Monday, November 12, 2012
Guess the Plot
The Buried Life
1. Zombie mummy cats chase zombie mummy mice in Tutankhamen's tomb after an earthquake releases a spell from a sealed vase. Plus, a hapless archaeologist.
2. A new cereal killer is on the loose, but Detective Martinez lacks the proof he needs to arrest prime suspect Count Chocula. Then he discovers ... the Buried Life.
3. Molly the mole is worried. There were enough predators out there even before all the humans became zombies. Because zombies are slow, they've taken to digging up prey. So Molly is building an army of moles to bash the zombie heads and make Earth safe for mole-kind.
4. Ezra McCabre awakens in a closed coffin. Follow his reflections over the course of several hours as he wonders whether he's the victim of a practical joke or something much worse.
5. It's love at first sight when Republican Veep candidate Mike and Democrat rookie Senator Michael lock eyes across the debate room. But once in office and Michael could be the key swing vote to prevent Mike bombing Lenyaland - home of Michael's beloved Noni - how much can stay buried?
6. When the rich and famous are getting murdered in an underground city, it's up to laundress and amateur sleuth Jane Lin to infiltrate their ranks and expose a killer before the city is ripped apart. Also, a useless police inspector.
7. Wisping out in the ether, the cremated souls of wretches demand retribution for not being buried alive. But what goodly souls exist to resurrect them before wielding the shovel?
Dear Evil Editor,
When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a historian, the only thing more difficult to unravel than the crime is the red tape. Not that she's surprised; only a few dozen men and women in her city are allowed to study the past. [I don't get the connection between few people being allowed to study the past and Liesl's lack of surprise that there's a lot of red tape. Doesn't it sound like something's missing from this conversation:
Captain: You've caught a murder case.
Liesl: Who's the victim?
Captain: Some historian.
Liesl: Shit. I'm gonna be drowning in red tape.
Captain: Why's that?
Liesl: Because only a few dozen men and women in this city are allowed to study the past.]
[Maybe the opening should be: When one of the few historians in the underground city Recoletta is found murdered, the investigation rightly falls to Inspector Liesl Malone. So she is surprised when the ruling Council immediately throws her off the case. (If that's what happens next.)]
But she is surprised when Recoletta’s ruling Council throws her off the case. When the Council attempts to pacify the city with a military curfew. [I don't think "pacify" is the word you want. It suggests the people are demanding a military curfew and the Council is placating them. You could try "curb" or "suppress" if you can follow up with "protests" or "rebellion." Otherwise I'd just say: When the Council imposes a military curfew.] When the rich and powerful keep dying. [This when, when, when annoys me. How about this:
When one of the few historians in the underground city Recoletta is found murdered, the investigation rightly falls to Inspector Liesl Malone. So she is surprised when the ruling Council immediately throws her off the case and imposes a military curfew.
As more rich and powerful people are murdered, Malone must choose between her duty to obey the Council and her responsibility to catch a killer. (If that's what her choice is.)]
Malone must choose between her duty to obey the Council and her responsibility to catch a murderer. She finds an unlikely ally in Jane Lin, a laundress who stumbles upon the body of a wealthy client. Jane is close to the elites and their secrets, and she’s alarmed enough by the plot she discovers [I knew she discovered a body; she also discovered the plot? Wouldn't it be better if Liesl discovered the plot? So far she hasn't done anything.] to volunteer to be Malone’s conduit to the inner circle. [Now the laundress is going under cover? Is the laundress the main character? I feel like the laundress is James Bond and Liesl is M.] Malone and Jane must stop the killer and unearth the Council’s deadly secrets
[Liesl: We must stop the killer and unearth the Council’s deadly secrets.
The Laundress: Okay, what's our plan?
Liesl: You stop the killer and unearth the Council’s deadly secrets while I monitor the situation.]
before politics and murder rip Recoletta apart.
THE BURIED LIFE is a mystery novel with speculative fiction elements complete at 92,000 words. I am working on a sequel.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Note to Evil Editor: The title refers to the setting (an underground city) and the secret discovery driving the murders (an ancient, buried library). [If the entire book is set underground, a buried library doesn't seem out-of-place. Is it buried under the buried city?] [Out of curiosity, what's on the surface?]
Note that I refer to your character as The Laundress, rather then Jane. I base this decision on such successful titles as The Artist, The Negotiator, The Client, The Rainmaker, and The Lorax. The Laundress will be the title of the movie after the screenwriters remove Liesl from the plot, so you may as well save them the trouble.
Now that we've shortened the first part, you may have room to hint at how this library is driving murders. And to make it sound like Liesl is somewhat useful.
Recoletta sounds like Rigoletto, Verdi's opera about a hunchbacked jester's love affair with a laundress. Coincidence?
Posted by Evil Editor at 2:04 PM
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The laundress finding her wealthy client dead doesn't work for me. It's hardly likely the client would even know of her existence, never mind be in a position for her to see him, dead or alive. Dealing with laundry is what servants are for.
Also, I think we need something more definite than the city being ripped apart, especially when it's apparent it could do with a bit of a shake-up. What's actually at stake?
Hi author, I notice your query doesn't mention that everything takes place underground and it probably should. This reminds me of that movie City of Ember. The point being there's a reason they're all underground that's tied to why no one is allowed to study the past. And you should cough up what it is, or the agent/editor is left bewildered about what being a historian has to do with murder investigations.
Also why is one woman called by her last name and the other by her first?
Plus, cops get asked to cover up and stop pushing for answers all the time. Malone should be used to it and probably fairly jaded about it. Unless she's an idealistic rookie – the point I'm sidling up to here is that the query needs more about Malone's personality and character. Mysteries aren't my genre, but I do get the feeling the personality of the cop is more of a selling point than the plot, and you've provided plot only.
