Thursday, July 09, 2009

Face-Lift 653


Guess the Plot

Chicken Shed

1. Burned out after twenty years of white collar work, a yuppie quits his job and moves to a farm in Wales, where he finds peace and takes up a new hobby: torturing and slaughtering people in his . . . Chicken Shed.

2. Jenny and Mike decide to quit the corporate jungle and go completely off-grid in suburban California. Everything seems to be going along smoothly--until the baby chicks they bought to give them eggs turn out to all be roosters. Now no one in the neighborhood dares turn on the light to use the bathroom.

3. Three brothers end up behind enemy lines in France. Beautiful Marie LaFarge tells them the only way they can survive is to hide in her chicken shed until the war ends, but things go from strange to surreal as they slowly lose their minds and grow wings and feathers.

4. As WWIII grinds on and a syndicate of diabolical robots rule the world, five resistance members inhabit a maze of caves in Missouri, code-named Chicken Shed. They create an idyllic tribal culture complete with music, dance, moonshine, and one mad dream for which they will soon risk everything.

5. Uncle Frank's place is cool - wicked cool -- and 8-year-old Winston thinks the noises and lights he sees late at night coming from the chicken shed are the coolest thing of all . . . until one night, he sneaks out and discovers Uncle Frank's latest invention.

6. The chickens in the shed have always been violent and clever. Paula would have gotten rid of them long ago if she didn't need their eggs. But now her two-year-old son has wandered into the shed. Can Paula outwit these monstrous birds to save him?


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

CHICKEN SHED is a completed 100,000 word novel about a nameless ex-hedge fund manager who, thanks to the credit-crunch, has found himself at a loose end after working brutally long hours for twenty years amassing tremendous quantities of money in the City of London. [Even us Americans know London's a city.] To pass the time in his now empty life, he changes his identity, [He was already nameless; why does he have to change?] moves to a farm in [Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch,] Wales and takes to kidnapping, torturing and finally slaughtering the men who, as teenagers at the school that he attended in the 1970s, tormented and humiliated him. [He does this "to pass the time"? Are his victims in Wales or is he going elsewhere to get them? Did he grow up in Wales? This guy sounds familiar. Except for the slaughtering part. I think.]

Realising that the police never look too hard when a middle aged man disappears – especially if money is occasionally withdrawn from his bank account and there’s a sighting or two of someone who looks a bit like him somewhere in the country –

[Cop: Seen this guy? He's been missing a week.
Man: I saw someone who looked a bit like him in Penbontrhydyfothau a few days ago.
Cop: Okay, guess we can stop looking.]

he is able to ply his gory new trade undisturbed against the backdrop of the beautiful Welsh countryside for several years. [Never underestimate the value of an alluring landscape when you're engaged in slaughtering people.] His victims are captured, and then dispatched, [Gotta admire the British talent for tactful understatement. A crass American author would have said massacred or butchered or mutilated.] with the style, single-minded dedication and lavish supply of surgical equipment only someone with his experience, wealth and mental health issues can muster.

His run of luck is finally disturbed when his latest victim turns out to be a drug dealer actively being investigated by the police. [They really should consider putting your case in the inactive investigations pile once you've been slaughtered.] Although the North Yorkshire force, from under whose nose the man is captured, fail to follow the clues, a sharp eyed and persistent Welsh detective named [Gwarthegydd] Jones picks up the case and [Spoiler alert.] eventually gets his man. In a final plot twist, Jones also uncovers a deeper motive to the gruesome crime he has just solved.

The darkest scenes, as well as the climax, take place in the Chicken Shed of the title - a battery [-operated] chicken farm shed converted from the mass production of low quality meat to bespoke tailoring of high quality pain and suffering. [Remove "and suffering" if you're going for two phrases with similar cadence. A less-unwieldy way would be: from fowl butchery to foul butchery."] [Also, you might change "bespoke" to "custom" if you send this query to the uncivilized world.] Written mostly in the first person present tense, the protagonist gives his thoughts on everything from the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright [A genius that Frank Lloyd Wrrright guy may have been, but I'd like to see him design a better chicken shed than my own.] to be [the] best way to prepare deep fried tarantula. [Drop tarantula into deep fryer. Fry until it stops screaming. Mwynhewch eich bwyd!]

