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Need a new perspective...
Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 3:33 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


Hi! I've had a manuscript completed that I've queried (and had rejected) several times... which made me realize that I was doing it wrong. So I've done my research and rewritten the letter... and was wondering if anyone would be able to tell me if I've missed the mark entirely?

Elena stands alone in the forest of her mind, lost and searching for the world she once knew. Deanne stands alone in the caustic brightness of the hospital room, staring down at her friend and searching for any sign of life. Emmanuel stands alone, his mind ignoring his heart as he tries to push blonde hair and blue pleading eyes out of his head.

Tangled and entwined, the three journey toward a goal that only they can see, each bouncing into the other, ignorant to the effects of their actions. Will they find their way to a world absent of the searing pain of loneliness?

Starting after a tragedy, the reader finds Elena trapped in a coma world and joins her as she discovers not only who she was, but also a way out of the dream world. Her reality seeps into this non-reality, triggering memories of loved ones and revealing the life she is missing outside. Deanne and Elena are close friends, inseparable prior to the accident that put Elena in the coma. Deanne has to relearn how to traverse the path to love and to give herself completely to someone else, as she had to Elena. It is for her a journey toward independence and trust. Emmanuel is Elena’s love interest. His story shows how deep connections can be made without any conscious recognition of such events. For him, the path is dark and twisted, full of denial until the ultimate realization that the love is real. Each story twines together, unique and at once the same, pulling the three characters closer while threatening to tear them apart.

 


Display Name
Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 1:50 PM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 1


Um . What's the story? That I can ask this says you've missed something in your query. Is it about Elena's recovery? Then the query begins:
Awakening from a coma, Elena doesn't recognize her best friend. (I mean, not literally, but something similar.)
Is the story more about the nature of love? Perhaps it begins:
Emmanuel felt as empty as an ignored Book Country discussion offering when Elena awakened from her coma and failed to recognize him. (Amusing simile for test purposes only. Do not attempt.)
You need a 'hook' up front, a couple of sentences which tell the reader/agent that this story is interesting. The reader must ask themself, 'how is she going to work THAT out?' or 'What would I do if that happened to me?' or something which leads to wanting to know what happens.
Writing a good query is hard, bordering on impossible. I think the more your work fits EXACTLY in a popular genre, the simpler your task is; but since we all write acrose genre boundaries the conflict becomes: make it sound like an exact fit, and be rejected because it isn't, or try to describe the lack of conformity to genre norms as a FEATURE. My guess is: your story is not squarely in a genre. Your first sentences better grab the reader and make her want more.
Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 6:34 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


thanks for the great critique! I'll definitely try to do as you suggest.


Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 9:08 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


don't know if you're checking this thread still, but I rewrote it a bit... is this in the right direction?:

Elena never wondered what would happen if she died; she wasn’t one of those people who thought about the people who would be affected or the how the world would change. It just wasn’t in her nature. Now, as she wanders the unreality of her coma world piecing together to bits of her identity she lost, not sure if she is dead or alive, she would be amazed at the impact her absence makes on the world.

Deanne, Elena’s closest friend, would have scoffed at the idea that her entirely identity was centered on one person – but as she stares at her unresponsive friend laying broken in a hospital bed far from home, she realizes that the world has bottomed out and she’s sinking. The only thing she can clutch to is the hope that Elena will get better.

She has to.

Selina Fenech
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 4:10 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 12


I think your edited version is a big improvement!

A couple of things that stood out to me-

"a hospital bed far from home"- you can probably cut the far from home part. It's the only reference to a location as such, and doesn't mean much in context with the rest.

"Now, as she wanders the unreality of her coma world piecing together to bits of her identity she lost, not sure if she is dead or alive, she would be amazed at the impact her absence makes on the world." - It's a long sentence, and particularly "piecing together *the (typo) bits of her identity she lost" is a bit vague. Has she forgotten things in this coma world? It's hard to tell from this. A simpler "discovering who she was, lost and searching for the world she knew" (from your original) is clearer to me. Although, not actually shorter...

I hope that helps, I'm only an amateur so don't take my opinions too seriously.
Nefasti
Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 1:48 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 24


Cool concept.

My $0.02 - you are definitely moving in the right direction with the query. I'd bring the hook up to the top. You've got two sentences describing what she isn't like and doesn't think about kicking things off. I've also read that if you have multiple viewpoints in your story, to focus on one of them in the query.

I've found agentquery.com really helpful in figuring out how to craft a query, especially finding the hook. They recommend using the "when" formula, at least in the first draft. You can then massage it into something that captures your voice but still brings the hook to the fore.

The formula: When such and such event happens, your main character with a descriptive adjective, age or professional occupation must confront further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way.

