Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXVI

October 15th, 2010 • Kate

tinfoilshoeSpace Age-looking shoes for O.W., who submitted today’s About My Query. Remember, these are going up every TWO weeks now until the end of the year, interspersed with more posts answering your questions about all sorts of things. But I’ve got to leave for the airport momentarily, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

Nearly every civilization has a coming of age rite. In the 51st century, 15 year-olds travel to the dark side of their tidal-locked planet to live without adult influence for a month.

When Terry Massey first arrives, she’s expecting to have a blast, make the friends she’s never had, and start a new life. Her first few hours are great, but then things start to take a turn for the worse. A gang of thugs is terrorizing a select few citizens for seemingly no reason at all, her new friend is furious with her, and she’s surrounded by robots who might be trying to take over the world. The only person she identifies with keeps melting away into the shadows, and by trying to find him, she only succeeds in further isolating herself from the rest of her peers within the paradise of an enormous library.

She discovers a hinting of a secret of epic proportions within that library, as well as Colin, the devilishly charming and clever boy who led her to the library in the first place. As events escalate with the unbelievably irrational behavior of the rest of their age-group— especially the thugs— Terry and Colin join forces with several tea-addicts who sound like computers and an infuriating old man with secrets of his own. Together they must discover the truth behind both the actions of their fellow citizens and the enormous conspiracy that’s been lurking in the Palace’s tower for hundreds of years. And with the thugs after them, they’d better do it fast.

THE CLOCKWORK EXPERIMENT is complete at about 83,000 words. I live in [town], North Carolina, and this is my first novel.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
O.W.

Good opening paragraph, although I think, moving on, you can be a little more specific about where Terry arrives.

Things go pretty quickly bad, I see, within a “few hours.” And the mention of the library immediately brings to mind that fabulous Doctor Who two-parter, “The Silence in the Library.” That’s a lot to live up to, there. Your language moving into paragraph three is a little rough. Can you find a better way to say “a hinting of a secret of epic proportions”? The way it’s worded now, I’m thinking that Terry may also only discover a “hinting” of Colin — although I’m curious to know if he’s the person in the previous paragraph who “keeps melting away in to the shadows.”

As you add in more details, I get a little lost, but overall, it’s something I’d definitely look at the first few pages of.

Readers, what do you think? What advice do you have for O.W.?

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10 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXVI”

  1. Shannon Says:

    I think my biggest stumbles were word choices. Is "the only person she identifies with" Colin? I wonder if "unbelievably" could be "increasingly" – I would assume that it is all pretty unbelievable to the MC. "Conspiracy that’s been lurking", I keep tripping over this when I read it. Could "lurking" be changed to "festering" or something more agitating? "And with the thugs after them, they’d better do it fast." This last sentence weak and isn't really needed. "Led" should be "leads."

    I would like a sentence or two on what is supposed to be accomplished on their month long hiatus. Is it purely recreational, or are they supposed to be bettering themselves in some way. It might help to understand the connection between the kids and the rite of passage.

    I think it sounds like an interesting MS. I'd read it.

  2. Krista V. Says:

    Here are my thoughts paragraph-by-paragraph.

    P1: I liked how smoothly you let us know when we are. That said, I wanted to know a little more about this place. What does it mean that their planet is "tidal-locked," and by dark side, do you mean a place that never sees the sun or a place that's seedy and scary?

    P2: Terry's expectation surprised me. She's traveling to the dark side of her kind of scary-sounding futuristic planet, and she's thinking she's going to have a good time? Then this sentence – "A gang of thugs is terrorizing a select few citizens for seemingly no reason at all, her new friend is furious with her, and she’s surrounded by robots who might be trying to take over the world" – didn't work for me. Lists are tough to pull off in a query, because they don't give us a sense of cause and effect. All these things are happening, but we don't have any idea how they relate to one another. Also, they don't seem to have a lot to do with what seems to the real issue, this melt-into-the-shadows character.

    P3: This paragraph relied too much on cliches ("Together they must discover the truth…") and vague statements ("As events escalate with the unbelievably irrational behavior of the rest of their age-group…") for me to really sink into it. Also, the thugs sounded like a bunch of sixth-grade bullies. Are they the only antagonist, or is there some higher power trying to prevent them from finding out this truth? Or are the thugs working for the higher power? If there is a higher power, we need to know about that person or entity. It'll help to up the stakes.

    Also, what is an old man doing in the middle of rite-of-passage land? Did he never pass the test or something?

    P4: You might want to mention a genre in that first sentence. I can take a pretty good guess, of course, but telling us directly will help cement your world building.

    On the whole, I liked the dark, futuristic feel of THE CLOCKWORK EXPERIMENT (which is an intriguing title, by the way). It kind of has an UGLIES meets ALICE IN WONDERLAND quality to it. Best of luck.

  3. Meghan Says:

    It does sound like an interesting story. I would read it.

    I wasn't surprised to read that Terry is expecting to have fun in a place with no adult influence for a month, but the description of it as the 'dark side' of their planet doesn't sound very inviting, so I can see where other readers are coming from when they say it sounds like a scary, instead of fun, place.

    The sentence – "A gang of thugs is terrorizing a select few citizens for seemingly no reason at all, her new friend is furious with her, and she’s surrounded by robots who might be trying to take over the world" – jarred me, too. I don't have anything in particular against list sentences, and the most common mistake in them is that they are too long, and you don't have that here. The main thing that stuck out for me in that line was to make me wonder how she met a new friend and did something to make her furious all within a few hours.

    I like the detail about Terry and Colin's tea-addict allies.

