1.01.2006

#83 Crapometer

mystery/thriller

Sariah has the unfortunate talent of psychometry: she can feel emotional "residue" left on objects. But one evening when she picks up her brother's work glove, she receives the feeling of murder.

Three girls - each with a slight resemblance to Sariah - have been killed during the past year. Sariah cannot believe her brother Josh had anything to do with those, even though he has a history of violence and mental illness. She considers other explanations, but none of them quite ease her suspicion. She scans her journal, looking for evidence of his innocence, but instead finds that he was off his meds and acting erratically during the times of each of the murders.

Sariah wants to believe her brother is innocent. But she knows that if he's guilty, he needs psychiatric help. Unwilling to call the police - or believe Josh's guilt - without concrete evidence, Sariah asks her friend Elliot for help, and hesitantly tells him about her
psychometry.

Ok, right here we have the first (of many) breaks in logic. WHY does Sarah ask Elliot for help, and what kind of help would he be able to provide? Why doesn't she call Josh's doctor? If Josh is on meds, there's a doctor in the picture.

Though skeptical, he agrees to help her investigate. Their boss, whose cousin was one of the victims, overhears part of this conversation. She confronts Sariah and threatens to call the police on Josh. Sariah barely manages to talk her out of it; the boss agrees to give her a day. Neither Sariah nor Elliot quite trust her to keep her word.

No kidding. You can’t serioiusly expect that someone would NOT tell the police if they knew who’d killed a young woman. Trust me on this; this doesn’t work.

They study news reports about the crimes, but learn nothing new. They go to one of the crime scenes, but too much time has passed; Sariah can gather no information with her ability. Elliot remembers a comment the boss made about the victims' hair, and he theorizes the killer may be keeping trophies.

Ya, all killers keep trophies. We know this cause we've seen it 100x before.

They enter Josh's house when he and his two roommates are out. They find nothing of note in his room, but in the attic, they find a shrine - to Sariah. Pictures of her line the walls and rafters, a tape recorder holds a tape of her voice, and a styrofoam mannequin head
wears glasses and chunks of long dark hair - just like Sariah's.

Very creepy of course. Too bad we’ve seen this kind of thing so often that it’s cliche. And a tape recorder? What year is this set?

Josh's roommates Luke and Martin return home early. Sariah and Elliot try to slip out of the attic unseen, but Sariah accidentally touches one of the pictures, and receives a psychometric flash so strong she can't move for a minute. Luke finds them in the attic and attacks Elliot. Martin pulls Luke away, and Elliot helps Sariah escape. Luke then strangles Martin and flees, minutes before police arrive: Sariah's boss has reported Josh.

ya, that’ll teach you to live with a murderer with a shrine in the attic.


With the evidence in the attic, plus more from Luke's room, Josh is quickly cleared (he was never charged with anything) and the police focus their search on Luke. While Sariah is relieved that Josh is innocent, she's almost catatonic with fear of Luke, especially once he sends her an email from the public library of a nearby town. Elliot and Josh stay with her.

So, why exactly is Luke the homicidal maniac fixated on Sariah? And why is he sending her emails all of a sudden? And more important, why is he killing people?

A couple of mornings later, while Elliot is at school taking an exam, Josh leaves Sariah asleep and makes a quick run to the pharmacy. Luke breaks into the apartment. Sariah fights him and draws blood, but when he bleeds on her it triggers the worst flash yet, and she passes out. Luke carries her to his truck; her glasses fall off and break in the parking lot.

Yes, they’re protecting her but it’s just a “quick run to the pharmacy”. This device was old when it was used on Gunsmoke in the 50’s.

He takes her to a small cabin. He also brought her purse, and he tells her to brush her hair and get ready for breakfast. In the bathroom, she tries to use her cell phone, but cannot receive any
signal. Her nightgown has no pockets, so she hides the cell in her underwear.

Luke has been preparing for this day. The table is spread with tablecloth and candles, and the kitchen is full of food. Sariah tries not to touch anything. He seats her, but as soon as she thinks his back is turned, she runs for the door. He easily intercepts her. Without anger, he tells her she has to stay, that he's made everything nice just for her: her favorite pasta, her favorite root beer, her favorite music.

Near-blind and trapped, Sariah decides to play along. She eats the food he cooks - rotini for breakfast? - and tries to keep up light conversation. After the meal, he brings out one of Sariah's favorite games. (Clue?)

She makes up a variation involving alcohol, and Luke agrees to play; there are several bottles of old liquor under the sink. Each time Sariah has to take a drink, she secretly spits it into her dark-colored root beer bottle, a trick she saw in a movie. Whenever Luke goes to the bathroom, she empties the bottle in the kitchen sink. Luke is getting drunk, and Sariah pretends to be. When she wins the game, Luke drinks the agreed-upon loser's penalty, but then realizes Sariah is not truly drunk. He grabs her, and they fight, but he trips over a bottle. Before he can get up, Sariah smashes another bottle against his head and escapes.

Without her glasses, Sariah can see only that she's on a road in the forest, and she runs till her cell phone can get a signal and she can call the police.

Elliot and Josh, who were also searching for her, meet her at the police station. Her bare feet are cut, her body is scraped and bruised, her nightgown is bloody - but she's alive.

The synopsis itself isn’t bad but it shows the weakness of the novel pretty clearly: it’s all been done before and it there’s no motivation for the plot. And before everyone jumps up and down and says “there are only six plots; it’s the writing that counts” I gotta tell you that if you use tired old plot devices you better have some new twists up your sleeve.

This is one of the main reasons agents look at synopses. Even five stellar pages of writing aren't going to save something that has a clearly expired freshness date.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

And before everyone jumps up and down and says “there are only six plots; it’s the writing that counts” I gotta tell you that if you use tired old plot devices you better have some new twists up your sleeve.


Hey! Don't put words in my mouth. All I meant was that if you get an otherwise-acceptable synopsis in which--say--a NYC murder trial reveals inadvertent incest, you maybe shouldn't chuck it just because Sophocles did it before.

Bernita said...

How does one get feelings of "murder?"

Why is the serial killer fixated on Sariah?

Dave Kuzminski said...

I own a tape recorder. I'm old fashioned? Ouch.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I feel surprisingly elated.

(Plus embarrassed at my story's now-obvious errors, of course.)

I wish I could say that these are flaws only of the synopsis - but Ms Snark is spot-on. The story itself has terrible weak spots.

(Though I feel compelled to add that Josh's doctor is indeed in the picture, and the manuscript does explain the killer's fixation on Sariah. I think it does, anyway; I might have to re-examine that. At any rate, leaving that information out of my synopsis was utter nitwittism.)

Ms Snark (if you're reading comments): Thank you! This manuscript has been a nightmare to edit, and your comments have helped me figure out some of the reasons why. This thing doesn't need an edit, it needs a major rewrite.

ps for Bernita: "feelings of murder" didn't seem like a silly phrase when I typed it, but it sure does now. :) For a moment when she touched the glove, Sariah felt what the victim felt, emotionally and physically. I'll have to figure out a better way to say that.

Anonymous said...

Aargh! And I have committed my first mortal sin of 2006 by typing "Ms Snark."

Please forgive me, Miss Snark, Miss Snark, Miss Snark!