Query Doctor: SIMULATE by Elanor

| Friday, September 30, 2011
The lovely Elanor was brave enough to step forward and be my first victim patient for the Query Doctor. Everyone be sure to thank her for being so selfless!

If you would like to submit your query to be Doctored, please see this post.

Let's get down to business, shall we?

First, I'll post the query in its original, unaltered form. Then I'll give my diagnosis. Then I'll do line-by-line comments. Then I'll open it up to the commenters!

***

In the year 2500, virtual reality is a popular form of entertainment. To sixteen year old Astrid, it’s a way of war.

Europe is at war with America, and Astrid (the most intelligent teen on the planet) is America’s head General. Using the mental simulation known as The Web to pre-fight all the battles and plan the perfect strategy, Astrid has led America to four years of victory. But all this changes when Astrid meets a strange boy inside the Web who kisses her… then kills her.

Astrid wakes up in real life to find that America has lost their first battle, thanks to the boy. Turns out he can steal information from her mind during the simulation and pass it along to the Europeans. Now the Web is virtually useless and America has to figure out a new way to win the war. In this case, that’s recruiting millions of soldiers from anyone who fails an intelligence test, including Astrid’s brother and her almost-boyfriend.

Caught between power-hungry friends, a twisted dictator and a schizophrenic spy, it’s up to Astrid to win the war before her whole society crumbles around her.

For fans of Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT and Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME, SIMULATE is a thrilling YA dystopia. It is complete at 100,000 words.


***

Healthy Bits: This is a technically solid query. Grammar, spelling, and structure are all good. The writing is polished and strong. My only quibbles are the lack of hyphens in her age (sixteen-year-old) and the ellipses, which are used to indicate missing words, not a pause. I know they’re often used that way in YA, but yeah. You’re definitely on the right track here. You center the query on your protagonist, you’ve boiled down your key plotline, and you increased the stakes as you went. You've managed to narrow down your focus well, which is an important query skill to master.

Under the Weather: While the writing is good and technically strong, I think this query needs an injection of oomph. It’s an interesting enough storyline, but it’s been done before, and there isn’t much in this query that jumps out and makes me think, “Well THAT sounds different from other war-inside-a-virtual-world-bleeding-into-real-life stories I’ve read/seen.” You need to highlight what makes yours different. Special. Find that little nugget of gold that makes your story shine. Hint: I think looking at the boy who “kisses then kills” her is a good idea. That made me perk up. But only you can determine what the most important and best bits to highlight are. BUT. Be careful not to mislead an agent as to what your MS is really about (aka, don't make it sound like there's a bunch of romance if there isn't). SO MANY THINGS TO BALANCE, I KNOW.

I worry that you might be focusing too much on THE WAR and not enough on Astrid’s personal war, if that makes sense. The stuff about Europe at war with America is all well and good, but in YA, it’s often more about the internal struggle. Action is awesome and fun to read, but the heart is in, well, the heart. What is Astrid herself personally struggling with? Beyond having to save the world, I mean? Draw that out of her and showcase it.

Though it seems like I gave you a bunch of stuff to work on, honestly, this is a strong starter query. I can tell you've edited it a few times already. You are so on the right track. Stick with it!

***

Now the line-by-line comments:

In the year 2500, virtual reality is a popular form of entertainment. To sixteen year old Astrid, it’s a way of war.

This is a nice opener. Punchy and to the point. I’m a little iffy on the wording of “it’s a way of war” because it doesn’t sound quite right to my ear, but that’s a personal preference. Interesting concept, if slightly generic – I think you could punch it up and express the same idea in a more unique way. This is your hook! Make it impossible not to keep reading because they love your voice and style!

(the most intelligent teen on the planet )

This raises immediate questions in my mind, not all of them good. How  was it determined that she was the most intelligent teen? Did they test all the other teens? There are so many different kinds of intelligence that it’s hard for me to buy that ONE person is the world’s “smartest.” If it's too difficult to explain this concisely, cut it.

The Web to pre-fight all the battles and plan the perfect strategy

This sounds close to plot elements of ENDER’S GAME to me, which you're clearly aware of. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you can show how it’s different.

Astrid has led America to four years of victory.


So, she’s been a military general since she was 12? That seems a little far-fetched to me. Training and primed to become a military leader, I’d buy. Making a 12-year-old America’s Head General leaves me a little hmmm.

But all this changes when Astrid meets a strange boy inside the Web who kisses her… then kills her.

LOVE this. Keep it. For serious.

fails an intelligence test

So they’re using anyone who fails an IQ test as cannon fodder?

Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME


Careful with comparing to classics. ENDER’S GAME is clearly relevant, but it’s a story from a different time. Comparisons should generally be made against books that are currently selling in today’s market. Which, yes, ENDER’S GAME still is, but it’s a classic. I don’t think the comparison will sink you by any stretch, because there’s an obvious link, but just something to think about.

a thrilling YA dystopia

I'd cut "thrilling," if only because it's usually best to let your manuscript prove its thrilling nature rather than telling people so. 

100,000 words

This is a little steep for A) a debut novel and B) a dystopia. Not a deal breaker, but you’re walking that fine line. If the story’s good and every word counts, the number won’t matter. But, that said, DO make sure every word counts. Also, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you YA dystopias are a hard sell right now, but there it is. You've got to make this query pop. I know you can do it!

***

And thus ends the first edition of Query Doctor! Thank you again to Elanor for being amazing and allowing me to poke and prod her poor query. I hope it was helpful.

Commenters, feel free to chime in with your thoughts!



