Sunday, March 3, 2013

#239-Revised 2x

Second Revision

Dear QueryShark,

Kris Kennedy is living a nightmare.

A mental health counselor at Bison Mental Hospital in San Jose, California, one fateful day Kris is assigned a schizophrenic named Lorelei Cooper who turns up out of the blue at Bison. Within days of working with Lorelei, who acts extremely erratic around Kris, she quickly realizes that Lorelei has a disturbing fascination for her.

This is awkward nonrhythmic writing. I'd stop reading and send a form rejection after this first paragraph. Awkward writing in a query means awkward writing in the novel.

How to fix this: put the sentence in the right order first. Subject. Verb. Clause. Every sentence. Then, when you have the form right, you can revise it to be more artful. Right now this is a mess because you're not using this sentence structure on purpose to make a point. It's just raw.

One night Lorelei escapes the hospital, clearly having been let out. Kris's master set of keys are found near the crime scene. The janitor saw her come in late the night of Lorelei's escape. Offices were searched; Lorelei's shredded documents are found in Kris's office. Quickly everyone turns on her.

But Kris is innocent.

Her close friend and administrator at Bison, Mac, regretfully gives her an ultimatum, restrained by his primary obligation to the hospital: figure out who let Lorelei out soon, or risk being thrown in jail by the police for the crime you didn't commit, by the people who hate you: everyone. I'll send out search teams to find Lorelei, but you will still seem guilty unless you defend yourself, he advises. Kris knows that Lorelei, who is mentally unstable, could be a danger to the public, and especially to herself, since Lorelei has such a fixation with her.

The grammar here makes me weep. Even some quotation marks would help. If you don't know what's off here, it's time to do a refresher course. Honestly, I'm not a grammar Nazi, and which/that confounds me to this day, but this paragraph should sound wrong to you.  If it doesn't you need to recalibrate your ear.

Kris must figure out who the culprit is before it's too late, all the while battling her personal problems. And in the end, when all is said and done, she learns of a secret that changes her life forever.

"Learning a secret that changes her life forever" isn't the resolution of the book. If it changes her life forever, it's the start of the book. Also, I strongly urge you NOT to include the resolution of the book in the query.  The purpose of a query is to entice me to read the book. If I know how it ends why would I read it?

I grew up in San Jose, which is the reason why I set my novel, PUZZLES, there. I also write for a local newspaper, and have been published in many magazines.

PUZZLES is my debut suspense novel, and is complete at nearly 61,500 words.Thank you for your time and consideration.

 I'm not sure if you're revising too quickly, or in getting the query down to a manageable number of words the awkward writing is just more prominent.  Whatever the reason, it's the writing that's going to be the problem here now.

One of the ways to tune your ear to awkward writing is to read things aloud.  Read  books you love aloud. Or listen to them on tape.  Hearing things rather than just seeing them will help a lot.

Sentences have to flow. They have to have rhythm.  And you've got to be able to create sentences with flow and rhythm for the query to work.


First Revision

Dear QueryShark,

    Kris Kennedy is living a nightmare.

    A mental health counselor at Bison Mental Hospital in San Jose, California, one fateful day Kris is assigned a schizophrenic in her fifties named Lorelei Cooper who turns up out of the blue at Bison as her patient. Within days of working with Lorelei, Kris quickly realizes that Lorelei seems to have an intense fascination for her, bordering on the disturbing. Lorelei acts very erratically around Kris. One day she'll be a sweet old woman, the next she'll try to bite Kris's hand off. Kris soon develops a fear for Lorelei, which is abnormal for a calm, stoic professional like Kris.

You're drowning in words here. All of this is backstory and set up. All we need to know Kris has a disturbing patient; one who is erratic and fixated on her.

   One night soon after Lorelei's arrival at Bison, she escapes the hospital, clearly having been let out by someone. And looking at the crime scene (Lorelei's room), it's not hard to see who did it: Kris's possessions are strewn round the crime scene. Plus, people saw her come in late during the night of Lorelei's escape, unusual for Kris. Quickly, everyone turns on Kris.

And again, too much information that we don't need. Lorelei escapes. Kris's possessions are strewn about her room. Kris gets blamed.

    But Kris is innocent. In fact, she only came in late that one night to grab her coat.

    So whodunit really?

