Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Todd Noker's Current Query Revised - Critiqued

Sorry, Todd! Yesterday was nuts at work, so I didn't get to this. But here it is today! Here is Todd's revised query for TERMS OF THE INNOCENTS, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear (Agent),

Preston Taylor is wise-ass seventeen-year-old who thinks he is smarter than the homeless-teens why is this hyphenated? he encounters in Salt Lake City, because his problems aren’t permanent—but he eventually learns that he is just like them. He’s looking for his adult brother who moved out years ago to flee from their mother’s heroin addiction. When she disappears after another binge, Preston is on his own. The street-kids also this? he meets abuse drugs, eat whatever they can find, and sell their bodies to survive. He doesn’t give a damn about their problems at first, because he is above their plight—he knows that his brother will take him in. I would probably cut this. It probably works fine in the manuscript, as Preston's character arc has more time to develop there, but in the query this just makes him sound like an asshole. When he befriends Zack Ellison, a young street-wise prostitute, Hmm. Is Zack truly a professional sex worker? Or does he turn the occasional trick out of desperation? I suppose it depends on the story, but if he's underage, I'd be careful about how you label him. Preston starts to feel like a big brother himself. Cut this too. You're just bogging down the conflict at this point. Preston makes it to his brother’s last known address only to find that he has moved, leaving him permanently homeless. When Zack begs him to accompany him as a lookout on a date with a notorious John, Preston reluctantly agrees. Zack emerges from the trick broken and bleeding, and despite Preston’s attempt to save him, he disappears into the night and is never seen again.

The biggest problem I have with this, honestly, at least at first glance, is that this is one giant chunk of text. This one paragraph is 188 words long. Can you break it up anywhere? Maybe after "... his brother will take him in?"

Otherwise, this is certainly an improvement, but you might want to re-arrange things here and there, and try to tighten it up a bit. Maybe something like:

"Seventeen-year-old wise-ass Preston Taylor assumes he's smarter than the homeless teens that choke the alleys and gutters of downtown Salt Lake, because his personal housing crisis isn't permanent, but when he can't find his adult brother after their mother disappears on another black tar heroin binge, he quickly discovers exactly how much they have in common."

It's kind of a long sentence, I know, and you can probably do better, and make it in your own voice, but the point I'm trying to make here is that you can convey much more specificity in far fewer words, if you think about how to present and order the information. Also, avoid state-of-being verbs if you can. Avoid them in all your writing wherever possible. They're just boring.

People look away from desperate teens in this beautiful city with its the pristine Mormon temple at the center its heart, and it pisses Preston off. He must even the score with this John even if it jeopardizes his survival risks/endangers his life?. He arranges a date and, while fighting to not be violently assaulted defending himself from a violent assault like Zack's, accidentally kills him the man. Preston’s tragedy is the evidence that he feels everyone in this city must see, even if it means sacrificing his life.

Why is it sacrificing his life? Didn't he just defend his own life? If you mean turning himself in, he might not be charged, and even if he was, that would only cost him his freedom, not his life.

TERMS OF THE INNOCENTS is a 61,000 word YA manuscript. An earlier version of this story won second place in the Utah Arts Council Creative Writing Competition.

I have two other titles published on iUniverse, and one title published by their Star imprint. I write commercial and radio copy, and am a well-known radio personality in Salt Lake City under the name Todd Nuke ‘Em. I have done presentations for the Utah Library Association and the Salt Lake City Library for my previous books.

The first five pages are below, and the entire manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your consideration.


Todd Noker

In summary, this is definitely an improvement. You've got a better sense of Preston as a character, and the conflict he finds himself caught up in is much clearer here. Mainly, what I see this query needing at this point is mostly just a copy editor's eye. You've got some extraneous information that isn't really necessary, and the sentences are sometimes a little bloated or unclear. But all in all I think this is pretty good, and it's much more obvious now that you have a compelling premise on your hands.

That's it!

Please thank Todd for sharing this with us, and let us know what you think in the comments.


Dianne K. Salerni said...

Ack. I missed this.

I do think this is an improvement over the last version, which was too vague.

This version is too detailed and does not endear us to the protagonist.

Somewhere between, there is a balance that gives us the specifics we want, but also connects us to the drive and heart of the main character.

I know. It is SO hard to find that perfect point. But you'll get there! You just have to find the perfect tipping point. I can only reiterate what Matt always says: Character, Conflict, and Stakes!

Valentina said...