Sunday, September 9, 2012

#227-revised 4x FTW

Thirty something year old Vivienne has had big dreams since childhood.

Winning an Oscar before she's forty and marrying a good guy with George Clooney looks.... being two of them.

The trouble is the men in her life have a habit of bursting her bubble.

So when she leaves London for the States and lands a promising movie role, her luck looks to be changing.

Until she gets played by handsome fitness instructor Jamie Parker.

And has no idea that her confrontation with him at the gym is being secretly broadcast by a third party for all to hear.

As the truth unfolds loud and clear, he loses his job, shady schemes and meal ticket girlfriend.

She only wanted to give him an ear bashing but now Vivienne is in trouble and made the immediate scapegoat.

Intent on revenge, he resurfaces with a tabloid talk show and a plan to drag Vivienne's name through the mud, jeopardizing any chance she may have in Tinsel Town.

Once again faced with a no good heartbreaker, she has to ask herself, how badly does she want to live the dream and is she even tough enough to survive the showbiz world.

The thing is, when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.

     


 The only thing I'd change here is I'd use paragraphs instead of single sentences.  

I think you've done a GREAT job on this revision. You've got all the pieces in the right places.  You'll need the word count and the category and a closing, but this looks good.





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Third revision

Thirty something year old Vivienne has always had big dreams.

Winning an Oscar before she's forty, marrying George Clooney and living happily ever after.
The trouble is, the men in her life have a habit of bursting her bubble.


Now that you've cleared out all the debris from the previous starts we see the reason this query is having a hard time catching my interest: the protagonist sounds like an idiot. There are "big dreams" for grown up girls, and big dreams for teenyboppers. Marrying George Clooney and living happily ever after is something out of TigerBeat magazine (do they still have that?) It's not the starting point for a book if you want us to take the story with any degree of seriousness.  It's one thing to joke around about marrying George Clooney; it's something else to make it your protagonists "big dream"

And since marrying George Clooney doesn't figure in to the plot at all, leave it out.  Finding a nice man who supports her acting ambitions: that's more what she really wants anyway isn't it?




So when she leaves London for the States and lands a promising movie role, her luck looks to be changing.

Until she gets played by love rat Jamie Parker.

And has no idea that her request for an explanation of his cheating antics will blow the lid on his shady schemes and lose him everything.

And here again: what? There's a purpose to his "cheating antics" (a phrase that does not resonate well since antics rarely cheat) ??

Intent on revenge, he comes back with a reality TV show and a plan to drag Vivienne's name through the mud, jeopardizing any chance she may have in Tinsel Town.

Revenge for WHAT?  As far as we can tell poor old not-Mrs-Clooney hasn't done anything other than ask why Not George is a rat.  That doesn't make revenge sound likely. It makes revenge sound psychotic.


Once again faced with a no good heartbreaker, she has to ask herself, how badly does she want to live the dream and is she even strong enough to survive in the showbiz world.

She's offered a reality tv show. What's not to say yes to? If she's an actor she'd leap at the chance to play toilet tissue (singing toilet tissue!) in a national commercial.

You'll need to be much more specific about the problem here.


Maybe London wasn't so bad after all...


The thing is, when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.


One of the very first things to remember about any query is you've got to make sure your protagonist sounds like someone I'll want to spend some time with. Either cause I like them, am rooting for them, am fascinated by them, or can't wait to see if they get eaten by wolves.  What they can't be is a two dimensional cartoon.

And the plot has to be real enough to make me want to find out what happens.

This doesn't do that yet.
It's better than where you started but it needs work.
   
-------------------


Second revision

Dear QueryShark:


Finally, Los Angeles has changed Londoner Vivienne's luck for the better.

A favorable acting job, a step closer to celebrity crush, George Clooney and a dinner date with handsome fitness instructor Jamie Parker.


I don't know what a favorable acting job is. I know what a favorable rating is, and I know what a good job, or a job with prospects, or a lead in a tv sitcom all are, but those are not things speakers of US English would call "favorable."

And this list is kind of weird: she has a job, and that's on par with one dinner date? She must not get out much.



But after the date, she finds out he has a rich, young girlfriend and is a total player. She confronts him and sees him for the shameless con artist he really is.


Welcome to Hollywood, Vivienne.
 If she found this out after only one date she's pretty lucky that's all the time she wasted.



Then he disappears.


As the dust settles, she gets back on track and finds that a nurturing friendship with stand-up corporate guy, Drew Simmons, blossoms into something more. Though totally different from anyone she's dated before, she realizes that her past choice in men brought her nothing but unhappiness. This time she was getting it right.

Life is good....

Then Jamie Parker reappears with a TV show and only one thing on his mind... revenge.


Revenge for what?

The sooner you get to this point - the shady ex turns up with a reality TV show in his hip pocket - the better. THIS is where things get interesting. Which is to say everything that comes before it isn't.



Naively, she faces the biggest test of her life. How badly does she want to live the dream and is she even tough enough to survive the showbiz world.


Why is she still naive?And what's the test? This is the first point where things get interesting and you leave us with no details.


The trouble is when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.

BREAK A LEG is a 103,000 word women's fiction novel. It is my first novel.

Thank you for your consideration.



There's both too much and not enough here. There's all this set up but the real story is the TV show. THAT'S the interesting choice. And it's interesting because there's a dilemma. There's no dilemma with Drew. He's the safe path. Thus...not all that enticing.

If you spend more than 20 pages of the book getting to the tv show, I think your book starts too soon.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------


First Revision
Dear Query Shark,

Maybe it's the disastrous stage performance, cheating boyfriend, London or all three.

