Query Workshop B-5: DISTANT HORIZON

It’s day three of the query workshop with me and three of my blogging friends. Two queries on four blogs for ten days. It’s going to be awesome. And here’s my next critique…

           

 Dear Agent,
When eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson is targeted by the Camaraderie of Evil for having super powers, she escapes the Community and joins her grandfather’s team of rebels. But being able to make vines grow isn’t much of a weapon against beasties, monsters that throw fireballs and can rip out a person’s throat.
So when Jenna hears a young man screaming for help in one of the beastie creation facilities, she tries to rescue him. That’s one less beastie she’ll have to kill later– and she’s never liked killing anyone, even beasties. Unfortunately, she’s not able to save him before the horrible transformation is complete, and now that she’s seen where beasties come from, the idea of killing innocents is even more appalling.
She’d rather stop the ones who created the monsters.
She gets her chance when her stunt catches the attention of the malicious Brainmaster, a telepath in charge of overseeing beastie creation. Brainmaster gives Jenna an ultimatum: join the Camaraderie and help create the monsters, or become one herself.
With Brainmaster attacking her mind, Jenna has to figure out what’s real and what’s just a figment of the telepath’s cruel imagination, or she’ll never have a chance to destroy the beastie creation facilities.
Please consider DISTANT HORIZON, a 99,000 word young adult dystopian adventure.
  
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B’s critique …

Dear Agent,
When eighteen-year-old (I’d lower her age – eighteen is New Adult) Jenna Nickleson is targeted by the Camaraderie of Evil for having super powers, she escapes the Community and joins her grandfather’s team of rebels. But being able to make vines grow isn’t much of a weapon against beasties, monsters that throw fireballs and can rip out a person’s throat.
What is the Camaraderie of Evil? We don’t need to know the name of this evil entity. Why is she targeted? What is the Community? Do the other rebels have super powers? Since we don’t know this world yet, your opening is confusing. There is a hook in there and I was curious about parts of this opening paragraph.
So when Jenna hears a young man screaming for help in one of the beastie creation facilities, she tries to rescue him. That’s one less beastie she’ll have to kill later–and she’s never liked killing anyone, even beasties. Unfortunately, she’s not able to save him before the horrible transformation is complete, and now that she’s seen where beasties come from, the idea of killing innocents is even more appalling.
If she rescues him, he won’t change into a beastie? Has she killed before? Or does she just not like the idea of killing?
She’d rather stop the ones who created the monsters. 
How does she use her power to make vines grow to rescue the man and fight the beasties?
She gets her chance when her stunt catches the attention of the malicious Brainmaster, a telepath in charge of overseeing beastie creation. With Brainmaster attacking her mind, Jenna has to figure out what’s real and what’s just a figment of the telepath’s cruel imagination, or she’ll never have a chance to destroy the beastie creation facilities. 
Brainmaster gives Jenna an ultimatum: join the Camaraderie and help create the monsters, or become a beastie herself. (What does she have to do to stop this? Where’s the conflict?)
 
(Move this up) With Brainmaster attacking her mind, Jenna has to figure out what’s real and what’s just a figment of the telepath’s cruel imagination, or she’ll never have a chance to destroy the beastie creation facilities.
Please consider DISTANT HORIZON, a 99,000 word young adult (either change your MC’s age or make this New Adult) dystopian adventure.
This sounds like an awesome story. But there’s just so much information to take in and it drums up questions in my mind. I’d narrow in on your main character. We don’t need title of things like Camaraderie of Evil or the Community, we’ll get introduced to these groups in the manuscript. 
Is she on this journey by herself? Who’s with her? This is YA, you may disagree with me, but a love interest or friend is important. You don’t have to go too deep in the relationship within the query, just hint at it. Without knowing some things, here’s my attempt at your query…
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Nickleson believes her super power is lame. Making vines grow from any kind of surface, even skin, won’t protect her grandfather and the other rebels from the beasties, monsters that throw fireballs and can rip out a person’s throat.
When Jenna hears a young man screaming for help in one of the beastie creation facilities, she tries to rescue him by clogging the machines with vines. That’s one less beastie she’ll have to kill later–not that she’s ever killed anyone, even a beastie. Unfortunately, she’s not able to save him before the horrible transformation is complete, and now that she’s seen where creations come from, the idea of killing innocents is even more appalling.
She’d rather stop the ones who created the monsters.
She gets her chance when her vine-clogging stunt catches the attention of the malicious Brainmaster, a telepath in charge of overseeing beastie creation. He wants to use her power to capture new victims for his machine. With Brainmaster attacking her mind, Jenna has to figure out what’s real and what’s just a figment of the telepath’s cruel imagination, or she’ll never have a chance to destroy the beastie creation facilities.
Brainmaster gives Jenna an ultimatum: join him and help create the monsters, or become a beastie herself. Now she must discover the true power hidden within her vines to destroy the Brainmaster before he turns her into her worst nightmare.
Please consider DISTANT HORIZON, a 99,000 word young adult dystopian adventure.
Okay, notice how I didn’t use all the names and I added small details for clarity. I’m sure you can do better than I did with something that works for your story. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
I hope this helps. If you decide to revise and would like me to read it again, just post it in the comments of this post.

