Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Query Revision 57

Face-Lift 862: Sins of the Past

Retired teachers are being killed, all from the same school; brutally, systematically. With each murder, the killer gets more brazen. One is attacked with an ax, one cut open and hanged, and a couple are even murdered in their own beds while the police keep watch outside.

Can a killer like this be stopped? And when a mother and her two young children are kidnapped, the stakes are raised even higher.

Detective Harry MacCormick, a ten year veteran with the Harton, Pennsylvania police force, is called to investigate. Upon interviewing some of the former students of the teachers, harry soon discovers that she, along with the principal of the school, has been keeping a dark, terrible secret that could have gotten her and her fellow teachers killed.

SINS OF THE PAST is a suspense/mystery tale of murder and revenge that will keep the reader guessing about the identity of the killer to the end. It is complete at 65,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

This version has a much sharper focus than the previous one, which makes it a more compelling reading. It does, I think, need some further refining to help get the reader invested in the case, the detective, and the conclusion.

Retired teachers are being killed, all from the same school; brutally, systematically.

Passive sentences have their place -- generally it's not as the lead sentence in a query or backcover copy. Also, serious punctuation lapses in your first sentence don't inspire confidence. You want the best first impression possible.

With each murder, the killer gets more brazen. One is attacked with an ax, one cut open and hanged, and a couple are even murdered in their own beds while the police keep watch outside.

A tiny logic slip-up: First, you tell us the killer gets more brazen with each kill, then you give us TWO murders that are the same -- where the killer hasn't stepped up his game in one of them.

Can a killer like this be stopped?

Asking a question here interrupts the pace. Your story is a tense, fast-paced murder mystery, no? Let the query reflect that. Don't stop the action for a pensive moment. Keep ratcheting up the excitement.

And when a mother and her two young children are kidnapped, the stakes are raised even higher.

I don't see the tie-in here. Does the kidnapping have something to do with the serial killer? It doesn't seem to fit a pattern. Be clear why you've suddenly dropped this crime into the mix. The two young children makes me think the mother, who we don't learn until the next paragraph is a teacher, is fairly young herself -- and not retired.

I'm also not understanding the stakes. Police are trying to protect potential next victims already, so it's already a "stop him before he kills someone else" scenario. Now, assuming the killer is the one who kidnapped these victims, it's a "stop him before he kills them" scenario still, right?

How do the police know these folk have been kidnapped? Does the killer want something? Does he demand ransom of some sort? Taunt the police to find them before he kills them?

Detective Harry MacCormick, a ten year veteran with the Harton, Pennsylvania police force, is called to investigate.

A bit about the detective as a three-dimensional character here would be good. It doesn't have to be much - maybe half a sentence that separates him from all the interchangeable detectives out there.

Is Harry called in to investigate the kidnapping or the murders? At this point, do the police think there's a connection? The query infers there may be, but doesn't offer any evidence in support.

Upon interviewing some of the former students of the teachers, harry soon discovers that she, along with the principal of the school, has been keeping a dark, terrible secret that could have gotten her and her fellow teachers killed.

What is the antecedent for "she" here? If it's supposed to be the mother, she's far too removed from this reference. Also, using the conditional past "could have gotten her... killed" is confusing because it doesn't necessarily infer that the secret could be of importance today.

SINS OF THE PAST is a suspense/mystery tale of murder and revenge that will keep the reader guessing about the identity of the killer to the end.

I think we need a bit more reason to care who the killer is in order to read to the end. Also, you don't need to say it'll keep the reader guessing because if it doesn't, it isn't a very good mystery.

It is complete at 65,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request.

"Complete" and "full manuscript" are redundant. These sentences can be combined.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Shorter sentences are more exciting. To be honest, right now you have yet another murder case and yet another stereotypical detective. What you need is voice to set you apart. As written this query has no voice, and voice is what you need here to get requests, I think.

My Version

Ten long years cleaning up the human garbage in Harton, Pennsylvannia, has left Detective Harry MacCormick beyond jaded. He's seriously thinking about transferring to some quiet, backwater town when teachers start turning up dead. The commonalities: they're retired, taught at the same school, and are being killed brutally and systematically. The first is attacked with an axe, the next cut open and hanged, and the latest -- Harry's own 4th-grade teacher -- murdered in her bed while the cops sitting surveillence outside never hear a thing.

Then another teacher, along with her two young daughters, is kidnapped, and the note left behind points back to the same killer. Now, instead of being left to mop up the mess, Harry has a chance on this case to make a difference before more people die.