[Other Useful Welsh Phrases:

I don't understand.................. Dw i ddim yn deall
Speak more slowly.................. Siardwch yn arafach
Say that again......................... Dywedwch hynny unwaith eto
Write it down.......................... Wnewch chi ysgrifennu hynna
My hovercraft is full of eels.... Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn o lyswennod.]


Thank you for considering my query.

Yours faithfully,


Notes

This was an episode of Criminal Minds, except your serial killer isn't a quadriplegic.

This is like Dexter, except your serial killer is the bad guy.

Better title: The Silence of the Hens

Well-written, and you can't go wrong with a creative serial killer. It's a little long. You can afford to lose the first sentence of paragraph 2, tacking the second onto paragraph one. And you can afford to lose "To pass the time in his now empty life," as he is doing this for revenge and for the unrevealed deeper motive, not just to kill time.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Even us Americans know London's a city." - in the UK, 'City of London' is equivalent to saying 'Wall Street' whereas 'London' by itself doesn't have any big money implication. Having said that, he could lose 'Of London' and say 'The City' for a UK audience.

_*Rachel*_ said...

As the Reduced Shakespeare Company says, the tragedies are funnier than the comedies! Or maybe it's just the blue text.

I loved the Welsh names, EE.

Is "force," as in the police, one of those words that could be used either as a singular or a plural?

The reason this sounds funny is that the most serious plots, when you tell them a bit out of context, sound hilarious. Like Oedipus: he accidentally married his mother and had 4 kids, then figured it out and gouged out his eyes. He wandered around until he died, and then his sons killed each other and one of his daughters got half the people she knew, including herself, killed off, just because she wanted to dust her brother. But it sounds a lot more serious in the plays.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Some of us Americans even know that "The City" refers to London's financial district.

In terms of audience I guess you're going for pathological sadists? What's the demographic on those?

Anonymous said...

I loved this query and that is saying a lot because after Hannibal and the pig scene I didn't think there could ever be a better serial killer.

This line made me laugh:

"with the style, single-minded dedication and lavish supply of surgical equipment only someone with his experience, wealth and mental health issues can muster"

excellent.

vkw

Aimee K. Maher said...

Well....

"lavish supply of surgical equipment only someone with his experience"

It makes no sense for a hedge-funder to have surgical equipment experience. I would reword it. I have to disagree with a few points, mostly I think giving away the ending is a bust. I'd rather find out in the novel. A query should compel an agent to want to read more.

Evil Editor said...

Nothing wrong with revealing your ending to an agent. A well-written query with an intriguing plot description will make her want to read more.

Aimee K. Maher said...

Maybe it bothered me because there is so much play on Mr. No Name, and barely a mention in passing that Det. Jones uncovers a twist. Dunno.

I'm certainly not the pro here, I'm not even an apprentice. In fact, I don't even get to bring the apprentice coffee.

Hate that.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read this sentence

"single-minded dedication and lavish supply of surgical equipment only someone with his experience, wealth and mental health issues can muster."

as meaning that he had experience with surgical equipment per se but that his former career gave him experience that he could draw on to be a successful serial killer - maybe like perserverence, outward friendliness, salesmanship - whatever.

Actually wasn't that Criminal Minds episode about the serial killer and his brother a take off of the Canadian serial killer that butchered his victims and fed it to the pigs.

Just another cold example that the truth is not only stranger than fiction but also more brutal.

vkw

Robin S. said...

Ha! [Gotta admire the British talent for tactful understatement. A crass American author would have said massacred or butchered or mutilated.] This is a scream. Not to mention, on the money.

A Welsh guy I'm pretty close to always says "ah...it's part of life's rich tapestry" any time something crappy happens.

Anyway, author, this sounds good to me. I'd read it.

Also - I love the use of your word 'bespoke'. Never heard of it before Welsh Boy came into my life, but now I like it. Kind of like how I like the word 'fortnight' now...

The only thing I don't like is - why do you guys always sound smarter than we do? That's some lucky deal you've got going on.

Dave F. said...

Like Aimee, alarm bells tintinabulated in my mind when I read: ...lavish supply of surgical equipment only someone with his experience, wealth and mental health issues can muster
-- Where does a hedge fund manager get experience with surgical equipment? I know where to get lots of things and I'm resourceful enough to learn how to use them. That doesn't make me a serial killer.

