Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1307 would like comments on the revision below:

John Piscus survived the apocalypse, but lost his memories.

Humanity is decimated when a nanotech experiment is accidentally unleashed to [on] the world, which makes [making] light lethal to humans and forces [forcing] the survivors to live in the dark. All John wants is [to] survive the [this] hostile world, but a girl’s arrival at his shelter stirs [disrupts] his near paranoid and self-centred life; she is glowing, and therefore she is a threat to him.

The girl is convinced danger is near. He is reluctant to trust her, until fearsome troopers, who are herding survivors, hunt and eventually incapacitate them both, and bring them to a research facility [teeming with other survivors].

Unlike what he expected, they [Their captors] allow John limited freedom in the facility, though he is closely monitored. However, they take the girl away. John is worried [investigates], and decides to find her. He discovers that those who run the facility are experimenting on the other survivors, in an attempt [hoping] to reverse what happened to the world. And the girl is integral in achieving it [to their efforts]. But he also uncovers the truth about his forgotten past. At the risk of dying, John must [vows to] save the girl, otherwise those in charge will not only end up killing her, but also finish off [before she and] the few [others] who survived the apocalypse [are killed].

THE DARKENING is a 97,000 word post-apocalyptic horror novel, and will appeal to readers who enjoyed the melancholy mood and tone of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and P. D. James’s The Children of Men.

I am a bilingual Greek who studied and lived in Scotland for five years. [Sorry to have marked up the text so much; it's really not that bad considering you've lived most of your life in two countries where they don't speak English.] My short stories have appeared in online magazines, including Voluted Tales, Eternal Haunted Summer, and 9 Tales Told in the Dark.

Thank you for your time and consideration[period]


If the choice is between risking the lives of the survivors in the facility in order to fix the world so survivors everywhere else can handle being exposed to light, and rescuing the survivors in the facility but maintaining the status quo, which will lead to everyone dying, I'm for doing what's best for the many. In other words, the stakes are too high in the wrong direction for us to get behind the hero. Saving humanity takes precedence over saving the girl. Unless she's really good looking.

Also, I still don't get how the people who have yet to be exposed to light know that being exposed to light is lethal. Anyone who works in a radio or TV station would have been exposed to light, so how is word getting out? Perhaps people like the troopers who aren't affected by light are doing it? Even so, most of the limited number of people who haven't been exposed to light yet would probably find it hard to believe a radio announcement telling them they have to stay in the dark or they'll be devoured by a monster.

As you've opened with a one-sentence paragraph in both versions, I'm guessing you read somewhere that this is a good idea. I recommend dumping the first paragraph and just adding John's last name the first time you mention him after that.


Chicory said...

In the second paragraph, second sentence, I would change He to John. The first time I read the query, it took me a moment to realize that you'd switched from the girl to the hero, and I think using his name would help keep other people from experiencing momentary confusion. Otherwise (with EE's corrections) this query is looking pretty good.

JSF said...

The girl might be glowingly good looking which might explain why the fearsome troopers took her away from John. I still don't know why she is convinced danger is near. Does she know she is glowing? The question of who the troopers are and why they are not affected still makes this hard for me. How are they different than the few others and John and the girl? They seem too convenient to create tension for me. Still too many questions but better than the shadows. Wait, maybe it's the shadow that knows.

AA said...

"At the risk of dying, John must save the girl, otherwise those in charge will not only end up killing her, but also finish off the few who survived the apocalypse."

This makes it sound like all humans who were alive during the apocalypse will die during these experiments. However, there's a chance that the experiments can reverse what happened to the planet, therefore saving the humans that were born afterward? Have I got that right? I'm not clear on that. Are the people who survived the apocalypse the only ones allergic to light? Approximately how many humans are currently alive?

I'm not quite clear on what the stakes are because I don't know the answers to these questions.

I find I don't care about John's memory loss when I don't have any idea what he's forgotten and whether or not it's important. I did go look up the first version and now I care a little more. But remember, you'll only be sending out the final version of the query. Maybe you could add a hint about what his personal demons are.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'm just left wondering: How old is the girl? Is she six, or sixteen? Or twenty, and he's calling her a girl anyway?

Even if she doesn't have a name, calling her a girl all through the query looks odd.

SB said...

The girl not having a name in the first query didn't bother me because I assumed you were just trying to limit names in the query. But since you've said that John doesn't even bother learning or giving her a name, it does bother me now. I have a hard time believing he'd vow to protect someone without caring what her name is. And it does come off rather sexist, to have your only female character dehumanized as "the girl" and her sole purpose apparently to be the object for John's actions. Even aside from all the other questions the query raises, this is one that had better have a darn good answer for me to keep reading. (Unless, maybe, this is told first person from John's POV and he thinks of literally every character in the book who isn't him in the same way. If he's just that self-centered and/or disconnected from those around him and labels everyone like that instead of caring about names, I'd buy that, but you should give more of a hint of that in the query if that's the case.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for helping me. I really appreciate it. Like my previous response, I will address Evil Editor's questions first, then move on to the other commenters. Blogger doesn't allow such a long comment, so I will break it two.

@Evil Editor
The answer to your 1st question lies in the previous version of the query and in the MC's personal trauma. The girl reminds him of his daughter, the one he accuses himself of abandoning. He acts in this way in order to redeem himself. But in the previous version, you told me guilt was not a query-worthy theme for a post-
apocalyptic story (since it's a subgenre of sci fi), and it made sense. Still, his motivation is guilt and fear. And of course, selfishness.

