Entry 6 – NIGHT WITCH

Title: NIGHT WITCH

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

Word count: 113,000

Query: 

Dear Agent:

September 1940. Nadya bumps toes with tall, blue-eyed Nikolai on the Moscow metro, and that’s the end of simplicity as she knows it.

Up to now she’s just floated along on the Communist current: she married a Communist Party functionary who is moving up the ranks, she works hard in her courses in flight navigation, and her own happiness is pushed aside in servitude to the Motherland. But after her feet meet Nikolai’s on that train, a window is opened onto a life where service and happiness may coexist. When her alcoholic husband finds out about their affair and cuts her off from her classes and Nikolai, she wishes he would go back to ignoring her.

Despondent Nadya struggles with life as a shelved wife to a man who torments her. Meanwhile, her stunned nation quivers before the thunderous roar of the Nazi war machine. Nikolai is conscripted to the front, Comrade Mr Too Important Peter evacuates to safety…and Nadya flies up in the air. After training as a navigator with the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, the long-suffering Party wife gets shot at by Me-109s while she drops bombs on enemy ammunition stores. Four long years later, she scratches her name into the Reichstag wall in victory. Going home, Nadya, the heroic and bemedalled “Night Witch”, has decided she will never return to the old tyranny of life with Peter. Her husband, though, has revenge and blackmail on his agenda.

After he arranges the arrests and executions of Nikolai’s parents, Nadya and Nikolai are on the run. Soon it is not Peter they are running from, but the law, the very idea of Communist Socialism. They must leave everyone they love behind for the great unknown of Freedom, just over the heavily guarded border. That is, if they make it there.

Thank you for your time and attention, and I look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,

 Author

 

First 250:

September 1940           

The tall man with the shock of sandy hair apologized for stepping on my foot, when it really hadn’t been more than a bumping of toes. I smiled and assured him it was all right, and took a seat on the metro across from his. It had been a very good day. At flight navigation training school, I’d done very well on an exam, earning an unsmiling but appreciative nod from the hard-faced instructor. There was a war on in the West. Comrade Stalin had made a pact with Hitler, and that war wouldn’t come to our door, but Osoaviachim, the flight training school, had recently begun accepting women. What a remedy it was to my situation: twenty-three years old, wife to a man fourteen years my senior who didn’t love me, hadn’t bothered to consummate our marriage, and ignored me for the most part.

These good days, full of feelings of accomplishment and progress, were typical since I was accepted to Osoaviachim. So it happened that I still had a little grin on my face when I caught the eye of the sandy-haired man again. It was when he returned my smile that I noticed his eyes. Bright, gemlike blue, with corners that crinkled upward as he smiled at me. My own smile broadened. Something in my chest tightened, and I was suddenly aware of my heart beating. I held his gaze for a moment before looking away and trying not to fidget my fingers.

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11 thoughts on “Entry 6 – NIGHT WITCH

  1. Query:
    words 10/10
    hook 8/10
    plot 8/10
    amount of characters 7/10
    stake 9/10
    overall 8/10. Consider changing “her feet meet Nikdai” to something else. A little wordy on the second paragraph. There are some details I don’t understand, such as Me-109s and Reichstag wall. Maybe consider cutting down the second paragraph to the basics.

    First page
    first line: 8/10
    voice 9/10
    originality 7/10
    character development 8/10
    setting 8/10
    overall 8/10

  2. Feedback From Entry #9
    Query
    words 8/10
    hook 8/10
    plot 10/10
    amount character 8/10
    show/tell 7/10
    stakes 6/10 – It wasn’t clear.
    overall 7/10 – Too wordy, especially with adjectives: “Meanwhile, her stunned nation quivers before the thunderous roar of the Nazi war machine.” I reads like a summary but it works for me.