One of the commenters to the original version (Raquel) pointed out that "whodunit" is both abrupt and too comical for the  rest of the query and I agree with that.

    Her close friend, and administrator at Bison, Mac, gives her an ultimatum: figure out who let Lorelei out soon, or risk being thrown in jail for the crime you didn't commit. Kris knows that Lorelei, who is extremely mentally unstable, could be a danger to the public, or especially to herself, since Lorelei has such a fixation with her. Kris realizes she must figured out who let Lorelei out before its too late.

Wow, Kris REALLY needs better friends. If any of my friends threatened to throw me in jail for a crime I didn't commit, I'd quit my job and move to Texas where they let you buy guns at the drive through window.

But what this really does is illuminate a key problem with the novel.  This isn't plausible.  Unless  the rule of law has ceased to apply in this novel, ordinary people can't just get their friends thrown in jail. Trust me, I've asked.

There has to be a plausible reason Kris is both accused/suspected of helping Lorelei escape, and why Kris has to find Lorelei on her own.

    Unfortunately, there's a billion other problems going on in Kris's life. She is suffering from intense depression, having killed her mother in a freak fireworks accident. Soon after she becomes involved in the mystery behind Lorelei's escape, an unknown stalker begins to terrorize her at night. Her best friend, and only source of support, Julia, begins to slowly drift away from Kris, tiring of Kris's misery. A new friend she makes, Eli, has ulterior motives, and after pretending to be friends with Kris and helping her to figure out whodunit, he uses the information they found together to try to solve the mystery himself, for the cash prize involved. In the end, when she finds out who the culprit is, she learns a secret about her mother that changes everything, including her life.

This is a list without any purpose to the plot.

    I grew up in San Jose, which is the reason why I set my novel, PUZZLES, there. I also write for a local newspaper, and have been published in many magazines, like (redacted). I have also won several writing contests.

Writing contests really don't count unless they're well known.

PUZZLES is my debut suspense novel, and is complete at nearly 61,500 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

You're well over the desirable word count here: 460 is  200 words too  many. The reason you want to adhere to word count is it forces you to write sparely, and focus on what matters.

You've got a lot of stuff that doesn't matter.  Take that out.  Focus on getting the plot on the page.

I'm glad you paid attention to the very astute commenters on the original post particularly those like Lauren H.T. who pointed out the problems with mental health nomenclature and description.

I think you're trying to revise too quickly here. This feels like you read all the comments and my critique and rushed to fix it.  That's good. What you're missing is the revision process.

You need to let your work sit for at least a day, maybe two. Then go back and figure out what you can take out.  Revising is almost always taking stuff out. 

All first drafts are dreadful. Novelist Bill Cameron once said "give yourself permission to suck" and that's really good advice.  Revision is where you get out of suck and into "this works." 

You've got some awkward constructions and some sentences in the wrong order.  It's easier to see that with fresh eyes.  

Revise. Wait. Revise. Wait. Revise. Resend.

Dear QueryShark,

Life is out to get Kris Kennedy. Not to mention a crazy old woman, a stalker, etc.
etc? Et cetera is used at the end of a list to indicate that further, similar items are included. It's only useful if the reader already knows what that list would be. I have no idea what the next item on the list of things out to get Kris Kennedy is. Her girdle?  Her cat? A posse of clowns?

If I'd gotten this query for real, I would have stopped reading here.  (Scary isn't it)  Your first sentence should grab me, but if it doesn't it should at least not make me think Huh?

As a grieving young woman who burned her mother alive in a horrible accident, Kris, usually sharp, crisp, and at the top of her game, is drowning in depression.
And right here, my response is whaaat?  For starters, you'll want to reverse the order of these phrases--
 Kris, usually sharp, crisp, and at the top of her game, is drowning in depression. A grieving young woman who burned her mother alive in a horrible accident,

-- to get the description in logical order.

And really, you just can't leave us with nothing else about what happened to Kris' mom. It's too awful to leave hanging.  Either leave it out (you don't need to explain the cause of her depression) or elaborate.

