Friday, August 10, 2012

Mark Rubinkowski's Current Query Critiqued

Sorry that post went up so late yesterday. I stayed home sick from work. Ugh. I'm still not feeling that well. So if you're waiting on email from me ... that's probably why. Anyway, let's get to work. My feedback will be in red.

Here's Mark's query:

Super heroes used to exist. They protected society from the threats of super villains and mad scientists. People used to look to them for safety. One day, seventeen years ago, everything changed. The heroes accused the rest of the world of being lazy and deemed it undeserving of their protection. This has some cool things going for it, but I would suggest that this is essentially synopsis territory, and you want to hook us with something better. Something we can feel. Usually, a character.

Sixteen-year-old Mark Novak lives in Springfield, Illinois, which is run by an demented man. Like this. I like how you open with Mark's age, which is important for a YA novel (Mark doesn't include his housekeeping in this query, but I know it's YA from WriteOnCon). However, you could still stand to tell us more about who Mark is - try to think, what kind of person was he before this story started? And also, I would suggest you don't give your protagonist the same first name as you. It hints at author insertion. He is an ordinary boy whose favorite class in school is History of the Superhero this is where you might sprinkle in some of the info from your first paragraph. After you introduce us to your character, then you can introduce us to your world. And a world where superheroes used to exist sounds like a pretty cool one. and has a huge crush on a new girl. The option for romance in a YA novel is always a good one, but you don't want to introduce things from left field like this. Try to make sure things progress logically from one to another. So after mentioning the class, you can mention why such a class exists, thus building your world. One walk into the woods with his friends changes his destiny forever.

Mark and his friends start to develop powers after a chance encounter with a hidden base in the forest. Even though they barely understand what is happening, they will be forced to face down threats from science gone horribly wrong and the consequences a few acts of standing up for ones self can cause. This isn't bad, but it gets muddied by over-wordiness, especially near the end. Try to me more concise. Along the way, they begin to uncover the answers behind the disappearance of the heroes and that they may not be the heroes everyone thought they would be. Mark and his friends are faced with a choice. Use their powers and save their failing city or standby and let things take their natural course. This isn't bad either, but you need to raise the stakes. Right now, it seems like an easy choice. You need to make it clearer why letting things take their natural choice might actually be a viable option.

Okay, to summarize - I get the feeling this is an early draft, and if so, that's good. Queries are hard to write, and this is in much better shape than probably the first hundred drafts I ever wrote.

That being said, you need to focus your writing. Try to be as concise as possible, and try to make sure that things progress logically from one to another. For example, mentioning the crush right after the class, and then never coming back to it, doesn't make much sense. If the crush doesn't become some kind of romance in the manuscript, it might not be worth mentioning in the query.

Other than that, always try to be as specific as possible. You've got some cool sounding things going on here, but they're also pretty vague.

That's it.

What you you all think? Spending any time in the WriteOnCon forums?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

More focus sounds right to me.
Crap, the last thing I'd want is an Alex in my book. He'd be the geeky sidekick or something.

Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like a fun story. Starting with the MC and his interest in Superheroes of the past should make a great hook. :)

mshatch said...

Aside from all Matt's suggestions, which were spot on as always, my only other concern would be the originality of the premise. I seem to recall seeing a preview for a movie about something quite similar (ordinary kids gaining extraordinary powers) which means that Mark needs to make his premise unique and different from anything else like it.

Jackie said...

Hi Mark,
Thanks for sharing your query with us.
Matt helped me so much, and I still read over his comments to others in the effort to make mine even stronger.
I think super heroes are a great topic for young adults, and even adults.
Good luck with your story.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I think the opening paragraph and the line "super heroes used to exist" is boring. Matt hints at this with more tact than I by saying it is synopsis territory. He's correct. This is background and "telling" to boot and doesn't belong in a query.

The opening line should be "Sixteen-year-old Mark Novak lives in Springfield, Illinois, which is run by a demented man.

The over-wordiness that Matt points out is correct too. I would cut out "start to" as an example since it adds nothing to the narrative.

Keep in mind though that when you get around to submitting this query, you will want to target agents who have clients that deal in the superhero genre. I also think that it could be more active. Instead of "they start to develop super powers" go with "Mark uproots a tree and smashes a barn with it and is left speechless for an explanation!" or something like that. Show, don't tell.

The Pumpkin King said...

Thanks for the tips. They make a lot of sense and I will be working on it and will hopefully have a new query in a day or so. Thanks again!

maine character said...

Spot on, Matt. And hope you feel better soon.

Rusty Webb said...

I was sold on the premise right from the start. I agree that the query feels very much like a work in progress, but I think the strength is going to be in the whole thing about a kid growing up in a world that had super heroes - but all are now gone.

Good stuff.

Nancy Thompson said...

Good job on a difficult query. The first couple lines should focus specifically on character & how he relates to his world. Then dive right into the very heart of the conflict while leaving all the other stuff alone. Once that's established, zone in on the character's difficult choice, making it clear how that choice has dangerous or damaging consequences. Be very specific. A query is no place vagueness.

Jay Noel said...

I like the premise, although I'd like to learn more as I've read a couple books with a very similar story.

Also, there's a lot of telling going on. Tease us with flashes of the essence of the story with specifics.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I agree with Matt's feedback, as well as those given by others above. Reduce the first paragraph to essentials and move it to the place where you describe Mark's favorite class. Leave out the girl until later in the query. Bring some precise details into the last paragraph, including:what kind of base, what kind of powers, a hint at the real reason for the disappearance of superheroes, and the stakes if Mark and his friends take up the cause.

farawayeyes said...

As always a learning experience. Thanks Mark and Matt.

Melanie Schulz said...

I agree with Matt's feedback, but also would like to add that you only mentioned the girl once and then dropped it. Either she's important or she isn't.

Joe Lunievicz said...

IHope you're feeling better. I know, it's tuesday already but I'm behind on checking in. Joe