Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Feedback Request

Dear EE,

I can't seem to get it that if I'm not clear readers will make up stuff. It seems the query is a trade off between brevity and clarity. Or maybe I just haven't found the sweet spot yet. Hinting doesn't work that's for sure. So I've taken another crack at it. It's longer. It feels a bit "stuffed" to me but it's closer to the story. I really really appreciate the feedback.

Former Marine MP Trevor Hayworth is now a mailman. One day, while he’s delivering, a young woman begs him to help her escape her captor—but warns against calling the police. When he returns at night to discover the girl being abused he breaks in and stun-guns the man. The girl, Alita, tells Hayworth her captor is a boss in an international sex trafficking ring, and ranking police officers are his clients. While Hayworth processes this mess, two couriers arrive for a money pick up. When the dust clears the couriers are tied up, the boss is dead, and the mess has metastasized.

Later, Hayworth and Alita are in his pickup, racing out of San Diego for Tucson, where the girl’s family is visiting from San Salvador—according to a questionable source. Also in the pickup is a list of names and numbers of ring leaders and their clients. Hunting the two with police technology are corrupt cops, trafficking thugs, and a twisted newspaper reporter who moonlights as a hitman.

While on the run, Hayworth gets the trafficking info to an attorney friend, who implores him to come in. Hayworth is torn between his commitment to Alita—who is illegal and wishes to see her family before confronting authorities—and his premonition it won’t be the family waiting in Tucson, just the mad dogs.


You've added some good specifics--use of police technology to track them, the attorney vs Alita conflict. Let's look at the differences between your first paragraph and the version I suggested in the earlier post, which was:

Former Marine MP Trevor Hayworth hears a woman calling out to him from a nearby house, begging for rescue. He pulls out his cell phone, but she warns against calling the police. Hayworth breaks in and subdues her captor. The girl, Alita, says the man runs an international sex trafficking ring with ranking police officers among his clients. As Hayworth processes this mess, two couriers arrive for a money pick up. When the dust clears, the couriers are tied up, the boss is dead, and the mess has metastasized.

1. My version leaves out the fact that Hayworth is a mailman. This may be crucial in the book, but in the query its only purpose is to explain what Hayworth is doing at the house where she lives. We don't need to know how he happens to be there because it's a random event. He could be a plumber or just a guy walking down the street.

2. In my version the woman calls out to Hayworth. This at least hints that she's at some distance, and as we read on we may infer that she's locked in an upstairs room. When you say: "while he’s delivering, a young woman begs him to help her escape her captor," I have questions. Where is she that she can talk to him but can't escape? Is she tied to a tree? Where's her captor?

3. In my version, Hayworth immediately helps the girl. In yours he returns hours later, having acquired a stun gun. Any ex-Marine worth his salt who can get close enough to the villain to use a stun gun should be able to take him down without the stun gun, so I want to know why he leaves this damsel in distress and comes back that night, which could be too late to help. You're probably thinking, But my way is how it happens in the book, and your way is a lie. Silly boy. Your way may make perfect sense in the book, where you have room to explain Hayworth's reasoning, but in the query you should keep it simple.

Now you're thinking, But what happens when the agent who liked my query asks to see the manuscript and when she reads it she finds out Hayworth lets the abuser have his way with the girl while he delivers mail, and later comes back to help? No problem, because:

1.  By now the agent has completely forgotten what you said in your query.
2. Either there's a perfectly logical reason for Hayworth's actions in the book, or you've realized that there isn't, and changed the book to match the query. 

Apparently you feel that it would also be a crime to say Alita has family in Tucson when they aren't actually there. If she believes they're there and Hayworth believes it as well (since he's driving her there) that's good enough for the query. They're there. The agent won't reject you when she finds out they aren't there and possibly never were. You hint at that anyway with the last sentence.

All of which is not to say use my versions word-for-word. Just convince us you have a good story that isn't full of holes.


InkAndPixelClub said...

