Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Face-Lift 1022

Guess the Plot

Past and Present

1. Detective Duncan keeps getting anonymous tips that pan out. Turns out the tips are coming from a guy named Hugh who claims he's from the future so he knows everything that will happen in the present because it's his past. Duncan offers to hook Hugh up with a good shrink.

2. As a nonogenarian wraps Christmas gifts for each of her relatives, she reflects on things they and others have done to annoy her over the course of her long life.

3. Tired of being a vampire, Jason travels back 500 years in order to prevent himself from turning into one . . . and gets bitten by a werewolf.

4. A Vermont coven of witches discover how to travel into the past as ghosts. They decide to right the wrongs of New England’s past by building goodwill for witches, but they also break a barrier holding back a clutch of demons. As the witches right wrongs, the demons wreak havoc and frame the witches.

5. When Lars Sekkin, first pilot of a new time machine, goes back 50 years into the past, everyone thinks he'll return quickly. Instead he falls in love, and stays in the past. Only one problem remains: How do you explain to everyone else that you are your own grandfather?

6. Bertrand is a Newvisioner; he revises media in the National Database to fit current ideology. The mind-erase technology used in his programmings leaves dozens of versions of historical events in his brain. When his psyche splits, Bertrand goes on a rampage, impersonating history's greatest assassins.

Original Version

When Detective Scotty Duncan starts receiving tips on his answering machine, his first thought is that some nut job out there likes him, because every tip leads to an arrest. But when his tipster [A cop would say "informant." "Tipster" doesn't sound macho enough. Likewise, the villain would be referred to as the "perp," not the "bad guy."] calls in [Reports? Predicts?] a murder with a few too many details, he tracks down the man as a suspect. He finds Hugh Everett, a young man who claims he’s from the future. [If someone claims to be from the future, it's almost certainly true. How many people who aren't from the future are stupid enough to think you'll believe them if they claim they are?]

Everett has an alibi for the murder, [The alibi "I was in the year 2238" will wash only with the most gullible of cops.] and a warning for Duncan. The murderer, according to Everett, will kill four more people before disappearing. And one of them is Duncan. [The guy came from the future to save four people? Why didn't he come to a slightly earlier time and save the latest victim too? For that matter, why isn't he trying to save thousands or millions of people instead of four?] [Unless . . . Of course! The murderer is also from the future and Everett is on a mission to prevent the murderer from killing Duncan because Duncan's as-yet-unborn child's grandchild cures cancer or invents a Beagle that doesn't puke up its dinner on the new carpet.]

Armed with his revolver, his coffee-addict partner, and a whole lot of skepticism, Duncan sets out to uncover the murderer…and maybe get some psychiatric help for Everett.


Presumably this is not the entire query, and you thought we'd be bored with the word count and genre. Or you just didn't want to listen to comments like Your book is too long or Your book is too short, or That doesn't sound anything like an epic fantasy.

This situation sparks my interest, but I want more than the setup. I'm guessing there comes a time when Duncan realizes Everett is on the level. What happens then? What screws up the plan? You have room to tell us more than the situation.

What are these tips Everett is providing that lead to arrests? Are they for lesser crimes than murder? Did he come from the future to prevent a mugging? If I want to convince you I have advance knowledge, I'm not gonna tell you Mrs. Smith will have her purse snatched tomorrow. I'll tell you the Cubs and Yankees will play a 15-inning game with a final score of 8 - 6, and then I'll throw in the exact scores of every other game that day. And I'll bring along a copy of next Thursday's New York Times.

Check out Replay by Ken Grimwood.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Not bad. Not bad at all.

I had a little logic blip with this one:

The murderer, according to Everett, will kill four more people before disappearing. And one of them is Duncan.

Disappearing? Who can disappear better than Everett, if he's really from the future? That would be my thinking if I were Duncan.

Then of course there's the question of what motivates Everett to come back and change the past by preventing the murder of Duncan, instead of changing the past by preventing the murders of 10 million Ukrainian peasants, 6 million European Jews, 1.5 million Armenians, 1 million Cambodians, 800,000 Rwandans ... okay now I'm depressing myself.

Anyway, presumably that question is dealt with in the manuscript, perhaps by some Connie Willis style explanation-- "slippage".

It's also a feature of time travel stories that the person from the future doesn't generally 'fess up, because (much like turning into a giant snake) it never helps.

On the whole-- pretty solid query. One of the better ones I've seen.

journeytogao said...

Alaska, you ask: Who can disappear better than Everett, if he's really from the future?

Answer: another time-traveler -- the perp. Maybe Everett is bobbing and weaving through time to evade him or her.

Anyway, author, I'm with giving a little more info. I get the feeling the murderer is coming back to our present to settle some scores and to undo or prevent Duncan's busting him or her. Whatever's going on, I'd like to get a feel for the game of cat and mouse.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Arhooley-- agreed. But I'm thinking like Duncan. The poor sap doesn't know he's in a novel, and he's having a hard enough time believing in one time traveler. So to him, Everett is the obvious perp.