One day, Kris, a mental counselor at Bison Mental Hospital in San Jose, California, is assigned a new patient, a brooding old woman named Lorelei Cooper who is sort of...creepy. Kris quickly realizes how pathologically insane Lorelei is. Soon, Lorelei escapes from Bison, let out by someone, and with some incriminating evidence, Kris is quickly under everyone's suspicions.
A mental counselor? I think you mean mental health counselor.  I'm not sure "pathologically insane" is something a mental (health or otherwise) counselor would say. It sounds awkward to me.  Also "sort of creepy" would seem to be a lay-person's description of someone, not a professional.

Also this doesn't make sense. If Kris is the counselor and Lorelei is her patient, there's paperwork attached to the case. Kris isn't going to "realize" how pathologically insane Lorelei is, cause it's going to be on the admittance form.  

And why is Kris under suspicion? She's a counselor not a guard. Or a nurse. Unless Lorelei escapes while Kris is meeting with her, why would she be the target of the investigation?

But whodunit really?

Kris, deep in peril, must battle her misery and investigate who let Lorelei out and framed her, before Lorelei, one of the most insane patients Bison has ever housed, does something dangerous to the public. She must solve the perfect crime before the police get involved and throw her in jail for the sin she didn't commit. With powerful enemies and fickle friends lurking, high stakes, little time, and a mystery maniacal stalker terrorizing her, Kris confronts truths, makes foes, and learns of the greatest deception of her life, an epiphany which rocks her to the core. Her journey is one fraught with danger, destiny, and above all, discovery, about life and all its own puzzles.
The stakes here are pretty abstract: something dangerous to the public. It's always better to have something specific. Lorelei has a long standing enmity toward someone and now she's out, she's going after him/her/them/it.

And the rest of this paragraph is too generalized to be useful.

Go in to the archives and read the posts. Look for the ones that show you how to get plot on the page. You don't have that here yet, and that's a fatal weakness in a query.

I grew up in San Jose, which is the reason why I set my novel, PUZZLES, there. I also write for a local newspaper, and have been published in many magazines (names mentioned.)  I have also won several writing contests. I have an interest in psychology and penning stories, and this book is the crossing point of those interests.

I have a personal aversion to the phrase "penning stories" because it evokes a sense of Victorian ladies at their escritoires with a damn feather.   It makes writing sound bloodless and I've seen the carnage y'all inflict on yourself and others.

PUZZLES is my debut mystery novel, and is complete at nearly 61,000 words.Thank you for taking the time to read my query. Thank you for your time and consideration.

61K is pretty short for a suspense novel, which is what this is.


This isn't doing what a query needs to do: entice me to read on. Lorelei is a cardboard villain, the other villains (powerful enemies, fickle friends,  a mystery maniacal stalker) are one dimensional. 

The protagonist is a depressed woman who burned her mom alive. 

When you see the setup rephrased like this, you can understand why I'm not all that keen to spend the next three hours reading your novel.

Characters have to be enticing and interesting. They don't have to be paragons of virtue, in fact it's better if they aren't but they have to be interesting, and these aren't yet.

Here's one way to learn how to describe characters well in a query. 

1. Make a list of 20 books you've read that had characters you liked.  Books where you hope there's a sequel soon cause you want to go back to that world.

2. Look at the flap copy for those books and see how the characters are introduced. What words describe the character?  Make a list of the words. What does the character DO that reveals what they're like.  Dick Francis was a master of this. All of his heroes were essentially the same guy albeit with different names, circumstances and professions.

3. Look inside the book to see what the characters DO that reveal what they're like.

Analyze those lists and see how to do the same kind of thing in your book.

This is one of the reasons you keep a list of books you've read, and a notebook of observations, comments and tricks and tips you picked up from reading. 


Michael G-G said...

Your list of three things at the end here--listing characters, seeing how they're introduced in flap copy, and cracking open the book to see what they DO that reveals what they're like--is some of the best querying, (heck, make that writing) advice I've read in a long while. Complete with a shout-out to Dick Francis, too. Brilliant, Miss Shark, bloody brilliant.

Tiana Smith said...

This may seem picky, but one of the other things that is bugging me about this query is how many times you mention Kris's name in an awkward way. For example:

"Kris, usually sharp..."
"Kris, a mental counselor..."
"Kris, deep in peril..."

All of these sentences can be reworded to sound better. We know your main character's name is Kris Kennedy. You should be able to say something like, "As a mental counselor, she..." or a similar statement that doesn't always put a comma after Kris's name.

