Friday, April 08, 2011

Face-Lift 891

Guess the Plot

Bad Company

1. It's been Alia's lifelong dream to join the Baad Opera Company, but when she finally arrives in Germany, she discovers all is not well. The divas are divided, the leading men are striding confidently towards cliffs, and the choreographer thinks everything's a chore. Can Alia stop the Baad Company turning into the Bad Company? Or should she just echappe?

2. Roland's new friend, Chico, owns a modest pot farm. Roland agrees to partner with him only if he keeps everything low-key, but the infusion of cash fuels Chico's creativity. Soon Chico's Pot-o'-Gold Choco-Nuggets take off in popularity. Sheriff Roy Townsend intends to follow the tie-dyed rainbow back to the pot.

3. Teen cheerleader Lola Jaffe adores Bob Wright, but her parents are the most repressive people in Florida. Lola must sneak out whenever she wants to smoke pot with Bob in the grass behind the shed. Then one night he decides to pee in the canal and a giant alligator eats him! Accused of his murder, Lola has only one choice: frame her arch-nemesis -- that bitch, Tiffany!

4. What could bring a two-bit criminal like Matt Layman to shoot three cops, rob a bank and use his new-found notoriety to start a popular revolution against the oppressive state? Could it be his manic obsession with British rock 'n' roll supergroup . . . Bad Company?

5. Ben Franklin has a famous saying about house guests and fish that these people do not understand at all. When Joe Greenwell invited his cousin’s family to stay with him while they visited London, he didn’t know they were moving in. Now 6 months later there are 3 adults, 2 children, a large dog and a colony of constantly reproducing gerbils in his one-bedroom flat.

6. When its eighty-dollar-a-share stock fell ninety percent during the recession, Martin Drew bought up fifty-one percent of Consolidated Industries. Now the economy has recovered, but thanks to lazy employees, corrupt management, and bad PR from pollution scandals, CI is down to two cents a share and Martin is living in a refrigerator box. How was he to know it really was a . . . Bad Company?

Original Version

Dear Mr Evil Editor

I am seeking representation for my science fiction novel Bad Company, complete at 110,000 words.

Matt Layman would do anything to protect his younger brother, including shooting the three police troopers who come to arrest them on trumped-up charges. Now the brothers are on the run, [And this time the charges aren't trumped up.] but in Xenos's underground cities, there isn't far they can go.

A post office withdrawal at gunpoint is a necessity: they're out of cash. Robbing a bank on the space station could be the start of class war. [You just said there wasn't far they could go in the underground cities of Xenos, and suddenly they can make it to a space station? What would constitute making it far? Getting to another galaxy?] For Matt plans to use his new-found notoriety to incite the oppressed populace into rising against the authorities. Or maybe it's just two delinquents looking for cover. [That's pretty much what it sounds like.]

Notoriety has its problems--instant recognition, larger price on his head, more resources devoted to his capture--and Matt's scheme might be too ambitious for him to handle. After all, a two-bit criminal can never become a national hero. [Spoiler alert.] Unless he's dead. [He's a zombie? And you wait till the last sentence to tell us?]

Thank you for your time.


Matt would be a more sympathetic character if we had more information about the government's oppression, and less about Matt's murders and armed robberies. What are they charging him with, and why are they trumping up charges against him when he's a two-bit crook who has yet to formulate any plans to overthrow them?

Make Matt a street vendor instead of a criminal and set it in Tunisia instead of Xenos, and I think you might have something here.

A hint of why this is science fiction (other than the cities are underground for some reason) might help. Robbing a post office at gunpoint sounds more like a western than science fiction.


Anonymous said...

Robbing a post office sounds silly. What do they need, stamps?

Anonymous said...

When your protag is an anti-hero, you always run a certain risk. Readers may ask themselves whether the author knows what the protag is doing is wrong. (Trust me, Nabokov had this problem too.)

I agree with Evil; you need to emphasize the oppression more and Matt's pov a little less. The average agent may not grasp that being out of cash makes armed robbery "a necessity". And if your best bet, when wrongly accused, is to mow down your accusers... well, you need to show us a society where this is convincingly true.

Dave Fragments said...

I like this plot but the query letter does it a disservice.

New Beginning 845 was mine and is set on a space station similar to Babylon 5. The living surface is huge but it is confined. We don't the details to talk about this query.

What hit me first was that I read the first paragraph about Matt and never realized we were in outer space. Xeno's underground could be like the sewers of Paris or London or the seedy underground of 1800's Calcutta.

What hit me next was a "postal withdrawal." It was like "HUH?"

