Saturday, May 29, 2010

#162-revised 5x FTW

Dear Query Shark,

Patrick was just seven when he fell into the well. He died never knowing why his brother, Michael, did not return to save him.

Decades later, unyielding grief and remorse beckon Michael back to the farm where Pat’s life ended. He hopes to find closure. Instead, he finds Patrick.

Patrick is still only seven. Still playful and mischievous. He misses Michael. Does not care why Michael left him. He simply wants to be together again. Like it was.

He wants Michael to join him on the other side. But since Michael found Linda, his childhood sweetheart, he now has every reason to live.

He refuses Patrick. Pat makes a game of helping his brother to crossover. And if Linda gets in the way, no problem. She can play, too.

Michael wants to do the right thing. He owes it to Patrick. He just doesn’t know what that it is yet. He only hopes it does not include losing his girlfriend, his life or his brother a second time around.

Abandoned ABANDONED is a supernatural suspense just over 100k words.

Book titles are in all caps. I don't think I've mentioned that on QueryShark before but they are.

Thank you for your time.

With apologies to the OldSpice Man: look at your first query. Now look at this. Now look at your second query. Now look at this.

You've given us a reason to care about both characters; we're sympathetic to both their situations. That's a very VERY good thing. In the first query you sounded like a movie announcer: that's gone. Michael sounded gutless and stupid; that's gone.

This is a nice revision. A VERY nice revision.

I don't represent this kind of suspense novel (they scare the cracophony out of me) but I think you've got a query that will get your pages read. Make sure you apply what you learned here to the pages.

Good luck!


Dear Query Shark,

Patrick was just seven when he fell into the well. He died never knowing why his brother, Michael, did not come back to save him.

Starting with Patrick is a very interesting change from the previous iterations. I like it a lot.

Three decades later, grief and shame beckon Michael back to the place where Pat’s life ended. There he Michael hopes to find closure and self-forgiveness. Instead, he finds Patrick.

Chop everything you don't need. You'd be surprised how many extra words are in first/second/third drafts.

Pat is unmoved by Michael’s regrets. He does not want a confession, nor does he care how Michael, as a confused boy, fearful of punishment for playing near the well, made so grave an error so grave in judgment. He simply wants to be together again. He asks Michael to join him on the other side. When Michael refuses, Pat makes a game of facilitating his crossover any way he can.

You're on the right track here, but I'd suggest more honing. Honing means reduce compound sentences to simple sentences in the places that will boost the energy of the writing. Honing means taking out every single word you can while holding the integrity of the sentence. Honing means choosing every word carefully.

Consider this: Patrick doesn't want a confession; he doesn't care why Michael left him alone in the well to die. He simply wants to be together again. Like it was. He wants Michael to join him on the other side. But Michael, inexplicably, refuses. Pat makes a game to get his brother to crossover...isn't this fun!

What we need here is to see Patrick is still 7. He's not actually trying to kill his brother, just have his brother join him.

To end this, Michael must learn to see the world through Pat’s eyes, understand that bonds of blood run deep, and the love between brothers never dies.

This paragraph veers off into movie announcer phrases. It's not as sharp or focused as what came before.

Abandoned is a supernatural suspense just over 100k words.

Thank you for your time,

This is getting better, but you're not there quite yet. Revise. I promise revisions will not actually kill you.


Dear Query Shark,

Nine-year-old Michael loved his younger brother, Patrick. He cried the day they buried his empty casket. But the river had not claimed the boy’s body as everyone believed. It lay, instead, at the bottom of a well. Michael should know. He saw Pat fall in.

There's no urgency here, no sense of panic or chaos. It's all very bloodless and tidy. I suggest you shorten the sentences, and reorder them to build tension:

Michael and his brother are playing where they aren't supposed to. Patrick falls into the well. Michael is afraid he'll get in trouble for that and directs rescuers to the river first. Reasoning as only a nine-year-old can, that the rescuers will find Patrick, he is devastated when they don't. And so on.