15 comments:

{ Emily White } at: September 30, 2011 at 6:51 AM said...

Good points, Steph! I, too, thought this was a little too similar to Ender's Game. It would be nice to see what really makes this unique.

Also, when you made the point at the end about dystopians being a hard sell, I went back and reread the query because it hit me that this doesn't really sound like a dystopian society. When I think of a dystopian, I think of oppression and control, and I didn't really get that vibe from this. War and the draft don't automatically indicate a dystopic society. In fact, this story's society seems a bit more lenient than ours considering not everyone is susceptible to getting drafted.

But that's just my opinion and I could be completely wrong. I only brought it up because if Dystopians are a hard sell, it might be a good idea to see if she can get away with just calling it a sci-fi. :)

So, that could be a good thing!

{ Matthew MacNish } at: September 30, 2011 at 7:30 AM said...

Excellent analysis. My biggest problem with this query is not technical, but rather the plausibility factor. I simply have a hard time buying that a 16-year-old girl is the leader of an entire continent's army.

I'm not saying I can't suspend my disbelief for something like that when I'm reading, but I think you need to make it make more sense in the query. WHY is the world recruiting kids to run their armies. HOW do they know she's the one for the job.

Answer those questions and the others like them that Steph has pointed out, and you'll be well on your way to a great query, because honestly, the one you've shared here is already quite good.

{ kirstenlopresti } at: September 30, 2011 at 7:33 AM said...

Where was this feature when I was querying? What a great service!

{ Mindy McGinnis } at: September 30, 2011 at 8:03 AM said...

Great job Steph, good points all around. I definitely agree that 100k is steep, I'd try to pare it down to at least 85k. It might sound like a lot, but once you start striking those extraneous "that's" and unnecessary dialogue tags, that word count starts falling.

{ Old Kitty } at: September 30, 2011 at 9:29 AM said...

Oooh lovely query dissection!! Yay for you Steph and Elanor. I too baulked at the thought that Astrid (great name) was 12 when she help the US win the war but lots of very helpful pointers here. Take care
x

{ Elanor Lawrence } at: September 30, 2011 at 11:38 AM said...

First off, thank you Steph for 'doctoring' my query. Thanks for the positive comments, and I'm certainly going to take your suggestions seriously. Time for another re-write. :)

And thanks to everyone who mentioned the implausibility thing with Astrid being only 12... I was a little taken aback when everyone started saying that, then I re-read the query and realized that it does sound unrealistic. In the actual story her age makes an awful lot more sense, so I'll try and fit that into the query somehow.

{ Angela Orlowski-Peart } at: September 30, 2011 at 1:49 PM said...

Great idea, Steph. I would love to submit my query in the near future (my novel is almost done).

I'm with Matthew -- a bit too idealistic that a young teen would successfully lead an entire continent's army :-)

{ Shelley Sly } at: October 1, 2011 at 7:10 AM said...

I loved this. Elanor's book sounds awesome, and Steph, your query-doctoring is fantastic. I'd like to submit my query to you. Once I write it, that is.

{ LisaAnn } at: October 2, 2011 at 11:40 AM said...

Wow! You are GOOD at this. Excellent doctoring, and best of luck to Elanor! :)

{ Emy Shin } at: October 2, 2011 at 3:52 PM said...

I already know that you're an awesome critique-r, but oh wow. This is amazing! I really must send my query in for Query Doctor!

And Elanor's novel sounds really great. Good luck!

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: October 2, 2011 at 5:57 PM said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Elanor - I'm glad the comments were helpful. Best of luck to you!

You guys feel free to send a query in whenever you're ready :)

{ JRuud } at: October 2, 2011 at 9:00 PM said...

Great points !! I love this. And gaining advice from other authors. Thanks for sharing :)

{ Elanor Lawrence } at: October 3, 2011 at 8:56 AM said...

I don't know if the Query Doctor is at all interested in seeing the revised version, but here it is...

In the year 2500, virtual reality is a way of fulfilling daydreams. To sixteen-year-old Astrid, it's a living nightmare. 

Europe is at war with America, and Astrid (the most intelligent teen on the planet) is the ultimate weapon. Using the mental simulation known as The Web to pre-fight all the battles and plan the perfect strategy, Astrid has helped America to four years of victory. But all this changes when Astrid meets a strange boy inside the Web who kisses her… then kills her.

Astrid wakes up in real life to find that America has lost their first battle, thanks to the boy. Turns out he can steal information from her mind during the simulation and pass it along to the Europeans. Now every time Astrid enters the Web, the boy is there, stealing information before killing her yet again. Astrid resolves to stay out of the Web, even if that means losing her brother and almost-boyfriend to a new round of military conscription.

Then the boy appears in real life, but he doesn't seem to remember anything he's done in the Web. Now Astrid has to choose between killing her murderer- who may well be innocent- or watching her society crumble around her.

For fans of Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT, SIMULATE is a YA dystopia. It is complete at 95,000 words.

{ Elanor Lawrence } at: October 3, 2011 at 9:07 AM said...

I just realized there are a couple slightly awkwardly worded things (like too many sentences beginning with now and then) in the query I just posted. I'll have to go through it again in a day or two and fix the wording. If you find them, them by all means point them out, but I'm more interested in knowing if this query makes sense, and if it has the pizaz to make it really pop.

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: October 7, 2011 at 8:30 AM said...

Elanor -

I'm happy to do a revision, but I'll go ahead and wait until you fix the wording and repost again. I'll be watching for the comment :)

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