Thursday, June 23, 2011

Face-Lift 919

Guess the Plot


1. A secret weapon is being prepared in the of Kitchens of Hades, a cross between ammunition and remoulade. Is it Judgment Day for crab cakes in Paris or will haute cuisine survive the ass salt of the demons?

2. Remution. Sangroil. Phletilortic. Call the NEA; we have a mutiny on our hands. Sick of useless, test-oriented schooling, 42 million students crash offices and businesses all over the US with one objective: find an adult--any adult--that actually uses these crap SAT words.

3. They chopped up the world's sheep and assembled the remains into a golem the size of Africa. Now mankind's scientists send their brainchild into battle against the Grafto-Pig from WTF-979.

4. Vee is tired of her loved ones disappearing because of other people's time traveling "remutions." Enter the Liar, a messenger from the future who wants to eliminate time travel. Can Vee trust the Liar? And more importantly, will readers get pissed when everything that happens in the book gets remuted?

5. Snatched out of the 18th century and plopped down into the body of a modern-day high school English teacher, eminent author and biographer Samuel Johnson has only one hope of escaping a nightmarish existence of e-mails, LOLs, and school district/teacher union battles: becoming the superhero known as Man-Of-Letters!

6. The Old West is brand new to Stieg Johannson. When he winds up on a cattle ranch in Texas, he can’t even get a decent mount; the other ranch hands easily catch the best horses during the morning "remution"—leaving the dregs for Steig. Will he find his way to cowboy freedom and guitar solos, or will he bite the dust when Big Ben Parker gets annoyed by the funny way he speaks?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Enclosed please find the query letter for my novel. Some particular problems with it that I'd love advice on (though I imagine the things you spot that I don't know about will be even more useful) are;

1) The query is too long, but I don't know how to shorten it without it becoming incoherent.
2) At 135,000 words, the book shares this problem. I've cut it a lot, but I feel like cutting it any more will remove crucial plot points. Is it total doom to send out a query letter with a word-count this high?
2) The title. (Which, by the way, is the word for "sending your mind back in time to a previous point in your life to change your past (and so your present)." Verb: to remute; adjective: remuted; noun: remution.)

Many thanks for your help!

Dear Agent Name,

In a world where traveling through time is as easy as thought, Vee Colk is one of the few who can’t. As a vigiler—a leader who receives complicated messages from the future, whether technological advances or advice about her people’s love lives—[Those two items don't sound like they belong on the same list.] she’s responsible for keeping track of the many shifting realities created by people’s constant revisions (“remutions”) of the past. [That seems impossible. For instance, if she records that Bob just went into the past to kill Hitler's mother, and Bob succeeds, then there is no Hitler, and thus Bob can't go into the past to kill Hitler's mother, so this record of what Bob did would vanish or have no meaning.] Her life is a chaos of events, places, and loved ones being abruptly wiped out of existence, and she’s barely holding on to sanity. When she learns that a future invention will soon make her family’s work (and so her family) obsolete, she faces the choice between dutifully destroying her home, or… well, she’s not sure what the other option is, but she can’t believe there isn’t one.

Remution, a completed, 135,000 word science-fiction novel, follows Vee as she struggles to find some way to survive with both her family and her self-respect intact. Unfortunately, living in a world where all mistakes can be corrected and most decisions are made by one’s future self means that Vee doesn’t have much skill at independent planning. On impulse, she leaves home to follow Saed, a traveling entertainer who uses his nanotechnological shape-shifting abilities to put on performances for families about themselves. [For my next impression, I'd like to do Dad watching television.] Vee learns that hers isn’t the only family with problems when she meets the Liar, a messenger from the future who seems to be trying to stop the forward progress of technologies. [Is that how the Liar introduces herself? Hi, I'm the Liar? Because I would immediately suspect that wasn't her name.] [You need another character called the Truthteller. Then you can have a scene like that puzzle where you're locked in a room with the Liar and the Truthteller, and you get to ask one question, and you need to figure out which person is the Liar from the answer or you die. When you look up the solution in the back of the book, the question always turns out to be something like If I were to ask the other person whether he's the Liar and he were to say No, would he be telling the truth? I always take their word that it works, because I have better things to do than test it out.] Investigating the Liar leads Vee to Laisa, a mysterious woman who asks such bizarre questions as “are you okay?” and “can I help?”—both nonsensical ideas for people who can simply undo everything that’s gone wrong in their lives, [Everything? You mean if I went back in time to the day Vicky Johnson turned me down when I asked her to go to bed with me, she would say Yes?] but strangely welcome to Vee.

