Thursday, May 5, 2011

Colene Murphy's Current Query Critiqued

Okay. Today we've got Colene's query again, but this time with my thoughts. Before we get to that though, I've got some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that I won't be at my desk today, responding to your comments via email, which I love to do because the interaction and conversation that comes with that is what blogging is all about, to me.

The good news is that I won't be there because I'll be on a flight to Boston to visit my little sister for her 30th birthday. It's all very exciting and I'll put some cute pictures of us up tomorrow.

Now, let's get to Colene's query. Here it is, with my thoughts in red.

Dear Agent,

17-year-old Faith just wants to get out of the decrepit orphanage, forget no one wanted her, and be left alone with her boyfriend. This opening line is great. It makes a really strong hook, and I'm trying to figure out how to make it better, but it's tough. I will make a few points: the forgetting about no one wanting her is a little redundant, because obviously she's in an orphanage, but I actually like having it in there, because it gives the sentence better rhythm. The mention of her boyfriend feels a little vague, and tacked on, but after you read the entire query, you realize that's on purpose, and it kind of works. The pregnancy is a glitch, but she can figure that out later. LOVE it.

So I think this hook is quite good. It's only two short sentences, but we've got a decent idea of character, a bit of backstory, and an idea of what the conflict might be. If you make any changes to this, keep them subtle.

But Mrs. Simp, the director, is acting weird – homicidal weird. This is great, ups the stakes, except for one thing: I would change the "but" at the beginning to "yet" or "however" or something else. Not because it's bad grammar, bad grammar can be great for voice, but because you just ended the previous paragraph with a "but," and that makes it unclear what you're refuting.

To escape death at the hand of the once trusted employee, be careful here, I know you're talking about Mrs. Simp, but she wasn't Faith's employee, Faith flees through an ivy covered stone wall I would put an em-dash here, or at least a comma, and runs straight into another world.

There, a beautiful, strange woman named Uri is waiting. She promises a happy ending for Faith, her baby, and the boyfriend. I know we talked about this, but I think you need to clarify that the boyfriend is still back in the regular world. They can all come and live in paradise forever on one condition: Faith must follow the haunting woman deeper into the world behind the wall. It didn’t seem like much of a condition until you add in the flesh eating lake monster, city of faceless human replicas, and scorpions falling from treetops.

Colene and I discussed the use of the word "you" in a query. Strictly speaking, second person is frowned upon in query letters, but I think this instance is a little different. The unknown narrator of this query (which is an interesting point because often a narrator in a query can be the MC, even without writing in first person, or at least write with the voice of the MC) never truly addresses the reader directly, which would be breaking the fourth wall. Instead, she uses the "until you add" in a sort of colloquial, idiomatic version of "if one adds in ..."

I'll leave it up to you, dear readers, to disagree. Many of you are ever more experienced with these things than me.

As the adventure gets even freakier, Faith wants to go back. And Uri turns violent. In a rage, she burns an entire city and its inhabitants using only her will and demands possession of Faith’s unborn child in return for safe passage 'home'. Even with single quotes the period should go inside the quote, I believe. Otherwise, this is great. Quick, short, and to the point, yet it sets up very high stakes, and gives us an incredibly scary antagonist to worry about.

Faith must decide: give up the baby she didn't think she wanted in the first place to save her own life, or take up the machete and fight the all powerful, demented Uri for more than just her freedom.

I love when a query ends by summarizing a choice that must be made. Choice is at the heart of conflict, so this sums things up well. I also like that you got so specific with the machete. I mean that's weird, and totally unexpected that it wouldn't be a sword or some other normal weapon, which really entices me to want to read the pages. I need to know: why a machete?

INTO ADELLADARE is a 49,000 word fantasy horror novel for young adults.

I think you're off to incredible start here Cole. In my humble opinion this query is VERY close.

What do you guys think? As always, feel free to disagree with me! See you Monday.


Shain Brown said...

I love the idea of the story, and I wish there was something to add. Unfortunately, it looks as though everything was covered. There isn't anything I can disagree with. Great Job!