Harry's investigation turns up a solid clue: former students of the victims suggest the kidnapped teacher and her principal have been keeping a dark, terrible secret. One that could be motive enough to get them and their fellow teachers killed. The hitch: The killer could well be any of three suspects and the next victim could be any of a dozen targets. If Harry doesn't figure it out soon, the sharp decline in Harton's population is going to continue, and finding employment even in some dot of a town on an FM road boasting nothing more than a liquor store and a Dollar General isn't going to be easy.

SINS OF THE PAST is a 65,000-word suspense/mystery tale of murder and revenge. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

10 comments:

Lauren K said...

This is a big improvement over the previous version. Like Phoenix mentioned a few well placed details are what will help it stand out.
I was a little confused about how the kidnapping victim is connected to the killings as well.
Good luck

Orlando said...

You should always start with your protagonist followed by the description of the story. As in Phoenix's version.

Usually a serial killer always kills the same way. Unless the way each person is killed has some personal meaning to the reason for the killers revenge.

From all the murders my impression is that all these teachers, killed or still alive, have a secret. This would be the reason for revenge. Otherwise why kill the others?

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hi Author, hope you don't mind, I did a re-write.

Detective Harry MacCormick's to do list is abruptly re-arranged when a kidnapped primary teacher and her two kids are put at the top. The list contiunes with a string of brutal murders of retired teachers who have been hacked up, hung and shot.

The murderer killed one elderly couple while the police watched their house. All of the victims taught at the same school.

Harry, a detective who has seen way too much and swallowed a river of stale coffee in ten years as a veteran with the Harton, Pennsylvania police force, is stumped by the kidnapper's note. As he interviews people of interest in the investigation he uncovers a carefully kept secret. The secret links the killer, the kidnapped family and the school Principal.

If Harry can get through the layers of the investigation fast enough he may be able to save some lives for once instead of doing the mop up report. If he gets it wrong his mop up list will include the mom and her kids. He can't live with that.


Good luck,

Slush said...

I like Phoenix's suggestion and Orlando's of leading with the protagonist.

Something bothers me when I read the sentences about 'the teacher and principal keeping a dark, terrible secret'. I don't know exactly what, but maybe there is another way to phrase that.

Harry's interviews with the students only reveal... and go from there maybe.

That's the big thing that stuck out to me. I like the title.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Hey Phoenix, you can't scold someone for a passive opening line and then write one yourself!!!
lol

Seriously, I agree that 90% of the time you should start with the character, but Mysteries often start with the crime. In this case I like the opening line just because the retired teacher angle is a bit different. I would amend it to say:

"Retired teachers from (JFK High) are being killed--brutally and systematically."

When in doubt, BE SPECIFIC not generic. And when you can, have the power punch of the sentence come at the end rather than the "Are being killed" up front and then interrupt it with a distraction.

Otherwise, good job on the revision, and I agree with most of Phoenix's comments.

Phoenix said...

Stephen, I would say a mystery could go either way: it's either plot-driven or character-driven. On EE's site, we saw that this story opens with the detective, a big clue this story is character-driven. The author will need to decide what drives their story and what their hook is.

In general, I have nothing against starting with the mystery in a plot-driven book. My own query for a book I'm pitching now starts that way.

I'm not sure where the passive is in my opening sentence? The base construct is pretty much subject - verb - object. The detective is being performed upon, not doing the performing.

Present perfect is soooo misunderstood. It's not passive in and of itself, only in how it's used. It just has to show up, though, and people start blaming it for being something it's not. I look forward to the day it can carry a sentence proudly and not be pointed at or even -- horrors! -- be ripped out and rearranged just because of its natural case. I hope that day comes soon.

no-bull-steve said...

please don't take this as hardcore criticism, just more banter/debate....just cuz it's interesting to me. Cool?

"Ten long years cleaning up the human garbage in Harton, Pennsylvannia, has left Detective Harry MacCormick beyond jaded. He's seriously thinking..."

Okay grammar police aside on technicalities of "active vs passive" -- I look at more the effect it has on the readers' minds....active or passive?

So the MC which should be the active/important component of the novel (protagonists should protagonate! lol), first is being made jaded by his past. Granted he's the one cleaning up the muck...but it still doesn't come across as "active". Then in the next sentence, his first real action "on screen" he's thiking....thinking is NOT protagonating!
;-)

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Passive voice according to wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn : the voice used to indicate that the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb.

Phoenix said...

Absolutely cool! Healthy banter and debate is just that: healthy. In this case, it's more over a question of semantics. I'm looking at the grammar, you're looking at the effect. And both points are absolutely valid. Great food for thought for the author to take into account when they do their next revision!

Anonymous said...

PS, I think you mean "imply," not "infer."