Monday, March 14, 2011

Query Revision 69

Face-Lift 872: A Human Element

Dear Agent 101,

Ben Fieldstone can't escape death. His parents are crushed by a meteorite while on a lake vacation, his abusive foster father burns to death and he is nearly killed by thugs - all by 21.

Finding a second chance at life, Ben returns to the lake to face his past and meets Laura Armstrong. She is seeking answers too, about the man who savagely murdered her loved ones and is after her next. Drawn to her, Ben helps Laura unravel her past. They discover the meteorite that crashed long ago was a space ship from a dying planet - and Laura's mother bore twins by the alien on board. When it's revealed Ben and Laura are the chosen ones to carry on the alien race he realizes they are bound by a fate spanning two worlds.

But in order to survive they must first stop her mutant twin who escaped a government facility to kill Laura. A monstrous freak, he is enraged she lived a normal life adopted into a loving family while he grew up as a science experiment. With Laura's twin closing in, Ben knows he must protect her even if it means his own death. She is the one person who gave him hope to live again, and while half alien she has all the human elements he needs.

I am seeking your representation of A HUMAN ELEMENT, a 120,000-word suspense novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

The author submitted two versions of this query with the other version focusing more on Laura and her twin. I've popped the second version in the comments. Of the two, I think this one brings all the elements together better. I'm going to be as kind as I can, though, when I point out that each of the three versions I've now seen all have some very serious syntax issues. Some of the sentences are quite convoluted, and it's a struggle to unravel them. If the novel has the kinds of mistakes we're seeing in the queries, then it isn't ready to send out yet. Even if we workshop a nice, tight query for this, if the first 5 pages you'll be sending with the query are problematic, no one's going to ask to see more. So you need to be very honest with yourself as to whether or not the sample writing in your query matches that in the novel.

Ben Fieldstone can't escape death. His parents are crushed by a meteorite while on a lake vacation, his abusive foster father burns to death and he is nearly killed by thugs - all by 21.

This is interesting stuff that happens to Ben, but the meteorite is really the only thing that matters to the query as the query is written. If there's a way to make his foster dad's death more meaningful to the plot, then include that. And what does being nearly killed by thugs have to do with the plot? We also don't know how old Ben is now. Is he 22? 42? "All by 21" is the first of the odd grammar. We infer you mean by the time he turns 21 or age 21, but leaving it at just 21 sounds off.

And if he's only "nearly killed," then the first sentence isn't correct. He CAN escape death.

Finding a second chance at life,

"Finding he has a second chance" or "Given a second chance" would be more accurate phrasing.

Ben returns to the lake to face his past and meets Laura Armstrong. She is seeking answers too, about the man who savagely murdered her loved ones and is after her next.

"after her next" is an odd choice of phrasing. Is he not after her yet? If not, how does she know he will be?

Drawn to her, Ben helps Laura unravel her past. They discover the meteorite that crashed long ago was a space ship from a dying planet - and Laura's mother bore twins by the alien on board.

Fed to us this way, this information is a bit of a shocker. It's not like amateur sleuths discovering a few clues to a killer's identity. This one is more far-reaching, so a hint as to how they came about this info and what happened to their alien dad would help. Especially since it seems some agency or another found out and took her brother.

When it's revealed Ben and Laura are the chosen ones to carry on the alien race he realizes they are bound by a fate spanning two worlds.

"When it's revealed" is quite passive. How is this kind of info revealed to them? Actually, one of the other versions hints at a "mysterious guardian" who I think you were wise to leave out of this query. So if that's how it's revealed, I would just leave the "when it's revealed" phrasing out altogether.

"carry on" is also a bit problematic. What exactly are they to carry on? I'm assuming Ben is human, so even if he and Laura have kids, they would be only 25% alien, and unless the kids interbred back to Laura or possibly between themselves, the alien strain would be overwhelmed after a few generations. Or does "carry on" have to do with keeping alive the alien culture and its knowledge?

But in order to survive they must first stop her mutant twin who escaped a government facility to kill Laura. A monstrous freak,

So is he a freak because alien and human DNA didn't play as nicely together in him as they apparently do in Laura? If that's the case, then why on earth would Ben and Laura take the risk of having more alien/human kids who also might turn into monstrous freaks?

he is enraged she lived a normal life adopted into a loving family while he grew up as a science experiment.

