Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Face-Lift 1173


Guess the Plot

On the Way to Santa Fe

1. Benny's boss asks him to send a shipment of "product" to Santa Fe, NM. Unfortunately, the dyslexic Benny sends it to Santa Fe, MN. Now Benny's on the run from the feds, rival mobs, and his own crew. Will he make it to Minnesota, or will he perish...On the Way to Santa Fe?

2. Free-wheelin', beer-lovin', good-lookin' Joe Ditman makes ends meet with odd jobs in Milwaukee. When he inherits the multi-million dollar estate of his long-lost uncle, he heads south to collect. But On the Way to Santa Fe, he meets a sexy angel who changes his heart.

3. Lights in the New Mexico sky can only mean one thing... Sadly, nothing to do with hallucinogens this time. On the way to the state's capital, Cory and Rob are captured by aliens who promptly return them after appropriating all their recreational substances. But time dilation means 1969 is long gone and our boys are out of date. And worse still, their supplier is nowhere to be found.

4. When blood is found in Daniel Bristol's trailer outside Denver he becomes a suspect in the disappearance of a local girl. To stay one step ahead of the law he heads for Santa Fe, New Mexico, 400 miles away. Kind of a road trip designed to make him look guilty as hell. Also, a wily coyote.

5. A scrappy group of Dionne Warwick impersonators prepare for the biggest talent showcase of the year. Hilarity ensues when they entrust their travel arrangements to dim-witted Candida Splendida, and their simple trip becomes a wild adventure of hitching rides with drunk clowns and tap-dancing nuns.

6. Mallory's dog ran away, her fianc├ę left her for her younger sister, and she just lost her job. Trading her last $78 for a one way bus ticket, Mal finds the last thing she was looking for...On the Way to Santa Fe.



Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Two quarreling brothers, one missing girl, [one missing verb,] and a family secret that could kill all three. I believe my psychological suspense manuscript ON THE WAY TO SANTA FE (72,000 words) will interest you [Maybe, but I'm not going to Santa Fe to read it.] as it balances the fast-paced plotting of a thriller with the introspection of a literary mystery. [Is a literary mystery something like Who really wrote Shakespeare's plays? Or is it a murder mystery by someone who writes better than all those hack mystery writers who somehow keep getting published?] [I realize thrillers, mysteries, and psychological suspense will probably all be shelved in the same section, but I prefer that you name one genre (say, thriller) and then show that there's psychological suspense and a mystery in your plot description.] [Also, the fact that your title rhymes has started that San Jose song running through my head, which is not something you want to be responsible for. What's wrong with Albuquerque?]

Daniel Bristol is twenty-two, shy, and likes nothing better than sketching the mountains behind his trailer in Golden, Colorado. [That's because mountains are among the easiest things to sketch:]


He dislikes nothing more than his antagonizing brother. To say Dolan makes life difficult for Daniel is as much an understatement as saying a jackrabbit is prey to a coyote. [Calling "a jackrabbit is prey to a coyote" an understatement is an overstatement. I'd call it a fact.] [On the other hand, thinking, Evil Editor will be miffed by my use of an animal analogy to help him understand what I mean by the word 'understatement'" is an understatement.] [Also, the analogy should be roadrunner is prey to a coyote.]

When Dolan claims responsibility for the disappearance of a local girl, Daniel assumes it's another cruel prank, but changes his opinion after finding blood in the trailer and a detective at his doorstep. Daniel wants to cooperate with the police, but he can't. He knows his brother. [That statement does not clear up what you meant by he can't cooperate with the police.] The only way out [Out of what? Is Daniel a suspect? If Dolan claimed responsibility, why isn't Dolan the one being grilled?] is to stay one step ahead of the Law, unravel Dolan's motive, and find the young woman before it's too late.

Unbeknownst to him, Dolan harbors a dark secret that will drag them deep into the mountains of New Mexico. [Are they on foot? Golden is hundreds of miles from Santa Fe.] Facing the unspoken truth will require an unending reservoir of courage - something Daniel lacks. [Either it doesn't require unending courage, or Daniel doesn't lack unending courage, or someone else (someone with unending courage) should be the main character.] Failure will damn the girl's fate and leave him broken . . . wondering what happened ON THE WAY TO SANTA FE.

