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Ask Daphne! About My Query LV

stairsGoing to look through today’s About My Query post paragraph by paragraph again, although I will put all my comments below, so your experience of reading the query isn’t interrupted by my thoughts. Lots more cutting and pasting to do, but you also get my more immediate thoughts, rather than those filtered by a longer experience. Ready? Go!

Dear Ms Unfeasible,

When sixteen year old Charlie Wilkins falls into the hands of a monster, he leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life he knew forever.

In this sleepy little town no one suspects that an ambitious monster lurks just beyond their periphery. Not even paranormal obsessed Charlie Wilkins can begin to imagine the evil that lays in wait. That is until Tom Anderson and Carl Sharp discover Charlie’s comic book in which he’s drawn Tom’s girlfriend, the beautiful Amy Gold as his queen, and Tom as a loathsome snake. Enraged, Tom and Carl drive Charlie off the road, and unwittingly hurl him into a nightmare.

Charlie awakens in a place of indescribable horror and is forced to become The first human test subject of a monster. Although unaware of it, Charlie is face to face with a creature of old, a loup-garou. Whose race has been persecuted to near extinction and whose use of Charlie will mark the start of his species’ rebirth. Thinking Charlie unconscious, the aging werewolf loosens Charlie’s restraints. Seizing the opportunity, Charlie runs, but when the old man only laughs at his escape, Charlie feels the first pangs of real terror.

As his fear, and frustration grow so does his anger. It was the beating he suffered at the hands of his classmates that allowed the old man to catpture him. The shy, sensitive artist he was is dissipating rapidly. With each new offense from Tom and Carl, every painful slight from the beautiful Amy Gold, and infuriating insult from his step father Charlie slowly loses his control. A beast has taken residence within him, and when his new abilities allow him to destroy everyone who’d ever hurt him he gives himself over to the conversions.

His savage new nature grows stronger with every passing day and every taste of blood. When he hurts innocent people and those who’d meant the most to him, Charlie summons the last bit of will left in him and sets out to stop the ancient werewolf from continuing his work. Charlie seeks to end the evil that has been unleashed whatever the cost. But, it might already be too late to save our race from a monster’s Unearthly beginnings.

Unearthly beginnings is a paranormal novel for young adults, complete at 62,500 words, and is available for review upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Rose

So, starting from the top: When sixteen year old Charlie Wilkins falls into the hands of a monster, he leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life he knew forever. This reads as a little generic to me. Honestly, you could take out “sixteen-year-old Charlie Wilkins” (which is how the age should be written) and throw in almost any other name, changing the gender of the pronouns as appropriate, and it still works. When Bella Swan falls into the hands of a monster, she leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life she knew forever. When Harry Potter falls into the hands of a monster, he leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life he knew forever. When Jane Jarvis’ best friend falls into the hands of a monster, she leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life she knew forever. When Clary Fray falls into the hands of a monster, she leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life she knew forever. You get where I’m going. “Falls into the hands of a monster” could mean anything, and I’m sure you have something much more specific in mind. Let’s get to it!

In this sleepy little town no one suspects that an ambitious monster lurks just beyond their periphery. What “sleepy little town”? Where are we? Grammatically, I feel like you need “this” to refer to something you’ve already made a stab at describing, otherwise, it sounds off. Also, how is the monster “ambitious”? He wants to open a blood-draining factory, a la Buffy’s Season Three episode The Wish? And periphery what? Periphery vision? Is he literally something you can only see out of the corner of your eye, like Prisoner Zero in the new Doctor Who series? (And am I going a little crazy with pop culture references? I think I am.) Or do you mean he’s lurking outside the perimeter of the town? Not to pick apart every word, but I fear this kind of writing makes an agent question the quality of your prose. It’s a little sloppy.

Not even paranormal obsessed Charlie Wilkins can begin to imagine the evil that lays in wait.We’ve already met Charlie once, in the first line of the query, so we don’t need to get his full name again. And he is obsessed with the paranormal, or both paranormal and obsessed? Either way, you need some punctuation — either paranormal-obsessed or paranormal, obsessed (in which case, what is paranormal about him and with what is he obsessed?). And if it is “paranormal-obsessed”, you’ve made this literary agent, at least, ask “Really?” Because I wouldn’t consider myself obsessed, and I can imagine some pretty big evil. This line is basically just a cliché, and I think you can be more specific and more descriptive, and give a much better sense of your character and the horrors to come. Also, grammarians? “Lies” or “lays”? I think it’s “lies in wait.”