Just a thought to consider.

Chris Desson said...

I like your idea of making a list of favorite books, character descriptions, and book jacket wording. I've checked out book covers before querying, but I've never compiled an actual list. Thank you for the great idea. I'm going to do this immediately.

Lauren H. T. said...

I tried to post this before, but I don't think it went through?

Alright, I probably could have waited for someone else to mention this, but as a young woman who has lived with mental illness for the past (at least) seventeen years of her life, I couldn't let this pass.

And I apologize, because I was typing a longer, better reply, but I was looking for articles and starting to get triggered. Anyway.
There are a lot of examples of fictitious stories that use "mental illness" as the reason the character is violent. There's also a lot of studies saying that this is inaccurate, as people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence, and even those who do commit violence have other contributing factors going on. There's also quite a few sites out there discussing the stigma against mentally ill people and how so many portrayals of violent mentally ill people contribute to that, but I don't want to tell what you not to write, and I'll be honest, I like Criminal Minds, even with its fail moments.
So instead, I'll say this: from what you've written in your query, I don't have confidence that you know what your writing about, and will write in a way that isn't hurtful to people with mental illness.

No modern health professional would use the term "pathologically insane" to describe someone, and I'm not even sure any psychiatric hospital would have the term "Mental Hospital" in it's name, at least in the United States. The antagonist, from what you've written here, is so dangerous she needs to be locked away for the safety of the public. Ignoring the fact that those cases are incredibly rare (much rarer than people think), I have no idea of your antagonist's motivation or even the vaguest idea of what's wrong with her, other than that's she "creepy" and "insane". So far, she's coming off as not just as a one-dimensional antagonist, but also as a stereotypical one that's been seen and done more times than I can count.

Beyond that: the terms you use suggest you're not familiar enough with modern psychology to know no professional would use those terms, and as such I don't have the confidence you know what you're doing in writing any character in mental illness. I did get some hint that the protagonist might have some issues with mental illness as well - "drowning in depression" sounds like it could be clinical depression, which if true -- great! A positive portrayal of any type of a person with a mental illness is rare in media, and could help offset the negative portrayal, assuming you don't make it so one illness is a "safe" one and another is a "dangerous" one. Heck, for all I know, you could have a whole cast of fleshed-out characters with various types of mental illness who are more than just their disorders, but at this point I'm not getting that. All I'm getting is "the crazy person adds to the stakes".

Also, I just realized you used the term maniacal. So, is your character supposed to be having a episode of mania? Because that's what that means. And... I'm not going to get into how rare it is for someone suffering from mania to be that dangerous, because I pretty much already said that but, seriously: do your research. I'm not convinced you have, yet.

Anyway, sorry for getting to so critical, but this was really bugging me, and as someone who spent her childhood frightened to tell people what was going on inside her head for fear they'd lock her up, the portrayal of individuals with mental illness is really important to me.

Alright, hopefully that will help.

Rose said...

I just wanted to reiterate what other posters have said: the Shark's advice at the end is marvelous advice for querying and writing, and the portrayal of mental illness here seemed really off to me too. I realized I was mentally ill-- "drowning in depression"-- because I had been sleeping 12-16 hours a day and crying another 8 for two months straight. If Kris manages to be a detective on top of that, more power to her, but please be aware that these are real illnesses you're working with, author, not just plot devices.

Lehcarjt said...

"Life is out to get Kris Kennedy. Not to mention a crazy old woman, a stalker, etc."

I took this as: 'Life is out to get Kris. Life is also out to get a crazy old woman, a stalker, etc.' Which left me confused.

I also don't get the importance of San Jose (I also grew up there). There isn't anything in the query to explain why it is so important that the story is there rather than Sacramento or Reno or Colorado Springs. And really, in terms of an evocative place for a mystery novel, San Jose is a bit boring (err... unless you love giant suburbs of course).

Anonymous said...

I think Lauren covered some of my immediate reactions, namely that the author doesn't know enough about her subject. I suggest some serious immersive research, not just from the clinical end but from the perspective of those who experience and live mental illness, so that you cannot just dismiss evil as mental illness and vice versa.

Ellipsis Flood said...

