Monday, September 20, 2010

Face-Lift 823

Guess the Plot

The Green Tower

1. Professional assassin Lianne heads off on vacation, only to have the airship she's on crash. Her investigation leads to a megalomaniac in a green tower who wants to destroy the energy infrastructure of the empire. Looks like her next job will be a freebie; no one ruins her vacation. Also, exploding appliances.

2. A lonely stretch of Michigan highway. A moonless night. A teenager's Ford breaks down. She's uses her cell phone to summon help. Soon flashing yellow lights appear in the darkness. Will all be well, or will she become the next victim of... The Green Tower?

3. Savvy campaign manager Sasha Stevens prides herself on her ability to whip any idiot into a polished political candidate. Until she's approached by stubborn - yet sexy - environmental activist Landon Davis, who wants her to turn him into the next senator of Texas. Can she heat up his image without melting the polar ice caps of her heart?

4. Manny watches every day while people enter and leave the big green glass skyscraper across the street. With no emblem or name anywhere on the building, he's sure it contains an alien breeding farm. He has to get someone to believe him before it's too late. But how can he get these idiot doctors and nurses to listen?

5. Robinette was supposed to be the next Rapunzel. Unfortunately her hair, lovely as it is, simply refuses to grow past the middle of her back. Lucky for Rob she's got a green thumb and a couple potted plants... Also, fertilizer.

6. Belinda is a liberated princess--at least, mentally. As she tries to scheme her way out of her dragon-guarded tower, she realizes she can change the world from where she is. Goodbye, crackling fires and sputtering torches, hello solar panels and fluorescent lighting! This tower's going green!

7.The fae folk of Navga'ron draw their strength and magic from the Green Tower built in the olden times by the ancient Roth. Now the descendants of Roth seek to destroy the tower to retake the magic. The fae folk must find their queen, who was sent into protective exile as an infant. Sure enough, she's in an American high school.

Original Version

Dear Mighty Evil Editor,

Lianne Stracker, professional assassin, needs a holiday. [That's the good thing about being self-employed. You can get away whenever you need to.] But when the airship she’s on crashes near a small mountain town, its engines the victim of magical sabotage, she turns her pleasure cruise into a working vacation.

Her investigations into the causes of the crash [Is everyone who survived the crash conducting their own investigation, or just Lianne?] lead her to an ancient green tower that appears to be the source of the malfunctions, and on to uncover a plot masterminded by a dissident retired researcher. He is intent on destroying her homeland’s energy infrastructure, convinced the entire political system is corrupt and that violence is the only way to force societal change. [She seems to know a lot about this guy's motivation.] [Frankly, I don't care why my TV and microwave don't work, just get the frigging power back on.]

Killing people without payment is generally frowned upon as unprofessional, [That's why you never see the term "professional serial killer."] and besides, perhaps this dissident has a point; Lianne knows first-hand that the Empire she lives in is far from squeaky clean. [For instance, it seems to be crawling with professional assassins.] But with generators failing all over, airfields reduced to ashes and daily appliances exploding [I assume daily appliances are the ones you use every day, as opposed to the food processor and George Foreman grill, which you use twice and then store away in that cabinet no one ever opens.] [You could move "daily" after "exploding," but then you have to worry that people will think there's a blender that explodes every day. Thus I recommend deleting "daily."] in puddles of corrosive ooze, Lianne sees little choice but to write herself a commission for this man. Not only is the killing of innocents and general breakdown of society bad for business, but no one’s getting away with ruining her vacation. [You've devoted the whole query to setting up Lianne's situation, with nothing about the obstacles to carrying out her plan. Surely she doesn't just go shoot the guy.]

THE GREEN TOWER is a fantasy/steampunk novel complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration,


I can do without the part about the dissident possibly being right.

I suppose that unlike most people, a professional assassin might not be so rattled after experiencing an airship crash that she's emotionally unable to launch her own personal investigation. But most assassins probably aren't qualified to determine the source of energy malfunctions. Assuming it all makes sense in the book, you could open: Lianne Stracker, molecular physicist and professional assassin, needs a holiday.

