Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXV

November 14th, 2011 • Kate

brownleatherHappy Monday, all! Welcome back to another week of About My Query posts. Are your commenting fingers ready? Let’s go!

Dear Daphne Unfeasible,

I Closed my eyes is a completed 76,000 word urban fantasy/paranormal thriller.

In it, thirty-year-old Tina Sanford is perplexed over the global phenomenon baffling the experts. Beautiful and talented women are being found, having died in childbirth. Their pregnancies are accelerated to such a degree that no one knew that they had been pregnant, and the babies are never found. When an accident causes Tina to be telekinetic, she is careful not to let anyone know it. Then she begins to have seductive dreams of tall, dark, and handsome personified (Philip) and is disturbed by her unnatural attraction to this stranger. She doesn’t know he is the angel responsible for the deaths of all those women in his search for one like her. Tina is terrified when Philip appears for real but is enamored when rescued by Lucas, the angel that’s been watching her from the day of her birth. She is shocked to learn she is half nephilim, the strongest female in millennia and must be protected. Lucas and Tina fall in love as he helps her deal with her new realities. She panics when Philip threatens her best friend. Now Lucas must protect them both, a much harder task than it would seem.

Genesis chapter six refers to sons of God finding that the daughters of men were beautiful, and marrying any they chose. The children produced by these unions were the nephilim, also called heroes of old, men of renown. I believe the mythology of the Greek gods, witches, warlocks, and even superheroes evolved from them. Why would angels be interested in women? In the Bible, angels are all described as male.

In my story, angels have continued to breed with women up to modern day, who die giving birth to their nephilim offspring. The infants are taken to be trained in their various abilities. First and second-generation nephilim are also all male and weaker females aren’t strong enough, thus preventing the creation of a super race; until Tina is discovered. Nevertheless, all descendants have extra abilities, existing as the most powerful, beautiful, talented, and intelligent amongst us.

I Closed My Eyes is the first of a series; an introduction to this magical world, yet it stands alone. I’m not sure what to compare this to—I knew of nothing like it when I started writing—but it should be marketed to women age twenty-five and up. May I send you the completed manuscript?

Thank you for considering my work,
AWC

This definitely reads as a first draft of a query letter to me, so I hope our comments can be helpful in polishing it for you. First of all, I’m not surprised that your main character is “perplexed over the global phenomenon baffling the experts.” You’re telling me it’s confusing to experts, and Tina doesn’t seem to be one of those — what is she, actually? what does she do? — so her being perplexed is unnecessary. How widespread is this global phenomenon of women, not thought to be pregnant, dying in childbirth, their babies gone missing? Are we talking dozens of cases? Hundreds? Thousands? Some scale would be helpful, I think.

What point is there to Tina being telekinetic? Does her ability come back up again later? Is it useful to her in her attempt to get away from Philip? Especially on top of her having prophetic dreams, it seems a little much.

Is there a love triangle here? Does Tina’s attraction for Philip continue once Lucas appears? And why is Tina terrified that the hot guy she’s being seduced by in her dreams is real, if she “doesn’t know he is the angel responsible for the deaths of all those women”? What does she think when Lucas shows up? How does she feel about having a guardian angel? Is it Lucas who tells her she’s half-nephilim? How does she learn this?

I have a lot of questions partly because I think you throw a lot at the reader, but don’t set it up very well. By introducing Tina a little more fully — what she does, what she’s like — before you get into the plot, we’d have a better sense of how she might react to the events of the novel, and a stronger connection to her.

I think your paragraphs on the Biblical underpinings of the novel are unnecessary — though you say you “knew of nothing like it when I started writing”, there is in fact a ton of fiction out there about the offspring of angels — have you read more since you started writing? You should be able to pull out some comparisons — my own author Tom Sniegoski has written copiously on nephilim.

Readers, what do you think?

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15 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXV”

  1. Teri Willis Says:

    I have read The Fallen series, and this seems to be nothing like that. Angels, yes. Nephilim, yes. But Fallen is about an 18 yr old boy discovering he is a nephilim and is expected to save the world. This seems more like a romance, or even a love triangle. The bible reference wasn't nessecary, as most of us are familar with it.
    This is a tightly written letter, but I agree that more info is needed.

  2. Karen Akins Says:

    Agree to cut the paragraphs on the nephilim education. The query reads very passive to me. I'd distill it down to the core conflict, make it active, and comb your manuscript for passivity as well.

