Archive | February, 2011

Scenes–what are they in novels, and how do you write them?

16 Feb

by Susan Dennard

~~

Scenes: the building blocks of your novel.  Some people make one chapter equal one scene; others (such as myself) prefer to cram a few scenes into each chapter.

Scenes are the natural breaking points in your story.  A place for your reader to run to the bathroom, take a breather, or (what every author wants) flip anxiously to the next page!

Typically when you’re typing your manuscript, you separate scenes as follows:

end scene 1

#

begin scene 2

There are, of course, other ways to do it (such as *** or an empty line), but the #-method is the one I follow.

A scene can be as long as you need it, but keep in mind that shorter scenes keep your audience’s attention more easily.

Transitioning

Normally you begin a scene with a transition that describes the time, the place, the characters present and any necessary summary of what happened between scenes.  The transitions is there to ground the reader in the new scene. For example, here’s a transition from The Spirit-Hunters (a scene that was ultimately cut, by the way). In the scene before, which happened in the morning, the main character got into a rather stinky predicament with some walking corpses.

#

As usual, I had to bribe Mary to help.  But, a lost pair of gloves was easier to explain than a foul walking dress. Fortunately, Mary had been so pleased by her payment, she hadn’t bothered to inquire about how the dress had reached its current state.

That afternoon, when I met Mama in the drawing room for tea, I found that, rather than distress over the prior evening’s failed séance and horrible events, she beamed with delight.  In fact, she was so pleased she failed to notice my disheveled hair or missing parasol.

Now we know how much time has passed since the previous scene, what the main character did between scenes, where she is in the new scene, and what other characters are present in the new scene.

Developing the Plot

For a passage of text to qualify as a scene, something important must happen. And that something must contribute to the plot!

You could have a one sentence scene:

#

Far from the mess in Atlanta–in fact, directly on the opposite side of the globe–Padmini was diagnosed with the first cases of the zombie flu virus.

#

Or you could have scenes that extend twenty pages (though, I recommend against this!  Remember reader attention spans–people want natural breaks). Just make sure that every event in the scene is critical to the plot!

One way to test if you have an actual scene is to remove it from the novel.  Does the story work without it?  If so, then you don’t have a scene, and you should just go ahead and cut that text!  But if the story no longer exists without that passage, then you’ve successfully written a scene!

Ending on a Hook

If you finish a scene with something riveting, you compel your reader to instantly turn the page.  You know those books you finish in one sitting because you just CAN’T put them down?  Well, that’s what you want to create, and a key component to un-put-downable-ness is the hook.

Cliffhangers can be effective hooks to end a scene with, but if you write too many cliffhangers, you wind up annoying the reader.

Other hooks include:

  • a funny, witty, or clever sentence
  • funny, witty, or clever dialogue
  • revealing Very Important Information
  • an unexpected twist that takes the story in a new direction
  • a decision or plan

The best way to learn scene mechanics is to READ.  Notice what published writers include in their scenes.  Notice how they reveal the plot, how they use scenes to show character and setting, how they write transitions, and how they hook you to keep reading.

So tell me, is there anything else you consider critical to a scene?  And can you think of any other hooks?

Patience

15 Feb

Patience. As a writer, it’s one of the most important qualities to have. Why? Publishing is often slow. There are some people who get agents and book deals lightning-fast, but for most, it takes a while. You wait for agents to respond to you when you query, you wait while you’re on submission to publishers, you wait for your editorial letter(s), you wait for your book to finally be released.

Writing often seems like it’s a waiting game.

Beyond all this stuff, though, there’s the most important reason why you need patience: Patience allows you to approach your own writing with diligence. It means that you take your time with revisions and don’t rush into querying. It means that you make your story as clean and perfect as you can before you send it out into the world. And that is absolutely invaluable.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you should write slowly. Writing a novel in ten days is as legitimate as writing a novel in a year. I’m simply saying that you should write (or revise, if you’re a messy drafter) as well as you can. That you should do things properly.

Let me bring you anecdotal evidence of why patience is good, by demonstrating why impatience is bad. When I first began looking into getting an agent (fifteen! Stupid! Disaster! That about sums up the experience), I committed the cardinal sin of querying without having a finished manuscript. Miraculously, my query letter (terrible) garnered a request almost immediately. For a full.

I wrote around 40,000 words in eight days or so (yes, this did nearly kill me), and sent off a crappy first draft version of my manuscript. The agent came back saying that my opening was good, and my concept was good, but the middle was like wading into a bog, my ending weak, and my prose unpolished in several spots.

I’m amazed that I got feedback at all, considering the state of that draft. My impatience had cost me, big time. I re-read the material I’d sent out and was super embarrassed that I’d sent something this terrible out. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed just writing this – I made a lot of query faux pas, but this was definitely the worst. In case you’re wondering, definitely don’t EVER do something like this.

So how do you remain patient, when writing, or revising, when you really just want to get things moving along? When you want to have written, rather than to write?

I think it’s really quite easy: keep yourself motivated and inspired.

Ways to keep inspired vary between individuals, obviously. Personally, I find that music keeps me inspired. I maintain playlists that grow longer and longer as my novels progress, even though there are usually only one or two songs that I play on repeat when I write.

I also find it really helpful to read work that I find completely blow-my-mind amazing. Doing this makes me thoroughly jealous, because even though the novels, poems or short stories I read are usually nothing like my own (it’s time for me to admit that I will never recreate Pride and Prejudice), it’s just so damn good. And I want my work to be that good. I want it to resonate with readers in the way that my favourite books resonate with me. So I funnel all of that writerly jealousy into patiently and diligently crafting my books.

Others like to draw, search for visual inspiration on sites like tumblr, write with friends to keep motivation levels high,  or write poetry about their characters.

Finding a way to be patient with the process of writing and revising is essential. Because when you’re loving every second – well, almost every second, because there are always going to be ups and downs – that you’re writing, you’ll develop your work properly instead of impatiently rushing to type the words, “THE END”.