I wish there were more comments like Lauren's, from people who know things mentioned in queries firsthand. It read as extremely helpful to the author, as well as to everyone else reading the query, as it tells us all how well the topic (mental illness in this case) is brought up in the query.

Theresa Milstein said...

"Her girdle?" Girdles that terrorize...

I think writing this query about the stalker would be way more interesting. That said, I think there are a few believability issues in this query, as Lauren points out. If those issues are in the manuscript, then some rewriting may be in order.

Jo-Ann said...

I second all of Lauren TH's comments! She worded it very well and author, you'd do well to take note.

On a lighter note, was it just me who snorted upon reading a description of a person as 'crisp' ... immediatley following a sentence about somebody burning to death?

Raquel said...

I have a small problem with the line "But whodunit really?"

Punctuation aside, it seems a bit abrupt. The author appears to be going for a serious approach, but this line borders on the comical.

I love novels of this genre, but I think that Lauren is right. If some of those issues aren't addressed, it will be difficult to take seriously anything that doesn't treat the SUBJECT seriously.

Anonymous said...

I had the same problems that Tiana Smith, Lehcarjt, and Raquel mentioned, which all add up to the same thing. The writing here is very awkward at the sentence level.

Query-recipients are going to assume that that doesn't bode well for the manuscript.

Accidentally burning one's mom alive reminded me of Karen Hesse's _Out of the Dust_. It also seemed a bit out-there as a trigger for depression. Depression's very common. Maternal immolation, less so.

Unknown said...

I fully understand what Lauren is saying and on several of her points, I agree. BUT...of course there's a 'but'; there has to be...but - and this just might show my inexperience - I don't think people read fiction novels to get accurate portrayals of people with real mental illnesses. Someone might and if people actually get something besides the usual enjoyment of reading books - awesome.

Now, I'm just going off personal experience here, so no one rip my face off, but when I read a book, I read it because the FICTIONAL characters are different from what I may or may not encounter on a day-to-day basis, they aren't like real people with - or without - mental illnesses and they do different - sometimes weird and completely out of the ordinary - shit. To me, that is what makes a book more enjoyable than some crap that may be going on in my real life.

Now, I agree that a little bit of "reality" and accuracy in a book can do it plenty of good but too much and it's like reading a collection of facts or a story about the woman who lives at the end of the cul-de-sac who may or may not have killed her husband and eaten her three kids. Dramatic example, I know but sometimes you have to take it there. Books should be an escape. Why does every little detail and fact have to be accurate?

St0n3henge said...


I've been diagnosed with dysthymia, among other things. I've known more than a few people with various other mental illnesses in my lifetime. I have to agree with Lauren here. This is all wrong.

Bison Mental Hospital- No. Maybe "Bison Mental Health Clinic" or "Bison Mental Health Care Partnership."

Then, "pathologically insane" isn't a diagnosis. Is she psychotic? Paranoid schizophrenic? Just schizophrenic? It's possible to have a combination of many disorders.

People are usually psychotic only temporarily. The medication works well.

If maniacal means manic, then, yeah- someone in a manic state is rarely violent. They may believe the government is going to buy them a plot of land to put up a t-shirt store (as one bipolar man said to me) but violence is much less likely. Usually they're too busy being on top of the world to feel any enmity for anybody. When they crash, the depression leaves them lethargic, so violence is again unlikely.

Most schizophrenics are also harmless. Unfortunately, if someone doesn't keep them on their meds they lose their job first, then their ability to care for themselves. The alcohol and drugs that follow are attempts at self-medication. These people are generally helpless and need care. Sometimes schizophrenics can be violent, but if they show this temperament, they are usually put in a group home and carefully monitored.

Sociopaths can be scary violent. Most have jobs, live in regular houses, and look just like you or me. They mimic having the same feelings that the rest of us do. It's almost impossible to tell that they don't really experience those feelings, but have learned they must pretend to. There is no reliable test for this pathology.

Drug addicts are unreliable and can be extremely violent, even when unprovoked. This is especially true of users of synthetic drugs such as meth and bath salts.

Hard-core drug addicts and sociopaths are probably the scariest people I can think of. I've never met a truly scary schizophrenic. Sometimes the constant struggle of the bipolar makes me sad. There are plenty of other illnesses that are hard for the sufferer and the families.

Yes, someone truly dangerous could get out of a facility. I don't think this author is really clear on how that would happen or what would naturally follow.