I appreciate your consideration and look forward to being ridiculed in public.

Sincerely,


Notes

This becomes progressively more vague. Phrases like "harbors a dark secret," "the unspoken truth," and "damn the girl's fate" may sound good on the back cover when you're trying to entice someone to buy the book, but agents and editors aren't going to read your manuscript to find out what you're talking about. They want to know who's the main character and what's his situation. Then what's his goal and how does he plan to achieve it? Then what goes wrong, and what will happen if he can't overcome it? Be specific. Make it sound thrilling and suspenseful, but don't let on that there's anything literary about it.

39 comments:

Tamara Marnell said...

Regarding jackrabbits and coyotes, I suppose the author meant: "Dolan makes life easy for Daniel like coyotes make life easy for jackrabbits."

Dolan and Daniel share not only the same first letter, but all of their consonants. It was hard to keep track of who was who on a quick pass.

I assume Daniel can't cooperate with the police because he knows Dolan is guilty, and he feels obligated to protect him. But why? He "dislikes nothing more" than Dolan, so why cover for him? There should at least be a sentence about Daniel having a soft spot for the family screw-up, or promising his mother on her death bed to take care of his little bro, or something...otherwise he's just a spineless patsy.

Evil Editor said...

My assumption had nothing to do with a soft spot. I assumed he knew what Dolan would do to him if he ratted him out or that he knew Dolan would have been so meticulous in framing him that Daniel was sure to be accused if he went to the cops. The fact that there are a number of interpretations only means we need more specificity.

khazar-khum said...


When you set a mystery in New Mexico, I think it'd better have Indians and aliens. Preferably both. Vague brother relations and missing girls are just too pedestrian and vague.

Mister Furkles said...

Think of an agent like your lawyer: do not keep secrets from them.

A family secret… [like what?]

He dislikes …his…brother [but why?]

Daniel can’t cooperate [And why not?]

The only way out [Out of where?]

Dolan’s motive [Who cares what it is?]

Dolan harbors a secret [The whole query is nothing but secrets]

The unspoken truth [Is it hard to pronounce?]

Unending reservoir of courage [WTF?]

Failure will damn the girl… [At this point, I’d shoot her myself.]

Nine secrets and no story. Don’t you think you should tell an agent what happens in the novel?

CavalierdeNuit said...

I want to read #5!

This could use a little supernatural action, or maybe a drug trip in the desert? There's a movie from 1967 called The Trip with Peter Fonda. A few crazy chapters reminiscent of that movie with deep mountains as a backdrop would make me want to read this.

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author,
My comment is this: I hope the manuscript isn't this pretentious.

It hasn't quite reached full-on purple, but the air is thick with lilac and lavender.

Start simple. Isolate the main premise: Daniel has just been framed for abducting a girl by his (twin?) brother Dolan. He must clear his name, without implicating Dolan, and to do so he's going to find the girl. Alive, preferably....

Take us through Daniel's struggle, and don't tell us how awesome or suspenseful the trip will be. If written correctly we will understand the stakes and experience the thrill. That is what you, as the author, should aim to achieve with the query.

Best of luck!

Mich said...

Hi author,

Most of the fiction I read is mysteries and procedurals, and I particularly dig themes with evil twins and siblings (I have one), so you're right in my wheelhouse. Yet there's no hook that grabs me yet. Mister Furkles's list of intriguing unanswered questions is a good place to start.

Beyond that, the biggest question for me is whether Dolan is inspired by a grudge between the brothers or is a bad seed type of character. Until you got to the dark secret hint, I had him pegged as one of those just-plain-bad kind of villains. If he's not, it'd be great to see it in the query. Bad blood and real-life situations that would lead to one brother setting up another are far more interesting. So, if Dolan is more than the stock ├╝berevil bad seed, it'd be groovy to know that with more certainty.

CavalierNuit - The Trip is psychedellic badassery of the highest order, only slightly topped by Psych Out because of Dean Stockwell rocking the hippy-dippy guru, Dave, so delightfully. I named my design studio Plastic Hassle in homage. Also, this title had me singing Dionne Warwick in my damned head for hours on end. It had to be done.

Down Girl said...

Is Dolan a wild-eyed, soft-spoken, spooky schizophrenic? That's the impression I got. I also suspect he got that way because he was named "Dolan."