Despite Saed’s ironic detachment, Laisa’s uncertainty and sorrow, and Vee’s jumpiness, snappishness, and constant drinking—not to mention the fact that Vee’s family annoyed at her desertion, repeatedly remutes everything that’s happened in the book so far-- [If I get to chapter 14 and suddenly all the characters have vanished and I'm now reading a romance novel set during the Crimean War, I'm going to be annoyed.] she, Laisa, and Saed fall in love, and slowly begin to help each other deal with their past losses. Laisa’s losses pose particular problems, as Vee discovers that both Laisa and the Liar come from a very different reality [Did she learn this from Laisa or from the Liar?] —one in which no-one can time-travel at all—and that the Liar’s goal is to return the universe to that state. [Or so she claims.] [Is it sexist that I find it hard to think of a character called the Liar as a she?] [If the Liar prefers to live where time travel doesn't exist, why did she leave her own reality, where . . . time travel doesn't exist?] [If everything that's happened in the book so far has been remuted, how is it that the Liar and Laisa are still around?] It will unmake everyone living now, but it will protect those who remain from the constant risk of being casually erased. [If it unmakes everyone, no one remains.] More importantly to the Liar, it will force people to live with their mistakes and so learn the compassion and wisdom she sees as sorely lacking from Vee’s world. [I get the impression everyone believes everything the Liar says. Don't they even suspect she might be lying?] With help from Laisa and Saed, Vee comes up with a plan which will restore all the people who have been erased, [They must go back in time and kill the grandparents of everyone who ever remuted.] and persuades the Liar’s most important ally—her sentient translation AI—to switch sides and to help them put it into practice. Though this will change many things—and won’t stop Vee’s family from being made obsolete—she realizes that with the strength she has gained from her journey, she just might be able to face whatever changes come. [Unless she would have died in a plane crash six years ago if not for some random remution.]

I can be reached either with the enclosed SASE, at, or at ____________. Thank you very much for your consideration of my work, and I look forward to hearing from you.



1. The query is too long. The good news is, I think by shortening it it'll become less incoherent.

2. The book is pretty long, although you can get away with more length when a book isn't set on Earth because you need time to describe your world. Your book has about 550 pages. If you cut 20 words from each page, you're down 11,000 without cutting any of your scenes. And admit it, you don't really need Chapter 7.

3. A Stitch in Time. Time Will Tell. The Time Travelers' Strife. Actually, it's not the title that bothers me, it's the name Vee Colk.

There are too many characters in the query. You need Vee and you need someone who helps her accomplish her goal. I vote for the Liar, because she has the same goal, and seems to have some idea how to go about it. Also, she has the coolest name. Although, if I were named the Liar, and I moved into a new reality where no one knew me, I might consider changing my name to Frank Virtue.

Here's your setup:

In a world where time travel is as easy as thought, all mistakes can be corrected and most decisions are made by one’s future self. But is this progress? Vee Colk wants to live where people learn from their mistakes and so gain the compassion and wisdom sorely lacking from her world.

Enter the Liar, a messenger from the future who wants to stop the forward progress of technologies.

At this point you can tell us what the Liar knows. Presumably she has seen the inevitable result of constant remutions (dwindling population, all students getting 100% on all tests, etc.), and knows what's at stake. What's their plan? Must they deal with remution addicts trying to stop them by going back in time and killing their ancestors?

I find I'm more interested in the horrifying ramifications of time travel than I am in whether Vee's job becomes obsolete or she falls in love with Laisa and Saed. Can this one woman save us from ourselves? I'd focus on that, especially as you're trying to sell to a science fiction publisher.

If loved ones are constantly disappearing because of time travel, I find it hard to believe there aren't at least as many people trying to ban it as there are doing it.


Khazar-khum said...

How does Vee know that someone called The Liar is telling the truth? How does she know this isn't an elaborate hoax to kill her & her kind off so that others can wreak havoc across time?

When someone is introduced to me as Liar, for some odd reason I'm going to have trouble believing anything that Liar says.

Anonymous said...

You can drop "forward" from the phrase "forward progress."

Your query convinces me that the concept of time travel -- especially if it can be done at will by almost anyone -- is unmanageably recursive, chaotic, and illogical when it's explored beyond the superficial. Instead of intriguing me, your query scares me off.