What are your methods for remaining patient and motivated?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

My Literary Valentine

14 Feb

Who’s your literary Valentine? Here are some of ours:

~~~

Dearest Peeta,

Basically, I think you’re perfect. You’re handsome and charming, and just this side of legal (I think). I really dig the way you can paint yourself to look like dirt, and wouldn’t mind getting dirty with you (No pun intended). I, too, enjoy cuddling and blonde curls. Like me, you enjoy baking, so we already have something in common. If you want, maybe sometime we could get together for dinner? Check yes or no:

__ Yes

__ No

XOXO,

Sammy

~~~

Dear Han Solo,

I realize you’re not a book character, but you’ve been in spin-off books and loads of fanfiction. More importantly, you’re the ONLY Valentine I want. Period. <3 <3

So, even though I think Leia is kick-butt awesome, it’s about time you ditched Her Worshipfulness and hooked up with me.

For one, I’m not a princess! You’ll never have to call me obnoxious title names. For two, I will never complain about the Millennium Falcon–I can appreciate vintage ships, my love. For three, there’s a bounty on my head too (I cheated a Jawa back on Tatooine; turns out they don’t like that), so we can evade the law, hand-in-hand!

And finally, the real deal-sealer (if you ask me): I can rock that metal bikini just as hard as Leia, if not better (but you’ll have to accept this invitation if you want to see for yourself ::wink, wink::).

Love you forever, Han baby. Holograph me when you get a chance.

-Sooz

~~~

Dear Heathcliff,

If I had been your Cathy, I would never have left you.

If I had been your Cathy, your heart would have never been broken.

I wouldn’t have settled for Edgar Linton out of vanity, when I knew that you were my soul mate.

If only I had been your Cathy, you wouldn’t be remembered today as an abusive brute.

You’d be known as the hero with the rebellious heart who sought his fortune with the woman he loved by his side.

But who knows?

Maybe your heart got a second chance?

Maybe a bit of your wildness was reborn in the man I love today?

And maybe a part of Cathy lives on in me – her impetuousness, her ambition, her passion.

So Happy Valentine’s Day, Heathcliff. And Happy Valentine’s Day to my real-life husband, Gary.

I will always see a bit of each of you in the other.

Love,

Julie

~~~

Draco Malfoy,

I don’t care what canon says about you. You are not pointy-faced. You are a hunky Slytherin sex god with brains and snark. And though some might say you’re cowardly and two-faced, to that I reply with LALALALALALALALALALALALALALALA.

Do me.

Yours, Biljana

~~~

Dear Ender Wiggins,

No, this is not a true valentine because Hello, you’re like nine years old by the end of the book and with the age difference, that’s just really icky. Plus, by the end of the book, you’ve SPOILER, SPOILER, and SPOILER…so I kinda don’t think you would make the best dinner date, anyway.

But if I could, I’d whisk you away somewhere in the middle of the book, just when everything’s going to hell and your life, if I can be honest, really, really sucks. Maybe if someone had taken you out of Battle School and sent you somewhere nice with a chocolate fountain and some singing valentines, SPOILER wouldn’t have happened at the end.

Which, considering the sequels, would probably have saved the world a whole lot of grief.

Love and Chocolate,

Kat

~~~

Dear Tobias,

Is it okay to write Valentines to your own characters? I worked with you for so long in fan fiction I feel like you’re my own creation. And, of course, you were the inspiration behind my male MC, so I’ve essentially been talking with you for… 8 years now. Don’t you think it’s about time we put aside these pretensions and explore this thing between us?

I know you’re still in mourning for your one true love, and you’re probably worried about how this would affect our working relationship, but seriously, who else is going to be okay with having a bird for a boyfriend? Let’s go out for a rodent sometime. I’m an adventurous eater ;-)

Please be my Valentine?

Love forever. And ever.

Savannah

~~~

My darling George Cooper,

How do I begin? You’re tall, dark, and (if you ask me) roguishly handsome. In fact, you’re the most charming Rogue I know. You stole my heart long before you even realized that a certain cross-dressing girl had stolen yours – which, for the record, was a feeling that she didn’t reciprocate for a LONG time. I would never make you wait 8 years to get a piece of this. I would never take pansy Jonathon or big-guy Liam Ironarm as lovers, either – your finely tuned body is all I need. I wouldn’t have been too afraid to offer myself to you completely.

Believe me, I would have fallen into those strong arms of yours, instead of choosing Jonathan the “Prince”.

You may be considered a “commoner”, but in my eyes, you’re the only Prince there is.

I’ll be keeping my window open for you. Feel free to climb in anytime.

Yours forever,

Vanessa

~~~

Dear Mr. Darcy,

I’d like a tour of Pemberly’s grounds, if you know what I mean. Call me. No, seriously, call me.

Dear Mr. Tilney,

I’d love to go for a drive in your curricle, wink wink. Call on me whenever you’re free. <3

Dear Commander Vimes,

You’re a grumpy old man and that’s awesome.

Hearts and cigars

Jenn

~~~

Dear Finnick,

Let’s be honest: we all know you’re the hottest victor to ever grace the arena. And the most badass. You could skewer me with that giant trident of yours any day. But I think you already know all of that. And that’s part of why I love you.

I’ll admit, there were others before you–Gale (I got over that SO fast, don’t worry), Peeta (can you blame me?)…but from the second I learned the truth about your horrible past, I’ve been totally and completely yours. Let’s ignore what happens at the end of MOCKINGJAY, okay? Because we know that’s just a mistake that can ultimately be blamed on your psycho wife, Annie.

Speaking of Annie…WHY? Seriously. WHY? You could do so much better. Like…me. Yeah, we’d pretty much be perfect together.

So, when you want someone to come rub oil on your sexy, rippling muscles, give me a call. I left my number on your nightstand. And carved it into the headboard of your bed. Just in case.

Yours forever and ever,

Sarah

P.S. Please don’t take any trips to the sewers of the Capitol. Like, ever.

 

