Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Face-Lift 1275

Guess the Plot

Mission of Terror

1. It's gonna be scary, but if it means being free once and for all of diapers, Bobby's gonna use the big people's toilet.

2. Sixteen-year-old Faye has a mother who's a spy and a father who's a chemist. Both of them are missing and Faye is the only one who seems to be looking for them. Her clues lead her to Disney World and one ride that may be her last clue: Mission of Terror. But does she have the chops to take on that rollercoaster to find her parents?

3. While fourteen-year-old Bryan trains in outer space for mankind's first interstellar colonization mission, fundamentalist terrorists launch an attack on the flagship in order to gain positive publicity for their anti-genetic engineering agenda. 

4. For Janella, it looks like junior year is going to be another loser -- until the dark new boy summons her to the life she didn't know was hers. It turns out that she's actually a spirit from the Nightmare Realm, where human nightmares are hatched and delivered into people's brains every night. Janella isn't sure she wants to go there. But dang, that boy is cute.

5. Conlynn "Corky" Smith is at a Ugandan Christian mission school for girls when terrorists attack. Can she use her martial arts training, hunting skills, and psychic connection to Jaunty the Leopard to get her and her girls to safety? Also, crazy, drunken chimps.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Fourteen-year-old Brian thinks nothing could be worse than moving just before starting high school. Then he wakes up in the hospital after a bullying incident. [There's bullying, and then there's assault with intent to kill.] [The first sentence has me thinking he hasn't moved yet. The second sentence has me wondering if the bullying happened before or after he moved (If you change "thinks" to "thought" it might help, assuming the move already happened.). The third and fourth sentences make me wonder if we're in the same book.] He learns his rare Cryosleep genetic modifications, developed for the first interstellar colonization mission, saved him from drowning. He’s stunned to learn that his mother was killed eight years ago in a bombing by fundamentalist terrorists opposed to genmods. [Then he discovers that his father is a cyborg from a planet in the Sombrero Galaxy and his siblings are super villains named Beetlegirl and Creep.] [I'm starting to think the plot about the Nightmare Realm was the real one.] [Wait, he's fourteen, his mother was killed when he was six, and he's stunned to learn this? Or is he just stunned to learn how she died? As in: He’s stunned to learn that his mother's death eight years ago was caused by fundamentalist terrorists opposed to genmods.] [Bad enough that the American infidels don't give us the respect we deserve, now they're genetically modifying themselves so they can sleep hundreds of years in space. We must destroy them all.] [Now that I've read the whole query, I'm wondering if we shouldn't just start with paragraph 2.] 

Brian has always been fascinated by the 300-year-long, 20 light-year mission and he’s happy to join it, although the anti-genmod prejudices the terrorist’s [terrorists'] propaganda has created worries him. When he learns the mission is critically short of pilots for its Dragonfly one-person support spacecraft, he and some new friends work hard to qualify for Dragonfly pilot training. Their teenage adaptability helps them do well, despite attempts of jealous older cadets to discredit them. But the terrorists, angry over the positive publicity surrounding the teenagers, attempt to kidnap and eliminate them [These teenagers are getting too much positive press; we must eliminate them.] which they barely escape.

Their parents are worried, but the teenagers are more determined than ever, and go into space to finish their training at the starships nearing completion in the Earth-Moon L5 Lagrange point. [Even if that sentence makes sense to you, (changing "at" to "on" would help) I'd cut it off after "training" to accommodate idiots like me.] But while they’re drilling in their Dragonflies, the terrorists launch an attack to destroy the flagship. [These fundamentalist terrorists have spacecraft? Just so they can attack other spacecraft?] Brian and his friends are the only ones in a position to stop it, although the attempt could cost them their lives. But if the flagship and everyone on it are lost, it will be the end of humanity’s first attempt to reach the stars – and all their hard work and sacrifice will have been in vain. [How much hard work and sacrifice are we talking about? Their first semester of high school?]

Mission of Terror is a young adult science fiction novel with series potential, complete at 95,000 words. Its use of human genetic engineering for frozen sleep, and fundamentalist terrorist opposition to genetic engineering, are unique elements that drive much of the stories’ conflict.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Most of this is setup. If you limit the setup to one paragraph, you'll have more room to tell us what actually happens. A paragraph similar to this:

When fourteen-year-old Brian Smith learns that Earth's first interstellar colonization mission needs Dragonfly pilots, he and some of his friends enlist. Their teenage adaptability helps them excel, and soon they go into space to complete their training with the mission starships. But fundamentalist terrorists, opposed to the genetic modifications needed for Cryosleep, will do anything to sabotage the mission--including launching an attack on the flagship.

