Friday, October 22, 2010

Query Revision 28

Face-Lift 833: Trapped in the Masquerade

From the author: Thank you for all the criticism ... I took your nice and not so nice suggestions to heart. I think its better, so go ahead and rip it a part. I can take it!

It is Abigail Clary’s seventeenth birthday and better yet, it’s Halloween, the universal holiday to break the rules and get away with it. Her mother, who never seems to leave her alone or allow her to go to public school like a typical girl her age, suddenly has to leave under mysterious circumstances. Free from her mother’s ever watchful eye, Abigail makes plans with two of her BFFs to sneak into Emerson Academy’s ultra-exclusive masquerade ball. Unfortunately for Abigail, the masquerade ball is merely a trap set to ensnare dinner for the vampires that visit Emerson every Halloween and to choose three tributes for Callum who is the original vampire who secretly runs the magical world but yearns for something more—Abigail’s suppressed magical abilities. Abigail escapes the clutches of Callum and his minions thanks to Thomas Guerin, an ally of her estranged grandmother.

If the issue with vampires chasing after her, Abigail has a bigger problem: she starts to become increasingly sick with headaches and nose bleeds whenever she tries to use her magical abilities—the very thing that will save her from Callum and the vampires. As Abigail tries to navigate through her new and deadly reality, she has to come to terms with her feelings concerning her mother’s actions as well as her feelings for Thomas and find a solution that could save her life before it’s too late.

TRAPPED IN THE MASQUERADE is a young adult paranormal novel, which complete at 89,754 words.

Comments

This query has definitely improved over the original. However, the story now sounds pretty generic. I'm wondering why you chose to leave out some major things that could help differentiate this story. For instance, the time travel aspect and that Abigail is blind.

Also, I think you've fallen into the trap we all do at one time or another: being too close to the work right now to summarize it for someone coming at it cold. For example:

  • she has to come to terms with her feelings concerning her mother’s actions - in this version of the query all we know is that Mom left mysteriously (a loose end here), so this statement doesn't make sense.
  • her feelings for Thomas - all we know in this version is that Thomas is an ally of her grandmother. Without further info, a casual reader might very well believe Thomas is her grandmother's age and so we are left to wonder when we get to this statement just what kind of feelings Abigail has for him.
I'm pretty sure you hurried a bit to get a new version of the query out for comments, but in the queries and the synopsis we've seen, there are a number of grammar issues that a couple of careful editing passes should help clear up.

And a secret: Giving the exact word count is a query marks you as a newbie. Go ahead and round that word count up to 90,000.

Try the following formula.

Quickly set up the action:
With her overprotective mom away on business during Halloween, Abigail Clary and her two BFFs gate-crash Emerson Academy's ultra-exclusive masquerade ball. The ball is a ruse, though, held to ensnare dinner for a colony of vampires and to choose tributes for Callum, the original sire. When Callum sniffs out Abigail's suppressed magic -- abilities Abigail doesn't even know she has -- she stops being the night's blue plate special and becomes Callum's captive slave.

Next paragraph (flesh this out in your words):
Abigail is rescued by young and handsome Thomas. She learns she's descended from a family of witches, reincarnated through the ages (or whatever the link to 1273 is). To protect her from being hunted when she was born, Mom cast a spell that also left her blind. Now that Callum knows she exists, a family friend tries to keep her safe by zapping her back to 1273 where she met Thomas for the first time and fell in love with him.

Third paragraph (flesh out):
Mom's spell has been corrupted and Callum's henchmen find her in 1273 and zap her back to the present where she finds herself dying. Callum is coming and she has to figure out how to tap into her abilities in time to fend off Callum's plans, to connect with Thomas, and to reverse the spell that's killing her.

The concern I have is that after reading your synopsis over at EE's, is that Abigail doesn't really seem to be the one solving her problem. She appears to be a passive bystander at the end, which doesn't make for a kickass YA paranormal witch that YAs will love.

Others' thoughts?

16 comments:

Stephen Prosapio said...