Hope this helps.
Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 7:55 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


Thanks everyone! Ok, so I've reworked it a bit... (fyi, I think this is my favourite bit of encouragement on the agentquery website: "You can do this. You really can. You just have to sit down, brainstorm, then vomit it all out onto the page.")

I've prepared two different ones - because there are two "main" voices in the story so one query from each perspective... ok, I lied, there are three, but these two are the ones I heart the most. Would love to hear your comments and thanks so much for all of the great critiques!!

Attempt #3 from Elena’s perspective

Wandering the unreality of her coma world, Elena is searching for the clues to her identity, uncertain if she is dead or alive. She’d never wondered what would happen if she died – at least, she doesn’t think she did. Though she can’t be sure because she’s not even certain where she is. There is no one to ask and the few people she does meet treat her like she isn’t there. The most frightening feeling is the sense of loss – like she’s lost something, is lost, or is losing. Who knows, she definitely doesn’t.

Then one phantom causes a memory to flash and images play, scrolling as if from an old fashioned projector – though she isn’t sure she really knows what that is – complete with sepia images and large burn spots. Elena’s unreality suddenly changes and the hounds appear, sucking the very light out of the sky and sending her fleeing for her life.

Attempt #4 from Deanne’s perspective

Deanne, Elena’s closest friend, would have scoffed at the idea that her entirely identity was centered on one person – but as she stares at her unresponsive friend laying broken in a hospital bed far from home, she realizes that the world has bottomed out and she’s sinking. The only thing she can clutch to is the hope that Elena will get better.

She has to.

But as the days turn into weeks, Deanne has to start functioning, start living her life as if Elena’s weren’t hanging on by a thread. She has to relearn how to traverse the path to love and to give herself completely to someone else, as she had to Elena. Can she ever be ready for the day when Elena is truly gone?



Nefasti
Posted: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 2:25 AM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 24


Hi Lisa,

I've started your book. I'm liking it so far. I'm still only 5 pages or so in, but I want to keep reading!

I think you're making great progress with the query. My feedback may be more valuable after I've read further, but here goes ...

It seems to me that the thing that most sets your book apart is Elena's experience in the coma, so I think she's the best character to focus on in the query. The only caveat is if Elena and her experiences are more of a cameo in the book. If that's the case, focusing on her would be a bit of a bait and switch.

I think you're getting your voice across, which is great. For me, the issue is that I'm not getting a sense of the story.

Some thoughts:

Attempt #3 from Elena’s perspective

Can the first para be tightened a bit? Eg:

Elena Lastname is in a wandering through the unreality of her coma. Not that she knows who she is, where she is or even if she's dead or alive. The most frightening part is her sense of loss – like she’s lost something, is lost, or is losing.

When one phantom [does she know this person? if so, say who it is to her] causes a memory to flash and images play [what memory, what images? give some specificity, something for the reader to grasp], scrolling as if from an old fashioned projector, complete with sepia images and large burn spots. Elena’s unreality suddenly changes and the hounds appear [what hounds?], sucking the very light out of the sky and sending her fleeing for her life. [why are they after her? how does this relate to the phantom?]

Eg - When she comes across the phantom of her first grade teacher, memories of her best friend, Deanne, begin to flash, scrolling as if from an old fashioned projector, complete with sepia images and large burn spots. She remembers. She had a life before the coma and a friend she's in danger of losing - and who is in danger of losing her. But just as Elena is trying to find her way back, the hounds of death appear to take her away.


As mentioned, I like 3 better, but if Elena is a bit-part character ...

Attempt #4 from Deanne’s perspective

Deanne lastname is horrified to find that her entire identity is centered on one person, but as she stares at her unresponsive friend laying broken in a hospital bed far, she realizes that the world has bottomed out and she’s sinking. The only thing she can clutch to is the hope that Elena will get better.

She has to. [why? and unlike the rest of your writing here, it's a bit clichéd.]

But as the days turn into weeks, Deanne has to start functioning, start living her life as if Elena’s weren’t hanging on by a thread. She has to relearn how to traverse the path to love [vague. what does this mean in concrete terms? what does she do to relearn?] and to give herself completely to someone else [who? and why does she have to give herself completely to her?], as she had to Elena. Can she ever be ready for the day when Elena is truly gone? [a pox on rhetorical questions in a query!]


By the way, I saw this thread on reddit from a guy who recovered from being in a coma. Thought you might be interested: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/hnl5j/as_requested_iama_a_person_that_has_been_in_a_coma/

Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Saturday, June 4, 2011 5:01 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


Thanks for your comments Nefasti! I hope you enjoy the story...

I think my problem with writing the query is that I'm not quite certain who the center of the story is... When I was writing it, I tried to give all thee POVs equal weight...

