Saturday, October 31, 2015

#272-Revised 1x

Revision #1
 
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Dear QueryShark,

Drew Nolan knew cooperation could make his life easier, but only if he betrayed everything that mattered to him.  Day after day, he entered an interrogation room and faced Ceked Mirko.  Day after day he sparred, verbally and mentally, with that cold, arrogant bastard.  Then the interrogations got worse, then the torture began.  How long could he, or his shipmates, hold out?

Drew Had visited a dozen star systems as a young officer, but nothing prepared him for the bitter reality of Kasdech.  He knew the cramped confines of starships, not the mud of planets.  Yet, after the Kasdech attack, that is exactly where he finds himself; locked in a frozen prison camp beside his fellow survivors.
At this point, we don't know anything more about the plot than we did after the first sentence. You're giving us backstory and set up. Get to what's at stake here!

War between Kasdech and Earth is coming, and Mirko knows it.  Interrogation is his business, and he will stop at nothing to extract the information his superiors require.  Drew has learned much in war, but one lesson stands above the rest: you take care of your crew.  He isn’t ready for command—he is too young, too unproven—but his crew needs him, he is all they have left.
This still isn't plot. What's going to happen? War? Ok. What's at stake? What bad thing will happen to Drew if he betrays everything that matters to him? What worse thing will happen if he doesn't?


In the camp, under Mirko’s ungentle hands, is only suffering and misery.  In escape is the smallest hint of hope, the tiny chance to save this crew and bring home a warning.  Even if escape’s likeliest outcome is death, some things are worth dying for.
We still don't have a sense of the plot here at all.


THE VOLGA INCIDENT is science fiction, complete at 120,000 words, and is my first novel.

Thank you for you time and consideration

There's a formula for getting the basics of your plot written down. 

I copied this from my handout on effective query letters that I've posted a couple times:


3.  A query letter MUST tell an agent what the book is about 
            3a  Who is the main character?
            3b  What does he want?
            3c  What is keeping him from getting what he wants?
            3d  What must he sacrifice to get what she wants?

Example:

            3a Jack Reacher

            3b wants to see the grave of an old, almost forgotten blues musician

            3c when he is suddenly, inexplicably arrested for a murder he could not have committed.

            3d When the guy behind the false arrest is also killed, Reacher can stay in town, at great peril to himself, to solve the case or he can leave shake the dust of this crazy town off his sneakers and get on with his wandering.

How to convey what the book is about:

            3e The main character must decide whether to: do THIS or do THAT

            3f If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

            3g If s/he decides NOT to do this:  the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:



Example:

            3e Katniss Everdeen must decide whether to take her younger sister's place when she is called to be their district's entry in the Hunger Games.

            3f If she goes in her sister's place, her family will suffer because Katniss' hunting skills are what keeps them from starving now;

            3g If she decides not to go, her sister will surely die in the Games.


Notice: no backstory. Your reader will jump right in to the story with you.
This is not intended to show the exact wording you use in a query, but will help you distill your plot to the essentials. You need the essentials of Act One, not a rundown of the entire plot.

 You're going backwards here.
the first query was actually more effective than this one.
That kind of thing can happen. Don't let it damage your confidence.
Just look at the original query again, and use the good parts (there were a lot) and improve the parts that need it. 

Revise/resend.

Dear QueryShark:

Drew Nolan knew cooperation could make his life easier, but only if he betrayed everything that mattered to him. Day after day he entered an interrogation room and faced Ceked Mirko. Day after day he sparred, verbally and mentally, with that cold, ruthless bastard. Then the interrogations got worse, then the torture began. How long could he, or his shipmates, hold out?

This paragraph does something quite amazing: it uses my own assumptions to surprise me. The first four sentences allow me to assume that Drew Nolan is conducting the interrogation. I'm used to the good guy being the one in charge in an interrogation room (one too many crime novels!)  Yes, that first line gives us a clue, but it's not until the last line that I thought "oh! Ceked Mirko is the one running the show."

This is a Really Good Thing to do in a query because it engages my interest from the get-go.
I'm keen to read on and find out what's happening here.

Drew had come to Kasdech a rising young naval officer on a simple first contact mission. Over the course of twenty-four hours he had seen his captain killed, his ship destroyed, and his few fellow survivors locked beside him in a frozen prison camp. He wasn’t ready to be in command—he was too young, too unproven—but his crew needed him, he was all they had left. Drew had learned much in war, and one lesson stood above all else: you took care of your crew.


Ok, so we get the larger picture of what's going on here.

Mirko would will stop at nothing to break the prisoners, he he's proven that, and Drew refused refuses to let that happen. In the camp, under MIrko’s Mirko's ungentle hands, lay only suffering and misery. In escape lay the smallest hint of hope, the tiny chance to get his men home. Even if escape’s likeliest end was death, some things were worth dying for.

You've gone from what's happened before to what's going to unfold in the novel. Change from past tense to reflect that, as per the first sentence mark up.