Thanks, Matt and Colene. Matt these are so much fun to do, I hope you continue with more of them.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I guess the first part confused me right off the bat. Since she's in an orphanage, was SHE the glitch pregnancy or was she pregnant? That might just be me. But Matthew's suggestions are great!

Christine Fonseca said...

Loved the suggestions...and have fun visiting with your sister.

Old Kitty said...

I really like the story. I feel sad that Faith at 17 is still in an orphanage (has she always been in an orphanage? No foster family?). I like that Faith is then faced with such a horrifying dilemma as sacrificing her child or herself. The boyfriend for me just feels redundant. This is so Faith's story!!!

GOOD LUCK with this query!! Take care

Colene Murphy said...

Have fun with your sister Matthew!! And thanks for the amazing help!

Thanks everyone for your input so far, look forward to more and tweeking it till it's perfect!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great query Colene. I agree with Matt's suggestions. My only additional one would be to show the conflicted feeling more about the baby. As an adoptive mom who is pretty tied into the adoptive community, I know that an adopted or orphaned girl would be incredibly conflicted about whether or not to give up the baby from the start. Because she'd see her own life and not want to give it to her baby, even if she's happily adopted, which your character isn't. It would make her more sympathetic too. Good luck.

Matt, have fun this weekend.

Michael G-G said...

Colene: You’ve got the bones of a successful query (“hook, setup, conflict, consequence”) down cold. At times, though, I thought it was a bit wordy. So here’s my version, trimmed from 224 words to 183 words, without changing much of the flavor (at least I hope so!)

17-year-old Faith wants to escape her decrepit orphanage, finally forget that her parents abandoned her, and hang with her boyfriend. Being pregnant is a glitch, but she can figure that out later.

But then the orphanage’s once trusted director starts acting weird – homicidal weird.

To escape death, Faith flees through an ivy-covered stone wall and straight into another world. There, she meets a beautiful woman named Uri, who promises a happy ending for Faith, her baby, and the boyfriend. On one condition: Faith must follow the haunting woman deeper into the world behind the wall. What’s not to like—except for the flesh-eating lake monster, the city of faceless human replicas, and those scorpions falling from the treetops?

As the adventure gets freakier, Faith wants to turn back. But this enrages Uri. She torches an entire city using only her will and demands Faith’s unborn child in return for safe passage 'home.'

Faith must decide: either save her own life by giving up the baby she first didn't think she wanted, or fight the all-powerful, demented Uri for more than just her freedom.

(I have to disagree with Matt here about ‘the machete.’ I found it distracting. Like, whoa, where did that come from? And why ‘the’? Is it one particular, magical machete? My mind went off on a tangent, instead of sticking with the story.)

Thanks for sharing this, Colene. It sounds like a powerful story, and I wish you all the best with your querying and your road to publication.

Happy partying, Matt!

Summer Frey said...

Colene, I think this is pretty great. My nitpicks are just 2 tiny word choices. The use of "decrepit" as a modifier for the orphanage really sticks out to me. Perhaps there's a word out there that could connote multiple ideas?

Also, the intro to Mrs. Simp seems odd--to describe someone as "homicidal weird"? If someone were becoming homicidal, the word "weird" isn't what I would choose.

Otherwise, sounds great! Hard to believe it's only 49k, though! Best of luck. :)

Summer Frey said...

Oh, and sorry I forgot to include this, but I agree with Michael in regards to the machete. It really struck me out of nowhere.

Abby Minard said...

Great job Colene. The comments are looking great overall. I won't put anything since we'll be talking about it this weekend. Just want to show my support, and that I wuv you!

Abby Minard said...

Oh and I want to say- I LOVE the machete part. But maybe its because I know what it is.

Lydia K said...

I had to come back and see your crit today. I really like all the comments and agree, there was nothing huge that needed changing. Yay Colene!

LTM said...

argh! Sorry--was in the cave yesterday, but today's what counts, yes? Lemme see here... (**waves** Hey, Colene!!! :o)

I also LOVE that opening 'graph. DON'T CHANGE IT!!! (Did I just disagree w/Matt-! What tha...)