  3. Deserae Says:

    Hello, AWC! I hope this will help

    First things first: clean up. CUT the third and fourth paragraphs ("Genesis chapter six… intelligent amongst us). CAPITALIZE the first letter of every word of your title (as you do in the last paragraph), OR to make it stand apart, capitalize all letters of your title (i.e. I CLOSED MY EYES). Know that you DON'T have to compare your work to anything and by adding that line, it uses up precious space and makes your query look a little clunky, and DON'T WORRY about telling the agent who to market to— it's what they do and that's why they need us to explain our book as best as we can so they get a feel of the audience it's targeted for.

    Now as far as the concept goes, I think it's interesting, but I don't think you give the best explanation of the plot possible here. Instead of trying to take us step by step through what happens, try thinking of the story as a whole. I would try to wrap up who the character is in a sentence, where she begins in another one or two, and then the inciting incident (the point that changes everything) in a final sentence.

    THIS should be your first paragraph regarding your story. It should get us directly into the who and what of the story. I see how the baby thing is an important element of the story, but is it THE story, or can you afford to drop it out? If you're not sure which is the main plot thread, think of where your story ends and trace the line back to the beginning. What happens that starts the chain of events that leads to your denoument? Once you find it, wrap the beginning up as tightly as you can, and then go on to follow the thread back to the end by explaining, in a second paragraph, what complications and obstacles arise and what's at stake if the MC doesn't do what she needs to do.

    This doesn't require "giving anything away," it just requires having a clear understanding of where your story starts and ends. It's hard to condense 76,000 words into a page, but it's possible when you think of hitting those key points.

    So what it sounds like is that the BIG DADDY CONFLICT is that Tina is a half-nephilim who somehow finds herself involved in a confrontation with Philip (who is impregnating women in the hopes of creating a super race) and enamored with another nephilim named Lucas (who she meets… somehow…) who basically becomes her protector (and maybe mentor? Who knows how hard it is to get used to this nephilim thing?!). I would rewrite this query, thinking over the questions Daphne posed and maybe the one I'm posing now: what is the main thread of this story?

    Good luck to you,
    Deserae
    P.S. Also make sure you pitch your query to agents who represent books for the adult market! It saves a lot of unnecessary heartache; I promise.

  4. AWC Says:

    Thank for you insight. I made some changes….
    Thirty-year-old hairdresser Tina Sanford has always felt a presence with her, but chalks it up to insanity. She has lived a sadly dysfunctional life until an accident changes everything. Aside from killing her drug dealing second husband, it causes her to have vivid dreams. In them tall, dark and handsome incarnate (Philip) tries to seduce her, and although he frightens her, she is barely able to resist. Tina doesn’t know she is actually traveling in her dreams, nor that Philip is the angel responsible for the deaths of many women worldwide in his search for one like her.

  5. AWC Says:

    Tina is perplexed when Philip steps out of her dreams and appears for real, but is enamored when he is chased away by Lucas. Lucas is the angel that’s been watching Tina from the day of her birth; it wasn’t her imagination. She feels a deep connection to him. Lucas warns her about Philip and informs her that she is half nephilim, the strongest female in millennia and must be protected. Lucas reveals many secrets. All angels are male. Women die giving birth to their progeny, who are taken to be trained. First and second-generation nephilim are also all male and weaker females aren’t strong enough, thus preventing the creation of a super race, until now.

  6. AWC Says:

    With the ticking of her biological clock and wanting to stop the deaths of more innocent women, Tina considers yielding to Philip, but Lucas wins her heart as he helps her deal with her new realities. When Tina ultimately rejects Philip, he threatens to kill her best friend (Marianne) if Tina doesn’t surrender. Now Lucas must protect them both, a harder task than it would seem.

    I Closed My Eyes is similar to Tom Sniegoski’s series, The Fallen, only in that it involves angels and nephilim. His is almost apocalyptic in nature. Wendy Higgin's, Sweet Evil, is also about them, but her's is YA.
    In the Bible, nephilim are also called heroes of old, men of renown. I believe the mythology of the Greek gods, witches, warlocks, and even superheroes evolved from them. All descendants have extra abilities, existing as the most powerful, beautiful, talented, and intelligent amongst us.
    I Closed My Eyes explains the origin of magic and all things supernatural in a way that may convince you it is real. May I send you the manuscript?
    So. Whatcha think?

  7. Deserae Says:

    AWC- The new first paragraph is a lot better. It's tighter, more concise, and it gives us a nice build up to the inciting incident which is a really good thing to do. I would probably go with, "In them, the tall, dark and handsome Phillip tries to seduce her…" just so this character isn't just an afterthought, but a more prominent and solid piece of the puzzle at first impression. The last sentence, though, raises new questions and seems a little… thrown in. I'd consider dropping it out and leaving the sentence before that as the end of paragraph one.

