Thursday, November 29, 2012

Face-Lift 1088



Guess the Plot

The Non-Profit

1. The first in-depth guide for aspiring writers that tells it like it really is. Also, soup recipes and a pull-out page of food stamps.

2. Sister Mary Agony experiences a series of doomsday visions involving Jesus, JFK, and a dachshund. But it seems no one will listen to the dire prognostications of... the Nun-Prophet.

3. Mark was supost to be his nashun's spirichal savyur, but he can't even spel--much less profesai. When a nayboring kingdum invads, Mark's peepul ask him to leed ther armees. Will this non-profit manadge to save his peepul from anialashun?

4. In rural Haiti, a group of earnest if surprisingly pale volunteers is eager to start a village school. But why must the classes be held at night? And why are the corpses of local residents starting to turn up in out-of-the-way locales, completely drained of blood?

5. Keisha Holloway loves her new job entering data about children for a nonprofit organization that runs after-school programs--until she discovers that every child she enters into the data system gets kidnapped. Before she can blow the whistle, Keisha is targeted for elimination. Now hundreds of social service workers are after her, willing to kill for the price on her head. Maybe she shoulda taken that job as a law firm receptionist.

6. Jeb Stone likes money. Unfortunately, he's just graduated from college with enormous student loan debt. All his attempts to get a job have failed, so he's forced to take a job at the new local "Non-Profit" food bank. Strangely enough, he's soon making more money than he could ever have imagined. Could there be some magic in those home-made snickerdoodles? And why are all the homeless people wearing designer watches?

7. Jill graduates from Harvard Business School and starts work as a financial analyst at the Peabody Fund – a nonprofit organization. She accidentally finds two sets of books and confides in Jack, another new hire. They snoop and discover the fund launders money for Mafia drug smugglers. But Jack is a made-man. Now there’s no profit in being Jill.



Original Version

Query Letter:

Children’s Holistic Services operates afterschool programs and food closets, but when an evil computer system hijacks their funding, children disappear and Keisha Holloway, secretary to a murdered boss, must flee for her life. [On the one hand, we don't need this paragraph, as it merely summarizes the five paragraphs that follow. On the other hand, this paragraph has way more clarity than the expanded version.]


Keisha Holloway lands the perfect job, secretary for a program that gives back to the community.  Children’s Holistic uses GovernmentGrants.gov, a government website that provides funding for non-profits and collects data generated by programs nationwide. [That sentence is dullsville. Nothing to do with the writing; any sentence containing the words "government," "data," "programs," and "generated" is a one-way ticket to the rejection pile.]

Keisha enters the student-level data for her program, and in response, the system kidnaps all the children. [Say what? Did we leave out a step or two? What is "the system"? The computer system? She types a kid's name into a database, and the computer system kidnaps the kid? Does the computer system have henchmen who do the dirty work? And whattaya mean, "all" the children? If every child who enrolls in an after-school program gets kidnapped, wouldn't someone notice? What's being done by the authorities?] The computer hacker who seized control of GovernmentGrants is determined to make a difference by forcing social change on organizations hindered by law and ethics. [If the villain is the hacker, why did you call it an "evil" computer system? Does the computer system have its own agenda?] [What exactly is the hacker's goal? If I kidnap all the children who enroll in after-school programs, the government will see the light and . . . do what?]

Darrell Ford, Keisha’s handsome co-worker, scours the ghetto streets for signs of the children.  He encounters residents who saw the missing children secreted into vans in the middle of the night by men in black clothing. [Are they the Men in Black? Because that would be an unexpected but welcome development.]

Keisha’s boss, Dr. Scott, goes looking for the missing children and is never heard from again.  Darrell and Keisha investigate, searching the riverfront where Dr. Scott was last seen. Keisha beats the system by writing a grant application for the return of the missing children, and is targeted by GovernmentGrants.gov for elimination.

[Sirs:

Childrens Holistic Services would like to apply for a government grant in the amount of $75,000. The money will be used to provide lunches for students, supplies for teachers, and to recover the children you kidnapped.] 

Running for her life, Keisha encounters hundreds of social service workers who will kill for the price on her head. [My first thought is, you wouldn't think there'd be hundreds of people who are both willing to commit murder for hire and who also have chosen social work as their career field. My second thought is, if you've been a social worker longer than six months, it would be amazing if you weren't eager to commit murder.] If she can survive long enough, maybe the government can trace the computer hacker. If they can’t, she’s on her own.

THE NON-PROFIT is a 70,000 word thriller.

I have worked as secretary for non-profits all my life, encountering many grant making bodies and government websites. They are not user-friendly. [I feel it's time someone blew the whistle on these corrupt bastards, and that someone may as well be me, as long as I do it in a work of fiction under a pen name, because hey, I don't wanna get murdered tomorrow.]


Notes

For starters, let's get rid of "all" the children are being kidnapped, and "hundreds" of social service workers are out to kill Keisha. Those sound like wild exaggerations. Save them for the book. Also, saying the system kidnaps the children isn't advisable. Keisha doesn't know who's kidnapping them, so no need to reveal it to us. It's the mystery she's out to solve.

