Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It Takes A Village to Write a Query: Breakdown #1

Addley so bravely submitted her query for a breakdown in our last contest and has agreed to let us share it with you all. The query is in black; I will be commenting in red. Comments are welcomed from the "village" to let Addley know what you think are the strengths and weaknesses of this query.

Here we go!

Dear [Agent],

In 1945, World War II ended with the rise of an undead horde. Eight years later, Paris belongs to les revenants.  The first sentence has great set-up, but then you tell me the story takes place eight years later. It's best to only mention one time stamp for the setting. How about beginning with something like: Eight years after the end of World War II, ...? The only living humans left in the once-great city are a makeshift family of teenage and child survivors led by sixteen-year-old Henri Prolux. I had to reread this, along with the previous sentence, several times and am still unclear if les revenants is the group of teens led by Henri or not. At this point, I am assuming so because it's mentioned directly after the name, but maybe to make that clearer you could combine these two sentences, removing are which I explain why below. If the revenants are some other group (not Henri’s and possibly the antagonist?) then that should be clarified as well. Also, if this is the case, I would introduce the protagonist first, then the antagonist. I'm not sure there's a rule for this, but it makes sense to present us with the character we're going to be rooting for first. With no knowledge of the outside world, their lives of day-to-day survival have slipped into a routine.‘Routine’ to me sounds dull. I’m sure it’s not, but just by reading this I imagine the first act of the story showcasing this group’s day-to-day monotonous duties of survival. Remember you want to set up the story, but you also want to propel as quickly as possible into the conflict. 

But that changes the day an American extractor – Miss Ressie Hartfeld – I would avoid using em and en dashes in queries. The formatting sometimes changes and two dashes in a row is unprofessional looking. Commas would suffice. comes charging into their world with more technology and more delete, no need to repeat it firepower than Paris has seen in a decade. She offers the survivors a chance to escape with her to the supposedly safe American shores. Henri and his family aren’t sure whether they can trust the bizarre outsider, all forms of am/be/was must covey choice/conflict/stakes. This could be reworded as something less passive and wordy, something like This bizarre outsider can’t be trusted. but soon they find that they do not have a choice. Typically one doesn’t find that he has a choice; he either has a choice or he doesn’t. I would tighten this. The revenants are beginning to evolve, again, verbs need to convey stakes. At best you could simply say The revenants begin to evolve or The revenants evolve. and their new goal is no less than the eradication of all life. The twist, good.

So by now, I'm realizing the revenants are the antagonist(s) and am thinking it might be nice to know more about them. Are they dangerous? What are they capable of? If they have a new goal, what was their old goal? What sort of trouble do they bring to Henri and his group? Something to show the stakes are high for the protagonist(s).

NECROPOLIS is a 78,000 word action-adventure for young adults, the first in a potential trilogy. Enclosed is [requested number of pages, synopsis, etc.]; the rest of the manuscript is complete and available at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration. To the point. Good.


Addley C. Fannin

[Contact Information]
Overall, I think this is a well-written query. The setting is easily visualized and the plot is intriguing. I would work on tightening your sentences, making them more succinct. One thing you can do is circle every verb throughout the entire query, cross out all forms of am/be/was and make sure the rest deliver a punch with (I know I keep saying this) HIGH STAKES. Especially in an “action-adventure” story, the element of danger and risks should prevail.
Good job, Addley! I know having your work critiqued is not easy, but I think with a little tweaking this could be a powerful query letter. What do you guys think? Any advice for Addley?

1 comment:

  1. NECROPOLIS sounds like a great book, Addley. Thanks for sharing your query and thanks, Nicole, for offering your comments so we can all learn from them.

    It can be such a challenge to write a query when we're so close to the story. Some things we take for granted and don't explain enough, while others maybe get over explained.

    Like Nicole mentioned, it was not clear to me until the end whether the revenants were the Antags or the group of teens and children. I also agree that the protag should be introduced first if possible. The antag alone isn't threatening until they're, well... threatening somebody, so for me, I like when I know who that somebody is first. Hope that makes sense.

    Good luck querying, Addley. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. :D