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Public Critique: POSSESSED Query

Hey all! Here's the query I mentioned last week.  If you have the time, please give it a read and offer any advice or constructive criticism you may have.  If you're interested in having a query, synopsis, or excerpt posted on Lit Rambles for critique, check out my contribute page.

POSSESSED
(query)
Supernatural Thriller
By Sara Kjeldsen

Dear Agent So-and-So,

Fourteen-year-old Gabriel has killed more men than he can count. After fighting in the Napoleonic War for two years, he is now stuck at home with his parents. Gabriel's father has forbidden him to return to sea after losing his left hand in battle. To make matters worse, Gabriel is forced to go on a long trip to visit his aging aunt in the country. His boredom evaporates when he hears voices in a dark room filled with locked cabinets.

Gabriel's curiosity is cut short when a series of tragic events drive him into the woods with a madman in hot pursuit. The voices from the room follow him there. Just when he thinks that he is going mad, the truth unravels. Everything that he thought was real is a lie, including his identity. He is not a soldier. He is a cold blooded murderer.

The angry voices of those that he shot five years ago will not go away. Is there any way out of everlasting punishment for killing the innocent? Gabriel is certain that there isn`t one.

Possessed is a supernatural thriller that contains a final word count of 56,139 words. I have pasted the first ten pages at the bottom of this email.

Thank you for taking the time to review my work. If you would like to see more of my manuscript, please let me know.

Sincerely,
Sara Kjeldsen

17 comments:

  1. Wow. I would read this. I think the first paragraph can be condensed a bit more, but I don't know your story well enough to offer specifics. The only other suggestion I have is the word count. It doesn't have to be that exact; you can say 56,000 words.

    Good luck with this!

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  2. I think the query itself is quite good, but the premise doesn't mesh well with the age of the protagonist.

    I just can buy a 14-year-old child warrior in the age of Napoleon struggling over the moral quandaries of murder like he's Raskolnikov. The premise reads like the character should be more mature than is believable for this age.

    Good luck.

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  3. Maybe consider...phrases like 'stuck at home,' 'long journey with his aunt,' and 'boredom' made me think of a very inactive story, and I don't think that's what you have. I've also been told before to avoid cliche phrases like 'the truth unravels.' Elements of your story remind be of Jason Bourne (soldier turned cold blooded killer) and that had a good run:)

    Best with your rewrite!

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  4. This sounds like an exciting book. Getting that across in the query is great.

    There are a few things tripping me up. I had to stop and rethink a few times. Not necessarily a bad thing. Some of these made me go back and start reading all over again. You’ve got a number of clichés in this query and that can be a red flag.

    Fourteen-year-old Gabriel has killed more men than he can count.

    My trip up here is I first thought Gabriel was a girl and then hit the ‘he’. Rethink #1 – but my bad.

    After fighting in the Napoleonic War for two years, he is now stuck at home with his parents.

    Rethink #2 – so he killed people because he’s a soldier and not a murderer. And his life is now boring. This line also gives me a dichotomy time-wise. Living with his parents sounds like a modern dilemma and yet this is in the 1800’s (or whenever that was)?

    Gabriel's father has forbidden him to return to sea after losing his left hand in battle.

    Whose hand was lost? The way this is worded, it’s the father, but I’m not sure if that’s what you really mean given the context.

    Is it important that the query show he lost his hand? Were many of the battles fought on the sea? Which sea? Was he a sailor and not a soldier?

    I would combine these three differently.

    Fighting in the Napoleonic War for two years, fourteen-year-old Gabriel has killed more men than he can count. But now, he’s stuck at home with a father who has forbidden him to return to the sea.

    To make matters worse, Gabriel is forced to go on a long trip to visit his aging aunt in the country. His boredom evaporates when he hears voices in a dark room filled with locked cabinets.

    This is interesting, setting up what happens next.

    Gabriel's curiosity is cut short when a series of tragic events drive him into the woods with a madman in hot pursuit. The voices from the room follow him there. Just when he thinks that he is going mad, the truth unravels. Everything that he thought was real is a lie, including his identity. He is not a soldier. He is a cold blooded murderer.

    I’m having some trouble with this para. It’s too general - series of tragic events. And it almost sounds like you’re getting to the end of the story in this one para.

