Query Workshop B-6: BETTER LIVES

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,
Arrogant prep-schooler Marc Andrews knows stealing the physics final was a dumbass idea.  But when his roommate and self-appointed jiminy-cricket, Tim, suggests that giving back the test is his last chance to do the right thing, Marc laughs in his face.  He should have listened.
After that, his life goes to hell.  Marc’s hearing thousands of people’s thoughts in his head, all telling him what he already knows – he’s a shitty person.  Only continuous drinking shuts them up.  Believing things are improving when he meets hot, badass Bethany, a girl he actually likes, they only get worse.  After their first date, Marc wakes up in the loony bin, committed after killing Bethany while driving drunk.  He escapes, discovering the asylum’s a fake, located in strip-mall five miles from campus.
Quickly recaptured, Marc learns the truth.   His kidnappers are really the Sipala, aliens, disguised as humans, who are slowly taking over the planet.   The Sipala believe it’s a fair deal for humans, preventing them from destroying the Earth.  Marc’s informed that this destruction would’ve been his fault.   As the future president, he starts a global nuclear war.  Being a shitty person is one thing, but he’s shocked that he grows up to attain a Hitler-Stalin level of evil.   Forced to experience, first-hand, the atrocities he’d have caused, Marc’s grateful to his captors for not becoming a monster.  That is, until, he learns that a faction of Sipala, who want the Earth for themselves, are planning to kick off Armegeddon as previously scheduled.   Marc can’t let the horrors he’s experienced happen for real.  It’s up to him, with help from unexpected allies, to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process.
Inspired by a Christmas Carol (but with aliens), YA novel, BETTER LIVES (90,00ish word WIP) starts as a contemporary prep school story, before taking a Tarantino-like twist into science fiction.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

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B’s critique …
 

Dear Agent,
Arrogant prep-schooler (I’d lose this and just put his age.) Marc Andrews knows stealing the physics final was a dumbass idea.  But when his roommate and self-appointed jiminy-cricket, Tim, suggests that giving back the test is his last chance to do the right thing, Marc laughs in his face.  He should have listened.
I like this opening and I’m hooked. The jiminy-cricket reference is great, but I worry that it might be too old for your character’s age. I’m not sure. 
After that, his life goes to hell.  Marc’s hearing thousands of people’s thoughts in his head, all telling him what he already knows – he’s a shitty person.(I think you should rework the beginning of this paragraph. Is he actually hearing their thoughts and does he come into contact with thousands of people in his day?)  Only continuous drinking shuts them up.  Believing things are improving when he meets hot, badass Bethany, a girl he actually likes, they only get worse.  After their first date, Marc wakes up in the loony bin, committed after killing Bethany while driving drunk.  He escapes, discovering the asylum’s a fake, located in strip-mall five miles from campus.(Oh, this is good. But do we need to know he escapes and is recaptured?)
Quickly recaptured, Marc learns the truth. His kidnappers (He was committed, so would they be his kidnappers or caretakers?) are really the Sipala, aliens,(remove comma) disguised as humans, who are slowly taking over the planet. The Sipala believe it’s a fair deal for humans, preventing them from destroying the Earth. Marc’s informed that this destruction would’ve been his fault. As the future president, he starts a global nuclear war.  Being a shitty person is one thing, but he’s shocked that he grows up to attain a Hitler-Stalin level of evil. Forced to experience, first-hand, the atrocities he’d have caused, Marc’s grateful to his captors for not becoming a monster.That is, until, he learns that a faction of Sipala, who want the Earth for themselves, are planning to kick off Armageddonas previously scheduled. Marc can’t let the horrors he’s experienced happen for real.  It’s up to him, with help from unexpected allies, to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process. (This paragraph is too long and chunky. I’d tighten up and weed out unneeded information.)
Inspired by a Christmas Carol (but with aliens), YA novel, BETTER LIVES (90,00ish word WIP) starts as a contemporary prep school story, before taking a Tarantino-like twist into science fiction.   
Thank you for your time and consideration. (Give this it’s own paragraph.)

Cool premise, and I loved the reference to A Christmas Carol with aliens and the contemporary taking a Taratino-like twist. I like that Marc has to grow into a decent human being. I think you just need some tightening up in this query. Here’s my attempt, maybe it’ll give you some ideas…
 

