Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lori Clark's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Lori's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue. Let's get right to work.

The query:

Dear Mr. or Ms. Agent,

Seventeen-year-old Molly Hatfield's childhood friend Preston is the boy next door, the kid whose shorts end up around his ankles every time he dives into the pool. Hmm. I've never seen a query introduce two characters in the first sentence. I'm not sure it works, either. I mean that's a fun line, and it characterizes Preston a bit, but who's story is this? You don't want to confuse the reader as to your protagonist in your opening sentence, or ever, really. Also, if you are going to break the rules like this, you need to think about the logical progression. You go from him being a little boy whose swim trunks are too big, to suddenly he's a hot teenager. That's quite a jump. Now she wonders who this fifteen-year-old bundle of sex-on-a-stick is in front of her and what he did with Preston. Again, this is great voice, and a nice line as far as writing goes, but this isn't the general structure of how a query normally works. If this is Molly's story, which it seems to be, you need to open by introducing us to her, not Preston.

When Molly's mom suddenly dies, the idea of spending this summer -- like every summer before -- (you don't usually separate em-dashes with spaces) at Breaker Beach is impossible to imagine. Before she leaves, a margarita induced lapse in judgment causes her to lock lips with Preston; even though she's made it clear he's too young for her. Interesting. Her best friend Abi cautions that if she doesn’t call dibs on him soon, somebody else will. Then her summer crush Noah admits he loves her... like a friend, and because he's gay. Finally, just as she starts to acknowledge her feelings for Preston(,) she begins to suspect he's hooking up with Abi. Hey, Abi warned her.

This paragraph seems pretty good to me. I'm not a big reader of romance, so I'm not familiar with how much conflict is needed, or how it fits in a query, but this seems like plenty of intrigue to me.

When someone enters her in a vocal contest at the end of summer she decides to swallow her fears and compete in memory of her mom. What she doesn't count on is Abi and Preston flying in Flying? Is this a colorful action verb, or is she suddenly in some other place? together to surprise her before the show along with her dad and his new girlfriend. I'm not sure about all this. It feels kind of tacked-on. Is this contest a major part of the plot? If so, you might need to feature it more in the query.

Complete at 62,000 words, BREAKER is a contemporary romance for young adults that I believe will appeal to fans of Jenny Han, Sarah Ockler and Ann Brashares.

I've included the first five pages below.

Thank you for your consideration.


Lori Clark

Okay, now to summarize. You've got the hard part down. This query is made up of great voice, and great writing. The problem is that I have very little sense of Molly's character, and worse, no sense of the plot, or what the main conflict really is.

Even in a Romance, even when there is a happy ending, there must be conflict. You do hint at some things. Molly wanting Preston but he's with Abi. Molly wanting Noah, but he's gay. Molly wanting to win the contest, but ... something. The thing is, though, most queries open with an inciting incident, and then get right to the high stakes conflict. There's nothing wrong with breaking the rules ... if it works.

If you were to re-write this, I would suggest opening with Molly's character. Give us a better sense of who she is, before you start with what happens to her. Then, you can introduce Preston, the beach, and the contest, assuming that's how those elements fit into the plot of the manuscript.

That's it.

What do you all think? Anything you disagree with? How might you re-write Lori's opening hook?


Heather Kelly said...

I agree, that the voice is great. Which is so hard, and definitely sells a query better than any other aspect.

I had trouble with understanding the setting--I didn't know where this stuff was happening. It seems like she is spending the summer away from Preston? Maybe that is part of the conflict? I also imagine that the emotional journey is more about healing after her mother's death. Maybe this needs to be pumped up?

But, I really loved the voice--nice job!!

LOL about "Abi warned her," Matt. :)

Lori--may I also say how brave you are for putting your query out there?

Queries are hard, dammit. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

She does have great voice, but that first paragraph is more of a setup than getting into the actual story.

Eliza Tilton said...

I think we need the inciditing incident sooner. Yo could almost start with the second paragraph as your intro..then follow with how her geeky childhood friend is now a hottie--I liked those two lines. Also, the ending needs to revovle around the main conflict. If this is a romance, I'm assuming its about Preston and the fact he's now with her friend. Id leave the part about the dad out. It seems irrevelent. Hope that helps! Ps..sorry for typos I'm on my cell

Kristen Wixted said...

I was also wondering where they are--a quick note about the setting always helps. Somehow I see them at a beach. I guess because it's summer.