I don't think you need to lose the forgetting part b/c I think it shows her personality--she's tough, she doesn't care. "Screw you, forgetters!"

And who doesn't want to be left alone w/BF??? yeah! whoopsie! like that last line~

Next bit, I'm w/Matt on all comments. (Maybe omit "But" and just start w/Mrs. Simp?)

I think YOU is OK here, too. Don't get tripped up on "the rules." Go with what works~

Whoa. I'm totally into this story, and I'm only reading the query--love the part about burning the city and demanding the baby! Great choice-conflict.

Now, my only note to you, dear: 49K = too short for YA. You know I love you! Get w/those critters and find the spots where the underwriting occurred. Gently beef them up. Try to get it to at least 55K; 60K would be better, but be judicious.

Just my two cents. I think your query, premise, hook are awesome~ ((hugs)) <3 GOOD LUCK!!!

Jessica Bell said...

This is a really great query n my opinion. And Matt, I don't have much to say except that what you suggest here. "Faith flees through an ivy cover,d stone wall I would put an em-dash here, or at least a comma, and runs straight into another world." would actually be grammatically incorrect. But I see that you think there should be a pause. You're right. So I'd suggest rewording it so that the pause is correct. :o)

Slamdunk said...

I like the pitch and it looks like your readers with the expertise are giving some good feedback.

Safe travels to you.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Happy Birthday Matt's sister!

I agree with everythign Matt said. I didn't have a problem with the "you" in the query and i LOVED the pregnancy line in the beginning.
Great job!

Janet Johnson said...

Great query Colene! Horrible choice to have to make.

I agree about dropping the "But" somehow, and I didn't have a problem with the "you."

Oh, and "Flesh eating" should be hyphenated. :)

Best of luck with it!

Carol Riggs said...

Great job, Matthew! You raised some spot-on points. :) Definitely, the period goes INSIDE the quotation mark--if in the US.

I agree that this only needs minor tweakies, and it'll be ready to send off!!

Chelsey said...

I think almost everything has been said here, but I wonder if you should type out "seventeen" in the first line. Seeing the numbers jarred me, and it might jar an agent.

Laura Marcella said...

I loved Colene's opening hook, too! Fantastic. I only know a little about querying, but I think you have great suggestions here, Matthew.

Donea Lee said...

Matt - thanks for the enlightening critique. Have fun in Boston with your sister!

Colene - I just love your concept. It's so unique! I like the machete part, too. I think it gives your MC an interesting edge.

And the mention of the boyfriend sounds authentic to me. He is what a 17-year-old pregnant orphan would focus on, imho.

The 49k words worries me a little...just when I think of the world-building you'd have to do for the other world. But, that's it. You've just got such a stong premise, here!! And dark & edgy really seem to be an agent want right now.

Best of luck, Colene!! I think you've got a winner here! :)

Colene Murphy said...

Thanks guys! Lots and lots of great stuff to tweak! I sooo appreciate all the help and input! Got my hyphen in flesh-eating and my spelling out seventeen and taken out the "but" from the second part! Great stuff!

Matthew MacNish said...

Hey everybody! Just stopping in while I'm at the airport. I don't have a smartie phone, so I'm sorry I couldn't respond to everyone's comments today, but I think you're getting some great advice here, Cole.

Thanks so much for having the courage to share this with us!

Chris Phillips said...

"forget no one wanted her" - doesn't feel redundant to me. I'd leave it.

Have a good trip, Matt!

Justine Dell said...

Hey Colene! Excellent premise! Here's my unplublished 2 cents ;-)

I agree with Matt for the first paragraph, although I feel like the first sentence was a wee bit awkward and could use some minor adjustment. But like Matt said, don’t change a lot because the hook is pretty good!

As for the rest, I have to agree with some of the other posters. It’s a bit wordy in places and you’ve got some really generic descriptions and some telling. Here:

“a beautiful, strange woman.” That sounds like my mother, or sister, or a lot of other people I know.

