Sep 26, 2009


Click here to read the query.

Pure evil is staring back at me from my full length floor mirror. I may even be afraid of myself. My eyes glow a very bright crimson with black around the edges, as if the fire inside had burnt the curved periphery. I look like I have not had a “bite” in weeks. My skin, which is normally pale, is almost iridescent now. The jet black pixie haircut is arranged in little spikes that spell trouble. The menacing grin is complete with two sharp fangs over my scarlet red full lips that look poised to wreak havoc amongst the unsuspecting city’s people of Atlanta, Georgia.

The town won’t be that unsuspecting considering the rest of the people at DragonCon will also be dressed in costumes ranging from Star Trek to Night of the Living Dead. In addition to the wig, glitter, and contacts, my costume is complete with a red tank with three holes sliced across the front, a black leather floor length trench coat with three waist-high silver buckles, a black leather mini skirt, and black leather high heel boots that cover my knees but leave much of my thigh to be seen. Dare, I say it… I look hot.

This will be my second year to attend the huge convention/party that is Con. Last year, I went as plain old me, and in a crowd of freaks, the normal person is the weirdo. The crowd is always heavily dosed with glorious freaks dressed up as their favorite character or someone from their favorite genre. To call DragonCon a convention would be an insult. It is a place of worship to all geeks, freaks, and nerds, and a source of entertainment to anyone else who dares to enter. This year, we plan to submerse ourselves in this magical wonderland.

Last year, I had not found my “calling,” so my attendance was just to enjoy the show. I, a Con virgin, walked among the pirates, wookies, zombies, and even got to pet a real live functioning R2-D2. It took me almost thirty minutes to realize that the man beside me was operating it with a remote control as I carried on a conversation with the shiny robot while it beeped back at me. I stalked off stupidly.

A few months after the festivities, I picked up a vampire novel which I inhaled. I followed it with every type of dark fantasy tale that I could find. I still don’t consider myself a geek or a fanatic but I have definitely found my area of interest. But if you looked at me in this moment, you would think that I have lost my mind and drink blood on a regular basis.

I am in the midst of trying to add a little more dark shadows under my eyes to give myself the true undead look, when the doorbell rings. It must be Christian, my best friend who is a true fanatic. He is the reason I even started attending these types of things and unlike me, he is a fan of it all. I slide down the banister to get to the door. Safer than taking the stairs in these boots.
I fling the door open, and there he stands. We both let out a scream and begin cackling at each other. No one is really scared, we are just that silly. Christian is a yicky-ucky zombie, complete with a tattered, stained, once-white shirt, pants that actually look like they had been buried, and suspenders. His normally perfect hair is dirty and a total mess at the top of his head. His skin has been painted a weird grayish green, and his mouth is bloodstained. No one would recognize this scary critter as my normal, calm, clean-cut best buddy.

“Felicity Johnson, you look a-freakin-mazing.” He sounds surprised. “I would have never thought that you, of all people, could pull this off.” I should be offended, but he is quite right. Everyday me is not sexy, not scary, and definitely not a vampire.

“Well, hello Pot... I must be the kettle,” I snicker, opening the door for him to enter.

“Hey, listen to this,” I say, letting out a very non-intimidating version of a snarl. “I’ve been practicing.”

“Um…. Keep practicing, you sound like a drowning kitten.”

I look at him with my pouty lip showing. I at least sound like an angry kitten, not a completely helpless one.


gj said...

The writing is generally solid (beware of dialogue tags that aren't actually ways to speak, like "snigger," which you can't do while talking, but is actually an interruption between words). Some of the storytelling, however, is problematic, mostly because you haven't found the right place to start the story.

This entire scene can be cut. It's not where the story starts (no conflict, no problem, no decision); it's a huge chunk of infodump/backstory (and an oft-cited cliche of a character describing herself through a mirror scene).

