Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Face-Lift 784

Guess the Plot

One Man's Treasure

1. An archaelology professor desperate for tenure. A son trying to pay his father's debt to international arms dealers. A monk on a mission from God. Everyone wants to get his hands on St. Peter's beard comb.

2. A sweeping, generational tale that begins with one man and a metal detector on a lonely, wind-swept beach and ends with a four page sentence that can't fail to impress the Booker committee.

3. Systems analyst David Schultz can't believe his luck when he meets beautiful nurse Jenny Heart. But Jenny doesn't understand David's intense love of Star Wars memorabilia and insists he sell his entire collection on eBay. Is getting a real girlfriend worth . . . One Man's Treasure?

4. One man's trash is another man's treasure, or so the saying goes. Ted thinks he's in luck when he finds incriminating photos in a Hollywood mogul's trashcan, but the newspapers aren't the only ones who are interested.

5. One man's treasure is another man's trash, or so the saying goes. But when the existence of an entire planet depends on that treasure, it's trash to no man. Well, except maybe men from another planet. Who, naturally, will stop at nothing to get it, even if it turns out to be trash.

6. When the town of Nutville closes the local dump and opens a waste transfer station, "One Man" Dooley is caught breaking in after hours in defiance of regulations protecting other men's trash.

7. Desmond ignores warnings that it's dangerous to keep hoarding newspapers, tin cans, and lumber. Because when the sheer mass of his condemned house warps time and space around it, he'll be able to travel into a neighboring dimension -- he'll show them -- he'll show them all!

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor

I am seeking representation for my science fiction novel, One Man’s Treasure [That's a rather pessimistic title to give your novel.] (80,000 words).

Spacers visit Arrax’s world every few years. They stay long enough to reprovision their ships with essentials like water, [liquor and women,] and then move on.

This time the spacers are back early. This time they’re searching for treasure.

For Arrax, the local leader, their reappearance couldn’t have come at a worse time. Salle, the head of his spy network, has just been murdered. He himself is weakened by poison meant for Salle.

[Arrax: I've been poisoned! Where's the cook?
Cook: You've been poisoned? Shit, I meant to poison the head of your spy network.
Arrax: Well, next time be more careful.]

Not only that, the woman he and Salle defeated fifteen years ago has returned, and seems determined to resume the wars she started back then. [One woman started multiple wars? What does it take to start a war in this place, eye contact?]

Treasure hunting spacers are the last thing he needs, especially not ones looking for Callan’s fabled treasure. [Who's Callan? You need to tell us what Callan's fabled treasure is. If for no other reason than it's hard to write the true Guess the Plot without knowing what it is that's motivating all the characters.] [Also, do the spacers have a treasure map? Because searching an entire world for a specific treasure seems hopeless.] Because one man’s treasure is not necessarily another’s, and Arrax knows that if the spacers find what they are looking for he and his people are doomed.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


You've described the situation that exists on Arrax's world when the spacers show up. That's all backstory. Your main plot is what happens after the spacers show up. We want to know some of that.

It seems odd, if Arrax got the poison intended for Salle, that Arrax lived and Salle died. Was everyone trying to murder Salle?

Without knowing what the treasure is, we fail to appreciate the urgency of stopping the spacers from finding it. Telling us they're doomed isn't enough, especially as we don't even know if they're good guys or villains. Can you say something that makes us care about Arrax and his people, and tells us what's at stake?


Anonymous said...

"Spacers visit Arrax’s world every few years. They stay long enough to reprovision their ships with essentials like water"

This is redundant, assume your reader knows that water is an essential and use this space to add something more interesting about Spacers and why we should care who they are or what they do while they are on Arrax's world.

Tell us why the spacers are so dangerous, give us a reason to be on Arrax's side and feel the way he feels about them.

You could easily combine the information from your first three paragraphs to create a more interesting statement that includes less back story but will get the important information across. Spend more time giving us a reason to care about who Arrax is and why his planet should be protected from these spacer people!

It would also be nice to know what kind of sparkly trinket Callan's treasure is, make the reader want it, make us understand the need for Arrax to protect it, why is it special.

150 said...

*listlessly holds up a sign, Wile E. Coyote style, that says BE SPECIFIC*

J.M. said...

