Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Face-Lift 871

Guess the Plot

Fear the Unknown

1. Joanne has undertaken the impossible; to find out what they really put in the lunches at Longbone High School. What started on a dare for Jo and her friend Alec turns deadly when they discover a secret compartment in the meat locker- full of unicorn carcasses.

2. Noah has survived bombings and wars, but now he faces old age, an unknown enemy he can't survive . . . or can he? When he meets a guy who claims to know a ritual that will grant immortality through the sacrifice of children, will Noah do the right thing?

3. After a night of drinking in Boston, Ludlow wakes up naked on a tropical beach he's never seen before. WTF? His only clue is a fresh tattoo on his wrist that says FEAR THE UNKNOWN in fancy Gothic letters. Is he in mortal danger or paradise? The uncertainty ends as a sinister frogman with a crossbow emerges from the surf and Ludlow realizes his only hope is to run for cover in the jungle.

4. Shy, sickly Jess spends all his time on a computer, where he feels safe and confident. When his cabinmates at Computer Camp want to go on a clandestine stroll to the girls' cabins, will he go--or stay safe?

5. Adrian lived in his own little world, quite literally. His parents had joined a cult that lived in an abandoned underground bunker before his birth and he had never seen the light of day in his 21 years of life. Now that the cult leader has died and the IRS is after them for back taxes they decide to leave the bunker. Will the outside world be as scary as he was taught?

6. Max Winestein fears the known. His wife terrifies him. Going to work freaks him out daily. Familiar foods give him the creeps. Seeing his own relatives causes panic attacks. But he's perfectly happy embarking on adventures to foreign lands, risking his life with dangerous sports, and hanging out with complete strangers. It's up to Slubka Doykovich, his new therapist, to change his mind. Plus, philosophical musings.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Documentary filmmaker Noah Pressman has survived IRA bombings, the Waco standoff and both Gulf Wars. But now he faces something far more threatening – old age. ["Far more threatening" seems a bit strong. "Even more terrifying" at least would imply that it's subjective.] Retirement means he’ll be trapped in an empty house, living with the memories of a son who died twenty-five years ago. Desperate for an escape, he takes an easy job over the Christmas holidays, directing a TV show about the world’s most unusual places. [That's an easy job? Directing a TV show about the most unusual places in Des Moines, Iowa might be easy. Directing a TV show about the most unusual places in the entire world sounds like a pain in the ass. And he's doing this over the Christmas holidays?]

A chance encounter leads him to Caleb Rafferty, a nineteen-year-old musician struggling to earn cash for Juilliard. Noah sees potential and offers him the role of host. It’s a financial opportunity Caleb can’t pass up. He needs to prove himself, needs to escape the shadow of an alcoholic father.

The first episode brings them to the World of Make-Believe, an abandoned fairytale theme park outside Minneapolis. There, things soon take a turn for the bizarre. Noah hears the voice of a little boy calling him “daddy.” Caleb has a vision of his father mutilating himself. Neither one is sure what’s going on. But when they find a clue linking the property to a wave of missing children, they’re convinced something sinister is inside the decaying wonderland. [If the place is abandoned and decaying, I assume children aren't allowed to go in and wander about until they disappear. What is the link between the park and the children?]

As their father-son bond deepens, Noah and Caleb learn the truth. A powerful Satanist has uncovered a ritual that grants immortality. All that’s required are enough sacrificial victims – hence the missing children. To prevent the bloodshed, Noah and Caleb must return to the World of Make-Believe. But they’ll have to face a demonic henchman called Addonexus, a creature with a knack for deadly illusions and violent mind games. [Is the demonic henchman more or less powerful than the powerful Satanist? If he's stronger, why is he willing to be a henchman? If he's weaker, we don't need him; one villain is plenty for a query.]

A supernatural thriller, FEAR THE UNKNOWN is 90,000 words long. It’s my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.



