Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Face-Lift 1124

Guess the Plot

What Future Lies

1. The dog ate my homework. It's not you, it's me. Check's in the mail. I'm on the pill. No, really, you can trust me. Oh God...yes, yes, yes! Aunt Amity's forthcoming Book of Lies will be a must-have baby shower gift.

2. Professor Cuyper invents time travel, invests heavily in biotechnology, then sets off for a promising future. He arrives in a world of terrifying mutations his money helped create. Too bad he forgot to invent reverse time travel.

3. Elspeth Kasandra has made a fortune as a fake fortune teller. But now all her made-up predictions are mysteriously coming true. Now it's up to Elspeth to stop California from tumbling into the sea.

4. Brenda thinks men won't date her because she's fat, so she uses an old picture on a dating site. Soon a handsome man messages her. But at the date, she discovers he's really a frumpy shoe store manager. Can they find love, or will their lives be--future lies?

5. Physicist Joseph Seldon knows time travel is impossible, since the past and future are constructs of our minds and only the present exists. Then a future version of himself shows up, needing his help.

6. Nerdy Zara has found her niche by reading tarot during lunch break. A few accurate predictions and she's now in demand by the cool girls. Her revenge for past humiliations is to predict horrible futures for them, and watch self-fulfilling prophecies come true.

7. Paul and his girlfriend Emma are accepted into separate Ivy League universities, Paul promises to visit her every weekend. She doesn't trust him. Paul doesn't care, because he just wants to party, and lie about it.

8. Christopher Smith gets kidnapped by a time traveling warrior and taken to a high-tech medieval time when knights ride hover bikes and energy domes protect cities. He thinks it's pretty cool, but the coolest part is when it's revealed that Chris is actually an android!

9. Herman thought he had life figured out. Job, wife, family, right? Then, he entered Madame Allred's carny tent. Now his only hope for a perfect future is to survive a trip to the past to save his fiancée's mother from a tragic mistake.

10. Thyme learns that her father wasn't the man who raised her. In fact, he wasn't even human. On the run from the Intrastellar Justice Agency, Thyme searches for her biological father who she hopes can save her. Also, shape-shifting squid people.

11. A disillusioned Wall Street trader who lost it all in the mortgage crisis comes to Jesus after his failed suicide attempt. (I think. It's kinda murky and grandiose.)

Original Version

Dear EE,

When 17-year-old Christopher Smith gets kidnapped by a beautiful time-traveller with rainbow-colored eyes, he thinks that's as crazy as it gets. Not even close.

His kidnapper, a warrior named Isabeau de Chic, brings Christopher to a future he never imagined: a time when high technology meets history in medieval-inspired city-states, where towering walls are protected by impermeable energy barriers and knights ride AI-enhanced hover bikes.

And then Christopher meets the king, Alexander, who looks just like him.

King Alexander claims their similarity is mere coincidence and that he only brought Christopher to the future to be his occasional stand-in. Christopher thinks he's lying. Christopher's right. [Obviously he's right. When you have time travel, you don't need a stand-in. If you get assassinated, your trusted minions time travel back to right before the assassination and prevent it. If the queen catches you in bed with your mistress, you go back in time and give the queen a thousand dollars to go shoe shopping. Instead of using a stand-in to avoid attending some endless official ceremony like the city-state's 100th anniversary or meeting the Rollerball champions, you just time travel to the day after the ceremony.] [Plus, in the future if you need an occasional stand-in, you use one of your clones.]

Christopher's pretty sure Isabeau knows the truth, but, even though she's warming up to him, she's not telling. She's not telling him about the rebels either, with their wild stories of a world outside the energy dome. [The people think there's nothing outside their dome?] She's not telling him the rumors that those same rebels would love to replace King Alexander with someone new – perhaps someone that conveniently looks like him.

And she's certainly not telling him that he's an android. [I assume you mean Christopher, and not King Alexander. Although it seems weird for an android, upon being kidnapped by a time traveler, to think, That's as crazy as it gets.] [Then again, maybe if you translated those noises r2-d2 made it would turn out it was saying, "WTF? Could things get any more wacko? Holy shit! A wookie!"]