Or you can leave the first paragraph alone but eliminate the part about her investigation, and your second paragraph might read:

When she learns the crash was caused by a dissident researcher intent on destroying her homeland’s energy infrastructure, Lianne sees little choice but to write herself a commission for this man. Not only is the general breakdown of society bad for business, but no one gets away with ruining her vacation.

Now you can put together a third paragraph that moves the plot forward a bit. Lianne Googles her quarry's name, finds he lives in an ancient green tower, and heads there to finish him off. But getting across the empire is no easy task, with engines failing, airfields in ashes, and electric toothbrushes spinning counterclockwise. And if she does reach the tower, can she be sure her rifle will even work?


Anonymous said...

It seems a bit jumbled. Maybe it would work better to give less information about subplots and backstory matters and focus a bit more narrowly on the conflict between your protagonist and her nemesis.

150 said...

I'm going to write a fantasy where every character is a thief, assassin, or runaway royal. Or ALL THREE.

vkw said...

My first impression is the author tried to make this query too cutsey.

We have to much reference to how professional it is to be a murderer and exploding appliances leaving behind corrosive oooze. We need more plot.

The query reads like a series of one liners or pitches.

Choose the best, leave out the rest.


M. G. E. said...

Yes, it sounds like an attempt to affect voice. But you really don't need that.

In some cases that can come off as looking like an attempt to cover for a weak premise.

And if your book doesn't feature a similar tone, the agent may wonder what book they're reading after requesting pages.

But the worst problem is what EE nailed, that it appears everything we've been told here is pure setup.

Dave Fragments said...

He is intent on destroying her homeland’s energy infrastructure
Gee, I actually do know how to do that but I am not dissident, disgruntled, loonie, monomaniacal or desirous of world domination.

It's really simple to do but I if told you how, the black helicopters would land in my back yard and haul me away to a undisclosed location.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I'm not sure if EE's suggestions take care of this line but it really threw me off early.

"But when the airship she’s on crashes near a small mountain town, its engines the victim of magical sabotage, she turns her pleasure cruise into a working vacation. Her investigations into the causes of the crash..."

I have two problems here. #1, it's the first time you reveal that there's magic involved in this plot and it's done so way too casually. #2, how as an assassin is it her work to investigate things? In the words of Willi Cicci before the Organized Crime Committee in Godfather II, "I'm a 'Button', Senetor. They tell me to push a button on a guy and I do it."

Since when are assassins investigators? If the book is about her killing someone, then it's likely to be pretty short and that would hardly qualify it as a "working vacation" if the book is about the consequences of her killing someone, then there should be more to that in the query.

As for the MC being an assassin that we're supposed to identify with, you haven't given us anything other than a ruined vacation. You might try to tell us WHY she needs a vacation so badly?

batgirl said...

It's untidy and devoted mostly to setup (unless the investigation really is the main plot) but it does sound like fun.

Anonymous said...

Here's a problem I have with every assassin query. Call me old fashioned, but I'm like Sam Vimes. I disapprove of assassins. Many people believe that killing people is wrong. Even for money.

I bring this up not to be preachy but just to mention that it seems like an assassin protag is gonna have an uphill battle for our sympathy.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused about the political geography. Lianne is on holiday, so she's off her usual stomping grounds. I'm not sure whether she's left "her homeland," the target of the evil dissident. It turns out she lives in an "Empire," which should include this small mountain town. So does the evil dissident want to shut down the known world, aka the planet?

Also, what role does magic play in this story? It seems the inhabitants of this Empire go for technology (although they obviously lack effective government regulation if their everyday appliances turn into corrosive ooze). Then this evil dissident is both a magician and a researcher. I can't tell whether this is futurism or fantasy or what.

Lccorp2 said...

Hey there, the author here. The query went through different places before ending up here, and I've received various conflicting pieces of advice.

-I think I'll have to completely reword this, since it seems that from the query most of you guys are expecting the novel to be more about actually doing the deed of taking out the antagonist rather than the investigation leading to this conclusion. I meant it to be more a mystery than a thriller, and it didn't come across at all, which is what I suspect is the cause of the people saying it's all setup. Correct me if I'm wrong, but is that the problem? That people expected a short investigation because they thought it was setup, and then expected the actual task to be the meat of the plot?

