Workshop Wednesday

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 07 2012

Thanks to all of your contributions, Workshop Wednesday has been a success. We’re going to continue on with it for as long as we have entries and the energy to comment on them. If you haven’t yet submitted but are still interested, don’t be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that’s great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I’m leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don’t make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never “met” Query Shark, get over there and do that. She’s the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Ms Faust

Every 100 years there comes upon this planet a writer whose work enlightens that generation and those that will follow. Until that person arrives you’ll have to make do with me.

While I did chuckle a bit at your opening line I wonder if the self-defeating tone might hurt you in the end? It didn’t bother me, but I’m not sure other agents wouldn’t have a different reaction.

Mae Clarke is a nineteen year old girl who’s been alive for six months after being created in a test tube having been brought up by robots and an insane non-scientist. Her mother, Carla Neill, is on the starship Dravid (currently patrolling the Colonial side of the Zone), trying to avoid everyone and who everyone tries to avoid. Her father, Alan Radford, is passing the rest of his life on early twenty-first century Earth hoping that he won’t be kidnapped and sent into the future again.

I’m having some trouble following this. Your first sentence was one I had to read twice and I guess the introduction, this entire paragraph, doesn’t grab me. Nothing about this feels particularly riveting or different.

All three are destined to meet (there wouldn’t be a novel in it if they didn’t) at least that’s what Harold, the insane non-scientist obsessed with his and their destiny, thinks is their destiny. Aided, abetted and obstructed in his plans are two robots, a seven foot reptilian doctor, the commander of the Dravid and a dictatorial Dagon who is determined to resurrect her military career by breaking as many rules as she can without her rusting brick of a ship falling apart.

I like how your humor comes through. I think that’s my favorite part of your query, your asides, however since I doubt you do that in the novel I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to make me want to request the book. I think part of the problem with this is that you’re so focused on trying to put the comedic elements into your query that I’m getting no sense of what the book is about or the story. When querying a humorous story the humor needs to come through in the showing of the story, not trying purposely to be funny.

A Stitch In Time is a Science Fiction comedy written by [redacted] (that’s me) and has some vague similarities to Blonde Bombshell by Tom Holt and the Space Captain Smith Trilogy by Toby Frost.

Good comparisons.

I have had two short stories published in failed ezines, two on failed websites and two non-fiction articles for succesful magazines as well as being a regular book/film/tv reviewer for the irregularly published SFF ezine Hub. I have three teenage boys, an old car, a rented flat and act out my fantasies for the Knebworth Amateur Theatrical Society twice a year, as well as being the author of this stunning query.

I think this is funny. Obviously I appreciate your humor, I only wish I could get it in the blurb of the book, without you trying to be so in-your-face about it.

I look forward to hearing from at your earliest convenience.


12 responses to “Workshop Wednesday”

  1. Avatar E.Maree says:

    This writer has a really nice humor voice, reminiscent of some of the great British comedic writers like Terry Pratchett. But they need to keep the story clear — lines like 'trying to avoid everyone and who everyone tries to avoid' only confuse a speed-reading agent, and what are non-scientists?

    Good luck, writer!

  2. Avatar Scumbag Sam says:

    I feel like this story would be brilliant if it were described slightly better. The introduction is so confusing and tongue twisting it's off putting, but yes I have to totally agree that the humour of it all is infectious. I want to know more about the author, which is a good sign I think, and I really want the premise of the book to be clearer and punchier. Probably a little too wordy to catch my eye,


  3. Avatar Laura W. says:

    Ha. I laughed at the first paragraph, but it was more of a groan. On a second read, it sounds like a weird kind of reverse-egoism. I like the other instances of humor much better; they seem to be in better taste.

    This seems like it has great potential to be a)hilarious and b)a good story. But first the author should put in some more commas and periods, lol, because right now the grammar/sentence structure is getting in the way of understanding the plot.

  4. I like the humor, too. Unfortunately, the biggest concern I have is the clarity of the writing when describing your story. Each sentence is muddled, which is a pity, and distracts from the story, if one could discern it, and the humor.

    Mae Clark can't be nineteen years old if she was born six months ago – better to say she's six months old with the body of a teenager. I'd skip the robots and non-scientist since you describe him below. In the next sentence, "trying to avoid everyone and who everyone tries to avoid" – I have no idea what that means without knowing why. I presume the last sentence means he was originally a 21st century man.

    The next paragraph has confusing pronouns. A little clarification in these sentences, a little more expanding on the story itself, and I think this would be much more appealing.

    Of course, that's just my opinion

  5. Avatar Meg E Dobson says:

    Your humor comes through well in your biography and I like it. Definitely someone to meet for coffee. Do you have an online crit group? Sign me up!