This is well-written. I'm not sure we need a whole paragraph about who Caleb is. Assuming you don't want to leave him out entirely, you could just say Noah hires 19-year-old Caleb Rafferty to host the show, and then get on with the plot. Telling us he's a musician who wants to go to Julliard only leads us to wonder what qualifies him to host this show. Wouldn't the producer, rather than the director, hire the host, anyway? Is it too late to make Caleb the director's assistant or the gaffer?

I find it hard to believe a TV show about the most unusual places in the world would choose an abandoned theme park outside Minneapolis as its first featured place. Is it known in advance that bizarre and sinister things go on there? Even if it is, promoting your new series by saying Join us as we tour one of the most unusual places in the world: the decaying carcass of a theme park in Minnesota isn't going to lead to a ratings bonanza.

Surprisingly, there's no mention of an internal conflict for Noah, as his fear of growing old makes immortality sound attractive, even at the expense of a few human sacrifices.


mb said...

I want to read -- or write -- #1 SO BAD!!

Eric said...

Your writing style is excellent. However, I want to see more about the internal logic of the story.

Part of the problem may be that, as it's presented here, the TV directing job bringing the characters together to the creepy theme park just seems like a big contrivance. Presumably all the interesting and creepy stuff will take place once they're inside anyway.

Also, "World of Make-Believe" sounds a whole lot like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which isn't very menacing.

Joe G said...

Surely the Land of Make-believe is where all the Snoopy and Charlie Brown statues went to die.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I'm with MB. Kudos to whoever came up with #1.

As EE said, the lack of a clear connection between Noah's fear of old age and the Satanist's ability to cheat death is kind of odd. The way the query reads now, Noah's dead son seems much more important that his fears of growing old. If the fact that the Satanist is gaining immortality as opposed to killing children for no real reason is at all interesting to Noah, that should be in the query.

If the first episode of the TV show takes place at the abandoned theme park, maybe it would be possible to change "the world's most unusual places" to "the country's most unusual places" to make the "easy job" seem less travel intensive.

This might just be me, but I didn't initially get that Noah was hiring Caleb as the host of the show. Maybe it was because I didn't see the connection between Caleb being an aspiring musician and Noah seeing him as a good candidate to host a TV show.

You could easily dump Addonexus from the query. We already know that Noah and Caleb are seeing disturbing illusions and I don't think we particularly need to know that it's the Satanist's demon henchman creating them rather than the Satanist. Just saying thet the illusions will continue and get more fiendish is probably enough.

vkw said...

This isn't a bad query and it's an interesting plot.

However, I didn't like the assumption the MC will be trapped in an empty house upon retirement. I think he may "fear" that this will happen.

Also the premise of an easy job over the holidays makes it sound like he is a school teacher or student looking to pick up extra cash. I doubt someone like the MC needs to pick up extra cash over the holidays or has a job that lets him take a job over the holidays. Maybe he takes the job over the holidays because he doesn't want to be in that empty house with his memories of his lost son.

I would say, "A powerful Satanist BELIEVES HE has uncovered a ritual that grants immortality." Rather than saying it is fact.

I am sure there is a logical explanation why this dual doesn't go to the police with the information. I don't know if you HAVE to explain why but I would -

even if it something like - after the police disregard the evidence they found the two return to the the . . . .

Or after deciding the police will think they're crazy, the two decide to take it upon themselves to . . . .

Anonymous said...

What they said.

The problem with him fearing retirement means being 'trapped in an empty house' is that we understand that would be a lifestyle choice. Nobody's going to lock him in there, are they? Your description doesn't indicate he'd chose that lifestyle, so the problem seems false and contrived and the solution is all wrong. If you don't want to live in an empty house -- fine, just sell it and get a sail boat, move to a commune, an apartment, or whatever, like a normal person. No need to start murdering everyone.

You need a problem that matches the attempted solution, which is why this plot, as described, doesn't work.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

vkw> The second two sentences of the first paragraph are both pretty subjective, but it would be an easy fix to make it clear that they reflect Noah's point of view.

I think what needs to be clarified is whether the Satanist is about to perform the ritual for the first time and needs more victims to make it work, in which case your suggested phrasing would be correct since no one knows whether the ritual will actually work yet, or if the Satanist has already performed the ritual at least once before and needs to periodically repeat it to stay alive.