I have some issues with this. It is much better written than the version/s @ EE, but this sounds staid and generic. There really is no hook.

Worse, there's clunky writing and I agree with Phoenix's assessment that this is a rushed attempt to "get the story out there before it's too late!" Which will cause more harm than good. Take a break. Take a step back. When you do, phrases like:

"the universal holiday to break the rules and get away with it" -- huh? I've never heard Halloween defined that way and I'm not sure it makes much sense even in the context of what's to come.

"If the issue with vampires chasing after her, Abigail has a bigger problem" - something missing here?

"Unfortunately for Abigail, the masquerade ball is merely a trap set to ensnare dinner for the vampires that visit Emerson every Halloween and to choose three tributes for Callum who is the original vampire who secretly runs the magical world but yearns for something more—Abigail’s suppressed magical abilities." -- that sentence has WAYYYYYYYYYYYY too many words and wayyyyyyyyyyyy too many concepts for a query letter. Miss Snark's rule was ten words per sentence. I think that makes a query too choppy, but the point should be made that FORTY EIGHT words sentences are way way too long. Think about that. The GTP @ EE are 50 words or fewer. Additionally, that sentence doesn't really make much sense. So vampires have a yearly feast at a ultra-exclusive masquerade ball? Why? After a while wouldn't people catch on?

"Hey, where's Suzy?"
"Oh well she decided to go to the Emerson ball last year."
"DOH! I meant to tell her not to go. No one ever comes back from that thing. It's a vampire trap!"

Besides why does a vampire need suppressed magical abilities? If they're suppressed how does he know she has them? If he knows she has them then why not sneak into her house at night and get them rather than throw an enormous Masquarade Ball? -- The answers to these questions must be quasi-realistic not "Because it's better in the book that way."

My last problem... and this is a hunch. If the MC is blind, is the story told from her perspective or is this a bunch of distant 3rd person perspective? Is there a viewpoint character? If the author doesn't know the issues involved here, she needs to learn them before attempting to market this story. I see nothing in either query or summary that gives me confidence this writer can pull of a blind viewpoint character.

I hope the comments aren't too abrasive for the writer. They're intended to help educate.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I have some issues with this. It is much better written than the version/s @ EE, but this sounds staid and generic. There really is no hook.

Worse, there's clunky writing and I agree with Phoenix's assessment that this is a rushed attempt to "get the story out there before it's too late!" Which will cause more harm than good. Take a break. Take a step back. When you do, phrases like:

"the universal holiday to break the rules and get away with it" -- huh? I've never heard Halloween defined that way and I'm not sure it makes much sense even in the context of what's to come.

"If the issue with vampires chasing after her, Abigail has a bigger problem" - something missing here?

"Unfortunately for Abigail, the masquerade ball is merely a trap set to ensnare dinner for the vampires that visit Emerson every Halloween and to choose three tributes for Callum who is the original vampire who secretly runs the magical world but yearns for something more—Abigail’s suppressed magical abilities." -- that sentence has WAYYYYYYYYYYYY too many words and wayyyyyyyyyyyy too many concepts for a query letter. Miss Snark's rule was ten words per sentence. I think that makes a query too choppy, but the point should be made that FORTY EIGHT words sentences are way way too long. Think about that. The GTP @ EE are 50 words or fewer. Additionally, that sentence doesn't really make much sense. So vampires have a yearly feast at a ultra-exclusive masquerade ball? Why? After a while wouldn't people catch on?

"Hey, where's Suzy?"
"Oh well she decided to go to the Emerson ball last year."
"DOH! I meant to tell her not to go. No one ever comes back from that thing. It's a vampire trap!"

Besides why does a vampire need suppressed magical abilities? If they're suppressed how does he know she has them? If he knows she has them then why not sneak into her house at night and get them rather than throw an enormous Masquarade Ball? -- The answers to these questions must be quasi-realistic not "Because it's better in the book that way."