Anonymous said...

Amiya, every fact and detail must indeed be accurate.

Why? Because reality doesn't have to prove it's real. Fiction does.

(But fiction *isn't* real! Yes. That's why it has such a heavy burden of proof.)

Whatever facts you choose as a foundation for your novel, inevitably some readers will be experts on them. Doesn't matter if it's mental illness, tax law, how hurricanes form, or the geology of caves. If the writer hasn't done his/her research, knowledgeable readers will be unable to suspend their disbelief.

Elissa M said...


It's great that you can enjoy novels that have major factual issues. However for me, when an author gets things wrong, I lose my suspension of disbelief. This ruins the novel for me, and I won't finish it.

I know novels are fiction by definition, but I have to believe in the world the author has created. Janet mentioned Dick Francis. I don't know anything about flying an airplane and very little about steeplechases, but Francis did, and the authenticity of his writing is one of the (many)things that make his books such marvelous reads.

I, for one, think getting the facts right is as important in fiction as nonfiction.

Kim (YA Asylum) said...

The query letter is really abstract, like already mentioned, that I really couldn't care what was going on. I felt like it was trying to be profound in a way "Her journey is one fraught with danger, destiny, and above all, discovery, about life and all its own puzzles." But when it comes to a good suspense novel, I don't want profound, I want something that will keep me on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, I didn't get the sense that that was going to happen at all with this.

I think Lauren H. T. has a very valid point, too. I don't see the expertise to actually tackle the "mentally unhealthy" in a fresh new way. It's pretty common for that to be the reason behind someone being violent.

Plus, the "But whodunit" line was pretty bad. We get that it's going to be a whodunit story, to point that out is ... pointless. You want to show as much as you can, and not waste time telling us.

Looking at flap copy to see how characters are introduced and plots condensed into something attention grabbing is a really good idea. If I find a book I love, I always read over the flap copy a few times to see how the author managed to make me pick up the book in the first place.

Unknown said...

RE: does it have to be accurate?

It's not just about suspension of disbelief. Whether they realize they're doing it or not, readers believe what they read, and it comes out in their attitudes. When we read about violent mental patients, we internalize that. Mental illness has an unfortunate stigma in this country because people believe what they read. Inaccuracy and lack of research is hurting real, live people.

Mister Furkles said...


If your novel is about mental illness, this comment does not apply. If it is a crime thriller, this may help. Below is a 92 word description of an imaginary crime novel. It concentrates on the main conflict, risks, and two characters and it leaves all the secondary items out – which is easy since there is no book.

You might try to compress your story down to 100 words or less. It forces you to focus only on the main things and leave the rest to the book.

Now, Janet is perfectly welcome to say my fake query is awful, and that’s okay.
. . .
As a prison psychiatrist at a state facility for the criminally insane, Kris has some violent patients. The worst of this bad lot is Lori. She was a Brownie troop leader until she took an axe and hacked up five cute little girls. Lori hates several people who, her voices say, wronged her.

Then Lori escapes.

Although she wants to, Kris can’t tell detectives about Lori’s voices. And worse, they find evidence implicating Kris in Lori’s escape. Kris must find her missing patient before she kills or she may face prison herself.
. . .
So give your query another go. Leave out the depression, the mom, the state, and the facility’s name. Focus on conflict, risk, and two or three characters.

And remember to have fun with it.

Matthew MacNish said...

I'll only make one point in addition to Miss Shark's already brilliant ones:

I'm no psychologist, but I believe Depression is a clinical condition, often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

If you'd accidentally burned your own mother to death, you'd more likely be suffering from guilt, grief, and other justifiably difficult emotions.

Faye said...

Mental Health Professional tidbits:
1. In most hospitals where patients seem to be obsessed with a staff member, staff are reassigned to other units/kept away from the patient. Also due to legal issues such as you raise in your query, all this information is documented. We are legal age, we tend to document everything to protect ourself.

2. It seems you are added all these descriptors of Kris at different point. Can't we describe her good one time and get it over with.

3. It's almost like you're querying 2 different books to me. You seem to be stuffing in a lot of information.

If you have questions about the mental health field I am happy to help. I have worked outpatient and inpatient for many years:)

Don't give up on your query, just keep revising.

Lara said...

