Sunday, February 18, 2018

#299-Revised once

Dear Query Shark,

Niall Lewis is in the high school of his dreams. His classes utilize the world’s most advanced virtual reality systems—for true hands-on learning. Everything is perfect until a deleterious glitch impacts his scores.

 This just isn't punchy enough to grab my attention. You're telling me half of what happened: a glitch affects his scores. How, and why should I care? A glitch that drops .01 from his GPA doesn't seem too terrible, unless that .01 is a matter of life and death.

Though he works hard, Niall consistently receives lower grades than his peers; so low that he risks expulsion in a school that demands student excellence. When Niall seeks help, he becomes aware the glitch is no accident and that he faces dire consequences unless he remains silent.

So far we've got failing grades and being tossed out of school. This just isn't enough to carry a plot.
Get to what the dire consequences are, and you'll need to be specific here, to get and keep a reader's attention. 

You seem to be avoiding the obvious: someone wants Niall gone. Why? 

Niall keeps silent and does the work of two people just to stay enrolled. He sacrifices his relationship, friendships, family, and sleep for passing scores while continually questioning if his dream is worth it.

What dream?
At this point I've stopped reading because you're not talking about a book that sounds enticing. 

Struggling to maintain his silence, Niall reaches a breaking point and speaks out. Barely avoiding expulsion, a series of events leads him to a secret file that not only explains the glitch but also uncovers a neurological program capable of nefarious motives for his school and the world.

You're too far in to the book at this point. A query should be about the first act, not the climax of the book. 

And "a neurological program capable of nefarious motives for his school and the world." is mind bogglingly confusing.

To rescue the students from the brainwashing, Niall must take matters into his own hands. He devises a plan to keep his place at the school and stop the mastermind behind the insidious scheme.
When his plan fails, he learns he must choose either the easiest path or the road less traveled.

Again, this is the climax of the book.

SILENT GOLDEN EAGLE is an 84,000 word YA novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is still too abstract to be interesting.
Your main character has to want something. It sounds here like Niall wants to stay in this school. Why? 

Sometimes it's clear why a protagonist wants something. Here it's not. What's so special about this school? Why is he so dead set on staying here?  And why does someone want him gone?

Those answers need to be clear, and specific in this query.

Question: I know the first four words are a mouthful to describe my protagonist, but I don’t want to explain the eight different cohorts with unnecessary backstory. I mention Golden Eagle cohort solely to help explain the title. Is it worth mentioning?

Dear Query Shark,

Golden Eagle cohort freshman Niall Lewis is in the high school of his dreams until a glitch in his first virtual reality class threatens everything he has earned. The glitch prevents him from receiving the high ranks necessary to stay enrolled and when he tries to get help from the school he is warned to keep silent or be expelled.

By ranks do you mean grades or marks? Even if you use ranks in the book it will help you here to use grades or marks because your reader will know what you mean without having to stop and think about it. Ranking and ranks mean different things, and I paused at "ranks" to make sure I understood what you meant. That is NOT something you want me doing here.

Niall chooses to keep silent because going home means failure. Things only get worse when he is accused of cheating in a league quest. Niall’s league rank suffers even though he is cleared when an equipment malfunction is found.

And here you use rank in what seems like a different way than you use it above. I'm following what you're talking about but my confidence in the clarity of your writing is taking a beating. Again, NOT what you want.

Exhausted from doing the work of two people just to stay enrolled, helping his league move back up in the ranking, being taunted by rival league bullies, and under pressure from his family, he finally breaks his silence. Barely avoiding expulsion, a series of events leads to the discovery of a secret file on a terminated neurological program that explains the origination of his glitch. In the wrong hands, this hidden technology could have nefarious consequences for the world.

Where did this "work of two people" come from?
You're using league here in a way that is different to my eye from the precediing paragraph.

I'm all in favor of nefarious consequences, but honestly, they have to be consequences for Niall to count as what's at stake here.

Knowing that exposing the glitch is no longer just about rank or enrollment, Niall must take matters into his own hands. With no one willing to listen, he devises a plan to keep his place at the school, help his friends, and stop the mastermind behind the insidious scheme.

