QueryDice #16

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Dear Ms. Ruth,

A castrated leprechaun lands in Dr. Jamie Grey’s morgue. Since the detectives are busy with their own case, Jamie is assigned to find the killer.

I would have stopped reading after this sentence. First, I’m disgusted by the thought of a castrated leprechaun. Because leprechauns are mythical creatures that I thought were neat when I was a kid (think Lucky Charms) the thought of them having genitals at all is upsetting to me and the visual I’ve just been given of a leprechaun not having them anymore is just too much for me. That’s a very personal opinion. Keep in mind someone else might think it’s dark and dangerous or hilarious.

Additionally, I’m not sure why a doctor is assigned to a criminal investigation as a detective. This would never happen. I don’t buy that the detectives are too busy to do their jobs. I worry that I won’t be able to get into the story because I’m too distracted by plot holes.

The investigation takes the coroner into Tara, a community of mythological creatures just south of Philadelphia. But the very beings Jamie vows to protect don’t want her there, fearing her presence may attract “the nut stealer.”

When she visits the victim’s wife, she is drugged and kidnapped and injures herself in the escape. Assisted by an elf, a vile creature whose race nearly eradicated her late husband’s people, Jamie wakes up two days later healed and with abilities only possessed by elves. While Jamie deals with the changes and keeps them hidden from her brother-in-law as he attempts to court her, another victim signals the urgency to find the killer before he castrates another leprechaun again. All the while the trail leads her deeper into elf territory than she ever wants to go.

The above paragraph reads more to me like a very brief synopsis. We don’t need a play-by-play, here. We need to know the large threads that are the meat of the story. What, besides the mystery of who castrated the leprechaun, is the conflict? What are the stakes?

Further, why don’t we know that Jamie was once connected with mythological creatures until the last paragraph? Why is the brother-in-law who is courting Jamie mentioned only in half a sentence? Is this further conflict that needs to be exposed here? This is a big problem in many queries I see: the author presents information that makes me ask further questions to which no answers have been provided. My advice is always to answer these questions right within the query (if you’re not too close to it to know what the questions might be) and if you can’t without answering more and more, find a way to leave that part for the synopsis.

I think you’ve spent too much time giving us a play-by-play of what happens and when. This is just a hunch, but I have a feeling there’s more to the brother-in-law courting Jamie than you’ve told us (I think it is a bigger piece of the story than you’ve let on) and I have a feeling the thread of the elf territory is also a much larger part of the story.

[redacted] is a mystery with fantasy elements complete at 72,000 words. I worry, too, that 72,000 words is not enough to fully flesh out and characterize a new world that you’ve created, execute a mystery plot carefully and include a love interest, if that’s what the brother-in-law is. You might have pulled it off, but I assume you’ll need more than 72,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

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Posted on November 3, 2011, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Is it enough to say that while looking through Google search results for “leprechaun myths”, I burst out laughing at reading “A castrated leprechaun lands in…” and had to click to read further?

  2. “Nut stealer” sounds funny to me and I’m not sure this book is.

  3. I admit my sense of humor is dark and twisted.

    Just the mingling of fantasy and mystery is fairly new in and of itself that castration for the sake of being shocking isn’t necessary. However, the perpetrator has a deep-seated reason which cannot be explained in any query or in the comments because it would give away the ending. Although, that probably doesn’t matter because I’m now doubting whether anyone would touch it and I’ve moved on with another project since sending a few rounds of queries.

    As to the body of the query, I put it out for critique at AQ Connect, and that was the finished project, but how does an author condense the main problem (finding the murderer), extremely important sub-plot (elves committed genocide against Jamie’s late-husband’s race and now she’s infused with elf DNA), and increasing the stakes (another castrated leprechaun)?

  4. I actually thought it was interesting. I did have to read it several times and I don’t know if agents you might be submitting to would do that. I didn’t mind the opening…it makes me think your story will be dark and disturbing so I would make sure that is what you want to get across. I’m assuming “castrated” and “nut stealer” go hand in hand so I kind of get that. The elf willing to help Jamie is where I feel a connection to your story. You just might want to simplify things a bit so someone doesn’t have to read it several times. “another victim signals the urgency to find the killer before he castrates another leprechaun again.”–This sentence is what’s really tripping me up I’ve decided.

  5. “A castrated leprechaun” The visual I got from this made me giggle! 😉

  6. I think a dead leprechaun is enough to warrant an investigation from someone who had connections to a fantasy world. The other elements of the crime certainly turn me off, but if the author is TRULY looking to target a wider fantasy-loving audience (and made the mistake of going for the extreme to attract attention), that detail is easily fixed (I hope). Except that it’s the only thing we really learn about in the query–and why “nuts” anyway? (don’t answer that)

    If the author merely wants to reach a different type of audience, well, I’m not that type so I have nothing more to say.

  7. Nut stealer? A community of mythological creatures just south of Philadelphia? A coroner is put in charge of a mythical creature’s death investigation? Next query!

  8. This does sound like a query designed to shock–why else make it a “castrated leprechaun”? Is it important that the leprechaun is castrated, or is the writer just trying to be original by being funny or shocking? Would the rest of the story–the hidden world and the possible love interest–work if we simply had a dead leprechaun showing up in Dr. Grey’s morgue, not necessarily castrated?

    Just my 2c.

  9. This sounds like the story to nowhere. Fantasy must capture the reader immediately.
    Discussing castration not related to a sexual crime is a loser.
    There are thousands of plots and sub-plots that have been committed to paper, type and computer; one must work hard at being original with an original writing method. Wasting your time on a non-starter like this is s shame.

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