I tend to think of terrorists opposed to genetic engineering blowing up Monsanto factories, not starships. They should be happy we're sending our genetically engineered humans off to some other planet where they can't destroy planet Earth.

Our fleet of starships being unable to squash an attack by some tree-hugging environmentalists is like (choose one):

a. The starship Enterprise being vulnerable to the Goodyear blimp

b. The Death Star being vulnerable to a puny X-wing.



InkAndPixelClub said...

Second vote for at least dropping the first two sentences of paragraph one. The move is never mentioned again and appears to have no bearing on the rest of the story. The bullying does a similar vanishing act, so it can go. I'm not clear on why Brian's genetic modifications were kept secret from him, but if you must include how Brian found out about his unique abilities, I'd just say it was a near drowning and leave out the bully.

There seems to be some missing information between Brian discovering that he was genetically modified and Brian joining the interstellar colonization mission. Again, the secret nature of Brian's abilities is confusing me. If he and his mother were specifically engineered to go on a lengthy space mission, wouldn't the space program be keeping track of them and preparing Brian for his future mission from a young age? If there's some reason why Brian hasn't been living at a NASA facility his whole life (his Cryosleep genes didn't activate until he hit puberty so no one knew he had them, his dad wanted to protect him from the terrorists, a test went wrong), then say so.

Saying that Brian is worried by the terrorists' anti-genmod propaganda is too vague. Does he fear that he'll become more of a target than he would have been if he was a genetically modified human who didn't join the space program? Is he worried about the space program, his own safety, or the safety of people he cares about?

My understanding was that Brian was accepted for the colonization mission because he had the very rare Cryosleep gene that would enable him to survive the long journey to the new planet. But then you have Brian's mysterious new buddies all qualifying for the mission and I'm lost. Do they all have the Cryosleep gene?

Cut the last sentence of your final paragraph before the thank you. Anything that you aren't already getting across in the main query isn't needed here.

I can easily see this being a fun novel, but I need a better sense of the terrorists' goals, which seem to be all over the place right now, and what Brian and his pals will actually be doing through most of the book.

Anonymous said...

Ink, I don't think his mods were a secret, he was just surprised they saved him from drowning. Though, it's not very clear.

Your interstellar colonization mission is getting lost as a side detail in the middle of a sentence about something else. When it's mentioned again, I wasn't sure what you were talking about until I went back to re-read. (Hint, most agents won't bother re-reading)

As a personal opinion, most of the motivations in this are things that annoy me.

What you have:
jealous older cadets trying to discredit them.
What I'd prefer:
Them working hard and managing to beat some of the older cadets, make allies with others. Would show qualities that would do well on a long mission.
What you have:
terrorists angry over positive publicity
What I'd prefer:
terrorists hijacking the publicity for their own cause, 'cause you know, that's what they try to do, that and kill the modded because they're not human (?).
"if the flagship and everyone on it are lost, it will be the end of humanity’s first attempt to reach the stars"
--all your eggs in one basket is stupid. Are your organizers stupid? Cause if so, this project is doomed anyway.

Anonymous said...

Your first sentence made me think this was going to be a message story about a boy with sexual identity issues or some other social bullseye. The second sentence (after a re-reading, which an agent won't grant you) made me realize the bullies didn't kick and punch him but tried to drown him. A little unusual, but onward.

Then all these non sequiturs kick in, which others have noted. He wakes up in a hospital to some realization that's ... eight years old? Onward.

"Brian has always been fascinated by the 300-year-long, 20 light-year mission and he’s happy to join it, although the anti-genmod prejudices the terrorist’s [terrorists'] propaganda has created worries him." Well that construction is downright Germanic. You've introduced a mouthful in dependent clauses, and I think you could lose "20 light-year." You could highlight the conflicts with a slight rearrangement ("Brian has always been fascinated by the 300-year-long mission and he's happy to join it -- but he's worried by etc"), although I actually rewrote the sentence for my own use and concluded that the conflict looks pretty weak. Brian's problem is that he's worried. Is that it? He's not, say, hell-bent on finding out the truth about his mother's death? Well, never mind. What's he worried about? Prejudices. Is that it? And the prejudices have been caused by ... propaganda? The plot has a propaganda campaign that causes prejudices, which causes our hero to worry. How about "Terrorists have been attacking the genmod lab, and Brian doesn't trust the undercover operation tasked with destroying them"? Well, onward.