That is until Tom Anderson and Carl Sharp discover Charlie’s comic book in which he’s drawn Tom’s girlfriend, the beautiful Amy Gold as his queen, and Tom as a loathsome snake. The link between the previous sentence and this one would seem to indicate that Tom and Carl are the “evil that [lies] in wait”. But they’re not, are they? Also, when I read “Charlie’s comic book,” I think of something published first, and after that, at least a fully written story. Or do you mean sketchbook? Either way, maybe indicate before this point that Charlie is an artist? In general, this sentence is just a little messy. Maybe something like “When dumb jocks Tom Anderson and Carl Sharp steal Charlie’s sketch book and find a drawing of head cheerleader Amy Gold as Charlie’s queen, Tom sees red. Amy is his girlfriend, and seeing Charlie’s additional caricature of Tom as a loathsome snake doesn’t help matters” would be smoother.

Enraged, Tom and Carl drive Charlie off the road, and unwittingly hurl him into a nightmare.How do we get from them reading the comic book to them driving Charlie off the road? Is there a chase scene? Or were they reading in the car and happened to see Charlie on the road in front of them, and decided to run him off it? (In which case, would Charlie even know why he’d been run off the road?) And beyond that, is Carl important to this story at this level? Can we just talk about Tom in the query, and not bother with Carl at all? As for them “unwittingly hurl[ing] him into a nightmare”, I feel like Tom’s deliberate attempt to drive Charlie off the road is pretty “wittingly”.

Charlie awakens in a place of indescribable horror and is forced to become The first human test subject of a monster. Ok, it seems like we’re finally at the meat of this story. But “indescribable horror” is weak – you’re a writer. Describe it. Who forces him to be a test subject? Also, watch your random capitalization. But you’ve got me thinking of a scientist monster, and I’m intrigued. More so than from the previous generalities.

Although unaware of it, Charlie is face to face with a creature of old, a loup-garou. Whose race has been persecuted to near extinction and whose use of Charlie will mark the start of his species’ rebirth. First of all, these don’t stand as two separate sentences. The second one is just a clause. But how is is Charlie both unaware of what’s holding him prisoner AND in a place of indescribable horror being forced to be a test subject? I do like the archaic term for werewolf, and hope this means you’re tying your “monster” into the old French legends.

Thinking Charlie unconscious, the aging werewolf loosens Charlie’s restraints. Why would he do this? Seizing the opportunity, Charlie runs, but when the old man only laughs at his escape, Charlie feels the first pangs of real terror. Does he get away, or is this only an “attempted escape”? Also, if this truly is where “Charlie feels the first pangs of real terror”, maybe pull back on some of the horror and nightmare you’ve told me to expect in previous sentences?

As his fear, and frustration grow so does his anger. Wrong placement for your comma. And are all these emotions growing simultaneously, or is Charlie seesawing back and forth between them? Does fear become anger? Frustration overwhelm fear? Anger lead to the dark side?

It was the beating he suffered at the hands of his classmates that allowed the old man to catpture him. The shy, sensitive artist he was is dissipating rapidly. Was he beaten as well as run off the road? I’d say it was his being unconscious from a car accident that let the old man capture (note correct spelling) him. Which, yes, was also because of his classmates, but you need to be precise in your language. Also, this is the first time you tell your reader that Tom and Carl are Charlie’s classmates. We assume it, but that’s not a position you want to put your reader in. Also, the “shy, sensitive artist” bit is almost too late here. Introduce this aspect of Charlie sooner, and try showing it to me, rather than blandly telling me. Also, can something “dissipat[e] rapidly”? I think of dissipating as per the dictionary definition of “to cause to spread thin or scatter and gradually vanish” (emphasis mine). Beyond that though, I’m suddenly thinking of The Incredible Hulk — would we like Charlie when he’s angry?