Okay, everyone, what do you think? 

And don’t forget to stop by the other blogs and read their query critiques. For each critique you leave in the comments, you get an entry into the drawing to win one of three first chapter critiques from me.

Becca C.
Becca (Becks) Coffindaffer
 Marieke Nijkamp

Sarah Nicolas
 Sarah Nicolas

18 comments to Query Workshop B-5: DISTANT HORIZON

  • I agree with Brenda on this. Definitely need to lower the age. I think 17 would be the oldest you would want to go and still be a YA. Love the idea of a super-hero story. I don’t think those get done enough.

    Good start! I like the story concept.

  • I agree with Brenda about taking out some of the unique names, because without some explanation they don’t mean very much and just distract.

    Also, how Brenda structured the first sentence about beasties reads a bit more clear… I was expecting a list the way this was worded: “But being able to make vines grow isn’t much of a weapon against beasties, monsters that throw fireballs and can rip out a person’s throat.” … so I had to go back and re-read it.

    I like your story idea, and I can tell you can write well. Cheers, and good luck!

  • Susan Taitel

    I’m a sucker for a superhero story so I would read this. The first couple of paragraphs introduce a couple conflicting ideas. First you say her powers are no good for fighting beasties then in the next paragraph she’s out on mission killing beasties. Also you say she decides to rescue the man so she has one less beastie to kill later. That implies she knows that beasties are people to begin with, but a few sentences later you make that sound like a big revelation to her.

    The rest sounds good to me, though I think Brenda’s suggestions clear things up a bit.

  • Laurie Litwin

    You have a good premise here. But it reads a little convoluted to me. I’m a little confused as to what the main plot points are. I think you could tighten this query up, and eliminate the extra information. Brenda had some great points.

    Good luck!

  • I’m with Brenda on this and those that already commented. Your story sounds great, but your query is a bit confusing. And like Susan said above, there are a lot of conflicting ideas.

  • Thanks for the awesome opportunity, Brenda, and thanks for the comments, everyone. 🙂

    I’ve gone back and rewrote the query, taking into consideration what was suggested. May be rough in a couple spots, but let me know what you like/don’t like, and if it sounds any better. 🙂

    Dear Agent,

    As far as eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson is concerned, her budding plant powers aren’t going to save the world from monsters that throw fireballs and can rip out a person’s throat. She just wants to destroy the beastie creation facilities… and stop the evil leaders who created the monsters.

    Lance, on the other hand, kills everything in his path. Frustrated by her best friend’s sword-happiness, Jenna breaks the lock on a transformation room with her vines in order to free a prisoner. One less beastie for Lance to kill later. Unfortunately, the prisoner transforms into a beastie and attacks her.

    The transformation strengthens Lance’s slice-first-ask-questions later mentality, but Jenna is dead-set on stopping the evil leaders, not the victims.

    She gets her chance when her lock-breaking stunt catches the attention of the malicious Brainmaster, a telepath in charge of overseeing beastie creation. Brainmaster knows that convincing Jenna to defect would be a staggering blow to the rebels. While attacking her mind, Brainmaster gives Jenna an ultimatum: join Brainmaster and help create the monsters, or become a beastie herself.

    Torn between killing the leader with her vines, like Lance would, or letting the telepath go, Jenna has to figure out what’s real and what’s just a figment of the telepath’s cruel imagination before Brainmaster turns Jenna into her worst nightmare.