    The angry voices of those that he shot five years ago will not go away. Is there any way out of everlasting punishment for killing the innocent? Gabriel is certain that there isn’t one.

    Five years ago? He’s now 19? The last two lines can be combined into Gabriel’s thought without having a question in there.

    Possessed is a 56,000 word supernatural thriller. I have pasted the first ten pages at the bottom of this email.

    You don’t need exact word count.

    Good job!

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  5. Sara, I loved your opening line, and I think your concept is cool. The setting is unusual and enticing, and the overall tone is good. But there are some things that stuck out at me.

    1.) "stuck at home" feels very modern. You've just told me this is set during the Napoleonic era, and the modern phrase takes me out of the mood set by the first sentence.

    2.) Was he a sailor or a soldier? "Return to sea" says sailor in the Navy to me, but the rest of language makes him sound like a soldier.

    3.) "His boredom evaporates..." is where your story begins. I'd try to find a way to cut down the intro.

    4.)Your second paragraph loses me, because the information is too general and vague. I'm not really sure what's going on here (is he mentally ill? Possessed? Haunted?) and I'm also not sure of the mechanics of the discovery, only that there are voices in a room and in the woods and that he tries to run away from them but then they reveal something to him (but not really to me).

    5.) Of those he shot five years ago? When he was nine?!? He may have realized his real identity, but I have no clue.

    My feeling here is, in an effort to set a mood of mystery, you have left too many variables floating about. You have a lot of really cool things going for you with this story, it's definitely intriguing, but I'd look toward making your query letter a much more concrete description of plot.

    Good luck with this!

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  6. Can't say much about content, as I'm struggling with my own query but something I have heard over and over is the info before the opening salutations doesn't need to be there, if you intend to send exactly that and wasn't just an opening for our benefit.

    Otherwise I dug it!

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  7. Thanks for your great responses guys! Yeah now I totally get how confusing my query sounds in certain parts. I will definitely cut to the action and not be so vague.

    To clarify though, a lot of the Napoleonic War was fought at sea and the war frigates had sailors, of course, and soldiers on them who knew how to fight. There is a twist as well...but I wasn't presenting it very well.

    Thanks again...I will be doing some mad re-writing. :)

    Cheers!

    Sara

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  8. I agree with Sarah's comments.

    I also wondered about the spelling of the title. To my mind, it should be POSSESSED.

    Good luck!

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  9. Yes, it should be! It must have been a typo. :)

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  10. No worries! Thanks for posting my query. :)

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  11. I second what Sarah Laurenson said. Also, 56K sounds a bit short or is it intended for the YA market? If it is, your genre would be YA Supernatural Thriller. If it is for adults, consider rewriting it to something longer.

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  12. Sara,

    I wanted to add that I agree with Sarah L. I would also mention that it's a YA with your word count and genre info.

    Get back in touch if you want to submit a revised query later on!

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  13. I sure will! Thanks. :)

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  14. I thought it was quite a good query. I didn't mind the mystery and slightly vague areas. After all, this is a query not a synopsis. You can't cover everything in three paragraphs. Two suggestions: 2nd paragraph "series of tragic events" is a little cliche (overused). It's one of those phrases that we use to cover a lot of ground, but in the end it sounds empty. (At least to me.)
    Next suggestion: 3rd paragraph "Gabriel is certain that there isn't." I'd get rid of the one. It's repetitive.
    Great job. Books sounds interesting. The one comment here about him killing the men when he is nine is valid. That does seem odd, however, the idea of the query is to peak interest, and you've definitely done that. Probably when I start reading, the age thing will make sense.

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  15. You've already accomplished the hardest part of the query... having a great premise. Sounds like an awesome story. Very unique!

    A few things I'll mention...

    Just get rid of "To make matters worse," it's not necessary. How about 'Gabriel is forced to visit his aging aunt, where, in a dark room of locked cabinets, he hears the sorrowful pleas of disembodied voices.' Or something like that.

    Also, I'd get rid of 'Gabriel's curiosity is cut short when a series of tragic events' and maybe mention one or two of these tragic events instead.

    Lastly, 'Gabriel is certain that there isn't one.' could just be cut. Leave the rest as a teaser. You could write, 'Is there any way, other than death, to escape his punishment for killing the innocent?'

    All in all, you've got a wonderful story here. Good luck with the querying!

    Brian

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  16. Thanks guys! Your comments are a huge help.

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