Insididious schemes are even better than nefarioius consequences! These are the only phrases with zip and vitality. The rest feels mushy.

SILENT GOLDEN EAGLE is an 83,000 word YA novel with sci-fi fantasy elements.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

To answer your question: you don't need to use anything in the query that will explain the title. We're used to not knowing what a title means until we're knee-deep in the book.

But the problem here isn't how you describe Niall, or the title. The problem is there's nothing at stake for Niall, and I'm pretty confused about what's going on.  

If you find yourself needing a paragraph to exlain a sentence, you've got the wrong sentence.

Revise, resend.


nightsmusic said...

I'm lost. Is the class online? Or is the class about virtual reality and if so, in what respect? Learning how to program? I'm sorry, but you talk about him being at school, involved in sports, playing in leagues which leads me to believe he's physically at a school...I'm sorry, I don't get it. Maybe it's just me. Maybe someone else would get this. I don't think you want to take that chance that not everyone will understand what you mean. If I'm having a hard time getting it here, what is your entire book like?

KariV said...

I'd take out the word "freshman" in your first sentence as it doesn't really play a role. If you think it's necessary to mention he's a first-year, start the query with his name: Niall Lewis is a freshman at he high school of his Janet said, you don't need to mention Golden Eagle to explain the title. Good luck. Your book sounds interesting.

Francesca Strada said...

I read this query and my confusion became bigger by the time I finished it. I don’t have an idea of the type of world where the story takes place, I don’t understand what this glitch is (because I don’t think it’s the same thing of a computer glitch), and since you haven’t cleared the importance of this ranks and why Niall is being held responsible for it I am not worried (as I should) about consequences and what he has to do to prevent it.
Maybe be a more specific on some aspects of your work can be helpful here.
I know that for you it’s all clear because you have worked on it for months and months (years and years) but you have to tell it to someone who has no idea what you’re talking about.

Head of the Class said...

I understood ranks and ranking differently than Janet did. I thought it referred to the video game he's playing. Essentially, that he plays a video game to stay in school. If he does well at the game he stays in. (ie high ranking); if he doesn't he's out.

Samantha Walker said...

I think we need to know what kind of school he's attending. Virtual reality high school? Video game high school (which is a great web series by the way)? School for gifted kids? We also need to know a biiiit more about the glitch and why it's such a blow to Niall. Stops him from racking up points? Automatically makes any grade he gets a D? Is it a computer glitch or something else?

E.Maree said...

I haven't played League of Legends (a competitive multiplayer game that is well-known for taking over every moment of your free time) but from everything I know about it this query gives me major League of Legends vibes. Competitive ranking, massive pressure on the players, and HUGE drama around every little thing.

It also feels a little bit like Ready Player One, but with more focus on academic stress and pressure than fun -- which I dig, though the way this query is written feels less relatable than it should be. Stressful school situations should be SUPER relatable to any YA readers, and it just isn't coming through here because it's bogged down by all the video game terminology.

"SILENT GOLDEN EAGLE is an 83,000 word YA novel with sci-fi fantasy elements."

This isn't a YA novel with sci-fi fantasy elements, imo. It's an 83,000 word YA sci-fi novel (or YA science fantasy, but I'm not seeing the 'fantasy' in this query). The sci-fi genre is at its core.

Vaylianne said...

Lots of good advice above. This seems like an interesting story but, as Francesca suggested, I think you know so much about your world, you're forgetting new readers are coming in blind. I think what's missing are explicit details. Your story has these unique elements like the competitive school (a VR military academy or advanced video game academy, maybe?), the glitch, and league quests, but they aren't delved into well enough to give a clear picture.

Also, I was picturing Niall as an individual competitor until you mentioned "his league" in the third paragraph. Niall belonging to a team brings up an interesting dynamic that's ignored for most of the query. Do his league-mates lose respect for him because of the glitch? Do they think he's a liability? Do they know about the glitch? Is he blamed for their poor ranking? Does he have to work to regain their trust? I think the teamwork aspect of the story has the potential to make Niall's plight much more compelling and relatable. Side-note: A league is typically comprised of all of the teams or individual competitors in a specific sport rather than meaning a single team, so the term might be confusing in the query.