I actually love the first two lines the way they are, but like Matt says, there are, sort of, "rules" and you have to be careful. But I do think they're very clever and funny.

Good job! This is a good one. :)

Rusty Carl said...

I echo the great voice comments. The power of that alone makes me think this will be a wonderfully written story.

That first sentence thing got me too. I had to reread it couple of times to get that it was not Preston's story.

Patchi said...

From what I understand, Romance queries (and novels) need to introduce the hero and heroine up front. If you have two main characters, the query needs to reflect that -- even if you choose to focus the query/POV on just one of them.

I really like Lori's opening. This is Romance, Molly seeing her neighbor with new eyes IS the inciting event. I think part of the confusion is in the verb tenses. This is how I would write it:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Hatfield's childhood friend Preston [used to be] the boy next door, the kid whose shorts [ended] up around his ankles every time he [dived] into the pool. Now she wonders who [is] this fifteen-year-old bundle of sex-on-a-stick [] in front of her and what he did with [the] Preston [she knew/used to swim in the mud with/???].

I agree with everyone else that Lori needs to focus on making sure the plot comes through. I'm not sure where the characters live/are either. Was Molly living with her Dad after her Mom died? Is that why she hadn't seen Preston in a while? Or does Preston live in Breaker Beach?

Lori, I think you have a great start and a great voice. Good luck with your query!

JeffO said...

I liked the idea of the first paragraph, though it didn't quite work for me. I think, if you're going to do it this way, you need a little more about the 'old' Preston. I tend to run in clumps of 3s in these things.

The 'problem' I had with the rest of the query is that it seemed like too many names flying around, too many things happening. It's a little too list-like, I think.

I agree with the others, great voice in this query. Good luck!

Stina said...

I'm almost choked on my oatmeal when I read, "Hey, Abi warned her". Thanks for the laugh, Matt.

The premise sounds great (my kind of book) as does the voice, but I agree with Matt. I'm not sure where the story begins.

Chelsey said...

Only have time to pop in and say I agree with what everyone else is saying here.

Also, Matt, I love the blog redesign!

Carolyn V said...

I agree as well. I think it needs to get to the conflict sooner and I couldn't visualize where this was all taking place. But great voice and good job writing the query!

lol, Abi warned her.

Patchi said...

I wrote my previous comment before I read the comments on yesterday's post. Lori's other query letter shows the plot much better. Mixing the two can make the romance more prominent, but that depends on how close to center-stage it is in the novel.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I really think that "boy next door" and "girl next door" is cliche at this point and should be scrapped from ALL writing (queries especially). Also, is "sex on a stick" supposed to be hyphenated? I'm not sure it is.

When you say Noah is gay, that is "telling" and you have an opportunity here to "show". How about "Noah has the hots for Preston."

One thing this query has really got is a strong voice. Don't change any of that in my opinion. And Matt's input is invaluable.

Kim Van Sickler said...

I'm loving it until the vocal contest paragraph. So much stuff is crammed in, that you lose that light touch you were cruising with until that point. Other than that, great job, both of you.

Matt, I'm trying to screw up the courage to send you one of mine. I could use the help.

Weaver said...

Good observations, Matt. I like the voice, too. The query right now reads too much like a synopsis. It doesn't hurt to look at the back blurbs of some books in this genre.

Good luck!

Steve MC said...

As usual, what Matt said.

Also, the second version of the query you posted in the comments yesterday has a whole lot more about the character and got me caring more about her.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Needs a stronger focus of storyline. Can't present a Rocky Road story with a vanilla query.

Sarah said...

I agree the query has a nice, distinctive voice, which is a great start. What was missing was conflict, as others have mentioned. Choices and stakes have to be clear, and in the end it just sounds like she's in an awkward situation, but I'm not sure what's on the line for her. Best of luck as you revise!

Lori L. Clark Art said...

Thank you ... EVERYONE! I am out of town for the time being, but when I get back home later this week, I want to take all the suggestions and try to work in something with the query that I posted in the comments yesterday. I have had a lot of compliments on my voice in my writing, and I tend to write it as I "think" it or as I would actually say it.

There is a lot of different aspects in the book taking place, and I like the overweight girl with a beautiful voice not getting the credit she deserves.

So -- let me rewrite this based on all the suggestions, and I'll get back to you soon!

Elise Fallson said...

I like the humor in the query, it got my attention and like everyone has already mentioned, it has a great voice. And as usual Matthew hit all the problem areas. Good luck with this!! (: