Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Face-Lift 904

Guess the Plot

Kingdom of God

1. After a fatal accident, former president Bush attempts to bring good old US Democracy to heaven.

2. A dyslexic adventurer visits a nation with a canine ruler. Heresy ensues.

3. When Michelle sees a video of a police officer apprehending an armed and violent suspect, the officer's use of profanity pushes her fragile psyche into madness. "That is so unprofessional!" she exclaims, as she begins her crusade to establish... The Kingdom of God

4. When Rowena dies and goes to heaven, she gets to rub elbows with angels, the Virgin Mary and Jesus. But when she notices heaven has no homosexuals or non-Christians or sinners of any kind, she realizes God is no caring, generous Father, but a cold-hearted dictator. Not that she can do anything about it . . . until an underground resistance group of undercover angels ask her to join their movement to oust God from the seat of absolute power. Hey, someone's gotta take this egomaniac down a peg.

5. As a neurotic perfectionist, Prince Rarufi feels compelled to always have the best possible everything, so when an indiscreet cleric mentions that of course the Kingdom of God is more perfect than all others, Rarufi raises an army and goes north to usurp it.

6. First, it was the Jehovah's Witnesses in their Sunday suits. Then, the Mormons came with their thousand-pound bibles. Well, the next group that ignores Della's "No Religious Missionaries" sign had better be prepared to meet their maker. Unless their god can tell them the locations of her hidden land mines.

7. Pastor Ralph Sedgewick has a dream: Buy the decaying Wild Island amusement park and turn it into a religious-themed attraction. Unfortunately billionaire developer Ginny Gerardon wants the same property--for condominiums. Can they reach a compromise . . . without falling in love?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Rowena Martin--a 38-year-old wife, mother, and faithful Lutheran--wakes up naked and disoriented one morning, alone in a field of shimmering Easter grass. Yet a great sense of calm well-being surrounds her. Why? She has died and her soul has risen to Heaven.

In the glorious hereafter, her every desire is instantly fulfilled. She is thin, popular, and beautiful, with perfect [teeth and] eyesight. She possesses every talent she's ever wished for, including the ability to [play "Yankee Doodle" with her armpit and to] read the innermost thoughts of everyone she meets. Lies and secrets don't exist. [Did you say this was heaven or hell?] She mingles with fascinating people from various historical periods and backgrounds--and even rubs elbows with such illustrious holy figures as angels, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus of Nazareth. Best of all, she gets to meet God Himself, the wise and loving Father whose intricate plan rules over the entire universe. [God! We finally meet. I've heard so much about you. You look shorter in person.]

But something sinister flickers around the edges of paradise, and in a realm without secrets it doesn't take long for newcomers to discover the truth: [They're not in heaven after all; they're in some town called Stepford.] Hell is just as real as Heaven.

The screams of sinners in the fiery pits below her begin to haunt Rowena constantly. [Nothing's worse than moving into a new place and finding out the walls are paper thin and the neighbors never shut up.] The majority of human beings, she learns, are predestined for Hell. Nonbelievers, homosexuals, those who commit suicide or ascribe to religions other than Christianity--all are inexorably doomed. [Wait, weren't Jesus and the Virgin Mary Jews? How'd they get in?] [Don't look now, but you've just reduced your potential audience by about six billion.] And her own daughter is one of the millions [billions] slated for eternal torture in the flames.

Suddenly God doesn't seem like such a caring, generous Father after all. [Your villain is God?] Instead He appears to be a cold-hearted dictator. But Rowena has no freedom or privacy to truly contemplate His nature. Every time she thinks anything potentially blasphemous, she falls unconscious as the Lord and His angels attempt to reform her mind. [I wouldn't last a minute in this place.] She's warned that if she continues to allow heresy in her thoughts, she could end up in Hell herself. [Don't think about a pink elephant.]

On and on the damned cry out for help, but she must sit by and smile, powerless. Until, that is, members of an underground resistance movement ask her to join their crusade. The group, formed by undercover angels and ordinary people who have lost loved ones to Hell, claims to be getting closer every day to ousting God from the seat of absolute power. [I think they might pull it off. God will never suspect them.] But are they really? Or is the Lord simply setting them up for a massive fall? [If God knows what they're up to, He's not gonna wait to see if they go through with it, He's gonna ship them to hell immediately. And if He doesn't know, why am I capitalizing His pronouns?] And if the coup does succeed, what will become of the universe? Can the world go on without God at its helm?

Kingdom of God is a 101,000-word adult literary novel. Sample chapters or the complete manuscript are available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration.



