Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Ms. Faust,

Daphne knew something was wrong when she started sleepwalking, sleep-stalking and (apparently) sleep-eating.

This opening sentence is fine, but that's about it. It lacks any real punch and I have to say there's nothing really different or hooky about sleepwalking, etc. In fact, it is sort of like opening a book with a dream. It happens so often (at least we see it so often) that it lacks the power writers are hoping for.

She soon discovers her nocturnal wanderings are not an undiagnosed psychological condition, but the first sign of her other nature. Daphne is one of the Ulv, shapeshifters descended from Norsemen blessed by the gods. As if discovering she can turn into a wolf isn’t bad enough, Daphne has to face the fact that her father’s death wasn’t a hunting accident and her grandfather was responsible.

I think rather than explaining the Ulv as "shapeshifters descended from Norsemen" you'd be better by getting more specific about Daphne instead. What kind of shapeshifter is she? I don't think we need the history, we need the now.

Daphne begins digging into the past while attempting to control her second nature and avoid her grandfather's assassins. He wants to be Overking of all the Ulv, and he’ll kill anyone who get’s in his way, including the actual heir--Daphne.

After reading this I wonder if we need the opening line at all? Can you instead focus on Daphne's discovery and her need to escape her grandfather? That seems to be the hook of the book, not the fact that she's sleepwalking.

I also think I'd like a better sense of the world here and, ultimately, there's nothing in this query that really makes it jump out for me. Sadly, I feel that might be true of the book. There's nothing that makes this sound different in today's market.

BLOODLINES is a YA contemporary fantasy novel of 50,000 words.

What concerns me most about this is that at no time in your query did I have any sense that this was going to be YA. This came as quite a shock actually and, possibly because of that, the word count seems too short for this kind of story as well. Ultimately, in reading your query I got no sense of a YA voice or that Daphne could be a YA character. She felt way too old.

Thank you for your time and consideration.




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Anonymous said...

"Get's" is something spellcheck should've caught.

I could tell it was YA because of the "X discovers she is not an ordinary girl but a Y" formula. What makes this story different?

Mm-- an awful lot of people are descended from Norsemen. Millions in the US, to say nothing of Europe... Norway for example.

Rachel Menard said...

I didn't know this was YA either until we were told at the end. Also, I've read only a fraction of queries an agent probably gets in an hour, and of those, I've seen these lines repeatedly. "As if discovering _______ wasn't bad enough..." and "______ begins digging into the past..."

Not to say there aren't great things about your manuscript, but you might want to rethink it, add something that will give it more of a hook, really develop your characters and once the MS is polished, those things will come through in your query.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't consider this YA, but it definitely has the potential to go places. It just needs some work. Good luck!

SaraT said...

I think it sounds interesting as a plot, but the query doesn't seem to do it any favors. I'm struggling with the same issues in my query about how much you should assume the reader already knows - do they know about the Ulv? Probably not, so how much is too much to include?

Anonymous said...

I personally like the title. I would take a look at the verbs being used in the query. Perhaps verbs with more oomph could help this stand out a bit more.

Stephsco said...

Like Rebecca said, I also like the title, and maybe that theme of bloodlines and family should be stated at the top. "Sixteen-year-old Daphne is shocked to discover her father is [whatever] and she's next in line.'

Wolves might be oversaturated, but writers like Maggie Stiefvater have done well with it, maybe it could work with likeable characters.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Certain story structures are very prevalent, especially "child discovers s/he is the magic heir to something or other". They have a sense of universality, which makes it all the more important that the query show the reader what is different, special, unique about this particular story. Throw in what seems like werewolves, a very popular story creature these days, and you compound the issue.

I'd urge you to think about the exciting, uncommon elements of your story and play those up in the query more. Why would I read this story over others with werewolves/shapeshifters, destined heirs, and dead parents? Additionally, you might want to play up the YA angle more. Give the query a younger voice. The line about sleep-eating was cute, but could almost be interpreted as chick lit-y, like if Bridget Jones became a werewolf. Show us how Daphne is a TEEN, and you'll be in much better shape.

Lucy said...

Hi, fellow writer :)

I've seen the development of your original query at a forum we share. Glad you made it here!

I know you've taken out extraneous details and some backstory already. Problem is, you're not adding in what's really needed: characterization. At this point, I could pick any actress in the world to play Daphne. There's nothing that defines her except a discovery and a quest, and those aren't character. I think she's more unique than you're letting on, and I'd like to see some of that come out in a query.

On one level, you have answered the three critical questions: what does character want, what do they do to get it, what happens if they fail? On another level, you're only dealing with the surface of the plot. Below the surface, however, much hinges on the issue I've mentioned above: who is your character, really?

There aren't many original stories left, and a twist here and there can only go so far to make them fresh. The difference lies in the deepest internal workings of the character and how they respond to their situation. Put Bella, Katniss, and Hermione into the same plot, the same set-up, and you'll have three different books.

Good luck and I hope to see you take this to the next level!


resume writing said...

I'd urge you to think about the exciting, uncommon elements of your story and play those up in the query more.

Kelly said...

I'd love to learn more about Daphne in your query. She's sort of a blob to me that can shapeshift into a wolf.

Her father's death and the fact that her own grandfather is willing to kill her is pretty important, and probably the crux of your story. I would have liked to see it higher up in your query.

Your title is great. I like it. However, at 50k words, I'm just not sure you've captured the story you need to to make this a full-length novel.

Perhaps several continuing short stories, ala Addison Moore, might work.

Keep at it. It's your baby.

Cara M. said...

Daphne thought she'd never be more embarrassed than when she woke up with her face in a half devoured chicken carcass. No wonder she's having trouble fitting into her favorite jeans! And growing a tail really isn't helping.

Living with her freaky grandfather and his collection of battleaxes was always a disaster in waiting, but now that she's getting all hairy and irritable when it isn't even that time of the month, it's just unbearable.

Plus, it's starting to look like that hunting accident that killed her father wasn't an accident after all, and if granddad was pissed enough at her dad to get rid of him, when he finds out that Daphne's told her best friend about all this Ulv stuff (seriously, Ulv? It's like wolf with a punch to the stomach.) he's not going to be too happy.

Before good old granddad plants a battleaxe in her brain, Daphne's got to get out of there. But where the hell's she going to go?

How's this?

Laura said...

I had the opposite reaction to the opening line. It made me chuckle, especially the part about "sleep-stalking." That, and the fact that Daphne is newly discovering a supernatual power, tipped me off that it was YA. Most YA paranormal uses that device as a coming-of-age metaphor.

Of all the things to be bothered by, I don't like the protagonist's name. It's Greek. Yet we're dealing with Norse mythology. I know, I know; it doesn't *have* to match up and the protag doesn't need a name like Hildegard. But still, if you told me "This is a book based on mythology and the main character is named Daphne" I'm going to automatically associate with Greek myth.

A. K. Alexander said...

I just wanted to say thanks for all the comments. I've been struggling with getting the query to say everything I need it to say while still managing to be concise.

It's an uphill battle. Right now though, I'm doing what I usually do when I get a critique--going back to the board. With any luck I'll have a better, more cohesive attempt soon.

Anon - my spellcheck never catches that problem.

And Cara, that was hilarious. Thanks.

abc said...

Thanks PR, I look forward to hearing your opinion by Revathi