Friday, June 1, 2012

Nabila Fairuz Rahman's Current Query II Critiqued

TGIF. Here is my critique of Nabila's revised query, with the feedback in red.

The letter:

Dear _____

The youngest of three siblings, Shelly Manhar is hot-tempered, indecisive and always rushing into things. Nice! Now we've got a great sense of character. Excellent way to open. The only other thing I want is Shelly's age. But nNever in her wildest dreams did she imagine becoming a pirate, until her father and brother are lost to piracy soon after their family home burns down. Along with her elder sister Anna, who is her only guide in life now, you don't need this, because it's inferred. she decides to take the only path they can to find their family: join the swashbucklers who rule the high seas with gunpowder, blade and cannon. But when Anna dies unexpectedly just after they have taken their first ship, Shelly finds herself all alone in the world. This is a much better opening hook paragraph than before. It still needs a little tightening, but you're off to a great start.

Determined to carry on with the plan, of searching for her father and brother? Shelly sets sail with vengeance in her heart, with the crew that she gathered through the means of her skill with the sword and her absolute stubbornness. You really need to read The Dust of 100 Dogs. During her journeys, she discovers that her brother has now become a navy officer, making them each other’s enemies. The situation is further worsened by the fact that her brother now stands in the way of her revenge, as he is working for Doomham, the same man who is in some way responsible for the disappearance of her father and the destruction of her home. Furthermore, through her adventures Shelly finds out that her father is more than just some ordinary merchant, she herself is directly connected to Doomham, there is a dangerous treasure hidden in the waters of the Caribbean Sea that could spell certain doom if it reaches her enemy, and these three conditions are linked with one another. Now she must take her revenge, protect the lost treasure from falling in the wrong hands, find and unite her family, and ultimately decide which life she’d keep in the long run: her old, lawful one, or the new, illegal yet highly addictive one. Okay, so this paragraph is a long chunk of text, and it really ambles all over the place. The content underneath it all is good. I've got a clearer sense of the conflict now, and where the story goes, but you need to work on clarifying the execution and delivery of the information.

Completed at 90,000 words, THE UNTAMED ONE is my first novel a YA Historical Adventure (Adventure is not really a genre, but I'm not sure what else to call it). The manuscript is available on request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Nabila Fairuz

Okay, to summarize, your first paragraph is so much better now. It really gets Shelly's character across much better, and I can see why she is someone we would want to read about. It's not perfect yet, but it's very close.

Your second paragraph has improved, and the information in it about the stakes and the details of the conflict are good, but it goes on for too long, and is hard to follow. See if you can work on being more concise, and try to convey the same concepts in fewer words.

I wish I could get specific about what to cut and what to keep from your second paragraph, but I think that has to be up to either you, or at least someone who has read the book.

That's it.

What do you all think?

25 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Perhaps if the second paragraph were divided into two?

DL Hammons said...

I agree with all of your suggestions, especially the excessive amount of detail in the second paragraph. And I'm glad you scratched out IS MY FIRST NOVEL, that's the kiss of death to a lot of agents. :)

Bryan Russell said...

I concur, though at the end "she'd" should be "she'll".

JeffO said...

Strong opening paragraph. I think the second needs to be shorter in general, with shorter, punchier sentences.

Is there anything wrong with saying a novel is your first?

Matthew MacNish said...

@ Jeff - Yes. It implies that you're querying the first novel you've even written, which just doesn't sound professional. No agent will care that it's your first novel you're trying to get published (in other words: you've never been published), but if they think it's the first manuscript you've ever finished, they're going to assume you're a novice (there's nothing wrong with querying the first book you've ever written, just don't admit to it in the query).

Sarah said...

This version is definitely an improvement on the first one! The first paragraph does flow nicely, but I'll admit my eyes and brain started to wander during the second. I'd take Matt's feedback and refocus that second paragraph.

Also, Matt's very astute in suggesting that you try to streamline your prose. A query with excess words will make the agent fear that your ms is the same, and since it's already a teensy bit long for YA, the agent might conclude the prose is bloated. For example: "the same man who is in some way responsible for" could just be "the man responsible for". Cut every. Single. Excess. Word.

One tiny point: since you have a character named "Doomham", I would suggest you eliminate "doom" from the query because it feels redundant (even though I know it's not really) and pulled me out of the story summary.

Best of luck with this!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I'm gonna tackle the second paragraph:

Shelly embarks on a voyage of discovery. Blocking her path to revenge is a navy officer whom she finds out is her brother. In addition, he works for Doomham, the same man responsible for her father's disappearance and for destroying her home.

When it seems like things couldn't become more complicated, Shelly discovers a link between her family and a dangerous treasure hidden within the depths of the Caribbean Sea.

I would go with the above and cut everything else.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I agree. Shorter sentences, tighter structure. And maybe, as Alex suggests, break the behemoth paragraph into two?

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I automatically tune out to long paragraphs; it takes such an effort to keep reading. I think adding white space a bit more would be greatly beneficial.

cleemckenzie said...

I REALLY LIKE THIS STORY ABOUT A DETERMINED AND STUBBORN HEROINE. I COULDN'T HELP FIDDLING WITH THE SECOND GRAPH BECAUSE THERE'S A SUPER PLOT WITH INTERESTING CHARACTERS.

HOPE I HAVEN'T STEPPED OVER THE LINE WITH MY SUGGESTIONS. JUST GOT INVOLVED IN THE STORY.

