NIGHT WITCH QUERY CRITIQUE

OR

A Tale of Nazis, Jealous Husbands, a Secret

Family, and Escaping to the Golden West

Here we go! Be aware that I am looking for any and everything that could possibly be fixed.

Dear :

In the mud-sodden Russian autumn of 1941, Nadya leaves a miserable marriage to become a Night Witch. With an airplane made of canvas and kindling with two bombs and no guns, she helps to send the German invaders back where they came from. The Soviet Motherland is freed from Nazi conquest…but the husband who’s made a career of sending countless people to death in the name of Communism won’t let Nadya be free of him. 

War-hardened Nadya spurns his threats to compel her to return to him. He discovers the identity of Nikolai, the man Nadya has loved for five years, and exacts revenge on him. Afraid for Nikolai’s life, Nadya takes him underground with anti-Stalinist dissenters. They live under false pretenses, in fear of the long arm of the government, until Nadya’s husband is himself tried and executed. Even though she loathed the man, Nadya is shocked at such coldhearted betrayal. It means, though, that she can finally marry her Nikolai. 

But the freedom these lovebird war veterans shed blood for is obviously a delusion. After Stalin dies, Nikolai and Nadya, with their two young sons, make a run for the golden, free West. But between tyranny and liberty lies a maze of sadistic border patrols, self-serving informers, and men perfectly willing to help in exchange for a few minutes of fun with a desperate man’s wife. It’s difficult to know what and who to trust…including each other.  

Complete at 118,000 words, NIGHT WITCH is set in Stalin’s Soviet Union, from the point of view of a courageous woman in a struggle to break with totalitarian power.    

 

Dear Agent: You used a colon. Great! *high five*

In the mud-sodden Russian autumn of 1941, Nadya leaves a miserable marriage to become a Night Witch. This doesn’t really work as a hook. It doesn’t hook me enough. Also, I have no idea what a Night Witch is. You should add a bit of explanation, i.e. “…become a Night Witch, a hellion on wings trained to chase off German invaders in her plane.” With an airplane made of canvas and kindling with two bombs and no guns, This sentence is confusing. she helps to send the German invaders back where they came from. The Soviet Motherland is freed from Nazi conquest, but the husband who’s made a career of sending countless people to death in the name of Communism won’t let Nadya be free of him.

These sentences are a bit long-winded and can get confusing. I think this paragraph would benefit from being broken up into smaller sentences that are more easily digested. Start with the most interesting bit as your hook, which is the murderous husband, in my opinion. I would try something like, “Nadya loved her husband until he became a murderer in the name of Communism,” or whatever tickles your fancy. SHOW us why the marriage is miserable, don’t just tell us.

War-hardened Nadya spurns his threats to compel her to return to him. This is vague. He discovers the identity of Nikolai, the man Nadya has loved for five years, and exacts revenge on him. How does he exact revenge? I think Nikolai should be mentioned in the first paragraph so that his introduction doesn’t catch the reader off guard. Is she having an affair, then, or did this come about after she left her husband? Afraid for Nikolai’s life, Nadya takes him underground with anti-Stalinist dissenters. They live under false pretenses, What pretenses? in fear of the long arm of the government, until Nadya’s husband is himself tried and executed. Executed by who and why? Even though she loathed the man, Nadya is shocked at such coldhearted betrayal. It means, though, that she can finally marry her Nikolai.

I think the first paragraph should be streamlined to allow more room for Nikolai, as her relationship with him seems like the main conflict of the novel. The conflict needs to be introduced right away.

But the freedom these lovebird war veterans shed blood for is obviously a delusion. Try this: But the freedom Nadya killed for is an illusion. Keep it simple and easy to understand. After Stalin dies, Nikolai and Nadya, with their two young sons, make a run for the golden, free West. But between tyranny and liberty lies a maze of sadistic border patrols, self-serving informers, and men perfectly willing to help in exchange for a few minutes of fun with a desperate man’s wife. Like that. It’s difficult to know what and who to trust…including each other.  You are hinting at something here, and I think it might need to be expounded upon.

Complete at 118,000 words, You don’t want to hear this but the word count needs to be cut by at least 18k, or more if you can. This is very important. It’s going to be hard for a debut novel with a high word count to be picked up. It is entirely possible for a novel to be rejected solely for word count. Large novels are more costly to produce. NIGHT WITCH is a [genre] novel set in Stalin’s Soviet Union, from the point of view of a courageous woman in a struggle to break with totalitarian power.    This is telling. All of this should show through the query already. 

The main problem I’m seeing here is that there are a lot of ideas going on in the query. The planes, the husband, the lover, the kids, hiding out, going to the West, tyranny, a possible betrayal by Nikolai, etc. Queries are tough. It’s hard to know just which parts are important enough to include in the query. How do you reduce 118k words into just 250 words? There’s nothing wrong with throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. 

First, I’m confused as to what the actual conflict of the novel is. At first I thought it was escaping the husband. And then it seems to be Nadya hiding out with her boytoy. And then it’s escaping to the West with their children. What is Nadya trying to accomplish throughout the whole novel? 

Remember that these questions should always be answered in a query:

Who is the main character?

What does she want?

What stands in her way?

What must she do to overcome the obstacle?

What are the stakes—what does she stand to lose if she can’t accomplish what she needs to?

 

This is a great start, and with a little polishing I believe it can go a long way. The sentence structure was a bit confusing in some places, so be wary of that. Feel free to revise and resubmit!

Thanks for sharing. 

Love, 

The Query Faerie

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