Dreading punishment for playing near the forbidden site, Michael tells would-be rescuers Patrick disappeared by the river. He assumes search teams will fan out and find his brother. They do not. He becomes frightened, confused and overwhelmed in the chaos that follows. Concerned for his welfare, caretakers whisk the traumatized boy away. He looks back from the taxi, his silent shout sealing Patrick’s fate forever.

Years later, psychological wounds have reshape Michael’s memories of the event, cleansing the worst of the guilt from his mind. Out of money and work, he returns to the old farmhouse where Patrick died and finds the place in a state of disrepair. Despite its condition, his circumstances force him to stay.

We don't feel anything here. There's no emotion in the writing, no sense of tension or foreboding.

Within days, strange occurrences manifest about the premises. Michael suspects teenage pranksters, but police find no evidence to support his claims. Only when no one else will listen, does Patrick’s spirit reveal himself to Michael.

Patrick is still only seven-years-old. He does not understand that Michael has grown, and all he wants is to be with his brother again. He begs Michael to join him. When Michael refuses, Patrick endeavors to hasten his crossing.

Unfortunately, no one else can see Patrick, and this dangerous interaction between living and dead has everyone thinking Michael is going insane.

Things can never be as they were. Yet even in death, brotherly bonds remain inviolable. Convincing Patrick to let him live will not be easy. To do so, Michael will have to reconcile whitewashed memories, admit culpability and accept the unpleasant truth that sometimes even young boys can make grave mistakes. If unable, then Patrick may have the last say in what penance Michael will pay for abandoning him so long ago.

Abandoned is a paranormal suspense a bit over 100k words.

Thank you for your time.

You've got the structure down, and the bones of the query in place, but now you need the writing to show conflict, tension and some suspense.

Right now, there's nothing that compels me to read on. The query is flat. It needs to be energized.It's like soup before you add the salt; good but not zesty.

Dear Query Shark,

Nine-year-old Michael loved his younger brother Patrick. He cried the day they buried his empty casket. But the river had not claimed the boy’s body as everyone believed, instead, it lay at the bottom of a well. Michael should know. He saw Pat fall in and did nothing to save him.

This is actually a very nice start. I'd advise breaking the third sentence (But the river) in to two here: believed. Instead,

Psychological wounds reshaped Michael’s recollections, cleansing him of memories too difficult to bear. Years later, out of money and work, he returns to the old farmhouse where Patrick died, finding it in a state of disrepair. Despite its condition, his circumstances force him to stay.

This is nicely creepy.

Within days, curious happenings begin to manifest in and around the house. Michael suspects teenage pranksters are to blame, but police find no evidence to support his claims. Only when no one else will listen to his complaints, does Patrick’s spirit reveal himself to Michael.

I'm pretty hooked by now.

The spirit appears Patrick is still only seven-years-old and indifferent to Michael’s maturity. He has anguished alone for so long, and now all he wants is to be with his brother again. He begs Michael to cross over, reasoning it is only right since he was responsible for his death.

But Michael does not remember it that way, and does not want to cross over. Neither does he remember how clever, resourceful and tenacious his little brother can be.

Patrick attempts to hasten Michael’s crossing, each time failing, though edging him closer to remembering the truth.

Unfortunately for Michael, no one else can see Patrick, and this dangerous interaction between living and dead has everyone believing Michael is going insane.

Whatever the case, deep down Michael knows that if he loves his brother, he must reconcile his memories, lift the denial that insulates his pain and admit his culpability in Pat’s death. If not, he may spend the rest of his life trying to break free of Patrick’s spirit, or worse–die trying.

Abandoned is a paranormal suspense a bit over 100k words.

For your consideration, I can provide the manuscript in Word doc. or print version.

Best regards,

The central problem here is that I don't much care if Michael dies or recovers. He let his brother die, and said nothing. Patrick's revenge seems pretty sensible to me. I wouldn't mind being able to haunt a few ne'er do wells from the grave once I'm on the other side.

