Monday, March 7, 2011

Query 66

The Outcasts: City in Ruins

Fifteen-year-old Sophia Goodman has no idea she and her parents moved to a town that will reveal so many secrets: superhuman abilities, the disappearances of teenagers and evolved mythological creatures that hide within the woods.

Sophia tries to regain a normal life after the move, but it proves difficult with her parents arguing and the creatures that blend in with the trees and leaves of the forest. She thinks that the sightings are all in her mind, only there due to stress, but it never occurred to her that her new friend Billy Carter showed up at the same time the strange creatures started to appear. Before long, she finds herself cast into a new culture, surrounded by gargoyle-like beings and learning how to adapt to her changing physiology. She soon learns that a “normal” life was never meant for her after turning 16, but, thanks to Billy, her life is altered sooner than it should have been.

The Outcasts: City in Ruins is the first of a trilogy.


I think this query is giving us a situation but not a story. The City in Ruins part of the title hints there might be some conflict in the making. This being the first in a trilogy hints there must be a larger story arc than Sophia transforming into what I'm assuming is one of these gargoyle-like beasts.

When she realizes she's transforming, how does she take it? From what's given us here, I can't tell if it makes her sad, excited, regretful, scared, or what.

What's the conflict in the story? I don't think Sophia simply trying to adjust to what she's becoming is enough to elevate this story. Are the townsfolk hunting these creatures? Are the creatures wanting to accomplish something?

Because you've told us this is the first in a trilogy, an editor or agent will want to know that this first book has a complete story arc -- situation, rising action, climax and resolution -- of its own, even it does have a few loose ends to be tied up in the larger arc of the trilogy. The general way to offer this assurance is to present these elements in the body of the query and to mention that Book 1 is a standalone with series potential. You'll also want to add wordcount and genre. This is, of course, YA, but is it high fantasy? paranormal romance?

You have about 250 words you can use. So, my suggestion is to condense what you've given us here down to a single paragraph. Something like:

Fifteen-year-old Sophia's got plenty of normal stress in her life, what with her parents arguing and the family moving to a new town. But when she starts catching glimpses of gargoyle-like creatures in the forest behind her house, and finds herself [lifting cars with ease], she figures these aren't typical teenage changes -- and that scares her. Even the cute boy, Billy Carter, she hooks up with isn't normal: He knows all about the creatures and, more importantly, knows what's happening to her -- and why.

Then, in your next paragraph, introduce us to the main conflict in the story and let us know a couple of the obstacles and setbacks in Sophia's way of accomplishing her goal.

Finally, in a short third paragraph, give us a hint what's going to have to happen in order to get the exciting climax and satisfying resolution we're craving.


Wilkins MacQueen said...

Well, Divine Miss Phoenix sure settled any issues I had with the query.

I had problems with the first sentence. It wasn't strong enough, I wanted to know what superpowers were held by whom, disappearing teenagers sounds smoother than disappearances of teenagers, evolved mythical creatures hiding. That kind of thing.

In Phoenix's version she knows exactly where she's going and how to drive there in record time. With energy.


Today's lesson: control the query

Reminder to self: that opening line makes or breaks what follows.

Great way to start my day.

Matt said...

I get the feeling this author wrote an exceptionally long book and tried to split it into a series. The content of the query is nothing but premise, and then it ends abruptly by stating that Outcasts is a trilogy.

The unmentioned word count is an ominous sign. Possibly you are aware that it's too high and you wanted us to focus our comments on other things, but it is a piece of information we need to accurately assess your work.

The wording of the letter is vague and their are many summary descriptions:

"Sophia tries to regain a normal life after the move,"

Define normal for this girl. Chasing A's? Boys? Maybe she's an independent tomboy?

"...the sightings are in her mind, only there due to stress,"

Define her stress. This can tie in to what she considers normal. Do her parents push her to get good grades? Does she feel like an outcast because she left all her friends behind?

It takes as many words to describe something specifically as it does vaguely.

I also want to mention that you are inflating your word count. For example, "Started to appear" can be shortened to "appeared."