Sunday, February 25, 2007

Face-Lift 280


Guess the Plot

Like Running in Dreams

1. You know how in a dream, when you really have to get somewhere and you try to run, and it's like slogging through neck-deep molasses? Reading this book is, yeah, kinda like that.

2. Scantily clad Screaming Mimi clings to the ankle of handsome Thor Jones as he battles the Terrible Thing From The Deep with his Cosmic Zap Gun and a Magic Chopstick. It looks like The End for our sexy duo, but wait! What's in that Golden Bubble descending from the clouds? Could it be Wizard Squeezle with a bottle of his patented Disappear-Me Juice?

3. Renae Hayes is running as hard as she possibly can, but her legs won’t move her forward. A faceless man is closing in. But who is he? The guy who's been making obscene phone calls? The peg-legged oil rigger? The Bulgarian? No! Not . . . the Bulgarian! Anyone but the Bulgarian! Please, let it all be a dream!

4. I'm running, running, trying to get away, and now there's a dead end with a big wall and I'm trapped, but I leap into the air and push off the top of the wall and they'll never catch me now . . . but I've jumped too high!! I'm six stories up and now I'm fallllliiinnnggg!!!! Help!! I'm gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeee!!!

5. Mildewe Crubbs needs to shed 150 pounds, but the treadmill at the gym is placed smack in the window facing a Cheesecake Factory. Running in nightmares is more like it.

6. Hordes of imps pursue Ellie across the land of Nod as she flees with their bewitched centipede, stolen just as Wizard Tweedle unleashed a curse of Tee-De-Umms. Meanwhile Prince Bartok is sailing toward Zoology Bay, hoping to steal the centipede for himself, unaware the oysters are steaming because of an undersea volcano that will soon blow them all to Mars unless someone tall dark and handsome marries the terrifying Queen Sunshine.


Original Version

Dear Agent Who I Have Researched As Thoroughly As Could Be Done Without Stalking You (no time for quite this level of due diligence, so sorry), With Your Gender Correctly Noted (using Mr. or Ms., which should cover it just fine - unless you’ve had yourself a little merry little sex change recently), Whose Name is Absolutely Spelled Correctly (unless you’ve had a name change or name spelling change which hasn’t yet shown up when Googling you or checking your website, if I am lucky enough that you both --- A: have a website, and B: keep said website updated), and Whose Query Guidelines Have Been Noted Forthwith So That This Query Could Be Individualized From Here to Eternity: [Even Evil Editor never tosses a query into the recycling pile before he finishes reading the salutation. Don't give him an excuse to start.]

I am seeking representation for Like Running in Dreams, a coming-of-age novel, complete at 75,000 words.

It is the early 1970s, and Renae Hayes, born in the late 1950s, is a late boomer longing for a way out of the narrow world she lives in. Her way out will be a circuitous route, winding around two defining moments in her life. One, Renae has not talked about; the other, she has worked hard not to remember. [Thus, out of respect for her, I will not mention them in this query.]

Renae’s family moves away from her father’s Depression-Era Irish immigrant neighborhood, and from the small coal-mining town of her mother’s youth. [Is this one move or two? Is dad's neighborhood in mom's town? If so, isn't it their neighborhood? Not that I actually care where they used to live, but I don't want to be confused in the first plot sentence.] Renae’s father brings with him a high intelligence and an unpredictable temperament that is not often cool enough to count on. [Which explains why he always keeps an abacus in the refrigerator.] Renae’s mother brings with her a beautiful face and a strong predilection for pretending, in the face of all things ugly, that nothing is ever wrong. Renae and her brother Charlie learn to live under the control of a closed, contorted family – what passes on the outside world as a warm, loving home contains a long-lived underlying secret system of emotional abuse and betrayal. Renae and Charlie form a closed system of their own, become comrades-in-arms at a very young age, taking care of each other as best they can. [I'm guessing this is the story of Renae, and that we don't need to know about her parents and brother until we're reading the book. And if we do need to know about them, it needs to be more specific. This is all pretty general.]

Entering adulthood, Renae is emotionally addicted to the art of the cut and run, collecting and discarding the men she becomes involved with; Charlie has problems of his own. They are both masters at the art of pretending nothing is wrong. [Too much about people pretending nothing's wrong, and not enough about what is wrong.]