We'll need to see more of why Michael is a sympathetic character to want to read this.

This arrived as a big bloc o'text AND your emails to me are on some sort of arty background and start about two inches from the top of the email viewing window. I simply cannot emphasize enough that you MUST send your emails without ANY decorative touches. If I hadn't scrolled down, I would have thought the email was blank.

Form rejection, but this is much much improved from the initial version.

Abandoned- Horror.
Word count: 119,500

Don't do this. For starters, horror is a VERY tough category right now. I can count on one fin the number of agents who sell it. You're much better off enticing me with the story first, and letting me deal with the bad news about category later. Same with word count. Let me love the story, then drop the bad news that it's 119K (and yes, I think that's bad news but not everyone agrees)

Dear Query Shark,

The house is haunted. He’s been told that, but Michael Riley has bigger things to worry about. Besides losing his job, his grandmother, and now possibly the old farmhouse he inherited, Michael's dark secret threaten to drive him insane.

This is cliche. I'd stop reading right here. I've jumped up and down and screamed for 160+ queries about starting with the problem/choice/dilemma the main character faces. Start with action.

When Michael’s little brother, Patrick, disappeared thirty years ago, no one expected to see the boy again. Now Patrick is back, and as Gramma Riley promised, he knows what scares you.

This sounds exactly like the voice over for a movie "Patrick's back, and he knows what scares you." There are no telling details, no indications of character.

From the beginning, things are not right. Noises down the hall, footsteps in the night, lights turning off and on by themselves, all point to something supernatural at work. Still, Michael is in denial.

Michael sounds like an idiot here. There's an entire category of characters called "TSTL (too stupid to live)" and they are the ones who look at what's clearly A Problem and say "gosh, it must be mice in the attic" This is not interesting. This is farce.

When an old neighbor, Roland, shows up, things get even more bizarre. An accomplice in Patrick’s disappearance, Roland claims that Patrick’s ghost haunts him, and wishes him dead. But Roland is not well, psychologically speaking. While Michael has been quietly suppressing his demons, letting false memories replace unpleasant ones, Roland has been living an endless nightmare until the lines between real and imaginary have blurred into one.

Things were bizarre before? Patrick disappeared on purpose? If Patrick isn't dead, how can his ghost haunt Roland?

Again, this is all smoke and mirrors, nothing substantive.

Enter Linda Maher, Michael’s childhood sweetheart. Romance again blossoms between them and Michael soon realizes how quickly a ghost can ruin a good thing. Linda is not part of the conspiracy that took place so many years ago, but if she gets in his way, Patrick is not above helping her cross over.

I thought Patrick wasn't dead?

This presents Michael with difficult choice. Should he forget about Patrick and start a new life with the girl of his dreams, or risk losing her by putting to rest once and for all his little brother and the demons that have waited three decades for his return?

Finally, we get to the choice! Notice it's in the last paragraph...the very last place it should be! I still don't quite get what the choice is other than the very general Girlfriend or Dead Brother. Me, I'd pick the girlfriend, but I'm an earth sign so I like things that are real.

Best regards,

This is a form rejection. There's nothing here to hold onto. I have no sense of what Michael is about, why his brother wants to scare him, or why, given the chance, Michael wouldn't run off to Vegas with the girlfriend.


Josin L. McQuein said...

Find/Replace the names and this is half the horror stories written since the first time someone upended a flashlight under their chin at a sleepover.

Can't you find something more unique about the plot to highlight to catch the reader's attention?

Uma said...

I feel bad for the others you reject but not this!

Uma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about the genre and what's a story-cliche, but do watch out for language cliches: things are not right, in denial, girl of his dreams.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I would love to get a better feel for the core conflict in the book.

This may be my naivete, but if horror is a difficult genre, what about classifying this as paranormal suspense. It sounds like there are some suspenseful elements and a ghost. Again. I know nothing of these genres so I may be waaaaaay off.

Anonymous said...