The point of the story (in my opinion) is that connections exist without our knowing it and these connections can make the difference between being happy or miserable; remaining lost or having help finding your way. All vague concepts... Which is seeping into my query. I was trying to analyze the "what if" factor... If that makes any sense.

Anyway, not sure if that answered any questions. Now I will try to answer the questions in query form! (thanks again for your excellent feedback on this and I'll definitely check out the link)

Attempt 5

When Elena wakes alone in meadow with no recollection of who she is, the most frightening feeling is the sense of loss - like she has lost something, is lost or is losing. Not that she knows what it could be, where she is or if she is dead or alive.

As she wanders the world in search of the answer, she meets people who don't even acknowledge her existence. When the ghost of her parents appear, images of her life as a teenager flash before her eyes, scrolling as if from an old fashioned projector, complete with sepia images and large burn spots. She had a life before this world and a friend she's in danger of losing. But then beasts appear, sucking the light out of her world and sending her fleeing for her life.


Blarg. Sorry, I'm almost positive that rewrite deviated horribly from the point. I'll try again in a bit. (if you read this before a try again and disagree with my comment, let me know!)






Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 8:57 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


Attempt number 6

Elena woke up in the middle of a vacant field. She didn't so much wake up as become suddenly aware that she was sitting there. That in itself was weird, but when she realizes that none of the people she's been seeing actually know she's there, she knows that there's something fundamentally wrong with her situation.

Then she recognizes her parents and her consciousness takes a nose dive into what turns out to be a memory of her adolescence - more memory flashes occur, and Elena is able to piece together her life. She remembers the life before this world and a friend she's in danger of losing - and who is in danger of losing her.

The more she remembers about who she is, the more her unreality fights back at her. Just when she feels like she's going to find a way back to the world she once knew, strange beasts appear, sucking the light out of her world and sending her fleeing for her life.


Michael R Underwood
Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2011 8:44 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74


Elena,

I feel that this is all setup (cool setup!) -- as the query ends, I have no idea where the novel will go next, or where it *could* go.

The middle paragraph here doesn't do much for me -- it's too vague, and doesn't give me enough grounding in what's going on or a sense of the plot.

I like the third paragraph, and think it starts to build momentum. I'd suggest carrying on from there to fill things out.

I don't have to know why Elena is a non-person, but I do want to get a sense of what her setting is like (how *can* she interact with this world?) and what she can and will do to solve her problem. If this friend is central, maybe tell me a bit more about them, why they matter? Is this her best friend, her only friend, the only person who can recognize her?

My best suggestion would be to condense the content of the first two paragraphs, add some details about the setting, the friend (if they are in fact central) and the rest of the plot.
Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 9:02 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


Thanks Michael! I'm going to attempt to follow through on those critiques..

I've noticed that the general consensus is a lack of understanding the real story... I've been trying to figure out how to provide a creative synopsis this whole time and am (obviously) having troubles... *sigh*

So here's Attempt #7 (based on the above with attempt number 6) and below is a rewrite from "scratch"...

Elena woke up in the middle of a vacant field. She didn't so much wake up as become suddenly aware that she was sitting there. That in itself was weird, but when she realizes that none of the people she's been seeing actually know she's there, she knows that there's something fundamentally wrong with her situation.

Her peaceful surroundings try to lull her into forgetting, subtly changing - hills where there was just meadow before, rivers where a stream trickles - but Elena figures it out and the more she fights to find someone who will see her, hear her and touch her, the more drastically the world she's trapped in changes - beasts form that suck the light out of the sky and chase Elena through the mountains. When she reaches the top, she realizes that the world is her own making and its up to her to decide if she wants to live or die.


Attempt #8 - sorta from "scratch"...


When Elena and Deanne go to New York City for Deanne's birthday, they find themselves trapped in unknown worlds, lost and confused and horribly alone.

Elena wakes in a meadow with no memory of who she is and no idea that the world she's in isn't real. She notices that even though the ghostly apparitions she's been seeing have been talking to her, none of them know she's there and that makes her question the reality of her world. Turns out (after much battling) the world is really of her own making and it's up to her to decide if she lives or dies.

Deanne's world is a reality that is far too horrid for her to accept - her best friend in a coma and she alone in a strange city with only Bryan and Emmanuel to lean on for help. Two guys that she'd met a handful of times. As she struggles to be strong - like Elena would want her to be - she realizes that there is strength in asking for help and trusting that the other person won't let you down, at that's what Elena would want more. The problem is she can't seem to get over her self and let go, the way she did with Elena. It's a good thing Bryan is patient...


...........................

I think I'M lost... oh geez... Maybe I should take a few weeks away and come back to try again after... any thoughts?






 

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