Specificity as a necessity in queries

Posted in for writers, Writing
Being specific in queries will raise the stakes

I’ve had a chance to critique a lot of queries of late. One problem I consistently see is vague-ery–writers being unclear and mystical about events in the story. No doubt it’s an attempt to either cut the word count or not reveal too much about the story.

But it don’t work.

Let’s look at an example.

“After Micki learns a dark secret, she must forget her grief about her father’s death before the next major crisis.”

 

Read more »

Onward and upward! Forward momentum in writing.

Posted in for writers, Writing
Forward momentum in writing keeps stories from becoming boring

Let’s imagine you’re kinda crazy. You enter an airport, blindfolded, grope toward a ticket counter, and tell the cashier to give you the next flight, but ask them not to tell you where you’re going!

After all, you want to be surprised 🙂

Where you gonna end up? Jamaica? Wyoming? Delaware? France? The moon?

Aren’t you excited already? That anticipation is killing me! Read more »

Dialogue rules (just cuz sometimes you need a review)

Posted in for writers, Writing

I’ve seen a lotta dialogue errors as I’ve been critiquing in scribophile. I think most people know them implicitly, but it doesn’t hurt to lay them out there. Sooooooo…..

here it goes!

Dialogue that precedes or follows a beat (a character action) is attributed to that writer. Example

“I hate you!” Donald threw a chair.

Mary folded her arms. “So why did you marry me?”

[so far it’s clear]

Donald rushed toward Mary. She lifted her hands. “Okay!”

[not clear because there’s two beats from two different people.]

 

Dialogue in its own paragraph should have a tag, unless a pattern has been established. Example

“It appears it shall rain today,” Gruff said.

“Aye, it shall,” said Tom.

“You suppose we’ll see lightning?”

“Nye.”

“How’s that wife of yours?”

[it’s okay to drop the tags because the pattern has been established. Now for a bad example.]

Timothy gazed at the horizon. Malory approached, taking a seat next to him.

“Nice night.”

The sun drooped over the mountains….

[confusing because it could have been Timothy or Malory].

 

Hope this helps!

Write a query in an hour: five easy steps

Posted in for writers, Writing

If you’re joining us for the first time, welcome! Let’s bring you up to speed before I say my final farewells (well…about this querying series, at least):

1. We used our query template to generate the bones of our query. Yeah…it was rough, but it only took 30 seconds!

2. We added details that revealed our character’s arc, enhanced the conflict, and escalated the stakes. Perhaps that one took about fifteen minutes.

3. We punch-ified our verbs, making our query more active and revealing character. That took a bit longer–maybe twenty minutes.

4. We jazzed up the voice in our query. Excluding the countless hours we spent on youtube nailing the voice, that might’ve taken fifteen minutes.

5. We hook’d up our query–giving a first line so tantalizing, it would have lured a zombie from a coroner’s office.

Yeah! We’re done!!!!!

Okay, so we’re not. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

There’s one more step.

The most important step of all.

The one step that will probably refine, polish, and spiff-ify your query more than any of the other steps…

Ready?

Receiving feedback. Yup, nothing’s more important than that. Luckily for you and me, there’s plenty of communities dedicated to query writing.

And guess what…

They’re absolutely freeeeeeeee. (Some of them, anyway).

Query Critique Resources

1. Querytracker. You may have heard that QT is the bomb-diggity for locating agents and tracking query statistics, but they also have a totally awesome forum where you can post your query for review. All they ask in return is that you return the Karma and critique other would-be authors.

2. Agentqueryconnect.com. Much like query tracker, this AQC offers a forum-style feedback system where users are encouraged to karma-ize. The advantage of AQC is that it’s free!

3. Write-on-con. So, this is pretty awesome. Like #1 and #2, you post your query in a forum and fellow members take turns critiquing one another. However, there’s one major advantage–agents also peruse the forums. Say what?!?!?! Unfortunately, this only happens once a year (in August), so if it aint August, you aint getting critiqued!

4. Scribophile. Scribophile has taken the karma system and created an economy out of it. When users sign up, they can post whatever they want in an easy-to-use, non-forum format. When you critique a work, you earn “karma points” that allows you to post your own stuff. The more you critique, the more you can post. Although not specifically devoted to queries, scribophile is awesome for gathering feedback from fellow authors. And it’s free! (Although, the free service is limited, so I’d recommend the paid version).

5. Evil editor. If you’re open to a public flogging, Evil Editor is awesome. Here’s how it works: you email the evil editor and she posts your query on her website, then subsequently injects snide remarks about your query. Other followers of EE also comment on the blog, which is another source of awesome feedback. But you need to have thick skin for this one–she won’t be nice 🙂

6. Query Shark. Another public flogging website. Are you man enough?

As you can see, there’s lots of resources available. The only problem I’ve had is keeping versions updated across websites! Sooooo many time’s I’ve received a critique of a very dated version of a query on one website while I had the most recent version posted on another. So make sure you’re keeping up!

And….just to demonstrate the value of such services, I’ve decided to post my most recent version of my fake query:

Tiny Tommy, they call him. He’s closer to a cat’s size than a goat. He’s the youngest of three goat brothers. And the smallest. And the weakest. It seems maturity happened to them, but not him. He’s about the same size he was in junior high. Anyway. Somehow, for some crazy reason, he stumbled upon a girl who’d marry him. Now he’s a daddy. It’s pretty cool. The kid’s super cute and all.