I think "Now Patrick is back" means he's back as a ghost? We shouldn't have to guess though. It might be obvious to you, but not to us readers.

I agree with Josin, this is a very generic plot. If you want to continue with the horror genre, you need to find ways to, well, horrify us! That's hard to do when we can guess each "twist."

Steve Stubbs said...

I would encourage the author to find surprising and unheard of ways to show something "supernatural" going on. Lights turning on and off and footsteps in the night have been done to death. Horror movies scare the bejesus out of me, but when lights turn on and off by themselves and I hear footsteps in the night and strange cackling noises, I just think to myself that the neighbors are burglarizing he place again and laugh it off. There is nothing more hilarious at my place than a good burglary. Pardon me, but just thinking about it cracks me up.

There are motifs which have not been worn out. In days of yore, characters knew something supernatural was going on when their blood ran cold for no apparent reason. (If the character just got one of those cell phone bills for $56,147 that his teenage daughter ran up in a single month, we wouldn't need a ghost to make his blood run cold. There has to be NO APPARENT REASON.) In other stories a character might smell the rotten egg odor of death despite having just cleaned out the fridge the day before. In the movie CURSE OF THE DEMON characters who are being stalked by the demon hear a song that one character learns is associated with demonic presence all over the world.

Also, traditionally ghosts are not interested in scaring people. They want justice (English translation: revenge) with regard to their murderers, or they want to warn the living, or something like that. Ghosts have better things to do than go around saying "Boo!" The dead kid has some sort of message to convey. What is it?

Amy said...

If anyone would like additional feedback on queries beyond the Shark's always-excellent comments, I recently created a website devoted to query letter testing and review:

It's a virtual slush pile. You can submit a query to the slush pile and then read slush, simply answering YES or NO to each query, as to whether you'd request pages. You're permitted to leave additional feedback if you want to. As a query submitter, what you get back is a percentage of how many fellow writers said YES to your query, along with any optional feedback they provided.

The site is free and entirely noncommercial (no ads, nothing). I've got 37 queries in the slush pile, with an average of 17 responses to each, and I'd love to get some more.

Kate said...

I think Josin makes the most important point of all: the plot is a touch too generic to catch an agent's, or a reader's, attention.

I, personally, would be interested to know how the haunting shenanigans relate to the MC's secret/transformation throughout the story. How will he confront his personal demons as he tackles "real life" demons. And yes, you need more than rattling chains to scare a modern audience. My husband and I often comment on how desensitized we are to violence and fear scenarios. It's sick and sad, I know, but it's true.

Also, Gothic might be a good genre alternative? Shark might disagree. Don't bite me.

M. G. E. said...

Genre doesn't matter as much as writing an original story with a fresh plot, and writing it well.

If it's good horror, good anything, it can sell. No one would stop a Steven King from publishing a horror novel right now, would they.

The problem is this plot is completely passe in just about every way. The plot itself is a mishmash of horror cliches.

Horror is a sub-genre of fantasy because the unexplained is frightening, yet you begin the query by explaining who's haunting the house and why. That should be the central tension of the story to come out at the end, if it's even explained at all.

You make the little brother the "haunter" because without that your MC would have no personal stake in solving the haunting. Not sure it works though.

Hauntings as "something to be solved" may not work as well as other plot-types. The movie "Poltergeist" used a kidnap plot. "The Exorcist" had a similar approach with a girl metaphysically held hostage by the demon.

To that end, you might be able to turn around the story by having his childhood sweetheart stolen away by the ghost in the house. Then he can't leave.

There's also what may be a POV issue: you have us inside Patrick's head with this line, "Linda is not part of the conspiracy that took place so many years ago, but if she gets in his way, Patrick is not above helping her cross over."

Is the story told partially from the Ghost's point of view?

Uma said...

Steve Stubbs: Great observations!

Joseph said...

