Friday, October 21, 2011

Christine Danek's Current Query Critiqued

Okay. Today we have Christine's query letter again, this time with my thoughts and suggestions.

For anyone who is new to this, Christine's query will be in plain text, below, and my feedback will be in red.

The query:

For eighteen(-)yea(-)old Anna Page, a failed suicide attempt I'm not sure you need "failed" and "attempt." They're redundant, because if you only attempt suicide, by definition you did not succeed. and a subsequent? I want this word or something like it here, because I want it to be obvious that the two things are closely related. stay at the psych ward just may be easier than fighting the alien war she has been forced to fight. This has some great punch to it, but I'm not sure about the execution. How is she forced to fight? And by whom?

All right. So for your opening you're not off to a bad start. I like the characterization you've given us for Anna, as she's obviously a troubled girl, but I think you could re-word things here, to make her more active. What causes Anna to give up on life? Give her control of her own choices, then (and I love the alien war coming out of left field like that, it makes for a great hook) give us more specific information about this war. Did aliens invade Earth? Have they been here for a while and just decided to take over? Who is forcing an eighteen-year-old to take part in a war, and why?

Almost dying leaves Anna a broken mess in therapy and telepathic. Wait, what? I love telepathy almost as much as I love telekinesis, but this is worded too suddenly for me. I get that there may not be a logical explanation for her sudden telepathy, but ease us into it with a few more words. Maybe say "... in therapy and with some surprising new mental abilities. Like telepathy." Or something. That's not great, but you get my point. She even thinks her soul lingered over her body for a while. Something she doesn’t want anyone to know. I like this, but I need to have a better idea of what you mean. Is this near death? Out of body? How can she think but not know? But when Anna meets and falls for IAN MCCLENNEND being part Scottish, I ADORE this name, but you don't capitalize character names in a query letter. Not unless their name is all caps in the book for some strange reason. her life changes—don't put em-dashes in query letters if you can at all help it, they do not play nice with email formatting. and it’s not all good. Strange things begin to happen, like what? Be specific. her friends distance themselves, and she’s confronted by ghostly shadow people that try to kill her. Bad-ass.

Your second paragraph is a bit jumbled. You bring up some excellent and interesting concepts, but I really have no clear idea of what the root conflict is. I get the feeling that your novel has some internal conflict of Anna trying to outgrow her ... sadness, grief, depression, whatever, and then also some external conflict, which could either be the romance with Ian or surviving the shadow people, or both but either way we need a better picture of what and why. And another thing: what happened to the alien war?

As Ian and Anna become close, she soon discovers that he isn’t what she thought. He is part of a powerful race what does this mean, exactly? I'm not sure I like the term race. of humans created by Alien why is alien capitalized? refugees and was sent to protect her. I like the idea, but I want to know more about how it works, and what it means for the plot. Is he her protector? Did they meet by chance?

Shockingly, these Aliens had big plans for Anna’s lingering soul, this is vague. What plans? What kind of advantage would her soul give them? but since she surprised them by living through her suicide attempt, now the stakes are even higher. Why did that surprise them? Did they know the attempt was coming? Did they somehow play a role in it? Anna learns she has great power that the refugees can use against the evil lord RAIDEN, I'll share some links below, about famous characters named Raiden, who's names aren't in all caps (as an aside, this might be one instance where a character's name could be all caps. Maybe it's an acronym for some kind of alien AI: Radiant Artificial Intelligence Dynamic Electronic Node: R.A.I.D.E.N.) who has destroyed their planet and is ready to take over Earth. War is brewing, and Anna must fight to save Ian, I thought he was a powerful human sub-species that was going to save her? the aliens and the world.

Can Anna win the war, save the world and the guy she loves when her soul still dreams of dying? Wow. Cool. I like this summary. It's hints at something mystic, metaphysical ... spiritual.

LINGERING SOULS is a young adult, Earth-based, science fiction novel, complete at 62,000 words.This might be a bit short, especially for a novel that might need some world-building, even if it is Earth. I am an active member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Christine Danek

Okay, here are a couple of links to some famous Raiden's, showing why you might not want to name a character that, although it is an awesome name:

Raiden, AKA Lord Raiden, the thunder god of the Mortal Kombat universe, and protector of the Earthrealm.

Raiden, AKA Jack, a part human part cybernetic androgynous ninja agent in the Metal Gear series.

Raiden, a character from the video game Fatal Fury.

And the deity who probably inspired all of them:

Raijin, AKA Raiden, god of thunder and storms in the Shinto religion and Japanese mythology.