Why is this story called "One Man's Treasure"? The old saying has something about trash in it. This story appears to be about a treasure to all men (Callan, Arrax, the spacers, perhaps that belligerent female) -- no dual-use, one-man's-trash stuff.

This is more than a quibble. The title announces a story that hinges on the ever-wonderful situational irony, but it turns out to be something else.

Anonymous said...

What Evil says.

Feels/reads like the writer is bored with his/her work to me.

150 - hilarious. W. E. Coyote.. hehehe. I personally love the Acme rocket bit. Strapped to his butt, fizzles. Goofy look. Ka-blam! Bibi

Dave Fragments said...

Please tell me that Arrax's World is a tropical paradise with vast green jungles and huge oceans. Because if Arrax's World is a desert planet, or a western plains type planet, you should change the name because of this voiceover:

the spice exists on only one planet in the entire universe. A desolate, dry planet with vast deserts. Hidden away within the rocks of these deserts are a people known as the Fremen, who have long held a prophecy that a man would come, a messiah who would lead them to true freedom. The planet is Arrakis, also known as Dune.

Anonymous said...

The world's local leader Arrax is already understaffed, fending off a war and recovering from an assassination attempt when the Spacers returned. Then, things went from bad to worse.

The Spacers usually stay just long enough to resupply their ships but they've returned early and it doesn't take Araxx long to figure out they are searching for Callun's Holy Grail, (legendary treasure). Treaure, if found, could very well destroy the world.

Now . . . . something has to happen to stop the Spacers because they are (tentacle, slimy monsters with the ability to make zombies out of us all. They are most likely part vampire as well). . . . Araxx is the only one that can do it because he's . . . .got super hero powers, a handy, loyal, but cleverly funny side-kick and a party of five willing to do whatever it takes to save humanity.

The only question that remains is what really is the Treasure? Or do they have enough time? Or is Callun really worth saving? Or . . . . ?

Stephen Prosapio said...

I'm not sure if that last post was by the author or not. The original query as does that post sounds like an episode of Firefly...which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's dropping us into the story seeming to expect us to know what's going on. That's not how it works.

Also by opening with the spacers it seems like they're the lead characters. You don't intro Arrax until after your hook and then it's only to say that he didn't die by poison when he wasn't supposed to die. We don't know why he was weakened. We don't know who or why Salle was murdered or if that's a good or bad thing.

And why if they could kill the leader would someone *try* to poison the lead spy?

Just because the spacers may be the inciting incident in the book, it doesn't mean it need be the opening hook.

Something like this hooks better and leads into the story:

Having survived an assassination attempt that claimed the life of his top spy, Arrax isn't prepared for war--but it's coming. At the same time, galactic treasure hunters called Spacers arrive to strip the planet of a treasure that Arrax's home planet of ___ needs to survive.

When (plot point one) leads to (conflict), Arrax may never (get whatever it is he wants)....

Whoever wrote #1 GTP got a nice chuckle from me!

batgirl said...

Thank you, arhooley, that bothered me too. Since the query needs a top-to-bottom revamp, maybe it's petty of me to point out that the 'not' in 'especially not ones looking for' should be cut for sense.
Well. Guess I'm petty.

This could be fun, in a one-damned-thing-after-another C.J. Cherryh space opera way, but until you let us know what happens, it's difficult to tell.

_*rachel*_ said...

Spacers: We're here to find treasure.

Arrax: Great. Now could you get out? I've got my ex on the other line, and she's trying to start another war.

Spacers: But we need your help. Where's Callan's fabled treasure?

Arrax: Oh, you mean the giant diamond that houses this world's entire life force? Uh, no idea.
Pare it down to the 'war on two (or three) fronts' concept, and flesh it out from there. Make it zing.

Jeb said...

There might be a story I'd enjoy in here somewhere (goram Firefly ripoffs), but your query isn't doing it justice.

Drop Salle; he's dead and therefore non-essential to the query. Start with Arrax's weakened state and show the galaxy piling on him.

"Lord/King/Thane Arrax, already weakened by an assassination attempt, confronts twin threats to his realm: a woman general named ??? who has warred against his kingdom in the past, and a band of treasure-hunting spacers who, if successful at finding the legendary Callum's Codpiece, might inadvertently destroy not just Arrax's kingdom but the whole planet."

