Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Face-Lift 1150

Guess the Plot

Please Laugh at My Funeral

1. Oh, I will. Believe me, I will.

2. Two years into clown college, Balletina still can't fashion a balloon poodle. Desperate to ace Sight Gags 101, she plans the biggest prank ever. Unfortunately, she tapped the hydrogen tank, instead of helium. Also, angels.

3. Steve plans to kill himself, but to give the people who attend his funeral some hilarious stories to tell about him, he puts off his suicide for a month and does crazy stuff involving homeless guys and penguins.

4. After decades of failure, would-be comedian Eddy Marsh has taken his own life. Five comedians are invited to the wake - only to discover that Eddy has left a few last practical jokes. Deadly jokes.

5. When Crenshaw Comedy Club regular Mickey Mass is found dead holding a suicide note that reads "Please laugh at my funeral," homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, Mickey wouldn't have killed himself right before filming his HBO special. And two, he would never have signed his suicide note "Bonzo The Clown."

 6. Manfred is immortal, bloodthirsty, and unashamed, but he wants humans to know he has a soul too. He forms a folk band with a clever name (Please Laugh at my Funeral), but how can he resist biting his adorable bandmates?

7. John is dying. Not in the figurative way that living creatures are dying, but with a brain tumor. Considered the most morose man in the world, John's tumor has tickled his funny bone. After leaving his jobs at the sewer plant and the crematory he started a career in standup comedy. Now, he has one last gig before he slays everyone at the funeral parlor. They will die laughing.

Original Version

Steve is going to kill himself in 30 days. [There has to be a faster way.]

“Please Laugh at my Funeral” is a modern fiction, complete at 51,000 words, [If you put this at the beginning or the end instead of right after you've gotten my attention, you won't have to worry that I'll forget all about ... Whatshisname.] where each chapter is one day in Steve’s life as he desperately tries to ‘feel alive’ before he ends it all. [Usually it's people who desperately want to not feel alive who kill themselves.]

To do this he breaks into the penguin enclosure at the zoo, [That won't make him feel alive; it'll make him feel like an idiot, especially when his friends read the news report.] tries drugs for the first time, [It's better the 2nd time.] blackmails his former boss, [He should kill his former boss. If you're gonna kill yourself, you don't need money. You need the satisfaction of taking someone with you.] sleeps in a homeless commune, [Sleeping with Penelope Cruz would be more life-affirming.] explores religion, [Preferably not one that says eternity in a burning lake is the penalty for suicide.] love, death [He explores death?] and more. [Basically, he's put off his bucket list so long that he has to cram it all into one month, but in his case it's not because his doctor gave him one month to live; it's because he gave it to himself.] [In any case, the key word is "list." Lists are boring, and the longer the list the more boring it gets. This list seems to be a three-word summary of each chapter. Perhaps something like: "To do this he becomes a thrill-seeker (he skydives on meth), a criminal (he kidnaps a penguin and kills a homeless guy), and finally . . .  a philosopher."  . . .would satisfy your need to list stuff while more quickly moving us along to day 30, when something actually happens.]

It all starts to catch up to him as the police begin searching for him and a cult like group called ‘Live with Steve’ start obsessing over his plan. [This cult is the most interesting part of the story. Get rid of the police and expand on the cult (in the book too, if necessary). How do they know about his "plan." Is he blogging his way through the month? Are they eagerly anticipating his death or trying to stop him? Does he meet with them? Are they in most of the chapters or just the last few?]

Quick Biography:

I have written for magazines, newspapers and have written full time for broadcasting companies (including both television and radio.) [I wouldn't call that a biography, but the good news is it was quick.]

Some Publishing Credits: [What's with this sudden trend of labeling the parts of a query letter? I half-expect the next query to start Salutation: Dear Agent,]

Sharp Magazine
The Bulletin

Peace River Broadcasting
Vista Radio
Chorus Broadcasting


[If you have credits that are relevant (published fiction), stick with those. And limit your list to two or three items. Also, listing vertically doesn't make the query seem longer. It just highlights the white space to the right of the list.]


Is Steve killing himself in 30 days even if his attempt to "feel alive" succeeds? If so, why? If not, then he could change his mind after day 1? For instance, if he goes on the Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure on day 1, he could develop a renewed will to live. Or if he goes on It's a Small World at Disney World he could off himself before the ride ends. What I'm saying is, Is his goal to find a reason to live or is it to feel alive as much as possible in the 30 days before he kills himself?

