Workshop Wednesday

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 18 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 Query Shark,

Well. It is certainly interesting to know who else you’re querying, but now I feel like you haven’t done enough research to know that I’m not her.

I am contacting you because I believe I cannot get enough help for my query, I will probably learn how to write better and someone might even fall over laughing at my mistakes while reading your blog. And now for the real query…

I feel sorry for you now.

Collin Wyle is seduced and carried into the depths of hell by a beautiful woman. Her horrific shriek awakens him in his bed in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat, his skin burning from the heat. Collin has been having what he calls ‘intense’ dreams for months now, with little help from doctors, pills and alcohol.

When he dreams of an acquaintance who is battling for her own life and her children from their abusive father, he decides to take matters into his own hands. The following day he sees the local news discussing the facts… from his dream. He then realizes, these are not dreams, but real life events. He has influence in the lives of others, the ability to help them or harm them. But at what cost?

This is a thriller. Tell me what is going to thrill me. The real gut of this story is Collin’s ability to receive premonitions in his sleep and then use them to help or harm others. But that is the very last sentence of the query, which makes me worry that you spend the majority of your manuscript on backstory and descriptions of dreams before finally getting to the point. I need to know what this is about before I’m nearly finished reading it. Then, so that I’m not left thinking, “So?” I need to know why this is a problem for Collin and what he does about it. Are there other threads? Friendships or romances, etc?

Sinners & Saints is a paranormal thriller about 85000 words.

The author has an active, vivid imagination. He has found that interacting with many different personalities helps create life-like characters.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


15 responses to “Workshop Wednesday”

  1. Avatar Cara M. says:

    So, I was pretty excited with the first two sentences, since I was hoping Collin was a girl, and I assumed the 'her horrific shriek' was referring to Collin. (If it was Colin, I might not have made this error, but well, maybe even that wouldn't have helped. Pronouns are tricky.) Having a girl carried off into the depths of hell by a sexy girl, now that sounds like a good time.

    Otherwise the main problem is that your protagonist has freaky dreams. Some are about hell. Some are about the real world. When he finally makes a decision to do something, he does it in a dream, which isn't all that interesting, because doing something in a dream rarely helps in reality. If it actually did, and if Collin is some sort of dream superhero who can affect the real world, that needs to be way clearer.

    Also… what does the hell thing have to do with it?

    Confused. 🙁

  2. Avatar E.Maree says:

    "Collin Wyle is seduced and carried into the depths of hell by a beautiful woman. Her horrific shriek awakens him in his bed in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat, his skin burning from the heat. Collin has been having what he calls ‘intense’ dreams for months now, with little help from doctors, pills and alcohol."

    I'd cut this entire paragraph – the meat of the story is in the next paragraph, where his dreams predict trouble for an acquaintance.

    As it stands, this paragraph makes very little sense. The first line completely confuses me – one minute this woman is seductive, then she's shrieking horrifyingly. What's seductive about that? Did we miss a transition where the dream scenario went from sexy to a torture situation?

    The dream about his acquaintance seems like a more powerful start – this is someone he knows in trouble, which is always more gripping and powerful than a random seductive lady.

    I'd like a bit more information on the main conflict of the story and where Collin's powers are going to lead him. If the author can hint a bit further as to what the 'cost' (aka the stakes) of his abilities is going to be, I think it would strengthen the query.

    Don't be nervous about your query, writers – it's a skill we all struggle with. Keep practicing and you'll nail it! 🙂

  3. Avatar E.Maree says:

    Ack, typo! *writer, not writers, in that final paragraph.

  4. Avatar Foolplustime says:

    I recommend the OP joins a writing community like Absolute Write or similar for some feedback. There's something about the grammar which is "off" for me, both in the main Q and the preceding para. I would be concerned about the quality of the writing in the MS.

    OP, I can honestly tell you I have never laughed at anybodies written mistakes unless they have become inadvertently humorous. Everybody has to learn how to do this.

    Take your initial para:

    I am contacting you because I believe I cannot get enough help for my queryfull stop, not a comma, IMO. In any case, there's lots of query help out there on writers message boards and that, I will probably learn how to write better I'm not sure what you're saying. I think you're saying you are still learning and that, at present -> someone might even fall over laughing at my mistakes while reading your blog. The clarity is lacking because there's no context. And now for the real query…

    It's not hugely off, but it's reading a bit squiffy for me.
    You have a solid concept, I want to see what you are doing with it. There are plenty of books/films/shows with an MC who can see the future in dreams. What is YOUR story? YOUR take on this?

  5. Avatar Julie Daines says:

    This is a set up that is very familiar. Man/Woman receives premonitions about other people and must choose to help or leave it to fate. (See Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger, for example.)

