Critique blog hop

For those who weren’t chosen in the New Agent contest, Michelle started a blog hop we could join to have our queries and first 250 words critiqued. (I welcome critiques from those who didn’t join the blog hop too!) While I’d like to think that my entry wasn’t chosen purely for marketability reasons, I’m certain I can improve the query and first 250. Thanks in advance for your input!

[Edit: I’ve added strikethrough marks to indicate revisions but retain the original text.]

Title: Night Watch The Measure of a Monster
Word count: 70,000
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy

Revised query:

When a grisly murder occurs in downtown Portland, the lives of a monster and a monster hunter collide. Reluctant supernatural expert Detective Ian Rinaldi arrives at the scene to find the victim’s body torn apart by a creature with the claws of a lion and the mouth of a shark. That’s about par for the course for a manticore attack. What’s not is that the manticore fled before finishing its meal.

Human-monster hybrid Blake Winters, a community college instructor determined to hide her paranormal heritage, believes she’s the only witness to the murder. By day, she uses her cover identity to aid Ian in his investigation. By night, she risks exposing her secret to stop a sudden influx of monsters before they claim more lives.

Then a second case puts Ian in the line of fire. Blake’s decision to protect him reveals her inhuman abilities. Amidst mounting evidence that the manticore attack and this new case aren’t so random, Ian must choose between relying on Blake or ridding the world of one more monster.

Meat of the query (revised since entering the contest):

Between the decapitated corpse and the half-eaten head, Detective Ian Rinaldi blames a manticore for his latest murder scene. Except it fled before it could finish its meal. Few monsters can scare a beast as powerful as a manticore.

Human-monster hybrid Blake Winters wants nothing more than to pass as a normal human. After settling into life as a community college instructor, she stumbles upon a manticore seconds too late to save its victim. Despite the risk of exposing her true identity, she chases the monster down.

Drawn to Blake’s interest in folklore, Ian remains unaware of his new friend’s inhuman abilities until he discovers them on display. Then a new case connected to the one he never solved motivates him to patch their broken friendship. Amidst mounting evidence that her family has been watching her all along, Ian must choose between trusting Blake or making the world a better place by ridding it of one more monster.

First 250 words:

April 5

11:27pm

Blood, diluted by rain, steadily dripped trickled into a nearby storm drain. It originated at the stump of a headless corpse sprawled across the asphalt. The head lay twelve feet away, the head twelve feet from the body. Rows of shark-like teeth had devoured most of the man’s face.

Detective Ian Rinaldi tried to wipe away the rain that dripped into his eyes as he surveyed the murder scene, yet his damp sleeve merely smeared the water over his clammy skin. He shivered.

“This is your specialty, isn’t it,” Officer Kendall said. It wasn’t a question.

Detective Ian Rinaldi wiped an arm across his forehead, but his damp sleeve merely smeared the water over his clammy skin. HeIan understood what Kendall meant. Everyone on the force knew of his so-called specialty, and they thought him crazy for it. He refused to give in. “What makes you say that?”

“Don’t play dumb with me. They sent you even though your shift ended hours ago.”

“Perhaps I was in the area.”

Kendall snorted. “Out here? At this time of night?”

“It could happen. Who reported the body?”

“Don’t know. Dispatch got an anonymous tip.”

“An anonymous tip?” Ian glanced back at the carnage. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. She only gave the location and the state of the body.” The officer shuddered. “I heard she seemed pretty calm. That’s insane. I sure would’ve been freaked out if I’d seen this. Any normal person would’ve.

Ian bit back a curse; He didn’t want to confirm Kendall’s suspicions. He also didn’t like his own. Thus far, the evidence – particularly the half-eaten head – The evidence implied that a manticore had been chased away by something. Something that could mimic a human. Something that made a manticore look as intimidating as a house cat.

Something that could call 911.

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21 thoughts on “Critique blog hop

  1. Hi Lynn,
    I’m so excited Michelle helped us connect this way! Queries are so hard… I really like the last paragraph of you query, especially the last sentence. The first two paragraphs confused me until I read your 250. I had to google manticore, because it was completely unknown to me. It looks like a cool creature. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but it seems like a fresh idea to me. Also, what happens? Does Ian try to kill Blake? It’s a cool set up, but I don’t know what happens.
    In the 250, there’s a tense problem in the sentence “The head lay twelve feet away.” It seems you’re using past tense throughout except that sentence. I don’t like the phrase ‘wiped an arm’ or ‘a manticore.’ I like ‘wiped his arm’ or brushed his arm’ or ‘the manticore’ or ‘one of the manticores.’

