Hi again all! I've been getting some great feedback for part of my manuscript. I thought I'd post my query and see how I might be able to improve it. I've been majorly struggling with it... I hope it's not too long...
College is supposed to be a time to hang out with her best friend, but when Makenna grows fur and claws, her plans have to change.
She is not a werewolf, and don't you dare call her one. In fact, werewolves don't even exist, but demons do.
During her first year of college, Makenna discovers a long hidden family secret. She is a half-demon from the Hell dimension of Thiranos. Makenna doesn't quite believe him until she meets a mysterious college student, Scotty who happens to be a demon hunting half-leprechaun.
Fueled by prophesy, the king of Thiranos, her grandfather, has been sending demons to kidnap Makenna and bring her home. When a demon kidnaps Brady, her best friend, and takes him to Thiranos, she and Scotty must save him. Makenna returns to her birth dimension only to be deceived by whom she thought was an ally. Makenna faces the Demon King to fulfill the prophesy and is unwittingly crowned Demon Queen.
This supernatural coming-of-age manuscript follows the protagonist as she learns to tame her inner demon and makes a choice that decides the fate of two worlds.
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Queries aren't limited to thirteen lines on the forums. One page of two hundred fifty words all told approaches an upper limit for a query letter in the marketplace.
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I don't have much knowledge about writing queries, I'm afraid, so take what I say with a pinch of salt.
Personally, I didn't find this query gripping. It's not (yet) the kind that would make me want to read on. I have a sense that this sort of plot (or at least, setup--supernatural characters in a school/college setting, dealing with family problems) is pretty common, and so far I don't see any hints of a unique, interesting main character or narrative voice. Like the opening of the story itself, a query needs a hook. It's not simply a plot summary or synopsis. (In fact, I wonder if it might be more interesting if you left out the ending--assuming that Makenna's crowning is the ending. There's nothing to suggest more conflict occurs after that.) What I'd like to know is more the main conflict, what's at stake, what really drives your protagonist. What are Makenna's Big Choices here?
Have you come across the blog QueryShark (http://queryshark.blogspot.co.uk)? It's essentially an archive of an agent's dissections of bad queries. I find it very informative.
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The part of the query that stands out most for me is the emphasized denial of being werewolf. That motif's figure of speech is antithesis: use of what a circumstance is not to express what it is. That's also emotionally personal and specific.
The denial, though, is not the point or a point of the novel's event action. Too subtle cues and clues in the query, open to wild interpretation, imply the action of substance is several interests compete for Makenna's alignment with their causes, their wants. Okay enough, if clearer and stronger that they victimize Makenna, treat her as an object to do with as their whim and will desires.
An apt subject, for early adult, victimism is. However, early adult is an age of most proactive free will exercise: exploration and experimentation of independent self-identity affirmation free of close supervision. Ergo, Makenna's proactive want is most on point. What does she personally want most? Independence from external objectification's forces? That's generic, as generic as much of the query is.
Implication's arts are query arts. The query describes the straightforward mechanics of a plot to express nothing else. The denial of werewolf comes closest to an artful implication. Werewolf iconically portrays post war discharges and deserters on their own initiative, who prey on industrious and peace-loving and law-abiding folk.
The full Moon motif aptly fits the werewolf topos, that highway criminals episodically prey at night in the best possible light of a full Moon, for concealment purposes.
Otherwise, werewolf topos include letting loose social constraints with wild abandon, bays at the Moon, mayhem rampages, etc. Proactive activities that salve their immediate want-problem, whatever it might be. Revenge for their abrupt and uncompensated release from service? Plus, that their identities now demand the excitements of personal combat and risks and rewards. Never again will they return to the peaceful pastoral home.
But Makenna is not a werewolf! How is she canine other than her appearance? Noble canine? Like a working animal loyal to a human? Explosives sniffer-outer? Not very independent. An alpha female canine, being a social being, might collect a pack of adolescent males and reject any alpha male suitor, den mother-like.
Den mothers' reputations for selfless nurturing and care giving needy adolescents aside, Makenna could be a noble yet more aggressively self-interested den mother. Several pirates, thieves, and warrior women from history were such den mothers. I've encountered the archetype around college frats and other more casual fraternal groups, plus, among feral dog packs, runaway pets and hunting dogs that returned to the wild wolf state.