With Laura's twin closing in, Ben knows he must protect her even if it means his own death. She is the one person who gave him hope to live again,

Earlier, we learned Ben had a second chance at life before Laura shows up. However, the query doesn't even hint at Ben having lost hope in life, just that there was a lot of death around him.

and while half alien she has all the human elements he needs.

I am seeking your representation of A HUMAN ELEMENT, a 120,000-word suspense novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

"of" should be "for"

5 comments:

Phoenix said...

Here's the version that focuses more on Laura:

Dear Agent,

Crashing to the earth 30 years ago, a meteorite holds the dark secret to adopted Laura Armstrong’s life and destiny. Possessing telekinetic and healing powers, she knows she must unravel her past to discover who killed her friends and parents. A mysterious guardian leaves cryptic notes that she needs to use her powers to save herself – because she is next.

Laura returns home seeking answers and finds Ben Fieldstone doing the same. His parents were killed the night the meteorite struck. But Laura’s guardian reveals it was a space ship from his dying planet seeking a new world, and her real mother bore twins by the alien on board. Now her twin wants her dead, a monstrous freak who murdered her loved ones through his mind powers. He is enraged she lived a normal life with a loving family while he grew up as a science experiment in a government facility.

Her guardian has protected her and Ben as he believes they are destined to carry on the alien race. But first, to survive they must stop her twin who has escaped and races towards them under the darkness of night to murder Laura face-to-face. With her brother closing in, Laura knows she has one of two choices – redeem him or kill him before they all die.

I am seeking representation of A HUMAN ELEMENT, a 120,000-word sci-fi suspense novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Joe G said...

I'm still not sure how one unravels one's past.

Thank you for pointing out the syntax issues. They were throwing me.

So Laura is the last of an alien race that happens to look exactly like humans? This is a little Supermanish, particularly the part where the meteor is a spaceship sent from the dying planet bearing a child...

Ben Fieldstone can't escape the specter of death. There, I made it better.

Now the problem is that you raise this idea at the top of the query (that people around Ben die) and then never go back to it. If it isn't important, leave it out.

no-bull-steve said...

At least these versions give us some idea as to what the story is about. Unfortunately, as Phoenix expressed, there are a lot of errors and moments where I would write "huh????" if I were an agent reviewing this query. I'll try to be helpful. I think you need a critique group to scour your manuscript for issues like these, as they're often too invisible to the writer him/herself.

A red flag went up at: "Finding a second chance at life..."

HUH? How do the events listed before that have anything to do with having a second chance on life? What was his first chance?

You pretty much lost me with: "Drawn to her, Ben helps Laura unravel her past."

First, that phrasing sounds like a melodramatic commercial for a daytime soap opera. No one in the literary community wants to hear stuff like that. Second, it's completely nondescript. We don't know why he's drawn to her, how he helps unravel her past, or why her past is necessary "raveled" to begin with. Logically if everyone she ever was close to was killed, that makes her past actually much cleaner and more succinct to understand than most.
Mom? dead
Dad? dead
Siblings? dead
Favorite teachers? dead.

There. All unraveled. You may think I'm nitpicking you to death, but using specific words to describe specific actions/feelings/thoughts is what fiction is all about.

Lastly, do NOT call this Sci-Fi shows a non-understanding of the business of selling books. If you go to the movies, you may see a "suspenseful" film that includes aliens. However you're very very unlikely to read any novel about crashing meteorites, aliens and governmental scientific experiments that's not sold under the Sci Fi umbrella.

no-bull-steve said...

* should be "to NOT call this Sci-Fi..."

batgirl said...

This query, in both versions, seems to change genres partway through. First you have the more mainstream couple, Ben and Laura, traumatised by early losses in their lives, returning to the scene of their tragic pasts and finding comfort and hope in each other as love blossoms. But wait! One of them is an alien! The other is her destined mate! Their destiny is to carry on a lost race! Plus, they're menaced by an unstoppable mutant, who's the long-lost twin of one of them!
I'm guessing the evil scientists will show up soon, pursuing the mutant?

You might want to spend less time on the tragic backstory (which sets the reader up for another genre altogether) and get as quickly as possible into the weirdness.
Also - maybe hit up the conflict of Ben falling for Laura, the person who (however innocently) was the destroyer of his childhood - and why would he want to renew an alien race that (however unintentionally) murdered his parents?