One additional thought, and this may be crossing the line from critiquing the query into critiquing the actual story: abandoned theme parks as a setting for creepy goings-on strikes me as played out. I know that it'a location where you can get a lot of atmospheric mileage out of a place that used to be fun and appealing sinking into ruin. But I feel like I've seen it dozens of times before. If there's something - anything - in the story that provides a fresh twist on the idea, I'd try to mention it in the query. Otherwise, it's just a cliche. Nobody ever goes to the old abandoned theme park to have wacky adventures or reignite an old romance.

150 said...

I'd suggest hitting the paranormal sooner. Otherwise, it sounds solid, if a little dull. Can you use livelier words to make it more compelling?

none said...

Surely the danger at Waco was to people inside the compound. Was Noah inside? Also, don't documentary film makers tend to come along after the fact and, er, fake things? War correspondent might be closer.

What's in it for Satan if someone becomes immortal? Why would he allow it?

Anonymous said...

"Documentary filmmaker Noah Pressman has survived IRA bombings, the Waco standoff and both Gulf Wars. But now he faces something far more threatening – old age."

AHHHHHHHHH! Finally a great example of something specific and interesting about the MC and the challenges he the first sentence! Well done.

I'm in agreement on most here. Don't make it an "easy" job/"make it a short-term" job or something. And agree about the theme park being a contrived subject for "Most Unusual Places in the World" -- plus that sounds like not an easy job...and why not use it to introduce the supernatural element earlier in the query?

"Most Haunted Places in the Midwest" maybe. Anyway, this level of nitpicking is a sign you've done a good job.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! Author here. Just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to post some very insightful comments. I can certainly see some of the flaws that I overlooked. Revise, revise, revise! Posting this query was a big step for me so thanks again, especially EE. I do have one question and it concerns the bio paragraph. I know age isn't really a factor but I'm 24. Should I mention that in an actual query or just leave it out? Will an agent care? I know you're writing is supposed to speak for itself, but I'm just unsure if that might be an issue or not. Back to writing!

Evil Editor said...

Your age doesn't belong in a query, no matter what it is. And especially if it's 24.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Larkin:

If you're concerned you might be older than the agents you're querying, that's a distinct possibility. Otherwise, as you're over the age of consent, I can't see that it matters. EE would know better, though.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I concur, the thriller aspects can come in a little sooner. From the first couple paragraphs I thought this was going to be literary fiction - it was something of a jolt to discover there were Satanists involved in Noah's midlife crisis.

And in answer to your question, I wouldn't mention your age - since you're not a minor, it's not really relevant in a business letter.

Anonymous said...

As 150 says, "Can you use livelier words to make it more compelling?" Here's a clause that sank like a stone for me: "they’re convinced something sinister is inside the decaying wonderland." This is a great example of why writing exercises to use active verbs instead of the copula are so popular. Something sinister could do so many things -- lie, lurk, dwell, for starters.

Like Sarah, I was set up for litfic and got thrown by the fantasy plot, so I'd do some rearranging. But I do like your dynamic duo -- so nice to get away from "the last cute couple who ever expected to find themselves doing anything together, much less solving a bizarre mystery" blah blah.

none said...

Surely you can never know whether you're immortal.

Anonymous said...

I do know that I'm not immortal, and please stop calling me, Shirley.

Author, I'm 24 too, and so is my dad. You don't see us bragging about it...

Ink and Pixel Club said...

BuffySquirrel> Well, if you haven't aged in the past 700 years and any and all attempts to kill you didn't take, I think you can make a reasonable assumption that you can't die.

In relation to the story, it again depends upon whether the Satanist is just trying out this ritual for the first time or has done it before and knows it works, but needs to keep doing it in order to extend his lease on life.

angela robbins said...

"That's an easy job? Directing a TV show about the most unusual places in Des Moines, Iowa might be easy."

I beg to differ, EE. That would be an impossible job. There is nothing unusual in Des Moines for them to even make a show!