Also, from reading the query, I know from the beginning that the scene is also a "gotcha," in that you're suggesting in the first paragraph that the narrator is evil, when it will turn out that she's just made up to look evil. A "gotcha" is when you manipulate the reader in an overt way. (Storytelling is all about manipulating the reader, but it needs to be subtle, something that the reader won't even notice, with things like foreshadowing and metaphors and symbols and the like.)

Sometimes a "gotcha" will work, but it's tricky. The problem with a "gotcha" is that it can undermine the reader's trust in the author and/or narrator. Some readers will become skeptical of ANYthing you write after realizing the first impression was false, and not fully immerse themselves in the story, b/c they don't trust you not to pull the rug out from under them again.

The main storytelling problem, though, is that there's zero conflict here. It's several pages of the heroine staring into a mirror and thinking, followed by a little conflict-free banter. Not a compelling way to start a story.

Jump right to the con, and get the story rolling. Give the protagonist a problem that matters to her, and have her do something to solve it. You can weave all the important information from this scene (in small bits) into the action at the con, without stopping the story dead.

Starting too soon is a common problem, and the good news is that it's easy to fix with the delete key! Well, easy from a technical point of view, hard from the writer's attachment to the words point of view. (Try saving it as a separate file and convince yourself that you'll use it for something else, so you're not deleting it, just archiving it. Sometimes, it hurts less that way.)

A lot of writers need to write the backstory out like this, in order to get a really solid handle on it, and the backstory work shows indirectly, through the depth of characterization in the later story. But it still needs to be cut from the final project.

A.J. Frey said...

The story actually begins with a very short prologue that sets up the conflict and allowed me to start there, but I was unsure if I should post it. I've posted below...

Choices surround us. We are faced with life altering decisions on a daily basis. However nothing could have prepared me for this. I did not truly believe that such things existed. I’ve read about them, I’ve studied them, but they are things of fairytales, legends.
This beautiful vampire has given me power over my own death. A choice. His kiss is earth shattering. His eyes could move mountains. Somehow I gained his attention, and he has gone through great lengths to be with me. I’ve tried to escape him, to run away, but his force is much too great. He has a power over me like a moon orbiting a planet. Our destinies have been intertwined, and I cannot break free. My body aches. My heart yearns for the one I love. Blood still spills out of the two small holes that have been pierced in my throat. I can either close my eyes and drift away, or drink his blood and live forever.
This is my choice.

Martha W said...


Start the book with the prologue but call it chapter one and move from there. That pulled me in. Just that short little bit.

I agree with gj about the first three pages not having any conflict. I had trouble finding the point. They are more of a flash back and best dealt out in small chunks.

But the prologue - yeah. Totally dig that.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with pretty much everything GJ said. Also, I'd suggest using contractions. It makes the present tense more readable.

A.J. Frey said...

Question. I notice that we are allowed to post the first five pages, but when I tried, it only let me put two. Do most people post in multiple comments for the actual writing samples? I plan to repost in a few days after I clean up the writing and the query.

Also, the prologue - which I am going to go ahead and make chapter one, is where Felicity ends up, not where she starts. That is the climax of the story. Chapter 1 and everything else is what gets her to that point. The first conflict happens about a paragraph down and didn't make it into the post because of size constraints. Sorry about that.

It is crucial that the characters are introduced prior to Con, because they would drown there. For anyone that has ever attended one, you will see what I mean. It's easy to get lost in this world and it's important to know who they are before they arrive.

I did pull out a great deal of info dump about Con, because I "show" you in the next two chapters. Appreciate the advice, and hopefully the next post will be the full five pages to give you a better glimpse into the world. Also, changing title to Iron Thirst. (Kept picturing a little housewife searching desperately for her least favorite appliance).

Rick Daley said...


You can email me with the full 5 pages and I'll post them. My email address is in my profile.

A.J. Frey said...

Thanks Rick! BTW, this site is amazing. It's nice having a forum for people to share their query letters and get advice. Don't learn too much from the standard form rejection other than, well that didn't work.

I've passed the word on to some of my friends at the Atlanta Writers Club.