Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Face-Lift 1327

Guess the Plot

Time of Death

1. Morty is tired of calling out the time of death for all of his clients. Even the most lively ones die. But hey, at least work as a grim reaper is nothing if not steady.

2. 74 year old Ralph Commings has an old Regulator clock that tirelessly ticks away his life. One night he hears it say "When I stop, you will die." Is he losing his mind or is he really tied to the clock? Or is his 34-year-old trophy wife behind it all?

3. Every time Kevin dies he comes back to life thirteen hours before his death. Now he has to decide whether to use this power to prevent his death or to commit suicide thousands of times until he's a child again. Also, a serial killer who targets fencers.

4. Father Time wants a vacation, but the only other AP (anthropomorphic personification) available to fill in is the Grim Reaper, and Grim has a tendency to kill everything he touches. Maybe FT should just take a long weekend.

5. The body was found in a grocery store freezer, right between the frozen shrimp and the ice cream. Now ace forensic scientist Trent Lockwood must find a way to determine the time of death without body temperature, or the serial killer known as The Eskimo will go free.

6. 4:30 P.M. If you're talking about Lord Nelson.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Novel Title: Time of Death

Yesterday, Kevin and Jenna crossed blades in their playful [play-foil] fencing competition. Today she is lifeless on the ground, stabbed through the heart by a man calling himself a shadow duelist. And he’s going to get away with it. [Somehow (possibly it's the word "playful") I got the impression Kevin and Jenna are children with Styrofoam swords. As we're about to find out they're in high school, you might change "in their playful fencing competition" to "at fencing practice." Although . . . Are the events of yesterday and today connected? For instance, was Jenna's body found today where it has lain since yesterday when she was killed by the shadow duelist who took possession of Kevin's body during their fencing competition? If so, that could be made clear, and if not, do we need to know they crossed swords yesterday?] 

Instead of seeing a high school girl murdered, police will shake their heads at the tragedy of a car accident. The ancient magic of the shadow duels will conceal the truth. Kevin must to step up and beat the shadow duelist at his own game. [His own game being fencing?] [Was Kevin present when the shadow duelist killed Jenna? If not, how does he know what happened?] If he fails, his friends will be the next to die. [He knows this how?] But will his own skills be enough? [Since you asked, I would say the chances of a high school kid named Kevin out-fencing the shadow duelist can be rounded up to zero.] Or will he meet the same end as Jenna, swept under the rug as a victim of cruel fate? ["Swept under the rug" suggests the police consciously tried to hide what happened. "Mistakenly labeled" sounds closer to reality.]

I graduated last spring from Southwest Minnesota State University with a Literature – Creative Writing degree, and am eager to begin my professional career. [I hope you mean your career teaching literature or creative writing.] At present, I run a satirical blog called “Socks and Moccasins” on my website DanielKilkelly.com, and publish a weekly serial, “The Adventures of Little Richard and Tangles” on JukePop Serials. 


[The query doesn't exactly explain the title. Since my story is a bit convoluted, [A word I don't recommend using to describe the story to anyone who matters.] I tried to keep the query tight and simple, but here is the reason for the title: whenever my main character dies, time is set back thirteen hours, and he gets a chance to relive the same day over again.] [That's similar to what happens to Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, except that Tom keeps dying in a battle and Kevin apparently keeps dying in a fencing duel? Spoiler alert: If Kevin keeps committing suicide as soon as he comes back, eventually time will be set back to before Jenna was stabbed. Then together they can take down the shadow duelist and become shadow duelists themselves and live happily ever after. 


I was going to suggest that something like one of the following would be a way to start the query if you don't want to start with Yesterday Kevin and Jenna were happy fencers: 

The body of Jenna Parker lies on the ground, stabbed through the heart with an épée.  But the police, inexplicably, are calling it a car accident.

One minute Kevin and Jenna are at fencing practice, preparing for their next meet. The next minute Jenna is lying dead, stabbed through the heart, and Kevin is wondering what happened.