As for the question about the other survivors, again, fear is the driving force. A couple of attempts to venture in the light, during the early days of the apocalypse, was enough to convince those who survived that light is unsafe.

As for your final comment about the one-sentence paragraph, I was led to believe that the hook (this one sentence) was supposed to be easily identifiable and that it should stand out. That it should be a sentence that will describe the setting and introduce the character immediately. All I did was separate this sentence for your convenience. You think I should join it with the next paragraph?

Thanks for pointing this out.

Yes, she knows she is glowing and wants to figure out why. Also, in this version of the query there is no mention that the troopers are unaffected by light (as this seemed to cause problems to the readers in the previous version when it came to the shadows).

Anonymous said...

This is the second part.

That is correct. Those in charge of the facility experiment on survivors hoping they can reverse the situation, but in truth all they do is kill the survivors. Which is why they think the girl can help them, since she's so different. Every human who survived, every human born after the event happened, dies once light touches them, by turning their shadow into a monster. As for the number of survivors, imagine small pockets of humans who either lived in the country and survived, and eventually banded together (though a lot stayed on their own, like John), or remained in the cities and resorted to cannibalism (yes, there are cannibals in this world, though they are few given their source of sustainance). As for the stakes, these are summed up at the sentence you mentioned ("At the risk of dying...").

She's about sixteen, a year or two older than what his daughter would be if she were alive. It's been approximately ten years since the apocalypse, and his daughter was around five.

I'm sorry you feel that way. I can assure you the girl is the most important person, even though the story is about John. I chose to write the story from Jonh's POV because he had a more twisted and interesting story, but the girl is the antithesis to the entire world. Where everyone has turned against one another due to self-preservation instincts, she is compassionate and caring. Where the world is a dark place (for humans at least), she gives the only spark of light and hope. Where everyone is haunted by memories of the past and the stains this carries for some, she is clean of everything related to the past and a chance to start anew. Where anyone may kill another survivor for something as trivial as footwear, she flinches every time she sees someone's remains. There are also other secondary female characters in the story and they all have a name. Also, two of my five betas were women and none expressed a complaint about it. In fact, after your comment, I went ahead and asked them if they felt somewhat insulted by me not giving a name to the girl and chose not to tell me in order not hurt my feelings, and neither had any concern about it. Lastly, Cormac McCarthy, when he published The Road (it won a Pulitzer), he referred to the pair of main characters as The Man, and The Boy. I read this book after I had drafted mine, so that also solidified my decision in not naming the girl, especially given the tight third person POV I used. But I trully am sorry my story has upset you.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Once again, the point is not to answer our questions. The point is to rewrite the query so it doesn't raise them. If you've ever been in a critique group, then presumably you know that this is the rule for critiques as well: the only way to reply to a comment is by revising or not revising.

Anyway, now that we know The Girl is 16 we know more about her than we did before.

SB isn't the only one who "feels that way". The query comes across as sexist; "the girl" as a person to be rescued is a cliche of early-to-mid 20th century fiction.

Even if you intend to query only male agents and editors (which won't take long) you're going to get that reaction. Well, actually you'll get form rejections, but that'll be one of the reasons.

Evil Editor said...

I believe I made it clear with my last sentence what you should do with your first sentence.

I think it's more likely the man would try to rescue a sixteen-year-old girl at the possible cost of all humanity if she were his daughter than if she were a stranger who reminded him of his daughter who died when she was five.

I think it makes more sense that those trying to find a cure for the light problem would experiment on those who aren't affected by light to find out why not, not on those who survived simply by staying in the dark, as there's nothing special about those people.

It's hard to believe anyone could go ten days without any exposure to light, much less ten years.

As was mentioned previously, we don't ask questions because we want to know the answers. We ask them to show you what the agent you are querying might wonder about. She will not contact you for answers and she will not read your book to find the answers. So the fewer questions she has after reading the query the better.

JSF said...

This exchange of comments has shed much light on how hard it is to write an effective query. Your answers helped me see this might be an interesting book but I didn't get that in your query. And not to point a genre hopping flamethrower at your story but this sounds a lot like Blindness by Saramago. (I doubt our collective wallets could afford to get a peak at the query for that book.) Good luck!

SB said...

"But I trully am sorry my story has upset you."

I kinda feel like that comment shows that you don't understand women very well. You probably (correctly) assume I'm a woman, and you've interpreted my negative reaction to this part of your query/story as my being "upset". Newsflash: women are not the stereotypical bundles of emotions and nerves that many men think we are. I'm not "upset", either in the sense of being angry or distraught. Please refrain from assuming emotion on my part just because I disagree with some aspect of how you've written your story. Brushing off women's comments as the result of some emotional reaction is not a good way to understand or communicate with women. And "I'm sorry you feel that way" isn't really the right way to respond to a query critique. Either accept what I'm saying and use it in your revision or don't. Patronizing me isn't really one of the usual options. Yes, I did use the word "bother", but that's "bother" in the sense of "that bug I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye is bothering me", which I'm sure you'd understand is not something that rises to the level of creating an emotional reaction--certainly not being "upset". And if you think this response sounds emotional, it's because now you've annoyed me, which is also not the same as "upset".