There is some breaking point here that you are understating.

It's your plot and not mine but this also set of not just bells but klaxons sounded inside my head: slaughtering the men who, as teenagers at the school that he attended in the 1970s, tormented and humiliated him.
-- Are we to believe that the police will not find out that these missing men went to school together? Mister No-Name villain is good at hiding the bodies and covering the deaths. I know you say that in a very subtle way and perhaps "subtle" is too weak a word. Obscure might be a better choice.

And I'm going to guess that the bottom line is that more than just bully and torment him, they sexually abused him. I'd use more explicit (rude, nasty, ugly) terms in private.

I'm invoking Kevin Bacon. He's related to everything entertaining in only a few thoughts. This sounds like his movie "Sleepers" and the truly dark-tinged "Mystic River" with their sins of the past coming to roost, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Dave?

You are having a problem with Sleepers meets Mystic River meets Hannibal meets real life Canadian serial killer?

Jeez you are a tough one. You are making Evil Editor look like Santa Clause.

Steve said...

Well, it could be good, but unfortunately it manages to push two of my buttons:-

Firstly, I am thoroughly fed up with serial killers - have been for some time now.

Secondly, the final paragraph triggers my spider phobia badly enough that all I can say is YEEECCCCHH AAARRRGGGHHH EEEECCCCHH.

So this is not a book which is going to appeal to me. My loss, perhaps, but there it is.

Dave F. said...

You are having a problem with Sleepers meets Mystic River meets Hannibal meets real life Canadian serial killer?

No, Sleepers, Mystic River and the first Hannibal (lambs) were good stories. It's just that the understatement of things like medical supplies and that final deep dark secret rang alarm bells. What was said was said indirectly.

I will say that a good friend and coworker spent 20 minutes giving reasons why he thought Mystic River was too dark a story. And he's not a man with delicate sensibilities, far from it.

I didn't say this earlier but after a bit of thought I felt like this was a query was aimed only at a Brit audience. I didn't say that because the author may have legit reasons for going to a British publisher. So while I knew it wasn't written for my American mind to read, I didn't comment.

I also had troubled thoughts about the subject. Not that I'm squeamish (hardly) BUT (let's face it) a major part of this story takes place with one person torturing another person in vile and nasty ways. It's a horror story. It might be the Poppy Z Brite volume of detective stories. I don't know because the query is so understated. Again, I'm not judging the novel, I'm just wondering if the query truly reflects the tone.

I'm not the only one who had trouble with a hedge-fund manager learning new surgical skills, or a whole department of stupid police with one smart, determined detective. Revenge for childhood abuse is emotional and dramatic. The query plays all that emotion down and sounds so clinical and neat and orderly.

I might have a problem if I picked up a police procedural in the morning and couldn't sleep with the lights out that night.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the comments people. Here's a few answers to some of the points raised:

I obviously need to work on the link between surgical instruments and hedge-funds in the query. It's clear in the book but too much of a non sequitur for the letter.

In terms of audience I guess you're going for pathological sadists? What's the demographic on those? - honestly, I have no idea! Also, this is probably not a book that's ever going to get published. I wrote it for my own entertainment and, whilst I'm quite pleased with parts of it, a lot of it just isn't that well done as a whole. The plot is complete and everything fits together cleanly, but large parts of the writing are, well, lumpy for want of a better description.

or a whole department of stupid police - ah well, now here's a funny thing. This is the only bit of the book I did any serious research for. I spent a lot of time talking it through with an ex-Metropolitan police detective who was the one that came up with the basic premise. Tens of thousands of middle aged men go missing every year in the UK and, so long as there's no signs of violence or anything else to make the police suspicious, the only real investigation they ever do is to pull bank records. If someone's still taking money out of ATMs then they will, occasionally, also look at nearby CCTV but, other than that, they assume that he's just had enough of his wife and family and done a runner. 99.99% of the time they're right of course. It's also worth knowing that UK Police forces are highly fragmented. If a number of people went missing in one small area, then they'd certainly notice but, if it was people from different areas of the country, then there's almost no chance a connection would get made again, so long as there was no evidence of violence or coercion.