“promises a happy ending.” What’s that mean exactly? 2.5 kids and dog name Scruffy?

“the haunting woman.” Did Uri suddenly turn into a ghost?

“live in paradise.” Paradise is subjective. What IS Faith’s paradise?

After giving a FABULOUS description of flesh eating monsters, faceless human replicas, and scorpions, you say: “As the adventure gets even freakier.” Freakier than the monster/humans/scorpions? It’s really generic and since you did such a good job at describing the crazies in this world, this just didn’t do it for me.

“fight the all powerful, demented Uri.” Sounds like every evil villain in history.

On a side note, you’ve got some basic words throughout your query you can delete: just & even.

Here's my go add changing it up:

17-year-old Faith wants to get out of the decrepit orphanage, forget that no one wanted her, and be left alone with her boyfriend. The pregnancy is a glitch, but she can figure that out later.

The sooner she gets out, the better, because the orphanage director is acting weird—homicidal weird. To escape death, Faith flees through an ivy covered stone wall and runs straight into another world.

Uri, a floating goddess with eyes like the sun, is waiting. She promises Faith, the baby, and the boyfriend eternal safety—on one condition: Faith must follow Uri deeper into the world. It didn’t seem like a bad idea at first. But add in the flesh eating lake monster, city of faceless human replicas, and scorpions falling from treetops, and you’ve got a really bad tour guide. And a place Faith wants to exit from asap.

Uri forbids leaving. She burns an entire city and its inhabitants using only her will and demands possession of Faith’s unborn child in return for safe passage 'home'. Faith must chose to give up the baby she didn't want in the first place to save herself, or take up the machete and fight her way home.

Good luck on querying! And great story idea! ;-)


Michelle Merrill said...

This really is a great query. I agree with the 'But' that starts the second paragraph. I'd go with 'However.' I also love when a query ends with a choice. My biggest worry is the word count, which technically doesn't have much to do with the query. It's a little short for a YA novel, but that can always be changed during revisions with an agent. Good luck Colene! That's awesome that you're getting ready to query.

And have fun in Boston Matthew! I enjoyed your critique.

erica and christy said...

yay, colene! your story sounds amazing! super query. i love the paragraph you lay out the choice she has to make...i love that she has to choose to save the baby she didn't think she wanted to fight a horrible antagonist! you really set up the horror well. i got shivers and it's only the query! christy

(have fun on your trip, matt!)

Kelly said...

I bet your little sis is happy to have big bro in town for her bday! Have a great visit!

I have nothing to add as everyone has great suggestions to the query!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Sounds like an amazing story! The others have all given you such great advice that I have nothing to add but good luck!

Kari Marie said...

Consider me hooked! I think you've gotten some wonderful advice here. Good luck!

alexia said...

Colene, your book sounds really different that anything on the market now, so that's a super plus! It will really stand out for agents. I don't have anything to add, as I think there's a ton of great feedback in the comments. Good luck!!! So excited for you!

Sarah said...

Just a few things--

Seventeen-year-old (not 17 year old).

Yes, please clarify that Mrs. Simp doesn't work for Faith as her employee.

Overall, you've gotten great advice and have a fantastic premise--and you've gotten some great advice here, so I don't have much to add. Best of luck!

maine character said...

So you arrive in Boston and the Red Sox lose to the Angels 11-0.

I thought I felt a disturbance in the Force.

erica and christy said...

Some of my favorite people are here, yay!! Colene, I love it! Just one comment about the end - your sentence is pretty huge by including "...give up the baby she didn't think she wanted in the first place to save her own life...: and we already know if she gives it up she can save her life, so I'd change that to "...give up the baby she didn't think she wanted..."

And 49,000 isn't too short for contemporary YA - a friend of mine submitted hers at 46k, her agent helped her trim some out and it's getting published at just over 42k. (yes, this isn't contemp, I know) As long as your world-building doesn't overshadow your character- and plot-building, you should be okay.

Madeleine said...

I love the story hook and the idea. Great work Colene. Useful query pointers Matthew :O)