Cut and run is a really good game to spend time with in the aimless 1970s – along the way, Renae meets the Gonad Looking for Trouble, Obscene Phone Call Guy, Too-Blue-to-Be-True Horny Fairy Guy, and shares a summer with a rock-hard lifeguard and a Bulgarian named Valeri. She spends a long, long weekend [Three years.] in New Orleans with a rod-legged oil rigger, [Rod-legged oil rigger: good tongue twister. Say it five times fast.] [I think you'll find "peg-legged oil rigger" a much more compelling character, and easier to say really fast. (He has a pegleg because he fell off the oil rig and a herd of sharks ate his lower leg.)] frequents discotheques in Germany with Saarland Harald, [Who? Should I have heard of Saarland Harald? Sounds like a German newspaper.] and scopes out a field of pot dreams [What does that mean?] in Daniel Boone National Park with the Ski-Boat Guy. It seems that Renae is traveling down a pointless path, mirroring the drift of the decade.

Underneath all of the pretending, Renae sees her life moving nowhere. [I see this query moving nowhere. Are we going to get to the two defining moments? Instead of listing eight guys Renae had sex with, list the three funniest sounding ones (being sure to include the Bulgarian, of course, but don't reveal his name; call him a mysterious Bulgarian) and elaborate on one of them, so we get some idea what these relationships were like.] She remembers the feeling of running in place. In the recurring dream of her childhood, she is running and running as hard as she possibly can to round the corner of the dark mossy place outside the house she grew up in. A faceless man is running up behind her; she hears his breathing as he closes in. She is terrified of being caught; her legs won’t move her forward. [In Evil Editor's recurring dream, a flock of man-eating salmon are chasing me as I wheel myself backwards up a spiral staircase in the Empire State Building in a wheelchair.] [Although tonight I think I'll start having a new recurring dream about a mysterious Bulgarian.] This is the story of Renae, who has kept herself from falling apart but doesn't have a roadmap pointing the way to putting herself truly together. Drawing the map herself, she turns to face the past and learns much more than she expected.

I would be happy to send a copy of the manuscript for your review. I have included a SASE.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

It's not specific enough. The only specificity is the names she gives her men. I want to know what happens in the book. What's the plot?

It may be Renae's memoir, but it's got to be tied together by Renae's quest. She suffered emotional abuse growing up, then she was unable to trust or commit to men, and then . . . the defining events of her life happened? She realized she wanted x and did y, and now she's gonna be okay? "She turns to face the past and learns much more than she expected," is too vague. What are x and y? Until I know that, I'm more interested in the mysterious Bulgarian's story than in Renae's.

33 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

Loved #2. The Magic Chopstick and Wizard Squeezle sound like escapees from a Terry Pratchett novel.

Author, you describe the problems but not the action. Yet, you don't really describe the problems, either; just what they are about.

A suggestion. Start here. Take "Entering adulthood, Renae is emotionally addicted to the art of the cut and run, collecting and discarding the men she becomes involved with; Charlie has problems of his own."

Make it something like, "Due to an emotionally abusive childhood, Renae is emotionally addicted to the art of cut and run, collecting and discarding the men she becomes involved with. In the 1970s, this coping mechanism works-- for a while-- and she meets a few memorable characters such as the Gonad Looking for Trouble, Obscene Phone Call Guy, the rock-hard lifeguard and a Bulgarian named Valeri." Then you can go on to describe a few specific problems that are really key to making this plot move forward. If the brother is important to the plot, keep a mention of him in; if not, lose him in the query.

You might want to further reduce or even avoid the amusing shopping list of euphemisms for the men she had sex with; because none of these guys appear to matter to the plot. The description of them helps to give a feel for Renae's character, so I like them for that purpose, though.

Grammar is also a bit rough and sentences are needlessly tangled here and there. There are also a few bits of specific confusion. "Depression-Era Irish immigrant neighborhood" sounds like it's in the depression era. And "late boomer" confused me...do you mean "late bloomer" or that she is from the tag end of the baby boomers? (FWIW, she wouldn't be, born in the 50s.)

This sounds like it could be interesting, but there is so much background here and so little of the actual plot, I am guessing at what is important. I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Apparently that terrifying faceless guy in your dreams is the Shadow, and he's actually yourself.

