9.04.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #73

Dear Miss Snark,

Chris Narito survived the bloody civil war that destroyed the United States and has now built a peaceful life in Canada. As the head of a research center that seeks a cure for the most intractable serial killers, Chris hopes to come to grips with human evil through science
– although this all too often takes a back seat to dealing with hard-headed politicians in search of pork to cut, fighting turf battles with private prison contractors, and the endless quest for
more funding. (this is as unfocused a topic sentence as we've seen today)

Unfortunately, Chris's work has attracted the attention of religious fanatics who want to remake Canada in their own image. (they're in favor of serial killers?) They target the center for threats, sabotage, and ultimately a terrorist attack. In the aftermath, even Chris's closest colleagues suspect that their head of research has come unhinged. Chris is forced into a war on two fronts – trying to save the center while confronting the past. (none of this makes any sense)

The Sleep of Monsters is a 60,000 word science fiction novel based on the latest research into the biological origins of violence. It's my first book-length work, but my short fiction has appeared in XYZ.

I've enclosed the first page; the full manuscript is available on request. Thank you for your consideration.

Regards,


I'd have sent a form rejection at this point.

-----------------------
"No flash," I said for the third time, as a cameraman leaned in to get a shot of Member of Parliament Ray Thorpe in front of a biochamber. I was beginning to feel that I should never have agreed to host this fiasco, no matter how badly the Center needed the funding. (I agree to host fiascos all the time, don't you?)

But refusing Thorpe wasn't an option, and leaving someone else in charge might have been taken as an insult. Anyway, it would hardly be fair to put the burden on one of the lab techs. Lawrence really would have been the right person for the job, but Lawrence had a school play
to be at, and wouldn't get back until three. It wasn't like he was getting off lightly - there wasn't much to choose between watching third-graders attempt Shakespeare and explaining neurochemistry to a politician, anyway.

"So who is it in the box?" a reporter asked as the photographers swarmed around.

"Medical privacy laws forbid me to reveal that. I'm sorry." The last bit was a lie.

"Is it true that the Hicksville Horror guy is in here somewhere?" The prurience in his voice disgusted me. I reminded myself that he, too, was doing a job, trying to make a living, and so on.

"I can't say."

"I have it on good authority that he is," reporter said in a lower voice. "He killed eight kids before he was caught, right?"

He was trying to trick me into something that sounded like an admission. I wanted to tell him that Martin Stapleton only killed five children. That the other three were false confessions. How one of the keys to understanding Stapleton's actions was understanding how much he liked the attention that he got when he'd offer to show the police where more bodies were buried. But the reporter wouldn't care, and those of his readers who would care already knew. I walked away.

"So," the Member of Parliament said jovially, moving away from the biochamber, "give me your spiel. Obviously this place is meant to be more than a sauna for perverts and creeps."

"Obviously." I tried to smile, and not to let the whirring of the cameras and rustling of clothes distract me as I launched into my lines. Usually the lab was so quiet that you could hear someone coming in tennis shoes from three hallways down. "The purpose of the Offender Rehabilitation Program at the Zino Center is to create treatment programs for the most dangerous, most recidivism-prone criminals. Up until now, it's been very hard to find a cure for
chronic violent criminals because the only way to discover if the treatment has worked is to release the offender back into society and see if he – or in a few cases, she – offends again.

"When we're talking about offenses like rape or murder or child molestation, there's an understandable reluctance on the part of the community to take that risk. But without doing so, we can't learn very much. So for decades the rehabilitation issue has been stuck in
a morass of trial and error, with real progress often swamped by confusion or obscured by politics."

I glanced at the Thorpe, but he was smiling and nodding as if politics were the furthest thing from his mind.


You've started with an issue instead of a story or character and it shows. Writing fiction to illustrate political points is very very difficult. As I reader I'll care about people before I care about an issue.

16 comments:

Dave said...

Do you want to learn how to preside over a fiasco?
a) go work for the US Goverment
b) lead a team of computer programmers on an underfunded and over spec'ed program
c) run most political campaigns in the USA (half of them are losers)

;)

Dave said...