Not a werewolf, not a wolf, feral den-pack queen in the making? Imply that, or a similar different personal want for Makenna, though, at first, she knows it not, through plot description, and much of a query's mischief is managed. Imply, don't tell directly on the nose. Give readers, agents and the like, some small amount of imagination work to do. Trust they will infer the implied want's destination, too, and feel smarter than the query, novel, etc., given enough clear and strong context and texture from which to infer meaning.
QueryShark seconded. If only Janet Reid could put a firmer finger on prose implication arts and crafts essentials.
quote:College is supposed to be a time to hang out with her best friend, but when Makenna grows fur and claws, her plans have to change.
Not a bad first line. It sets the reader up to want to know why. As a minor quibble, it’s time to hang out with friends, not a friend.
quote:She is not a werewolf, and don't you dare call her one. In fact, werewolves don't even exist, but demons do.
So instead of saying why she grows fur you waste a line telling the reader what she’s not? Tell them what matters, not trivia.
quote:During her first year of college, Makenna discovers a long hidden family secret. She is a half-demon from the Hell dimension of Thiranos.
This matters. But personally, I would place it first and lead to the original first line with it, with something like: - - - - - - During her first year of college, Makenna discovers a long hidden family secret. She is a half-demon from the Hell dimension of Thiranos. Her plans for the semester centered on makeing friends and learning useful skills. But when she finds herself growing fur and claws those plans must change. - - - - - - I do have to ask how she managed to grow up in hell (you say that’s where she’s from) and not notice that her family has fur and claws. You either have to change the wording or clarify.
As for the fourth and fifth paragraph, it seems you’re trying to give a mini synopsis. But your query has a single goal: motivate the reader to turn to page one of the story. The story should be what makes the reader stay at it till they know what happens.
Stick with the big ticket emotional items, like the big problem, why she’s the only one who can solve it, and why she must or…
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Thanks all! I'll check out query shark soon.
Ps: Jay, Makenna didn't grow up in hell. She was brought over to earth on the day of her birth. Her family history was kept secret because the Demon King wants to sacrifice her as part of a prophesy. Also, her type of demon is a pseudo-shapeshifter. They can only turn into dog-like creatures, but they can do it at will (except for Makenna because she's half-human.)
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I've looked at Query Shark and done some revising to my query letter. Let me know what you all think!
Thanks in advance!
As a freshman in college, Makenna discovers a long hidden family secret: she is a half-demon. Hunted by her grandfather, the king of the hell dimension, Thiranos, she doesn’t quite believe her heritage until she meets Scotty, a demon hunting leprechaun. He teaches her it’s either hunt or be hunted. When a demon kidnaps her childhood friend, Brady, and takes him to Thiranos, Makenna decides it is her turn to be the hunter. She visits her birth world and uncovers two plots to overthrow the king. Both plots offer Makenna as the solution. She must face the Demon King to either kill or be killed. The life of her best friend depends on it.
In my completed 75,000 word new adult manuscript, THIRANOS: BORN OF FIRE, Makenna must tame her inner demon and make a choice that decides the fate of two worlds.
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The second query has all the makings of a plot structure, the tangible mechanics of the substantive surface action anyway. For me, though, aesthetics essentials are short of full realization.
Also known as subtext, and a number of other labels, subtext is meaning aesthetic depth "between the lines" expressed through implication, innuendo, at the threshold between conscious and subconscious awareness, a liminal transition area of consciousness. At the opposite extreme from full conscious is nonconsciousness, nonawareness, and shy of liminal is subliminal awareness, the subconscious realm of awareness. Of course, subtext is abstract and elusive, for writers and readers, ergo, a challenge to grasp.
Schematics of abstract perceptability below;
Conscious to Subconscious (liminal subtext) to Nonconscious (subliminal)
Early adult average abstract cognitive aptitude for subtext, E
From Realism's departure from Romanticism and into Modernism and Postmodernism, consciousness has been a core feature of each's departures from what came before: Romanticism's core of moral law assertion, imposed and conscious moral behavior; Realism's sharper reality imitation and attendant self-imposed moral truth discovery; Modernism's self-enlightened moral truth discovery; Postmodernism's self-conscious self-awareness reflected inward and outward and challenges to and questions of presupposed notions of moral propriety.