We don't care about GovernmentGrants.gov. Focus on Keisha. Children are being kidnapped. Keisha is alerted to the common thread in the kidnappings when she realizes she entered all the missing children into the after-school program database. Someone must have hacked into her computer! Keisha investigates, but soon finds that someone thinks she's getting too close to the truth. Fearing for her life, she teams up with hunky Darrell and . . .


11 comments:

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Okay. This is actually an interesting story idea, provided you can keep it believable.

The problem is you're not expressing it well in the query. You're giving us a lot of unnecessary details (the name of the website, the color of the kidnappers' clothing) and leaving out necessary ones.

And this sentence makes no sense:

The computer hacker who seized control of GovernmentGrants is determined to make a difference by forcing social change on organizations hindered by law and ethics.

Fortunately it's deletable, because the villain's motives aren't important here. It's fine if we don't find out, in the query, why the children are going missing. The query needs to focus on your protagonist. Here's her story as I get it from the query:

1. Keisha has a new data entry job.

2. Oh no! Every kid whose data she enters gets kidnapped. (NB-- this would be thousands of kids, no?)

3. Once Keisha realizes this, her own life is in danger. Also that of her boss and her handsome coworker.

4. Keisha presumably wants to rescue the children (this is not mentioned) but she is pursued by homicidal social workers.

Btw, I don't know where this is set (the term "food closets", since I'd never heard it before, made me think it was not the US). In the US, stranger abductions of children number about 100 a year. If that suddenly became thousands, I feel sure we'd notice.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

PS-- The disappearance of large numbers of children is high stakes stuff. So make sure you're giving it its full due.

khazar-khum said...

How old are the kids? Little kids--under, say, 10 or 12--and the cops & media are all over it. Teens? Who cares? Hell, everyone wants them to disappear anyway.

Is it more like this:

When Keisha begins work at a non-profit, she soon realizes that every child whose name she enters as part of the Dullsville Neighborhood Afterschool Bore-A-Thon program is kidnapped.

Or more like this:

When Keisha begins work at a non-profit, she soon realizes that every child whose name she enters is kidnapped.

If it's the first, then police (not mentioned, hmmm) and others have something to go on. If it's the second, Keisha will find herself spending time in holding rooms while she finds an attorney--because she's the common link.

Kelsey said...

I tripped over the idea that data entry is Keisha's "dream job." That's a tall order--I can see working for an organization that Keisha highly respects may be a dream-come-true, but data entry? Unless Keisha's endearingly obsessed with numbers, I'd rephrase this.

Otherwise, with some more clarity, I was also interested. Good luck.

150 said...

Boy, I am usually first in line to say "be more specific!" but every detail in this query makes it sound ridiculous. I agree with the others: focus on Keisha, emphasize the stakes, and maybe don't mention that her big heroic action is writing a grant and then having a hit put out on her by a .gov URL.

The story seems healthy, like it's structurally sound and has all the right elements. But boy, that nonprofit jargon is a thrill-killer.

AA said...

Some points:

Is this some strange future in which hundreds of social workers have gone insane? Or are they so desperately poor they're willing to kill someone for a bounty?

"Keisha’s boss, Dr. Scott, goes looking for the missing children and is never heard from again." It's not good to bring up a character and dismiss him forever in the same sentence.

"He encounters residents who saw the missing children secreted into vans in the middle of the night by men in black clothing."

If people saw this, the kidnappers were bad at their jobs.
Did the witnesses tell the police this little tidbit of information? Or are they just now telling a random stranger?
(Somehow, this sentence reminds me of an episode of Walker Texas Ranger.)

"If she can survive long enough, maybe the government can trace the computer hacker. If they can’t, she’s on her own."
If the government knows what's going on, why aren't they, you know, protecting her?

The problem: None of this makes sense or is even remotely believable the way it's written.

Start over. You need to pretend your story is happening in real life, or a believable alternate world. People have reasons for what they do. Actions have consequences.

Why don't we all just kill people for money, or kidnap a bunch of kids to force social change, or fail to report crimes to the authorities? Because (reasonable consequence) would happen. Think it through.

ril said...

I think the idea of an elite team of killer social workers is pretty awesome.

Talk about irony...

Mister Furkles said...

I've known a few social workers. And don’t think they’re a lot of wimpy Milquetoasts but crazed homicidal bounty hunter is not what comes to mind when I remember them. Could you have confused Timothy McVeigh with his murder victims?

Mister Furkles said...

Okay, now I think I figured this out.

I used to live in Fort Lauderdale. Streets run east to west and avenues run north to south. They are named by number and the quarter of the city they are in. I can’t tell you how many times somebody went to some northeast avenue when they wanted a southwest street – or something like that.

Well, I figure you meant to go to the Social Security office on Southeast 5th Avenue but ended up at the Gambino’s hideout on Northwest 5th Street. Could that be it?

TNJ said...

Author here.

Thank you all so much for your comments! And thank you Evil Lord for your help. I will have to think & revise. I don't know where I could have received this kind of feedback anywhere else.

John C. Updike said...

I seriously don't think about it much now that I don't have to write headlines for a living, but the comment about certain words being turnoffs -- I can relate to that. It is difficult for me to get inspired by words like "data entry."

Although, ever since Stepford, I can relate to the bizarre nature of the computer.