Anyway, I don't think any of that means you have to change the name, but I think you should be aware he won't be the first.

So, to summarize: It's obvious to me you've got an awesome story here. I've got a decent sense of your main character, but most of it is from what happens to her, and I'd like to know a little more about what kind of person she is, and how she thinks/feels/reacts to all this external suffering. I'm still not clear what the main plot is, or whether the alien war or the shadow people are more prominent, but I think that's easy to fix. Other than some minor logistical things, I don't think you need any kind of major overhaul.

So that's it.

What do you guys think? What would you change? What of my thoughts do you disagree with? Would you like to see a story with a Radiant Artificial Intelligence Dynamic Electronic Node in it?

Please share your thoughts in the comments, and have a great weekend!


Christine Danek said...

I'm cracking up with the RAiden thing. Do your research, right? His name is not a dire thing. Thanks for doing this. At first, when I saw all red, I almost ran to grab a alcoholic beverage, but when you said no major overhaul, I calmed down. Whew. I'm looking forward to the other comments, and looking forward to making this query shine.
Thanks again Matt!

Jessica Bell said...

Read, processed, don't have anything to add, except, christine, it sounds like a really cool book and I wish you SOOOOO much luck with it! :o)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Hi, Christine! I agree with Matt that you could be more specific and direct in some of those sentences. Give us some direct information instead of hinting -- just make sure it's information that will leave us wanting more.

And in the first paragraph I was hit by the words "fighting the alien was she was forced to fight." You've got a version of the word fight in that sentence twice -- you'll want to replace one or reword, I think.

You know, I didn't know exactly what your manuscript was about, based on the chapter I previewed! Glad I saw the query -- and I'm looking forward to more!

Jemi Fraser said...

I loved the summary line of Christine's query - I'm glad you did too. :)

Unknown said...

Wow! What an interesting story. I found I got hung up on the first sentence of the 2nd paragraph. It didn't flow right for me. Try reading it out loud and see what you think.

Also, in the first paragraph, I'd use either failed or attempt, but as Matt said, not both.

Good luck with your querying. It sounds like a great story.

Unknown said...

Awesome job as always, Matt, in pointing out what needs to be strengthened and clarified. :D

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You're right - needs to be more specific. Like the telepathy idea though. (Obviously!)

K. M. Walton said...

Matt: You make stellar points and explain your thinking very clearly.

It's absolutely fascinating to put something in front of fresh eye and get an entirely new perspective. Human brains rule.

Christine: I applaud your "chin up" attitude. When you take it all in with the right mindset, it makes you unstoppable.

Old Kitty said...

Yikes!! I like the thoroughness of the critique!! Yay Matthew!! GOOD LUCK Christine - you have an awesome story here so YAY again!! Take care

Jess Corra said...

I never knew what your book was about; for all the times we've talked I don't think you'd told me. It sounds like fun! Christine, I'm going to email you directly because this comment got out of hand. >.>

A Daft Scots Lass said...

I love the story.

Matthew MacNish said...

@ Jess - hey no fair! We all want to see.

Just kidding. I'm well aware that a blog comment is not the best place to critique a query. Thanks for visiting!

Jon Paul said...

Sounds like a thoroughly fascinating story.

Thanks for taking us through it Matt. And thanks Christine for allowing us all to learn from your process.

Have a great weekend! :D

storyqueen said...

I am intrigued by the story.

Matt, I think you did a good job of pointing out where the query could be tightened. Especially liked all of the helpful research you did on Christine's behalf.

Keep going, Christine!

Christina Lee said...

Whoa, aliens?!?! Wowee. :)

Okay, my attempt to help (since I know part of this story):

Eighteen-year-old Anna Page would revisit the psych ward over fighting the alien war she's been been dragged into, any day of the week.

Her suicide attempt leaves Anna a broken mess and in therapy. Not only that, some strange things happened while she was unconscious, like becoming telepathic and having an out-of-body experience. She swears her soul lingered over her body--but that's not something she wants to share with anyone, not even her therapist or closest friends.

When Anna meets Ian McClennend in her therapy waiting room, her life changes—and it’s not all good. She’s confronted by ghostly shadow people trying to kill her and her friends think she's gone off the deep end.

As Ian and Anna become closer, she discovers that he isn't at all who she thought he'd be. He's part of a powerful race of humans created by Alien refugees sent to protect her.

Shockingly, these Aliens had big plans for Anna’s soul. Too bad her suicide failed, raising the stakes even higher.