    First page
    first line 6/10 – Too many adjectives.
    voice 5/10 I like the first person for this but it was too info dumpy for the first 2 paragraphs. Show me her world through action.
    originality 10/10 I love a good WWII love story and a female aviator is very cool!
    character development 7/10
    setting 8/10
    overall 7/10

  3. Query: 6/10 Too wordy and complicated. See below.

    Hook: 5/10 I’ve gotten criticized for including eye color in a query, so you probably should find other ways to describe Nikolai, especially in the first line. And is “bumping toes” such a big deal as to complicate her life? Is complication so bad?

    Plot: 7/10 This is probably a great book, the idea is clearly unique. But all of this shouldn’t be in the query. Focus on the main plot and ignore subplots for now. It seems like Nikolai is the connection between

    Characters: 6/10 I’m confused again. Is Peter her husband? Oh, you mention it later.

    Showing vs. Telling: 5/10 This is a synopsis. “a window is opened onto a life”? There’s so much potential here, you just need to focus and edit.

    Stakes: 8/10 Is death an option? Imprisonment? Losing each other?

    Overall: 7/10

    First Line: 6/10 Not bad, but not exceptional. I’d even prefer this line from later: “It had been a very good day.” That gets my attention. Why was the day good? I’d read on from there.

    Voice: 7/10

    Originality: 10/10

    Character Development: 8/10

    Setting/World Building: 8/10 But it’s at the expense of an info dump.

    Overall: 7/10 You jumped from bumping toes to describing her day in the same paragraph. There needs to be a separation between topics. However, it shouldn’t be with a big info dump.

  4. from Entry #10
    Query:

    Query is 250-300 Words: 10/10
    Hook: 9/10 I think all you need is…”Nadya bumps toes with tall, blue-eyed Nikolai on the Moscow metro.” without the rest.
    Plot: 7 /10 I think the query could be more focuses on the main conflict.
    Amount of Characters Listed: 10/10
    Showing vs. Telling: 5/10 Needs more scenes like the first paragraph.
    Stakes Clearly Listed: 8/10
    Overall: 7/10

    First 250:

    First Line: 7/10
    Voice: 8/10
    Originality: 9 /10
    Character Development: 8 /10
    Setting/World Building: 8 /10 I like the setting. An original idea, just tell me more.
    Overall: 8/10
    Just a side note: Are you from Germany? Have you researched Berlin after the war? We went with some family friends to the Reichstag and the Grandmother told us about how all the trees in the entire park near there were chopped down for firewood. That would make a great scene while she’s there.

    • Hi! No, I’m not from Germany…or Russia, for that matter! 😉 I’m a history nerd, that’s all. I had heard about all the trees being cut down for firewood. That’s interesting imagery!

  5. Query
    words 8/10 A bit long
    hook 6/10 Love the beginning but it needs to end on a stronger note
    plot 7/10 Very interesting but you’ve put too much information in the query letter. Pick the essentials.
    amount of characters 10/10
    show/tell 9/10
    stakes 9/10
    overall 8/10

    First page
    first line: 8/10
    voice 9/10
    originality 8/10
    character development 8/10
    setting 7/10 The backstory in the beginning could be reduced, felt like you were trying to explain and introduce us to her world, but don’t let it become info dump
    overall 8/10
    from entry 3

  6. Query:
    Query is 250-300 Words: 9/10
    
Hook: 8/10 A little vague, but I’m intrigued
    
Plot is Easily Understandable (MC, Goal, Conflict): 9/10 It was a bit long winded, but I understood what was going on.

    Amount of Characters Listed: 7/10

    Showing vs. Telling (Doesn’t Read like a Synopsis): 7/10 There was a fair amount of telling, and I think the story could be strengthened with more characterization. You tell us that Nadya’s husband is abusive, but we don’t really see it. With some more information about just what she has to go through, we might be able to sympathize with her, and understand why she had an affair and is trying to escape from her husband.

    Stakes Clearly Listed: 6/10 Kind of vague

    Overall: 8/10 I love this idea, and you’ve got a pretty clear, intriguing plot here, but I think the writing could be tightened up a lot and made more compelling. I’m also curious as to how this story of an affair ties in with the times, since it’s historical.