Why Mirko is trying to "break the prisoners."  They're in a prison camp, so my expectation is simply that they're being held prisoner.  This interrogation and "breaking" leads me to think something more is at stake. You say "cooperation will make things easier" in paragraph one. Spelling out what this cooperation is would be a good idea.


THE VOLGA INCIDENT is military science fiction, complete at 120,000 words, and is my first novel.

I don't get much sense of the science fiction angle here other than the names, "first contact" and "his ship." I'm not suggesting you drown the query in world building at all, but some hints would be good.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

As it stands right now, I'd probably read the pages. The pages will need to drop us right smack dab in to the middle of something happening, and give us a sense of the world these people are inhabiting very soon.


Polish up, resend. You're almost there.


7 comments:

Stephen G Parks said...

Janet, at the bottom of your response, you wrote “The pages will need to drop us right smack dab in to the middle of something happening, and give us a sense of the world these people are inhabiting very soon.”

What do you think of flash forwards as a narrative device? I think you’ve said you don’t like prologues (which are almost the opposite - giving history/background) and I’ve heard other agents stating that they despise flash forwards. Yet many successful science fiction books use this technique (as early as Heinlein’ Starship Troopers and Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, to recent works like James S. A. Corey’s Expanse series and Andy Weir’s The Martian.)

Is this what you’re suggesting the OP do?

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I got the feeling this was a contemporary story, maybe set in the Balkans or Cecenia.

"Drew refused refuses to let that happen" doesn't say much to me. I'm not a lit agent but as a reader, if I picked up this book and read this on the back copy, I'd probably not want to read it. A gritty detail would pique my interest.

I see I'd be reading the bad guy tortures the unwilling hero and he needs to escape. What else?

Anyhow, congratulations on your query and finishing a novel.

Standback said...

I feel like the query relies too heavily on generalities. "Cooperation," "betrayed everything that mattered to him," "sparred, verbally and mentally," "but his crew needed him," "you took care of your crew," "Mirko would will stop at nothing," "Drew refuses to let that happen." It's a decent arc, but I'm not getting any sense of detail and grounding.

What's the war about? What SF elements are in the premise? What kind of props and setpieces can we look forward to? It's good that you know your core dynamic - it's very, very good; you're correct to form the backbone of your query around it. But IMHO the dynamic doesn't sell the book on its own, and this is missing even the most basic details for an SF story (and most any other type of story, as well).

Theresa Milstein said...

We definitely see the stakes here. It's tight. And it sounds like a brutal read, in a good way.
I also didn't get science fiction. Like Angie, I thought that name might've been in the Balkans too. I bet it wouldn't take more than a sentence or a few carefully dropped words to give us science fiction.

WriterMinion said...

Have I thanked you all yet for the input? No?

THANK YOU!!

When I was revising the letter (for the umpteenth time) I could hear Her Majesty's voice in my ear, but I could not hear the other voices. You matter to me. A lot.

I have a series of revisions percolating right now...I've written them, but they're not yet ripe. I hope to send them off this coming weekend, when and if my brain & gut agree that they are ready.

Until then, I am already visiting with the characters for the next story. The last was conceived and planned intellectually (which, to be honest, tells in the writing)...this one is pounding on the window, demanding to be told. It is far more emotional for me, and far more dark, than anything I have done before. Still trying to figure out if it is YA or "normal", but the MC won't leave me alone until I write...

Kelsey Botelho said...

As a fellow scfi writer I was ecstatic to see a scifi query!! I'm working on mine as well, and the comments above about hinting to the "props and setpieces" are golden. I can see that the author of this query has done a fantastic job building their characters, giving them voice, and penetrating the human aspect of the story (something I love to do as well), but it IS vital to establish the science fiction elements in the query before we call it scifi. Taking that advice to heart for sure!

Steve Stubbs said...

If suggestions are welcome, you could strengthen this a wee mite by breaking up some sentences, eliminating an unnecessary clause, rearranging a couple of sentences, and not ending the paragraph with a rhetorical question. I would also put the hero’s name in the next to last sentence tomake it clear we are reading about him instead of “Ceked.” Here is what I mean. See if you agree:

Drew Nolan knew he could make his life easier by cooperating. But only if he betrayed everything that mattered to him. Day after day he entered an interrogation room. Day after day he faced Ceked Mirko. Day after day he sparred with that cold, ruthless bastard, verbally and mentally. Then the torture began. Drew wondered how long he and his shipmates could hold out.

These are still your words and your thoughts. But the impact is different.

I think you could strengthen the rest of this also the same way. Shorter sentences. No past perfect tense, Instead of “Drew had come to Kasdech” consider “Drew came to Kasdech.” Also as the ranking officer, it does not matter if Drew is young and unproven. It is his duty to assume command – period. If he does not understand the basics of military leadership he should be working at a desk job ashore. If he is young and unproven he is not going to be in command of a cruiser or destroyer anyway. Think about what his rank is and what class of ship he skippers. You may have that covered with the statement that his captain was killed. He could be an ensign if all his superior officers are dead.