Horror is situational. Everything in your query feels random, as if you thought, "I want to write a story about a scary child," and you started there and worked your way up. The element of psychology is missing and the solution seems clear (move away from the house!). The stakes have to be terribly high and the walls suffocatingly close in horror. In all the scariest stories, the terror of a mind about to break is always as present as the terror of a child who wants to eat your girlfriend. This is ESPECIALLY true of a ghost story, which should be the only type of horror story that scares anyone over 12. If you're 33 years old and you're still worried about vampires, I don't know what to tell you. Unless you're worried about them ruining books for everyone forever.

The specter of the dead sibling story is a pretty worn one. Unless your concept is wildly original, your characters had better be compelling. Get some non-generic sounding characters, get an actual ticking clock, and work it into the query. Give the hero a limp or something.

Take King's latest, Duma Key. Dumb concept*, great book.

*It's about a guy who draws an evil pirate ship that comes to life. The book manages to be remarkably effective.

Joseph L. Selby said...

119,500 is bad news. I'm doomed.

Irene Troy said...

I don’t know if it’s because I’m far too critical (an accusation some have made) or because I don’t understand the fiction writing biz (another accusation), but personally, I’d give a great deal for a new premise instead of a rehash of yet another old idea. Perhaps, the author of this query is a much more skilled and original writer than this query presents, but most everything contained in the query seems yet another rehash of old stories. Does anyone really want to read yet another story about a haunted house, a lost sibling, supernatural happenings (when these happenings are standardized instead of something clever and new) and lame characters? Give us something new, something not done by others and make it interesting, intriguing, and exciting. If you have already written something of this type, then rewrite the query to show us this.

Lyndoncr said...

RE: Amy and Query test

Brilliant site!
I've put two versions of mine up yesterday and already gotten good responses. Is there a reason for the character limit on responses though? I have more to say on some of the queries I've looked at.
I see it growing a nice a little user base, keep at it. :)

JS said...

I had a hard time making sense of the plot from this query. Michael is over 30, but the death of his grandmother is a blow that could drive him insane? Most people over 30 are aware that their grandparents don't have an awful lot of time left. And if he was old enough to have a "childhood sweetheart" with whom romance could blossom "again" presumably he's closer to 40, so.

Then there's the whole "is Patrick alive or dead?" issue. And with whom was Roland "an accomplice in Patrick's disappearance?" Patrick himself? Some unnamed Big Bad?

If you were an editing client of mine, I would encourage you to cut out 35,000 words, tighten up the plot, and query small publishers, because that's where the action (such as it is) is in horror these days unless you have something awfully fresh.

Good luck.

Christina Auret said...

I scare very, very easily. I can't read horror or watch it in movie form. I just cant take the fear.

I don't think I would have any problem reading this book. It is probably due to the hole fear of the unknown thing. The story sounds so familiar, it's just not scary.

If you don't scare me, you're not going to scare anyone.

Dan Ritchie said...

big books are scary.

Alisa said...

So. Confused. I really didn't understand what was going on in this story. I tried. I even reread the query. But that didn't help.

I will admit that I do not read or watch horror. I do not like to be scared. I like my happy, shiny bubble. I don't like things that make my spine tingle and goose bumps pop up all over my arms.

Having said that, this query did none of those things. It did not scare me. It just befuddled me.

I loved Steve Stubbs comments and advice about how to make it scary. Steve - reading your comment made me scared and I had to retreat to my happy bubble.

So yeah. Author - definitely take Steve's advice and make your query (and your book) scary in subtle, psychological ways instead of relying on overused cliches that don't even scare today's 8 year olds.

Also, one last note: Would love to see a query that gives more of an idea about the characters. I really didn't get any idea of who any of these people were or their personalities, which meant that I couldn't really care about them or their plights.

Stephanie Barr said...

This reminds me of a short story I once wrote.

Except it's longer.

I rarely read horror because a gifted hand in it is hard to find. The line between stupid beyond belief and blood-curdling/chilling is slender and far too many cross to stupid. If you haven't, you'll probably want to explain how. I don't think this query does it.

dana e donovan said...