    So what this query needs to show is what sets this story apart from the many others of similar concept. Why is this one worth reading? What makes it unique?

    …along with what the others have already pointed out about the first paragraph or two not being wholly relevant. Good luck!

  6. Avatar sara says:

    Other than the obvious problems that have already been pointed out by Lauren and the other commenters, I don't think this is a bad start. It needs a bit of work, but it's interesting, there's a semblance of a hook and the writing isn't terrible. Keep refining, tell us what the 'costs' are, and I think you'll have something!

  7. Avatar Eileen says:

    Given the amount of paranormal out there, when the first line talks about Collin being carried into the depths of hell I thought it was literal. Later I suspect it is meant to be figurative.

    You have a fun premise/concept, but as the reader of your query I don't have a sense of what it all means. What is on the line for Collin? What does he risk if he tries to help people? Is there something he wants that this is getting in the way of? Is there a love interest? For example: When Collin realizes that his dreams aren't just his drink and pill fuelled imagination, but visions of what is really happening he tries to run away. He can't solve the world. However, he begins to fall in love with XXX in his dreams. She's at risk because of XXX. He has to risk XXX to save her

    Hope that helps.

  8. Avatar Amanda says:

    Only when Eileen pointed it out did I realize that the bit about being carried off to the depths of hell was NOT literal. I was actually quite excited when I thought that this is what the story is about! So I'd recommend not starting with this, or tweaking it some…

    Regardless, I agree with most of the other feedback. This story has potential. Just work on your query and I'll bet it will be picked up!

  9. Very good advice in this thread. I second all the comments about the first paragraph seeming irrelevant and unconnected to the second–unless it's a case where the horrific shrieking seduction awakens this power in him. If that's so, you need to decide whether it's really relevant to the query and either make the connection clearer or take it out. Additionally, there are a number of small grammatical things in that first paragraph that make the story unclear. Another commenter remarked on the ambiguity of "her" horrific shriek, but that sentence also left me wondering. Is he seduced, brought to hell (literally or figuratively), and THEN wakes up because she's shrieking? Are the doctors, pills, and alcohol relevant in that they will have a further effect on the MC as the novel progresses?

    I'd also like if you could rephrase the second paragraph somehow to show how he is influencing people's lives with his dreams. As it stands, you are more telling us that than showing, because nothing in the preceding paragraph indicates that Collin is doing more than just dreaming about events that are happening. How is he influencing or changing them?

    The good news is that nobody here will laugh at your query. We all start somewhere!

  10. Avatar Colin Smith says:

    I think this author has been reading query advice. The first line certainly tries to grab your attention, and the query itself is succinct, falling well within 250 words by the look of it.

    However, I echo comments above. The meat of the story seems to be about his premonitions, so that should be the focus of the first paragraph. I feel the disconnect between the first and second paragraphs noted by others. I presume the screaming woman in line one is the acquaintance in paragraph two, but I shouldn't have to assume.

    I would call this a decent attempt (I've seen a lot worse), but the critiques are spot on.

  11. Avatar Buffra says:

    I think Eileen's help really hit the nail on the head: Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What is their problem? What is at stake?

    It has to COUNT.

    Right now, the second paragraph honestly read like a movie teaser to me — a barely there glossing over of the main idea. It works in a movie trailer because you can see more than the words. In a book, you have to show with the words why someone would want to read it.

  12. Avatar newmancht says:

    Too much back story and not enough meat. we aren't getting anything resembling conflict in your query. The 1st paragraph lends nothing to your query other than a hook….which isn't followed up on at all.

    If you're gonna have a hard hook, it better be clear why it's in there in the rest of the query…in other words, what is the conflict and how does this play into it??

    Also, the entire introductory paragraph can simply be omitted. Just plunge straight into your query. Let the agent laugh, scoff, or whatever. Don't worry about their reaction because you'll never know what it was anyway…

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    The concept sounds interesting, but the query felt like it was telling the story out of order. It was a bit of a jumble.

    However, I disagree with the comments talking about how old and overused the plot/premise seems to be. Presumably this person already wrote a book. S/he doesn't care if it's an old plot (most are); at this point s/he's looking for help with the query. The trick would be to present the query in such a way that the plot doesn't sound old and tired.

  14. Avatar Janet Reid says:

    BookEnds LLC = The Western Reef.

  15. Avatar David says:

    thanks everyone for your helpful comments. i wrote his query quite some time ago, an in fact writing the query has helped me to see the weakness in the ms and know where to revise. i would suggest to anyone undertaking a ms to first write the query, then go from there. it helps with keeping the ms focused on all the fine points this clan has brought up.