Aug 17, 2010

Short Story Query: Horror

Dear Ms. Baker,

After a long week at the office, it’s finally Friday and the last thing on Finn’s mind is a zombie attack. He’s on beer number two and it’s not even 6 p.m. yet. With the sun still shining and the entire weekend staring him in the face, nothing can get him down. Not even the perpetual struggles a real estate agent faces in a recession.

Suddenly, he sees a man in a clean grey suit stumble out of the shadowy woods bordering the far end of his large backyard. At first, Finn thinks it’s one of his neighbors, but as the man shambles ever closer there is no doubt about it... It’s a real life flesh-eater. Just like in the movies. Knowing this is the beginning of a new war with the undead, Finn hastily grabs his shotgun from the hall closet and eliminates the slowly approaching threat. Standing over the stranger’s fallen body, he knows they will need food, gas and more weapons to survive the outbreak of rotting corpses. And fast.

However, when police quickly respond to his wife’s 911 call and find the man’s head completely blown off, it’s hurriedly labeled as a murder, and an unforgiving justice is swift to follow. Perhaps too swift. As every uprising has to have a beginning, every cadaverous mutiny has to have a first kill.

I have spent the last twelve years writing commercials and entertainment bits for five different radio stations in four states. I actually had this story happen to me three Fridays ago and just like Finn, no one believes me. FIRST KILL is 5,000 words and ready to be sent at your request. Thank you for your consideration.

Paul Thomas



Donna Hole said...

I like the concept, and the first line. Your bio is interesting too. "I actually had this story happen to me . ." Well, its funny.

It seems too long for a 5,000 word story. I'm thinking give the main points in about 5, 6 sentences. The selling points I see in this are:

1. "After a long week at the office, it’s finally Friday and the last thing on Finn’s mind is a zombie attack."
2. Finn sees a man stumble out of the backyard, discovers he's a zombie, and shoots him. Finns wife has called 911, and the police arrest him.
3. How does Finn know this is "the beginning of a new war . ."
4. How swift is justice: is he in jail awaiting arraignment, in prison, on death row?
5. Does anyone - his friends, family, police, coronor, best drinking buddy - believe him? Or is he abandoned while the world is overrun by zombies.
6. What must Finn do to overcome his challenges, and what will he/the world gain/lose if he fails.

This sounds like a fun, quick read. Something for those 10 minute breaks while enjoying a smoke or a snack.

Good luck with it.

Mesmerix said...

Let me begin by saying I'm not sure what goes into a Short Story query, so I'll be addressing this as if it's entirely the same as a novel query.

I think the premise is great, but the real conflict seems not to be the zombie uprising, but Finn's struggles with the law. This is what makes this story unique. This should be your focus, because it's an awesome idea.

Here's my criticisms:

1) Takes way too long to get to the conflict. You need to try to get the character and conflict in the first paragraph (IE: 1-3 sentences). Most of the background details can be cut to accomplish this. Example of a first sentence: "After a long week trying to sell homes during a recession, Finn sits down to have a few beers and ends up shooting a zombie."

2) I was very confused on Finn's reaction. He automatically knows it's a zombie and he keeps his gun in a hall closet, something I only see in movies. Gun owners are generally beyond cautious when it comes to storing their firearms. You need to have something there that shows he has proper motivation for these things. Is he a zombie buff? Does he read World War Z for fun? Is he an NRA member?

3) Your bio at the end is unnecessary. Unless you have previous publishing credentials, I would cut this. I don't know about the humor bit of this being be based on a personal story. I can't decide whether to keep that because it's amusing or cut it because it sounds odd...

That's all I got. I think the premise of a guy going to trial for the murder of a zombie is great and should be the focus of the query as it's what makes this story different from all the rest. I think you need to scale back the details because the meat of your story is what really shines.

I hope this helps you. Best of luck!

Scribbler to Scribe

Anonymous Author said...

About the "happen[ed] to me" line, I'd say cut it because it sounds odd. As does the remark about the police jumping to conclusions just because a guy's had his head blown off. Those two remarks together could tend to be a bit off-putting.

N. Blank said...

I think you can cut "It's finally Friday" most people will get that Friday is the last day of the work week.

After a long week at the office, the last thing on...

flows much better

Zee Lemke said...

Also no clue about short story queries.

I will say that I caught myself ctrl-T-ing midway through the second paragraph. Too much "tone setting" and "build-up" that was (apparently) too predictable. Then I went back and read it through.

Is it really horror? The query makes it sound kind of like parody. If we're supposed to be scared for Finn because he's losing his life to the law just for trying to save himself (or if he's crazy), you need need need need urgency in the first paragraph. Right away. If I'm going to be worried for someone's safety, I don't really care that it's Friday.

If it's supposed to be funny, then you're much closer to your target... but you might want to mix it with a bit of real fear too.

Read it aloud a few more times. Some of the stuff just doesn't connect with what's around it. I agree with just about everything Donna said, especially about the swiftness of justice.

And I'm thinking the guy might be crazy, at this point, whether it's serious or not. I'm not sure there's a solution to that. It might be that I just saw Inception.