And confirming other commenters:

- Daniel/Dolan made me re-read to see who was which. (I hope you don't jump out from behind a bush at the end and reveal that they're actually the same guy.)

- Plot #5 looks hella fun. (Plot #1 is hilarious.)

Matt Ryan (Author) said...

Evil Editor, thanks again for posting my abhorrent query and unleashing the EVIL MINIONS to do what they do best. This has been . . . educational.

Khazar-khum: several nods to the Native Americans and a "connection" with the land, but unfortunately for you, no aliens.

CavalierdeNuit: at times it may feel reminiscent of a peyote trip, but no explicit drugs in this one. And no hippies . . .

Veronica: thank you for the warranted and sobering cold-dunk in the canyon creek.

Mich: hopefully the second query is more to your taste.

If the EE and Evil Minions are up for a second round smack down, I would be grateful. Here's the new version:

Daniel Bristol is twenty-two, shy, and likes nothing better than sketching the mountains behind his trailer in Golden, Colorado. He dislikes nothing more than his antagonizing twin brother, Dolan. Ever since their parents were killed in a car accident when they were young, Dolan has shown nothing but contempt for his sibling. Daniel views his brother as unstable, an outcome of the tragic loss, and does his best to avoid him.

Dolan doesn't see it that way. He believes the incessant teasing, careless pranks, and general abuse towards Daniel are justified, because he's the one burdened with the truth. He knows the death of their parents was not an accident.

When Dolan hints at being culpable for the disappearance of a local girl, Daniel assumes it's another cruel prank, but changes his opinion after finding blood in the trailer and a detective at his doorstep. Daniel wants to cooperate with the police, but he can't. Dolan makes it clear that the only hope for finding the girl alive is to do as he says, and he has a long track record of following through on his threats.

To find the girl, and keep his conscience clear, Daniel skips town and uses Dolan's cryptic clues to track down their whereabouts. This path leads him deep into the mountains of New Mexico, along the same route their uncle took them on an annual trip growing up. This is where Daniel will face his brother and know whether Dolan’s actions were a ruse to destroy his and another's life, or an inspired plan to clear the way for a new one.

I believe my psychological suspense manuscript ON THE WAY TO SANTA FE (72,000 words) will interest you as it provides one answer to the question of whether two wrongs can ever make a right.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Okay, I'm going to break my comment moratorium.

Matt, I'm afraid Veronica is right about the pretentiousness, though the word I would use is "stilted". Consider:

Daniel Bristol is twenty-two, shy, and likes nothing better than sketching the mountains behind his trailer in Golden, Colorado. He dislikes nothing more than his antagonizing twin brother, Dolan. Ever since their parents were killed in a car accident when they were young, Dolan has shown nothing but contempt for his sibling. Daniel views his brother as unstable, an outcome of the tragic loss, and does his best to avoid him.

As

Daniel Bristol is happy just sketching the mountains behind his trailer in Golden, Colorado. He doesn't want anything to do with his terrifying twin brother, Dolan.

Reasons for my rewrite:

It's shorter.
It dumps the backstory.
It gets to the point more quickly.
It doesn't try to impress.
Dolan is scarier without the explanation.

I also want to cast a third vote for a replace-all on either Daniel's name or Dolan's.

150 said...

Oh yeah, haha, I'm definitely getting the "Dolan is Daniel's split personality" vibe from this version.

Better, but your final paragraph veers twee again. "ON THE WAY TO SANTA FE is a psychological thriller, complete at 72,000 words." Let the book deliver its own message.

Matt Ryan (author) said...

I just noticed I haven't addressed an obvious question in my last sentence.

Here's a new version:

If Daniel can manage to avoid a large scale manhunt, he'll face his brother to learn the truth about their parent's death and determine whether Dolan’s actions were a ruse to destroy his and another's life, or an inspired plan to clear the way for a new one.

Evil Editor said...

The first three sentences all contain the word "nothing." Which would be semi-okay if the repetition were stylistic, but what he likes is a verb and what he dislikes is a noun, so you lose symmetry. Like saying he likes jogging but he hates salmon. There's no clear connection. Plus, "nothing" is a pretty absolute word. I don't buy those statements any more than I do when people say "Nothing is as it seems."