Many "self's" there, more than a mouthful, yet those above are gross summaries of each movement's distinctions from each other. Consciousness aptitude degree a key to each. Subtext is where those shine and where depth appeals engage readers, no matter if they know, if they discover, if they infer, or know it not.
Several book publishers accept unsolicited manuscript submissions. They require for a submission package a query, a synopsis, and sample chapters from which they decide to review a whole work and accept or decline a work for publication. Those publishers are also less inclined to bother about or notice subtext expression, if at all; however, when a work does fully realize subtext, even if they note it not, they are more enthused to accept a work, as readers are also more enthused and engaged if subtext is within their grasp.
Many accomplished writers' works contain unintended subtext, which general readers might or might not infer. A notorious example is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. On the other end, intended subtext, is George Orwell's Animal Farm, both Modernism works.
What happened? Why did one not intend how readers interpreted and inferred what Sinclair wrote and one intend and hit the abstract aptitude mark of its target audience? An easy answer is one didn't appreciate irony and satire and the other did. One didn't fully realize the subconscious subtext implications of the work and the other did.
How? Smart subconscious plants. From "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction" applicable to all prose composition. "Smart subconscious. Term used when a critic (or the author) reviews text in light of a new approach or theory and discovers, much to his or her surprise, that within the previous text are a whole series of small items or details which help express this approach or theory; the smart subconscious was planting them in hopes that they would eventually be discovered. Smart subconscious is a possible explanation for subtext. (CSFW: Paul Tumey)" Subtext, in short.
What about the so far posted fragments, queries, and summaries of the novel contain smart subconscious plants? To me, several subliminal cues arise from close inference. The proper nouns and plot formula from the summaries' content, and that the novel is early adult, suggest, as I have noted before, a subtext action. Brady and Scotty, feminine male names (-y suffix feminine inflection); Makenna, a masculine name (feminine -a inflection suffix) labels a young woman.
Thiranos, a word of some obscure language origin, though of Greek-Latin formation, the "-os" a Greek-Latin neuter nominative genitive inflection, and close to "Thera"; the plot summary details a proactive young woman who male acquaintances victimize, and who then becomes their leader, independent of their patriarchal designs. Thus, a den mother archetype. That appeals to me, probably will to the early adult target audience, and beyond, as well is timely and relevant to current events, timeless, too.
How to incorporate that subtext, or another subtext, if wanted, in the query, the synopses, the novel is a challenge. I can infer how I might; however, that is not for me to impose. Say, like Orwell did, by design, like Sinclair did, by distraction that allowed his smart subconscious to plant cues and clues for readers he did not design, are how: Review the manuscript for smart subconscious plants. Comb them orderly, timely, judiciously into the narrative from start to finish.
A subtext's appeals recommend a novel to all and sundry, an acquisition editor first and foremost. A potent and liminally inferable subtext recommends a narrative ahead of a long dribble of mediocrity.
"As a freshman in college, Makenna discovers a long hidden family secret: she is a half-demon." Here's one place to imply subtext, and sentence by sentence throughout the query. Plus, that's unnecessarily wordy.
Less wordy, more concise, for stronger and clearer impact: //College freshman Makenna uncovers a family secret: She's demon spawn of mortal mother and Hell's demon lord.// For subtext implication setup: //Makenna wanted normal college fun with her friends like any other young woman. Other men and demons would possess her for their whim and will. She cannot allow their interference.//
"the hell dimension" Cap proper noun "Hell," fictitious or "real-world."
Since names are powerful reader and writer magic, for inferable implication at least, name the demon lord grandfather in the query, too.
"the [H]ell dimension[,] Thiranos[,]" Stray commas, //the Hell dimension Thiranos//, not any nonspecific Hell dimension.
"doesn’t quite believe" Does or doesn't believe, no not quite about it, especially for an assertive, proactive young woman. "not quite" is a feminine language hedging term, submissive, per Robin Lakoff, Language and Women's Place.
"her heritage _until_" Conjunction part of speech "until" there creates an unnecessary and preemptive defusal of what follows, besides a run-on conjunction-spliced sentence. Separate sentences are warranted.
//her heritage. She meets Scotty, a demon-hunter leprechaun. He shows her it’s either stalk or be stalked.// "stalk" enhances inferable subtext implication more so than "hunt." Plus, "shows" simplifies, at least by one syllable less.