You haven't convinced me to spend 135,000 words to find out if Vee gets what she wants. You say she's going "insane," but I'd say she's overworked by an absurd job. She struggles for self-respect. She wants to keep her family intact, but I don't know what they're like or who they are or why I should care about them (Vee herself bolts them).

And this: Vee’s family annoyed at her desertion, repeatedly remutes everything that’s happened in the book so far

Don't acknowledge the "fourth wall" of your fiction. They repeatedly remute everything Vee has done to make her world right, or something such. Stay within your (fictional) reality.

All that said, I dig your take on leadership and global struggle -- an attempt to save a world from its own unceasing destruction of its history by "improving" it, a non-military technology accessible to the common man that renders memory and experience meaningless, a world leader who is an actual manager.

I also like your characters. I imagine they have some interesting conversations.

none said...

This is more of a synopsis than a query. With more focus on Vee and her goal it might come to look more like a query instead.

If changing the past doesn't change your memory of the previous past(s), how the heck do people know which memory reflects their present situation?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'm in agreement with arhooley, as I so often am on all matters non-political.

This is really an interesting story idea. The problem is that original story ideas often don't work when you start ironing out all the logical flaws.

If you manage to address them all without letting your story get bogged down in them, you may have something here.

I recommend reading a lot of Terry Pratchett-- he's ace at brushing off the technical details quickly, dusting his hands, and getting on with the story. ("It is probably because of quantum.")

Xenith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jo-Ann said...

Woah! Reading the query made my brain spin. Lots of characters and plot turns, and ultimately no real sense of who Vee is except an extremely frazzled person who's into threesomes.

The premise of the novel seems to be that nobody (including Vee) has any sense of responsibility in that universe because they can go back and remute their mistakes, so that they dont have to face the consequences. Except that's immediately contradicted by the remark that Vee can somehow keep track of the alternate threads of reality and somehow take care of the inconsistencies created by these seemingly trivial acts - sounds like more responsibility than any one person should carry.

I'm also flummoxed by her finding out about a future discovery that will SOON make her's and her family's work obsolete. In a time- traveling universe, surely the discovery would have been employed at a time in Vee's family's past that would make her obsolete before she could even learn about her role as a vigiler. And I haven't figured out why Vee's choice is to destroy her home or... something (what the heck would that achieve?).

The role of a query isn't to blurt the entire plot in one breath. The query is to pique somebody's interest in your well-thought out story, and to make them care about the character. Focus on Vee. Who is she, what does she want, and who is trying to stop her achiveing it. Keep the other characters' roles brief.

PS. EE - I didn't think Vicky Johnson was your type.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a very interesting premise. Although not as good as it could have been, Time Cop was one of my favorite time travel stories. I see some of this in there.

The devil is in the details. In practical terms, it's unlikely *everyone* would be able to time travel...especially to change time and then end up in the "real world". If just two or three people were changing things at a time, there's likely to be a sort of Butterfly Effect leaving no real world. I mean just in the area of romantic relations it's impossible...I go back in time and change something I said to Christine to win her, but then the guy who she did go to prom with goes back and undoes it or changes something else which prompts me to....well ya get the picture. And that's just three people. With hundreds of thousands of people doing it simultaneously, there would be no reality per se.

Anyway, I think EE's premise gives you a great head start for a rewrite. Good luck!

none said...

Xenith makes a lot of very good points. I trimmed a novel by thousands of words by editing every paragraph that ended in less than a full line until it did, ie by getting rid of the words that trailed onto a half line. The great thing about that approach is you can change your margins or your font size and start again....

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'm also flummoxed by her finding out about a future discovery that will SOON make her's and her family's work obsolete. In a time- traveling universe, surely the discovery would have been employed at a time in Vee's family's past that would make her obsolete before she could even learn about her role as a vigiler.

Yes, that one snagged me to, and is an example of why the writer needs to work out all the ramifications of his/her premise.

In Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, Orson Scott Card has the mere act of traveling into the past (once!) cause everyone in the present world to cease to exist. Merciless, but logical.

Terry Pratchett once said that the best fantasy writers change the rules by which the world works and then write very carefully to those rules.

batgirl said...

Oh gosh, Buffy - I use that same system of shortening!

This sounds like an interesting book, along the lines of Fritz Leiber's Big Time but with more internal conflict. You might want to get hold of a copy - it's a very quick read, first published as an Ace Double. Wikipedia says: The Big Time is a vast, cosmic back story, hidden behind a claustrophobic front story with only a few characters.

Pthalo said...

I would buy this book. It sounds absolutely fascinating. I love time travel taken seriously.

Sylvia said...

I like the title.