Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Query critique Tuesday: Just tell the story


If you would like to nominate your query for a future Query Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique on the blog so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I'll present the query without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to prowriter6970, whose query is below:
Dear:  
Imagine being hunted by something you can not see. A specter who disguises itself in the winds which chill and tattoo your flesh with goose bumps. What you cannot see, but yet you can feel like guided faith. It is back. Why did it come back with a vengeance over the lacunae in time? This time it will not leave until it possesses what was taken from its very essence; it’s heart.  
The antagonist is a despicable avatar who covets the anger that savagely mutilated and brutally murdered a young man who appeared to be a woman. The only eye witness at the time was the victim’s eight years old younger sibling; now a married woman, Clarke Lattimore Capers. Decades have passed; Aaron Stone has been convicted and sentenced to death. A young trial attorney who seeks infamy through Aaron's cries of innocence has put the lethal injection on hold for one last time. Opening this case again was like opening Pandora's Box. The past clashes with the present and springs Harold Lang Esq. into a world he has never known when distinctions of reality become obfuscated by imposed surreal situations. Clarke’s assiduous task of attempting to permeate past reveries puts her in a delicate dilemma. Betraying her family by telling what she had always felt, or continuing to betray herself by what she thought she saw. There are two women whom emerge from her past with different remedies to what ails her. Dr Gretchen McQueen, a psychiatrist and Claudia Mobei, an omniscient who delves into the supernatural. These two attempt to separate the worlds that have clashed in comity. Is it all in Clarke’s head or is this her anathemic reality? Secrets unveiled will bring together comrades and adversaries. The scientific and the supernatural. But most of all unmask the miscreant who robbed Myair Lattimore of his heart. 
This haunting novel will intrigue the same audiences of Tananarive Due and Simon Clark. The agency listed above is one of three queried on this finished project. Excerpts of the completed manuscript and synopsis are available upon request. Thank you for considering my novel, "Twisted Tongue,” for future representation. I look forward to your timely response.
To be honest, it took me a while to unpack what was happening in this novel. At heart is an interesting plotline: are a woman's recollections of her brother's murder real? But it took me a while to understand some of the key events because it's not described straightforwardly.

I can tell what the author *wants* me to feel, that much is very clear from the opening, but it's a bit like someone saying, "You should be scared right now." Without knowing what I'm meant be scared of, it's hard for me to conjure the emotion.

I'm also afraid there are so many vague descriptions of events, such as "covets the anger," "like opening Pandora's Box," "when distinctions of reality become obfuscated by imposed surreal situations" that it made it very difficult for me to understand the plot. The second paragraph here feels like a jumble of moments and themes, rather than a coherent description of a plot.

Just tell the story. Start with the "what is." Then what happens to set the protagonist's world ajar. Then move to the things that complicate the story as the protagonist tries to get what they want, and establish the stakes. Then describe or at least hint at the climactic moment.

Because the structure here isn't in strong shape, I'm going to take a bit of an unorthodox approach to editing this query. In my redline, I'm going to leave everything where the author put it and just leave my comments, then I'm going to restructure everything into a new format, showing the key elements that need to be in place:
Dear:  
Imagine being hunted by something you can not see. A specter who disguises itself in the winds which chill and tattoo your flesh with goose bumps. What you cannot see, but yet you can feel like guided faith. It is back. Why did it come back with a vengeance over the lacunae in time? This time it will not leave until it possesses what was taken from its very essence; it’s heart.  [I'm not really sure what's happening here. Just telling the story is a vastly superior approach to trying to set a mood]
The antagonist is a despicable avatar [I don't know what this means] who covets the anger that savagely mutilated and brutally murdered a young man who appeared to be a woman [The avatar covets the emotion anger?]. The only eye witness at the time was the victim’s eight years old younger sibling; now a married woman, Clarke Lattimore Capers. Decades have passed; Aaron Stone has been convicted and sentenced to death. A young trial attorney who seeks infamy through Aaron's cries of innocence has put the lethal injection on hold for one last time. Opening this case again was like opening Pandora's Box. The past clashes with the present and springs Harold Lang Esq. [try to avoid switching perspectives within a query, even if your novel is told from multiple viewpoints] into a world he has never known when distinctions of reality become obfuscated by imposed surreal situations [I don't know what this means]. Clarke’s assiduous task of attempting to permeate past reveries [I don't know what this means] puts her in a delicate dilemma. Betraying her family by telling what she had always felt, or continuing to betray herself by what she thought she saw [I don't understand this choice]. There are two women whom emerge from her past with different remedies to what ails her. Dr Gretchen McQueen, a psychiatrist and Claudia Mobei, an omniscient who delves into the supernatural. These two attempt to separate the worlds that have clashed in comity [I don't know what you mean by "in comity."]. Is it all in Clarke’s head or is this her anathemic reality? Secrets unveiled [Be specific] will bring together comrades and adversaries [Describe what actually happens]. The scientific and the supernatural. But most of all unmask the miscreant who robbed Myair Lattimore of his heart. 
This haunting novel [Be specific about the genre and word count] will intrigue the same audiences of Tananarive Due and Simon Clark. The agency listed above is one of three queried on this finished project. [I highly recommend querying seven agents at a time] Excerpts of the completed manuscript and synopsis are available upon request. [Goes without saying] Thank you for considering my novel, "Twisted Tongue,” for future representation. I look forward to your timely response. ["timely response" feels passive aggressive to me.]
Here's an attempt at smoothing out the events here into a more structured query. This is a bit bare-bones, but you'll get the sense of the essential structure. Try to pinpoint where I put these essential elements: the "what is," the "world set ajar," complications, stakes, and climax:
Dear [agent], 
[Insert personalized tidbit about agent] 
Clarke Lattimore Capers was the only eyewitness to her older brother's brutal murder. Now decades have passed, and Aaron Stone, convicted and sentenced to death for the crime, has a new hotshot attorney who managed to have Stone's lethal injection put on hold for one last trial. Clarke is forced to delve into the trauma anew.  
As [describe what happens in the plot that makes Clarke doubt her recollection], Clarke must decide between being loyal to her family, who wants this chapter closed, and being true to her confusing memory. As [how Clarke's stress literally manifests itself], two women emerge from her past with differing remedies: Dr. Gretchen McQueen, a psychiatrist who believes science has the cure, and Claudia Mobei, an omniscient who wants to delve into the supernatural. Is it all in Clarke's head? The answer will unmask the miscreant who robbed her brother of his heart. 
TWISTED TOUNGE is a [word count] [genre] novel that will intrigue the readers of Tananarive Due and Simon Clark. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your response.
Thanks to prowriter6970 for sharing the query!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: How They Met Themselves by Dante Gabriel Rossetti






1 comments:

K.E. Skedgell said...

So I wasn't the only one who thought it confusing, like I stated in the forums. Nathan's version is much more clear. I hope the manuscript isn't as incoherent as the query, but I do understand writing queries is a different beast from writing a story.

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