This is an intersting premise:
"Chris Narito survived the bloody civil war that destroyed the United States and has now built a peaceful life in Canada. "

This is life in the government and is like watching cement dry and glue stiffen:
"although this all too often takes a back seat to dealing with hard-headed politicians in search of pork to cut, fighting turf battles with private prison contractors, and the endless quest for more funding."

I lived the latter and it was a boring life.

Please write about the former.

Bernita said...

Hmm.
Stretches my credulity to imagine that after a bloody civil war in the US, Canada would remain some sort of Summerland.

Anonymous said...

Is this where your story starts? Surely something exciting is going to happen soon. Start there instead. This scene is an attempt to give the reader backstory without it being obvious. Like many such scenes, it's dull to read. Start us at the point when things are getting uncomfortable for the characters.

Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

Whoa--the US is destroyed by civil war and the main Canadian focus is finding a cure for serial killers?

Yo, dude--economic disaster is going to be the Big Deal. The US going down in flames can and would trigger a global economic c&&&&&&-&&&k starting with our Northern Neighbor who just loves all our tourist dollars. You're looking at a mess to make the Great Depression look like your Granny Murgatroyd's last birthday party.

Funding for the project ain't a priority--finding enough FOOD to eat and ways to keep warm are the big noise.

Your premise is fatally flawed. Why do you need a post-civil war premise in the mix anyway?

Writing SF (alternate timeline SF) set a mere 10-20-50 years in the future is very difficult. Check out the writers who do that sort of thing.

Now, go pick up a copy of LOCUS and read some more books.

Jeb said...

How important is the 'bloody civil war' to the story? If it's vital, write about that, and end the story when he escapes to (a much-altered) Canada.

If the active part of the story is his research life in Canada, that's even easier. Hundreds if not thousands of scientists and academicians have taken posts in other countries in the past five years, alienated by the US Administration's anti-science agenda. Just make him part of the current scientific brain drain and move on to his struggle against evil serial killers and self-serving politicians.

Preferably start with some action, like an employee interrupting the press conference with the news that Mad Martin has chewed off the fingers of the lab tech who was feeding him (and is up to the elbow by the time help arrives).

Whatsername said...

In case you haven't noticed, the United States was not destroyed by the Civil War. It may have been scarred, but it's still kicking, thank you very much. If you're referring to a futuristic, second Civil War, you should probably mention that in the same sentence. This comes across as immature writing.

BuffySquirrel said...

You start by answering questions you're afraid the reader will ask. The way to prevent those questions is not to answer them, but to get the reader so engaged they forget to ask them. I struggle with this problem myself.

Forget why he's doing what he's doing and get on with him doing it :).

Jo Bourne said...

Miss Snark said it all --

Tell us a story about this guy. Make us care about him.

Give us fear, hatred, love, lust, revenge, sorrow, greed, repentance, joy ...
You know -- story.

Carry your box through the gauntlet of reporters if you wish ...
but lure us onward with the promise of a character beset by more than mild annoyance.

JoB

MaryKaye said...

If these scene has any tension at all, it comes from the fact that Chris might slip up when talking to the press and get his institute in trouble.

But you completely undercut that tension by saying "Listening to a third-grade play would be just as bad." This is almost equivalent to telling the reader "This is going to be meaningless and boring." Not the message you want to send.

K.Irene said...

I'm going to skip the query and the rest and jump into some really specific things with two paragraphs. My comments are in parenthesis, set off by ellipses.

"Obviously." I tried to smile, and not to let the whirring of the cameras and rustling of clothes distract me as I launched into my lines....(ok, how many verbs does it take to make a sentence? You have several here, as well as several gerunds. You also change tense between "tried" and "to let" and "launched").... Usually the lab was so quiet that you could hear someone coming in tennis shoes from three hallways down. ...(do you KNOW how loudly tennis shoes squeak?") ...."The purpose of the Offender Rehabilitation Program at the Zino Center is to create treatment programs for the most dangerous, most recidivism-prone...(recidivism is a noun. You are using it incorrectly. While that might be an attempt to lend credence to the character, it doesn't work well.).... criminals. Up until now, it's been very hard to find a cure for
chronic violent criminals because the only way to discover if the treatment has worked is to release the offender back into society and see if he – or in a few cases, she – offends again. ...(unbelievable conversation. No expert worth anything would say that the only way to see if a criminal is changed it so to release them. You want us to believe in these people. You need to write dialog that is believable.)... ...(btw, I've lost who is speaking. Who is whom?")....