Is calling this "a modern fiction" a way of avoiding the criticism that it doesn't hold together as a novel? If there's a logical progression through the 30 days, with Steve learning something about life and himself, tell us about it. If the first 25 days/chapters could be rearranged in any order, it's not a cohesive story.

Once you cut the bio/credits to a couple sentences you'll have plenty of room to tell us what happens in your book, focusing on Steve's character arc rather than listing stuff he does.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The last paragraph is the only interesting one in the query.

Cuz why?

Cuz readers like do-or-die protagonists. Readers aren't too crazy about do-then-die protagonists, and if we must have them, we'd prefer the death sentence not be self-imposed.

Lead with the police and the cult-like group, and give us a reasonable explanation for why they're culting. As it stands, your first three paragraphs are so depressing that you might have agents defenestrating themselves before they've finished your letter. And that would be counterproductive.

Agree: Ixnay on the iobay and edentialscray.

EE hates when we say anything about word count, but do we care? 51k is awfully short for an adult novel.

Unknown said...

Hi author,
Quickly, is this a humorous tale? Because the premise is so sinister, and I'm hoping there's levity to counterbalance.

The plot specifics you provide are the barest inkling of the tip of something funny happening, but they fall short of giving us any reason to follow Steve's antics.

THE BUCKET LIST works because the men WANT to celebrate life before dying. Steve deciding to end his life is the height of selfishness, so he is already unsympathetic. You need to convince a reader that reading about Steve wasting his life is not a waste of time.

I feel like there is so much you aren't telling about this story, and that doesn't make me want to read it, it makes me want to move on.

Best advice: really figure out the heart of your story--why is Steve ready to die?--and tell us how he turns this depression into something life-affirming like this crusade of glory.

If he changes his mind, please hint at it.

Good luck!

Tk said...

I am always interested that nonfiction credits don't count. I understand why re academic or business writing, but why magazine articles, which require lively writing and demonstrate an ability to structure a story in an engaging way?

Author, the first line is attention-grabbing, the second kills the momentum. As a reader, I expected immediately to find out why Steve is suicidal, but we never do find out.

I imagine the agent would be concerned also about Steve being a character people want to spend pages with - if he can't "feel alive", this may be tricky. So knowing his motivations is even more necessary. Essentially, "what Alaska said" :)

IMHO said...

I don't want to spend thirty chapters with an MC who doesn't want to live. I have my day-job co-workers for that.

Now if Steve blogged about his 30-day death march, then found a reason to live on day 1 (the penguins give him the secret of life -- fish oil and cold water swims), but now Steve's on the run from a cult who wants him dead and the police, Ok that I'd find interesting.

CavalierdeNuit said...

What I'd like to know is why he wants to kill himself. He's a narcissist who doesn't want to be 40? He's broke and in massive debt with loan sharks coming after him? He caused a grisly accident that killed a dozen innocent people?

If something horrible is hanging over his head, and he finds the courage to deal with it after 30 days of extreme living, that would be a good story.

Maybe the reason is in your book already, but it should be in your query.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Tk, I can't fathom EE's reasons, but I can tell you what I was thinking.

The list was too long. If a writer said "My work has appeared in..." and named a couple magazines, that would convey "I know how to work with an editor" and "I can write," if the writer thinks that might otherwise be doubted.

When I had no fiction credentials, I mentioned my nonfiction books just to convey those two things. But that's really all it tells you about a potential novelist.

sarahhawthorne said...

"written for broadcasting companies (including both television and radio.)"

Ha! I knew it!

This totally feels more like a screenplay than a book, what with the high concept and the ticking clock and the very visual activities Steve is doing. And I say this a professional coverage writer.

It can still work as a book, but you have to do a little more work in making Steve sympathetic, instead of expecting the audience to like him because he's being played by Ryan Gosling or whoever.

Anonymous said...

I got a fun thread running through this, a guys wants to end it all but truly wants to live/experience odd weird stuff before D day.

Reads more like an outline than a captivating journey through a 30 day countdown to D day. I expect the mc to hit an epiphany and change his goal of a death planned to a life worth living.