I suppose my question, and I believe the Query Shark raised this as well, is why would the MC be responsible for hunting down an in-patient that's escaped. When I worked at a hospital many years ago, the security unit would chase the "escapees" down the street, but as one of the hospital operators (I was in the PBX office), we'd call the police as back-up and it was usually resolved pretty quickly.

Ellipsis Flood said...

MacNish: Not a psychologist either, but clinical depression is only one form. Traumatic events, among other things, can lead to depression. That's the reason why putting people with that kind of depression on meds isn't going to do anything in the long run. So yes, she could be suffering from depression because of that.

The query itself: Okay, we can see the problem now. Massive infodump. You need more focus on what's important to the story, not the backstory. You can still tell that backstory in the book itself, but the query needs stuff to happen. And by stuff, I don't mean a list of things that sounds an awful lot like subplots. Tell us why we should care. We need to know who these people are.

Shawna said...

I find two critical things about this plot completely unbelievable. First, that she'd be suspected on the basis of her things being strewn around the woman's room. Because a) does no one else know the woman's obsessed with her and therefore might very well have acquired some of her things? And b) what kind of moronic criminal leaves their possessions strewn across a crime scene? Also, I can't buy into the explanation for why she has to be the one to solve the case. Like the Shark said, unless the rule of law doesn't apply in this world, the accused is not expected to do the police's job or get convicted of a crime, especially based on such weak evidence. You'd really need to make both of those things believable for me to not throw this book down in irritation.

Anonymous said...

Post-revision comment here.

The comments on the original version can pretty much be slotted into three categories:

1. The writing is awkward.

2. The depiction of mental illness is offensive to people with mental illnesses.

3. The "whodunnit" line needs to go.

I think these were all valid concerns. The revision doesn't address any of them.

Lady Epsilon said...

Since this author seems truly interested in portraying mental health care more accurately (yay!) I have a couple of suggestions for the second draft:

Instead of calling Lorelei "a schizophrenic", consider calling her "a woman with schizophrenia." I know it doesn't seem like much, but it's important. This is called people-first nomenclature, and it's now standard in mental health. I'm not suggesting it to be super-PC, but because it's the terminology that a professional like Kris would use.

Also, the fact that Lorelei goes from sweet one day to angry the next shouldn't surprise Kris - it's totally normal for patients with schizophrenia.

Finally, people with schizophrenia are very unlikely to be violent, so it doesn't make sense that the hospital considers her a danger to the public. If Lorelei is really supposed to be creepy you might want to change her diagnosis to something else. Look up Sociopathy and Malignant Narcissism, for a start.

Taymalin said...

I have, in my career as a mental health professional, worked with people who had violent tendencies. They were not "pathologically insane", or particularly frightening. Most of the time the violence was a result of some combination of miscommunication, extreme frustration, and a lack of appropriate coping mechanisms, and they were never premeditated acts of malice.

Anyone working in this field is used to people acting "erratically", so if Kris is unable to handle that, then I'm afraid she's in the wrong biz. If she does develop a fear of (not a fear for) Lorelei, then she would have to request a new patient from her supervisor, and a switch would be made. You can't be a counselor to someone you fear.

Also, everything Lorelei does and says would be documented. If something made Kris uncomfortable, she would write it down, and probably share it with a supervisor. That's part of her job.

Lehcarjt said...

A fifty year old is not 'a sweet old woman/' A fifty year old is Oprah Winfrey.

Theresa Milstein said...

Yeah, it's about "a woman with..." in our politically correct times. We don't want to be defined by the diagnosis. That's what we do in school too. A student with intellectual disabilities. But for sake of savings words and because the main problem in the book is this woman's illness, I think schizophrenic woman works.

Yes, too wordy, but at least I have a clearer picture of plot here. Whether it's plausible is another story. As Query Sharks says:

"...ordinary people can't just get their friends thrown in jail. Trust me, I've asked."

Lemur said...

Although the infodump of sub plots is not helping this query it does bring up some questions that point to problems in the manuscript itself. Consider: "Eli, has ulterior motives, and after pretending to be friends with Kris and helping her to figure out whodunit, he uses the information they found together to try to solve the mystery himself, for the cash prize involved."