~~~

 

Dear Gilbert,

You’re kind of perfectly cheeky, smart and nice. Anne is great and all, but I would never crack a slate over your head. Even if you did call me carrots, which would frankly be pretty strange considering my hair’s black – but I’m more than willing to put up with this strangeness. And, you know, my hair could be red, if that’s your thing. Hair dye rocks, baby, and unlike Anne I’m competent enough to not dye mine green.

See you in Avonlea?

Love,
Vee

 

~~~

Who is your literary valentine?

Saturday Grab Bag: Mashup

12 Feb

Alas, Query Week II has come to an end. We’d like to thank everyone who sent us their queries, and the lovely people who took the time to stop by and lend us their thoughts:

Joanna Volpe
Natalie Fischer
Sara Kendall
Cassandra Marshall

We couldn’t have done it without you! Hopefully you’ve all picked up some useful tips for when it comes time to write your own query letters. For those currently querying, or about to, we wish you the very best of luck!

~~~

Mashup

Query Critique 10: Mark of Thorn

11 Feb

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? In my  young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin. Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living. She escapes the world of the wealthy and petty to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life.

Crippled by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion. One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for. As the revolution unravels, Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment, before all of her memories are wiped. Torn between her upbringing and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey that opens her eyes to the role she plays in the Queen’s scheme for supremacy. Three rivaling countries compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop.

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

[Credentials]

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Summer Wayland

~~~

Today we have a special guest post by CA Marshall!

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? [Nix hypothetical questions.] In my young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. [Why not tell us here that she can see the future? Why wait until the next paragraph? Waiting makes this sentence vague] The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin.[What does this sentence have to do with anything? It feels out of place] Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living. [So? Does being able to see the future make her a sorcerer, then? Do her parents know about her ability? If not, how has she hidden it for so long? Make this clearer.] She escapes [Is she being held against her will?] the world of the wealthy and petty [Nix the "and petty"] to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life. [Does she know she's different? If she doesn't know her "true origin" how could she have suppressed it? Also, the last half of the sentence reads awkward. Try moving the age to a different place, like the beginning.]

Crippled [why is it crippling?]by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters [Does she run away? Do the sorcerer's find her?] a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion.[Awkward phrasing] One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for.[Cliche. If there's a romance here, play it up. Smexyiness sells]

[Insert paragraph break]As the revolution unravels[Does it fall apart? What causes its downfall?], Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment, before all of her [Willow's or her mom's?]memories are wiped. Torn [Why is she torn? The phrase is cliche, too]between her upbringing [What does he upbringing matter?]and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey[To where?] that opens her eyes [cliche]to the role she plays[What role?] in the Queen’s [Who is the queen?]scheme for supremacy. Three rivaling countries [Which countries?]compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop. [Why must she be the one to stop it? What happens if she doesn't? What are the stakes?]

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping[Nix "gripping"] novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

[Credentials]

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Summer Wayland

General notes: Watch for vague and/or cliche phrases. Agents want to know what they’re getting into, don’t hide info. Make sure your plot is clear and to the point. If you allude to something, the agent/intern reading quickly may miss it and your query will seem confusing, which could count against you. Where’s the voice in this? I don’t get a sense of who Willow is, what kind of a person she is, or what she thinks about all of this happening to her. You have to do just as much world building in your query as you do in your book, so be sure to explain things clearly. You may know the details of your world, but we don’t.
All the best,

Cassandra
camarshall.com

~~~

I like this concept, but I also feel somewhat lost. It wasn’t until I got to the end of the query that I figured out that Willow is probably a sorcerer, though in the middle you played her up to be a psychic. In the beginning you said she had abilities but didn’t mention specifically what they were at all.

Rivaling countries and political battles need to come up earlier, I feel, for this query to have more of an impact. It’s a really great idea: An adopted sorcerer growing up in a family that kills sorcerers, hiding her abilities from everyone, at times even herself. Love it. You just need to let it shine though.

I’ve heard that lots of agents are sick of queries opening with ‘what if?’ You might consider changing your opening.

I’m also verrrrryy interested in Thonatos, and would like to hear more about that.

Best of luck!

-Savannah J. Foley

 

My comments are below in blue!

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? There’s a lot of advice against starting with rhetorical questions. It seems to be a turn off for some agents, so I’m not sure about opening like this. In my young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability What special ability? I’m in agreement with Sav that your query, while composed of interesting elements, left me feeling confused. I think you need to be up front about this ability, otherwise the query loses the added tension it could receive. If we don’t know what it is, here (although you explain it later), you can’t explain to us why she fears it being discovered,—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin. Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living.   She escapes the world of the wealthy and petty to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life.

Crippled by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion I don’t understand why they’re rebelling, or what they’re rebelling against. When this query first started, I was leaning towards a more urban kind of fantasy. I think you need to work in some world building from the start (not much, just a sentence or two and then head into the plot. Perhaps give Willow’s motivations – ie the problems with the government, the three rival nations – for getting away from her parents, and then tellus what happens after that). One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for Make it more personal! This is all really interesting, but it feels kind of bland. I want to know this guy’s name, at the very least, and what sparks her feelings for him would be good, too. Basically, I’d like to get a sense of his character.. As the revolution unravels You haven’t set up the revolution actually happening, yet, so this threw me for a second, Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment this plot thread comes from out of nowhere and it feels like it might be the main conflict. Could you maybe hint at her mother being imprisoned earlier? Lands of imprisonment sounds great, though. Is that where the Hades and Persephone bit comes in? Is this like the Underworld? Sounds fantastic!., before all of her memories are wiped. Torn between her upbringing and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey that opens her eyes to the role she plays in the Queen’s scheme for supremacy We also haven’t heard anything about a Queen. This all sounds super interesting, but perhaps  give us more, and earlier so that we really understand the context and significance of it. Three rivaling countries which countries. I feel like these conflicts need to be established better compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop. Or else what….The stakes could be a little bit more tense if you added that detail.