    Please consider DISTANT HORIZON, a 99,000 word new adult dystopian adventure.

    • I think you’ve lost something with this version. I think the hook in the first paragraph isn’t good enough. Using “budding plant powers” confuses more. Though I like the information in the next two paragraphs, the immediacy is lost in this one. I do like the “slice-first-ask-questions-later” comment – shows voice. How does she kill with her vines? We have to understand her abilities and the stakes she’s up against. How is her ability a staggering blow? What is Brainmaster going to do with it? How is Jenna going to help create the monsters?

      Every time I see beastie, I too think it should be capitalize, but I believe it’s just a stylistic choice.

      Let me know if you have questions. You’re getting closer!

    • Thanks for the help. I’ve tried working some more on this, mostly clarification and also reworking the beginning. Is it sounding any better, or still muddled?

      I appreciate the help. 🙂

      Eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson doesn’t see how her ability to make vines grow is going to help her grandfather’s team of rebels against beasties, monsters that throw fireballs and can rip out a person’s throat. Still, it’s Jenna’s only chance of making her old home safe for those with super powers– the ones targeted for beastie creation.

      Lance, her best friend since high school, is determined to protect Jenna. Plants don’t deflect fireballs, and he knows it. Jenna wouldn’t mind the help– if he weren’t so sword-happy. Frustrated by Lance’s tendency to kill everything in his path, Jenna breaks the lock on a transformation room with her vines in order to free a prisoner. One less beastie for Lance to kill later. Unfortunately, the prisoner transforms into a beastie and attacks her.

      The transformation strengthens Lance’s slice-first-ask-questions later mentality, but Jenna is dead-set on stopping the evil leaders who create the monsters, not the victims.

      She gets her chance when her lock-breaking stunt catches the attention of the malicious Brainmaster, a telepath in charge of overseeing beastie creation. Brainmaster knows the rebels are on their last leg, and losing Jenna would deal a staggering blow.

      Jenna’s torn between strangling Brainmaster with thorny vines, like Lance would, or letting the telepath go. Jenna must figure out what’s real and what’s just a figment of Brainmaster’s cruel imagination if she’s going to stop beastie creation. If she doesn’t, Lance and the other rebels could end up as the same beasties they’re fighting.

      Please consider DISTANT HORIZON, a 99,000 word new adult dystopian adventure.

  • Can you give me a little more about Lance? Is he just annoying? Is there a spark of romance in the relationship? How close is their relationship? Answer these questions and I can help you narrow and tighten this query.

  • I think Brenda’s feedback is spot on with the original query. There’s a great story buried in here and with the rewording, I think this pitch could be made much stronger. Building on Brenda’s feedback, the wording of the last line of the first paragraph and the first line of the second throws me. “But being able to make vines grow isn’t much of a weapon against beasties, monsters that throw fireballs and can rip out a person’s throat” makes me agree with the line; it’s not that spectacular a weapon, but “So when Jenna hears a young man screaming for help in one of the beastie creation facilities, she tries to rescue him” reads like it is, and that’s how she’s able to rescue him. If you want to downplay the effectiveness of her power and her determination to help regardless of its inefficiency, then you need to reword because right now these two lines work against each other.

    “That’s one less beastie she’ll have to kill later—and she’s never liked killing anyone, even beasties” read to me originally like she rescued him from a beastie, not from becoming one. You may want to clarify this point, especially since it can be used to establish her character and motivation.

    Also, you use the word “beastie” six times in this query. I’d suggest rewording to avoid overuse.

    Comments on the rewritten query:
    The opening is much stronger on this. Straight to the point, but I’d lose the ellipsis in the last sentence. The addition of Lance provides a great dynamic between their two personalities that seems just ripe for contention and conflict. The last line of the pitch doesn’t work for me. I think what it is, is that the leading phrase indicates a moral dilemma she must resolve while the remainder of the sentence revolves around her being turned into a beastie. Maybe it’s the wordiness of the sentence that’s triggering my reaction. Perhaps something like: Faced with becoming her own worst nightmare, Jenna must decide between killing the leader as Lance would or allowing justice to prevail. If only she knew what was real and what was just a figment of the telepath’s cruel imagination.

    Good luck!