I don't see how being the one who knows the truth about how the parents died justifies teasing and abusing Daniel. It doesn't follow logically.

Mister Furkles said...

Matt,

It’s better. It is still too much like advertising copy. According to one blogging agent, the number one problem she sees in query letters is a failure to tell her what the novel is about. That is a problem with this query.

What I get from this is: a girl is missing and one twin goes to New Mexico.

What is the main conflict? It's not clear here. Is it Dan must find a kidnapped girl before the police arrest him? Is it twins hate each other and the crazy one tries to kill the sane one? Is it a guy with multiple personality disorder discovers his other self is a homicidal serial killer? You must tell the agent/editor. Be very clear and not at all vague.

If you have more than one main conflict, then go with the one that is closest to a thriller.

The first three paragraphs are back story. Cut the back story to just what is needed to show the main conflict. I’d leave out dead parents, uncle, and camping.

And stop the vague hints. (e.g. Dolan’s motive, his threats)

Also, tell us something about the girl who is a victim. That will raise the stakes. You need high stakes for a thriller.Imallyb

Down Girl said...

Matt, you cleared up a lot and improved it IMO.

Mister Furkles, you make an interesting point about writing query letters for mysteries and thrillers. The author wants to convey mystery and suspense, but s/he has to reveal all the things the reader is supposed to be guessing at in the novel.

Is it necessarily so? If the reader isn't sure which twin is on the level and how their parents died and what it's all about until a last-minute reveal, is that how the plot should be presented in the query? I don't know. Inquiring mind.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the charming Mr. F. Matt, I don't know if you know any twins but this is not a usual set up or situation for twins.

You have a tough nut here. I'd get the twin thing straightened out, fraternal or identical from the get go. We'll figure out relationship as we go.

I (humbly) suggest you give it another whack. Lots of stuff here you can make stronger/clearer.

Good luck.

Wilkins MacQueen

Matt Ryan (Author) said...

All very good feedback here, thank you again.

Down Girl has captured my thought process with this query. There is a lot of conflicting advice out there. I have been holding back on information, because I approached this as a "back cover" exercise for a mixed genre book (mystery/suspense/thriller).

Based on Evil Editor, Mister Furkles, and Wilkins McQueen's comments, I'm going to lay it all on the table and see where that leaves us. I'll post another revision and would love another round of feedback if permitted.

-Matt Ryan

150 said...

For the purposes of bookstore placement, "mystery/suspense/thriller" are all the same genre.

Anonymous said...

Womenfolk not very helpful then?

Evil Editor said...

If that last comment is in reference to the author's last comment, it should be pointed out that at least one of EE, Wilkins McQueen and Mister Furkles qualifies as womenfolk.

Matt Ryan (Author) said...

[Note to EE: I've noticed you've had several queries posted this past week and I don't want to distract from those, but if there's room to post a very different 3rd draft to this comment string I'd be very appreciative.]

Evil Minions: I humbly present a third version shaped by ALL of your comments.

When Daniel Bristol's hostile brother claims responsibility for the disappearance of a young woman in Golden, Colorado, he assumes it's another cruel prank, but changes his opinion after finding blood in their trailer and a detective at his doorstep. Daniel wants to cooperate with the police, but he can't. His brother, Dolan, is different in every way – temperament, parlance, attitude – except for the one thing they’re forced to share: their twenty-two year old body.

His brother isn’t talking, so Daniel knows going to the police will only lead to his detainment and guaranteed incarceration if the young woman is not found alive. To buy more time, Daniel skips town, eliciting the help of a subdued, but pragmatic, third “alter” named Colt. They solve cryptic riddles left by Dolan that take them deep into the mountains of New Mexico in hopes they lead to the missing girl.

Daniel will need to avoid a large scale manhunt, and other trouble caused by Dolan along the way, if he is to force a confrontation with his brother and find out what happened to the young woman and why. Determining whether Dolan’s actions were a schizophrenic ruse to end a life, or an inspired conspiracy to clear the way for a new one, takes a back seat to what’s really important.

For Daniel, it’s a race against his fractured mind, the Law, and the setting sun to save not just an innocent, but himself.

My psychological thriller ON THE WAY TO SANTA FE is complete at 72,000 words.

Evil Editor said...