A Welsh guy I'm pretty close to always says "ah...it's part of life's rich tapestry" any time something crappy happens. - twilight zone moment, the killer says that on page 2 of the book. It's a phrase I picked up from my (English, not Welsh) father.

Secondly, the final paragraph triggers my spider phobia badly enough that all I can say is YEEECCCCHH AAARRRGGGHHH EEEECCCCHH - excellent, and sorry.

And I'm going to guess that the bottom line is that more than just bully and torment him, they sexually abused him. - no, no sex, abusive or otherwise. I don't think I could bring myself to write it and it wouldn't fit with the whole feel of the book.

The query plays all that emotion down and sounds so clinical and neat and orderly - I tried to write the query in the same tone as the book which in turn tries to capture the buttoned-up style of many Brits in the world of finance. That's not to say there aren't very strong emotions involved, just that they're heavily repressed.

I might have a problem if I picked up a police procedural - it's definitely not one of those, I should make that clear in some way in the query letter.

A more general thing I found interesting in the comments is the whole English/American English thing. I had the good fortune to live in New York for three years earlier in my career - I work for a hedge fund by the way – and, even after that experience, I find it very difficult to spot what will and won't work for an American reader. Two nations divided by a common language indeed.

Fred (the author)

Anonymous said...

I really don't think we can have too many serial killer stories out there.

But sense we are complaining. . .(er . . . talking about our preferences) - Here was the one concern I had.

"Written mostly in the first person present tense, the protagonist gives his thoughts on everything from the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright" - now this could go either way from really, really creepy to something intersting to something not realistic.

Since most serial killers are psychopaths and believe or not never abused nor neglected . . . they are very hard to pick out of crowd until the bodies are found in their basement.

And pet peeve number two. . . why is it always the misunderstood lone detective that gets to solve the crime or the sexy, independent long-legged female detective that figures out who the serial killer is but in the end has to be rescued from said criminal?

When do we have to get read about the team of top FBI agents that have great PR with the local sheriff's office who together find the serial killer before he kills 16 people?

vkw

Steve said...

To be fair, Dave (and I will be fair, even to an author who's set off my thing about spiders), you don't need actual surgical training to hurt people with surgical instruments. They're just high-quality sharp pointy things, after all.

Evil Editor said...

When do we have to get read about the team of top FBI agents that have great PR with the local sheriff's office who together find the serial killer before he kills 16 people?


I have no doubt that there are other such books, but because that's the usual plot on Criminal Minds, I would assume that the three Criminal Minds novels out so far might have that plot.

Aimee K. Maher said...

I think a serial killer that bad a$$ enough that he doesn't alert enough attention for the FBI to notice, combined with a cop who is that bad a$$ he is able to track him down in two days before the help arrives, well, hey, you had me at scalpel.

Anonymous said...

Good Point EE - but why would I read a Criminal Minds book when I can watch it on the television? Besides I like the indepth character development and plot development in a book rather than what passes as such in a screen play.

Thank you for your insight author. I like that.

Here is the cool thing about your story - the most successful serial killers out there did exactly what you are writing about - even in America if a serial killer just preyed on people across county lines they got away with it for a long time. So I really like the way you put in the drug pusher as the catalyst. And, interesting enough, the serial killers that were caught were usually caught on accident or they were caught doing something wrong and then spilled their guts. Seems even psychopaths get a "I'm going to meet Jesus some day" moment best to redeem myself by confessing.

I would suggest don't abandon this story. Put it aside, let your mind drift to something else for awhile, read books you normally would not like and come back to it. Also research some serial killer websites and biographies on real serial killers.

I became absolutely fascinated with the subject of female vs. male serial killers. The primary difference was females did it for the money and almost always knew their victims; males killed just to kill.

Like I said - you can never have too many serial killer stories.

Okay now I just am sounding weird . . .

I'm not - really. Maybe a little - but not so much anyone would notice.

vkw

BuffySquirrel said...

Dunno about being sick of serial killers. Being sick of 'serial killers' who are no such thing, that's another matter. Still, I imagine it was fun to write :).

Dave F. said...

why is it always the misunderstood lone detective that gets to solve the crime or the sexy, independent long-legged female detective that figures out who the serial killer

I'm not being defensive, just observing that LAW AND ORDER has the franchise -- CSI, NYC, Miami, Criminal Intent, etc -- on normal policemen doing routine work. They've turned procedurals into Actors Equity Full Employment Method and made the formula work for all these many years.