Then what does he do?

M. G. E. said...

My problem is actually with the premise.

It's tough to believe that there's anything important about a planet that gets visited every few years--for water.

You characterize the lead as the "local leader" making me think there's, at best, one street and one town on the entire planet and he's sheriff. If you said he was chancellor of the planet's unified government, that would be quite different.

Also, the title -is- poor, but it's especially poor because it basically gives away the ending of that plot thread. So, the treasure is a gotcha-moment. The reader's expecting to find it's the equivalent of trash, to follow the saying. Not good.

Much better to ramp tension of what the treasure really is and keep your surprise just that.

Plus, the "treasure isn't what you think it is" trope is overused, cliche.

So then, after implying this world is nothing special, you start talking about a spy network and people that can start wars. It's a total mismatch of scope and proportion.

Lastly, what sort of doom can there be for finding this treasure? They live in a universe where space-travel is routine. Let's say the secret treasure blows up the planet if you take it, can it get much worse than that? So, leave the planet. How are these people dependent on this treasure for survival on this backwater planet?

Maybe you should leave that detail for the story, but I'm genuinely curious how you frame that aspect and still keep things within the realm of the reasonable. So at this point I expect the treasure to be an unreasonable thing that will end up causing me to roll my eyes.

Not sure you want to raise your reader's cynicism like that in a query.

The author said...

Thanks everyone. It's amazing how obvious things are when they're pointed out, no matter how long you fret over them beforehand.

You've given me some good ideas. Especially for how my query starts. It's improved out of sight already.

Thanks again.

Unknown said...

"They come, they eat, they leave" (Bug's Life) except when they don't.

Jeb had a nice thought on how to introduce your conflict.

I'm looking forward to the re-write.

Joe G said...

The plot implies some weird cognitive dissonance. This is apparently a planet that is so unimportant nobody ever stops there but for water (an entire PLANET?! Is it an abandoned planet? Is it more of a moon or something? Even a moon would be pretty damn big). Yet apparently there's a dude who lives on this planet who's not only protecting the most important treasure in the world (well, a very unimportant world--why would we care if something destroyed it?), but apparently has been vitally involved in not one but several wars.

You give us a paragraph of intrigue that doesn't seem to have any connection to the plot beyond someone is fucking with Arrax.

I think your descriptions could more personality, and you could string the plot together better. Just for fun...

Arrax lives on the near abandoned planet Snorflax, known in the galaxy only as a convenient place to stop for water and supplies on the way to greener planets, a galactic "pitstop" upon which he has built a second life for himself, controlling the mostly sleepy affairs on Snorlax with a secret underground network of spies and lackeys, his right hand woman Whatsherface at his side. *PREMISE*

One day a group of spacers (known as, say, the G-Force, or sent by King Lardface of the planet Fatbutt, or something) arrives but does not leave in the usual turn around. They seem to be doing little but idle in town and spend money in the local whorehouses. Even as the days stretch on and they remain, Arrax has little concern to spare because lately everything in his life is going to shit. Someone tried to poison him, something else happened, and Whatsherface has sadly turned up quite dead. *CONFLICT*

To make matters worse, an old acquaintance from the past, the warmongering IForgotHerNameToo turns up with a proposition for Arrax: "It's been a few months. Why not start another war?" *MORE CONFLICT*

But even with all of this going on, Arrax soon comes to realize that the G-Force has a more sinister agenda than seeing up every local skirt. Led to Snorlax by a rumor and a prayer, they've been quietly searching for Arrax's greatest treasure--and greatest secret--which he has protected for twenty years (or three if your hero is a 16 year old vampire); the ORB, with the power to destroy worlds. Abraxas must struggle to prevent IForgotHerNameToo from starting up yet another one of her tiresome wars while protecting the as yet undiscovered ORB, even while unknown forces seek to end his life. *SUCCINCT SUMMARY AT END*

M. G. E. said...

Joe G: That's actually pretty good. Bravo. I'd say it's just about perfectly structured and just needs polish.

batgirl said...

I vote for Rachel's version.

Author, you're a good sport - remember you can bring your revision in for more comments.

Bee Magic Chronicles for Kids said...

There's some good feedback here.
I found the reference to a spy network, wondering why a spy network would be necessary for a planet that hasn't got much going on (water).