Technically, the "he" in the first sentence would refer to Daniel Bristol's hostile brother, so change it to "Daniel." For that matter, I'm not sure "their" doesn't refer to the hostile brother and the young woman.

It's better now that we know the situation, but you might put it even earlier:

Daniel Bristol and his brother Dolan are different in every way – temperament, parlance, attitude – except for the one thing they’re forced to share: their twenty-two year old body. When Dolan claims responsibility for the disappearance of a young woman in Golden, Colorado, Daniel assumes it's a prank, but changes his opinion after finding blood in their trailer and a detective at his doorstep.

Daniel knows going to the police will only lead to his detainment and guaranteed incarceration if the young woman is not found alive....


Kind of hard to see how Daniel can chase Dolan to New Mexico if he is Dolan. Dolan went to New Mexico, then returned? I'm sure you've worked that out. Daniel knows he won't become Dolan during the trip? Do they know of each other's existence?

Anonymous said...


Hmm I didn't read it as Daniel chasing Dolan, but trying to find the missing woman. I would guess they know of each other since one has been playing cruel pranks on the other? What's more unclear to me is how Daniel can force the brother alter to appear.

First sentence is much too long, reader gets mentally out of breath. Try ending it after prank.

I don't know what it means to be different in parlance. (That's ok, I don't know a lot of words, but perhaps there is a more common alternative.)

I'd cut the entire first sentence of p.2, it's obvious to the reader that the police will arrest the body.

Just buy time, not buy more time.

Last sentence of p.2 is hard to parse. This would be easier: They solve cryptic riddles left by Jolan in hopes the puzzles will lead to the missing girl, while heading deep into the mountains of New Mexico.

Can the missing girl have a name? She's pretty objectified here and there are no other female characters (unless Colt is).

I would also cut the past sentence of p. 3 (too cryptic) and end with your p. 4 sentence.

Kelsey said...

To say "Dolan isn't talking, so Daniel..." implies to me that they can speak to each other. Can they? That seems to break the conventions of schizophrenia. (However I may be wrong--I'm just saying this from the layman's point of view). I think clarifying whether them sharing a body is a supernatural thing (there really were two brothers who somehow got merged) or a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia (the brother is a figment of Daniel's psyche, even if there once existed a twin) would go a long way towards targeting the correct audience.

I thought it was pretty solidly clinical, until it sounded like they could talk to each other. Even saying "Dolan leaves cryptic clues etc" stuck out to me because if one is unconscious while the other is in control of the body, wouldn't they NEED to communicate through clues? Unless they always keep pen and paper in hand to leave notes for each other, but then it doesn't sound like they're besties who would do that sort of thing.

I think you're getting there. I also agree that if the missing girl has a story of her own in the book, something that deepens the plot to make her more than just a dead body, that would be good to hint at in the query. Good luck!

Matt Ryan (Author) said...

Hi everyone, great comments (again). Thank you!

I want to address the questions on Daniel's state of being. He suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). DID can manifest in many different ways, and the alters/personalities can communicate or not communicate with one another (in many ways), and be aware or not aware of one another. The dynamics and relationships between the alters vary as well (just like real people). As far as switching, it's usually situation-based.

In this case, Daniel is "out" mostly during the day (productive hours) and Dolan owns the night (the most fun for him), but he will also take over when physical danger is present. Colt is repressed all together. Daniel "chases" Dolan, because he'll physically find himself in a new place (they "host" for several hours at a time). As far as communication: Daniel and Dolan leave texts on their phone, and Colt only speaks (in conversation) when spoken to. I believe my "rules" stay true to clinical research findings.

I've made many of the proposed changes (EE, Anon, Kelsey) and added a little more about the young woman to show that she's "not just a body". Hopefully this is improved:

Daniel Bristol and his brother Dolan are different in every way – temperament, parlance, attitude – except for the one thing they’re forced to share: their twenty-two year old body. When Dolan claims responsibility for the disappearance of a beloved young woman in Golden, Colorado, Daniel assumes it's a prank, but changes his opinion after finding blood in his trailer and a detective at his doorstep.