I agree that an explanation of Everett's motives wouldn't hurt-- I assume it's big-picture, and contains some tacit explanation of why he's preventing the murders but not the Rwandan genocide.

Queries don't have to be perfect, though, to land a terrific agent. Am living proof right here. But it's probably better if they are perfect.

none said...

If he's from the future, presumably he can name the next victim and the time and place where they'll be killed. Stakeout, arrest, sorted.

Short novel?

Evil Editor said...

Not necessarily. What if the "time traveler" was just trying to get the detective out of the way so he could commit the real crime. What if the killer gets arrested, but one of his future victims was the next Hitler? What if the stakeout works but the killer, who's also from the future, focuses his time travel device on the detective and sends him back in time where he falls out of the sky on top of his great grandfather, killing him? What then?

Anonymous said...

Interesting plot but I suspect you haven't seen the movie 12 Monkeys, which was basically the same plot but done on a somewhat larger scale. Get a copy of that with the commentaries, watch it about 20 times, listen to all the commentaries, and then rewrite.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Or-- and Connie Willis used this nicely in her most recent books-- what if the time traveler comes from the future insufficiently supplied with info about the past? After all, murders as such are seldom history. And once the time traveler's prevented the first murder, everything's changed and nothing he knows counts anymore.

Plus, of course, there are difficulties in arresting a murderer who hasn't killed anyone yet. Even more difficulties in keeping him locked up. The stories (set in Alaska) I could tell you.

none said...

I suppose all the court records and newspapers could've been destroyed in the time between the murders and the time traveller setting off, but then how could he know about them at all? If he knows there were four murders and that Duncan was one of the victims, it's reasonable to assume he can know *more* than that.

Further, unless it's a single or one-way trip, he can hop forward to a time when the records haven't been destroyed, get the info there, then bring it back to where it's needed.

Time travel doesn't allow you much leeway to pretend something can't be known, really. Look at how hard Willis has to work to keep her travellers from getting home or contacting anyone.

Evil Editor said...

It's impossible to write time travel without paradoxes. Addressing them in the book by creating rules is a good idea.

none said...

Exactly. But we don't know what the rules are for this time travel novel, because the author omitted to send the rest of the query.

Author, you need to at least hint at the compelling reasons why Duncan can't just stake out the next victim and catch the killer that way. Or at what goes horribly wrong when he tries.

What's at stake apart from Duncan's own life? What will happen if he and Everett change the direction of the timey-wimey thing?

Also, the novel needs a better title. Really.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Buffy-- Sure, all the records could have been destroyed, or, even more confusingly, they all could have survived.

Then the time traveler could have read all the available reports and gotten seven different locations for the murder, fourteen different times, the name of the street where it happened misspelled sixteen ways, the names of victim and perp confused with similar names of people in no way related to them... etc.

But more likely... say I go back in time to prevent a murder I read about happening in NYC in 1843. Once I get back there, I realize you can barely turn around in NYC in 1843 without stepping on a murder victim (that's how the contemporaries saw it) and I didn't bother researching the other 186 murders, and I have no more idea what's going to happen next than what Connie Willis calls "the contemps" did. And I could spend the rest of my life shuttling back and forth from past to present researching each murder, only to find that some of them had never been recorded anywhere at all.

Waste of my valuable time-traveling time. Better to go back to WWI and shove Corporal Adolf Hitler into the path of an obliging trench mortar.

none said...

Yes, yes, Alaska. Calm down. Obviously records can be contradictory and confusing, even if people do use them all the time for purposes as diverse as tracing their family tree or writing a history book and somehow manage to hack their way through the maze.

And if bad information is the reason Duncan and Everett can't do the obvious, then that's fine. But it needs to be in the query. Otherwise it just looks like they're idiots.

Rachel6 said...

I actually pulled this from my false-starts/practice folder when I saw the Editor's "entries wanted" post, but the reception (and the brilliant ideas!) have me putting this onto my to-do list.

Buffy, the title is *definitely* temporary.

I really liked both Editor's idea of the killer using his knowledge to commit his crimes better, and Alaska's idea of Duncan blaming Everett. I'm going to play with this idea for a while now....thanks!!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, I'm just never sure if you understand these simple concepts.

sarahhawthorne said...

This is pretty solid, but I feel like you end the query just as it's getting interesting. You set up a serial killer with an interesting sci-fi element... but then the last line about Duncan's coffee-loving partner and Everett's therapy makes it sound like Wacky Hijinks (tm) will ensue. It drains the tension you just introduced with the idea that Duncan is a target.

Golfball said...

IMO, a possible reason for why our buddy Everett cannot prevent large-scale atrocities would be due to the extensive disruption of the timestream, too many unintended consequences. (And one of those consequences could be the elimination of the time traveler themselves, preventing them from going back in time...)

For example, if some time-traveler decided to shove Cpl. Hitler into the path of a trench mortar, I wouldn't exist, my paternal grandparents wouldn't have met. Hence, the current-me would be peeved at being blasted from existence.

So, if I get time travel capabilities, I would be the last person to be doing that.