Saturday, December 24, 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 next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

In the cold of winter, Eri runs out in the dark, after a warning bell, seeking a beast even though it wants to eat her. There are a lot of commas, and a lot of different thoughts running around here. I like the words "cold" and "dark" and of course, "winter," are all setting us up for where we're at and giving us a visual. I also like the idea of a "warning bell" because that gives us a medieval / fantasy feel - BUT - what's not working here is the flow. Read it out loud to yourself and give each comma a definite pause. You'll see what I mean.  She doesn’t care—no—she can’t help herself. I'd kill the warring ideas of not caring vs. not being able to help herself, go with one or the other and end off with the idea that it's calling to her.  The beast calls to her. Overall this is a decent hook in that you're telling us your genre, giving us something of a setting, and also signifying somewhat how your character is special. However, the flow isn't here. You need some reworking with these same ideas to really get a punch into this hook.

The calling belongs solely to the secret guardians watching over the village.  No one knows the identities of the Protectors, but everyone knows they exist and hold this unparalleled qualification assuming this qualification is the simple fact that they are "called" in the first place? I'd make this more clear, if there's something else involved, like a birthright. The "unparalleled qualification" makes me question that assumption. enabling them to fight the beasts lurking along the borders. Again - is the simple fact of being called what enables them?  Most importantly, everyone knows Protectors are men. OK - honestly when first read that I was like, Yes! Awesome! That's a neat idea! And then I was like wait... if no one knows who they are how does everyone know they are men?

Eri should not feel the pulsating hatred drawing her toward the beasts, but the link is growing within her, the connection beyond her control.  Eri can’t hide the calling forever. This sinker leaves me flat - more to follow.

So what we've got here is a (high?) fantasy involving the beasts that endanger the village and the people who are enabled to protect, them all of whom are men. And now a girl is feeling that urge. OK - that's great! Seriously, I love the idea - but way too many questions here.

I think the biggest one is this: if the identity of the Protectors is a secret, how would Eri (or anyone) know that they're all men? How would Eri know that she should be hiding this new, secret part of herself? What's the punishment if she outs herself as a Protector? Is the biggest problem here the beasts, or the idea that she's a woman in a man's world? And what's involved in the calling? A simple answering of the call? Or do the called get special training of some sort once they step forward? Is Eri cheating herself of something by not claiming her calling? Because if they don't get anything neat-o by being called, what's the big deal? She can just run out whenever she feels the call, same as the other (male) secret Protectors, and then run back into the village after killing beasts, no big deal. What's she sacrificing by not claiming her call?

Also, I know from your word count line (not included here) that this is a YA title, but that was my first indication. I know it might feel clunky, but include Eri's age in the first line so that the agent knows right away they are looking at YA.

4 comments:

TerryLynnJohnson said...

wow, this slasher series on your blog is awesome. Great advice here, and for everyone else to see too. You rock.

R.C. Lewis said...

Absolutely agree with Mindy's comments, and would add one more thing. The way the opening line is phrased made me feel like I was being dropped into a scene in the book rather than a query. It's a fine distinction, because you want the query to *show* your story (much as the actual scenes of the story do), yet it needs to feel a little more "zoomed-out."

Good luck to the writer. :)

Hope Roberson said...

Thanks so much Mindy! Your comments are so helpful and give me excellent direction to strengthen my query letter! I look forward to adding in your ideas and answering your questions in the revised version--thanks a million!

Mindy McGinnis said...

I'm glad you found it helpful! Thanks for participating.