Daniel knows going to the police will only lead to his detainment and guaranteed incarceration if Lindsay Rogan is not found alive. With an engaged media, a desperate family, and a multi-agency effort, the pressure is mounting. To buy time, Daniel skips town, eliciting the help of a subdued, but pragmatic, third “alter” named Colt. They decipher cryptic text messages left by Dolan in hopes they lead to Lindsay, which takes them deep into the mountains of New Mexico.

Daniel will need to avoid a multi-state manhunt, and other trouble caused by Dolan along the way, if he is to force a confrontation with his brother and find out what happened to the young woman and why. Determining whether Dolan’s actions were a schizophrenic ruse to end a life, or an inspired conspiracy to clear the way for a new one, takes a back seat to what’s really important.

For Daniel, it’s a race against his fractured mind, the Law, and the setting sun to save not just an innocent, but himself.

Evil Editor said...

Include Lindsay's full name when she's first mentioned, then just her first name after that.

Possibly whoever reads this would want a bit of explanation about DID. For instance, it could open:
Daniel Bristol suffers from DID-- Dissociative Identity Disorder. He differs from his "brother" Dolan in every way, except for the one thing they're forced to share: their 22-year-old body.

Anonymous said...

Lindsay's still just a body, albeit one that's beloved by somebody. Daniel? Dolan? Her family? Does it matter?

It's a lot clearer what is happening in this version. But here's the thing.

The law is a pragmatic fellow, pace Chas. Dickens. As far as the law is concerned, it doesn't matter if Dolan committed the murder and Daniel is innocent. All that matters is that the body they both inhabit is safely locked away.

I assume you know that. The thing is, it's not quite clear from the query that you know it.l

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author!
You've gone a long way to make this clear and engaging. I too, would like a little description of DID at the outset. Is it fair to call Dolan a brother in his regard? It feels misleading, and awkward, as Dolan is a part of Daniel. In my first read I had a 'conjoined twin' image, but perhaps that's me.

Still, much better. And thanks for giving 'missing possibly dead girl' a name.

I do believe you can tighten this more. The long sentences cut the tension, and if think that harms the query. It's a psychological thriller...we should be tense. We should agonize over poor Lindsay, and empathize with Daniel. I don't get those emotional tugs in the query though.

Do others know about Daniel's issues? If not, that seems like stakes to exploit. I would imagine that Daniel,struggles to,contain Dolan, and he's failed in this instance leading to Lindsay's capture....so, perhaps a bit of remorse should be present.

If Daniel can speak with Dolan sometimes it seems odd that this is a period of silence. To me the texts don't ring true with the 'find her yourself' vibe I got. Is Dolan taunting Daniel? What would he gain from this, as he's not present to observe Daniel's floundering...

My thoughts. Still it's good. Can be better. Remember, stakes are hollow without emotional resonance.

Jo Antareau said...

Hi author,
I like the latest version, you've addressed many of the issues brought up in the commemts thread. I'll put in my two cents worth and contradict others by saying that thanks to 'united states of tara', and before that 'Sybill' there's an awareness of what DID looks like and how the various alters may interact with one another to not require much explanation. In fact, I think it might interrupt the flow. But obviously, it's your call.
In my reading of it, if Daniel can save Lindsay's life, not only has he done the right thing, he gets to avoid the electric chair and maybe gets only a few years for kidnap. I cant help thinking that Lindsay wont exactly be thrilled to see him and may be slightly suspicious of "trust me, I'm not Dolan, I'm here to help".
I can't help wondering if Dolan was once Daniel's real twin, and what happened to him. I dont think you need to address that in the query, I thinkmit's a good thing when a query piques somebody's curiosity.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Electric chair hasn't been used since, er, well, January actually. But before that it had been several years. It's only legal now in a few states, and I think only if the condemned "requests" it. We may be the last western nation that still implements the death penalty, but we're not barbarians.

Since Daniel's mentally ill, he's unlikely even to face trial. Probably examination by a couple psychiatrists, a hearing, and then off to a hopefully very secure mental hospital.

The query's much clearer. I can see what's going on now. But the stakes don't make sense to me.

As it stands, the only stakes are Daniel's desire to stay out of a secure mental facility. The "Lindsay's life" stakes are a red herring since all he has to do to save her, provided she's still alive, is turn himself in. It's understandable he doesn't wish to do so, but it makes Daniel seem selfish.

In other words, you've got a protagonist whose definition of right and wrong isn't quite kosher. The query needs to at least give that fact a passing nod. Right now it doesn't.