EE's version also has the advantage of getting right to the story and what's exciting about it. Your story isn't about how Trevor used to be a Marine and is now a mailman and it's not much of a hook either.

The time gap between Alita asking Trevor for help and Trevor rescuing her still worries me. There's no obvious reason why he leaves and then comes back and you don't want to spend valuable query space explaining it. If you can make it work and still feel like you're portraying your story with reasonable accuracy, it makes more sense to have Trevor act immediately.

I'm not sure how long it takes someone to recover from a stun gun hit or how long Trevor stands around procession the pickle he's in, but since it seems unlikely that the couriers murdered the trafficking boss, it reads as if either Trevor or Alita killed an unconscious man.

I'd be a little more direct about the choice Trevor has to make at the end. If he goes to his attorney buddy, he'll be safe because (thing the attorney can do to make him safe) but Alita will be deported and may never see her family again. (If this is the issue, it might make more sense to just say her family is in Tuscon and leave off the part about them visiting from San Salvador. If not, what is Alita worried about?) If he takes Alita to Tuscon, she might be reunited with her family, but the thugs, the crooked cops, and the hitman will have more opportunty to catch up to them and kill them.

Anonymous said...

EE, I love the point-by-point.

Author, you're allowed to elide details in your query. Wrong genre, but if you've got vampires but don't call them vampires in your book, you're still allowed to call them vampires in the query for the sake of brevity and quick understanding. Maybe that's confusing....

On this version of the query:

P1: Simplify. Maybe try making yourself a list of details, things like Hayworth is a former MP, Hayworth is a mailman, One day Hayworth is delivering mail, a woman begs him to help her escape her captor. Once you've got the list, mark each item as either a critical detail which can't be changed without dramatically affecting the rest of the book, or a trivial detail which could be changed with minimal rewrites. Examples:
Hayworth is a former MP. Would it make a difference if you made him a former accountant instead? If he was an accountant, would much of the main plot need to change? If not, this is a trivial detail. If so, this is a critical detail.
He returns at night. Would it make a difference if he returned in twenty minutes? Two weeks? How much would need to change for the plot to still work?
Do you see where I'm going?
Once you have a list of critical details, try a re-write just using them.

P2: There's no reason I can see to use a continuous verb form in the first sentence and it clutters up the text with a linking verb.
I'm wondering how the girl gets information from a questionable source and what that source is. If you don't want to be explicit, leave the detail out. If Alita believes her family's in Tuscon, you can say that's where her family is. It's along the lines of saying, "My car is in the garage." Someone may have stolen it, but you don't know that when you're making the statement.
"In the pickup is a list" You might be trying to highlight the importance of the list by using a boring verb form, but it leaves me wondering how the list got there. "They bring with them a list of" would be all right. I'm sure you can do much better.

P3: I'm not completely seeing logical flow between the sentences. The attorney wants him to "come in" where? Non-corrupt police somewhere? I can understand a conflict between getting the girl to her family first, but that's not the conflict you're presenting, which is getting her to her family or not going because it might not be her family there.

Chicory said...

I'm glad you explained that her family is in the country illegally, and so is she. It makes the rush to find them make more sense; if she looses them she may not be able to contact them again. Also, it puts more pressure on avoiding the police.

AA said...

I still don't like the fact that they're going to her family. It makes some sense but not enough.
"Hunting the two with police technology are corrupt cops, trafficking thugs, and a twisted newspaper reporter who moonlights as a hitman."
They are leading THESE people directly to Alita's family. Whether she sees them again or not, isn't the most important thing keeping them ALIVE?
And if the thugs get close to any member of her family, they could just abduct one of them to get what they want.
It's a lose/lose. They should be going anywhere BUT there.

Mister Furkles said...

This is much improved. You might include what happens when they get to Tucson or some other, as yet undisclosed, major plot point.

Also, San Salvador is an island in the Bahamas. It is also the capital of El Salvador. To avoid confusion, use either 'the Bahamas' or 'El Salvador.' And if it is the Bahamas, it seems unlikely that they are illegally in the country.