Anna learns she has great power that the refugees can use against the evil lord RAIDEN, who has destroyed their planet and is ready to take over Earth.

Anna wonders if she can help win the war, save the world and the guy she loves, all while her soul still dreams of dying.

Sarah Tokeley said...

As ever, Matt has done an excellent job of critiquing the query. I only have one tiny thing to add. I don't think you need the word 'shockingly' at the beginning of the paragraph. It feels like you're telling me to be shocked.

I love this query, and really want to read this book :-)

Kelly Lyman said...

I'm not going to comment on the query because well, I am SO not an expert. I do agree with Matt crit. though. I just wanted to tell you how awesome it is that you were brave enough to throw this up for all to see. Way to go!

Pat Hatt said...

Great critique, learned a few things along the way I may have to use too.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Great suggestions, Matt. And the other comments are very helpful as well. I totally agree with your observation of the second paragraph. It needs a bridge.

The story sounds awesome!! Best of luck, Christine.

Sarah Ahiers said...

yep, i agree. Add some specifics where Matt suggested and that will help a lot. I also think if you can interweave her internal conflict throughout the query (which i assume is the fact that she wants to die) it will really tighten the query nicely.
Good luck!

Unknown said...

What a fabulous critique, Matthew. I read Christine's query yesterday and couldn't find much wrong with it - not that there is, but you've managed to get right to the heart of so many points that the end result will be so much tighter.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

There's so much red here that it looks like you slaughtered a panda. I say "panda" because of the bamboo tree background.

Claire Hennessy said...

Wow, sounds like an exciting book. I was bowled over by Matt's critique. I read the query yesterday and thought it was great, but Matt's comments are spot on. Really impressed. Hope I can persuade you to critique my query letter when I get to that point, Matt. Great blog, I love reading it, one of my favs.

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Nice work, Matt. And kudos to Christine for her bravery. I actually had the opportunity to critique this query earlier in the week, so I'll refrain since Christine has my thoughts--but they definitely lined up with a lot of what you said, Matt.

Wine and Words said...

I agree with you. I would have thumbed-up a lot of your comments. I think this is a great service you provide to others. Rock on MacNish.

Rusty Carl said...

As always, a brilliant critique. It does sound like a pretty awesome novel. You had me at aliens. Good luck with the query.

Matthew MacNish said...

@ Mike O. - the amount of red is not because the query is bad, it's because I'm a long winded gas-bag who can't get enough of his own stupid humor. In other words: a dork.

Janet Johnson said...

LOL at your last comment. Winded gas-bag indeed. But aren't we all a little of that as bloggers? ;)

Otherwise, great critique. And Christine, sounds like a great story! Best of luck with this.

.jessica. said...

Another fantastic critique, Matt. I am learning so much from your site. And Christine, this book sounds fantastic. I'm intrigued, particularly at the idea that the Aliens had big plans for Anna's soul - for some reason that idea really resonates with me. Keep up the good work. :)

Jess said...

Very thorough job, Matt! Nothing to add here. I didn't know about em-dashes being messy in email formatting~ good to know!

Lydia Kang said...

I was completely hooked by Christine's opening lines and was fine with "failed suicide attempt."

Matthew, you have great suggestions for the body of the query.

The story sounds great! Thanks to both of you!

Nicki Elson said...

I'm sure it was shocking to see that red at first! But as you've seen, it's all wonderful suggestions to polish up and clarify the description of what sounds like a wonderful story.

Thanks for the thorough feedback, Matt. I think we've all probably picked up something we can use for our own queries.

LTM said...

wow, I think this story sounds supercool! and I'm glad Matt hit all the points I would've made... ;p

I, like him, was confused about her soul... and the part about Ian being super, but not super enough. I do think in your query, you need to be as precise as possible--think news writing, just the facts. But you're so close here!

Best of luck. This story sounds GREAT! :o) <3

Christine Danek said...

Thanks to everyone for their feedback. This is so helpful. I really appreciate it. I'm sure Matt thinks I'm crazy cause I have checked this blog a million times today. I may be checking a little more tonight. :)
THanks again!!

Heaven. said...

Sounds like it's going to be a great story :)

Sub Radar (Mike) said...

Very thorough, nicely done. Also appreciate the Raiden shoutout, that would kind of be a perk if I saw that in a book, but I can see where it would be an issue.

Michael G-G said...

I really like the beginning and the ending of the query.

Matt askes all the right questions in the middle--that line about therapy and telepathy threw me too. I also wondered why Scottish Ian would suddenly need to be rescued when at first I thought he was her protector.