OK, I soooo get it. I can't write a query worth a S*%#, but thanks to you all (and especially QS) I am working on a revision that I hope will be much better. That said, I can write (I think), and though this was my 2nd book (I have 11 now)It is not as bad as the query makes it out, and definitely not the same old re-hatched ghost story your mama told you about. Until I get the revised query up, I invite anyone who wants to read the book to do so, (though I suppose most of you won't, based on your comments). Anyway, you are welcomed to it, and I would seriously welcome all criticism.Even you, Uma. Believe it or not, I value your opinions almost as I value QS'
You can find the download at no promo code necessary.

Lyle said...

To Dana:

I feel your pain as Query Letter writing is a lot harder than it seems. A lot of folks enjoyed my sample chapters but they noted that the voice was MISSING in my Query Letter because I crammed too much of the story that I lost my the soul of my main character in the Query Letter. One great suggestion I recieved was to write the Query Letter as if you're writing an extension to your novel -- as in, maintain the voice, pace and tone that is present in the finished product. A lot of times the Query Letter ends up being a rushed or over-zealous summary due to the limited word count you're given.

So I am in the same boat, my friend... Right now Im working on version 52 of my Query ;-)

Uma said...

I regretted my daft comments about 'feeling sorry' almost as soon as I posted them.
I don't agree with all of your comments posted on this blog but I find them intelligent and honest.
I did go and read 4 pages of your novel and liked it!
My case is just the reverse, I think I can write a brilliant query letter because I have been writing sales letters for almost 15 years of my life as a copywriter. But I've had several attempts at a novel trashed by a critique group I joined, and I find every novel (in our group) too "rambling". They'll kill me if I use that word again.
But I'll be here next and the rest of you will be laughing your heads off, 'to think she wrote sales letters for 15 years of her life...and she can't convince Shark to read her own novel.' And I will forgive you, in light of my comments above, and probably know deep down that my novel is far far worse than the letter :P

Uma said...

Dana, the more I read of your novel the more I like it! Especially Grandma Riley. But to think the protagonist heard why Grandma moved out of the house, even before he moved in... that makes his denial even harder to understand. And that also makes me wonder about Patrick's revenge - why did he have to drive the poor woman out? So that his brother would find it convenient to move in? (Even more implausible)
Anyway Shark will wonder why I'm blabbing back and forth here, so I'll take the liberty to give you my email uma01666(at)gmail(dot)com I hope it's ok to post that here.

dana e donovan said...

Lyle, thanks for the solidarity. I agree with you and "most" of what everyone else said. It's hard not to try and make a query into a chopped-up synopsis/book trailer. We are used to seeing movie trailers with their voice overs, teasers and bit clips of all the best scenes, only to find that the movie is really a dud. But the bit clips & voice overs "Make" us want to see the movie! I understand now that agents are smarter than that. Hype is trite and they don't need it. Good luck with vision 52.

Cole Howard said...

Two consecutive queries featuring "Grammy always said..." wisdom! Watch out folks, it's contagious!

If only all fictitious grammies offered such plot-relevant advice; Betty White would have had many more movie roles over the last decade...sigh.

April said...

Ok, I agree this story (from the query) is weaker than water, but my interest in the work piqued at the mention of psychologically ill Roland. Mysterious, disturbed characters are always fascinating to me. Maybe this novel can be salvaged if the writer can develop this character more and make him more prominent in the work.

Oh, just my advice: good horror novels build on lots of subtly executed foreshadowing and well-constructed mood. Creaking floors and flickering lights haven't been scary since movies went into color.

dana e donovan said...

Uma, thanks for your comments. keep reading. Michael's denial is based on the fact that he just doesn't believe in things like ghosts. He's really quite stubborn and pragmatic. I am still amazed that others here feel they can draw an accurate conclusion about the strength/weakness of any character from a query alone. I've admitted that my query is bad, but even if it was great, you cannot judge the book by its query. You can only decide if it's worth looking at. Seriously, thanks for your comments everyone. Keep them coming, but stay focused. Tell me why the query doesn't work for you. Don't tell me the why the book sux.