Kris is about to go to jail! Does she care about being the one to solve the case? Unless she has delusions of herself as the next Kinsey Milhone, the answer is NO! It doesn't matter to her whether the crime gets solved by the cops, the staff at the hospital, Eli or an Inuit fisherman in Alaska! She just wants her freedom.

This, even more than the inaccurate technical jargon leads me to question the plausibility of the story and the protagonist.

@Lehcarjt Thank you! I'm turning 50 in a couple months, and I am not an "old woman" sweet or otherwise.

Jo-Ann S said...

The second draft is better but, as many have pointed out, still far from perfect.

As only a small number of mental health patients are actually in 'secure units' (most admissions are volunatary), it might make the set up more realistic if the author includes details in the query of what Lorelei did to be considered to be a high risk individual (this may also make her seem a bigger threat to Kris). Where I'm from, most involunatary admissions result from the patient being seen as a risk to themself or others, and such a status is continually reviewed (unless the patient has been charged with a criminal offence and is deemed 'unfit to plea' in which case they can languish in a facility for much longer than they would have been sentenced for.)

Also, therapists build close relationships with their patients, and sometimes patients deeply resent the power imbalance between them (ie, the patient knows little about the therapist's life, but their own life is an open book to t he therapist) and may blame the therapist for issues in their life, or resent the therpist... lots of things can turn sour in the relationship. If you can portray that dynamic between Kris and Lorelei, author, you're doing well, and I would totally buy the book.

As it stands, Lorelei seems to be a one dimensional figure - although more well rounded than the 'axe-weilding maniacs' from 70's slasher B-grade movies. But please dont fall into the trap of the circular argument... eg Why is Lorelei mad? Because she wants to kill Kris. Why does she want to kill Kris? Because she's mad!

Also, if Kris was suspected of unprofessional behaviour, such as releasing a patient from a secure unit, she may face internal disciplinary procedures and be stood down until an investigation clears her.

Michelle Magpie said...

My heart broke a little when I saw yet another version of this query posted already. It seems like you are rushing to get your query finished, and that's doing it a great disservice.

I won’t nitpick too much (that's my day job) but I found some things too jarring not to mention. For one thing, I’d expect “fascination with her” not “fascination for her.” The paragraph about Mac confused me for a number of reasons. Rare is the writer who can pull of so many colons and semi-colons in one paragraph, so break up those sentences. It’s also going to help your reader a lot if you commit to reported speech: “Mac gives her an ultimatum, explaining that she must [beepboopbeep].” Dialogue might spice things up but only when presented clearly. Simple is usually better.

It might be that you are too close to realize what doesn't work. I suggest you make the query as good as you think it can be, then back off for at least a month. Seriously. Don’t look at it again until you've genuinely forgotten what it says. Then read it aloud, as Janet suggested. Come back to it as a stranger. You’ll probably get tripped up on the awkward parts instead of glossing over them because they're familiar. If you a) pause to think about what a sentence said, b) have to reread a sentence from the beginning, or c) find yourself omitting or rephrasing aloud, you’ll know what to fix.

Stylistic considerations aside, it’s promising to see how much the content of the query has improved. It's got all the right parts, even if they're hard to read. The set-up that leads to Kris’ precarious position is more believable. Obviously advice from Janet and the others has helped. Just don’t get in your own way!

Haste breeds imprecision, so why hurry?

Theresa Milstein said...

Yes, this query revision was rushed. While I have a better sense of plot, the grammar makes this the most awkward version yet.

This paragraph really got me. Query Shark mentioned the query writing issues, but my issue is with the plot. It doesn't make sense.

"Her close friend and administrator at Bison, Mac, regretfully gives her an ultimatum, restrained by his primary obligation to the hospital: figure out who let Lorelei out soon, or risk being thrown in jail by the police for the crime you didn't commit, by the people who hate you: everyone. I'll send out search teams to find Lorelei, but you will still seem guilty unless you defend yourself, he advises."

She's a mental health professional. Who would tell her to investigate the case? She's not qualified. And why does everyone hate her? That doesn't make her a likable character. In fact, I don't really have any sense of who she is. This version has lost any hint of who she is.

Take your time and good luck.

Joy Slaughter said...

Nix the extra backstory. Got it. 'What do characters DO that reveals what they're like.' I think thoughts of thinkness will be thunk about this. Excellent.