But then Bibledy-Basty McFladigan had to come along and incinerate their meadow. Yeah, what a jerk. It was kind of not cool. Okay, so really not cool because now his family and village might starve. And die. Lame.

But there’s another meadow. Okay, so it’s pretty far away, and you have to cross mountains and snake-filled rivers and barren landscapes. Oh, and his brother’s refuse to help. But it’s gotta be done, so Tommy inspires his older brothers and his village to follow him. Just as they scale the bridge, Bibbledy-Basty arrives with Tommy’s wife, bound and gagged. Totally not cool. So now, Tommy may have to forfeit the green meadows. Oh, and his wife. Or else he’s going to have to fight that big, rather terrifying, creepy, green-tinted troll dude to the death.

Tough choice

Special thanks to the following for contributing to polishing my fake query:

[This will be updated after I receive feedback]

Queries playing hooky: how to tantalize your reader

Posted in for writers, Writing

Our query’s turning into quite the beauty, eh? (With a lot of help from my foxy wife in the image above). Now it’s time for the last step (er…kinda): writing the hook!

What is a hook?

Hook. /ho͝ok/ Noun. The first sentence(s) of a query that is intended to lure the reader into the remainder of the query.

 

Got it? Let’s look at our first sentence from where we left off:

Tommy’s the youngest of three brothers.

Meh. Not that interesting. What this query needs is a hook. The idea behind a hook is to intrigue the reader, to entice, to lure, and to seduce them into reading more. 1. Hooks–what not to do?

Remember, back in the day, there were those stupid advertisements that began with, “SEX! Now that we have your attention, let’s talk about car insurance!”

Yeah. Don’t do that. I’ve seen queries that began with, “Stacy isn’t your typical princess. In fact, she’s not a princess at all.” Then the query talks about how Stacy is a divorced housewife struggling to make ends meet. What I thought was a fairy re-telling turned into a contemporary. See how misleading it is to start with such a deceptive hook?

In other words, don’t lie with your hook.

2. Hooks–what do you do?

Hooks should give some insight into what your book will be about. Even better if they can

(a) tell us something unique about your MC,

(b) tell us something about the conflict, or

(c) tell us something unique about your premise.

Examples of successful hooks

Check out Stefanie Gaither’s query for Falls the Shadows

When Cate Benson was twelve, her sister died. Two hours after the funeral, they picked up Violet’s replacement, and the family made it home in time for dinner and a game of cards.

Holy friggin’ cow! Is that not an awesome hook? Doesn’t that make you want to read more? This one lures the reader with (c)–the book’s unique premise.

 

Check out Kathryn Craft’s hook for THE ART OF FALLING:

She had the talent, she had the drive, and she had the opportunity. Only one thing stood between Penelope Sparrow and the dance career of her dreams: her imperfect body.

 

Nice! This one does (b)–tells us something about the conflict.

Finally, let’s look at Livia Blackburne’s hook for MIDNIGHT THIEF

To Kyra, high walls and locked doors are not obstacles, but invitations

 

Ohhhhh yeah. This one lures the reader in with (a) character.

Hooking my fake query

I’m just going to totally brainstorm and come up with at least ten different hooks:

1. It’s a tough life for a goat.

2. Goats are good at grazing, not brawling!

3. Tommy the goat never expected to face a troll.

4. Standing tall was never Tommy’s forte.

5. Tommy may be the only adult goat who hasn’t grown his horns.

6. Tommy never thought he’d face fires, starvation, and a sadistic troll.

7. Don’t mess with a goat’s kid.

8. Trolls are a nasty business. Well, at least if you’re a goat.

9. Despite standing closest to the ground, Tommy tends to graze the grass last.

10. Tiny Tommy, they call him. He’s closer to a cat’s size than a goat.

Which do you like? I think I favor #10–it gives a sense of character and leads right into the next paragraph.

With that, here’s our new query:

Tiny Tommy, they call him. He’s closer to a cat’s size than a goat. He’s the youngest of three goat brothers. And the smallest. And the weakest. It seems maturity happened to them, but not him. He’s about the same size he was in junior high. Anyway. Somehow, for some crazy reason, he stumbled upon a girl who’d marry him. Now he’s a daddy. It’s pretty cool. The kid’s super cute and all.

But then Bibledy-Basty McFladigan had to come along and incinerate their meadow. Yeah, what a jerk. It was kind of not cool. Okay, so really not cool because now his family and village might starve. And die. Lame.

But there’s another meadow. Okay, so it’s pretty far away, and you have to cross mountains and snake-filled rivers and barren landscapes. Oh, and his brother’s refuse to help. But it’s gotta be done, so Tommy inspires his older brothers and his village to follow him. Just as they scale the bridge, Bibbledy-Basty arrives with Tommy’s wife, bound and gagged. Totally not cool. So now, Tommy may have to forfeit the green meadows. Oh, and his wife. Or else he’s going to have to fight that big, rather terrifying, creepy, green-tinted troll dude to the death.

Tough choice

 

Cool? Good. Now, there’s just one more thing to cover before we call it quits. See you next time!