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping don’t call your own novel gripping, it can sometimes appear as bragging. Instead, make the query so gripping that everyone just assumes your novel is equally so :) novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore All these things are awesome and I think it’s wonderful that you incorporated them in your story. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

Overall, I just wasn’t getting a clear sense of what the central conflict was, here. Was it the rebellion, or the quest to get her mother, or the three nations battling for domination. Which of these is the focus for your novel, and which are the backdrop elements? You just need to establish that, and clarify all areas of your query.

In addition, I’d really like to see more of what your protagonist actually does, the way that she operates within and effects the plot.For instance, you tell us that she escapes from her wealthy life, but how does she escape? What does she do to rescue her mother? How, exactly, does she have to oppose the principles instilled in her during her childhood? (I like your internal conflict, by the way. It seems really great).

This is a great concept! Best of luck :)

-Vahini Naidoo

~~~

Query Critique 9: Vestige

10 Feb

Dear Dream Agent,

(Paragraph about why I am contacting this particular agent eg blog, interview, etc)

Tess Garibaldi is a flight attendant turned Indiana Jones in high heels. Her past collides with the present when she discovers she’s a Vestige–a reincarnated soul sent to protect civilizations. Haunted by the failure in a past life to save her Incan soul mate and his people, Tess sets out to destroy the Trinity Necklace, an Incan artifact that causes death by incurable disease.

To end the destructive powers of the relic forever, Tess must find and stop the enemy from her past and present lives and reunite with her reincarnated Incan lover. With a handsome anthropologist and dodgy ex-husband as the only candidates for mate or foe, Tess must choose wisely. Given her history of disastrous relationship decisions, choosing between the men she loves won’t be easy. But if she doesn’t get it right, Tess will not only lose her soul mate forever, the wrong choice could set off a chain of destruction.

VESTIGE is an 83,000 word romantic adventure manuscript with mythical elements as evoked by Jessica Andersen’s Final Prophecy series, and ancient historical romance reminiscent of Michelle Moran.

I have worked as a mountain guide in Argentina and tour leader in Peru, specializing in Incan history. I am a member of RWA, Australian Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime. I am on the committee organizing the 2011 RWA Australia conference and I write a regular blog on the Novel Adventurers. Currently I am working on a novel set in Argentina.

As per the guidelines of your agency, I have (attached or pasted, whatever the agency guidelines are). Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Alli Sinclair

~~~

First of all, I think your story sounds great! I love a good adventure, and I love a strong woman who can fight in heels. There aren’t enough of those stories, if you ask me.

My first suggestion would be to move your first paragraph (the one about why you’re contacting the agent) to the end. It’s not wrong to leave it where it is, but I think the query would read stronger if you just jumped right in.

I’m a little confused, though. There are a lot of characters hinted at in your query, only one of which is given a name. Tess. Is the man she’s trying to save separate from the handsome anthropologist and her ex-husband? And who is this enemy from her past and present lives? I would suggest focusing the query on Tess and the man she’s supposed to end up with, whomever that may be. It’s important for the reader to identify with the main couple in a romance, so make sure you mention his name in the query.

I like your ‘about me’ paragraph. It shows that you have personal experience dealing with the things mentioned in your book, and it never hurts to be a member of RWA or a similar organization. I would, however, suggest you cut the mention of your current project; you’re trying to sell VESTIGE, not what comes next. Also, in the previous paragraph, you can just say it’s an 83,000 word romantic adventure — the mention of ‘manuscript’ isn’t necessary since the agent already knows that’s what you’re querying.

Overall, nice job! Good luck!

~~~

Notes in blue!

Dear Dream Agent,

(Paragraph about why I am contacting this particular agent eg blog, interview, etc)

Tess Garibaldi is a flight attendant turned Indiana Jones in high heels Love it!. Her past collides with the present when she discovers she’s a Vestige–a reincarnated soul sent to protect civilizations. Haunted by the failure in a past life to save her Incan soul mate and his people, Tess haunted how? does she have flashbacks? nightmares? or is “haunted” used more metaphorically and she just knows about this and thinks about it? sets out to destroy the Trinity Necklace, an Incan artifact that causes death by incurable disease Any specific one? Or does it just cause people to develop a random incurable disease? If the former, even if it’s a made up disease, if there are any unique symptoms (people are turning purple! oh no! :P), then mentioning it might help us get a more visual/tactile feel on the story .

To end the destructive powers of the relic forever, Tess must find and stop the enemy is this enemy a man? a malevolent spirit? from her past and present lives and reunite with her reincarnated Incan lover how does reuniting with her lover stop the relic?. With a handsome anthropologist and dodgy ex-husband as the only candidates for mate or foe, Tess must choose wisely Wait, so one is the enemy and the other is her reincarnated love? Do the men know which is which?. Given her history of disastrous relationship decisions, choosing between the men she loves won’t be easy. But if she doesn’t get it right, Tess will not only lose her soul mate forever, the wrong choice could set off a chain of destruction Bit confused as to how, but if the reason for this is really complicated and long, you might be right in leaving it out.

VESTIGE is an 83,000 word romantic adventure manuscript with mythical elements as evoked by Jessica Andersen’s Final Prophecy series, and ancient historical romance reminiscent of Michelle Moran.

I have worked as a mountain guide in Argentina and tour leader in Peru, specializing in Incan history. I am a member of RWA, Australian Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime. I am on the committee organizing the 2011 RWA Australia conference and I write a regular blog on the Novel Adventurers. Currently I am working on a novel set in Argentina.

As per the guidelines of your agency, I have (attached or pasted, whatever the agency guidelines are). Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Alli Sinclair

Overall, I thought this was great :)

–Kat Zhang


Query Critique 8: We Were Broken

9 Feb

Dear Agent:

I am writing to inquire if you would be interested in my contemporary romance novel, WE WERE BROKEN, due to your stated interest in the romance genre (that line will change according to the agent’s sales and whatnot– I’ll always try to mention a book they’ve sold recently). A brief overview follows:

Twenty-one year old Grace Blanchett just wants to forget about the night she found her fiancé sleeping with her best friend.

So when Grace meets Summer at a coffee shop and learns that the girl has recently become homeless, she offers her the spare bedroom in her apartment. Because Grace needs someone, anyone, who’ll help ease the loneliness that’s crept in since she cut off her old life. An unlikely friendship grows between the two girls. They may be from very different walks of life—Grace from a privileged background, Summer the product of a broken home—but they need each other.

Their new friendship is put to the test when Summer discovers that she’s pregnant. Terrified of following in her estranged mother’s footsteps, she needs Grace’s support more than ever. Summer’s half-brother, River, does all he can to help, but his presence only complicates matters when Grace starts falling for him—even though he’s already seeing another girl. Grace has a decision to make—one that will challenge all that she stands for: should she follow her heart and become the other woman, or once again sever all ties—this time with River—and risk losing Summer in the process.

Written in the third person narratives of the two female protagonists (Grace and Summer), WE WERE BROKEN is complete at 75,000 words.

My passion for literature led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English from Hull University. Also, I passed a Starting Writing Fiction course with the Open University. (Please note this query is a multiple submission. I would be happy to send you my completed manuscript.)

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Laura E. Wardle