Matt, your knowledge of all and sundry Raidens is a complete giveaway. You are obviously the Radiant Artificial Intelligence Dynamic Electronic Node of which you speak.

Thanks to Christine for sharing her query. Sounds like a stellar concept! Good luck!!

Steve MC said...

For me, this was the line that needed the most work: "Almost dying leaves Anna a broken mess in therapy and telepathic."

Great idea, but like you say, needs more words before telepathic.

And this was the best line: "Can Anna win the war, save the world and the guy she loves when her soul still dreams of dying?"

That got me interested.

Kristen Pelfrey said...

Christine, thanks so much for letting us learn with/from you.
I agree with Matthew's comments. I would add that the first paragraph could really pack a punch with declarative sentences. You have so many cool things going on--the attempted suicide, the soul issue, the aliens...linear and declarative will leave us breathless.

If you tinker with the middle of the query as suggested, I think you have a go.

The ending of the query is excellent--love the one line summary. I am guilty of using dashes. I am a dash-careless person, and I become acutely aware of the fact when I am on this site.
Your story sounds really compelling, and I look forward to seeing it published!

Matthew, your dorkiness is one of the most amazing things about you. Stay dorky. I revel in all that you know of Raidon/RAIDON. Any use of the word "node" is auto sci-fi and makes me laugh.

Unknown said...

This definitely sounds like a good book. I really like the summary you have towards the end. I agree with the changes that Matthew suggested.
Thanks for posting your query.

Weaver said...

Great analysis, Matt. Once again, Christine, interesting storyline. I don't have anything to add.

Pearl said...

Enjoyed this critique thoroughly. Don't know how you found me, but glad you did.


Paul Joseph said...

Since I scored Below Basic on the query letter standardized test, I have nothing meaningful to add. I will, however, applaud Christine's bravery for putting this out there and seeking feedback. It can't be easy. Christine, I sent you a FB message with my thoughts about your book in general, mainly that I'm a fan of anything dealing with mental health issues/psych ward settings. So, I wish you the best and look forward to reading one day.

Unknown said...

While it is true that there could be more added to the query, one has to be careful with putting in too many words and info dumping. I like how compact this is, but can agree with rewording a few things to make them clearer. Overall, great query.


Anonymous said...

All the good comments have already been made. That's what I get for dropping by late, huh?

Cool concept, though, Christine! And I agree that the causality and logic issues should me more clearly addressed, but Matt already said that, and better. He wins.

But alcoholic beverages are always appropriate when it comes to queries. Even at 9am. :nods:


Melissa Sugar said...

I am not in a position to critique your query, but I want to comment on Matt's critique. I think he did an awesome job of pointing out the weaknesses and highlighting the areas that worked for him. Job well done.

From a complete novice, I do have a couple of suggestions. The paragraph starting with, " Almost dying leaves Anna a broken mess in therapy and telepathic" was confusing to me. I know what you meant; the sentence just did not convey it to me. I had to read it a few times. Your novel sounds awesome and I would hate for an agent to stumble on that one line.

I am not a big fan of phrases like, "she even" when leaving the word "even “out works as well or better. Shockingly is another example of a word that could be eliminated without taking away from your story.
Your opening captivated me. The failed suicide and subsequent hospitalization is interesting enough to make me want to finish the query, but the unexpected introduction of aliens into your story quickly shows how your novel is unique and unlike the masses.
Your query is filled with suspense, mystery and the unknown. The element of romance between Anna & Ian completes the package. Who can turn down a book that promises to deliver a suspenseful, supernatural romance? I actually like that you only hinted at the mystery surrounding the alien's surprise that Anna lived. We know this will create conflict and you have me eager to read more. I want to know what plans they had for her and how and why her failed suicide threatens the plan.
I guess I did attempt to critique, after all. I became engrossed in your story. I felt tension and I was hooked early and motivated to buy. I am not an agent and am not published so I am sure my opinion doesn't count, but as a reader, it will eventually count. Once the book is published, you have convinced me to purchase.

I admire you for submitting your query to be critiqued here. You are brave. Good luck

Author A.O. Peart said...

Great concept, Christine. I admire your bravery to put the query out here. Matt, fantastic job -- I kept nodding my head reading your comments. You are very meticulous and straight-to-the-point (oh, wait, no dashes, right? lol).

Unknown said...

Christine - Sounds like a great story. I'm all for alien stories (see EXILED, my novel). LOL. Good luck. ;D