  • Lance is the person Jenna trusts most to tell secrets to. As far as story purposes go, Lance, Jenna, and one other friend escaped the Community (a supposed utopia, though people don’t know superpowers exist there) to rescue her grandfather. Though she doesn’t care for Lance’s recent tendencies towards killing things (he doesn’t admit it, but he’s trying to protect her), she cares for him as her closest friend. There is a hint of romance, though it only really starts to show at the end of the story (a minor subplot), and even then, Jenna isn’t sure how she feels about it. Lance is very much a freedom fighter, while Jenna still cares about the safety of the Community and saving the people who are being turned into beasties.

    Thanks for the help. 🙂

  • This is very original!

    I want to know more about Lance, and his relationship with the MC.

    I would also suggest breaking up the sentences more. The shorter the sentences sometimes, the faster the page reads.

    I’d also like to know more about the world, and the type of magic present in it. This would help me understand more of what is going on.

    Good job!

  • I hate to throw out something contradictory, but I felt like the addition of Lance muddled things up for me. Maybe it’s because their relationship is complex, and not just a romance or crush so it can’t be summed up succinctly. But I felt like I had a clearer picture of the story and Jenna’s motivations in the first version.

    I definitely agree with Brenda’s suggestion for inserting HOW Jenna uses her vine-growing powers, so glad to see that got in.

    This is minor, but I feel like beastie should be capitalized. Good luck with it – it sounds like an action-packed story!

  • This seems fun 🙂 I think the main thing is that this reads too much like a synopsis, almost, like a blow-by-blow take (albeit, well written) of what happens. Save that for the actual book. For now, get us to know the main character, what comes in her way, what she wants beyond anything else, and the stakes to lose. The action scenes can be skimped on 🙂 Give us the flavor, not the details.

  • The paragraph below feels like a snippet from your book, instead of a description of your entire message. Since you only have one shot to explain the power in your mss in one to two paragraphs, this, to me, seems to only muddle that power.

    “So when Jenna hears a young man screaming for help in one of the beastie creation facilities, she tries to rescue him. That’s one less beastie she’ll have to kill later–and she’s never liked killing anyone, even beasties. Unfortunately, she’s not able to save him before the horrible transformation is complete, and now that she’s seen where beasties come from, the idea of killing innocents is even more appalling.”

  • I agree with Brenda. Her revision of your query is awesome. It shows how simplifying the details and focusing on the main character showcases the strength of your story. Good luck. This sounds like a great story.

  • I like Lance better in this version. I don’t get why she breaks the lock because she’s frustrated by Lance. What makes her break the lock to help someone? Does she hear the human crying for help? What’s her motivation? You really need to change the age to 17. Also, I still don’t get her super power and how it’s so appealing to the Brainmaster. What can she do that help the Brainmaster’s diabolical plan? You can post again if you want to revise it.

    • I’ve rewritten parts of it, trying to clarify things (Such as why she breaks the lock and Brainmaster’s interest). I don’t want to lower the age, since it wouldn’t really make sense for her being in college (I already lowered it from 19 to 18, since she’s a freshman).

      Does this one make sense? Or are there too many details to get lost in?

      Eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson doesn’t see how her ability to make vines grow is going to help her grandfather’s team of rebels against beasties, monsters that throw fireballs and can rip out a person’s throat. Still, it’s Jenna’s only chance of making her old home safe for those with super powers.

      Lance, her best friend since high school, is determined to protect Jenna, even if it means cutting down every beastie he sees. Jenna wouldn’t mind the help– but beasties aren’t the ones at fault. They’re people with powers, like her. Killing them doesn’t stop anything.

      So when Jenna hears a young man screaming for help in one of the beastie creation facilities, she breaks the lock with her vine. Unfortunately, she’s not able to rescue him before the horrible transformation is complete. Meanwhile, the incident catches the attention of the malicious Brainmaster, a telepath in charge of overseeing beastie creation.

      Brainmaster knows what Lance doesn’t– that Jenna fights to save her old home because of safety, not freedom. That dedication to the Community’s safety is worth far more than Jenna’s pitiful plant powers, especially when Jenna’s grandfather is the leader of the rebels.

      Caught between Brainmaster’s mental attacks and trying to understand Lance’s lack of concern for life, Jenna must determine if her loyalty lies with the rebels and Lance, whose destruction of safety might eventually stop beastie creation, or with the Community and its terrible price for security.

      Thanks again for the help. 🙂

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