~~~

I’m not usually one for contemporary romances, but I really liked this concept (and the title).

Firstly, I think 21 might be too young for your MC’s. Not because 21 is too young to be engaged (I was engaged at 20), but because in the genre I think characters tend to be a little older. Not really a huge deal though; if they’re out of college it would be easy to just up the age if an agent felt like you needed it.

Your opening sentence is great. Already we have tension, and can immediately sympathize with the main character, and we’re not even reading the book yet! I think the transition to the second paragraph is weak though. You say ‘So’, but there’s nothing linking the opening with the action. You might need to add in a sentence about how after losing her fiance and BFF she’s desperately lonely and just wants to move on with her life. SO, when Grace meets Summer…

Second sentence in the second paragraph opens weak, too, in my opinion. Try not to start sentences with Because. If you cut the ‘because’, you could actually move the second sentence and make it the first and fix the problem I was just talking about.

The rest is pretty clean, but I have read a few agents saying they have a problem with the MC deciding to become the ‘other woman’… I don’t know how your ms reads, but in the query you make it sound as if she has the option to have a continuous affair with River, which automatically makes him a scumbag and shows that she has self-esteem low enough to not see this in him. Something to consider.

Best of luck!

-Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Laura! I’m so glad you sent us your query. I’ve been interested in hearing about your book for a while, and having read your letter, am really excited about it!

I think Savannah’s right, though. 21 seems kind of young for a romance. Because fiction is still pretty segregated, 21 falls into that black hole known as “the college years,” and therefore isn’t very prominent in contemporary stories. If it wouldn’t change the feel of your manuscript, I’d maybe change the ages to 25 or 26. That way they’re still young professionals, but far enough removed from that taboo-esque age of 21.

Also, Susan mentioned this last week: A romance novel is a very specific genre in which the heroine and the hero are main characters — the story is from both POVs. Because you mention that your story is told from Summer and Grace’s points of view, it makes me wonder how to actually classify it. From the query, it sounds less like a romance and more like commercial fiction with a little bit of love thrown in. Just something to consider when pitching it.

Savannah covered everything else I was going to say! Except, you don’t need to put that last bit about multiple submissions in parentheses. Other than that, good job!

Query Critique 7: Soul Sifter

8 Feb

Dear Agent,

When a girl appears and claims he “created” her, London Howell – a seventeen-year-old boy who brandishes humor and harmless lies to keep the peace – doesn’t know whether he should call for a police officer or a psychiatrist. London just wants a quiet summer with his dad, even if the man barely recognizes his own son most days, and the last thing he needs is a crazed girl. He decides to dump her off with the police, but his plan gets derailed when he’s confronted by the House of Dering.

The House of Dering, the city’s ruling family, maintains the order and secrecy of the city’s magi. With the ripples of London’s magic gathering attention and raising questions, the Derings want him to find a sieve to siphon his magic and tell him what he is. Seeing as the family’s got enough secrets to fill the Thames, London’s pretty sure their intentions are less than benevolent–especially once his dad goes missing.

The measure of a magus’s power lies in his soul, which can be ripped free and exploited, and the Derings aren’t the only ones who think London’s got one hell of a repository. Now, he must fend off increasing attacks and deal with his growing attraction to the Dering princess, Abby, an exasperating and irreverent seeker with a penchant for kicking him.

With demons whispering in his ears, nightwalkers dropping him into shadows and the House of Dering offering answers to newly raised questions about himself and his family, London has no idea whom to trust. To save his dad, he will make or break whatever alliances necessary, but it might just cost him his soul.

SOUL SIFTER is an 88,000 YA urban fantasy set in modern-day England. My short fiction has been published in Daily Science Fiction, and I have a degree in Creative Writing. I currently work as a web technician for a major newspaper company, and live in Wisconsin with my 8-year-old daughter, two puppies, and a husband who believes he’s the second coming of the Dog Whisperer.

