Monday, October 12, 2015

Face-Lift 1278

Guess the Plot


1. It's 1947, and former WAC Jill Avery has a rather adventurous plan for financing her trip from NYC to LA.

2. When Priscilla Porcupine's wood is lost in a forest fire, she narrowly escapes. But that is just the beginning of her odyssey. She must find another home-wood. She deals with rabid skunks, venomous snakes, ravenous coyotes, and clumsy bears in her desperate search for a safe home.

3. High-flying marketing exec Alex Stone has girlfriends all over the world. He's got a name for his habit: vagabonding. (Get it? He "bonds" with them, although it's always temporary.) When a freak accident leaves him in a state of amnesia, he has nothing but his little black book and a stack of travel records to piece together his identity. Hilarity ensues.

4. Dr K has a great idea for stopping sexual violence: A spray-on foam called vagabonder. Once the BDSM scene discovers it, though, it's used in all sorts of unintended ways. Porn shoots become...extended, as do honeymoons and date nights. Dr K will be rich . . . or will some lawyer claim a share?

5. After 23 years in captivity, a slave returns to his home in Uruguay and finds his father and sister were killed by robots. So he sets out on a journey to Kenya where he can take the space elevator to the moon and lead his people in rebellion against the mega-corporation that rules Earth.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

In 2238, Caen was removed from his childhood home in Uruguay as a member of OnyxCorp’s slave workforce. He doesn’t want to be a slave, but what choice does he have? He is Dua, a new species of hominid, the result of a worldwide plague that killed 80% of Earth’s population more than a century ago. While humans enjoy a life free from labor, [I'm sick of all these dystopian books; finally a book where humans are free from labor. And I'm not saying that just because I'm human.] the docile and easily manipulated Dua mine what remains of rapidly declining Earth and moon resources. [Moon resources: dust, rocks, golf balls, fast food wrappers, green cheese, one large monolith, three Lunar Roving Vehicles, and an abandoned potato farm.] In the absence of any real government, OnyxCorp reigns supreme, relentlessly pursuing power and profit at the expense of an entire species.

Twenty-three years later, Caen returns home [Slaves are entitled to two weeks unpaid vacation every 23 years. Hey, OnyxCorp isn't without heart.] to find his mother broken and terrified. She reveals his father and sister are dead, killed by Authority, OnyxCorp’s robotic military arm. What’s more, he’s in danger as well. For Caen is a Vagabonder, a legendary group of Dua who are smarter, stronger, and more humane than the humans who govern them. And OnyxCorp wants them eradicated. [He's smarter and stronger, but OnyxCorp never noticed this in the past 23 years?] 

The solution? Journey to the moon. Find the Vagabonders. Destroy OnyxCorp.

[The problem? There's no air on the moon. Or water. At least there's a Starbucks.]

Caen begins a perilous odyssey that will take him to Mombasa, where he can access the Vine, the space elevator that will transport him to moon. [To moon? So we finally decided, after naming the other 150+ moons in our solar system, to name our own, and the best name we could come up with was "moon"?] [Also, a 239,000-mile elevator ride? With a bunch of people who don't want to make any eye contact, so they just stare at the lights up above the door? And there's one guy who keeps farting?]
Buttons in space elevator
[It would be a drag to be running for the space elevator yelling, "Hold the elevator!" and the passengers just let the doors close and now you have to wait for it to go all the way to moon and back. Or if you miss your floor and have to get off at the next one, which is Mars.] [I hope the space elevator is faster than the one in my building, or by the time it reaches moon there'll be nothing inside but skeletons.] 
There, he will seek his ancestors, who are said to possess knowledge and wisdom that will end OnyxCorp’s repression of both human and Dua. [Knowledge that they have been keeping to themselves for decades.] [They are said to possess this knowledge and wisdom? What is it, a rumor? A myth? That's like finding out NASA spent trillions to put astronauts on moon just because they heard there was a really smart man up there.]

Sounds easy enough, but OnyxCorp will do anything to keep its malleable workforce intact. Lying, manipulation, subterfuge, murder: These are standard operating procedures. Even genocide. [Fortunately, Caen is strong, smart and humane, so he should have no trouble taking down an evil worldwide megacorporation.]

VAGABONDER is my debut science fiction novel of 160,000 words.


This is all backstory, setup. Condense the whole thing into one three-sentence paragraph, and then give us two more paragraphs about your actual story, which is how Caen plans to succeed, what goes wrong, what will happen if he can't overcome this obstacle.

Vagabonder means to wander (in French). Is that the title because Caen wanders around looking for Mombasa? I'd look for a title people will understand, like Moon Slaves vs the Robot Army.

160,000 words is two books. If you don't have two books, try cutting about 60,000 words of backstory and unimportant detail from your one book.