Also, watch out for stilted, clinical language. "Engaged media" sounds like something that would be typed on a card in an art museum. "SANTA FE by Daniel Bristol. Egg tempera and engaged media."



Matt Ryan (Author) said...

Thanks EE, I'll work DID into the opening.

Anonymous - yes, Daniel is well aware that he'll face punishment regardless of the outcome; point taken on how this could be made clearer.

Veronica - they refer to each other as brothers throughout the book, so I'll probably use quotations as EE suggested in the opening. Excellent advice on tightening for tension and putting some emotional tugs in (remorse, etc). I'll work on that, thanks. No one knows about his DID until much later in the book, so possible stakes to show there. Dolan manipulates Daniel through fear, sometimes this is done through taunts or threats, and he has an objective. He plays an active role, so it's not "find her yourself", it's more like "you better do as I say if you want to find her alive". Perhaps I need to adjust the text message sentence to reflect this better.

Jo Antareau . . . bingo on Daniel's motivation (do the right thing and maybe someday I'll see the light of day). And no, Lindsay won't be thrilled to see him. No twin story, but there is a reveal that shakes things up and is the driving force behind Dolan's felonious actions. I agree that it probably doesn't belong in the query.

AlaskaRavenclaw – you’re on the money as well in respect to the likely sentence (though I believe a trial is plausible). As for the stakes, it’s clear in the book (obviously not the query) that Daniel has to choose between turning himself in with no information on Lindsay’s whereabouts or condition (because Dolan isn’t giving it up, especially for the police) in the hopes they believe him, and fleeing in the hopes he can draw the information out of his “brother” and minimize the damage. He can’t help her if he’s detained. He looks complicit if he flees. He goes against his nature and acts in what he believes are in Lindsay’s best interests. Also, you’re more on target than you know with the art gallery reference – very apropos.

Thanks again for all the excellent help on this query. If you have any more thoughts on the above, I’d love to hear them. It’s clear I still have some tweaking to do, but your comments have been more than helpful in whipping this into shape.

Happy Holidays Evil Minions and all the best in 2014!

Mister Furkles said...

Matt,
I especially like Veronica’s suggestions.

Here are my suggestion:

P1S2: Change “…prank, but changes…” to “…prank. He changes …” This splits the 36 word sentence into two easy to digest sentences.

P2S1: Remove the word ‘only’. Also remove “Daniel knows”. I would change ‘detainment’ to the more common ‘arrest’. And remove ‘guaranteed’.

P2: I’d move “Lindsay Rogan” to the first paragraph and change “beloved young woman” to “popular Lindsay Rogan”.

P2S2: To me, this sentence doesn’t add much. Delete it or, to add tension, personalize it.

All four paragraphs begin with either “Daniel” or “For Daniel”. Mix it up.

Your average sentence is over 25 words. That’s too many long sentences.

I recommend giving up the DID in the first paragraph. You could start with something like:

“Daniel Bristol is not well. He suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder and at least three difficult people live inside his head.”

See, that’s different. You won’t write the book that way but it’ll sure grab an agent’s or editor’s attention.

SB said...

This sounds really interesting. I like the idea of all three main characters being alternate personalities of the same person, especially when one of them is apparently kind of a psycho.

I don't understand why Dolan and Daniel are considered brothers, though. If there's something to back that up, you might put it in the query, because otherwise it kind of just sounds like you're intentionally misleading us when what you really mean is that Dolan is Daniel's alternate personality. (And why would Dolan be a brother but the other alter wouldn't?)

I didn't really understand what this part was saying: "Determining whether Dolan’s actions were a schizophrenic ruse to end a life, or an inspired conspiracy to clear the way for a new one, takes a back seat to what’s really important." I think it's too vague and needs to be more specific. This just leaves me going "Huh?"

Also, I suggest you rename one of them, because I'd probably have a hard time remembering which is which when Dolan and Daniel have such similar name. Maybe he could be Nolan?

PLaF said...

For a lark, I think the characters should be Dan and Neil.
Take the golden gift of Alaska’s rewrite for your query opening:
Daniel Bristol is happy just sketching the mountains behind his trailer in Golden, Colorado. He doesn't want anything to do with his terrifying twin brother, Dolan.