My last problem... and this is a hunch. If the MC is blind, is the story told from her perspective or is this a bunch of distant 3rd person perspective? Is there a viewpoint character? If the author doesn't know the issues involved here, she needs to learn them before attempting to market this story. I see nothing in either query or summary that gives me confidence this writer can pull of a blind viewpoint character.

I hope the comments aren't too abrasive for the writer. They're intended to help educate.

Stephen Prosapio said...

browser issues. sorry for the double post.

fairyhedgehog said...

My feeling was that this comes across more like a synopsis now and that some of the voice seems to have been lost.

It's getting closer though and Phoenix's version of the first paragraph is spot-on. If you can flesh out the rest in the same vein it will be looking even better.

M. G. E. said...

Phoenix's rewrite is fantastic.

As to the author's, the first issue is that a query should take you more than a few days to craft. Some people might spend literally weeks on it. The fact that you turned this around so quickly shows in the query itself.

Beyond that, let's look at a few things. The most obvious problem is that your query borders on synopsis.

"it’s Halloween, the universal holiday to break the rules and get away with it."
- Clumsy--you make it sound like it's the day people get to rob banks and the like :P

"Her mother, who never seems to leave her alone"
- "Seems" can be removed.

"suddenly has to leave under mysterious circumstances."
- Both cliche and far too general to be useful to your purpose.

"a trap set to ensnare dinner for the vampires that visit Emerson every Halloween and to choose three tributes"
- A no one notices that three people disappear from the ball every year? This place would have a horrible reputation after the 2nd year alone. Plot hole.

"If the issue with vampires chasing after her, Abigail has a bigger problem:"
- Grammar issue.

"she starts to become increasingly sick with headaches and nose bleeds whenever she tries to use her magical abilities—the very thing that will save her from Callum and the vampires."
- Unclear.

"has to come to terms"
- Cliche.

"find a solution that could save her life before it’s too late."
- Also cliche.

Revising to remove cliches is an important part of the editing process. The problem is that cliches come to us naturally, they "feel right." Resist, resist, resist.

Lela Gwenn said...

i don;t think that the MC is actually blind. I think she doesn't know about her magic...but not literally blind

stacy said...

I have to agree that a lot of the phrasings you use are clichés, which don't give me clear images. Phoenix's rewrite is great; that's what I think you should be striving for.

If Abigail is dying from a spell her mother put on her, it seems to me the vampires are really a catalyst to spurn her on to learning about her magic abilities and getting well.

Monika said...

Hey,

Thanks for all the advice. I'm happy to have constructive criticism. So, I've taken what you guys have said and thought it over. Also, there were a few things that were mentioned on Evil Editor that I felt strongly about. First, I have to say I love the name Abby, always have, but I don't want to be confused with another author. I love my story, and want it to stand on its own. So, I changed her name to Annie, another name I love. The other name issue is Clary. If anyone has ever read the Mortal Instrument series by Casandra Clare, the main girl in City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass is named Clary. I felt that after a few people, even a reader of mine, brought this up, that I change her last name. I agree.
Second, I have stepped back to find a way to right a query letter, which is much HARDER than writing a novel. I revised it again. The reason why I didn't take a week or so away from it, is because I have to submit the first 2 pages and the query letter by Saturday for a writer's conference I'm going to in two weeks. I am feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. I would like to let you guys have another go at my updated one if you're willing to. I am trying to be less flowery with my words and more straight to the point, but rambling comes naturally to me, like breathing.

Matt said...

Hey Monika,

You're focusing on the wrong issues.

First of all, change the names back to the way you had them, because that is that last thing an author should worry about. If you were to list the priorities in editing a novel from 1 to 100, names would rank 100.

Okay, did you change them back? Good.

Now, in order to give an in-depth critique I perused your blog. I discovered that your #1 beta reader is none other than your mother, and the other two are close personal friends with little to no experience in the publishing industry.

I'm sure they give you honest opinions, but they don't know how to help you. I'm sure of this because I also discovered a sample of your writing...and it's plagued with beginner mistakes.

Here are some examples:


“Go to hell!” I screamed out in desperation. Tears were flowing down my face as if they were rivers.