Thanks for the feedback! My query needs work, and you guys have shown me where to start.
Anonymous--thanks for sharing. I've been struggling with how much of the set-up (cities are underground, history is verboten) to reveal in the query. You're right, there's not much context here, but I've also worried about the "drowning in backstory" problem that agents complain about in queries.
As for the names, my observation is that people generally address cops by their last names and domestic help by first names, so that's what I've done in the query and book.
Without the context, it reads too much like stories we've all read many times before. That may be why no one's commenting. Either that or people are just busy. I don't know.
My guess is the setting is what makes this story different from every other murder mystery out there. Therefore, you need your setting in the query. You'll have to figure out how to establish context without making it seem like backstory.
I, for one, am very interested in the setting. The plot is pretty typical -- a murder, red tape, some corrupt organization keeping the investigator off the case -- so what really sets this story apart IS the setting. An entire way of life beneath the earth's surface, every citizen trapped (buried!) with a killer on the loose and no one even trying to stop him.
I agree you don't want to drown in backstory or description, but leaving out the underground city and the ancient library is like leaving out your most prominent character. Find a way to incorporate the setting into the hook so that it's inseparable from the plot, because hopefully, that's exactly how it is in the novel.
Also, what is the main character's reason for feeling so compelled to go against the Council and continue investigating these murders? Is it really just professional responsibility? If she has no better reason than that . . . give her one.
I'm sort of guilty of both of AK's speculations: I'm super busy, but also, so much of this is humdrum at first glance. I can kind of glimpse the book you're trying to sell, where a rogue cop and a housemaid/spy team up to blow open the corrupt ties among the underground city's powerful and wealthy, but I had to work so hard to get there. Somehow--probably because the language is boilerplate where it's not outright vague--the query is really boring. I'm afraid the book will be too.
If you put a revision in the comments, we'll take another look. I hope you do, because I kind of like what I can see past the humdrum query.
Your answer for the first/last name choice matches my thoughts on the subject. *thumbs-up*
I, for one, am very interested in the setting. The plot is pretty typical -- a murder, red tape, some corrupt organization keeping the investigator off the case -- so what really sets this story apart IS the setting.
Er, yes, Anonymous. That was precisely my point. However, perhaps hearing it repeated will impress the author with its veracity.
Now, now, those two comments were time-stamped 2:58 and 3:01, so no cheating was involved.
No, no, definitely no cheating. Definitely. Honestly.4
Oh, okay. I was thinking of the elapsed time from when I typed it. Sorry. Now I'm confused. The BS comment wasn't there yesterday either, but it's timestamped earliest.
That was my fault. I was so mesmerized by the BS comment that I forgot to click on "publish" after I read it. Happens frequently with BS.
Don't you believe a word of it, minions. I've tried and tried to mesmerise him!
And yet...my comment from yesterday remains unpublished.
Is laundress a euphemism for prostitute in the book's society? Because that's the only way I can see Jane's role as described in the query making sense.
It's now up, 150. No wonder no one submits here anymore. I've become a slackard. Apparently slackard isn't a word. It should be. If it isn't, maybe one day people will be looking it up in the OED and discover the earliest known use of it was in this comment.
Thanks so much for the feedback. I'll rework my query and try to clarify the setting and the stakes. Now, answering questions...
1. EE - You asked what's on the surface. The novel takes place centuries after world war/global catastrophe. Survivors moved into underground bunkers and rebuilt their cities from there. Hundreds of years later, they're still living underground because that's where most of the infrastructure is and because they're accustomed to it. The surface is fine now--people can and do travel around up there--but most people would consider living there uncomfortable and uncivilized.
2. BS - Good point about the stakes. The city is hierarchical and the Councilors wield lots of power. So when their ranks start dwindling, they overreact (military curfew, violent/secretive arrests in the poorer districts, the threat of more random brutality as the murders continue). Furthermore, the general population has a "bread and circuses" kind of mentality--they don't much object to the Council's power and "benign" corruption as long as things in the city are peaceful and prosperous overall. So when people at the top of the food chain die, it's all the more disturbing because those folks are supposed to be untouchable. You're right--there aren't specific consequences or threats in the query.
2. Anon - It's not just a sense of professional responsibility, it's more that she doesn't trust the Council's motives. She thinks they must be up to something if they don't want an inspector investigating the murders, which is the standard operating procedure. There's also a longstanding rivalry between the police and the Council's guards, who are entrusted with the investigation (but whose investigative prowess Malone doubts).
3. 150 - Thanks! I'll get to work on a revised version.
4. Anon 2 - She's not a prostitute. But because of her role picking up/delivering laundry at several wealthy houses, she can come and go without raising suspicion. If you're referring to BS's first comment and the how-does-she-stumble-upon-a-rich-dead-guy thing, it's that this particular client doesn't keep a full live-in staff. When she arrives, no one seems to be home, but she notices something is amiss (she doesn't suspect a murder, of course).
And here's a question for anybody who'll weigh in: how do you decide how much of the ending to give away? I didn't mention the library because that isn't revealed to be the secret behind the murders until the last ~15% of the book. Then again, there are other turning points after that, so discovering the library isn't the last thing that happens.
Lots of queries end on the central character's dilemma. You don't need to tell us how the dilemma is resolved.
In my opinion, you shouldn't include the ending all wrapped up with a pleasant little bow, but if you've got a cool element like an ancient buried library, make sure it gets mentioned.
A murdered historian is no different than, say, a murdered shoe salesman. The Council blocking an investigation is just the Council being difficult, because that's what Councils do. But you bring in an ancient library that has potential to unravel the entire society, and you start to pull together all the random events. NOW the story is interesting. Leave out the library, and we just assume run-of-the-mill psycho and standard corrupt government organization.
Good luck with the revision!
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