Dear Agent,
Seventeen-year-old Marc Andrews knows stealing the physics final was a dumbass idea and could get him kicked out of prep-school. But when his roommate and self-appointed conscious, Tim, suggests that giving back the test is his last chance to do the right thing, Marc laughs in his face.  He should’ve listened.
Marc hears people’s thoughts in his head, all telling him what he already knows – he’s a shitty person. Only continuous drinking shuts the voices up. He meets hot, badass Bethany, a girl he actually likes, and hopes will make him forget his guilt. But then he wakes up in the loony bin, committed after killing Bethany while driving drunk, and discovers a harrowing realty.
His caretakers are really the Sipala, aliens disguised as humans, who are slowly taking over the planet. The Sipala believe it’s a fair deal for humans, preventing them from destroying the Earth. The aliens tell Marc that he becomes president in the future and starts a global nuclear war. Being a shitty person is one thing, but he’s shocked to learn he grows up to attain a Hitler-Stalin level of evil. The aliens force him to experience first-hand the atrocities he’d have caused.
Marc’s grateful to his captors for not letting him become a monster. That is, until, he learns that a faction of the Sipala, who want the Earth for themselves, are planning to kick off Armageddon as previously scheduled. Marc can’t let the horrors he’s experienced happen for real.  It’s up to him, with help from some unexpected allies, to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process.
Inspired by a Christmas Carol (but with aliens), BETTER LIVES  is a young adult novel complete at 90,000 words and starts as a contemporary prep school story, before taking a Tarantino-like twist into science fiction. 
Thank you for your time and consideration.

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

17 comments to Query Workshop B-6: BETTER LIVES

  • This is a really, gonzo, premise. It sounds like it would be a fun read. It feels like you’ve laid out all the plot twists in the query. I think it’s best to hold a few back, to make the reader curious. I was hooked when I found out the asylum was fake, but then immediately getting the full explanation with the aliens lost my suspense. Do we need to know in the pitch about the aliens and his future atrocities? Could you make one or the other more of a mystery? So I want to read the book to find out the answer.

  • Love this story idea and a great query! I was hooked right at the beginning. I agree with Brenda about the last paragraph. Too long considering the others are so short.

    Good job!

  • Laurie Litwin

    This story sounds unique. Like Brenda, I’m a little unsure of the Jimminy Cricket reference. It sounds to “kiddish” for this type of story. I’m also not in love with your second paragraph first line “his life goes to hell.” I think it’s weak and could be said stronger.

    Great start, though. Good luck with your story!

  • Really cool idea!
    I’d read it.
    I like the Jimminy Cricket reference and the the comparison at the end.
    I agree with Brenda about the tweaks she suggested. I think you are almost there.
    Good Luck!

  • Here’s my rewrite, mostly shamelessly cribbed from Brenda’s above. Isn’t she the best?

    Dear Agent,

    Seventeen year-old Marc Andrews knows stealing the physics final was a dumbass idea. It could get him kicked out of prep school. But when his roommate and self-appointed conscience, Tim, suggests that giving back the test is his last chance to do the right thing, Marc laughs in his face. He should’ve listened.

    Soon, Marc’s hearing people’s thoughts, all telling him what he already knows – he’s a shitty person. Only continuous drinking shuts up the voices. He meets hot, badass Bethany, a girl he actually likes, and hopes will make forget his guilt. But then he wakes up in the loony bin, committed, after killing her while driving drunk. When Marc discovers the asylum’s a fake, he learns the more terrifying reality.

    His caretakers are really the Sipala, aliens, disguised as humans, who are slowly taking over the planet. The Sipala believe it’s a fair deal for humans, preventing them from destroying the Earth. Marc’s told that he’s the future president who will start a global nuclear war. And the aliens force him to experience the atrocities he’d have caused. Being a shitty person is one thing, but he’s shocked that he grows up to attain a Hitler-Stalin level of evil.

    Marc’s grateful to his captors for not becoming a monster. That is, until, he learns that a faction of Sipala want the Earth for themselves and are planning to kick off Armageddon as previously scheduled. Marc can’t let the horrors he’s experienced happen for real. It’s up to him, with help from unexpected allies, to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process.

    Inspired by a Christmas Carol (but with aliens), YA novel, BETTER LIVES (90,00ish word WIP) starts as a contemporary prep school story, before taking a Tarantino-like twist into science fiction.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    • I’ve been thinking about your query for a few days now, and I think I have a better way for you to pitch it. See what you think about this…

      When a seventeen year-old prep school student, Marc Andrews, wakes up in the loony bin, committed after killing his new girlfriend while driving drunk, he learns a terrifying new realty. The asylum is fake, and it’s run by aliens.

      The aliens are from a planet called Sipala and disguised as humans. They’re slowly taking over Earth, believing that it’s a fair deal for the humans, since the aliens are preventing the destruction of the planet. The kicker, they say Earth’s doom is all Marc’s fault. In the future, March becomes president and he sets off a global nuclear war.

      The aliens force Marc to experience the atrocities he’d have caused with their (magical future viewing machine). Being an accidental murderer is one thing, but he’s shocked to find he grows up to attain a Hitler-Stalin level of evil.