    Thanks so much for sharing!
    Candace

    Like

    1. Me too! 🙂

      Yeah, queries are hard! I wrote this version based on advice from one of the mentors on Twitter: start your query where the book starts, which is at the scene of the manticore attack. My original query had a lot more background on both Ian and Blake. Another thing I’ve read frequently about queries is that they shouldn’t be a synopsis, and so I’ve struggled with choosing when to end the query. Should it be with the result of Ian’s decision with Blake? Should it be his reaction to her saving his life? Should it be the hint of the real villain in this story? Again, queries are hard! 🙂

      Thanks for the advice on the 250! I hate the word “lay” because it’s difficult to use correctly, but I haven’t found a suitable replacement yet.

      Like

  2. Hi Lynn! Thanks for putting your work up, I hope some of my feedback will be helpful!

    I read your query a couple of times through. I found some parts a little hard to follow, mostly in the last paragraph (btw, I am not super familiar with this genre so feel free to take all this with a grain of salt).

    “Then a new case connected to the one he never solved motivates him to patch their broken friendship.”

    I don’t know if this is necessary, as you just mentioned that they became friends. Why was their friendship broken?

    “Amidst mounting evidence that her family has been watching her all along,”

    Not quite clear on what her family watching her has to do with what has been introduced so far. I’m sure it makes sense to the plot, but in the query it feels like maybe those connections haven’t been made.

    “Ian must choose between trusting Blake or making the world a better place by ridding it of one more monster.”

    I like this a lot as it shows what’s at stake (friendship vs. job/ sense of duty).

    I love your first 250. Very descriptive without being too telling, and the last paragraph makes me want to read more. It might be possible to tighten it up just a bit by editing out a few unnecessary words (“his damp sleeve merely smeared the water over his clammy skin” you could probably lose one of those adjectives and still have it make sense). When Kendall says that any normal person would have been freaked out, I think that was implied already when he says it was insane that she sounded calm. So just little stuff like that.
    I really hope that helps! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! In hindsight I should’ve posted the exact query I submitted to the contest, but it’s helpful to get a critique of the new version. Ensuring that connections are made within the query itself is a crucial point that I’m taking to heart. I’ve already revised it based on that!

      I appreciate your comments on the first 250! I’m so glad you liked them, and I’m glad you pointed out ways they could be improved.

      Like

  3. The first thing I noticed is your query is basically set up like mine. I, too, have 3 pov MC’s and I used all three of their pov’s in the query. As this was mentioned on Twitter a couple of times, I’m wondering if it should be revised to only one pov?

    The one thing that didn’t appeal to me was right from the first sentence of the query, I’m met by a half-eaten head. Although this may be what your story is about, it was a turn off to me. I think it wouldn’t have been so “shocking” if it had been mentioned further into the query?

    Lastly, one of my pet peeves is having a sentence end with a preposition. I always tell my students, every preposition needs an abject to complete it!

    Good luck with your revisions:)

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    1. The POV issue is a tough one. I’ve begun revising my query based on feedback to this post, and I’ve made the POV largely Ian’s. (I’ve also avoided making the first sentence about a headless corpse!) I’ll admit it does feel tighter by focusing on one POV. That won’t change the fact that two POVs are used in the novel itself, but it may make a better query. I’d suggest writing the query from each of the 3 POVs and see if one stands out as stronger than the other two.

      Haha, I know, I hate ending sentences with a preposition, and I tell myself I only do it when necessary, but this goes to show that I can still improve that. Thank you!

      Like

  4. Hello!

    Thoughts on your query: I found it hard to follow/not connecting properly. My advice is to focus on Ian + the scene of the crime and then build with him meeting Blake and what they do + the stakes. Even if it’s a multi POV novel, you can always add at the bottom X is told through two POVs.

    250: This isn’t my genre, but I’d advise with starting w/ Ian and setting the scene through his eyes. What’s he feeling? Besides it raining so he’s uncomfortable, if this is his specialty, is he excited? Is he hopeful this is when he’ll finally catch the manticore? The reader doesn’t know how to feel about what they’re be told. Show it to us.

    I hope this helps. Best of luck with everything 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      Yeah, this query needed to be ripped apart and pieced back together. 🙂 My revised version now follows some of the things you mentioned and is almost entirely told from his POV.

      I do need to show that he’s the one observing the details in the first paragraph. He’s not really a feelings kind of guy, so I don’t want to set the reader up for lots of that from him right away and then not do that later, but your comment means I need to *show* that in the first 250. And he hates his specialty, which I also need to convey better. Thanks!

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  5. Query:

    So, definitely interesting. But, I don’t know what the stakes are or the conflict. What does it matter that her family has been watching Ian all along. And why is all the info about the murder important to the plot? I suggest you try this structure, “Human-monster Blake Winters was managing to pass as a normal human until [inciting incident], forces her to [goal] in order to [stakes].” Then, expand only as necessary to clarify this line. You don’t necessarily have to include that first line, but it will help you know what’s important to include in the query.

