Monday, July 11, 2011

Query 66: Redux

City in Ruins

Dear Agent,

It all begins with a touch: Billy Carter looks like an ordinary teenage boy, but when fifteen-year-old Sophia Goodman shakes his hand, his golden brown skin, tightly-curled brass-colored hair, and hazel eyes makes him look as though he were born of the sun. She wants nothing more than to be with him, and she sneaks out late nights in order to make it happen.

After meeting him, Sophia begins to see outlines in the woods. They are glimpse of arms, legs, various body parts against the backdrop of trees. She convinces herself that they are figments of her imagination, but the more she hangs out with Billy, the more she notices them.

Billy confirms that the creatures, the Outcasts, really do exist, but he also reveals that he is one of them, and she is too. He changes in front of her, his skin turn into a scaly looking brown and a deep growl escapes his throat. Every part of his body grows ten times bigger, and he stands three feet taller. Wings spring from his back and a tail snakes out. His eyes burn a bright red, and all she can think of is demon.

Sophia is forced to go to their underground city, where she finds out that they plan on starting a war with humans once their numbers grow. Sophia also overhears conversations that make her believe she isn’t an Outcast. She knows that if the others find out she is not one, they will kill her. She finds the spell Billy casts on her and is able to escape, with the help of a friend. In the escape, her friend is killed. She runs home, where her parents see one of the gargoyle-like creatures. With the sound of police sirens, the Outcasts flee back to the woods. A neighbor witnessed them attacking, but even with that, no one else will believe them.

Sophia and her parents go to a hotel for the night and move the next day. As they drive out of the city, Sophia sees Billy watching them from the line of the woods. Because he is alone, she realizes that he isn’t going to hurt them, but she promises she will do all she can to prevent them from starting a war.

“City in Ruins,” complete with an epilogue, is 70,000 words. It is the first book of a trilogy, which is also complete.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Comments

At 415 words, this is about 100 words too long. Yes, it would probably, just, fit on a page with contact info, but it looks long and, more importantly, it reads long and synopsy-ish because of some of the deep details. In contrast to the deep details, we’re not given an especially clear idea as to what the plot is. And while we’re given to know what Billy looks like in various guises, we aren’t given a clear idea as to what motivates him.

Don’t despair, though. This version is absolutely typical of the query-writing process. The first version was pretty short and simply set up the situation. This version does give us a much better idea that there is a plot here. Now to condense it to a middle version that is as exciting to read as I bet the book is.

It all begins with a touch: Billy Carter looks like an ordinary teenage boy, but when fifteen-year-old Sophia Goodman shakes his hand, his golden brown skin, tightly-curled brass-colored hair, and hazel eyes makes him look as though he were born of the sun. She wants nothing more than to be with him, and she sneaks out late nights in order to make it happen.

Other than cutting back the description of Billy and grammatically not making how he looks contingent upon the handshake, I think this opening paragraph works.

After meeting him, Sophia begins to see outlines in the woods. They are glimpse of arms, legs, various body parts against the backdrop of trees. She convinces herself that they are figments of her imagination, but the more she hangs out with Billy, the more she notices them.

This can all be cut down to Sophia glimpsing strange silhouettes in the woods when she’s with Billy.

Billy confirms that the creatures, the Outcasts, really do exist, but he also reveals that he is one of them, and she is too.

“But” doesn’t negate the creatures exist, so isn’t the right conjunction here.

He changes in front of her, his skin turn into a scaly looking brown and a deep growl escapes his throat. Every part of his body grows ten times bigger, and he stands three feet taller. Wings spring from his back and a tail snakes out. His eyes burn a bright red, and all she can think of is demon.

Edit this down. A lot. In the query we don’t need to know the details. Just give us the basics of what he changes to and that Sophia thinks “demon” on seeing his transformation. Otherwise, I’m getting from all this description that the Outcasts are your hook. That you think these creatures are what will get your audience to read the book. YA is littered with paranormal creatures. Concentrate on why readers will pick your book over all the others.

Sophia is forced to go to their underground city,

Who forces her? Billy? Did the boy she’s crazy about just kidnap her? And she doesn’t react to THAT? Think about the priorities in your query. Which is going to get me to read on: knowing that Billy grows three feet taller or that Sophia has just been betrayed by the person she thought she loved?

where she finds out that they plan on starting a war with humans once their numbers grow.

