Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Saturday Slash

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.

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 the next brave volunteer. For clarity, my comments are in yellow.

It's been over sixty years since Lucy last killed. The only difference is now instead of taking lives, she's taking souls. Very nice, I like the hook.

When contract killer Lucy Hamilton was murdered in 1951, she never thought her day job would transition into the afterlife. Her superiors call her Lucy, her friends call her Contract Killer, but everyone else calls her Death. Nice, I like the whole plot setup, especially the idea of a female assassin in the 50's. The one thing I would say here is that it seems like you need something snazzier for what her friends call her. Everything so far is nice and snappy so it seems repetitive to use the phrase "contract killer" twice. Give her something more clever for a nickname. And I don't know the voice of course, but it seems like her superiors would call her Ms Hamilton?

After countless years of training in Limbo on how to do her trade I'd strike the phrase after "Limbo." Training implies she's learning how to do her trade. Also, the phrase "countless years" makes me wonder when the story is actually set? Present day? If so, make it "50 odd years" or something like that here in the query. Otherwise it raises the question of "when" we are, Lucy sets out to reap her first soul. Even though she knows humans can see and interact with her, she figures being a reaper is no different than being an assassin - all it takes is a little skill I feel like you don't need the "even though" to start the sentence. More like "Since" or "Because." However, when memories from her death interfere with work, she gets caught reaping an old man, Slightly clunky phrasing here, scale back the beginning phrase of this sentence turning her into a wanted felon the phrase "wanted felon" is a little redundant - how about "turning her into a felon wanted" by the San Jose Police Department. Her mugshot becomes local news at eight, but she knows she must continue reaping the names of those on her list or their spirits will find a way to exact revenge for their deaths. I'd put a para break here. Lucy was just doing her job; she didn't know the old man she got caught reaping was the grandfather of one seriously pissed off lunatic. And for him, this is personal. David Clark I'd put a rank in front of this so we know he's police launches a statewide manhunt for Lucy and ends up getting a hold of her list. Really? That seems a little far-fetched. You definitely need to tell us how. After figuring out what he holds "hold / holds" echo in his hands is Death's List, he understands he's been granted access to the names of those who are next in line to die. And he knows just what to do with it.

Given no choice, Lucy must find a way to keep David from selling her list to the highest bidder or risk having it land in the hands of someone powerful enough to cheat Death. Very confused on what this last sentence is implying - when you said he knows just what to do with it, I assumed that meant he was going to go to the places were the people on the list lived so that he could catch Lucy. But now he's selling it? And what good would that do, knowing someone is scheduled to die? How would that information be lucrative? And who is the person powerful enough to cheat Death?

Overall you've got a great premise and most of this query is fantastic. But little problems are popping up at the end. You mention the psycho guy, but then he's dropped in favor of David the cop, whose motivations I'm not understanding. I also am not clear on how someone (anyone) having the list would really matter all that much, and I'm very lost on who the person is who would be powerful enough to cheat Death.

Iron out the kinks, don't let the psycho just go wandering off the page, and be clear about the ramifications of the list and you're in a good place.

5 comments:

mary said...

Good job. I like the idea, but agree that leaving out all the other characters and keep it simple. I think maybe that muddles everything too much. Stick with what the stakes are and keep it tight.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks for popping in, Mary! And btw - I had a little snafu earlier. The last sentence is complete as of now :)

Melanie Conklin said...

I'm often guilty of trying to tell too much of my story in a query. It's hard to tell where to leave it off, or how much detail is too much detail.

You're very close with this one, but I think if this query were much shorter it would be better. The hook and first paragraph are so ENTICING that I don't need much more info to want to read your pages.

So, consider not explaining as much as you do, especially avoid introducing multiple character names. It's too busy.

Leave us with a clear understanding of the CHOICE your MC is facing, and what the STAKES are (plus consequences) in the very last line. Then, just make sure your first page pays off!

Great story concept, and good luck to you! :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Melanie makes some great points!

Unknown said...

Thanks Mindy, for all your great help! Your advice definitely helped me make this a stronger query.