With each new offense from Tom and Carl, every painful slight from the beautiful Amy Gold, and infuriating insult from his step father Charlie slowly loses his control. A beast has taken residence within him, and when his new abilities allow him to destroy everyone who’d ever hurt him he gives himself over to the conversions. Wait, so he did get away? But he didn’t realize that the experiment on him already took place? In any case, this is playing pretty close to the Freudian implications of animorphism: the beast inside that allows him to ignore the restrictions of polite society in favor of brute strength and law-of-the-jungle revenge. (Or would that be Tarzanian?) Also, the way this sentence is written, it reads as if Charlie destroys everyone who’d ever hurt him. Not that he’s considering it, not that he pulls himself back from the brink, but that he did. Which is dark for YA, but intriguing — if that’s what you meant.

His savage new nature grows stronger with every passing day and every taste of blood. When he hurts innocent people and those who’d meant the most to him, Charlie summons the last bit of will left in him and sets out to stop the ancient werewolf from continuing his work. But now here I question just how far he’s gone. I assume maybe Amy is one of those innocent people he hurts, but didn’t destroy, unless there’s yet another character who means the most to him that he didn’t bother to mention before? Or was it the old guy who was actually doing the dark deeds, and Charlie only thought he was doing it? What do you mean by “continuing his work”? Whose work? The old man’s racial experiment to turn Charlie into a werewolf? The old werewolf’s continuing of Charlie’s work in settling scores? I think you can make this more precise.

Charlie seeks to end the evil that has been unleashed whatever the cost. But, it might already be too late to save our race from a monster’s Unearthly beginnings.I like the idea of Charlie being willing to consider killing himself to end the evil. I mean, that’s how I read “a monster’s Unearthly beginnings.” Because the monster you mean here must be Charlie. The old werewolf’s beginning doesn’t seem to have been covered in the book, at least to judge by the query. Although I missed the part about an alien abduction — in a paranormal novel where anything is possible, the use of a term like “unearthly” has me thinking about the literal: that the old man’s experiment on Charlie took him off world.

Unearthly beginnings is a paranormal novel for young adults, complete at 62,500 words, and is available for review upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.And just to finish up, when you refer to your title in your query letter, you want to use caps, if not all caps, at least for both words in a two-word title.

Phew! I seemed to have a lot to say! And yet, I’m not sure if I really covered the big picture, choosing instead (in this case) to focus on the details. And some of my early questions about the query were answered in later sentences, but that’s what you get when you go line by line.

Readers, what do you think about the query and story as a whole? Did I miss anything that caught your attention about this letter? Or was I totally off base? And just how big of a geek AM I? I mean, seriously, did you catch all those nerd references in my comments. Dude!

Edited to add: The author also shared with me another version of her query, which I will present without comment. How does this one strike you? Do you feel it tells the same story? Is it stronger? Weaker? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Dear Ms Unfeasible,

When sixteen year old Charlie Wilkins falls into the hands of a deranged scientist, he leaves the encounter alive, but loses the life he knew forever. Charlie finds himself in the middle of a bittersweet nightmare, as the transformations within him destroy everything he once hated—and loved.

Alone except for his mother, kindly old Mr. McFarland, and his paranormal artwork Charlie wants nothing more than to slip under the radar going unobtrusively from day to day. But, when he’s captivated by the unattainable beauty, Amy Gold—girlfriend of the star quarterback—and his most relentless antagonist, Tom Sterling, Charlie pours his emotions and passions into the creation of his own comic book with Amy in the starring role, and Tom as a grotesque snake like predator. When it is discovered by Tom and his peers, Charlie is pursued and brutally assaulted. Left to his own fate, Charlie awakens in a place of indescribable horror, and is forced to become the first human test subject of a monster. Although unaware of it, Charlie is face to face with a creature not quite human, who’s race has been persecuted to near extinction, and who’s use of Charlie will mark the start of his species rebirth. Having escaped the inhuman man and his lab, Charlie attempts to resume his life—but finds that his life is no longer his own. A beast has taken residence within him, and he must fight for control of his body, and mind. When his new abilities allow him to destroy everyone who’d ever hurt him however, he gives himself over to the conversions. Even those who’d meant the most to Charlie are no longer safe from him. Summoning the last bit of will in him Charlie seeks to end the evil that was unleashed, but it might already be too late to save our race from a monster’s unearthly beginnings.

This dark fantasy novel for young adults, complete at 62,500 words, is available for review upon request. Two of my shorter works have been featured in two literary journals: Think Journal, (Spring 2009), and Eclipse (2008).

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you
Sincerely,

Rose

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