3rd SR Crapometer #77-cooked

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a devotee of your blog, I admire your style and sense of humour, and I hope you will consider my middle-grade urban fantasy manuscript, DREAM WARRIOR - THE AMULET. It is the first in a series of three and is complete at 30,000 words. Crisp this up. Take out everything you don't need. my 30,000 word urban fantasy DREAM WARRIOR-THE AMULET for middle grade readers.

When the very first sentence on the page is cumbersome my ZAP antenna go up.

Jarrah Winters has the worries of many twelve-year-olds: new school, new friends, new enemies. Her biggest problem is a little less mainstream - either something is messing with her mind or she's going crazy.

Bad dreams at a boarding school can be embarrassing, but when Jarrah's dreams seep into real life and invisible phantoms start stalking her Jarrah knows something is seriously wrong. Then she wakes one morning with an ancient Book of Trials in her bed and has the horrible
realisation that not only dreams come true - nightmares do too. (finally, here's your lead)

Reluctantly guided by the Book, Jarrah and her new friends must race against time to restore the barrier between asleep and awake and stop the world from becoming a living nightmare.
you mean it's not now?

Jarrah struggles with a vague lunar deadline, an obscure task and no special powers except the ability to dream. If that isn't enough, Jarrah has to deal with a jealous classmate and hide her bizarre dream consequences from her overly curious teachers. the best sentence so far.

I'd be pleased to send you a complete copy of my manuscript for your review. Thankyou for your time and consideration.

Kind regards,

ok at this point we have a flabby query letter and no real sense of what the plot is. Given my certainty that crappy query letters can arrive with really good pages, I'll read on.

Dream Warrior - The Amulet

Chapter 1 - Welcoming Committee

Lay your head to welcome sleep
Careful not to dream too deep
Guard the path and way to wake
Lest nightmares roam for terror sake

"You can't hide, Jarrah."
Jarrah's eyelids twitched as the voice sounded in her ear.
"Run, Jarrah, run."
She shook her head, trying to escape the taunting.
But Jarrah Winters was alone on the back seat of the bus, and she was sound asleep.

Did I mention argh?

Opening with a dream?
Even if the book is about dreaming, this is DEATH.

At this point, I've reached for the form rejection letter and your SASE.
You have about five more seconds to hold my attention.
Jarrah had wedged herself into the corner, head resting on the window frame, feet tucked up beside her. Shadows smudged under her closed eyes and she had torn her fingernails down to the skin. Once-neat braids were a mess, and the dark hair falling across her face made her look even paler. Jarrah clenched and unclenched her fists in her lap, the rest of her
body rigid. Every so often her head bumped against the window or jarred
backwards. Still she slept.

and we're done.

"Awake, Jarrah! Now!" Jarrah woke with a start and tried to leap to her feet. Her knees hit the seat in front as her head smacked into the window frame. Eyes
streaming from the blow, Jarrah looked wildly around, blinking furiously to try and wake up faster. She saw nothing, heard nothing. Everything seemed normal - except that only a moment ago Jarrah was quite sure she was running for her life. She clenched her teeth as she tried to remember the nightmare. Nothing. Jarrah scrunched her eyes shut tight
until she saw sparkles then opened them again. She caught the glance of the bus driver in his rear-view mirror and slouched in her seat, embarrassed.

"It's just a dream, Jarrah. Get a grip," she muttered to herself. Jarrah closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She exhaled slowly, nervously, and then opened her eyes again. Bus, glaring sun, bitumen road, gum trees, dry paddocks. Nothing nightmarish. She pinched her arm hard. The
twinge of pain and red mark on her skin surely meant she was awake and everything was all right now?

The driver interrupted Jarrah's thoughts with a holler. "We'll be at Wattle Creek in fifteen minutes."

"Thanks," she called back. Jarrah covered her mouth and yawned widely, stretching her arms and legs out as far as she could. Resting her head on the window, Jarrah fought the urge to fall asleep. In the beginning the nightmares happened once or twice a week. Now they came every other night. When she was really tired they invaded by day too, whenever she dozed off. If they didn't stop soon, Jarrah's new school mates would think she was out of her mind. Another yawn escaped Jarrah, this time so big that it stretched her jaw wide open making her ears pop. The nerves and sleepless nights were taking their toll and Jarrah battled to keep her drooping eyelids open. She could feel the headache coming now as she shook herself awake.
Shifting around to try and escape the January heat, Jarrah returned to staring out the window.

