Query Conundrum

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unprintableme
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Query Conundrum

Post by unprintableme » September 26th, 2010, 3:23 am

The subject of Hearing Voices is telepathy. The plot is woven, William Gibson style, from multiple story lines, and told from the perspectives of the 'luckless pedestrian' characters (to borrow a phrase from Steely Dan). My problem is that a one-page query (which I don't want to exceed) does not allow for a full introduction of each character. Nor have I found a phrasing that succinctly describes the interweaving of the sub-plots. Also, I'm confused about how much plot to reveal. I know it's cheating, but can anyone point me in the direction of a successful query for a book written in a similar vein? Thank you in advance... My best effort is appended...

Richard's only wish is for a family would adopt him. Instead he has found himself adopted by Dr. Holmes. Dr. Holmes wants to learn about Richard's suspected telepathic abilities, with a scalpel if necessary.

Rebecca, having lost her husband to heroin addiction and her son to bureaucrats wielding red-tape, lives day-to-day, wishing for her son back. Her only distraction is a man whose affections she doesn't understand.

Nancy, having risen too far in the ranks of the Department of Education, yearns for the chance to work with children again. But when she joins Dr. Holmes staff, the children she finds in her care prove more than she bargained for. She also finds herself uncomfortable with the methods that Dr. Holmes is willing to use to satisfy the goal of the project.

A cat and mouse game ensues after Dr. Holmes collects Richard and five similar orphans for study and experimentation. The children are fighting for their futures, while Dr. Holmes, it turns out, is fighting for his sanity.

These people are about to encounter a world, hidden in plain sight, that exists alongside our own, that will change their lives forever.

Debra_A
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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by Debra_A » September 26th, 2010, 10:27 am

Richard's only wish is for a family would adopt him. Instead he has found himself adopted by Dr. Holmes. Dr. Holmes wants to learn about Richard's suspected telepathic abilities, with a scalpel if necessary.

Rebecca, having lost her husband to heroin addiction and her son to bureaucrats wielding red-tape, lives day-to-day, wishing for her son back. Her only distraction is a man whose affections she doesn't understand.

Nancy, having risen too far in the ranks of the Department of Education, yearns for the chance to work with children again. But when she joins Dr. Holmes staff, the children she finds in her care prove more than she bargained for. She also finds herself uncomfortable with the methods that Dr. Holmes is willing to use to satisfy the goal of the project.

A cat and mouse game ensues after Dr. Holmes collects Richard and five similar orphans for study and experimentation. The children are fighting for their futures, while Dr. Holmes, it turns out, is fighting for his sanity.

These people are about to encounter a world, hidden in plain sight, that exists alongside our own, that will change their lives forever.
Dr. Holmes collects Richard and five similar orphans for study and experimentation. The doctor will prove their telepathic abilities with a scalpel if necessary. I loved the sentence about collecting orphans, it really set a sinister mood. It is hard when you have so many characters that you want to showcase, I totally understand that. Maybe you could focus on Dr. Holmes? He seems compelling and a bit unstable.

stephmcgee
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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by stephmcgee » September 26th, 2010, 11:25 am

My best advice, and I'm no expert, is to look at your story and decide whose storyline is the main one. You said in the preface to your query that you were struggling to figure out how to show the interweaving of the sub-plots. That's key, I think, in getting to the answer: Whose story is the one that all the others weave into? From there, I'd suggest focusing the query on that character and that storyline, mentioning the sub-plots as needed. I think it'll keep the query from sounding disjointed.

Hope that helps in some way. Let us know when you reach the point of wanting more detailed, line-by-line critiques of your query.

Steph

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D.S. Deshaw
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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by D.S. Deshaw » September 26th, 2010, 3:39 pm

Just a thought, by why don't you speak about all of the POVs in one general way? "The seven children..." and "they..." I'm not sure how it'd work in a query, but all of the advice I've seen so far really says to narrow your multi-perspective query down to one (or two) main characters. Often, introducing more than that in such a short amount of time takes away from the intimacy of the situation. An agent needs to fall in love with your character and if you're only spending a sentence or two on each, then they aren't going to feel invested at the end :)

You can mention that your book follows more than one POV, definitely. As a suggestion, you could start with "A cat and mouse game ensues after Dr. Holmes collects Richard and five similar orphans for study and experimentation. The children are fighting for their futures, while Dr. Holmes, it turns out, is fighting for his sanity." The next paragraphs could be explaining how the children are fighting for their futures and how Dr. Holmes is fighting for his sanity :) We need to know the protagonist(s) and the antagonist(s) and we need to know the conflict and how it's going to be solved. So try focus on that while framing it around the 'children' and Dr. Holmes. At the end of the query you can say your story interweaves all of their voices. Then hopefully that'll also become clear when they read your sample pages.