Surrounded by deception and intrigue, Christopher must discover the truths of this world for himself if he's going to decide whose side to take - a decision where he could lose his life... or gain his humanity. [a decision that could cost him his life... or gain him his humanity.]

Complete at 73000 words, WHAT FUTURE LIES is a YA Sci-Fi re-imagining of The Man in the Iron Mask. [In other words, the king has Chris thrown into prison, where he dies after 34 years and everyone wonders who he was.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Assuming an android is a robot that looks human, did they really have to time travel to get Christopher? It's not like he would have died of old age. Maybe he's still around. Even if he was destroyed, can't they just make a new android that looks like the king instead of going back in time? To people with hover bikes and force fields and time travel, making an android from scratch is like people of today making a fork.

It starts off okay, but instead of spending an entire paragraph telling us what Isabeau isn't telling Chris, maybe you should tell us what she is telling him. If Christopher doesn't know something, maybe we don't need to know it.

Does Chris ever find out he's an android? Does he want humanity? Does he want to get back to his own time? Are wants and desires totally foreign to him? You've set up his situation: he's been kidnapped and taken to the future. Now we want to know what happens.

After Chris decides whether to take the side of the king or the rebels, what is he supposed to do? Apparently take the king's place, as that's what both sides claim they want him for. But what's at stake? What will happen if the rebels win, and what will happen if they lose?


Unknown said...

I guess I'm confused how an android is 17... It's not as if he "grew up", right? Also, the point of an android not understanding he's a machine, is what? That he exists with all the teen angst we'd expect in someone who came through childhood? Sorry, I can't buy it. He should have some skill sets that are dictated by his creation, not his experience.

Also, the idea that future medieval lords can't make their own android-clone seems inconsistent with the setting. With the wild tech stuff they supposedly have, I can't believe they'd go mucking around with time-travel to get a being that they could have easily manufactured.

How does an android gain his humanity? Why would it even want to be human? Why would he desire to be human if he happily believed he was human?

For me, the query suffers from faults of logic, versus faults of technique. Unfortunately those are the hardest faults to fix...

Concentrate on Chris's story. Tell this query in his voice. It's gotta be pretty unsettling to be teleported to the future, to meet people who could kill you without issue, to learn you are a machine...use that tension to convince us this is a story we must read.

Best of luck!

Author said...

Thanks so much for the comments! Some things have come up so I don't know if I'll be able to post a revised version this week, but I will definitely take these notes (and any other comments the minions post), and come up with a new (and hopefully improved) version soon.

Thanks again!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The writing is good, and the presentation is pleasant. "Rainbow-colored eyes" snags my attention in a good way.

The first three paragraphs work fine. It's after that that the trouble begins.

As far as the traditional query frame-- a likeable character must overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to achieve a worthwhile goal-- you're only batting one out of three. Christopher seems, to paraphrase our President, likeable enough.

But I'm not seeing the obstacle, nor the goal. If I were him I'd want to escape and get home. I wouldn't give a hoot which side I should be on; my agenda would be "Where's the time machine?"

But Christopher seems to have Stockholm Syndrome. Why doesn't he want to go home? Did he get kidnapped from Death Row? Or is "kidnapped" not quite what happened to him? Will siding with the rebels (against the king? Against Rainbow Eyes?) help him escape?

I assume this all makes sense in your manuscript, but the query needs a clearer explanation of the stakes.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I think it would be exciting if Christopher was the only human amongst androids in the future. They need flesh and blood to rule, not a machine (King Alexander). This could have something do with a rebel uprising?

What if Isabeau traveled into the past to pluck the one human with perfect resemblance to King Alexander?

When you venture into a world without limits, it's tempting to forget the rules, but you must have them. Your book sounds like a cool read, but there are some issues with the logic.

Also, what year did Christopher get kidnapped from? It sounds like he was living in 3698, and transported to 5102. What's his perspective? I think it would be easier to craft his opinions and reactions if he was a human from 2013, or even one from 1985. He brings his Ray-Bans of course.

none said...