You've given me 513 words and all I know is she's having bad dreams.
The premise of this novel may be about dreaming but you've got to start with something more interesting. You don't snag my interest in the query letter and you give me nothing to hold on to in the writing.

This is a form rejection.


xiqay said...

The porous barrier between dream and wakefulness is a common theme or story element in sff. What sets your story apart from others? Just curious.

In your opening poem, I think it should be "terror's sake."

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating premise! This is a terrific story idea. The author should definitely keep developing this! Just don't make it too intense, or readers will have nightmares about it!

I think I can understand that the author may have thought to start with a dream sequence because that is the focus of the conflict. The writer intended to go for the jugular, starting directly with an eery conflict situation. However, the reader lacks the story background or character identification to really relate to this on page one.

For the rewrite, I venture a guess that the focus should instead be on introducing us to the main character in her normal, waking world? Perhaps the author could present some other external story question, one that will lead us to the dream plot and any internal conflicts that are connected with it. Start with a thematically-related subplot as a hook?

srchamberlain said...

anonymous: Maybe the premise was fascinating the first time it was done (Insomnia). Maybe even the second time (The Neverending Story). But by the third time (that crappy Hollywood confection a few years ago with exactly the same plot as this Crapometer entry and whose name I can't remember or find), we're not only in Cliche Land, but paddling down the Overdone River, wondering why Author here can't see that it would be super-duper unexpected to begin a book about dreams in some other way besides that old patented Dream Sequence (TM).

Sorry, but that's how I see it.

Bella Stander said...

I agree w/ the previous post & suggest you show us the protag's normal world first.

However, the premise seems VERY similar to the movie "A Nightmare on Elm Street." (Fun fact: I wrote the first press release, pre-production, which began "Do dreams kill?") You might want to watch it not only to differentiate your book, but also to see how the story is developed.

srchamberlain said...

Nightmare on Elm Street!

Thank you, bella stander.

Frainstorm said...

Two things, neither of which may help, but what are we here for if not to give something a shot:

1. In your query, I'd leave out the piece about starting at a new school. I've read a couple times that it's overdone. Moreover, your protag is actually starting at a boarding school, so it's new to her entire class presumably. That's a better story than tried-and-true changing schools.

2. If you have to open with a dream, maybe the dream will work (based on your premise ... I'm guessing here, only you'll know if it would work) if you set it up as real. That is, if the dream can make real things happen, maybe you don't alert the reader (and prospective agent) that it's a dream until chapter 3. You'd have to figure out a way to work it, I'm just offering up the possibility to consider. Good luck.

Elektra said...

I swear I've seen this premise--did you by any chance submit to the spin-off Crapometer a while ago, or mention it on a forum?

wonderer said...

Elektra, you're right, it was on your version of the Crapometer.

wmpow - what MS does to really bad queries?

Anonymous said...

There's no connection to the Dreamtime, is there?

Anonymous said...

I see a POV problem, too, unless you mean to say that part of her dream is watching herself while she sleeps. If that's the case, then you totally confused me.

First we're inside her head, inside her dream. Then we're standing outside looking at her physical appearance. Then we're back in the dream again. If you absolutely must start with the dream, try taking out the whole paragraph beginning Jarrah had wedged herself into the corner.

Anonymous said...

"Jarrah fought the urge to fall asleep."

Not too surprisingly, so did this editor.

Yawns are contageous. They leap off the page, lodge in one's jaw and before you know it your reader has nodded off.

The LAST thing you want to do is give the reader an excuse to put down your book. Opening with a dream sequence works in a movie where the film editor can get across the whole Dream Thing without boring the audience, but on paper, not so much.

You might have a good idea behind all this, so get TO it.

Hit the library and read the opening page of at least 50 books in multiple genres and see which ones grab you and insist you read them. Those writers know something you don't and are worth studying to figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Hi guys - author here.

Yep, I was going to be anonymous (with an unusual surname I like to be anon as much as possible but hey, c'est la vie!).

Now that I've crawled back out from under my rock of shame, thankyou for your comments and feedback. I got some wonderful advice RE my synopsis when I posted some time ago to Elektra's crapometer; clearly I should have let them have a go at my query letter and page one as well.

It's just so confusing when you collect how-to's-and-don'ts on query letters from all over the world and the internet. You end up trying to do it all and achieving nothing.

Onto the story... funnily enough, I have not seen ANY of the movies mentioned! Can't handle horror so always avoided Nightmare on Elm Street - will have to get a run-down :)

I'm taking all the comments on board - even if I know a comment is off it just means I haven't conveyed what I know correctly. Sadly I thought I had polished it :(

Back to the drawing board...