PSA from your friendly neighborhood Reads Too Much Wikipedia.

pjd said...

EE and WW are correct. Don't become so enamored of the self-discovery that you forget to tell us what actually happens. (And if you've already put everything that happens into the query, then I'm not sure how you got to 75,000 words.)

Also, you can tighten a lot to save space. For example: "Cut and run is a really good game to spend time with in the aimless 1970s..." Why not "Cut and run is a good game to play in the aimless 1970s..."? The change definitely alters the meaning slightly, but you've still got "aimless" in there to make your point.

And this:
She remembers the feeling of running in place. In the recurring dream of her childhood, she is running and running as hard as she possibly can to round the corner of the dark mossy place outside the house she grew up in. A faceless man is running up behind her; she hears his breathing as he closes in. She is terrified of being caught; her legs won’t move her forward.

Why does she "remember the feeling" instead of have the feeling? And WAY too much time on the actual dream without anything tying it to her situation except the feeling that she's running in place, which you could say with far fewer words. (I could have said all that in fewer words, but hey, this is a comment, not a query letter. I don't have all month to work on this comment.)

Come to think of it, if the novel is written as wordily as this query, then it may be easy to see how you got to 75,000 words.

All that said, if this is a well-written book (in the "literary novel" sense of "well-written"), then it sounds like something my wife's book groups would read, and if she likes it then I would read it too. But I'm having a hard time telling if this is a literary novel of self-discovery or a chick-lit romp through a bunch of pointless dates with quirky yet unmarriable men.

Anonymous said...

Dear Author:
Misery in a novel has much in common with lighting in a film. You've got some serious lumo-phobic tendencies yourself so you made all your characters really really dark with misery. If they seem to be happy? It's misery. Whirlwind romance? Misery. Travel? Misery. Parental love? Misery. What really comes across here is your remarkable ability to turn everything into a misery. Think of a movie you didn't like. Would it be improved by dimmer lighting? Probably not. Likewise here, adding more twists of misery just makes it worse for people who find novels of ennui and self-destruction grating. To me, this story seems to be crying for anti-depressant medication. For the "non-genre" literati who love that disease-is-my-plot stuff, I don't know, maybe it's good.

Rei said...

Author,

This query reads like a vague synopsis. I don't think that's what you're going for. I'd recommend Miss Snark's formula: to paraphrase: "Here is your protagonist, A. Here is your antagonist, B. They meet at C, and all D breaks loose. If A doesn't do E, then F will happen, but if A does, then it's D squared."

blogless_troll said...

I agree with the above, plus the main problem I had with the query was it was like reading an inside joke. You know what happens in the story, but we don't. Gonad Looking for Trouble is a clever nickname, but if we knew why he mattered the name might be hilarious.

As for the first paragraph, I don't know if people really submit something like that or if it's just for EE's benefit, but it's so overdone that now the funniest thing to write is "Dear Agent."

Anonymous said...

REI-- I'm thinking it's not the kind of "genre" plot Miss Snark is after so that's the wrong formula. It's more of a "non-genre" disease plot, where the protagonist imperils herself and the Big Goal is to survive the family's plague of personality disorders. This sort of story seems to fly in lit mags if done well but I don't know if it ever has much readership outside MFA school. I wrote GTPs #2 & 4, that's more like what I'd be reading. I've been around long enough for most of my suicidal friends to get dead and the rest are using heroin to achieve a state of zombie limbo, so I pretty much have a "been there, seen that" attitude about the topic and have no desire to go there in fiction. I think it's more appealing to readers in their late teens and twenties who are having their first encounters with mental health problems in themselves or their peers and are seeking to achieve understanding and control or relief or escape. Unfortunately it seems like a lot of these authors are writing as therapy and don't recognize the protagonist is not ok and contrary to Freud's naive optimism -- what's really going wrong cannot be resolved by some revelation about the past.

Dave said...

My Opinion, use it or not. IMHO:
Yanno, youse guys pick on me when I say “Too many words” but. There are too many words in this query. By my means of counting, there are 460 words in the synopsis of this novel. It’s worse than my usual cut in half to 230 words. I say CUT it to less than 50 words. And then, start over.