This is too long, and it's all set-up. Something like my Guess the Plot can be your first paragraph. The rest (five or six sentences) should be devoted to the plan to oust God, assuming Rowena joins the movement. What's the plan, what goes wrong, how is Rowena instrumental in pulling it off? If she doesn't join the movement, why is she the main character? She must do something to get heaven back on track. Focus on Rowena, not the situation.

I think God should threaten to send Rowena to hell if she refuses to convert from Lutheran to Methodist.

I don't see why my minions shouldn't capitalize my pronouns. It's common courtesy.


fairyhedgehog said...

I need to know how the underground movement gets away with existing when God knows everything.

I'm very intrigued by the story and I'd like to know how you resolve it.

Anonymous said...

Definitely too long, my eyes glazed over halfway through that. Housewife vs God doesn't sound like a well-matched pair of adversaries. You give us no clue how her rebellion can work where Satan's failed.

Generally speaking, making adversaries in a fantasy more or less equally powerful works best for sustaining the plot. So even if they don't superficially appear to be equals something compensates for the difference or else the wimpy character would be vanquished in a minute and then you've got flash fiction instead of a novel. This is why it's wizard vs wizard or god vs god, or whatever, not housewife vs GOD.

The problem with deriving your fantasy world from contemporary theology is the overwhelming baggage it brings. Have you done market research and identified an audience? Not sure the 'literary' label is going to help. I don't share your concerns about your church's doctrine and have doubts any query would ever spark my interest in a book like this. Maybe it is very timely material for Lutherans and will be a hit with them, I don't know.

batgirl said...

Could be an intriguing story, and certain to stir up some controversy.
I'm sure other people will be asking how the resistance keeps its thoughts secret.
One really minor point, and it's from an sf reader's pov - world or universe? They're different orders of magnitude by a few orders of magnitude.

Adele said...

The query reader's thought process: Given the normal viewpoint that God is both omniscient and omnipotent, there is no way the protag can possibly win, so how can there be a satisfying story here?

Even if Rowena doesn't (or can't) win, we have to believe she believes she can win for there to be tension in the narrative.

You need to let the query reader know that you have indeed created a satisfying story, so you need to tell how that happens.

But - I can't see this being marketable. A fictional setting allows readers to accept whatever they're given. But with something as well-known, and as emotionally involved, as a real religion, you're tinkering with an existing and strongly-protected world view. Everyone - even devoted Christians - has a slightly different view of how Heaven works, and so when your view differs from theirs it will seem wrong, which will detract from the emotional impact of the book.

It would be like you wrote a serious non-fiction book about Michigan with its coconut groves and platypuses.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

"Easter grass" set me up for a comedy.

Then I was trying to figure out how few people actually do make it to heaven if this soul is rubbing elbows with all the greats. It doesn't sound like she's there for long. I'm thinking if I went to Hollywood, how many celebs would I actually run into after a year or so. Oh, that's right -- I was in Hollywood for a year, and I met one major celeb and a handful of minor ones. I even had an "in" since I worked for a talent agency. But maybe souls in Heaven can be multiple places at once? Or maybe there are only a couple of thousand souls there?

What exactly do Lutherans believe? I thought the Christian mantra was that the folk listed in the query (non-believers, suiciders, et al) DO go to hell (or maybe limbo if you die too young or never hear The Word) as a consequence of their actions (or inactions). God may not be generous or caring here, but it sounds like He's true to His word. What did these Christians expect?

If God's not going to make the rules about who gets into Heaven, then who has the final arbitration over who does? This new committee of angels/souls? If I mercy kill someone, do I get in? Are the angels planning to set up a democracy rather than a theocracy? Will the rules of salvation be written by committee? Will there be reparation?

I'm not saying such a battle can't be done. There's a civil war in Heaven and the custodian of Hell is working with angels and humans right now on Supernatural and I'm buying into it.

I think, like EE Himself says, we need more on the trials and consequences. Pare down the fluff in the beginning and show us how you intend to handle the real challenge of pulling something like this off.

wendy said...

This reminds me of a comedy routine I saw on TV where a the comedian says "God bless you" to some jerk beside him on line for a show instead of punching him after the guy forgets to cover and spews on him.

Sneezy who just happens to be an athiest is offended by this silly talk of God and comes to the conclusion it is exactly the right time to educate the poor bastard beside him.

Your story reminds me of the lecture the athiest gave to the other guy.

If you are looking for a story to carry your theories, don't.

Write a story with a good plot, fabulous pacing, interesting characters and a question that drives the reader crazy waiting for the answer. Then your theories (who you are) will find the story. That is the magic of the written word.