The quirky character that makes him interesting in his daily discovery of life before death is lost. I'd like more emphasis and a look into his mind.Make him real, someone I can connect with. Not so removed. I don't really care why he wants to die,I want to know what he discovers on his ways to death and finds a trap door eventually taking him to new realiztion. If that's what happens. The mc, the pint of the ms is shrouded from me, let a little day light in and expose him instead of protecting him. We have the methodolgy but there's no heart, interest in him. Make him grand if nuts but focus on him in real time instead of the broadish strokes. He isn't presented as a guy who entices me to stick with him in the pages. He could be, maybe rethink a while and give us more of him in a direct manner showing us why he's worth the page turning. I'm curious about him but feel a massage of the presentation of the mc is in order. Make him real, so far he's kind of buried in the methodology and not in the story. Bring him to life with a stunning opening sentence. I assume is set to die in 30 days until...realization, connects with a lost soul or street dog or realizes he's taken a well deserved 30 vacation on the wild side and the death can be a metaphorical but practical death with a resurrection in there.

I'm intrigued and think you've got something going I'd read about if it was out in a delightful surprising way. The 'script sounds like a surprise read, but the presentation needs a harder/stronger attack plan in the query.

Good luck, hope you come back with a new query rather than the round up that doesn't reveal much of the mc or story. If it's humorous,show us. A summary isn't what you want to write.

Another run please. Missing sparkle which I'm sure you've got in the pages. Don't hide that. A little housekeeping wouldn't hurt either in the construction.

Wilkins MacQueen

Tk said...

Thanks Alaska! Yeah, I'm getting the feel that one sentence is more than enough for a bio. EE, I'm still interested in your thinking too. Why only fiction is relevant for a credit from the ed point of view?

Jo-Ann S said...

Hi, author. Late to the party, so I hope you read my comments.
I like the premise of the story, but it does remind me a little of paolo Coehlo's Veronika Decides to Die. In this story, a young woman with no real passion left for life takes an overdose, which fails to kill her immediately, but leaves her with severe liver damage that would eventually kill her- I think she had thirty days left. In that time, she discovers how to live again.
But nobody forms a cult in her honour.
So if you're going to mention the cult of Steve, perhaps you need to make it clear that your story is comedy, and maybe some detail abput what Steve has to do about his followers that does not make him sound too much like Brian of Nazareth.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

But nobody forms a cult in her honour.

That aspect of the query struck me as a tad Mary Sue-ish.

In real life when people start blogging about how they're going to kill themselves, three things happen:

1. People don't believe them.
2. People urge them on.
3. People trace the blogger's real-life location and contact the local police.

Of course, we don't know if Steve is blogging.

Kole Mcrae said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. This is an older revision, here is a new one if anyone is interested, I think it tells a lot more:

Steve is going to kill himself in 30 days.

Steve Campbell is depressed to the point of suicide. He’s lost his job, the love of his life and soon, he’ll be forced out of his own home. With nothing left to lose, he decides to set an expiration date on his body, hoping it will force him to seize the day like he’d always been told to do.

This inspires Steve to follow his every dream and whim, from blackmailing his former boss, to jumping into the penguin enclosure at the zoo, and even breaking into the rooftop of a downtown high rise.

He quickly meets two new friends who encourage him to take his ideas to another level. They escalate his plans to include drugs, prostitution and little bit of grand theft auto. He was hoping for some sense of life, but all these antics seem to do is stretch Steve’s morals and plunge him further into depression.

That’s when Steve discovers a cult-like group has started worshiping him, vowing to follow his plan themselves. He finds the group spreading his ‘message’ across the country, encouraging others to commit suicide.

Before he can figure out what to do with occultists, Steve must hide when he finds out the police are after him. It seems they don’t take kindly to the blackmail, drugs, theft and prostitution he’s been partaking in.

PLEASE LAUGH AT MY FUNERAL is a contemporary novel, complete at 51,000-words.

I have written for both Sharp magazine and Consumerist. I have also penned ad-copy full time for broadcasting companies (in television and radio).

Thanks for reading,

Mister Furkles said...

It is much better. Here are a few minor suggestions:

P2: “…hoping it will force him to seize the day like he’d always been told to do.” Is stronger without “… like he’d always been told to do.” That last phrase reduces the intensity of the whole paragraph.

P4: “…and little bit…” should be “…and a little bit…”. But it may be better as “… and a little grand theft auto.”

P5: “… a cult-like group …” is better as “… a cult …”. And “He finds the group spreading his …” is stronger as “The cult spreads his …”.

P6: “… when he finds out the police …” may be shortened as “… when he discovers the police …”. Or maybe better, “… because the police are after him.”

Also, you don’t need “it seems” because you are not guessing at what’s in your novel. So, “They don’t take kindly to …”. And end with “… prostitution.” The last phrase, “he’s been partaking in.” is a weaker ending than just “prostitution.”

