Friday, October 09, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1250 would like your thoughts on the version below:

Oliver Bradshaw is an eleven-year-old boy living in a small town in Rhode Island, hoping that this new place will be his permanent home, where he can finally feel safe and a sense of belonging. But when he accidentally opens a portal to the monsters’ world in his new apartment, Oliver must gather up who he can to help him, [To help him . . . close the portal? Or what?] even if it’s only his new quick-to-scare best friend, the meanest bully in his new school who hates him with a passion, and a friendly monster that looks like a wad of chewing gum. Oliver must enter the monsters’ world to stop the mysterious leader of an evil faction of monsters [How does he know that he must do this?] in order to not only save his own home but the fate of the town and possibly the entire human race.

Oliver and the Underlings is a 50,000-word work of middle grade fantasy. I am the author of a number of short stories in markets such as Spider, Stories for Children, knowonder! magazine, and Kids'Magination, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


I don't think this is an improvement. The sentences are too long and they aren't telling the story. S1 tells us who the main character is. S2 sets up the situation and lists three other characters. S3 is pretty vague. What does the mysterious leader want? How is the entire human race threatened? How can this team of misfits save us all?  It seems to me the father and grandfather would be more important in the query than Oliver's three allies, but I haven't read the book.

I reiterate my suggestion that you go with something like this:

When monsters cross into our world and kidnap all of Oliver Bradshaw's classmates, he decides to recruit a hostage rescue team. Unfortunately, he can find only three allies: his quick-to-scare best friend, a devil-may-care bully, and a friendly monster that looks like a wad of chewing gum.

Getting to the monsters' home world is the easy part: there's a portal in Oliver's closet. But now that they're here, how are they supposed to tell the friendly monsters from the evil ones? And . . . wait, what's Oliver's grandfather doing here? Turns out he's searching for Oliver's father, who went missing years ago.

Gramps has his own team of monsters and is mounting an attack on the leader of a faction of evil monsters who kidnapped Oliver's dad. Could they also have Oliver's classmates? Only one way to find out, and if our heroes fail, the monster war will spill into our world. And nowhere will ever be safe again.

That probably isn't your story, as you don't even mention Oliver's father and grandfather in this version, but at least this might be a template for a good query. This version at least uses the pronoun "they" to show Oliver isn't completely alone, while your version lists the allies and then drops them.

Does each ally have a special talent vital to the mission? Oliver's original mission is to rescue his classmates. But you drop that in favor of stopping the mysterious leader of an evil faction of monsters, to save the human race. The original mission seems noble enough, and far more doable for characters who have no special powers.


InkAndPixelClub said...

im wondering if someone told you the main body of the query had to be three sentences long, resulting in a query where you crammed as much information as possible into three sentences. That's how it reads and it's not helping you. Overly lengthy sentences are often hard to read as the structure can start to break down. (Oliver has to save the fate of the town?)

I'd try to get to the portal to the monster world in sentence one. If you can't do that, at least pare what you have down to the essentials: Oliver is eleven years old, new in town, and hoping to find safety and friendship in his new home. (You might want to dump "safety" unless you can explain why he didn't feel safe before.) Then sentence two would be about how it's hard to feel safe when a portal to the monster world opens up in his apartment.

I'm still not clear why this is Oliver's fight. The portal is in his apartment, but there doesn't seem to be much connection between Oliver and the monster world beyond that. You have two things that Oliver must do, but I have no idea why.

Get the problem set up in paragraph one. What issues is the portal creating and why is Oliver the only one who can stop it? Explain why he needs a team to help him. The monster I can understand, as it presumably knows its way around the monster world, but I don't see how the scaredy cat friend and the bully are useful. Then devote the rest of the query to what Oliver and his team do in the monster world. Do they have a plan to close the portal? How do they find out about the evil monster faction? What threat does the evil monster leader pose? How does Oliver intend to defeat him?

Anonymous said...

I wasn't here for the first draft of this query, so I can't judge the progress -- but it looks to me, too, as though you're trying so hard to follow someone's advice that you've descended into non-English. My impression is someone said "You need to let us know about this up front" so you packed 95% of your setup into the first two sentences.

I also want to know more about what the bad monsters are plotting and how likely they are to get it if Oliver doesn't stop them. As it is, your declaration of the stakes ("not only save his own home but the fate of the town and possibly the entire human race") builds along the lines of "His room -- in fact, the town. Ah, hell, let's throw in the whole planet."

Anonymous said...

Standard query body format is three paragraphs: ten sentences of approximately ten words each. This doesn't include the "Dear Agent/Editor" or "Book is complete, genre, xxK long, thanks."

In the first paragraph, use three sentences to set up the plot, the who, what, where, when, why. Paragraph two, give us what they try, what goes wrong/what's the opposition. Use sample events from the book. Paragraph three, tell us the big choice/gamble/critical moment and the consequences.

This isn't set in stone. But, we do need more than two overly long sentences of setup and one with a vague 'save the world'.

Show you have a complete story. Connect the characters to the plot and the plot points to each other. Be specific. Be succinct.

The previous version had a bit more info, so maybe revisit what you wrote there and review the comments. This does sound like it could be interesting. Good luck

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

What's most likely to make the agent want to read this manuscript right now?

Is it that the protagonist is eleven?
Is it that the protagonist resides in Rhode Island?
Is it that he wants to feel safe and feel a sense of belonging?

The answer is "probably not", so it's probably best not to lead with those things.