JS said...

I am still amazed that others here feel they can draw an accurate conclusion about the strength/weakness of any character from a query alone.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. This is the first thing agents or publishers will see of your book, after all.

So I would encourage you to learn from the criticism you get here rather than getting defensive. You want your book to sail on a ship that's as watertight as you can make it (and as invulnerable to shark attacks), and that's why well-crafted queries are vital.

dana e donovan said...

JS, you are absolutely right. The point of coming here is to get honest feedback from people whose opinions matter-People who will tell you the truth. Close friends and relatives won't do that. It's clear to me that every comment here has value and insight, and if those who posted them did not care so much, they would not have taken the time to do so. To all of you, thanks.

Stephanie Barr said...

I thought the rework was head and shoulders over the original, but there were several things QS didn't mention that struck me, specifically:

"Psychological wounds reshaped Michael’s recollections, cleansing him of memories too difficult to bear. " Truth is, I have no idea what this sentence is supposed to mean The wounds cleansed him of memories too difficult to bear? It stopped me as I was reading and I would have been tempted to stop right there.

"Within days, curious happenings begin to manifest in and around the house." Again, I have no idea what this means. I can't work happenings into manifesting. Perhaps, something simpler like, "Within days, strange things began happening in and around the house." Not clever, but clear. And clear is good.

"The spirit appears Patrick is still only seven-years-old and indifferent to Michael’s maturity. He has anguished alone for so long, and now all he wants is to be with his brother again." Several things here: first, the first sentence doesn't make sense unless there was supposed to be a period after appears. Not sure why the fact the ghost is seven (or Michael's "mature") is relevant or why the ghost should care Michael has grown older. And is anguish a verb? Or did you mean languish?

I think the premise has promise, but I would be very careful with syntax, grammar and clarity. This is your resume, for your skills as a writer as well as the story.

And I agree with QS, I need to have a reason to care about Michael before I spend any time with him. I didn't find one here.

Still, the changes and improvements are legion.

M. G. E. said...

My problem with the new version is that you spend so much time setting up the background that you make it sound like 85% of the book is about this childhood incident--when I know from the previous query that it's really about Michael and the haunted house, etc.

That's a problem of proportion. You can brush aside virtually that entire back story with a single sentence: "Michael blames himself for his little brothers death when they both were children," etc. Then jump into the story-question, which is what your book is really about.

I think you're losing too much by focusing on this childhood incident and then only implying the main plot with those last lines. If I requested pages based on this query I'd probably be surprised to find 10% of the book talking about the kid dying and 90% about Michael's grown-up predicament.

dana e donovan said...

M.G.E., You hit the nail right on the head. The query and the book are not in sync. It's a forest for the trees thing now. Based on comments from the previous revision, I thought I needed only to provide more empathy for Michael so readers could "feel" his pain. That may have been true, but in the process I managed to further water down an already bloated query. Look for a substantially pared down rewrite of this query soon. And thanks for your help.

Shakier Anthem said...

Not sure if 4 revisions is a record for this site, but kudos to the author for your persistence and willingness to accept constructive criticism. And hail to the shark for putting it on the site so we can all learn from it.

Stephanie Barr said...

I also have to applaud the tenacity. Your fourth revision is the best to date.

I know it's challenging to paint a real sympathetic character into a query, but I'd think it might be the key to a story like this. Redemption, and that's what I feel like you're talking about, needs someone worth routing for.

M. G. E. said...

Dana: I have to admit, the newest version is actually pretty good. I'm pleasantly surprised. You've definitely put thought into it, it's appropriately spooky and interesting.

You're just missing some suggestion of the later events and how things come to a head ultimately. Just a little bit more meat, some suggestion of how the fact of their unhappy reunion is going to become a disaster.

Don't overdo it, but add enough that the reader is enticed and I think you have a winner.