      Marc’s grateful to his captors for helping him to avoid becoming a monster. That is, until, he discovers that a faction of the aliens want Earth for themselves and are planning to kick off Armageddon as previously scheduled. Marc can’t let the horrors of his experience happen for real. It’s up to him, with help from some unexpected allies, to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process. That should be easy for the future President of the United States, but Marc isn’t so sure.

      Inspired by a Christmas Carol (but with aliens) and complete at 90,000 words, BETTER LIVES is a YA novel that starts as a contemporary prep school story, before taking a Tarantino-like twist into science fiction.

      Thank you for your time and consideration.

    • Whoops – I forgot the dash between “seventeen” and “year”.

    • I’m reluctant to take out make it all aliens and no humans by taking out the roommate and reduce Bethany to generic girlfriend. Both are main characters. That was a critique I got pitching the story at a conference.

      On the other hand, I do like your version and do have to find a way to streamline. I’ll have to give this a lot of thought.
      Thanks so much for going above and beyond in helping me with this.

  • Love that you took out the jiminy-cricket part, but kept A Christmas Carol connection. Love this idea, especially with the alien twist. With your rewrite, I am still a little confused with your 4th paragraph. Rewording your first 2 sentences would make it much stronger.

  • Oh, interesting premise. Christmas Carol with aliens instead of ghosts. I love it. I think Brenda is right; with a little work and tightening, this query could be fantastic.

    “He should have listened” and “After that, his life goes to hell” pretty much implies the same thing, so I think you could lose one. I’d vote to keep “he should have listened” and move it to its own paragraph for emphasis. Then, I’d reword the second paragraph to impart causality.

    There’s a bunch of what I feel are unnecessary comma’s. Pausing in my head at each of them causes me to mentally trip over the words. I’d try to reword and eliminate some of them so the prose flows smoother.

    Good job!

  • I really like your voice here. It’s witty and edgy.

    I was thrown off when the aliens were introduced. I think it was a little late to introduce them. The first two paragraphs seemed to set the mood and genre, and then when the aliens came in, it didn’t seem like the right fit.

    I would also suggest breaking up the big paragraphs.

    Good job!

  • As others have said, great voice and concept. The rewrite is definitely better, and you most certainly have my interest!

    Good job!

  • This is definitely a fun premise. I also like the jiminy cricket reference and I think YA readers would get it.

    I wonder about the possible overuse of “badass”.
    Good luck!

  • Your first paragraph is really punchy, but I actually think it’s unnecessary. And as another commenter said, your story really centers around the aliens. The way you have this written we don’t get to the aliens until the third paragraph. I think your premise is really exciting and original and you should take us there as soon as possible!

  • Reading the rewrite:

    I’d consider putting “he should’ve listened” on its own line for more impact.
    “a girl he actually likes, and hopes –she– will make forget his guilt” – missing word
    I’d considering cutting “but” before the loony bin line. I’m thinking you might be able to rephrase the line for a little more clarity.

    I like the line, “When Marc discovers the asylum’s a fake, he learns the more terrifying reality.” It makes me want to keep reading what happens next.

    Cut the comma after aliens in the third paragraph. Possibly cut “the” before Earth. I like the comment about him being a future president.

    Definitly liked the line: “Being a shitty person is one thing, but he’s shocked that he grows up to attain a Hitler-Stalin level of evil.”

    At this point I went from thinking the story sounded so-so (I’m not much of a literary person), to wanting to read it. I’m thinking that maybe less time should be spent on the “real life” Mark, and see if you could bring it to this paragraph much quicker in the query. To me, that’s where the real interesting stuff starts happening.

    I think the last line could be made punchier, though I’m not sure how. It just feels like it doesn’t quite hit the stakes as well as it could.

    I kind of liked the Jimminy Cricket reference from the first query. I do like the revised query overall, though. Good luck with it. 🙂

  • Some of the sentences like “Marc’s grateful to his captors for not becoming a monster.” and the one where he is revealed to be president just fall flat to me. It’s just like… told, almost. It isn’t dramatic. It’s telling. Maybe tighten them up. The main thing is tightening it up and suctioning it down to the main points. Lose some of the unnecessary redundancies and you’ll have it 🙂 Hope I helped!

  • Since you already said that Marc is badass, I would refrain from using it again with Bethany.

    To me, the paragraph below is where the heart of your story lies: the truth about the asylum. I would condense the previous sentences as much as you can, and start with the punch of the following:

    “After their first date, Marc wakes up in the loony bin, committed after killing Bethany while driving drunk. He escapes, discovering the asylum’s a fake, located in strip-mall five miles from campus.”

    In fact, I would just write: “After stealing the physics final, Year-old Marc’s hearing thousands of people’s mockery in his head. When he meets Bethany, a girl he actually likes, they only get worse. After their first date, Marc wakes up in the loony bin, committed after killing Bethany while driving drunk. He escapes, discovering the asylum’s a fake, located in strip-mall five miles from campus.”

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