    250:

    Grabs you nicely at the beginning. But how does the POV person know that it was rows of shark-like teeth that had devoured most of the man’s face? Also, how does he know that whatever chased the manticore away could mimic a human? Or maybe you meant a human’s voice?

    I assume you explain next why he thinks it was a manticore that murdered the man. In general, I liked the first 250 and found it easy to read and engaging. Would keep reading.

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    1. That structure definitely will help my query. Thank you! The murder is important because that’s what starts everything that happens in the novel between Ian and Blake, and I need to convey that.

      I googled images of shark bites. (I highly recommend NOT doing that.) If you know what it looks like, it’s pretty unmistakable when you see it again. And he’s seen the aftermath of a manticore before (which gets mentioned after the first 250). Since they’re not close to an ocean, Ian thinks manticore before thinking of an actual shark. And part of the reason I’m explaining this is to remind myself what details to pay attention to when I revise! 🙂

      The conversation is supposed to imply that the thing that did the chasing off made the phone call to report the body. I’m going to make sure that is clearer, too. Thanks again for your feedback!

      Like

  6. Hi Lynn!

    I read the other comments as well and find I agree with most of them. Especially this particular sentence in your query: “Then a new case connected to the one he never solved motivates him to patch their broken friendship.” It feels out of place. We don’t really know about the case he never solved, though I’m assuming you mean the one we start the query out with. We also know nothing about why their friendship is broken so it reads a little strangely.

    As for the 250 I feel like in some places there is too much punctuation. Lots of dashes and comma’s and it makes it all feel a little jumbled. Out of the gate though, I really like getting straight to the gory description. I think the beginning definitely has some legs to stand on, it’s just pesky punctuation tripping me up.

    I think you’ve got an interesting premise here!

    Like

    1. Thank you for your feedback! I’m again regretting not pasting the original New Agent query; what’s in the post is shortened (apparently too much) from the original. I’d revised the version in this post based off mentor comments about too much backstory in queries, and I should’ve waited to expose that to the world. But the feedback I’m getting is really helpful, and I’m glad to know what didn’t work in this query.

      Now that’s a comment I haven’t received before. Thank you! I’ll take a closer look at how I’m using punctuation by reading it aloud again. Hopefully that’ll remove what’s tripping you up.

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  7. I would suggest for the second paragraph something more like, “The only witness to the murder is Blake Winters, a college professor and human-monster hybrid determined to hide her paranormal heritage. Aiding Ian in the investigation, she risks her secret and her life when (how she accidentally reveals her powers)” or the jump between characters might be a bit jarring.

    “Amidst mounting evidence that her family has been watching her all along, Ian must choose between trusting Blake or making the world a better place by ridding it of one more monster.” <- the bit about family comes out of nowhere. If they're the antagonists, they should be mentioned when Blake is introduced.

    For the 250, having Kendall ask a question but not identify it as such threw up a huge red flag. If the very first bit of dialogue has a mistake that glaring, it'll be difficult to get an agent to read further. But the concept is clear and the MS definitely starts where it should, so best of luck!

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    1. I really like that idea for the second paragraph! It’s powerful and fits the tone of the story. Thank you! I’m going to tweak it slightly — a twist is that Blake *isn’t* the only witness, though the reader is supposed to believe that early on — but if I get requests because of it, you deserve the credit. 😀

      Ah, hindsight: I should’ve fixed the family comment when I tweaked the query between the contest submission and making this post. The submitted version had more backstory — too much as per some advice — and made the mention of Blake’s family fit more naturally. I’ve made sure that my revised query avoids the same pitfall.

      About Kendall’s question… it’s not a question. 🙂 It’s one of those flat statements that could be a question but based on tone of voice isn’t. Your comment shows me that pre-contest revisions ruined the narrative’s ability to convey that. An earlier draft explicitly stated “It wasn’t a question” in the narrative, and I should ensure that I remedy this if I keep Kendall’s line as is. Thank you for pointing it out!

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  8. Ohh. Oooooooooooooooohhhhhh. I usually start with the query, but this time, I’m going with the 250.

    The revisions you’ve made are very, very good. You took your 250 from ‘yeah, they’re okay’ to ‘yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees; more of this.now’. I gotta say, the part about what could have possibly scared off the manticore, something which could call 911 is absolutely brilliant and would make me want to turn the page in a heartbeat. Great job. Great, great job.

    Now, for your query. Are you going to have dual POV in your novel? Because that’s the feeling I’m getting here. I think you laid out the stakes quite well, but I still don’t get a feeling of the characters’ personality. I just wished for a bit more info on them. I also feel that while Ian’s role is clearly defined, we don’t get the same details with Blake. I also feel that your first sentence, while good, isn’t seamlessly tied to the next sentence.