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

Sincerely,
Mai Lee
[contact info]
www.lorimlee.com

~~~

Today we have a special guest critique from Sara Kendall, an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary and Media! (Her comments are in red!)

Dear Agent,

When a girl appears and claims he “created” her, London Howell – a seventeen-year-old boy who brandishes humor and harmless lies to keep the peace This is the kind of detail that, while important to the construction of the character in the story, doesn’t translate into a query. It tells instead of shows. What that means for me as a reader is that, using this information, I can’t actually put together a picture of how London talks or what kind of person he is. – doesn’t know whether he should call for a police officer or a psychiatrist. London just wants a quiet summer with his dad, even if the man barely recognizes his own son most days, and the last thing he needs is a crazed girl. He decides to dump her off with the police, but his plan gets derailed when he’s confronted by the House of Dering. These last two sentences can be cleaned up and clarified a bit. First off, London’s dad–does he actually not recognize his own son most days? Or do you mean that they’ve spent more time apart than together and barely know each other? If you mean the former, we need a few more words that draw attention to whatever is happening to his dad’s mind. If you mean the latter, we should more clearly define that relationship so that there’s no confusion. In either case, we can get a little room to play with word count by cutting the phrase “and the last thing he needs is a crazed girl.” I think the last thing any of us needs is a crazed girl :)

For the last sentence…this is where things get intriguing. You set this up really nicely, but it could pack even more of a punch. Right now, the individual actions (dumping her off at the police station, plans being derailed, being confronted) are working against each other instead of with each other. This is an easy fix. The House of Dering should be the focus of the sentence, and to do that, we need to give it the *one* action in the sentence. This means saying something like, “But before he can get her to the police station, his plans are derailed by the House of Dering.” We still get that London is trying to do something to get this girl out of his hair, and that things are about to take an unexpected, complicated turn, but we keep the action more focused. It draws our attention more naturally to the House of Dering.

The House of Dering, the city’s ruling family, maintains the order and secrecy of the city’s magi. Great sentence. I know who these people are immediately, and I’m intrigued. With the ripples of London’s magic gathering attention and raising questions, the Derings want him to find a sieve to siphon his magic and tell him what he is. Seeing as the family’s got enough secrets to fill the Thames, London’s pretty sure their intentions are less than benevolent–especially once his dad goes missing. These next two are a little more confusing. We learn here that London has magic, a fact I assume London himself didn’t know, and that it’s causing problems. I assume London doesn’t know he has magic because of what you’ve already told me about him, but we need that spelled out clearly. Additionally, we learn that the House of Dering wants him to find “a sieve to siphon his magic.” I don’t know what this means, which means instead of reading on, I stop and go, “Huh?” Additionally, in the last sentence, we find out that the Dering family has a lot of secrets. How does London know this? Secrets are generally…well, secret. Since I’m assuming that London didn’t know about magic or the House of Dering before, I’m going to go ahead and assume here that London gets involved with this family, and starts piecing together some darker truths than the ones they’re sharing with him. But again, that needs to be clearly stated.

So. Knowing those are the things we’re learning in this paragraph, the next step is figuring out a way to get all that information across clearly. I think the most natural way to lead us into all of these is by connecting this paragraph more strongly with the last one. Namely, through the mysterious girl. She doesn’t show up again in the query, and since she originally claimed London “made” her, I’m going to assume his magic had something to do with her appearance, and in turn, with the problems that cause the Dering family to interfere with his life. But again…I’m assuming. There needs to be a logical train of events to follow here. London finds a mysterious girl on his doorstep; while trying to get rid of her, the Dering family finds London; London finds out from them that he’s harboring some powerful magic, and that it’s causing problems, one of which is this girl who’s appeared; the Dering family tells him what he needs to do to get his magic under control, but the more time he spends with them, the more he learns they are not what they seem.

Er…I’m not sure this is actually what happens in the story, but this is way I’ve pieced it together. That was more just an example of how you can string a chain of events together in a way where they all connect and lead into each other naturally.

The measure of a magus’s power lies in his soul, which can be ripped free and exploited, and the Derings aren’t the only ones who think London’s got one hell of a repository Great! We’re really getting into the heart of the conflict now. What we need to do again is connect this first sentence and what we learn in it to what we’ve already learned. Is this one of the secrets he’s pieced together after spending time with the Dering family? What have they told him, and what has he figured out on his own? By separating those things out, we get a clear idea of both what the Derings want to keep secret from London, and also what could happen now that the secret is out. My next question then is, who is the antagonist in this book? Is it the Derings, as London seems to suspect, or is it one of the other people who want to get a hold of him? Or does London himself not know? I get the impression that London really doesn’t know who his enemies are and who his allies are in the next paragraph, but that needs to be set up here. Now, he must fend off increasing attacks and deal with his growing attraction to the Dering princess, Abby, an exasperating and irreverent seeker with a penchant for kicking him And here we have the love interest. Sounds like a good one! All we need clarified here is what a seeker is. There may be a better place to introduce this word than in the middle of this sentence (which could end up looking clunky), or we not actually need that word here at all. If you can’t find a natural way to work that information in, I’d cut it.

With demons whispering in his ears, nightwalkers dropping him into shadows and the House of Dering offering answers to newly raised questions about himself and his family, London has no idea whom to trust. This is all interesting, but it raises a lot of questions right at the end of the query, and I’m not sure that’s what you need to do to entice an agent to read. By setting up the conflict of London not knowing who to trust in the previous paragraph, and limiting this sentence to “London has no idea whom to trust,” you’ll have a strong conflict, and THAT’S the best way to get an agent to want to read. Show that you can set all that up clearly. With the characters you mention, with the love story, and with the explanation of what everyone wants with London, I get that you have a rich world here. You don’t need to tell me these few details to show me that. To save his dad, he will make or break whatever alliances necessary, but it might just cost him his soul.

SOUL SIFTER is an 88,000 YA urban fantasy set in modern-day England. My short fiction has been published in Daily Science Fiction, and I have a degree in Creative Writing. I currently work as a web technician for a major newspaper company, and live in Wisconsin with my 8-year-old daughter, two puppies, and a husband who believes he’s the second coming of the Dog Whisperer.

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

I think there’s a good story in this query; it’s just not coming out quite right yet. I hope the amount of commentary here didn’t scare you off! I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think there was something here. All this really needs is some clarity and reorganization. Get some fresh eyes on this once you’ve reworked it, and make sure that reader can tell you what the story is about after he/she has finished reading this. If something is way off in their explanation, ask where that impression came from, and then go back and clean it up. I think you’ll have a fantastic query at the end of this!

