Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Feedback Request


The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1321 (See previous post) would like feedback on the following revision:


Mr. Evil Editor:

When Lee Chase goes alone to interview the owner of an auto shop, she ends up almost getting killed by a gang member. She may have found where the gang stores the cars they’ve stolen, but by going alone she’s made one too many mistakes. [At this point I'm wondering if Lee is a reporter or possibly a customer who wants to compare prices on body work. Introduce her as a homicide detective, if that's what she is. Although a homicide detective would be investigating a murder, not stolen cars.] Now, close to being demoted, she’s given the unenviable job of solving a murder that has no obvious motive.

The murdered man was charged with manslaughter of a teenager, but freed on a technicality. Two years later, on the anniversary of the date he walked free, he was killed. With no obvious suspects, Lee interviews Harry Finch, the father of the slain teenager. Still angry about his son’s death, but without even a parking ticket on his record, Lee doesn’t believe he’s the murderer. [Okay, let's discuss "dangling modifiers." In the previous version, you used the sentence: A pleasant and polite man with no record, she can't believe he would commit murder. AlaskaRavenclaw asked if you knew what was wrong with the sentence. What was wrong is that when you open a sentence with a modifying clause, we expect that it modifies the subject of the main clause (which is Lee). Instead it describes Harry. You can argue that "he" can't describe Lee, as Lee is a female, but we don't want grammar rules to change depending on whether the detective is male or female and whether it's Harry the father or Harriet the mother who is the serial killer. That would be chaos at worst, and annoying to readers at best. So you might have tried: A pleasant and polite man with no record, he (or Harry) seems an unlikely murder suspect. 

Moving on to the current version: Still angry about his son’s death, but without even a parking ticket on his record, Lee . . .  Again, you've described Harry, but made Lee the subject. There are numerous ways to fix this, including: Though he's still angry about his son's death, Harry doesn't strike Lee as the murdering type. He's pleasant and polite and he's never even had a parking ticket.]

She's wrong.

Harry is a merciless killer hunting for justice. Justice for his son, justice for anyone who has been betrayed. [Was his son betrayed?] But Harry's version of justice is quickly making him the most prolific serial killer Columbus has ever seen.

Hoping she might give him important information about the case, [Which case? His own or his son's?] Harry asks Lee to coffee, [This time you have the right subject, but it's still confusing because we have two pronouns in the modifying clause. You can make it easier on us by saying Hoping Lee might give him important information about the case, Harry asks her to coffee . . .] Eventually, [Meaning by dessert or after they've been dating a few weeks?] he finds himself liking her, even seeing that he could love her, and Lee begins to love him back. [There surely are rules against dating a person of interest in the case you're working, especially if he's the only suspect you have.] 

As the bodies pile up, as a gang member takes potshots at Lee, Harry and Lee fall in love. [You just said they're falling in love in the previous sentence. Move on.] It all comes together in a final clash that forces Lee to confront not only the gang that wants her dead, but Harry, the man she loves.

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.

Sincerely,


Notes

Another example of possibly confusing pronouns: The murdered man was charged with manslaughter of a teenager, but freed on a technicality. Two years later, on the anniversary of the date he walked free, he was killed. As both a man and a teenager are killed in the first sentence I have to figure out which one you're talking about when you say "he" was killed in the second sentence.

It might be a good idea to go through your manuscript looking for dangling modifiers and unclear pronoun antecedents. 

10 comments:

AA said...

I'm having a hard time concentrating on this. The sentences seem to be phrases strung together with prepositions or commas. For instance, “As the bodies pile up, as a gang member takes potshots at Lee, Harry and Lee fall in love.” There should be another “and” in there somewhere.

Also, just general wordiness. “the cars they've stolen” = stolen cars. “She ends up almost getting killed by a gang member” = she's almost killed by a gang member.

There's no real flow, here.

“The murdered man was charged with manslaughter of a teenager, but freed on a technicality.” This is tricky. Was he charged posthumously?


“Still angry about his son’s death, but without even a parking ticket on his record, Lee doesn’t believe he’s the murderer.” EE pointed this out. Lee should know whether or not he murdered somebody.

Clean up the grammar and work on simplifying sentences so they flow naturally, like speech. Try reading it aloud.

Author said...

Anonymous Author said...
Mr. Evil Editor

When Detective Lee Chase goes alone to interview the owner of an auto shop, she ends up almost getting killed by a gang member. She may have found where the gang stores the cars they’ve stolen, but by going alone she’s made one too many mistakes. Now, close to being demoted, she’s given the unenviable job of solving a murder that has no obvious motive.

The murdered man was charged with manslaughter of a teenager, but freed on a technicality. Two years later, on the anniversary of the date the man walked free, he was killed. With no obvious suspects, Lee interviews Harry Finch, the father of the slain teenager. Thought he’s still angry about his son’s death, Lee just can’t believe this man is a murderer.

She's wrong.

Harry is a merciless killer hunting for justice. Justice for his son, justice for anyone who has been betrayed. But Harry's version of justice is quickly making him the most prolific serial killer Columbus has ever seen.

Hoping Lee will reveal information about the case that might keep him from being caught, Harry asks her to coffee, then to dinner. Weeks go by and Harry and Lee grow closer, their relationship beginning to blossom into something more than mere friendship.

As the bodies pile up, as a gang member takes potshots at Lee, Harry and Lee fall in love. It all comes together in a final clash that forces Lee to confront not only the gang that wants her dead, but Harry, the man she loves.