"When a demon kidnaps her childhood friend, Brady, and takes him to Thiranos, Makenna decides it is her turn to be the hunter." Another unnecessary run-on, created by the "When" subordination conjunction. That also preempts defusal of what comes before and after. The new idea shift also warrants a new paragraph. Stray commas wrap the definite subject Brady, too, her childhood friend, not any friend.
//¶ A demon kidnaps her childhood crush Brady, carries him away to Thiranos -- the time has come for Makeanna to become the warrior suppressed inside her.//
That way, or similar, obviates the next clause: "She visits her birth world" A here to there mistake, see the Glossary for details. Readers can infer Makenna goes to Thiranos. Time for a new paragraph too -- idea shift, plus a paragraph break signals a time and place transition.
//¶ Makenna uncovers two plans to depose [Demon Lord Name] -- both would sacrifice her freedom if not her life and soul.//
"She _must_ face the Demon King to either kill or be killed." Makes no sense relevant to the two plots to overthrow him, Makenna's either kill or be killed the either-or of substance.
"must" is a common word used in mediocre queries, intends emotional strength, though is a signal of mediocre prose craft skills. (About ninety-nine of a hundred queries I review contain one or more "musts.") Aside from "must's" too common mediocrity, the absolute comparative use, in order to be effective expression, best imply or state its correlative condition argument, must or else, for example. The must comparative or else stated is to kill or be killed. How does that connect with must face the Demon King?
"The life of her best friend depends on it." Another huh? And I should care most about Makenna, not as much about Brady. Too selfless noble for me, too; I can't believe it without a private motivation as well. Makenna wants to save her friend and steal a march on those males who would subjugate her to their will and whim. Public and private motivation there, and public and private stakes.
"In my completed 75,000 word new adult manuscript, THIRANOS: BORN OF FIRE, Makenna must tame her inner demon and make a choice that decides the fate of two worlds." Wordy conclusion. Also, modifier-noun number agreement error: fate-two worlds.
//Makenna confronts her inner demons, confronts demons from all Hell's fiery corners, and affects the fates of two realms.
Thiranos: Born of Fire is a New [or Early] Adult contemporary [or urban] fantasy novel at 75,000 words.//
Extrinsic, thank you so much for your detailed reply. I do have a question about your stray commas comments (try saying that five times fast.) I remember the rule for commas being that if you go from less specific to more specific, there is a comma between the description and the actual name.
Example: "the Hell dimension Thiranos"
Thiranos is the name of the Hell dimension, so, I thought it would be "the Hell dimension, Thiranos. The comma after the name is the end of the clause.
I also thought if you go from more descriptive to less, you have commas surrounding the phrase after the name.
Example: "Brady, Makenna's childhood friend,"
On another note, I like the way you edited some of my query. I hope you don't mind if I implement some of these revisions.
I had also never thought about the femininity of "Brady" and "Scotty" and the masculinity of "Makenna". She does become the "den mother" in the end. I can definitely sense your experience from the way you picked that up from just the names. Very astute!
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"the Hell dimension Thiranos" is a noun phrase. Noun phrases like it take no comma separation. In this case, the Hell dimension is three adjectives, an adjective phrase that modifies noun Thiranos and is one idea of a single meaning, an independent noun phrase. Specificity or definiteness degree doesn't matter in that phrasal-noun syntax for consideration of comma separation.
On the other hand, this syntax does take comma separation: Thiranos, the Hell dimension, . . . That way, the adjective phrase is an appositive phrase, a dependent phrase, which adds to though is not essential to the meaning of Thiranos. Different emphasis, too. Thiranos more emphasized first in this latter syntax, more emphasized last in the former syntax.
This is the latter type: "Example: 'Brady, Makenna's childhood friend,'" Or the former type is this way, not punctuated: //Makenna's childhood friend Brady// Or both types [verb-predicate, if object phrase] //the man, Makenna's childhood friend Brady, [or a verb-predicate, if subject phrase]//
Use what you would of my comments, freely and without reservation. Commenter comments are derivative of a creator's intellectual property and, therefore, rightly the ownership of the creator to use or refuse at will. I realize that principle when I offer comment. I give it, comments, freely and without reservation. Otherwise, I'd keep those to myself and not learn as much as I do when I share.
The first query had better voice. Especially the first couple of lines.
The second version gets more to the point, which is definitely a good thing. However, it contains a lot of long, complex sentences that probably should be broken down a little.
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