Then tell us the story without all of the mystery:

Dan spends a lot of time cleaning up the emotional and physical destruction Dol leaves in his wake. But he never expected to find blood in his trailer and a detective at his doorstep. Popular Lindsay Rogan has gone missing, and all the evidence points to Dan. Dan’s sure Dol did it, but how to convince the police?
Only one thing can save Dan: follow his brother to Sante Fe and find the missing girl.
Along the way, Dan and Dol uncover [a conspiracy], the real reason behind the death of their parents. But to reveal the true culprits, Dan must first face a terrifying truth: there is no Dol, save for the “split personality” living in his fractured mind.
Now literally his own worst enemy, Dan must put the pieces of his past – and his personality – together in time to save the girl and himself before [the conspirators strike again].

Okay, that last bit is vague, but I can't tell what's really going on in the story to finish it up.


Matt Ryan (Author) said...

Mister Furkles, thank you again for your great suggestions, I've made many of them.

SB - your rename Dolan suggestion was the 47th of its kind, so I've decided to take the advice of the Evil Minions on this one. Congratulations, Nolan is the winner. It works on a few different levels. I've removed the sentence that was confusing as well.

I've also taken the advice of removing "brother" references in the query, since it seemed to be more of a distraction than adding to the query.

PLaF - I've taken your advice to use AlaskaRavenclaw's opening. I'm not discounting your suggested approach (putting it in my back pocket), but like the direction the query has taken at the suggestion of the other Evil Minions. Thank you for your thoughtful suggestions as they did compel me to rewrite some things.

Here's the latest revision for anyone who is interested:

Daniel Bristol is happy when sketching the mountains behind his trailer in Golden, Colorado, but he is not well. He suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder and is one of three “alters” residing inside his head. He differs from antagonistic Nolan in every way except for the one thing they’re forced to share: their twenty-two year old body. When Nolan claims responsibility for the disappearance of popular Lindsay Rogan, Daniel assumes it's a prank. He changes his opinion after finding blood in his trailer and a detective at his doorstep.

Daniel has no recollection of what Nolan did to Lindsay, but knows she didn’t deserve it. So, when Nolan’s taunting text messages tell Daniel her life depends on him not cooperating with the police, he’s even more distraught. This pushes Daniel to forgo pleading his innocence and skip town. He elicits the help of subdued, but pragmatic alter Colt, to decipher cryptic messages left by Nolan in hopes they lead to Lindsay.

This decision results in a multi-state manhunt with widespread media coverage and takes Daniel and Colt deep into the mountains of New Mexico. They’ll need to avoid capture long enough to force a confrontation with Nolan. This reckoning will not only reveal what happened to Lindsay – for whom time is running out – but Nolan’s motive . . . Colt is guilty of something far more damaging that threatens both Daniel’s quest to save Lindsay and any chance to mend his dysfunctional life.

It’s a race against Daniel’s fractured mind, the Law, and the setting sun to save not just an innocent, but himself.

Evil Editor said...

There's no longer any need to say "except for the one thing they’re forced to share: their twenty-two year old body" now that you're previously said they exist in the same head.

Also, Colt being guilty of something comes out of nowhere. I'd leave that revelation for the book.

Matt Ryan (Author) said...

Thanks again Evil Editor, I'll make those changes and create a different lead into the last sentence. They should help me save on word count as well.

Mister Furkles said...

Matt,

This is much stronger. It is the kind of psycho-thriller I like to read. Along with EE’s suggestions, I’d recommend a couple of small ones:

The term “alter” has a psychological ring to it—okay that’s because it is a DID term. But it has no emotional power. I’d use a more common--preferably Saxon--word. Maybe ‘men’, ‘adversaries’, or ‘enemies’. They are all in English for 700 to 1000 years and bring the emotion missing from a clinical term.

For me, ‘live’ is stronger than ‘reside’, or maybe, try ‘alive’.

So, sentence two could end “…is one of three enemies alive inside his head.” For me, that enhances the trepidation in the reader’s mind.

Your novel reminds me of Tyron’s “The Other”. Try to avoid being clinical. We want creaking stairs, knives dripping with blood, and young women screaming their fool heads off.

Matt Ryan said...

Thanks again Mister Furkles, great suggestions.