    First 250:
    First Line: 6/10 Kind of weird that stepping on toes is mentioned, but we don’t see anyone actually step on anyone else’s toes.

    Voice: 7/10

    Originality: 8/10
    
Character Development: 6/10

    Setting/World Building: 6/10 There’s an awful lot of backstory/infodump here. Instead, I’d love to see the interactions between Nadya and Nikolai (I’m assuming that’s who she’s making goo goo eyes at.)

    Overall: 7/10

    from entry number 8

  7. Entry 6: NIGHT WITCH

    Query:
    Length: 5
    Hook: 5
    Plot is Easily Understandable (MC, Goal, Conflict): 2
    Amount of Characters Listed: 8
    Showing vs. Telling (Doesn’t Read like a Synopsis): 2
    Stakes Clearly Listed: 3
    Overall: 2

    First 250:
    First Line: 3
    Voice: 4
    Originality: 6
    Character Development: 6
    Setting/World Building: 7
    Overall: 6

    Total score: 59

    Query:
    Hook: would be better suited to a romance than historical fiction.
    Plot: I’m not sure there is any real plot other than a cheating wife who’s husband over-reacts and then is pained as the bad guy. Then suddenly the MC is running from the law for no apparent reason. There really is no identifiable goal until the penultimate sentence.
    Telling: The two main paragraphs are all telling and no showing.
    Stakes: Other than the obvious need to survive a war, the stake are very unclear.
    Overall: This is a synopsis, not a query. Two full sentences are devoted to describing the opening sentence of the book. It also takes more than three-quarters of its length to even get to any interesting action, which I assume is the point of the story. Btw: I thought you had made up the word ‘bemedalled’ until I found out it was just a typo.

    First 250:
    The first line reads very awkwardly.
    Voice: You throw too much out in the first paragraph, three-quarters of which is back-story (it’s too early for that).
    Character development: Her – quick off the mark and already in the second paragraph determined to commit adultery. Him – repetitive.
    Setting: I get a good sense of their setting, recovering some of what was lost by jumping into the back-story too early.

    General notes, applicable to all:

    Query length:
    250-275 is the sweet spot to aim for (300 words is too long). I used a simple formula. Any query of appropriate length scored 10/10. Anything over 275 words (excluding salutation and sign-off) lost one point, and then another point was deducted for every 10 words extra. I did not deduct points for short queries as this is not likely to be a problem with agents, provided all the important information is presented.

    Number of characters:
    I awarded the maximum to every entrant, unless it read like a character soup, or it was clear that something was missing.
    (Note for next time: I think this category should have been a little broader to include depth of character)

    Other categories:
    I figured that 6 is an average score, appropriate for an average query as seen in the “Query Critiques” forum (polished & revised versions, not first drafts as this is a contest and entries should already be polished). I adjusted the scores up or down based on how I felt it would stack up on that forum.

    Overall:
    I skewed the overall scores slightly depending on whether or not the entry left me wanting to read more.

  8. Query
    Words: 8/10–Lengthy (over 300 words)
    Hook: 8/10–The beginning is great, but the ending needs to be sharper
    Plot: 8/10–Although I understood, it’s very wordy and is accompanied by subplots; focus on ONE conflict.
    Characters: 9/10–I was wondering who was Peter, but then I figured it out later.
    Showing vs. Telling: 9/10
    Stakes: 8/10
    Overall: 8/10–
    Good query, but as I mentioned earlier, the hook needs to be strengthened. The middle paragraph also has way too much going on. Also, you’re missing the genre, word count, and title–VERY important elements to always include in a query. It may be stated above for contest purposes only, but it should still be included in your query, which also would drive up your already high word count.

    First 250
    First Line: 8/10
    Voice: 8/10
    Originality: 9/10
    Character Development: 7/10–We learn a bit about Nadya but it was all via info dump
    Setting/World Building: 7/10
    Overall: 8/10–Very well written and vivid, which I love. Work on eliminating the info dump, stay within the setting, and keep active, your first 250 will be stellar, IMO of course.

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