Here’s my version:
At the age of twenty, Renae enters the world ill equipped to handle living, loving and life itself. Raised in a dysfunctional family, Renae drifts from lover to lover; each one more outrageous than the others, until she realizes that life is more than her shallow, unfulfilled existence.
47 words.


Now we need more from the author in the query.

a) What is the event that changes Renae? If it is the recurring dream of the running man, then what event precipitates her acting on it?

b) How does that event change her life? Does she go back to loveless sex and shallow friendships? Or does she find Mr right and settle down? Does she return home and confront her dysfunctional parents?
Let me add a personal note. I have a friend who loves anonymous gay sex and has never had a real, loving relationship in his 75 years. He is blind to that side of life. Nothing can convince him of how shallow and meaningless the sex act becomes after three or four hundred times with strangers. Get my point?

c) Own up to the fact that she was born and raised in the coalfields of Kentucky. All the clues are there. If you hid this because the novel is autobiographical, too bad. Write another novel and put this in the drawer for a year or two.

d) Drop the cute and puke inducing descriptions like - Gonad Looking for Trouble, Obscene Phone Call Guy, Too-Blue-to-Be-True Horny Fairy Guy, etc. These sound like the ravings of a demented feminist and reflect badly on the story. The truth is that they are childish, shallow, and embarrassing. You can use “peg-legged oil rigger” although being in the ocean, he’s stereotypical (pirates and all that). The last amputee I knew (in the biblical sense), might laugh but he would inwardly resent it. The reason for his hidden displeasure: a peg leg does not define a person’s character. He can use the term, but your character can’t.

e) How long does it take her to meet, date, screw and then drop these five or six men? A year? Two years? Five years? Renae starts out at (what?) 18 y/o. Born in the late fifties and living in the seventies is just about right for 18 y/o. That’s 1957 plus 18 is 1975. For an eighteen year old to have five lovers in a year is promiscuous, even for the loose 70’s.

That’s all I have to say. Remember, this is an opinion, you can disregard it. I surely won’t cry about it if you do.

writtenwyrdd said...

"For an eighteen year old to have five lovers in a year is promiscuous, even for the loose 70’s."

Oh Dave, I could tell you stories... You are way WAY conservative in your count, trust me on this. During an evening recounting war stories, I recall several women who'd admitted to well over a hundred, some in the several hundreds before AIDS came along.

Word veri: vrsecrte, which it wasn't, lol.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm the one who wrote GTPs #2 and #4.

Anonymous said...

I also wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

pacatrue said...

I wrote this novel, too. It was the very first fiction of substantial length that I'd ever written. In mine, Vanessa was lonely and depressed despite the fact that she has two great friends. The plot? You see, she's so lonely and depressed because of something bad in her childhood that I know about but the reader isn't every really informed of. And then in the book, ummm well she's depressed. Oh, yeah, and she sleeps around a lot, but that's all background.

Then there are some scenes that have some pretty damn funny jokes in them if I do say so myself.

But Vanessa's depressed and lonely, still, because, well, she is. And at the end of the play, she wanders around the city - but not on stage - and then returns with a new spirit and an ability to open herself up to the wonders of life. How did she have this stunning transformation? Hell if I know. I'm just the author.

So, the question is: did you write this one, too? One possibility is that you did not write something like my first novel, and you just need to fix the query letter so that no one suspects your work is anything like my attempt at exploring the meaning of life. Another possibility is that you and I did write the same thing. In that case, we have to both move on either by re-writing from scratch with a plot or just moving on to our next and better story. I think next time I'll actually add a story to mine.

By the way, I'm guessing that this is the query letter companion to the earlier beginning with the Playboy bunny and one of those Ohio cities with a C (Cincinatti?). I liked that opening, so I'm pulling for you.

whitemouse said...

Renae is traveling down a pointless path

This line summed up my impression of your novel, based on how your query letter described it. The book sounds like a series of events with nothing to tie them together except that they happen to Renae. Is there a point to the novel? If so, we need to know what it is.

There appears to be no real plot, which works fine for literary fiction, provided that there's a truth that is uncovered over the course of the book. Show us what we're supposed to get out of reading this. We need to know there's going to be a payoff.

Anonymous said...

Writtenwyrrd said: "During an evening recounting war stories, I recall several women who'd admitted to well over a hundred, some in the several hundreds..."