~~~

Wow!  Sara did such a thorough critique, I’ll have a hard time coming up with anything to add!  As such, I’ll just go through as if I hadn’t seen her comments already!

:)

Overall, this sounds like an exciting story, and I love your voice!  The biggest “problem” is that I have no idea what the story is!  I can get a general idea, but it’s getting so smothered with side details, that I’m not sure I’ve actually interpreted the plot correctly.

I think you’re best bet would be to lay out in a few sentences the MAIN STUFF.  What’s the inciting incident?  Why does London start out on his journey and what’s in his way (e.g. goal, motivation, conflict)?  And what will happen if London fails to achieve his goal (e.g. what is at stake?)?  Once you’ve got that laid out in very clear terms, then you can start layering in your voice, details, and a subplot (such as the princess).

I hope my critique helps, and good luck!  I’ve pasted the pitch of the query below with my comments in green.

When a girl appears and claims he “created” her, London Howell – a seventeen-year-old boy who brandishes humor and harmless lies to keep the peace [keep the peace with whom?]- doesn’t know whether he should call for a police officer or a psychiatrist. London just wants a quiet summer with his dad, even if the man barely recognizes his own son most days, and the last thing he [“he” being London?  be sure your pronouns and antecedents are clear!] needs is a crazed girl. He decides to dump her off with the police, but his plan gets derailed when he’s confronted by the House of Dering. [This sentence seems convoluted to me -- is there same way you can tighten this for more “oopmh”?  That said, it’s an intriguing sentence and instantly made me want to read on!]

The House of Dering, the city’s ruling family, maintains the order and secrecy of the city’s magi. [Wait, hold up!  I didn’t realize this was a fantasy with magic -- it sounded like a contemporary setting.  I feel like we need to have this set up sooner.  I want to know from the get-go that we’re working in a magical world, so if there’s some way you can refer to London’s magic at he start or the “magi”, I think that would help keep people from getting surprised here..] With the ripples of London’s magic gathering attention and raising questions, the Derings want him to find a sieve to siphon his magic and tell him what he is. Seeing as the family’s got enough secrets to fill the Thames, London’s pretty sure their intentions are less than benevolent–especially once his dad goes missing. [Okay, now I’m kinda lost.  Does London actually live in London?  That’s...confusing...  Also, the story elements have me scratching my head.  What is a a sieve and how does he siphon magic -- more importantly, how does that tell someone what he is?  ‘And do you mean London’s family has lots of secrets? If so, what does that have to do with the House being malevolent?

I think you need to sit back and make sure each sentence goes in a logical sequence and that you’re only focusing on the MAIN EXTERNAL plot.  If there’s a clear connection from one sentence to the next (e.g. cause/effect, decision/consequence with NO extra details), then the reader won’t be stuck saying, “Huh?” but rather “What happens next?”]

The measure of a magus’s power lies in his soul, which can be ripped free and exploited, and the Derings aren’t the only ones who think London’s got one hell of a repository. Now, he must fend off increasing attacks and deal with his growing attraction to the Dering princess, Abby, an exasperating and irreverent seeker with a penchant for kicking him.

[Again, I’m just lost...  Are the first two sentences saying the Dering’s want London’s magic?  And, who is attacking him and why?  Is it the Dering House?  And...the Derings are royalty?  Is this a fantasy world or a real (pseudo-real) world?]

With demons whispering in his ears [why are demons whispering in his ears?  Is this a CRITICAL detail for the query?  Remember, stick to the MAIN external plot only], nightwalkers [what are nightwalkers?] dropping him into shadows and the House of Dering offering answers to newly raised questions about himself and his family [why are they offering answers?  I thought they wanted to steal his magic and attack him?], London has no idea whom to trust. To save his dad [save his dad from whom? You mentioned Dad had gone missing, but you didn’t say why or how.], he will make or break whatever alliances necessary [alliances with whom?] but it might just cost him his soul [why will it cost him his soul?].

Query Critique 6: Psi-Kick: Red Utopia

7 Feb

Welcome to Query Week! Every day, this week and next, we’ll be publicly critiquing the queries you guys were awesome enough to send us last week. If we don’t publicly post yours, don’t worry, we’ll still email you our thoughts :)

See the bottom of our posts for great resources about queries, and use the tag ‘query week’ to see Query Weeks of the past.

~~~

Ms Mandy Hubbard,

The work for which I’m seek your representation is Psi-kick: Red Utopia.  It is 112,000 words of science fiction crime thriller.

PETER ELLIOT is a part of the very small segment of the population who hears every thought, memory, and secret of people around them.  The story imparted from his first person view in order to share his insights on the people around him.  He resents that law that mandate that Psi-kicks like he work for the government, but since he enjoys police work, he doesn’t rail against the system.

Upon investigating a series of kidnappings, Peter begins to uncover a conspiracy where both Psi-kicks and Norms are being experimented upon.  He and his Psi-kick partner, MICHELLE LYNDSTROM manage to recover one victim who leads them through a gamut of genetic tinkering, high power gene brokers, and finally to one Psi-kick named REUEL STAFFORD who has decided that a world where everyone can hear the thoughts, pains, and fears of others would be a utopia that is worth killing 99% of the population to achieve—and Peter knows he’s not entirely wrong.

I have sold a number of short stories, and was a contributing editor to Alien Hand Syndrome (Workman Publishing Company, 10-Jul-09) and its sister site http://www.damninteresting.com.  This is my first novel.

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

Cheers,

Jason Bellows

~~~

Notes in blue!