How are their numbers growing? Are they “turning” ordinary people by touching them? Are Outcasts born as Outcasts? Is Sophia there now to breed so she can produce baby Outcasts? This matters because I don’t know how imminent war is. Is it 2 or 3 generations off or are people being turned by the thousands? I mean, that’s got to be a HUGE underground city if it’s housing all the Outcasts who will be in the war. What do they have to threaten humanity with other than their size and demonic good looks when normal humans have bazookas and bombs to counter with.

What’s the motivation for the war?

Sophia also overhears conversations that make her believe she isn’t an Outcast. She knows that if the others find out she is not one, they will kill her.

I’m not sure I understand why the Outcasts think she isn’t one of them when Billy said she was. I guess it goes back to how Outcasts are created: by touch/turning or by birth.

She finds the spell Billy casts on her and is able to escape, with the help of a friend.

I’m clueless here as to what the spell is and what it means to find it. I’m absolutely guessing here that maybe Billy’s given her some kind of talisman that’s keeping her from leaving the city. When she removes it, she’s free to leave. Is that even close?

Who is the friend? One of the Outcast? Someone else who’s been kidnapped into the city?

In the escape, her friend is killed. She runs home, where her parents see one of the gargoyle-like creatures. With the sound of police sirens, the Outcasts flee back to the woods. A neighbor witnessed them attacking, but even with that, no one else will believe them.

The Outcasts are afraid of one or two squad cars and they’re a threat to the world? I sort of get they don’t want to be discovered, but still….

Sophia and her parents go to a hotel for the night and move the next day.

Save this level of detail for the synopsis.

As they drive out of the city, Sophia sees Billy watching them from the line of the woods. Because he is alone, she realizes that he isn’t going to hurt them, but she promises she will do all she can to prevent them from starting a war.

We need to be convinced that Sophia CAN do something to prevent a war. If she wasn’t able to convince the local police that the Outcasts exist, then we’re not left with much confidence here at the end that she can do much.

“City in Ruins,” complete with an epilogue, is 70,000 words. It is the first book of a trilogy, which is also complete.

An epilogue? After the first book? Isn’t that what books 2 and 3 are for? It may well work in context, but probably best not to mention it in the query. It’s pretty clear this is YA fantasy/paranormal (the lines tend to blur, don’t they, when it’s contemporary), but it wouldn’t hurt to mention it in place of the epilogue reference.

My Version

It all began with a touch. A simple handshake, really, between 15-year-old Sophia Goodman and her new classmate, Billy Carter. That’s when she noticed how his golden-brown skin and brass-colored curls made him look as though he were born of the sun. That’s the moment Sophia knew she wanted to be with him – sneaking out late nights to make it happen.

That’s also when Sophia begins glimpsing weird-looking silhouettes in the woods. They’re freaky enough, but what freaks her out more is when Billy not only confirms real creatures are wandering there, he transforms into one of them. Scaly skin, wings, snaking tail and eyes that burn a bright red – all Sophia can think is “Demon!”

Then the boy she loves does the unthinkable. Telling her she is now, because of his touch, becoming one of the Outcast too, he forces her to go with him to their underground city. There, she discovers these gargoyle-like creatures plan on starting a war with humans [in order to do whatever]. Refusing to believe she will become one of them, she escapes, making it home only a few footsteps ahead of her pursuers.

Now Sophia is faced with her greatest challenge yet: convincing the world at large that a secret sect of demons is amassing an army and that humanity is about to be annihilated. All while keeping her own secret fear at bay: that Billy was telling the truth about what she’s becoming.

CITY IN RUINS, a stand-alone, 70,000-word YA paranormal is the first book of a completed trilogy.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

7 comments:

Ryan Mueller said...

Way too synopsis-y right now. You don't need to include every event that happens in the book. You only need to give enough to interest people and make the plot sound logically coherent. I also think some questions can be answered by keeping the overall level of detail more general. In this query, it goes from general to very specific, then back to general.

Here's my pared-down attempt at it:

It all begins with a touch: Billy Carter looks like an ordinary teenage boy. But his golden-brown skin, brass-colored hair, and hazel eyes make him look as though he were born of the sun. Sophia Goodman knows she wants him. She sneaks out late at night to make it happen.

When Sophia spends time with Billy, though, she sees outlines of arms, legs, and various body parts against the backdrop of trees. Billy eventually confirms that she isn't going crazy; these creatures, known as Outcasts, really do exist.

He also tells Sophia he's one of them--and he has made her one too. His true appearance--scaly and winged with bright red eyes--makes her think one thing: DEMON!