JUSTICE BETRAYED is complete at 81,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration. A partial or full manuscript is available on request.

Sincerely,



Question:

You mention that there are rules against dating a suspect. Yes, true, but that is dealt with in the manuscript. You also ask the question “Was his son betrayed?”. Harry feels his son was betrayed by the court system — again, this is dealt with in the manuscript.

When we first meet Lee, she is not a homicide detective, she is a detective working in major crimes. The reasoning that gives her the murder case is explained more fully in the manuscript.

Is it really necessary to explicitly explain these things within the query letter?

Thanks,

Evil Editor said...


To answer your questions:

1. I expect the agent reading your query to wonder why your detective, who's already on thin ice with the department, starts dating a suspect in her current case. Will the agent decide to request your manuscript to find out, or will she decide not to request your manuscript because she feels your main character is too stupid to live? I don't know. If it were me, I'd give a brief explanation.

2. When a murderer goes free on a technicality, it's considered a travesty, a failure of the justice system. I'm not sure it's a betrayal of the victim, who's been dead for months. But I suppose Harry could look at it that way.

3. My point was that you need to tell us her position so we know what kind of interview you're talking about, not specifically to call her a homicide detective. Detective is fine.

As for the query, I think you're spending too many words on this auto shop interview, which was Lee's previous case, when you can just say Lee has been assigned a homicide investigation. Focus on the current case.

I agree with AA that starting a sentence "The murdered man was charged with manslaughter" is confusing. It forces the reader to go back and figure out how that's possible . . . or to just move on to the next query.

IMHO said...

The writing style in this query didn't engage me, because there are many weak phrases instead of forceful action phrases. AA touched upon this by pointing out "almost getting killed," which tells us what almost happened, rather than what did happen (was she brutally beaten with a wrench? Shot and left for dead?)

Also, while the query says Harry and Lee are attracted to each other, it doesn't convince me. Harry's "pleasant and polite" as far as Lee knows. Lee ... I have no idea about Lee. She's described as a screw-up in the first paragraph, then she's a blank. Is she a burned-out cop? An idealist determined to find a killer? Make me care about her.

IMHO said...

Is it really necessary to explicitly explain these things within the query letter?

Here's my two cents. If the query succeeds in hooking the reader (makes them care about the characters and presents an intriguing plot) then no, you don't need to explain every detail. But if readers of your query ask a bunch of questions like this, then it's a sign your query isn't working.

SB said...

I pretty much agree with what everyone else is saying. I also think your confusing sentence structure is not helped by having a female protagonist with a male name. Personally, every time I've encountered the name Lee, it's been a male name or a surname. If you're going to use a male name for a female character, you need to make even more sure that it's absolutely clear who you're referring to. Like in your first sentence, I could just as easily understand that the owner of the auto shop is the one who ends up almost getting killed, not Lee, since either of those two seem equally likely to be a "she".

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I know both male and female Lees. But that just adds to the confusion.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Another vote for dumping the gang of car thieves from the query. They're taking up too much of your word count without adding much to the main story. You can establish that Lee is reckless and/or her boss isn't happy with her without detailing the whole prior case. The fact that the gang is still after Lee doesn't seem relevant. In fact, the only point where the gang has any bearing on the plot is that Lee's handling of the car theft case gets her put on the murder case. If the important thing is that she's a reckless cop and that's why she got put on a tough case with no leads, you can just say that and save the space for fleshing out the main plotline. Though if she's already on the naughty list for being reckless, wouldn't dating a suspect be the last straw? Maybe it'd be better to just have her on the case without explaining why.

I want to see more of how Lee starts to figure out that Harry is the killer. Lee is presumably the main character, but she isn't doing a lot right now and what she is doing doesn't make her sound competent or interesting. Show me the qualities this character has that are going to make me want to follow her for the length of a novel.

Mister Furkles said...

For me, the most interesting of your characters is Harry not Lee. The plot sounds like Dexter with a particular detective after him. The first paragraphs do not hook. The first sentence to hook is "Harry is a merciless killer ..." And 'hunting for justice' sounds like Dave Justice has gone missing and Harry wants to find him. (Hint: he lives in San Diego.) Better is 'seeking revenge for innocent victims.'

Consider a revision with Harry as the main character in the query. Show his inner conflict as well as his murderous activities. Then bring in Lee. Don't mention anything about the auto shop or Lee's little employment problems.

Find a good crit group and join. If you really like complex sentences, try writing simple ones first then add additional phrases or clauses.

Make your query as tight as possible without sacrificing voice. Take each sentence out on its own and scrutinize every word. Ask yourself if the word is needed. How much does it contribute? And is there a better word?

A query must be the best prose you are capable of writing. Put this away for a couple of weeks, then revise. Let it sit for a few days and then revise again.

Anonymous said...

Who is Lee? What occupation makes her want to interview the auto shop owner?
If she’s a detective, there is an obvious suspect in the murder of teenager-killer: the victim’s family.
At this point in the query, I’m thinking Lee is not smart enough to be a detective and I’m not interested enough to keep reading and hope it gets better.
…the most prolific serial killer Columbus has ever seen.
My first thought is: who’s Columbus?
My second thought is: Oh, you mean the city? Why hasn’t this been explained to me before now, as is “Columbus PD Homicide Detective Lee Chase”
The query gets really confusing when Harry’s thoughts and hopes are introduced. I think it would be a stronger query if you stuck with Lee’s thoughts, hopes, and conflicts, as is: is there really something between herself and Harry or is he just using her?