-I guess the attempt at voice didn't work, judging by the comments, so I guess I should cut it out. The book is a deliberate attempt to imitate the general style of Steven Brust's Taltos novels, so there shouldn't be problem with a disparity between the style of the query and the novel itself, but if I'm going to cut that out there isn't much of a point discussing this.

-Originally, there was half a sentence mentioning a supporting character who advised Lianne on technical matters (in a vaguely James Bond/Q-ish relationship) while she did the footwork. I was advised to cut him out and focus on the main characters. Guess that didn't work out too well either.

Thanks all for the comments. I'll go think about this and keep an eye on this page.

Evil Editor said...

If the book is about the mystery/investigation, you might want to make it sound like it requires great detective work to determine that it's magic from a green tower that's disrupting the energy infrastructure and that a dissident researcher is behind it. You reveal the solution to that mystery in the same sentence you reveal that Lianne is investigating. As she tries to gather info, all the power is being disrupted. Is someone trying to prevent her investigation? Make it sound like she has a monumental task to accomplish. What horrible thing will happen if she can't stop Dr. No within three days? I see no problem with mentioning that she has an ally helping her, as she isn't qualified to do everything that needs to be done.

_*rachel*_ said...

Yes, be more specific on the plot; tell us more about the investigation and less (but not none) of the results. But, honestly, I like this.

Anonymous said...

Seems like genre confusion. Simplistically:

In a thriller, the protagonist becomes an investigator to further the quest for their own survival. The plot can be reduced to this question -- will Protagonist uncover the secret, evade Nemesis, and survive -- or not???

In a mystery, the main plot is a detective seeking to figure out evil deeds done to somebody else. The plot reduces to this question -- how will Protagonist find out who did [or will do] what to the Victim?

Numerous complications and variations on those basic structures exist but readers of queries will rely on these plot elements to figure out if it's basically a thriller or a mystery.

Matt said...

I have to disagree with Alaskaravenclaw. One of the deepest, most honorable characters I've ever seen was Leon, The Professional.

Joe G said...

I think part of the problem is that you've placed a macguffin at the heart of your story with this green tower thing. I'm not sure why Lianne is involved in this story besides that she's stumbled upon a mystery and, even though she's an assassin, feels like she wants to solve it. Put her conflict up front.

Also, wouldn't "she turns her pleasure cruise into a working vacation." be better phrased "her pleasure cruise turns into a working vacation"? She didn't crash the plane.

Last, the title reminds me of the popular Stephen King fantasy series, 'The Dark Tower', although I guess that's your prerogative.

Stacy said...

I don't see any problem with gaining people's sympathy. If the author of the Dexter novels can evoke sympathy for a serial killer, writing a protagonist who is an assassin will be no problem as long as the character is written well.

150 said...

Hi, author! You sound literate. I hope you come back with a revised version one of these days.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm not sure why Lianne is involved in this story besides that she's stumbled upon a mystery and, even though she's an assassin, feels like she wants to solve it. Put her conflict up front.

I think I agree with Joe G about the query. Finding the mystery is not enough to lure a reader and create a story. I keep a copy of Umberto Eco's THE NAME OF THE ROSE on a side table in my living room and I get the question "what's this novel about" and I tell people it's a murder mystery. For those who have read the novel, IT is a mystery and so much more. The mystery is only the driver and not the story.

Polanski's CHINATOWN is another good example of how mysteries drive the real story. The story opens on the investigation of adultery with Detective Gittes finding an impossible murder and a client who is not the client. At that point of the story, the audience thinks "What is this trivial nonsense?" But humans are strange about unsolved mysteries and in this story, the more that is revealed, the more involved the audience becomes. In the end, we understand the grand tragedy that the detective sets off by accepting that stupid adultery case at the start of the movie. We see their fall like the great Greek Tragedies where sin is repaid with death and destruction.

So what does this mean for your query? The reader wants more than just a mystery. The reader wants more than merely a mystery. They want to care for your character and her rise and fall. They want your character to learn something important about herself and about saving the world.