Dave F. said...

Fred,
Your query is very British. It's the most British thing I've read in a few years. If that reflects the language of the book, keep it very British.

Anonymous said...

Okay I got it Dave and EE.

So let's have a sexy, muscle bound male detective working with an overweight, frumpy female detective with experience. He solves the crime through great intelligence and perserverence but does not have the foresight to let anyone else know or prepare for disaster, (having left his homebound security book at home, next to his FBI procedure book)

Ultimately it's the overweight, ready to retire, incumbent alcoholic woman detective that manages to save his cute behind.

Nevermind. . . I like the British writing as well and suggest you keep it to give the novel and your query the Scotland long feel. It will then sale in America and Great Britain.

By the way, I am fortunate enough to have three half-siblings living in England who were raised (a few years)in America.

I picked up on none of the British differences, but I have an Aussie friend. . . my goodness, talk about cultures sharing the same language and being different.

I tell him quite often, the Earth should have never allowed the Aussies membership in this world. He's okay with that.

vkw.

writtenwyrdd said...

I couldn't really warm up to the hedge fund investor cum serial killer. I kept getting confused, wondering when the hedge fund angle would cross over into the killing somehow. See, it sounded way more important to the overall story than it apparently is.

Generally, serial killers aren't my cup of tea, but there seem to be a lot of interesting plot elements here. The trouble is that the query makes it sound like a scrambled mess, and the character seems rather lacking in the goal department.

I know your guy is a serial killer, but what does he WANT?

_*Rachel*_ said...

If you're not content with some parts, rewrite--maybe let it sit a while first, but do it. It's good when you can tell something about the quality of your own writing.

Aimee K. Maher said...

I have to agree with writtenwyrdd, on a point. I'm tired of seeing average, middle aged, angry business guys profiled. It would be refreshing to see the average suicidal dentist, security guard, or female artist go BALLISTIC and start cranking out the bodies.

Dave F. said...

vkw,
Sounds like a job for Camryn Manheim and I would definitely watch.

Anonymous said...

"I know your guy is a serial killer, but what does he WANT?". Sure, you mean, but what does he COVET (Clarice)?

sylvia said...

Tens of thousands of middle aged men go missing every year in the UK and, so long as there's no signs of violence or anything else to make the police suspicious, the only real investigation they ever do is to pull bank records. If someone's still taking money out of ATMs then they will, occasionally, also look at nearby CCTV but, other than that, they assume that he's just had enough of his wife and family and done a runner.

This is fascinating. I like the premise.

There's a couple of authors who speak about having / starting a story that they just aren't capable of writing yet. A couple of years (or even decades later) they returned to it and wrote/rewrote the piece. So my advice is, put this on the back burner, do more writing and get more experience, then come back to it and get it right.

benwah said...

Sounds a bit too much like torture porn for my tastes, but then again, I've never gotten into the SAW franchise either.

Eric P. said...

Inside a serial killer's mind-- fascinating. Finding that he's thinking about architecture and distasteful recipes-- maybe not so much. But then I gather that most writings from genuine psychopaths do tend toward the "lumpy."

chelsea said...

I find myself getting hung up on the specifics of the "tormented and humiliated". What did the bullies do to the protagonist in school?

I guess I need to get a sense that they *get what's coming to them* but I'm not getting it so far. Lots of kids bully kids in school. That doesn't mean I'd enjoy seeing them murdered. So . . . what did they do?

Anonymous said...

This feels rather close to the plot of that Mel Gibson move, Chicken Run to me.


Bullies go in, pies come out.

_*Rachel*_ said...

You think a serial killer book sounds like Chicken Run? As in, the claymation movie with the chickens trying to fly? If you're just talking about that specific chicken pie-maker, then I see what you mean. Otherwise I'm cracking up over here.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm not implying plagiarism. Just a simple, honest coincidence is all.

But if there's any pastry in the book, you might want to re-think that bit.

batgirl said...

Serial killer & bakeshop would be way more like Sweeney Todd than like Chicken Run. Sweeney's in the public domain, just like Varney the Vampyre.
This is more like an educated Ed Gein than anything involving Mel Gibson's voice.