If Christopher is a machine, it wasn't kidnapped. It was stolen. I don't think you should wait till the end of the query to tell us it's a machine, tbh. It's bait and switch. (Readers won't care about an android so I'll pretend it's human till they're hooked.)

Also, an android that wants to be human? That's cliched and banal. Can't you find a more interesting dilemma? Christopher can save the world but only if it takes itself apart....

Intercostal Clavicle said...

"Isabeau de Chic" sounds satirical, and partnered with knights and hoverbikes, it sounds a bit like a parody of a male fantasy.

I don't understand why Christopher will be a good stand-in--doesn't he have someone else in his own kingdom who can do that for him? When you say "Christopher think he's lying. Christopher's right" it sounds like you're going to follow up with an explanation of how he knows that and what the real answer is.

If Isabeau's not telling Christopher about the rumours and the rebels, how does he know about them? And wouldn't it be better not to reveal that he's an android this early on? If it's immediately apparent right from the beginning, then okay, but this sounds like it's a pretty big reveal. Does his being an android provide any major plot changes or twists, or is it just for Rule of Cool?

I'm not entirely sure of what's going to happen in this story. You have a cool set-up, but what HAPPENS? What obstacles does Christopher overcome? From the query it sounds like he's just there, in the castle, and he just potters about while everybody lies to him.

Author said...

It's always so hard to know what to include in such a short space. You're right, AlaskaRavenclaw, in that the answers to all the questions people are asking are in the manuscript, but how to summarize them efficiently...

For instance, Christopher's not especially eager to return home because (a) his life is pretty much devoid of friends and fun; (b) his parents were the ones who handed him over to be taken away; and (c) he's a guy and Isabeau's a pretty amazing girl (even if she did, you know, kidnap him ;-).

Or the king's reason for the whole "android in the past" thing: the king will have to abdicate when he reaches 18, as adults are thought to be unable to control time travel, but if he swapped his mind into a permanently 17-year-old body he'd be golden. To make sure the android's AI was up to the task of containing a human consciousness, he gave the walking learning computer fake memories and sent it to a time where no one would recognize it and it could learn to be, well, human.

I swear, queries are like my kryptonite. Thanks for all the tips and comments - it definitely helps when you see your query through others' eyes! :-)

Anonymous said...

I don’t know if it’s necessary to mention in the query that Christopher is an android. You’ve got a really cool story unfolding, and that android bit just throws a wrench in it. But what you said here about King Alexander’s plan to transfer his own mind into Christopher’s body, if you can somehow hint at that a little more, you’ll have a really good argument for why Christopher can’t just return to his ordinary, no-fun life. The conflict would be much more personal. Christopher would have reason to actively participate in the plot to switch out the king rather than just going through the story as some bored teenager who got dragged into a political mess.

Also, I think you could do without the paragraph that starts with “Surrounded by deception and intrigue…” because if this is a re-imagining of The Man in the Iron Mask, we already know what choice Christopher makes. Iron Mask isn’t really about a guy making a choice. It’s about a group of people devising and implementing a very high-stakes plan. What’s the plan here?

Good luck with the re-write. I’d read this.

none said...

This is why you should never explain in response to criticism. Now I'm even less convinced the storyline works.

Unknown said...

Sadly, author, after reading your explanation I'm even more confused about this story.

The king created the AI, then sent it back in time so it could learn to be human, wherein it was an unlikeable outcast, and is now brought back to its origin to have a mind meld with the king so 'he' can continue his reign past his 18th birthday.

Who's story is this again?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

You don't have to explain your whole story in the query, but you do have to make us want to read it.

The query that I got my agent with was about three or four sentences long. That's not what every agent wants, but try it out in the privacy of your own home. It may help you focus.

What to leave out: absolutely leave out the android thing. You can see from people's reactions here that it's a buzzkill. An android isn't someone we can easily identify with. Leave out anything that's making people go "huh?" because that's not the reaction you want.

What to put in: Stuff that makes us root for your protag and want to read about him. We have to be able to identify with him. If his goals seem too unlike what we would do in similar circumstances, that makes him harder for us to believe in.

Evil Editor said...