    Then paragraph two might be tightened in a way in which the ideals of that sentence are alluded to but more crisply— cleanly. Maybe something like:

    "Tina is perplexed when Philip steps out of her dreams and actually appears, but the man is more dangerous than she knows. With the help of Lucas, her guardian angel, she learns that Philip is responsible for {the deaths of many women} in his haste to breed a new kind of nephilim— a super breed that {might only be created with a woman like her}. Now burdened with the knowledge that she is half nephilim {and the strongest female in millennia}, she falls into the protective care of Lucas in order to keep Philip from getting what he wants. But when Philip threatens to take her best friend, Tina realizes that {insert that thing here}."

    See, it's still not QUITE right (hence the brackets of hesitation around the parts that sound a bit off in context of the sentence or paragraph as a whole), but at least, all that's there is PLOT. That's what we're trying to get this down to. Plot, plot, plot, plot, plot. Of course, something I neglected to mention in that paragraph was the romance, but if you can find a way to incorporate that without just sticking it in there for the heck of it, I'd go for it. Really, the angle of a love story involving angels and nephilim feels a bit stiff, but since this is an important thread, you should try to incorporate it into the query in a way that works WITH the plot and not just as an aside to it. Also, I saw that you referred to it as a "thriller" and that's brilliant— but I don't feel that as much as I should. It feels, as I said, more romance than anything since this is the thread we keep coming back to.

    Finally, the third paragraph wouldn't be necessary if you found a way to tighten (in my example of the second paragraph, I condensed the main ideals of both by going back to the original query and plucking details I thought might fit). The fourth and final paragraph, though, is doing a lot of the stuff I feel is unnecessary. You DON'T have to compare your story to others, you DON'T have to include a brief mythology lesson, but you DO have to sell your book in one page and as best as you can. So going back to your original end paragraph, I'd conclude:

    "I CLOSE MY EYES has series potential and yet it is able to stand alone. Thank you for your consideration. The first ___ pages have been provided, below, and the full manuscript is available upon request."

    Sign off with a sincerely, and then you're done! I'd go through this again taking into consideration that you really want to sell this plot as best you can. I think in some ways, this second one was better, but in others, it still didn't capture the meat of the story as best as it could have.

  8. AWC Says:

    Wow. You are good. Thank you so much. Writing the story was(is) fun but queries are hard. Its gutwrenching to boil down 76,000 words into a one page letter, but you know that already.
    I will keep working. Gonna get this right if it kills me.

    There is a love story, yes, but is more about Tina's discovery and growth.

  9. Deserae Says:

    Then I'd definitely focus on that discovery and growth in your query. You're very right— I know it's VERY hard to summarize a book in a few paragraphs. So I'm very glad I was of some help. Good luck to you!

  10. AWC Says:

    How about this?

    Tina Sanford is a thirty-year-old hairdresser. She’s lived a sadly dysfunctional life, always feeling a presence with her, but chalks it up to insanity. Marianne is Tina’s best friend and friends like her are hard to find. Nevertheless, Tina’s many bad decisions torment her until an accident changes everything.

  11. AWC Says:

    Aside from killing her drug dealing second husband, the accident causes her to have new abilities and have vivid dreams. In them, the tall, dark and handsome Phillip tries to seduce her, but he frightens her. Meanwhile, Tina moves on with her life by selling her Raleigh home—to Marianne’s dismay—and moving one-hundred miles away to her childhood home in New Bern. Tina and Marianne stay in touch.

  12. AWC Says:

    Tina is perplexed when Philip steps out of her dreams and actually appears, but the man is more dangerous than she knows. With the help of Lucas, her guardian angel, she learns that Philip is the angel responsible for the deaths of many women worldwide in his search for one like her. Now burdened with the knowledge that she is half nephilim, the strongest female in millennia, she falls into the protective care of Lucas in order to keep Philip from getting what he wants.

  13. AWC Says:

    All angels are male. Women die giving birth to their progeny. The fathers take them to a secret place. First and second-generation nephilim are also all male and weaker females aren’t strong enough, thus preventing the creation of a super race, until now.

    With the ticking of her biological clock and wanting to stop the deaths of more innocent women, Tina considers yielding to Philip, but Lucas ultimately wins her heart. When Tina rejects Philip, in a dream he threatens to kill Marianne if Tina does not surrender.
    Now Lucas must protect them both, a harder task than it would seem. The race is on to get to Marianne, now one-hundred miles away, before Philip does.

    This contains no passivity. : )
    I cannot express how grateful I am for your hepl.

  14. AWC Says:

    LOL… Help, that is.

  15. Teri Willis Says:

    Whoa. This is a huge improvement AWC. I cannot wait until it is published.
    You have taken the advice well and its a wonder that Daphne hasn't commented on it again.