Curious, she accompanies him to the Outcasts underground city. She learns of their planned war against humanity and discovers she may not be an Outcast after all. If the Outcasts discover this, they will kill her.

Sophia escapes the underground city, but she can't forget what she saw and heard. Though she may be an Outcast, she must defend humanity...


I'm not really sure where to go with this. It needs different details. You need to give us some reason why she can prevent this war and maybe add the possibility of her being an Outcast as an additional conflict.

Right now, I don't get a good enough feel for this book from the query. I think it has potential for a young adult audience, though.

AA said...

"Every part of his body grows ten times bigger..."
Maybe I'm just juvenile, but I can't read that without giggling. EVERY part?

vkw said...

The query is synish and I don't like the first line.

I think I'm having problems with it because well it seems to me it didn't all begin with a touch - it began at the introduction of two strangers or the first time she ever saw his face. (cue music. I heard that song today and now I can't get out of my head. Wait that may have helped :))

Now . . . if the touch is how he makes her into an outcast . . . then tie that in.

"Little did she know that the handshake leads her to fall in love with him but also to her transformation to a demonic being."

Otherwise . .

Billy looks as if he was born of the sun, Sophia thinks the first time they meet and immediately she knows that she is in love. Who couldn't fall in love with the golden boy with brown golden skin, copper colored hair and deep hazel eyes?

Within days she is spending every every waking moment with him, even moments where she sneaks out of the house without her parents' permission. Her hopes and love are dashed when she confronts Billy on the shadows she sees whenever she is with him.

He tells her they are Outcasts and changes right in front of her into something that can only be demon - complete with horns and snake-like tail. Billy convinces her that she is an Outcast as well, and has come to take her home.

Home turns out to be an underground city where the demon like beings are amassing an army to take over the world they've lost to humans.

Sophia begins to doubt Billy's story about what she is when she overhears snatches of conversation.

something like htat

I think i would speed things up a bit . . . make it more succint.

vkw

Caitlin said...

'Every part of his body grows 10 times bigger'? thats a whole lot bigger! quite an exaggeration really. You could just say 'bigger' and the description 'tail snakes out' is a bit awkward.

And how is Sophia forced to go to the underground city?

As was said, this goes into WAY too much detail for a query - enough for a full detailed synopsis!

Xenith said...

On the positive side, you now have a one page synopsis.

It might hope to think about the basic elements of the "pitch".

Who is the main character?
What do they want?
What's stopping them?
What's at stake?

Answer them in 25 words or less, and see if that helps you focus your query.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I like it all begins with a touch. Then I went to snooze. What fifteen year old shakes hands with a girl?

He brushed her hair from her eye/mouth/chin/ Electric.

Don't like this line: She wants nothing more than to be with him, and she sneaks out late nights in order to make it happen.

She likes his touch so much she meets him late at night.

When she's with him she sees body parts. Billy asks her if she sees them and explains...

Tighten this up. Get frosty and crisp. The more she hangs out with Billy the more she sees them. In Billy's company the body parts get - whatever.

Sharper images would help. So would better clarity.

Like why is she forced to go to an underground city? Her being one of them unknown by her until she is told by Billy makes no sense.

She wants to touch Billy. Then what? Would she really want to touch a demon, no matter what size? Nothing stops her from what I've read except repulsion.

That is a problem. Doesn't hang together very succinctly for me.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Unless Billy's appearance changes when Sophia shakes his hand, change the first paragraph to show that this is the first time Sophia is noticing his unearthly good looks.

"Outlines of figures"or "silhoutettes" is preferable to "arms, legs, and various body parts," which makes it sound like Sophia is seeing detached limbs in the woods.

Is Billy quadrapedal after he changes form? You say his entire body grows ten times larger and he stands three feet taller. The only way this might work is if Billy is now standing on all fours, or if Billy was 3.6 inches tall as a human. It's probably a moot point since you ought to drop these specific numbers anyways. But if Billy is now ten times taller than he was before, Sophia is going to spend an awful lot of time talking with Billy's lower legs.

The remainder of the query feels really rushed. I'm left with very little idea of what Sophia wants, what Billy wants, how they feel about each other, and what they're going to do next. Dump the hotel, the neighbor, and the unnamed friend who dies one sentence after being introduced. Clarify who took Sophia to the city, why the Outcasts plan to start w war, why Sophia thinks she might not be an Outcast, and what she and Billy are going to do after Sophia escapes.