Friday, January 25, 2013

Christine Danek's Current Query Critiqued

Okay, first of all, sorry I'm late. I had to stick around at home this morning, and wait to find out whether school was closed in our county (it is). Having grown up in Minnesota, it's a little ridiculous to see school closings simply because the temperature drops below freezing, but I suppose when the community has no cold weather infrastructure (ice/salt trucks, plows) it does make some sense.

Anyway, let's get back to work. Here is Christine's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear Mr./Ms.,

Junior year sucks for Sadie Perkins, this is an independent clause. she creates a dream world (hot guy included) to escape her far-from-perfect life, but when monsters try to enslave her, she must fight to leave her growing nightmare alive. Okay, so you've got some very cool elements here, but this isn't really working for me as your opening hook. First of all, we don't know anything about Sadie, except that she's a girl, and a junior. The fact that her year sucks means nothing, because we all know high school sucks for everyone. Moreover, we don't have any understanding of the logistics of this dream world, or how literally you mean what you're saying here.

Does Sadie have the power to literally create a dream-like world? If there are monsters trying to enslave her (and not just in her nightmares when she's sleeping), and they're actually threatening her life, then it sounds like she does. How did she get this power? How does it work? Is it only a curse, or are there some elements of blessing to it as well?

Falling through the ground and waking up in the world of your dreams ruled by the hottest guy around would seem awesome if your ex wasn’t with you. It makes more sense now, as you start to expand on this concept, but do you see how the vagueness leaves the rules of your world making no sense in the opening paragraph? Seriously, trying to figure out how to get accepted by your parents is hard enough, but when you are asked to stay in a world you dreamed up with a super hot guy, this is the third time you've mention Nameless Hot Guy. Normally I'm all good with not naming too many characters in a query, but now I'm starting to wonder. Should you name him? Maybe. But I think you should definitely say a bit more about him. He rules the dream world? How so? Like a king or something? the decision can be harder than you might think, especially when he may swipe your imagination(,) making you a slave(,) or you just might flat out die.

Sadie must resist the temptation of her dream world, why? It seems mostly horrible. You may need flesh it out more, so we can understand why whether to leave or stay is such a sadistic choice. and face the reality of her real one before the Dream Thieves catch up to her. Now this I like. Brief, succinct specificity is at the heart of most good queries.

DREAM THIEVES is a young adult paranormal novel with fantasy elements, complete at 70,000 words. I am an active member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Christine Danek

The rest of this is perfect.

Now, to summarize. Your query has some awesome elements, but you really need to work on explaining the logistics better. The writing is strong, the stakes and conflict build to what I'm sure will be an excellent choice at the end, once you can explain how this other world works.

It's your story, so how to go about it is up to you, but I would suggest you make it clearer right up front how this wold connects to Sadie's dreams, how much control she has over it's creation (you say "she creates a dream world (hot guy included) to escape her far-from-perfect life" in the beginning, but then it seems like she doesn't have control), and how exactly she enters it (and how or whether she is able to leave at will). The other world sounds cool (hot guy included), but with all your stakes and conflict tied to it, we need it to be clear that it's not just a dream (unless, you know, it is).

Finally, more about Sadie in the opening would be great. We can infer a bit about her character from her struggling with being a junior, and her choice to escape her troubles by dreaming (in other words, she's probably not the assertive, alpha personality type), but you could add another word or two of characterization here and there, and that would really help us sympathize with her from the get go.

That's it.

So, what do you all think? Are you as confused by this dream world as I am, or am I missing something?


Jessica Bell said...

I can see why Christine wrote it the way she did. She obviously wants to maintain an element of suspense. But one thing I've learned is that a query is not the place to try and make an agent want more by not telling them things. Be specific. Then they will want more. That is the main thing you need to keep in mind when writing a query, I think. Otherwise, I think the premise is good. Very commercial :-)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No, I was confused. The first line was really long as well.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Matt is right. The query needs to be more specific and informative when explaining the premise, the antagonist, and the conflict. Jessica is also right. If there is a "big reveal" in here, you need to tell the agent what it is. Keeping the best thing in your ms a secret from the agent isn't effective.

Christine Danek said...

Thank you for your feedback. This is very helpful. I really suck at this. Anyway, I had more description in there and the feedback I got(not from here) was that it was too much. I guess I have to figure out the happy medium.
Thanks again.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Christine, I really suck at queries, too, but one thing I've noticed in watching those online pitch-fests: specific is better.
There are a bazillion people pitching hot guys, special powers and other worlds right now, so the only way to stand out is to show the specific and unusual.
Best to you, and thanks to Matt for doing these.

mshatch said...

I have to say I LOVE the idea for this story. I have a very vivid dream life and I can totally see how staying in a cool dream would be tempting, especially if reality sucked the big one. Good luck with this, Christine.

Second, I had a bunch of suggestions but I could not get the stupid italics to work even tho I KNOW my tag was closed!!!

Matt made some great suggestions, as always, but I will email mine to you, Christine - hope it helps!

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

It's a great concept, but the opening line doesn't grab me. I think it needs to be redone with your suggestions.

And high school was great for some people. My co-worker was the quarterback of his football team and banged the head cheerleader for three years before he went on to college (not playing football) and continued to bang cheerleaders. He loves to brag about that (he's like Ryan Gosling good looking). I kinda hate that about him.

Patchi said...

I think the query opening is hidden, but there. This is what I would keep:

Junior year sucks for Sadie Perkins, [so] she creates a dream world (hot guy included) to escape her far-from-perfect life. [The fantasy got even better when she fell] through the ground and [woke] up in the world of [her] dreams. [Dream world was] ruled by the hottest guy around, [insert name here,] which would seem awesome if [Sadie's] ex [hadn't fallen] with [her].

Good luck!

Laura Stephenson said...

I would start with something more along the lines of "Sadie Perkins dreams of a life better than high school. Then the monsters in the alternate world she's created try to enslave her." Still not perfect wording, but it's shorter and more clear.

You could go on to say, "Waking up to live in her dreams, complete with hunk-of-the-year, would be awesome if her ex hadn't tagged along." I'm not a fan of switching into second POV to get your point across. Let us connect with the character as she is without trying to put us in her place.

Sounds interesting, but you should work hard to tighten the whole thing, like Matt says. Make it clear, and don't mention people unless they're necessary to this, short piece (whether or not they're instrumental in the novel).

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

You hit all of my points, Matthew. My main one is that I wasn't hooked at the beginning, other than "Yeah, high school mostly sucks."

Katy Upperman said...

I think your advice is awesome as usual, Matthew. I was asking myself a lot of the same questions you brought up. This concept sounds very cool, though. Best of luck, Christine!

Kristen Wixted said...

Not sure you need "active" member of SCBWI. I mean, I know some people are more active than others, but it sounds weird.
I really like the dream thieves sentence also nice way to clinch it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

The whole thing needs focusing and some specifics. Yes, name the guy.

Elise Fallson said...

Love the premise, but the opening is a bit vague. Matthew's suggestions are spot on as usual, and you've got some great advice from the other commenters. Not sure what else I could add, just keep at it, and after a little fine tuning this is going to be a great query. (:

JeffO said...

I don't know if it's the category or the genre, but this doesn't really do it for me. I suggest dumping the first paragraph. Start with the second one. I think that would really catch someone's eye, even if it breaks the 'rule' of starting with character. From there, give us something about Sadie and what she needs to do. It feels a little too vague to me.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Good job, Matt. I was confused at the beginning, too. Yes, we want to tease the agent to be interested in reading more, but they're busy people. It can be a fine line.

Love to concept.