your next draft.

I'm still confused, but now I'm intrigued. There might be more behind this story than I first thought.

Rose said...

A big thank you to Evil Editor, and everyone who posted comments. I came here for insight, and that’s what I got. When you write a novel you know the story so well that when it gets time to write the query you forget that your reader has no such familiarity with the story. To answer Rachel’s question, yes Charlie at first gives into his new powers, which are werewolf like in nature. However, when he feels himself losing his humanity, and starts .hurting the people he loves Charlie decides to seek out the Doctor, and stop him from succeeding in continuing his work. You’ve all given me a lot to think about, and I hope you’ll all be kind enough to comment on my revision, which I’m working on now.

Joe G said...

Heather gave a really good critique, I think. Honestly, I don't really understand what all the stuff with Tom Sterling the Star Quarterback and Amy Gold the Unattainable Beauty have to do with Charlie being possessed by a monster. It kind of sounds like you have two different ideas going on here. On the one hand there's a slightly cartoonish element in the naming system and the whole teenager drama stuff, and on the other hand you're writing an epic superhero fantasy. You need to be more clear about what the tone of the novel is so the person reading the query letter feels confident that the story goes together.

Also you should probably start with him being possessed by the monster. It feels like it comes out of left field after the query starts the plot falsely several times. Start with the hook and introduce all the other stuff along the way as it is pertinent to Charlie's central dilemma, and try to keep it simple. If Charlie's dilemma is compelling, you don't really need to oversell it.

Rose said...

Okay, here is the new, and hopefully improved version of my query. I think it might make more sense if I take out the first sentence, but wanted to get everyone's opinion first.

Dear Evil Editor,

When sixteen year old Charlie Wilkins falls into the hands of a deranged monster, he leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life he knew forever.

Charlie had always been a loner, and a geek whose paranormal artwork was a source of pride, and an escape from Tom Anderson's, and Carl Torrez's constant bullying. When Charlie falls for Tom's girlfriend, the beautiful Amy Gold, he's inspired to create his own comic with Amy as his benevolent queen, and Tom as a loathsome snake, their most hated enemy. Enraged at the discovery of Charlie's comic, Tom, and Carl follow Charlie into the wooded
trail leading to his home, run his bike off the road, and plunge Charlie down into a steep canyon.

Charlie awakens in a place of indescribable horror and is forced to become
the first human test subject of a monster. Although unaware of it, Charlie
is face to face with a creature of old, a loup-garou whose race has been
persecuted to near extinction and whose use of Charlie will mark the start
of his species' rebirth. Thinking Charlie unconscious, the aging werewolf
loosens Charlie's restraints. Seizing the opportunity, Charlie runs but
when the old man only laughs at his escape, Charlie feels the first pangs of
real terror. Even as he flees, he can feel himself changing.

A beast has taken residence within him, and he must fight for control of his
Body and mind. When his new abilities allow him to destroy everyone who'd
ever hurt him, however, he gives himself over to the conversions.

His savage new nature grows stronger with every passing day and every taste
of blood. Now, no one is safe not even the people he had once loved. When
he hurts innocent people and those who'd meant the most to him, Charlie summons the last bit of will left in him and sets out to stop the ancient werewolf from continuing his work. Charlie seeks to end the evil that has been
unleashed whatever the cost. But, it might already be too late to save our race from a monster's Unearthly beginnings.

This dark fantasy novel for young adults, complete at 62,500 words, is available for review upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Anonymous said...


We're seeing a lot of queries with the same problem - there's too much detail about the first chapter and only vague suggestions about the rest of the story.

Get rid of Tom and Amy. Start with Charlie turning into a monster, and then actually tell us what happens to him next.

Who does he hurt? What goes wrong? What does he do to save himself? What happens in the rest of the story?

_*rachel*_ said...

Go with what Joseph says, and make sure you double-check your spelling and punctuation before you send it out.