The terrorists seem to care less about the progress of the genmod technology than they are about its "positive press." So they decide to kidnap its spokesmodels instead of killing the inventor of the genmods and blowing up the lab. Are you sure these people are terrorists? Have you read what ISIS is doing these days? But onward.

Ah, finally the terrorists attack the flagship! These Luddites are pretty well funded and they use some pretty fancy technology. I would have expected an attack on some earth assets.

"Its use of human genetic engineering for frozen sleep, and fundamentalist terrorist opposition to genetic engineering, are unique elements that drive much of the stories’ conflict." We generally advise authors to skip words like unique, exciting, funny, etc. Let the story speak for itself. Genmods and violent fundie opponents are elements of your plot, but they're not the most important elements of your book.

Finally: Does Brian's status as an orphan (where IS dad, by the way?) have anything to do with anything? If it, rather than garden-variety fascination, somehow drives his passion to join the mission, it might establish some more interesting stakes than "all their work will have been for nothing."

St0n3henge said...

I agree that the bullying incident and the mom can be left out if they don't really come up again.

I, also, am confused about the role the genetic modifications play in the story. I assumed they allow him to sleep through the journey, but I don't really know when/how he got them, how many others have them, etc. I assume it was in anticipation of just this event, but it isn't too clear.

"Earth-Moon L5 Lagrange point" means nothing if you have no frame of reference.

I also agree the stakes need to be higher, or at least clearer. We really need to feel connected to the characters and care what happens to this small group of people sometime in the future.

Minion 621 said...

For the last paragraph, I'd just put the title/wordcount/genre and cut out the rest. You already mentioned the genetic modification and terrorists, so adding them again comes off as redundant. Saying that those elements drive the plot forward is also telly, given that the rest of the query seems to be setup for the plot. Plus, neither of those elements are unique; genmods and cryosleep are staples in space opera, and whenever a scifi book has religion in it, it's usually fundamentalist terrorists.

Emphasize the characters' choices, problems, etc.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'd emphasize the action scenes and deemphasize the idea of sleeping for 300 years.

InkAndPixelClub said...

ARC> While the actual 300 years of sleep are unlikely to be interesting, the concept of going to sleep and waking up on another planet 300 years later could. But I'm not sure from the query whether the interplanetary colonization mission actually happens in this book or not. If it doesn't, I'd downplay the specific mission and just say that Brian's genetic modifications make him an ideal candidate for space mission training.

Author> One source of unrealistic motivations - or at least unrealistic behavior - Anon #1 didn't mention is the parents:

"Okay, so our teenaged children have all decided to go colonize a distant planet. It will take them 300 years to get there, by which time we will all be dead. A group of terrorists who are opposed to genetic modifications and possibly space travel has already tried to abduct and/or kill our kids. This makes us feel worried."

This seems more likely:

"You're fourteen. I don't know how you convinced us to let you make a decision regarding the rest of your life at this age, but now you've got people trying to kill you? Not happening. The closest you're getting to space is ground control, and that's only if they can show us that security is going to be airtight. You say you're more determined than ever? Tough. We're determined to see you outlive us. So unless you want to try to convince a judge to declare you an emancipated minor, you're not going past Earth's atmosphere."

Matt said...

Hmm, too many non-sequiturs. Author, you can try using South Park's formula for connecting plot points. Each sentence should be connected with a "but" or a "therefore." If a sentence is connected with an "and then" it's a weakness in the story. For example:

"Brian wants to escape his bullies on planet Earth."

Therefore (good)

"He signs up for an interstellar space colonization mission."

But (good)

"The bullies have signed up as well — as security officers."

And then (bad)

"He learns that his mother was killed eight years ago in a bombing by fundamentalist terrorists opposed to genmods."

So ideally you'd replace that last "and then" statement with a "but" or a "therefore."


"He tries to find a way to escape the spaceship."

Hope that helps. Good luck with your revisions.