Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

And a little bit of BBC literary info. We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our fourth brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

For sixteen-year-old Emma Hawthorne, a touch is never simple. This (combined with the second sentence here) is a great hook. Even a brush of skin can draw emotion from another person, burdening her soul with the full weight of that person’s I'd rephrase - their troubles. It’s an ability she learned to use to help the people around her. I would strike this line as it's not very informative and only raises questions - she's learned to use this ability to help people - how? And what bearing does that have on the novel as a whole? I'd leave it out, as it raises more questions. But I'd strike, as it's being used as a comparison to the previous sentence and I'd strike it as well. The drowning mentioned next is the crux of the novel, so we need to get there sooner. When her best friend drowns, Emma knows it wasn’t an accident How does she know it wasn't an accident? Is it because of her touch ability picking up something from the body or what? and her own grief leaves her unable to cope with the constant bombardment of extrinsic emotions. So the extrinsic emotions mentioned here are not necessarily related to the drowning, I'm assuming. I'd do some rephrasing here - what you're saying is that her own emotions are enough of a burden right now that she can't deal with other people's as well. So I'd be clearer about that.

Emma cuts herself off from everyone until her friend, Gabriel, comes home for the summer. Despite spending four years apart Hmm - random - where has Gabriel been? College?, their connection is stronger than ever and his calm presence quiets the storm of emotions in her head. Their friendship kindles into a deeper relationship I'd rephrase into "something deeper" to do away with the "ship" echo, but Emma’s growing conviction that her friend isn’t resting in peace threatens to tear them apart. How? If he's quieting the storm of emotions this feels a little contradictory. It's not a query-killer by any means, but this entire para feels calm. We're talking about happy things, a romance, and clarity for Emma and then we get the "tear them apart" line. I'd consider striking it entirely, as we get the idea of discord and love triangle issues out of the next para. 

Emma meets Patrick, who promises to free her from her ability and erase her traumatic memories. Lots of "hers" in this first sentence here, I'd rephrase. You're a strong enough writer to find a way. Also, I think you need a better transition from the first para into the second. She soon discovers he is responsible for her friend’s death and that she may share the same fate. This feels a little too "tell" for a query, I'd strike it, as the next sentence does a good job of establishing Patrick as the "bad guy." When Patrick’s obsession with Emma turns dangerous, Gabriel risks his life to protect her and she realizes she must embrace her ability if she wants them both to survive. "Both" as in Gabriel as well? How is Patrick a threat to Gabriel? With her own Strike it as unnecessary - "her soul" is the same as "her own soul" soul on the line, she I'd use her proper name here to get away from so many pronouns in one sentence must decide how much of herself she is willing to risk to destroy Patrick and find rest for her friend’s tormented soul. This is a decent sinker, but I need to know why her own safety is bound up in destroying Patrick? "How much of herself" implies that by getting rid of her ability, she can possibly destroy Patrick but I'm very fuzzy about how she'd do either one of those things. Also, is she looking for revenge for her friend, or truly looking to find "rest for her tormented soul?" Because if it's the latter that implies more of a paranormal element than I was previously getting from the query.

After earning my B.S. in journalism from Kent State University, I followed my husband to Los Angeles, where I now work as a grant writer for a non-profit that teaches music in inner city neighborhoods. That's great, but I'd strike it as not being pertinent to the query, with the possible exception of the BS in Journalism - and Woo Hoo! Kent State! Along the way, I have co-written two independently produced short films and published articles in two weekly newspapers. I am active in several online writing communities and workshops, including Ladies Who Critique and WriteOnCon. Everything here is great though, I'd use these facts in the bio.

My overall thoughts: We immediately know that we're in YA because of the age of our protag, and that there is a paranormal bent to it because of her ability. The idea of a murder adds mystery and intrigue, however the lingering question of her friend's soul makes me wonder if it's heavier with paranormal than my first impression led me to believe. How does she know her friend's souls is tormented, and not at rest? Is she communicating with a ghost? Having weird dreams? I think this needs to be clarified, as an agent might me turned off by heavier paranormal element if that's not what they thought they were requesting.

Also, the fact that there are two boys makes my mind immediately go to "love-triangle," however, the only indication of interest here is that Patrick is into Emma, not necessarily the other way around. The way it stands is potentially misleading, as I'm unclear on what her feelings for him are (pre discovering that he's a killer, anyway).

And lastly, I need to know how Emma can go about destroying Patrick in the first place. By using her ability? By banning her ability? By eating his soul and flushing it down the toilet in vomit form? The query you've got here is decent, but I need these details that make it distinctive from every other paranormal love-triangle YA that's out there. I DO think the idea of touch-thought is very interesting and original, but I need more details about how this plays out in the plot to be fully drawn in.


What do my followers think? Our volunteer wants your feedback too!

9 comments:

Jenny Kaczorowski said...

Thanks so much. This helps a lot!

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on how to make it clear that this is NOT a love triangle. That seems to be the hardest thing for me with this query - no matter how I rewrite it, Patrick keeps coming across as a love interest. How can I make it clearer that he's a creepy, supernatural stalker?

Thanks!

Melodie Wright said...

I think the love triangle comes about bc of the way you present Patrick. You say Emma 'meets' him right after introing Gabriel. So we're already making love connections, if that makes sense. You make that impression stronger by stating Patrick promises Emma relief...a good thing, at first glance. Perhaps start with the relif idea - Emma is desperate for relief from her psychic torture and finds it in Patrick, an enigmatic and dangerous man whose obsession soon turns dangerous. Etc.
Otherwise my questions are the same as Mindy's. Good luck!!

Jenny Kaczorowski said...

I have my whole long, drawn out query battle posted on AgentQuery Connect: http://agentqueryconnect.com/index.php?/topic/4535-rivers-underneath-ya-urban-fantasy-revised/page__p__61666__fromsearch__1#entry61666 - including a new draft that I hope addresses some of those questions and some notes from an agent.

Thanks for the help! It's great to hear the questions readers have since I know the whole story!

Stephanie S. said...

Maybe if you made Patrick out to be really psycho in his obsession over her, then that would turn the reader off to the love triangle idea and link with the part where she wants to destroy him?
Just a thought.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks for the advice, followers. I agree that if you intro Patrick immediately with a negative thought, it would come across better. Like, "She meets Patrick, who promises relief from her ability, but with a price she's not willing to pay." Or something else that reinforces the idea that she's like, "No, Patrick, go away."

Jen - Let me know when the query on AQ is revised from the one posted here and I'll gladly give you a followup!

Jenny Kaczorowski said...

It's up now. I like to work while everything is fresh :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Jen - great job on the rewrite! I addressed a few more issues in the third para over on AQC, but I think the first two are pitch-perfect!

Myrna Foster said...

Intriguing query and great advice - thanks to both of you for posting this!

cherie said...

The Query Cat strikes again! Great feedback, BBC. You do have an eye for these things.