Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Face-Lift 1215

Guess the Plot

The Matter That You Read

1. One physicist's love story, told through peer-reviewed journal articles.

2. A woman in Edwardian England needs a new servant after her latest servants quit. She goes on the Internet and orders a unit that she hopes will satisfy her needs, but it has no hands, and doesn't speak. It can't even teleport, so...ah, never mind. My plot makes no more sense than the title.

3. One day, Yoda has a brain fart disguised as a cerebral aneurysm. That day, his critical job to monitor the matter/antimatter engine suffers. All gauges glowing green is optimal, but when the engine hiccups everything turns red. The Captain calls for a prognosis. "An anastrophe, it is. The matter that you read the gauge it is."

4. Reed has that rarest of all literary gifts – he can read the fate of anyone he meets in the detritus found in their pockets. The problem arises when Evil Editor, curse his wicked proofreading skills, confuses Reed’s sense of tense, and now Reed can’t tell if he’s going to read their fate, or has already read…The matter that you resd.

5. The Red Shoes, The Red Violin, The Red Badge of Courage… all classic works, involving choices resonating through the ages. The National Enquirer? The Globe or the Star, or any other of . . . the matter that you read? Yeah… Not so much…

6. Carly Porter is a proofreader for a drug company. She has to make sure all the diseases and side effects and ingredients are spelled correctly in the fine print in those ads you see in magazines. When she meets hunky Chet Baines, it's love at first sight. But will his atrocious spelling on Twitter doom their relationship?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Any human servant would choose the workhouse over Evlalia – and her most recent two just have.

She sacrificed hours informing them of every flaw. But her words were wasted on people, as usual. At least she didn't dare to make a positive start: it would clearly have gone to waste as well. [No idea what that last sentence means.]

No High person makes their own food [Actually, when I'm high, food is my top priority, although I'll admit that sometimes I can't be bothered to make food when I can just open a bag of Doritos and crush them over a carton of Cherry Garcia.] or laces their own corsets. [Never lace your own corset when you're high. You end up as tangled as an octopus caught in a fishing net. I've heard.] Evlalia needs a new servant, and a magic one will have to do. [Ah, so Evlalia is a character. When you said someone would choose the workhouse over Evlalia, I assumed Evlalia was a place. I mean, if I said to you, "Any idiot would prefer Tokyo to Thaliponia," wouldn't you think Thaliponia was a place? Wouldn't you be so certain Thaliponia was a place, that even when I used a pronoun in the next sentence you'd think I was talking about a character whose name I haven't mentioned yet, or possibly the idiot in the first sentence? Wouldn't it shock you to later find out Thaliponia is my pet iguana? Of course it would. You'd never suspect me of comparing apples to oranges in sentence 1.] [Perhaps you want something like: Yet another of Evlalia's servants has walked out on her. People are so ungrateful. She sacrificed hours informing him of his every flaw.] [Also, there's no need to specify that the servants who quit were human. We'll assume they're human unless you say otherwise, and even if we don't, we'll figure it out in the next line when you call them people.] [Even after I know Evlalia is a character, the fact that you referred to her servants as human is going to have me thinking Evlalia is a Klingon or a Romulan.]

Part metal, part human, a 'unit' is a magical servant summoned [Ordered?] from the Internet. They come with unique software: some read or run faster than a forming thought, others grow their toenails or eyelashes six times faster than normal. [When a woman purchases a unit, I suspect it's not the toenails she wants to grow really fast.]

Buying a unit so damaged it's considered unsellable? [If it was considered unsellable, whom did she buy it from?] At least he needs her too much to ever leave. And it reminds everyone that Evlalia picks the road less travelled, even if it leads over a cliff. [As I understand it, a properly utilized unit takes the passenger down the most-traveled road, across the plateau and definitely over a cliff.]

Her new unit is Tace, and he can teleport. At least he could, before his old user left him without hands and on a ventilator.  [Why would the old user or the new user want a servant without hands? Did he have robotic hands that can be replaced?] Thanks to Evlalia [Has anyone else noticed that Evlalia is what it would sound like if you said "Evil Editor" while eating a bagel?] he no longer passes out after twenty seconds, but he still waits on the roof every night for his old user to come back.

Evlalia's words stop her disappearing into just another average, replaceable person; [Strange, as you've declared that her words are wasted on people.] Tace's muteness is more voluntary than everyone thought, and his body is built around being able to disappear at will. Friendship between them was a risk neither planned to take; it just seemed to happen, like the cutting remarks Evlalia always assumed she could keep back if she tried. [I feel like I'm disappearing into a black hole. Not that I know what that would feel like.]
Not being able to dismiss people makes interaction complicated; as Evlalia meets other units, she's relieved to find them just as easy to offend as humans. [How many units can one woman handle?] Being installed with dictionaries and perfect memories just seems a bonus.

Kyrillos can read every blood vessel pumping in Evlalia's neck, and when his domination over his user is questioned he knows exactly which artery to pinch shut. [Who is his user? Why are we interested in him?]
Halimeda can read every regretted word and past mistake in Evlalia's mind, and when the motives of her sudden friendship with Tace are questioned she knows exactly what Evlalia wants left unsaid. [Suddenly we're meeting new characters, but we don't know anything they do. Why would Evlalia want to be anywhere near them?]
Tactful silence might save Evlalia's life, [from what?] but also makes her indistinguishable from everyone else. That less travelled road does end in a cliff – and it might be better to jump.

THE MATTER THAT YOU READ is a 130,000 word slice of life/urban fantasy novel, [The title makes no sense. What does it mean?] set in an alternate Edwardian England. [It's exactly like Edwardian England, but with androids, the Internet, software . . . Actually, wouldn't it be easier to just say it's exactly like the year 2030, except that women wear corsets?]