My suggestion is that you open with the nature of the world and the fact that Matt is running from crooked cops. For example:
After Matt and his brother kill three crooked policemen in self defense, they have to go into hiding in the underworld and service areas of Xenos 3, the largest enclosed habitat in the solar system.
And now you can spring a rhetorical trap:
However, Matt thinks he has a way to stay out of prison. No one can prosecute a dead man. But can a zombie expose corruption at the highest levels and become a national hero?"

Something like that.

Anonymous said...

I believe that in some countries the post office in fact acts as a bank. Perhaps Xenos is one of those countries.

Anonymous said...

It makes sense that banks are in post offices. All my money is sent off to pay bills. . . . .

batgirl said...

Is the author in the UK? I think post offices have money, there. But then I have to ask, will they have cash in the far future? Will there _be_ cash in the far future? Even now, a lot of people don't carry currency, they use debit or credit cards. Wouldn't a repressive regime prefer such a traceable means of exchange?
So that detail leaves me wondering how thoroughly-imagined this future society is.

For what it's worth, I read the sentence about Matt being dead as a suggestion that the movement he starts would prefer him martyred and a figurehead, like Che. But if so, the author needs to flesh that out some - the idea that Matt may be riding the tiger would be an intriguing development.

Dave Fragments said...

Babylon Five was a space station. It is what is called an "O'Neill cylinder" and there are variations. If you search B5 or "O'Neill cylinder" you will get pictures and ideas of what goes inside.

Once you get the general structure fixed in logical order in your mind, the hiding places become obvious.

I just went through this. It isn't hard and it's not scientifically complex. It's just a giant city complete with rich, poor, homeless and criminal elements.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Can we give the writer a break here please? Post offices collect a lot of money. Money orders and so on,rent on PO Boxes. It is a solid idea, robbing one for cash.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Even now, a lot of people don't carry currency, they use debit or credit cards. Wouldn't a repressive regime prefer such a traceable means of exchange?

Not in my experience in China. I'll do a post on changing/ sending money in China and shed some light on my blog. Very interesting experience.

Anonymous said...

You could say armed robbery without specifying it's at a post office. Otherwise, to an American, at least, it sounds like these would be the hapless criminals who don't know the big money is at the bank. The post office might work well in the book but it raises too many questions you can't answer in a query.

From a larger perspective, I'm not sure why your space ship is so much like your home town. Shouldn't it be more like totally different? That's generally why authors use a 'space ship' setting.

Evil Editor said...

There seems to be an assumption that Xenos is the space station. It could be a planet. I assume it's a planet because it has cities. How these guys are gonna get from the planet to the space station to rob a bank isn't clear, so maybe I'm wrong.

The big money may be in banks, but that doesn't keep people from robbing liquor stores, 7-11s, etc. Most of the bank money is in a vault, and banks have more security.

none said...

You're right, EE, Xenos is the planet. I believe the brothers use a shuttle to get to the space station--they rob the PO to get the cash for tickets.

batgirl said...

I do still feel that the post office is a retro detail - what are people sending by post in the future? Ebay purchases, I guess.
Mind you, if this _is_ a space western, I'm all in favour of that sort of mashup, and encourage the author to push that aspect in the query.

Xenith said...

I think they'd still need a way to send items from place to place, esp. when electronic communications are reliable. I don't know what POs are like in the rest of the world, but in Australia they do function as banking agencies, and in a small town, they're the only "bank". You can also pay utility bills, buy office equipment, gifts, mobile phones and an assortment of other non-postal services. A sort of one-stop shop, so I was playing on the idea that this wold increase in the next century as a way to provide necessary services to (very) outlying settlements.

Although overall the tech level is relatively low (it is supposed to be a backwater, low population planet), and not all the different to ours with the changes being in form rather than function. So e.g. something that acts like cash is called cash, even though it's not.

I can't fit all that into the query though and still have room from something about the storyline. I might just eliminate the offending words :) I think it works in context thought, but of course I can't be sure unless someone reads it from that POV.

Same with the oppression. It doesn't actually exist (it's more active ignorance of a problem the government hopes will go away) so I don't like to emphasis it, but it's easier to use that word in the query rather than explain everything.

It's an annoying bloody story to try to pack into a single page, even though it looks straightforward. I might put my friendly squirrel back onto the job. (Or toss the stupid thing into the bottom drawer for now.)

Jodi Ralston said...

What I found a little off putting about this query was that it started out sounding like they did something and got in over their heads. But at the end, it sounds like they did it on purpose to start a rebellion. Are the trumped up charges him being part of a rebellion? And if so, does it start out as a lie but turns into a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy? If so, making that tie-in a little more obvious might make this plot go "wow".