A couple problems here: First is the use of an exclamation point followed by I dialogue tag stating that she is screaming -- it's a tautology.

Second is the use of a metaphor right in the middle of an action sequence. I love metaphors, but in this case it destroys the pace. Let's clean it up...

"Go to Hell." Tears streamed down my cheeks.

Here, the character's action serves as a dialogue tag and adds gravity to the words, making the exclamation point unnecessary.

“Yes, you do,” I snarled.

He laughed. “You’re right, I do.”

“I’m sure you take a sick pleasure in eating puppies too,” I accused.

“Nope. They do not agree with me,” he bantered.

“Let me go!” I screamed.


I don't know why, but rookie authors are allergic to the word said. Don't be. It's one of the best words in the writer's arsenal because it reads invisibly. It's like the ninja of words -- great for quick action.

Let's rewrite this, deleting unnecessary lines...(next post)

Matt said...

“I’m sure you take a sick pleasure in eating puppies too.” I said.

“No, they do not agree with me.” He seized my wrist.

“Let me go!”


The dialogue is choppy, but you see my point. You originally had three dialogue tags attached to a sequence that only needed one, or none if the action is weaved in (like with the tears in the first example). Personally, I never use a stand-in for said (except whispered) and try to set a limit at one said per 500 words or so.

However, none of the above compares to the ultimate novel killer: passive voice...

As soon as I did, I was grabbed by the throat and thrown into the room and went crashing onto the bed.

Go to wikipedia for an in depth exploration of passive vs. active. In short,

passive = The mouse was eaten by the cat.

active = The cat ate the mouse.

The subject of a sentence shouldn't be the thing acted upon, but the thing performing the action.

The vampire took me by the throat and threw me onto the bed.

Matt said...

There are other issues as well, but I don't want to pile on at the moment.

A good way to improve your writing is to seek out critique groups that consist of people who would also like to become published authors. Did you know C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were part of the same critique group? It's a proven method.

You can also hone your writing online by entering contests, writing continuations at EE's, critiquing queries here, etc.

Most importantly, keep writing -- that's what authors do. They say it takes writing a million words to find your voice (Don't be intimidated; that's an arbitrary number).

Sylvia said...

Focusing on the query above, I think one area that could easily be cleaned up is Abigail's reaction to her mother. The first half of the first para is giving us detail on a stereotypical mother/daughter relationship which we don't really need. The strength is in making us realise that it's just just overprotective-mom issues that Abigail is experiencing, which you bring out in the final paragraph (but I agree you could do more).

So a quick fix would be to start at the second half of the paragraph:

"Finally free from her mother's ever watchful eye, Abigail makes plans with her BFFs to sneak into Emerson Academy's ultra-exclusive masquerade ball. Unfortunately, its a trap to ensnare dinner for visiting vampires."

Not that I disagree with Phoenix's proposal but it struck me that a straight-forward tightening of the current query would make a fast improvement.

Shadow said...

When did the author ever use the word 'blind'?
Author, I posted a comment on EE regarding all of this, if you care to see it.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thank you, Shadow.

The author had posted a synopsis at EE's place that is also linked to in my post. In the first paragraph, it says, "When the seventeen-year-old girl is Abby Clary, a witch from birth, but blinded and left powerless from [by] her mother's spell, trouble seems to find her everywhere."

So I did have a little more to work with than the orginal query and the revision ;o).

Shadow said...

Oh. Well, that certainly puts a wrinkle in things. Like, how can she be upset about being 'sheltered'? Seems logical now -- she's blind. And shouldn't a blind MC be mentioned in ANY query draft?
And why go to a masquerade if you can't see (enjoy) the costumes? And in the snippet we got with the vampire, the author was using visual details -- such as knowing when he smiled or sneered. I see possible issues here.

Shadow said...

Oh, wait. Maybe she didn't actually USE any physical descriptions in what I read, but my mind filled them in. Still, I wonder how many slipped through in the book, and just how interesting it would be to follow a character that never mentions any visual details. My bad, sorry.