An example of how to use details to illuminate the stakes and clear up confusion (and if it's WAY off base, that's because the query was so ambiguous. I had to make some leaps of imagination to fill in the gaps):

Freshman Niall Lewis just landed a coveted spot at the VR military academy of his dreams. If he does well, he'll graduate as an officer in the prestigious Golden Eagle cohort. If he falls behind in the school's cutthroat competitive rankings, he'll lose his spot and be lucky if they let him enlist. So when an aim-distorting glitch in his virtual programming puts Niall and his team behind right out of the gate, it leaves him devastated and his teammates furious. Worse, his teacher refuses to address the glitch and warns Niall to keep silent or be expelled.

Determined not to go home, Niall does the work of two students to overcome the glitch's handicap and earns the grudging respect of his teammates. That is, until he and his team are sent on a quest in a virtual battle maze, and Niall is accused of cheating to get an edge on the competition. Even when a suspicious equipment malfunction is found to be at fault, his team still plummets in the rankings.

Exhausted from lost sleep and futile attempts to prove himself to his family, teachers, teammates, and taunting rivals, Niall finally blurts out the truth about the glitch. Now backed by the full support of his teammates, Niall is able to investigate the "coincidences" behind his bad luck. He discovers a secret technology that explains the origination of his glitch and could also have nefarious consequences far beyond his school rankings.

To keep his place at the school, help his friends, and prevent the technology from spreading, Niall must devise a plan to expose the mastermind behind the insidious scheme.

Thanks for sharing your work for us to learn from and good luck moving forward!

K. E. Nielsen said...

Wow, everyone! Thank you all for the great feedback. It’s really helped me with my attack on the revision. The more I revised the more I feel like I’m running into a problem. After Vaylianne’s comment, I was awed by her version of my query. So much so I felt like my novel looked dull compared to the one that was described in the comments. Can you say RED FLAG moment? Yeah, QueryShark and my book editor have clearly showed me what’s wrong and it starts with my novel. I’m going to go back to storyboarding level and do a very detailed outline of what my story needs with clear stakes and consequences. It will probably take me a month, (or less if my toddler lets me.) but I will be back with a new query and a better novel. Not giving up! Thank you all again.

DLM said...

Hmm, actually "nefarious consequences" makes no sense to me.

I've heard of nefarious characters, and nefarious deeds, but it's not a modifier I understand for consequences. It's a moral descriptor. Consequences are what the nefarious characters or deeds threaten or cause, and consequences can be dire, but nefariousness imparts a wicked motive: and I don't understand how a consequence has a motive.

M Ys said...

"I'm all in favor of nefarious consequences, but honestly, they have to be consequences for Niall to count as what's at stake here. ... The problem is there's nothing at stake for Niall."

But it's mentioned that expulsion will be a great personal failure, and that the scheme might affect the whole world?

Francesca Strada said...

Your story seems interesting. It’s the type of book I would love to read. Talking about the query, you’ve showed some improvements in your revised query.
What’s still missing is to specify why its important for the mc to remain in this school, and what will happen if he is expelled.
There must be some dangerous consequences, difficult decisions the mc has to make.
Keep working on it, you’re on the right track!
Good luck.

MA said...

Hi there - I stumbled on this post on my feed, and was delighted to find Query Shark. When I read your query, what stood out to me the most was this simple question: what is the STORY? Not what is the PLOT, but what is the actual story?

What I mean is, when you strip down all the bells and whistles... forget the high school, forget the nefarious glitch... what is at the heart of what your protagonist wants? Why does he want it and how does it resonate with his "backstory"? Why is being in school important to him - is it because of a love interest? Will his brain explode if he leaves? The stakes just don't seem high enough for the protagonist. Sure, the fate of the world might hang in the balance, but how is it all meaningful to your main character? Trust me, how your protagonist feels is more important than the fate of the world :)

This is a cool concept, but I think it's not query-ready yet. Keep it up!