If I request a manuscript thinking the main character is a 17-year-old kid and halfway through find out it's a machine, I'm not going to be happy. If it's the story of a king trying to retain his throne, I don't need to know that his strategy involves an android, but if it's the story of an android trying to gain humanity, I want to know he's an android in the query.

khazar-khum said...

The king wants to hold on to his throne, but to do that he needs to somehow stay 17. That's the better story.

OK, now, here's where you lose me. Historically, kids make pretty lousy rulers. People control them, or fight to control them. If you're basing this on "The Man in the Iron Mask", then you know one of the plot points is that when Louis XIV came to the throne at 5, France collapsed into a series of civil wars.

So you have this kingdom ruled eternally by a kid, which means the place must be either really ruled by someone who has no mercy for dissent, or is in a constant state of flux and chaos.

If Alexander is smart enough to realize that making himself 17 forever will put a stop to that, then that's your real story. Chris then becomes an afterthought, while Alexander's drive to make himself essentially immortal so he can clean the place up takes the forefront.

Author said...

Okay, here's the facelift, which hopefully explains a bit more and makes Chris more active. It feels a bit long to me, but we'll see:

Seventeen-year-old Christopher Smith never had much of a life, so when he gets kidnapped by a beautiful time-traveler with rainbow-colored eyes, he thinks that's as crazy as it gets. Not even close.

His kidnapper, a warrior named Isabeau, brings Christopher to a future he never imagined: a time when high technology meets history in medieval-inspired city-states, where towering walls are protected by impermeable energy barriers and knights ride AI-enhanced hover bikes.

And then Christopher meets the king, Alexander, who looks just like him.

King Alexander says it's "mere coincidence," and Christopher's too distracted by this amazing new world (and Isabeau) to delve too deep. Besides, it seems simple enough – the king protects the citizens from the bandits outside, and Christopher protects the king from the rebels inside by being an occasional body double.

But when a public event goes violently wrong, Christopher lands in the rebel camp, and they show him proof that the world outside is alive and well. The king isn't locking it out – he's locking them in.

Then there's the biggest bombshell of all: Christopher's actually an android. Loaded up with fake memories and hidden in the past, Christopher was to be the king's new, undying body – as soon as he learned to be more human, that is.

Christopher has learned, and he's also learned how to fight for what he wants: to help a city forge its own destiny and to forge his own with an incredible rainbow-eyed girl.

To do all that – and to avoid being body-snatched – he'll have to seize the role he was made for…by replacing the king.

I know some people are saying "lose the android" bit, but I really don't want to "bait and switch" an agent.

The thing is, I pitched this to three different agents at a conference last weekend (and I included the android angle) and got three requests out of it, so I know it can work - I just have to figure out how to make it work on paper.

(Of course, it would be lovely if one of those three requests pans out and this query letter turns out to be unneeded, but fortune favors the prepared ;-)

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

Evil Editor said...

If the king's mind/memories/essence is going into the android, why does the android have to learn to be human? The king is human, and knows how.

And if the android does need to learn to be human, shouldn't he learn it in his own world instead of in the world he was sent to, which is nothing like his own?

Author said...

Hmmm...how about if I re-worded it like this:

Then there's the biggest bombshell of all: Christopher's actually an android. Hidden by King Alexander in the past to avoid detection, Christopher was to be the king's new, undying body when the time was right.

Christopher, however, has other plans, including helping a city forge its own destiny and forging his own with an amazing rainbow-eyed girl.

To do all that – and to avoid being body-snatched – he'll have to seize the role he was made for…by replacing the king.

Evil Editor said...

That sounds more intriguing and avoids my questions. Of course, since time travel exists, it might be better to hide him in the future so he can't accidentally kill the king's great grandfather and also because the title is What Future Lies.

Unknown said...

Much better query this time around (third adaptation) And a good query is never wasted. Often pieces are lifted for the proposal/jacket.

I'm not a giant sci-fi fan, but I'd pick this up...

Good luck with it. :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent revision! I liked the original version too, but now Christopher being an android seems much more integral to the story. Author, I hope your efforts here are indeed unnecessary and your future agent already has your manuscript in hand. :)