Eric said...

My cynical side is suspicious you're just doing this to capitalize on the inevitable firestorm once certain groups of believers hear about this, but the rest of me is actually rather interested to see where it will go.

The obvious plot hole here is, as already mentioned, the contradiction between God smiting down even any "potential thought of blasphemy" but not picking up on an entire conspiracy to overthrow him. (A bit blasphemous, no?... And last time when Lucifer tried it, it didn't work out so well for him, as I recall.) How does conspiracy work in a heaven where "secrets don't exist"?

Also, in the theology you're satirizing, someone who's predestined for heaven couldn't "end up in Hell herself." The whole point of predestination (for good or ill) is that getting into or out of heaven doesn't depend on your deeds.

150 said...

Who is your audience? Christians will call BS on your vision of Heaven and others will call BS on your vision of Hell, so who are you hoping will read and enjoy this?

Anonymous said...

Whenever I read queries or watch movie trailers in which the entire universe is at stake, I check out. After all, if the universe ends, I won't be around to regret it.

It seems rather surprising that there's anyone in this Heaven at all considering how hard it is to get in and stay in. There must be a high turnover rate with people and angels constantly being expelled for thought crimes and insurrection. (Do Lutherans believe you can get kicked out of Heaven? That's a new one on me.)

Anonymous said...

Using Christianity as the mythic base of your fantasy can work. Two novels come to mind-- Terry Pratchett's Small Gods and Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Inferno.

Inferno is really about Hell, and it takes Hell at face value. God and Heaven exist, are indeed the goal, but they are strictly in the background.

Small Gods-- which is IMHO the most brilliant work of religious fiction ever penned by an atheist-- works because it respects belief. But Mr. Pratchett also wisely deflects Christian anger by changing the name of the god to Om. So it's not a satire of Christianity. It's a satire of Omnianism. And so it offends only those who are desperate to be offended.

If you really want to offend more than you want to tell a good tale-- well, then you might be Philip Pullman. But you're SOL. Because

1. the True Believers are unlikely to even hear of your book unless you sell the movie rights, as happened with Mr. Pullman


2. Mr. Pullman may have you arrested for identity theft.

All that being said, I also wondered how you could have a conspiracy in a place where there were no secrets.


Anonymous said...

The usual approach is to employ a metaphorical setting. Your original characters live in some world of your own invention ruled by some deity/monarch/dictator/fiend you invented or adapted from ancient mythology. This allows you to tackle issues such as whether or not various sorts of minorities and dissidents are socially accepted or tossed in the dungeon. Maybe the cobbler's wife overthrows the evil overlord. Whatever. This way it can all happen without putting off readers by messing with their religion. See every fantasy novel ever published for examples.

Dave Fragments said...

Free Will gives angels and humans the choice to be in Heaven or Hell. It doesn't matter if he knows the future, all of his creatures have to make the choice.

Milton give Lucifer quite a huge leeway in his rebellion in Paradise Lost.

Phillip Pullman in "His Dark Materials" trilogy has a near comatose God being kept that way by angels who run things.

Taylor Caldwell has Michael and Lucifer discussing the destruction of the earth for spite.

The story will work philosophically and metaphysically.

none said...

I think it would be hell to have your deepest wishes fulfilled and discover that they were as shallow and pathetic as being thin and popular. Eh.

'...ascribe to religions...' should probably be 'subscribe', as you don't tell us what is being abscribed (ie attributed) to these religions.

Others have identified the logic problems that the query raises, as in how can you conspire against a being who can knock you out cold for even the slightest thought crime? What are meetings of these conspirators like--do they bring in couches for when they instantly collapse?

More plot and plug the holes :).

(word ver: zinsig (noun): the actual true religion that you are all going to be damned for not believing in)

batgirl said...

What this reminds me of most is the Robin Williams movie from a few years back, where the husband leaves Heaven to get his wife out of Hell.

It also reminds me of some of the anti-Left Behind fanfic inspired by discussions of that series on Slacktivist's blog.
(in my opinion, the Left Behind series is far more blasphemous than this query, but also shooting for a different audience)

vkw said...

I wasn't going to weigh in because I didn't like the entire premise. My first thought was the author hadn't studied much theology - but then I thought - maybe he/she has and I haven't.

Then I thought - the Bible says there was a rebellion in heaven once (and if God was all knowing and all powerful then he knew about it beforehand) and it didn't work out well for the rebellious or mankind come to think of it. I guess angels don't learn much from history either.