Good luck!
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priya g.
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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by priya g. » September 26th, 2010, 6:30 pm

A few hours ago, i read a query that had been revised. the best part was, a great difference came just from the re-arrangement of the sentences- so I think you should start with that. I have a rough idea:
1. Start with Dr. Holmes and his mission.
2. Introduce Richard- as one of his ''guinea pigs'.
3. In comes Nancy- who is helping him.
4. By now, Dr. Holmes should seem sinister enough to bring in his personal life- there comes Rebecca.
5. These people are about to encounter a world, hidden in plain sight, that exists alongside our own, that will change their lives forever. should be the closing line, according to me.
I hope this helps

Down the well
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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by Down the well » September 27th, 2010, 10:48 am

unprintableme wrote: My problem is that a one-page query (which I don't want to exceed) does not allow for a full introduction of each character.
I don't think you need a FULL introduction of each character. I'm getting enough info about who these people are based on the conflict.

unprintableme wrote:Nor have I found a phrasing that succinctly describes the interweaving of the sub-plots.
The inciting incident that propels your story forward is when Dr. Holmes' adopts Richard so that he can experiment on him and other children. For purposes of a query it is best to focus on that main conflict. There isn't much room for describing sub-plots. Besides, this is a compelling enough hook on it's own, in my opinion, though I would maybe advise you to give us Richard's age. I might have a problem with this scenario if he was too young.
unprintableme wrote:Also, I'm confused about how much plot to reveal.
The purpose of a query is to entice an agent into wanting to read your story. You set the hook by giving them the main conflict, a look at some interesting characters, and a peek at your voice. You don't have to reveal much more of your plot other than to mention what the stakes are if Dr. Homes gets his way.
unprintableme wrote:Richard's only wish is for a family would adopt him. Instead he has found himself adopted by Dr. Holmes. Dr. Holmes wants to learn about Richard's suspected telepathic abilities, with a scalpel if necessary.
This is your hook. Without knowing more about the story, I can't help much with fleshing out this paragraph, but I think you can add a little more "voice" by using an adjective or two. Just an example:

Twelve year old (?) Richard's only wish is for a family. Instead he finds himself adopted by the sinister(?)Dr. Holmes whose only motive for taking him in is investigating his telepathic abilities. With a scalpel if necessary.

unprintableme wrote:Rebecca, having lost her husband to heroin addiction and her son to bureaucrats wielding red-tape, lives day-to-day, wishing for her son back. Her only distraction is a man whose affections she doesn't understand.
If the man whose affections she doesn't understand are those of Dr. Holmes, it would be very important to know. Or if her son becomes one of his guinea pigs, it should be stated. So far this paragraph isn't solidly connected to the first one in any way. I need to know how Rebecca's story is connected to Richard or Dr. Holmes.
unprintableme wrote:Nancy, having risen too far in the ranks of the Department of Education, yearns for the chance to work with children again. But when she joins Dr. Holmes staff, the children she finds in her care prove more than she bargained for. She also finds herself uncomfortable with the methods that Dr. Holmes is willing to use to satisfy the goal of the project.
Nancy sounds like she is being set-up to be one of the heroes? Her sense of morality is being tested. Maybe you could provide a hint here of what she witnesses that makes her feel uncomfortable. The boys are misbehaving, but does their bad behavior justify the doctor's use of electo-therapy shock (sorry, just making it up).

unprintableme wrote:A cat and mouse game ensues after Dr. Holmes collects Richard and five similar orphans for study and experimentation. The children are fighting for their futures, while Dr. Holmes, it turns out, is fighting for his sanity.
"A cat and mouse game ensues" is cliche and not very informative. What is more interesting is the fact that five children are in the care of a madman. OMG what will happen? What dastardly things will he do? This is where you set your hook, but don't settle for trite generality.
unprintableme wrote:These people are about to encounter a world, hidden in plain sight, that exists alongside our own, that will change their lives forever.
The idea that a hidden world exists alongside our own is intriguing, but this line doesn't work for me as a closer the way it is written. Again, it's too general. I think what you need here is a strong line that sets up the stakes. All these lives are intersecting at one crucial moment. Pinpoint why that is important, and then sell it as a reason for someone to want to read more.


You've got the ingredients for a thrilling story. Good luck with it. And if you need examples of queries, the best place to look is query shark. Study the queries there try and try and figure out why some get ripped to shreds. Soon you'll get a feel for what the essence of a query letter should be.

rose
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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by rose » September 27th, 2010, 11:58 am

That sounds like a fascinating story. If you start with the good Doctor and his villainy, I think the synopsis might flow more comfortably for you.

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wilderness
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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by wilderness » September 27th, 2010, 1:15 pm

Lots of great advice here. I like the idea of following Dr. Holmes' POV since he seems to be the thread that ties your characters together.

In general, I have heard that when you have a multiple POV book, focusing on one character is usually the way to go. Even if you decide to focus on Richard, for example, you can bring in the rest of the cast as he meets them (through Dr. Holmes). It's not necessary to name all of them -- you can even just refer to the orphans as a group and Dr. Holmes' staff as a group.

Good luck!

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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by thewhipslip » September 27th, 2010, 2:28 pm

What genre is this? If this is YA, for instance, going with a young character as your query focus would be better than focusing on Holmes. Is this a thriller for adults, then Holmes is your guy. That might help you choose...
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unprintableme
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Re: Query Conundrum

Post by unprintableme » September 27th, 2010, 4:39 pm

I thank all of you for your thoughtful and encouraging replies. Based on your responses, I'm leaning toward connecting everyone to the boy, even though he is eleven and the novel is not YA. My thinking is that, no matter what age a reader has reached, and no matter how much personal power a reader has acquired, an reader can still connect with a character who is in a vulnerable position.

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