Psi-Kick: Red Utopia: Not sure what this line is for. I think you could just start with the line below

Ms Mandy Hubbard,

The work for which I’m seek your representation is Psi-kick: Red Utopia. General rule is to either italicize the title or put it in all caps. Since formatting can often go wonky in regards to bold and italics, I suggest going the all caps route. No biggie, but there you go. It is 112,000 words of science fiction crime thriller. I admit I know more about YA queries than adult ones, but I don’t think “science fiction crime thriller” counts as a genre :P Perhaps just pick one?

PETER ELLIOT Don’t need to put character names in all caps. I believe that’s a screen writing quirk. is a part of the very small segment of the population who hears every thought, memory, and secret of people around them.  The story imparted from his first person view in order to share his insights on the people around him.  the previous line isn’t necessary. It doesn’t really tell us anything about the story, by which I mean: what is the main conflict? We don’t need to know it’s in first person, and “sharing his insights on the people around him” doesn’t usually make for a gripping read. He resents that law that mandate that Psi-kicks like he should be “him”? work for the government, but since he enjoys police work, he doesn’t rail against the system.

Upon investigating a series of kidnappings, Peter begins to uncover a conspiracy where both Psi-kicks and Norms are being experimented upon.  He and his Psi-kick partner, MICHELLE LYNDSTROM manage to recover one victim who leads them through a gamut of genetic tinkering, high power gene brokers, and finally to one Psi-kick named REUEL STAFFORD who has decided that a world where everyone can hear the thoughts, pains, and fears of others would be a utopia that is worth killing 99% of the population to achieve—and Peter knows he’s not entirely wrong. How so?

This second paragraph seems to actually contain the meat of the query. I’d re-organize things to read a little like this:

Peter Elliot is a Psi-kick, meaning he can hear every thought, memory, and secret of the people around him. The law mandates that Psi-kicks must work for the government, but this isn’t that much of a burden for Peter, who enjoys police work.

Upon investigating a series of kidnappings, Peter begins to uncover a conspiracy where both Psi-kicks and Norms are being experimented upon.  He and his Psi-kick partner, Michelle Lindstrom, manage to recover one victim who leads them through a gamut of genetic tinkering, high power gene brokers, and finally to one Psi-kick named Reuel Stafford who has decided that a world where everyone can hear the thoughts, pains, and fears of others is a utopia worth killing 99% of the population to achieve—and Peter knows he’s not entirely wrong.

The only other thing I’d say is that you’ve basically ended with the hero sort of agreeing with the bad guy’s plan–so where is the conflict? If you want to show that Peter is torn between stopping Reuel and helping him, then tell us. Though I really think you need to explain better how killing 99% of the population could be a good thing, or how a world where everyone can hear the thoughts, pains, and fears of others is a utopia.

I have sold a number of short stories, and was a contributing editor to Alien Hand Syndrome (Workman Publishing Company, 10-Jul-09) and its sister sitehttp://www.damninteresting.com.  This is my first novel.

Hope my comments were helpful in some way. Best of luck querying! :)

-Kat Zhang

~~~

Kat has done a stellar job critting this, so I’ll try to avoid the broken record effect and just add in a few of my own thoughts.  :)  My comments are about your pitch, and the changes will be in red. Plus any parts of the query I think are “unnecessary” (i.e. information that does not belong in a query or is redundant) I’ve struck through.

Overall, I think you’ve got a great story set up here, but right now I need to know

PETER ELLIOT Peter Elliot is a part of the very small segment of the population who hears every thought, memory, and secret of people around them. The story imparted from his first person view in order to share his insights on the people around him. He resents that law that mandate that Psi-kicks like he him work for the government, but since he enjoys police work, he doesn’t rail against the system.

Upon investigating a series of kidnappings, Peter begins to uncover a conspiracy where both Psi-kicks and Norms are being experimented upon.  He and his Psi-kick partner, MICHELLE LYNDSTROM Michelle Lyndstrom manage to recover one victim who leads them through a gamut of genetic tinkering, high power gene brokers, and finally to one Psi-kick named REUEL STAFFORD Reuel Stafford, who has decided that a world where everyone can hear the thoughts, pains, and fears of others would be a utopia that is worth killing 99% of the population to achieve—and Peter knows he’s not entirely wrong. Is the “he” referring to Reuel or Peter?  And what exactly does this mean — what does Peter know isn’t entirely wrong and more importantly, WHY does he think it’s not wrong?  Like Kat says, if he doesn’t think Reuel is wrong, then they’re in agreement and there is no conflict…  Be sure the MAIN CONFLICT of the story is front and center in your query.

Finally, I need to get a better feel for Peter.  Try to lay out exactly what Peter wants (his goal), why he wants it (his motivation), and what stands in his way (his conflict).  At this point, I’m not totally sure what the Peter wants (to stop Reuel or to join him?), why he wants it, or what’s.  Finally, be sure you tell me WHAT HORRIBLE THING will happen if Peter doesn’t achieve his goal (like lots of innocents will die at Reuel’s hands).

Otherwise, great job and I hope to hear good news about your novel in the future!!

~~~

Helpful Links

Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog

Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog

How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog

Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together

AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter

A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America

 

Saturday Grab Bag: Query Mashup

5 Feb

Mashup: Query Style

  • WILDFIRE Query Letter
    A look at upcoming debut author Karsten Knight’s fantastic query letter.
  • FREEFALL Query Letter
    A look at Mindi Scott’s query letter for her book, FREEFALL, which was released in October, 2010.
  • Query Critiques
    Author of BREAK and the upcoming INVINCIBLE SUMMER, Hannah Moskowitz gives some great advice on queries.
  • Preditors & Editors
    Want to know if that agency you’re submitting to is legit? P&E’s got the lowdown! (Bookmark this one — it’ll be your best friend.)
  • Query Critiques at Susan’s Blog
    Our very own Susan Dennard took the time to critique a bunch of queries on her own blog, so take a look!
  • Intern Tips: The Query Edition
    Sammy’s got a list of general query tips on her blog, based on those she read at her internship.

What’s the most useful thing you’ve learned this week?

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