Here's a link to Dion singing his hit "The Wanderer," which is known as "Vagabonder" in France. Check out the people in the audience.


Anonymous said...

I'm finding the way you talk about the timeline a little distracting.

So within a little over 100 years, a plague has wiped out most of humanity, mutated humanity into a different species, further evolved that mutation into a subgroup that has become actual legend, and now Caen has ancestors on the moon he's seeking out...

It goes "History became legend. Legend became myth," right? So it looks like this is mostly history and hasn't had time to become legend. Things that happened in 1901 are history to us, not legend. We have, like, legends of baseball and rock and such, but those are really well-known people, not vague shadowy rumor groups that might or might not really exist. So that threw me off. It feels like a century might not be long enough for things to have fallen out of the collective consciousness.

Ancestors seems like a weird word. I call my great grandfather my great grandfather... not my ancestor. I think of my ancestors as people 4+ generations back, and mostly like people so far back I have no actual knowledge of as far as names and whatnot. Like, my ancestors were Vikings. So is he going to meet his great grandfather... or talk to other descendants... or is he communing with his dead GGF? Very much further back, wouldn't his ancestors be humans?

Probably a weird thing for me to get hung up on, but there you go. It was pretty much all I was thinking about while reading the query. A lot of my stories have cataclysms in the very distant past, though, so this might just be something I stress about.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Between the state of the query and the length of the novel, I'm concerned that this might be one of those science fiction stories that spends a lot of time explaining the history of the world and how everything is set up rather than parcelling it out as the characters come across it or leaving the reader to put two and two together and come up with a reasonable approximation of four. If your story devotes pages upon pages to the plague that created the Dua, how the Dua became a slave species, how humanity changed as a result, and Caen's years of hard labor, or if it takes you more than a few chapters to get Caen on the road to the moon elevator, you may want to put the query aside and work on a major edit. If your book is riveting and auctioned packed and every one of those 160,000 words is earning its place, then you can focus on getting tha across in the query.

Does your story start with Caen being enslaved and later jump ahead twenty-three years to his return home, or does it begin with Caen returning home? If, as I suspect, it's the latter, you'll want to start the query with Caen returning home and devote less than half a sentence to his time as a slave. If you cover all twenty-three years of Caen's life in slavery, refer to the above advice about editing.

I assume that most slaves do not want to be slaves, but have no choice in the matter. That's kind of part of the whole slavery deal. If you told me that Caen had put a lot of thought into the decision or that he was overjoyed at the prospect of being a slave, I'd be curious. As is, you're wasting words telling me something I already know.

As EE notes, a space elevator does not sound exciting. Most people are going to envision something like a very long airplane flight. If there's some potential for action and drama on the space elevator, if it's more like a mobile city catering to moon tourists, you need to make that clear. If the elevator is just a means to get to the moon, focus on the challenges that Caen will face trying to get to the elevator.

Is Caen looking for his ancestors or the other Vagabonders? Are they the same people?

How is OnyxCorp repressing humanity?

Take EE's advice, and condense all of this down to a single paragraph. Clarify why Caen is no longer a slave and why everyone is just discovering that he is a Vagabonder. Tell us what Caen hopes to gain by finding the other Vagabonders, what he believes they'll do to help him or save the world or both. If you get Carn on the road to the space elevator by the end of paragraph one, you'll have a whole two paragraphs to explain what OnyxCorp does to try and stop Caen, how he avoids being caught or killed, and what major challenge or decision he ultimately faces.

Anonymous said...

It's odd that the smartest, strongest, most humane species on the planet has gone along with their own slavery as long as they apparently have. "what choice does he have?" isn't quite convincing.

I'm also not sure why OnyxCorp hasn't wiped out all the Vagabonders. Their headquarters is common knowledge, their numbers are small, they are surely conspicuous because of their abilities, and OnyxCorp has all the weapons and no scruples.

Please tell us what happens after Caen gets on the elevator and how he and his ancestors plan to take down OnyxCorp.

This might be a very cool story, but I also suspect it's either two books or one overly long book.

Matt said...

This sounds potentially interesting. The query may not be perfect, but I'd read on.

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem with what little story you've given us in the query is it sets off my Mary Sue/Gary Stu detector. If you're not familiar with the terms, please do some research.

Leave off most of your world building. I spent most of my time reading the query trying to make sense of it. I don't think 80% decimation is big enough to make that much of a difference as the number of survivors is the world population around the year 1900. This number will be even higher in another hundred years when your plague hits us (for the u.n. high estimate, we'll be left with the population in 1980). I also don't see one mega-corporation of normal human beings being able to do what no one else in history has managed, i.e. unify the world.

Focus on the story. Don't raise questions you aren't going to answer.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for all the ideas, everyone! Very helpful. I'll work on an update and post again.