And um do you still have any of their phone numbers by chance?

writtenwyrdd said...

Yes, we are all great friends still. But you are out of luck as they are all middle aged and married. We are talking the 70s, after all.

Robin S. said...

Wow, where to begin..
OK, EE, I see that it's back to the query drawing board. Thanks for pointing this out, and making me laugh at the same time.

Thanks, writtenwyrd, for this: "Due to an emotionally abusive childhood, Renae is emotionally addicted to the art of cut and run, collecting and discarding the men she becomes involved with. In the 1970s, this coping mechanism works-- for a while-- and she meets a few memorable characters such as the Gonad Looking for Trouble, Obscene Phone Call Guy, the rock-hard lifeguard and a Bulgarian named Valeri." Then you can go on to describe a few specific problems that are really key to making this plot move forward. If the brother is important to the plot, keep a mention of him in; if not, lose him in the query.

Dave, you are a riot. I'm not from the coal fields of Kentucky, and, in all honesty, if I were, it should be just fine with me, not something to own up to - don't you think?

And, as for the number of partners a woman has (and in this novel, it isn't all before the age of eighteen)...well, how many MEN have you ever heard of being called promiscuous? Come on now.

This isn't a moribund, depressing story, although there are issues of abuse, etc.

Anyway, there is an actual, functional plot - women's/literary fiction, not chick lit, that I did an inadequate job of explaining in this query/synopsis.

And I really appreciate that you all took the time to explain why, so I can fix the problems with it. Thanks!

whitemouse said...

So, the question is: did you write this one, too?

Um, I didn't actually write it, but I started to.

And the story was set against the sweeping backdrop of the Canadian prairies, where I completely coincidentally happened to be from.

And I was young, oh so very young, at the time. Mopeyness was grand and tragic, back then.

Those were the days.

Dave said...

Well that was the infamous double standard: Men can't be promiscuous even thought they screw everything on two feet (And then some). Whle Women are considered promiscuous sluts if they have more than one boyfriend at a time. Not everyone took drugs, had long hair and had sex on a regular basis.
That attitude about women still lingers among some people. Not me.
And that attitude lingered in my Fraternity house over one of the "little sisters" who had an abortion and was a little to fast to give blow jobs for fun. As the years went by, she did turn out to be trouble and remained single. Not that I would generalize that observation.

My point was more about what length of time is the novel talking about in the query.

I also wondered why you were so secretive with names, places and the like. I looked up Dan'l Boone Nat Forest and found Tennessee. I know the chemical analyses and impurities of the coal fields over that-a-ways (I know that seam as Illinois #6 Burning Star or Powhatan #5, Ohio - big seam)(that was my previous work. Half of my coworkers were hillbillies from the wilds of West Verginy ;) I was unfortunately born 50 niles above the Mason Dixon Line.
But I digress.

"Gonad Looking for Trouble" is an oversexed hothead.
In a query, brevity is the soul of wit. You only have 200 to 300 words. make all of them work for you.

I'm glad you weren't offended and hurt. I was afraid of that.

Robin S. said...

Dave,

No problem - not offended at all. I really enjoy reading your posts.

I'm here to learn, and have a good time doing it, and I'm doing both, so it's a good thing. This is the first attempt I've made as writing a query - I've just got some work to do, so I'll do it.

Two things - The length of time in the novel is the late 1960s to the late 1970s.

pacatrue said...

What a concidence that your possible novel was set among the Canadian prairies, whitemouse. Mine was coincidentally set in a middle size Southern city, oh, kinda like Nashville, where I just happened to live back then. There was an entire scene where the three main characters discuss music and, just by chance again, the heroine's music collection was almost indentical to my own.

I'll send anyone who wants it the manuscript, because I know you're all dying to read it. Why do the crickets seem so loud in here?

stick and move said...

Robin, it's good that you are able to take this criticism with the right attitude. Several of these comments contain some very useful information. Take what you can use and leave the rest, it's therapy for those who like to jump to conclusions and inject their own frustrations into your efforts. I've seen your openings, you can write, but writing a query letter is a different type of work. More like combining marketing copy with a plot synopsis, all in about 300 words. No easy task for even the best fiction writers. Good luck and keep at it!

Brenda Bradshaw said...

"more than one boyfriend at a time..."

