Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#286-revised 1x

Revision #1

Lesa has always looked like her father. But after her mother left, Lesa began to take on her father’s worse traits: his overwhelming loneliness, his violent anger, his desire to be loved even if he had to force it. Lesa would give anything not to become like him.

One of the first things I notice here, and would if I were reading this in my incoming queries is that "overwhelming loneliness" is not a trait. It's a state of being, or a condition. While it may be picky, it's exactly the kind of thing I look for in a query because it's not a deft use of words.

However, at seventeen, Lesa becomes something else: an “outcast,” one of many people to spontaneously acquire a superpower. Lesa renames herself Chaos, hoping to distance herself from her father. But Chaos’s outcast ability—hearing thoughts—only makes her lonelier. Then, Chaos’s power becomes more frightening. She dreams other people’s dreams. She accidentally kills a man by tearing at his mind. Chaos fears she’s the monster everyone believes outcasts to be.

You can solve the problem of the entire first paragraph simply by inserting "who is prone to anger and trying to force love" after "father" in the second line:

 Lesa renames herself Chaos, hoping to distance herself from her father, who is prone to anger and tries to force love.

You can see from this awkward sentence that "trying to force love" doesn't really make sense here and that means you need to use different words to convey what you mean.

If you're going to use "outcast" as a proper noun, it will help to cap it in every use: Chaos fears she’s the monster everyone believes Outcasts to be.

And I have no idea what "tearing at his mind" means.  I think I know what you meant, but it's not what you said.  That's a problem in a query. If I don't understand something, I'm not going to assume it's my problem. I'm going to conclude that the writing isn't clear. That's exactly what you do not want to convey.

If you've been working on your novel and your query for a long time, you might be blind to some of these things. Always ALWAYS have someone not familiar with your book read over your query. Ask them to mark what they don't understand. Or what's not clear. Or where they were confused.

Chaos decides that her only chance is to find her mother. If she can convince her mother to love her, without any of her father’s tactics, then she’ll no longer be like him. But traveling is dangerous. Outcasts are hated by the public, hunted down by researchers, and easy to identify on sight. To go means risking capture and experimentation. Not to go means having no way to prove that she isn’t a monster.

And again, the word choice here of "tactics" befuddles me. Tactics aren't loneliness or anger. Tactics are actions. So far your reader has not seen any tactics.

And this is actually where you should end the query. You've got the set up, you've got what's at stake. You've got the choice Chaos has to make.

The dangers are more than Chaos could ever prepare for. Outcasts are being tossed dead onto the streets. Her mother is involved in their capture. Chaos is soon forced to make a choice: to become a monster and save herself or give up the only thing she’s ever wanted. Love.

This is just repeating what you said in the preceding paragraph. Other than the fact that Mum is involved in capturing Outcasts, which you could work in to the paragraph.

CHAOS is a YA speculative fiction novel with 75,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Marie Lu’s The Young Elites and fans of X-Men.

I hold a BA in writing and have short fiction published in Literary Orphans and Strangelet journal. Thank you for your time and consideration.

You've got the structure of the query down pretty well, but this would not survive my incoming query sorting (yes/pass) because the writing isn't clear and focused, and we have no sense of Chaos as a character.

Initial query
My character changes her name from Lesa to Chaos in the first chapter, and this fact is significant for clarity. Have I dealt with this information in a way that isn't confusing? I have other worries, but if I list them all, I'll start spiraling into self doubt. :) Thank you for your time and critique!

Dear Query Shark,

When Lesa becomes an “outcast”, she gains the ability to hear thoughts. But the thoughts make her scream, tear at her hair, and worst of all, they deepen her loneliness. Eevery time she hears people think of their families, she misses her mother. In seven years, Lesa has only seen her mother on television.

If you leave out the screaming and hair tearing, you get your reader to focus on what's important: Lesa misses her mom. It's really important to be as focused as possible in a query.

Like many outcasts, Lesa is captured. She Lesa renames herself Chaos and escapes with four other outcasts, making her first friends. But Chaos can’t ignore the fact that her power is becoming more frightening. She’s dreaming other people’s dreams, and She accidentally kills a man by tearing at his mind. She fears she’s the monster everyone believes outcasts to be. And who would stay friends with someone like that?

 The first sentence about being captured doesn't connect to anything else in the paragraph. By whom? What for? And the paragraph appears to be about Chaos learning what this new ability is going to do to her. Focus!

Worse yet, Outcasts are turning up black-eyed on the streets of the capital, stripped of their powers, and Foxwell, head of research, is seeking out more. The other outcasts want to go to the capital to fight, but Chaos isn’t sure. If she goes, she must leave friends, risk her life, and face her own monstrousness.