    And, on a more personal note, the first time I read the name, I thought Blake was a man.

    Hope my comments were helpful. I think you’re on a really, really great track.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! You totally made my day. 😀

      Yes, it’s a dual-POV novel. Since this was supposed to be the “meat” of the query, I left that out of the three paragraphs. I appreciate your comments about their personality and their roles; I hope to work those in during the next round of revisions. Especially with respect to Blake’s gender. I have a thing for unisex names, but I need to be clear that she’s a woman. Thanks!

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  9. Okay, so I have to be in a different mindset to critique queries versus sample pages so I’m going to come back and do the first 250 later on, okay? So here we go.

    Um…okay, I’ll be honest, I can’t find much to critique with your query. It’s obvious you’ve polished it. I like the detective bit (although how does he know about manticores and other monsters? Are they common knowledge? Or is he special for some reason? You should say) and kudos for using a monster most people don’t deal with. Although I don’t remember shark in the manticore mix…?

    I should say, I like “Night Watch” better than “Measure of a Monster.”

    One nitpick – you might change “mouth of a shark” to “jaws of a shark” maybe. That’s not even a definite DO IT, it’s more like, “Hmmm…that could work.”

    The phrase “cover identity” reads weird to me. Like she’s part of some organization. I’d go with something else. “Mild-mannered alter ego,” maybe? Also, if she’s half monster, why is she not evil? Are all monsters inherently evil? If so, since they’re clearly sentient (since they can mate w/ humans), then why? And if not, do we explore Ian learning that he may have killed innocent monsters before?

    A second case indicates that whatever happened isn’t related to shark-chomped dead person from first paragraph. If this is so, fine, but why bring in a second, unrelated mystery? If not so, then you should say “A second murder,” not a second case.

    Things that need to be explained in this query: are monsters common knowledge or secret knowledge? If secret, how does Ian know? Are all monsters evil or are they like humans? If evil, that’s kind of lazy and also doesn’t make a lot of sense regarding Blake. If not evil, perhaps this could tie into the plot somehow? And where are all these monsters coming from and WHY are they popping up? Actually the why is more important than the where-from.

    Can I say though, manticores!! *squee*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your feedback! I wish I could stick with Night Watch, but it turns out a Russian urban fantasy novel already has that title. 😦

      Since this version of the query falls short of 250 words, I’ll see if it can include a note about Ian’s paranormal knowledge (his mentor when he first became a detective taught him about the supernatural, but it’s not common knowledge). All the monsters Ian has faced in the past have tried to kill him or gotten others killed, so he’s not a fan.

      As far as why monsters are suddenly appearing (the party behind both cases mentioned in the query), that question doesn’t get answered until much later in the novel, and much of the advice I get on queries (as opposed to synopses) is to focus on where the novel starts. Your comment shows I may need to consider how I’m hooking the reader, though. Thanks!

      Like

  10. Hi Lynn,

    Yeehah. This sounds like such a fun read. Procedural with a unique monster and potential human/monster friction? Hell yeah.

    Your query is wonderfully concise and sets up the basic plot and characters well. The format lends me to believe you’ve written in both POVs. Otherwise, you’d want to keep to Ian’s angle on the story.

    The only real issue I have is the last line about ridding the world of another monster suggests Ian considers offing Blake. But there’s not really any reason stated. If she’s saved his life, one would hope he’d give her benefit of the doubt. You’ve used only 170+ words, so have a bit of real estate to clarify motivations, beef up the stakes, and sprinkle a hint more voice in. Maybe a little more about the personal aspects of the characters/story would be a great add, if you’ve got room. Like: Why is Ian reluctant? How/why does Blake stop monsters?

    Agree with LA Knight about mouth v jaw and cover identity.

    Minor niggle: “line of fire” has a hint of cliché, so something a bit more unique and fitting to Ian’s voice might work even better.

    These are small and easy fixes. The query is tight and should get you a lot of excited requests.

    The 250 = HOT DAMN, I LOVE THIS. You’ve put a high polish on, and the voice and word choices are bang on. Also, such delicious gore, organic dialog, and great descriptive passages. There’s a stray “that” in the 2nd to last sentence, along with “by something”, which could be cut for more punchy phrasing. The repetition of “something” is, as far as I see, the only minor moment of not completely riveting in a strong as hell opening.

    Good luck with this! It’s a delightful slice of badassery, and you should have a lot of eager takers clambering for fulls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is the kind of comment that brings happy tears to my eyes and gives me a little boost to keep both writing and querying. Thank you!!

      I really appreciate your feedback, and I’ll use your questions and advice (especially with respect to voice, that pesky pesky voice) during my next round of revisions. Thank you again!

      Like

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