It might even be enough to suggest that Michael's getting married "tomorrow" or whenever and his brother's decided to attend :P

I love the change where his little brother decides to make a game out of it. That's sheer brilliance right there.

Anonymous said...

Much better. I didn't get lost in revision 4. You're reaching that elusive quality of the right level and amount of coherent detail combined with a feeling of openness that makes me interested in reading more.

And kudos for continuing to work on it. That's the sign of a true writer.

Zoe said...

"With apologies to the OldSpice Man: look at your first query. Now look at this. Now look at your second query. Now look at this."

More like QueryShark FTW.

Kate Halleron said...


My only criticism of the new, shiny version is that 'crossover' should be two words, 'cross over'.

Other than that, very nice.

dana e donovan said...

Wow! I feel like I just graduated from Query Shark University. It's been a long road. Thanks to all of you who commented. Especially thanks to Janet. This process has been an eye-opening experience for me.

I shall apply what I learned here not only to queries, but to future books and rewrites of older ones, as well.

As a small token of appreciation to all who have tracked my journey, please accept a free copy of ABANDONED in your favorite e-format.

To download, follow this link to Smashwords ( ) and apply the coupon code WH26K (not case sensitive).

Also, look for the first two installments of the Detective Marcella Witch’s series. Downloads are free. No codes necessary.

Thanks again everyone. You guys are great!

Stephanie Barr said...

As a general rule, I don't read horror, but I have to agree you hit my soft spot - kids. One reason I read Stephen King so many years was his ability to tell children effectively (a skill that is not prized as it should be for it's rarity).

You DID make me care about them in the query, enough I'd be tempted to read this.

And that's saying something. Way to hang in there and make it work.

D.N.Frost said...

Fantastic! Aside from 'to cross over' (crossover is a noun, but the verb is still two words) there was only one thing that threw me:

But since Michael found Linda, his childhood sweetheart, he now has every reason to live.

If...Michael and Pat were children together, then did Patrick know this 'childhood' sweetheart? If she knew them in childhood, where did she go, such that Michael has to 'find' her again?

Perhaps if you called her a 'high school sweetheart'? But ever since Michael found Linda, his high school sweetheart, he's had every reason to live. That way makes it sounds more like she wasn't there when they were kids, but he found her later in his youth and fell in love, which I think is where you were going with it anyway.

That's just a small nitpicking issue, though. I can't express enough just how excellent this query is! Way to stick with it; I'll be looking to spot your book on the shelf.

dana e donovan said...

Zoe, Kate, Stephanie, Remora & everyone, thank you for your kind words. You are right, Zoe. This is Query Shark FTW. This query would NEVER be what it is now if not for her. (Thank you again, Janet)

Remora, The boys did know Linda when they were children. She didn't go anywhere. Michael is the one who was gone for decades. He went back to NC when Pat died. They were only spending the summer at the farm.

I do hope some of you will read ABANDONED. The voice you helped me find for my query is strong in the novel. The two do love each other very much, and that is really what the book is about.

Once again, thank you all for your help. You guys rock! promo code WH26K

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

Nice Dana! Really cool to watch your progress!

Nancy Hinchliff said...

I totally agree with this:

JS said...
"I am still amazed that others here feel they can draw an accurate conclusion about the strength/weakness of any character from a query alone."

Nancy Hinchliff said...

What a difference between the first and last queries. You really nailed this one, Dana.

Rachel6 said...

Re Amy and Query test:

Amy, I love the idea, and I really want to join this site, but it isn't working. Every time I click on "read slush" or "click here to register", my screen reads "server error."

Anyone know how to fix this? :)

On another note, I don't read horror, but Dana's query makes me curious about her book! Brava

Will Granger said...

I might be wrong, but this story sounds similar to the movie, "Charlie St. Cloud." Anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Unless you knew it from this site, you would never guess the same person wrote the first query and its last revision. I'm not scared by horror nor do I read it, but I want to read this. Good job Dana.