And here's where you go splat. You've introduced a character with no context (Foxwell) which is confusing. You've got some sort of fighting, also with no context. You've equated leaving friends, risking her life, and facing her own monstrousness as equal problems. My guess is they aren't.

But she could also, maybe, find her mother.

Unless she's a duckling in a picture book, finding her mom must have some additional value other than just reuniting with her. Some context here will help. 

CHAOS is a YA speculative fiction novel with 80,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Marie Lu (The Young Elites) as well as to fans of super-humans with flawed powers such as X-Men’s Rogue.

I hold a BA in writing and have short fiction published by in THIS and THAT.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Right now this is too general to be enticing. You've got to give us a compelling reason to care about what happens to Lesa/Chaos and HOW you talk about her is the way to do that.  Make us feel what she feels, what she's afraid of, what she hopes for, what she's willing to risk and why.

Answer to your question: I think the name change is handled very well. I wasn't confused at all.

Answer to your other worries: Stop. Focus on fixing your query. You can't control a lot of this stuff, but you are in absolute control of what you write. 

Revise. Resend.


Mora Green said...

For what it's worth, OP, I felt like you could refer to your character as Chaos from the start and not lose anything but eliminate awkward explanation about renaming. I gathered that her changing the name has to do with transitioning from whatever domestic life to being a part of an Outcast band. That's all good but it might be too much worldbuilding/backstory for the query. You already outlined that her life changed dramatically and that she joined this group. Changing her name in the process is great for the novel but pretty irrelevant for the query. Just call her Chaos, it's a great name.

Or, if super duper important, I might try something like "Chaos, formerly Lesa from Podunk". But I don't feel from the query like you need to mention her former name at all. You mentioned the transition. The name change is symbolic and doesn't make any actual difference to your plot.

Nina said...

I think the name change is very important. A character who has been named Chaos is different from a character who chooses the name for herself. I figure Lesa is either a powerful outcast who wields the new name as in, "I am Chaos. Watch your back!" or she's more of a penitent girl who inflicts the name on herself because it seems chaos is all she ever gives to the world. I can't tell which from the query. And that's the problem. The query is very matter of fact, whereas a girl calling herself Chaos is probably anything but.

Unknown said...

I have to respectfully disagree with Mora. I thought the name change was one of the things handled well in the query, though it might have been nice to better understand what triggered it (i.e. -Lesa renames herself Chaos so she can't be connected with and bring shame on her famous mother).

But if the name change isn't explicit in the query, I'm afraid agents will wonder why the story doesn't follow the MC from the query (since they wouldn't have the explanation of how Lesa and Chaos are the same character).

Unknown said...

Is the main plot Lesa's battle with herself or the outcasts' fight against the capital? You can have subplots aplenty, but one of those plot lines needs to take the driver's seat, especially in the query. Lesa’s battle with herself is given more page time here, but I think the outcasts' fight must be the main plot. I don’t see how the story moves forward otherwise. Unfortunately, there’s only one short paragraph that barely explores the capital, Foxwell, and the outcasts' reason to fight, much less Chaos's reason to join them.

If the fight against the capital is the main plot line, I might suggest bringing that into the query as early as possible, maybe with a little world building (i.e. – When Lesa gains the ability to hear thoughts, she becomes an outcast—and a target for Foxwell, the capital’s head of research and a man bent on stripping outcasts of their powers).

It also needs to be made clear what Chaos’s personal stakes are in the story besides finding her mother. It sounds like she’s safely out of Foxwell’s reach, so why would she choose to return and fight for outcasts she probably doesn’t even know? If she’s still in danger of being captured, then that needs to be made clear. And would she not want to be rid of such a monstrous ability? What’s so awful about what Foxwell is doing to the outcasts? He’s not killing them, he’s just returning them to the streets without their powers. I’m sure it’s worse than that, but the query doesn’t make that clear at all.

Also, what gives the outcasts their abilities? Why hasn’t Lesa seen her mother in 7 years? Why was her mother on TV? What does her mother do? Is it connected with Foxwell and/or will it affect the plot in any way?

Not all of that should necessarily be addressed in the query, but they are some suggestions for fleshing out the plot and stakes.

Finally, I feel like the writer isn’t doing themselves any favors by comping to “super-humans with flawed powers such as X-Men’s Rogue.” This query already makes the story sound like an off-world or dystopian X-Men knock off because it’s so generic. It needs help standing out from similar stories, not have its similarities spelled out so explicitly. I’d suggest Taherah Mafi’s Shatter Me series or the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard as a second comp instead.

And for Clark Gable’s sake, add some details or voice to show how Chaos’s story is unique from any and all of the books listed above.