    I'm curious about the Palace, as it is only mentioned as the place where the conspiracy is lurking.

    I love the title, and this sounds like a really interesting book. Your query is pretty solid – all the suggestions are really just a couple of tweaks. Best of luck with it!

  4. Olivia Says:

    I'm sure there will be more comments later, but for those who have already written (and Daphne, of course), thank you so much!

    I agree with nearly all of what you guys said (and I don't have any specific examples of what I don't), and I'll set about the changes right away.

    It's nice getting perspectives from people who haven't seen any of the actual MS. My crit group all like the story, so it's nearly impossible to get non-biased opinions from them (especially during the meeting to which I brought brownies- lol).

    "Tidal locked" means that one side of the planet faces the sun at all times. The Dark Side is simply the other side. Our moon is tidal locked in regards to the Earth, as is Mercury to the sun.

    The old man technically shouldn't be there (but he has certain… privileges). The Dark Side is actually divided into sections filled with different age groups- it's not just a coming of age rite. I took that bit out of the query because it seemed unnecessary to the plot.

    The "melt into shadows" character is indeed Colin. Sorry if that wasn't clear. I thought "who led her to the library to the first place" conveyed it, but now I see that the sentence structure was a bit confusing.

  5. Georgiana Says:

    While the title is nice I think it might be misleading for some. Clockwork makes me think of steampunk, not a futuristic moon secret society.

    Take a look at this description of an MG novel called The Clockwork Three for another use of clockwork, again archaic. http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/10/12/the-big-ide

    Other than that I agree with Daphne and the other posters. Nice concept and I'm sure you'll do well once you tidy your query a little.

  6. Olivia Says:

    Daphne, do you post re-writes of queries like the Query Shark does? I'll send you mine if you like.

  7. Janet B Says:

    I don't know whether Kate has a policy on Daphne posting revised queries, but I've seen other people post their revised versions right here in the comments section. I have nothing to add to what's been said and I think if you make the suggested changes you'll have something quite strong. Would love to see the next version.

  8. Olivia Says:

    Alright then. Here you are:

    Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

    Nearly every civilization has a coming of age rite. In the 51st century, 15 year-olds travel to the dark side of their tidal-locked planet to live without adult influence for a month.

    When Terry Massey first arrives, she’s expecting to have a blast, make the friends she’s never had, and start a new life. Her first few hours are great, but then things start to take a turn for the worse. A gang of thugs is terrorizing a select few citizens for seemingly no reason at all, and she’s surrounded by robots that may or may not be trying to take over the world. The only person she identifies with keeps melting away into the shadows, and by trying to find him, she only succeeds in further isolating herself from the rest of her peers within the paradise of an enormous library.

    She discovers a secret within that library, as well as Colin, the devilishly charming and clever boy she’s been searching for. As events escalate with the increasingly irrational behavior of the rest of their age-group and suspicious activity from the robots, Terry and Colin join forces with several tea-addicts who sound like computers and an infuriating old man with secrets of his own. Together they must uncover the single truth behind both the actions of their fellow citizens and the enormous conspiracy that’s been festering in the Palace’s tower for hundreds of years.

    THE CLOCKWORK EXPERIMENT is science fiction, complete at about 82,500 words. I live in (town) North Carolina, and this is my first novel.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.

    Sincerely,

    Olivia W.

  9. Shannon Says:

    I still have some questions and things that don't quite fit.

    How does a 15-year-old start a "new life" when they are only at the rite of passage part of their planet for a month?

    I think you need to give us Colin sooner. Introduce him in the first paragraph so that it doesn't feel so forced in the second paragraph.

    I still don't know what is supposed to be accomplished at the rite of passage area. If it's nothing but a month long spring break that's great. Is it a test of some kind to see if they are ready to be on their own?

    Here's my stab at your letter – having only the information you've given – so I could be way off.

    Nearly every civilization has a coming of age rite. In the 51st century, 15 year-olds travel to the dark side of their tidal-locked planet to live without adult influence for a month.

    When Terry Massey first arrives, she’s expecting to have a blast, make the friends she’s never had, and [something specific about what they do while on their hiatus]. Shortly after arriving, she runs into a gang of thugs terrorizing a select few citizens for seemingly no reason at all, and she’s surrounded by robots that she thinks might be trying to take over the world. The only person she identifies with is shadowy Colin, the devilishly charming and clever boy, who disappears at the most inopportune times. Her only success is isolating herself from the rest of her peers within the paradise of an enormous library which helps her discover a secret within the library, as well as Colin.

    As events escalate with the increasingly irrational behavior of the rest of their age-group and suspicious activity from the robots, Terry and Colin join forces with several tea-addicts who sound like computers, and an infuriating old man with secrets of his own. Together they must uncover the single truth behind both the actions of their fellow citizens and the enormous conspiracy that’s been festering in the Palace’s tower for hundreds of years.

    THE CLOCKWORK EXPERIMENT is science fiction, complete at about 82,500 words. I live in (town) North Carolina, and this is my first novel.

  10. Krista V. Says:

    Olivia, I don't know if you're still checking these comments (although if you're anything like me, you'll be checking them, like, every twenty minutes for the next week and a half:) ), but if you are still hanging around, I just wanted to make a few quick points about your updated query.

    In the second paragraph, instead of saying, "As events escalate…" you might try telling us what the escalating event is. It sounds like that's kind of the turning point of the manuscript, so fleshing that out a little more will give us a better sense of the stakes.

    Also, I liked how you rounded the word count to the nearest thousand in the original draft. I'd go back to that, since that seems to be the industry convention.

    Again, good luck!