    As to the query itself, 1st paragraph might be too risky…

    Premise section is intriguing and amusing, but as an agent I might worry that the book would have the same complex, rambling style. Again, might be too risky…

    I'd open with your perky view point on why you chose this particular agent. Then switch into business hat with a tight premise that still shows humor,and then return to your bio section.

    Best wishes. This feels like Jennifer Cruise does Sci-Fi. A break out genre surely? And a lot of fun–but you need to show you can make it concise and easy to read for the agent and the reader.

    And I'm serious about the crit group. 🙂

  6. Avatar sara says:

    Hmm, I've been known for not having a sense of humour at all, but hopefully this comment will still be constructive.

    This reads to me as something that would be funny if it was said aloud with the right inflections and such. It doesn't translate into writing because the sentence construction is too awkward. As a writer, you can't presume that readers will put the emphasis in the places you expect them to instead of using proper grammar. If they have to read a paragraph twice, the humour will be lost, and the reader will be frustrated.

    So, while I would gladly sit in a room and listen to this author orate his stories all day (because I did find it quite funny once I understood it), and I definitely wouldn't read this. Awkward writing always trumps everything else, IMHO.

    I hope this comment made sense.

  7. Avatar Meg E Dobson says:

    🙂 and I understand why some would be confused about a six month old birth, which I assume obtained under a radical genetic fast process.

  8. Avatar sarahhawthorne says:

    I like this. Love your final sentence including the query in your list of credits. I hope you'll repost your rewrite because I want to know more about the story.

    A couple thoughts: You're introducing so many characters with such divergent goals that it's hard to get a sense of the plot or the stakes. It seems like Harold is the one who takes action, and Mae is the one who's brings everyone together. Maybe focus on one of them for the next draft?

    Also, I would suggest not defining Harold as a "non-scientist." I get that you're making a joke on the mad scientist trope, but you're making the joke at the expense of clarity. Instead of spending precious query space telling us what he isn't, tell us what he is.

    Good luck!

  9. Like everyone else, I think a funny voice and story are being muddled by awkward grammar and description here.

    First paragraph: Is Mae 19, but only conscious for the last 6 months (heh, I'm working on a story with a similar character there), or was she born six months ago and her growth accelerated so she has the body of a 19-year-old?

    Second paragraph: The first sentence could use some cleaning up, but I was more confused by the second. Is Harold aiding, abetting, and obstructing the robots, reptilian doctor, commander, and Dagon? That's what the passive construction of this sentence applies. If they are aiding, abetting, and obstructing his plans, though, then you need to use the form of the verbs that I just did and get rid of the "of".

    I'm hoping these issues are only arising because you're trying to cram a lot into a query letter, because your book sounds very entertaining and it'd be good to see more humorous SF. (I know mine isn't this cute and quirky for sure!) Best of luck!

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Nice humor, awkward sentences.

  11. I have trouble following your query. You need to tell us who exactly is the MC, what the MC wants and who is stopping the MC. Also, what is the main conflict.

    Because you desire to be lol funny, you may want to read Pat McManus's "The Deer on a Bicycle".

    He recommends:
    (1) Short sentences because timing is important to humor and your only time control is sentence length.
    (2) Make your MC miserable and down-trodden. (McManus doesn't why this works.)

    Now, at the risk of seeming to be a fool, I'm going to offer a fake hook based on your query. Note, because I don't know much, I'm guessing and filling in.

    It’s the twenty-sixth century and Crazy Harold couldn’t find a date in a date palm forest. So he creates Mae, a “nineteen-year-old”, hottie in his lab. She's so hot the stars are ashamed of their solar flares. But before Harold can activate her, she must be reunited with her DNA-parents.

    Her DNA-mom is hiding in the most remote reaches of the Galaxy. The annual All Galactic Poll announced that she is the 2525 Most Despised Harpy in the Universe. Mae’s DNA-dad is such an extreme technophobe that he is ensconced deep in the Earth’s nineteenth century Amazon forest.

    Harold’s challenge is exacerbated by his having committed eleven capital offenses just to create Mae. He is also wanted as an escapee from the ICPA (Interplanetary Coalition of Psychiatric Asylums). And his only confidant, Emerson, is Harold’s head robot and a paid stoolie of the GIF (Galactic Investigation Force).

    Follow Crazy Harold as he races across time and space to resolve his personal issues while trying to avoid either execution by the GIF or capture by the ICPA.

    Doubtless, you can do better with the real details of your novel.

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I hate to say this, but I don’t believe this query will work. The agent is looking to see if the originator can write. Much of this is clumsy and there are grammar errors. (“Who everyone is trying to avoid”? That should be WHOM.) The humor is not humorous, and there is nothing compelling in the story line as described. As an agent I would expect the book to be like the query, which is Not Good. I do suspect this writer has talent, though, and would suggest that she look at this as a learning experience and do another project. I believe Stephen King wrote five practice novels before he wrote CARRIE and turned into the mega-author he is today. This author may be on her way. Try again.