Determined to CONTINUE searching for her father and brother Shelly USES HER SWORD AND ABSOLUTE STUBBORNNESS TO PRESS A CREW INTO HER SERVICE, THEN, WITH VENGEANCE IN HER HEART, SHE sailS OFF ON HER QUEST.

During her journey, she discovers that her brother has now become a navy officer AND standS in the way of her revenge. NOW HE'S THE ENEMY. HE'S working for Doomham, the same man who is responsible for the disappearance of THEIR father and the destruction of THEIR home.

TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE, Shelly finds out that her father is more than just some ordinary merchant, THAT she'S SOMEHOW connected to Doomham, AND THAT there'S a treasure hidden in the waters of the Caribbean Sea--A TREASURE SHE CAN'T ALLOW TO FALL INTO THE HANDS OF HER ENEMY WITHOUT XXX HAPPENING. [MAKE THE RESULTS SPECIFIC. WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF THIS TREASURE FALLS INTO ENEMY HANDS?]

She must take her revenge, protect the lost treasure from falling in the wrong hands, find and unite her family, and ultimately decide CHOOSE which life SHE WANTS keep in the long run: her old, lawful one, or the new, illegal yet highly addictive one. WHAT DOES SHE CHOOSE? DOES SHE ACHIEVE HER GOALS?

Joshua said...

Definitely much improved over the last. A few more tweaks and it's there.

Amber said...

I toyed around a bit with the long paragraph and this is what I came up with.

Determined to carry on with the plan of searching for her father and brother, Shelly sets sail with vengeance in her heart. (the crew added nothing so I cut that)During her journeys, she discovers that her brother has become a navy officer, making them enemies. The situation is worsened by the fact that her brother is working for Doomham, the same man who is responsible for the disappearance of her father and the destruction of her home.

Through her adventures Shelly finds out that her father is more than just a merchant, she is directly connected to Doomham, and there is a dangerous treasure hidden in the waters of the Caribbean Sea that would spell doom if it reaches her enemy. These three things are all linked (and it is up to her to figure out how? I think just a few words would add to this fact). Revenge, treasure, and family drama are all in a day’s works for this unstoppable pirate. In the end she will ultimately have to decide which life she’ll keep- her old, lawful one, or the new, illegal yet highly addictive one.

Just some ideas to play with :) Good luck.

Nancy Thompson said...

I totally agree. The first paragraph is good, but needs needs tightening. The second paragraph has loads of useless and unnecessary words, even with all that content. You need to look at each sentence and cut all the expendable words ("that, "absolute, now, worsened by the fact, Furthermore through her adventures," etc.) until it is as sparse as possible while still getting your point across. For instance, instead of using "finds out that" - use "discover" instead. If your query is wordy, then the agent might fear your ms is as well. the story looks good though. And I agree, you should read Dust of 100 Dogs. Good luck!

TL Conway said...

There are some good suggestions on how to handle the second paragraph here in the comments. Overall, I like the changes you've made to the 1st para.

Question for anyone:

Is it assumed that if we're querying that the MS is available? It seems like "The manuscript is available on request" is an extra line since we're hoping they request it. Or is it a "polite" thing to put in?

Jemi Fraser said...

Nice suggestions! I'd add a little one if I could... In the 2nd sentence, I'd switch 'did' to 'does' - I think it would flow better with the rest of the present tense.

Sounds like a fun story! Good luck :)

Jackie said...

I like the new version better that the first. It is clearer and crisper.
I agree that the second paragraph could be tightened up to keep the reader/agent's attention.
It sounds like a good story.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I agree that the second paragraph needs to be simplified. Keep the specifics of conflict and stakes; lose some of the unnecessary explanations. Focus on the antagonism between sister, brother, and Doonham. (I also wonder if you need to mention the sister Anna, since she is quickly killed off.)

The one thing that bothers me about the first paragraph is I don't have a good sense of time period, and I definitely think you should deliver that in the first few sentences. "Pirates" just doesn't tell me enough, and you could also add location by saying "their family home in _______."

Nabila Fairuz said...

Hey everyone, thank you so much for all the wonderful tips! I'll definitely keep them in mind when tweaking my query. Thanks Matt for putting up my second query. I really appreciate it :D

farawayeyes said...

Wow. I'm coming in a bit late and am certainly short on suggestions.

Nablia - I do want to thank you for your courage and tenacity here.

It's a real learning experience for me.

Jess said...

I agree with Matt's comments~ sounds like you've got a great start here and can tweak a few things to make it work for you. Best of luck finding a great agent for this!

Jericha Senyak said...

I think everyone's covered just about everything I'd have to say, but I've got one big thing that hasn't been touched on -- I think Doomham needs to be mentioned RIGHT AWAY, like first-paragraph right away. Right now, he's added in as an afterthought ("the same man responsible for the death of her father") but then two sentences later he's super important and at the center of the plot as she tries to unravel all these sudden secrets. It'll pack a lot more punch if he's called out as a villain right off the bat - then the possibility of a connection between them will actually seem like a twist.

Lydia Kang said...

It does sound like a fun read! Great comments about how to make it better, Matthew.

Donna Hole said...

Just here to learn today :) Thanks to both of you for sharing.

.....dhole

Elise Fallson said...

Wow Nabila, you've got some great suggestions from Matthew and other commenters and it shows that you've made some super improvements. Just a little bit more and it'll be perfect!

mshatch said...

I liked how cleemckenzie revised. That made it a lot stronger, imo.