Hmmm. . . . let's hope this rebellion turns out better than the last one

And that's all I have to say about that.

Polenth said...

The setup makes it sound like everything is happy bunny land (possibly literally, with the Easter grass). My first assumption from the beginning was it was one of those "see, heaven is awesome" books with no plot. You do appear to have plot, but you've left it a bit late.

The main character also sounds incredibly shallow. She does turn it around a bit by being worried about her daughter, but I still haven't been given a reason to want to read it from her point-of-view (as opposed to one of the historical figures or resistance fighters).

Chelsea Pitcher said...

This doesn't sound like literary to me. The query reads more like commercial. Otherwise, people have already voiced my concerns (query too long/how can the characters keep their secrets?) so I'll skip right to the good stuff.

I liked this. If I saw this in the store I would buy it. I like what you're doing here. (Or what I think you're doing). You've got good voice and the premise is intriguing.


Xenith said...

The GTP was interesting. The query itself, I stopped reading 3/4 of the way through.

What's the initiating event? (Her dying is not it.)

What does she want?

What's at stake? (Personal stakes.)

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Is the heaven you created a test to get into the real heaven by Rowena saving her bad girl daughter and ousting the evil fake God who is really an instrument of faith?

A purgatorian sort of place where screams of those bound in hell are heard?

Likely not your story.

I'd like to know what the story is and how you deal with the large issues that have been brought out. Tough one.

Unknown said...

Xenith, to my mind having my children stuck in hell would be a very personal stake!

I know we're meant to be career writers, think of the market, etc, but all I can think right now is I'd totally read that! In any event, more people say they're religious than actually are. But you'd better have a damn good answer for that secrets thing. It would bug me constantly. :)

William said...

I think you have an idea here but the query, as others have said, raises some issues. If God and his cohorts act like thought police, then how is a rebellion possible? If you have a device in the book to overcome this then I would leave it out of the query all together as it creates to many problems as presented. Plus, if she can also read everyone’s innermost thoughts as you stated than I assume others can do this too, including this God’s faithful. (Think Nazi occupation with thought reading Gestapo and informants…scary.)

I like the setting and story idea if it is done correctly. The Old Testament mythology works better in my opinion for a story like this, where the god in question is petty and egotistical and there are lots of examples of him justifying violence against people who don’t follow him.

I would pick up this book and read until something too contrived occurred to cover an obvious story problem. If that never happened, I would probably enjoy it. I don’t know how you wrote this but as a reader I would probably be expecting it to be kind of funny, but that’s just me.

Guess the Plot #4 – If this was the back cover blurb, I would snatch this up in a heartbeat.

Xenith said...

Julia: I did say I stopped reading before the end :)

But really, that sort of thing is important and needs to be near the front somewhere.

(My word verification seems to be " ".)

none said...

Eh, once you start applying rational argument to this stuff, it falls flat. What I find most interesting is that apparently you lose your free will in Heaven. Just an earthly privilege. then.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Re: free will, Buffy.

Supernatural may not have made it across the pond yet, but it's moderately popular among the SFF crowd here in the States. I'm a huge fangirl, so am happy to discuss it further in relation to the premise here.

The show's arc this season and last revolves around free will. Two human brothers were playing out their destiny no matter what they tried to do and some pretty nasty, apocalyptic stuff happened because they couldn't change that destiny. Then they managed to buck the system and thwart fate, proving free will still exists.

An angel then incited a civil war in heaven trying to bring free will to heaven as well. God has been an "absent father" during all this. So in this world, free will did not exist in heaven and not so much on earth either, but that can (maybe) be changed.

Does it work? I'm pretty non-religious, but I've done a lot of study in comparative religion, and I've been hanging with this story line now for 5 years.

If you can set up the situation and execute it well enough, people will willingly suspend their disbelief.

If this author's story holds together and is consistent in the mythology it chooses to depict -- and doesn't gloss over the big questions if it's really meant to be deep and meaningful litfic -- then no reason why an audience won't buy into it.

I just think the query's tone is uneven and I'm not getting a real sense of the overall book from it. Is it breezy? Dead earnest? I'd expect the mythology to be treated in vastly different ways depending on whether this is light paranormal chick lit or a deeply earnest morality manifesto.

none said...

Supernatural has made it here, but I've only seen a few episodes. Didn't grab me all that hard.

Yes, if the story has internal logic and consistency, so much the better. But losing your free will seems an odd reward for exercising it in the approved fashion :).

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Divine Miss Phoenix and Buffy dear Squ.

How I wish I could see this series and understand what you guys are driving at.

Sigh. I'll go back to FHH comments,