"When we're talking about offenses like rape or murder or child molestation, there's an understandable reluctance on the part of the community to take that risk. But without doing so, we can't learn very much. ....(any expert who uses "recidivism" would have enough of a vocabulary to speak more clearly than this. If you can't make the character stay in character, they are come accross to the reader as really shallow. They can't change speaking styles within the first page.).....So...(,)... for decades the rehabilitation issue has been stuck in
a morass ....(if a pun was intended, it doesn't work. If no pun was intended, it doesn't work. Do you know what a "morass" is? It doesn't really give me a good picture, because I don't often hear the swamp in my back yard called a "morass").... of trial and error, with real progress often swamped by confusion or obscured by politics." ...(exactly how would real progress be swamped by confusion? You were speaking of scientific progress, no? ).....

In general, I would suggest that you spend sometime figuring out who the characters are. If they aren't real to you, they can't become real to me. You need to give them action to demonstrate who they are. Let us see them. But, before you pick up your pen (or turn on your computer) those people have to have a past, present and future in your head. They need hopes and dreams and disappointments that will never be written on the piece of paper, but will shape who they are. They need to be consistent.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment:
'The US going down in flames can and would trigger a global economic c&&&&&&-&&&k starting with our Northern Neighbor who just loves all our tourist dollars.' -- I live in Canada and our economy is so strongly tied to that of the US, that it's a CONSTANT political and trade issue. We know that if the US economy busts, we're doomed. I think you need to work on this premise.

However, the writing was good, and the style perfectly appropriate to the thriller genre. Keep at it!

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, PLEASE invite me to the next fiasco you hold.

I'll do anything. ANYTHING.

Rei said...

I was bothered by the very first line:

[quote]"No flash," I said for the third time, as a cameraman leaned in to get a shot of Member of Parliament Ray Thorpe in front of a biochamber.[/quote]

"Member of Parliament Ray Thorpe?" Not only is that telling, and not only is it obvious that this is a big political hotshot without the telling, but there's a much better way to do this:

---

"No flash," I said for the third time, as a cameraman leaned in to get a shot of "The Honorable" Ray Thorpe in front of a biochamber.

---

Not only does this indicate that he's a high ranking government official, but it suggests that the main character doesn't like him. Your character, in this version, expresses his distaste for the man through the narration by using the title sarcastically (in quotes).

Rei said...

I was bothered by the very first line:

[quote]"No flash," I said for the third time, as a cameraman leaned in to get a shot of Member of Parliament Ray Thorpe in front of a biochamber.[/quote]

"Member of Parliament Ray Thorpe?" Not only is that telling, and not only is it obvious that this is a big political hotshot without the telling, but there's a much better way to do this:

---

"No flash," I said for the third time, as a cameraman leaned in to get a shot of "The Honorable" Ray Thorpe in front of a biochamber.

---

Not only does this indicate that he's a high ranking government official, but it suggests that the main character doesn't like him. Your character, in this version, expresses his distaste for the man through the narration by using the title sarcastically (in quotes).

Anonymous said...

You have several different premises here. You need to decide what the book's about--terrorism, civil war, or treatment for criminal behavior--and focus on one. Personally, I suggest the treatment for criminal behavior idea as it interests me the most. Chop your prose ruthlessly and let the action revolve around your protagonist. Chris shouldn't be acting as Ray Thorpe's tour guide. The story should open with him being grilled by Thorpe in a committee meeting--the committee that will decide if the government will continue to fund his project. Finally, I would add that compelling science fiction like "Minority Report", for example, works because it is ultimately a meditation on the human condition. Once you've narrowed down your story to one idea, you need to think about how you feel about treating criminals and what that portends for society.