Sounds like a fun story. But 51000 words may be a hard sell. Can you take a half year and add a subplot that keeps crossing the main plot to the confusion of both? One of the things that makes great comedy is when unrelated plots cross each other and add to the confusion.

Evil Editor said...

Adding to Mister Furkles' suggestions:

If you must start with this, use his last name here rather than in the following sentence. You could just work the 30 days into the next paragraph and do without this sentence.]

I'd put the comma after "life," not "soon." You don't need "own." You could say "he sets" rather than "he decides to set."

I'd start: Fulfilling long-repressed desires, Steve blackmails... And I'd come up with something better than breaking into the roof of a highrise. One break-in is enough.

I'd put "friends" in quotation marks.

"all these antics seem to do is stretch" could be "these antics only stretch."

If you're in the US those should be quotation marks around "message," not apostrophes.

"with occultists"? Is that what you mean? Or should that be "with the cultists"? I see nothing to suggest the occult has anything to do with this.

Unknown said...

Agreed, cut the first line. I know it's meant to be a hook, but it really is a punch in the face. I can't even imagine wanting to read a suicide march, despite the humor. Likewise, in reading this version, which states Steve's self-loathing only escalates with these capers, I find it even harder to imagine the humor here.

As to the subplot idea, do you have callbacks running in the story? Like one of the escaped penguins on the loose wreaking havoc? Or, a psycho prostitute who's fallen in love with Steve and wants to save him? Perhaps she becomes a serious love interest after thwarting the cult's attack?

I still think this one is a work-in-progress. And while the suggestions from EE and Mister F are excellent, I am not compelled.

Kole McRae said...

Thanks for the advice so far... from what I'm reading though, it seems like I have gone from a 2 to maybe a 7... which is really good to hear (unless I'm completely off).

Still lots to improve, but good to see I'm heading the right direction.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree with Veronica. This still sounds depressing as hell.

And thou shalt not commit log-lines.

And I still have the suspension-of-disblief problem in re the cult. The fact is, most people view potential suicides as objects of pity, people to be helped, and/or pathetic losers. Not as prophets.

I can believe that Steve thinks people would form a cult around him, but not that they actually would.

Evil Editor said...

There are, I've heard, those who shout "Jump!" to the guy standing on the ledge.

But maybe it's better if the cult forms because they see Steve's message as Seize the day rather than Commit suicide.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Some humorously inclined dispatcher once played Van Halen's "Jump" over the radios of police officers who were trying to talk down a jumper... I think this was in Seattle. The suggestion went unheeded.

Kole Mcrae said...

"But maybe it's better if the cult forms because they see Steve's message as Seize the day rather than Commit suicide."

Exactly... using the short timeline and extreme circumstances to make it real.... lots of people say they will sieze the day, yet the vast majority continue working their day jobs doing very little.

But is seizing the day really worth anything? Does it make you any happier? Whats the point?

Evil Editor said...

The point is that readers would rather read about people seizing the day than people who want to die. Thus you might want to stress that the cult is encouraging others to seize the day (to whomever you query), rather than say He finds the group spreading his ‘message’ across the country, encouraging others to commit suicide.

CavalierdeNuit said...

One of his extreme living jaunts could be breaking into CNN, or a local news station, and yelling and dancing around during a live broadcast. This could be where his cult followers first see him.

I also think he should try to kill his former boss, or at least kidnap and torture him. Blackmailing someone takes too long.

Mister Furkles said...

It seems to me that Steve does not wish to die but hopes to find a reason to live. The cult is, of course, crazy. Steve’s approach to finding meaning in life is crazy. The things he does are crazy. Most of us have a deep seated fear of death, suicide, and committing crimes.

Humor is about crazy approaches to deal with our fears. The Blues Brothers were not interested in helping raise some money for a church project; they were on a Mission From God. How crazy is that? Pat McManus’s short stories and novels combine fear and insanity to hilarious effect.

If it is written really well, it can be very funny. Anticipation of disaster also adds to humor. That’s why the machinations of Gracie Allen humor work so well; the audience is in on it. That works in a novel with unrelated plots crossing each other; the reader sees trouble coming but doesn’t how it will end up.

On the down side, humor is really hard to write because the author cannot control the timing. “Timing is the soul of wit”. One of Jack Benny’s friends said his timing was so effective, that he could walk on stage, stare at the audience, and utter a single word; everybody would crack up laughing and few could stop. The word: “Well.”

I hope you pull it off. Suicide, death, stealthy crime, cults, crazy “friends”, and police can be really funny. But if it isn’t almost perfect, it will be a big mess. Good luck.