Thank you for your time and consideration.


130,000 words, and all you can tell us about the story is that a mean woman replaces her servants with a junky unit?

You need a story. If you have a story, you need to summarize it for us. What is Evlalia's goal? What's preventing her from achieving it? What's her plan? What are the consequences if she fails? Why should we care about her at all? How does she grow in the story? What decision does she have to make? These are the elements of her story. All you've provided is her situation. Start over.


IMHO said...

This query tells me something about each character, about what they can do. It says little about what actually happens. All I know is: Evlavia orders a new robotic servant and then some others show up.

Is 'user' = 'owner'? If you own a unit, how come they can just walk away to the workhouse?

You say Evlavia is the kind who takes the road less traveled, but the query just makes her sound like a pain-in-the-keister. Show us why she's more than that.

Finally, what is this cliff of which you speak?

InkAndPixelClub said...

This is far too confusing and I suspect most editors would give up trying to understand it partway through.

Even getting a handle on the setting is a challenge. You start off with references to servants, workhouses, and corsets, so I suspect England in some past era. But then you bring up magic servants, so my guess is revised to a fantasy world with aspects of a bygone England. But then the magic servants are cyborgs ordered via Internet and now I'm completely lost and "alternate Edwardian England" is not a good enough answer. Ditch the references to magic. Edwardian England plus modern/future tech is enough to get across in a query and the magic doesn't seem to add anything here.

Like EE said, there's not enough story here. A woman is so nasty to her servants that they all leave, so she buys a cyborg servant. Just to prove how different and quirky she is, she picks a barely functional one. She continues to be horrible, but for some reason, she and the unit become friends, I think? The rest is just character soup with no clear connection to the preceding story and some danger to Evlalia's life, maybe? Beyond a woman telling everyone around her that they suck and a cyborg sitting on the roof, I have no idea what happens in this story.

If devoted cyborg servants are readily available, why did Evlalia have human servants to begin with?

I can see the utility of a speed reading unit or a fast running unit (though they seem less useful if teleportation is an option), but who would build or want a unit whose chief feature is quick growing toenails and eyelashes?

The title has to go. If it doesn't make sense by the end of the query, it's not working.

I'm not sure slice of life and urban fantasy are genres that can be spliced together. Much like magical futuristic Edwardian England, it's just too many disparate parts being combined.

As you're taking another stab at this, try to communicate why readers will want to read 130,000 words about Evlalia. My sense of her character right now is "I'm constantly mean to people and I'm afraid if I stop I'll be boring." I'm okay with not liking Evlalia, but I need to find her interesting and in this query, she isn't.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Not only is this confusing, but when you say "slice of life" you've got me suspecting that maybe there isn't actually a story here.

If there is, drop all worldbuilding from your query. We don't need to know how your world works nor do we need to ask ourselves what the internet is doing in Edwardian England. We need a character facing a challenge.

Who's your protagonist? If it's Evlavlia, then your story might be "Evlalia must [acquire a faithful servant], so that she can [accomplish worthwhile goal]. But [obstacle] stands in her way. Therefore she must [invoke strategy] in a desperate attempt to [save the day]."

Or something like that. Point is, it's all about Evlavlia and the challenge that faces her. Everything else is just unnecessary obfuscation.

khazarkhum said...

I was picturing a steampunk setting, but the 'alternate' label kills that. I think.

Names come and go, but without any links to any one or any thing. I get that Ev is 'quirky', but she seems less quirky and more annoying.

Does she take in one busted down robot, fix/adjust it, and then word gets around the robot world? Do broken bots show up at her door, hoping to be repurposed into something other than boat anchors or paperweights? Is this a good or bad thing?

Unknown said...

this query was so confusing I almost stopped reading... but then I got to the 'unit' and the devil in me couldn't stop. where's my unit? I ordered it on Amazon a week ago -- with prime shipping!

EE, you're fabulous.

Author, I can't add any more than what EE said in the notes at the bottom.

Mister Furkles said...

Is English your native language? Here are some odd word choices:

- sacrificed hours – how do you sacrifice hours? I can understand “wasted hours”.

- every flaw – You mean every fault they have or made. But surely she didn't inform them of every flaw, like the chipped brick up the street in front of the pub?

- High person – You mean “high-born person”.

Well, it continues this way for a while. I doubt any agent or editor would read past the second paragraph.

If English is not your native language, then write in your native language.

Anonymous said...

"Slice of life" is a common category of Japanese manga, but it's not a genre you see on this side of the Pacific. Actually, this whole query seems like the premise of a sci-fi shounen manga. But written novels need tight plots, and I get the impression that this one is 130k words of whatever sounded cool at the time.

InkAndPixelClub said...

"Slice of life" is s reasonable synonym for "realistic fiction," which is an odd pairing with "urban fantasy." As ARC noted, it can also be code for "story where nothing much happens. Given the convoluted query that doesn't suggest much plot, I suspect many editors would be assuming that "slice of life" means "devoid of plot."

Anonymous said...

Slice of Life (wikipedia)

It's going to be a tough sell without a plot. I vaguely remember this being a literary fad a while back (possibly a long while).

A better idea might be to look at what you have, siphon a plot out of it, and rewrite.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yeah, I remember seeing it in writer's market 30 years ago. "Slice of life vignette" was a kind of essay or short story that there was some market for back then. I suppose one could say the New Yorker publishes slice of life vignettes, though whose life I can't imagine.

But 130k words would be so much more than a slice.

SB said...

"But 130k words would be so much more than a slice."

Pie of life?

Anonymous said...

Evlalia is the main character in a novel called The Matter That You Read. Am I the only one to smell a hoax?