However, the clock turning back every time Kevin dies seems like something that may drive the whole plot, in which case it should be in the query, assuming Kevin dies with any frequency.  

So now I'm thinking you should start:

Yesterday Kevin Martin was killed by a man calling himself the Shadow Duelist. Today (which is actually the day before yesterday because time went backwards thirteen hours when Kevin died), Kevin is out to get revenge before the SD kills all his friends. 

Okay, that sounds kind of convoluted. How about something like:

It was after the third time he died that Kevin Jones finally figured out he was trapped in a time loop, reliving the last thirteen hours before his death.

This shadow duelist, being backed by the ancient magic of the shadow duels, would seem to be a larger-than-life character, and thus ought to have better things to do than go after Kevin's friends, many of whom probably aren't even fencers. Right now the villain appears to be a serial killer who chooses fencers and friends of fencers as his victims. Is it ever explained what his motivation is, why he killed Jenna, why he's specifically targeting Kevin's school/town/whatever?

Did the clock go back thirteen hours when Jenna died? If not, then what's so special about Kevin? Do we even need Jenna in the query? She's dead before we know what's going on.

Your bio and credits aren't so impressive that they should be included at the expense of your word count, genre, and enough information about your plot to make it clear. Actually, the writing itself was fine, and made the plot clear, but it was the wrong plot. You've focused on a motiveless insane immortal killer who's out to kill fencers because his beloved wife was murdered by a swordsman hundreds of years ago, when your story is about a kid trying to alter history to prevent his own death (and possibly that of Jenna).


Anonymous said...

Plot about a shadowy organization/individual who kills people in duels which are then magically covered up = meh imho

Mystery plot with a kid who comes back to life thirteen hours before he is killed = has possibilities.

I'll find it more interesting if it's not a time loop a la Ground Hog Day but more of a branching structure covering a few weeks back and forth or more, which I've seen less often. Although, I'll be annoyed if it turns out to be a video game.

What you have here is mostly inciting incident with a little bit about the stakes. You need more about why the MC is involved and must be the one to stop the bad guy(s). Because a friend of his was killed is a so-so reason. If his involvement has to do with the reasons he doesn't die, it should be included.

You also need more about where the plot is going, the resources the MC has (like the 13 hour bit) and the obstacles he will face (I have no idea what obstacles are in his way. Dying a lot?)

Also, you need to include word count and genre (I'm guessing YA fantasy). Don't query before the book is complete.

Evil Editor said...

This would be like Groundhog Day if he dies at the end of every thirteen hour period,, but if he can prevent his death in thirteen hours, then he doesn't come back until the next time the shadow duelist (or anyone) kills him, which could be weeks or months or years.

Chicory said...

How come the title is `Time of Death' instead of `Shadow Duel' or `The Shadow Duelist'? It seems like the Shadow Duelist is really driving the action, and the name would be a bit more attention grabbing -at least to me. Sorry I don't have any constructive comments on the plot.

St0n3henge said...

As you can see, there's a big difference between what you thought you wrote and what we read. That's pretty typical. We don't know the age of your characters at the beginning of the query. We don't know the reason Kevin's high school friends are being targeted or how Kevin knows. An additional question I'd have is: how does a sword wound through the heart get misclassified as a car accident? I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.

You know the answers, whoever you send this to doesn't. The trick is to rewrite it so A: Things make sense to someone who hasn't read the MS, B: Certain questions too complicated to tackle in the query never come up.

It's a tall order. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

30 years ago I, too, graduated from college with a degree in literature and creative writing. It took me years to recover.

When I finally did, I realized something about those college creative writing classes. Never once, in any of them, did a professor mention the reader. It was always understood that we were writing for ourselves.

Think about the reader now. Specifically, the reader of your query letter. When she reads "fresh-out-of-college", she'll think "someone with years of mistakes still to make".

When she reads the rest of your query, she won't know who your characters are or what challenges they're facing.

Rewrite as though explaining everything to someone who doesn't know anything about your story, And drop the bio.