What kind of time frame? Define "boyfriend". Five in a year is too many?

Huh. I find that interesting.

Wonderwood said...

Brenda, five in a year is definitely not too many. How many have you had this year? I've got the month of March open, so if you're taking applications, ah, where do I sign up? :-)

Saipan Writer said...

I liked GTP # 5 (but then I like cheesecake-in all its various forms.)

Robin,
I have not yet written a successful query letter. I give that as a disclaimer, so you know I haven't a clue about what I'm doing. Obviously, you want to listen to EE and others with more success.

That said, here's my impression of your query: it's all about set-up, motivation, angst, explaining her attitude of "cut and run." And while that's relevant and important, it's not enough to keep me interested.

For a character who has a life moving nowhere, submerged in misery, "stuck" like running in dreams, plot doesn't seem to be the focus of the story. But of course, plot happens, it has to, or we (I mean I) won't keep reading.

As others have pointed out, there's a generic feeling to your story so far. Find what's different, what's specifically yours, what makes yours stand out--and sell us that in your query.

(And remind me of this when I post my next effort--sometime in the distant future.)

GutterBall said...

I wouldn't mind a recurring dream about a mysterious Bulgarian. So long as it's a mysterious male Bulgarian. Figured I'd better clarify since Mr. Evil was a little iffy on whether or not his new recurrant is a bad thing.

Um, Pac-man...what does it mean that my first novel took place on a planet called Ino?

Um, author? I don't really read much literary fiction, so this is kinda lost on me. I don't need a dead body on the first page or even breath-taking action, but I do need a plot. I'm positive that you have one. I just want to know what it is. I know you can tell me. No fear.

Robin S. said...

stick and move, and saipan writer-

Thanks very much for your comments – I just saw them this morning - hope it’s not too late to reply –

I’m not sure how much to say in the query to make it less generic – for instance, do I mention molestation by a mentally handicapped relative – (the first of the defining moments mentioned in the query) and how Renae, at a young age, is uniquely equipped to deal with this – as she has learned to distance herself from what is happening to her – and how she has learned what to say to get away?

Do I mention that she fights to get into a bedroom to shield her brother form her father- because the father is screaming so long and so loudly, at a minor infraction, inches from her brother’s face - that the brother is passing out? Her mother is blocking the door – won’t let Renae in to jump on her father – and keeps repeating, like a mantra, “You’ll just make more trouble, Renae. Wait, wait, it will be over soon, and then everything will be all right.”

There are many things I can say to make the plot come alive and be less generic – obviously I have to watch the word count here – but, still, I wasn’t sure if this type of thing is too strong for a query/synopsis.

Gutterball - Valeri is a guy. Have a big time with the fantasies! Tall, olive skin, eyes so brown they are almost black, and an incredible accent, deep voice. In pre-med at university - That should get you going.

writtenwyrdd said...

Robin, do you have a writing group to work with you? They might be able to help you figure out which elements would spark an agent's or an editor's interest.

I don't usually read women's fiction because I am addicted to SFF, but this sounds like it could be a really good read. I don't know how I came to that conclusion based on this query, but it really does interest me, lol. Good luck with it.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Keep in mind that a query and a synopsis are two very different things.

Query - get your hook in, get your main characters in, your plot, your voice. Keep it down to one page in business format.

Synopsis - Rule of thumb is 1 page per 1,000 words. So if you have a 70,000 word novel, your synopsis should be around 7 pages, although some will ask for a one or three page - always check submission guidelines. My first novel had a one page, three page, five page and 10 page, each giving more and more detail and plot points. Don't get hung up on crap like "Should it be single-spaced or double-spaced". I promise, 99% of the agents/editors don't CARE (although, again, check submission guidelines). They just want to see that you can carry the weight of the story to completion, that you understand character arc, plot twists, etc., and that's what a synopsis gives them. Synopses are very much TELL and very little show.

Lisa Gardner has an excellent synopsis worksheet set on her website (you can also get to it from my website.) I highly recommend it, and now I'll shut up.

wonderwood: I'd leave your mentally and emotionally scarred for life. That's a responsibility I just can't handle right now. *grin*

Anonymous said...

Robin, do you have a synopsis of the plot? Try putting the synopsis into outline form and delete anything that you can so it still makes sense. What's left are plot elements in the running for the query.

I gather that Renae's habit of rescuing her brother will be a big part of this book.

Robin S. said...

writtenwyrdd - Hi-
I have a group of readers, rather than a writer's group. My "first reader" is a close friend of mine, whose opinion I value highly, and who is not afraid to say - this works, this doesn't, this makes me want to read more, I don't follow or care about this, I like or don't like the voice, etc.

I've just started sending my manuscript - one chapter at a time, to a group in a book club in another state from mine (I'm in Virginia) -- this is a group of very insightful, incisive women - and I have asked them to read for prose style, interest or lack of interest in particular parts of the story, story line, coherence, etc.

I'be also asked a razor sharp proofreader that I know to go through a separate copy of the manuscript for punctuation, grammar, verb tense mangling, etc.

Brenda and anon 10:16 - thanks for your comments - and yes, her brother is a strong part of the story. I thought the sentence in the query that talked about the closed system they developed would be a strong enough hint on this -
but I see now that the plot needs to be laid out much more deliberately than that.

pacatrue said...

Hi Robin S,

You asked about whether or not you should include the details of molestation and child abuse in your query. A lot of this depends on what exactly you want to convey to the agent. To me, those two items scream 'depressing', but you say in a comment that this novel is definitely not supposed to be depressing. Unless you know a way to make child abuse funny, my guess is that you should not go into such details. The reason that it has come up in EE's comments and here is because the query specifically mentions two pivotal points in the MC's life, so we all naturally wonder what those points are. If there is no space to answer that question, then we need to find a way to not raise the question in the first place by remaining rather generic about the abuse.

But now, frustrated author screams, you are telling me to be generic while others are screaming about my query being too generic already!

One idea I had to get out of this Catch 22 is to go back to that whole plot question and use it to structure the query. Instead of telling us where the MC starts, go identify where the MC ends in your novel. Is there something close to a climax near the end of the novel? After you've found that point, work backwards. How does the MC get to this climactic point? What obstacle is overcome at the end? How? Why were there obstacles there in the first place and are they internal or external? Maybe the climax is how our MC kicks her addiction to the cut and run. That will be the plot of the book. And if you discover that there's no possible way to understand the climax without knowing specifically about the molestation as a child, then it's in the query. If not, it's not.

Maybe that will help?

It might be useful (and you understand that working through these things helps me, which is why many of us do it) to see another plot written in the style of the current query letter to see the issues in your real one. So I'm going to take Lord of the Rings hoping that people generally know the plot. LOTR rewritten as a bad query might be something like (and apologies to people who know the details of LOTR better than me):

"When Frodo was a young hobbit child of 22, both of his parents died by falling into the Brandywine River. He is adopted by his caring but eccentric uncle Bilbo, and together they live in the dark Baggins estate inside a hill. Due to the eccentricity of Bilbo, Frodo and Bilbo form a sort of closed system in which they care for one another, but have limited relationships with other hobbits.

One day a mysterious man appears in town to attend a particular celebration in Bilbo's honor. But Bilbo vanishes in the middle of the celebration and the mysterious man puts Frodo in charge of a very important item. Bilbo and his friend end up dragging themselves through the furnaces of hell to accomplish their great task.

A full manuscript is available...."

OK, not so good. What I was trying to do is write a big long paragraph about the formation of Frodo's character. And then in the second paragraph, I introduced a lot of specific things - mysterious men, objects, and unnamed friends - but then didn't spell any of them out. A better query letter for this novel would identify the main plot, which is the transformation of Frodo's character by enduring and accomplishing a great task. It would then spell out what the task was and how Frodo got swept up into it in the first place.

My guess is that your heroine doesn't drop anything into volcanoes, but she does something which changes her. Try starting your query there. When you are done, the actual ending may not be in the query, but what is left will be pushing hard in that direction. Finally, when writing it up, add the tone that you want for the book. If this is largely fun, like your new beginning, write that tone into the query as much as possible (while remaining professional).

paca

Robin S. said...

Thanks, paca -

What you took the time to tell me makes a huge amount of sense- and I can see how this would work very well. I can also see why mine didn't work, clearly, with your example from LOTR. Truly appreciated.

batgirl said...

*bows reverently to the pacatrue*
Wow. The genius is not confined to continuations.