But Vivienne is ready to throw in the towel on her lifelong dream.


Until she heads to Las Vegas for fun and hits the jackpot: an offer of a movie role in Hollywood.


Now in Los Angeles, things are finally looking up for Vivienne, a favorable acting job, a step closer to her celebrity crush, George Clooney and a dinner date with a handsome fitness instructor Jamie Parker.

Get to the plot as soon as you can.  The story starts in LA when she is trying to make a new life for herself.


After the date she finds out he has a rich, young girlfriend and is quite the player.

Determined not to be humiliated again, she confronts him and sees him for the womanizing con artist he really is. This time around, she comes out on top, putting him in his place as he disappears.

As the dust settles, she gets back on track and finds that a nurturing friendship with stand up corporate guy, Drew Simmons blossoms into something more. Though totally different from anyone she's dated before, she realizes that her past choice in men brought her nothing but unhappiness. This time she was doing it right.

Life is good...

Then Jamie Parker reappears with a TV show and only one thing on his mind... revenge.

Vivienne finds herself taken on a roller-coaster ride to the shady side of Hollywood that was never mentioned in her gossipy glamour magazines.

This is too generic to be interesting. The next paragraph says the same thing, but much better.


Naively she faces the biggest test of her life, how badly does she want to live the dream and is she even tough enough to survive the show biz world.

The trouble is when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.

I like this sentence a lot because it tells me she's going to go for it event though we all know she shouldn't.

BREAK A LEG is a completed 103,000 words contemporary novel aimed at women's fiction. readers and It is my first novel. I am currently writing my second.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


I can always tell when you actually have read the archives! 

This is clearly better than the original but you've still got some tightening to do. When you're revising the question is always "can I take this out?" Revision is almost always the art of saying more with fewer words.


Revise. Resend.




----------------
ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,


Catching her boyfriend cheating with the neighbor and making a disastrous community theatre debut all in the same hour was so painful for thirty-three-year old Vivienne Jaystone that she gives up on her dreams of becoming a famous actress and finding Mr Right and resigns herself to being stuck in a dead end Customer Service job in East London.

Right off the bat, that's a 59 word sentence. Here's a rule of thumb: if you can't say the entire sentence out loud in one breath, it's too long. Not always, but generally, and that means for sure in a query letter.

And second, let's think about the purpose of a query letter. It's to entice an agent to read on. This sentence goes from high to low. Vivienne is excited to make her debut and it goes flat, then she gives up her dream, and becomes a clerk. High, low, flat, splat.

In other words, not enticing. This is not what you want to do. At all.

That first paragraph should end on an upswing.  The only response you want from an agent is "what happens next" and six thousand interrobangs. 



Until, she goes on a girly weekend to Las Vegas where she meets a musician, Frank who offers her the chance to work with his band and pursue her love for actng.

Ok, so that's not how you spell acting, and spell czech will tell you so. I watch for these kinds of things. I prefer working with writers who obsess over every word and run spell czech twice. Yes, it's true I have clients who have forgotten to do that (and yes, we torment them about it forever) but they didn't forget in their query letters.

This is my introduction to you. Comb your hair, polish your shoes, check your spells.

Also this paragraph is the start of your story. It's where Vivienne is making a choice that leads to the story. The other stuff is backstory.

Inspired, Vivienne re-thinks her ambitions and takes a gamble, staying in Vegas, where by her career with the band is short lived after a chance meeting with small time director Michael Brown, who offers the opportunity of a small role in a low budget movie in Los Angeles.

So far there's no plot. There's a series of events. Don't know the difference? How to get the plot on the page is listed in at least a dozen QueryShark entries here. I purposely don't list them on the blog roll because Honest to Godiva I want you to read the entire thing. Yes, it's a lot of work. Yes it's going to take some time.

Also, the stakes here are so low that it's almost hard to care. Small role, low budget movie. There are a million people who have those roles. If she fails, so what?  

Will La La land give Vivienne the courage to conquer her fear of forgetting her lines on stage and help fulfill her dreams of becoming an Oscar winning actress? Will she finally find true love? Or will it end up being her worst nightmare?

This isn't plot either. 

And honestly, this just doesn't sound like anyone I know who's pursuing a career as an actor.  Here's where research comes in.  Look up the bios of actors and see how they got started. They may have done community theatre, but it was when they were six.  Most of them were in regional theatre at least, and more likely they were doing soaps, or indie films to get noticed.  Getting the details right is part of your job.

"Break a Leg" is a completed 104,000 word contemporary novel written with aspects of comedy, romance, drama and quirkiness aimed at women fiction readers, hoping to inspire readers to believe in themselves and their hopes and dreams. "Break a Leg" is my first novel and I am currently writing my second.

You're telling me this is a comedy in a letter that isn't funny; that it's quirky in a letter that isn't and inspiring in a letter that isn't that either.

You can forget the inspiring part. You're writing to entertain first and foremost. There is no higher purpose in my mind. But more than that, you can't tell me this is comic, or quirky and write this flatly if you want me to believe you. You don't need gimmicks. You need quirky comic diction.

And you can avoid the whole problem by simply saying this is women's fiction. Leave out the other stuff.

My name is (redacted)
I know that. It's in your signature line. This kind of thing in queries drives me bonkers because it's one step up from "hi, how are you." It's awkward and amateurish. Would you put that in a cover letter applying for a job?

I was born in London and raised in Loughton, Essex in the U.K. I currently live in California, where I have lived for eleven years.

None of that is important (in your query anyway--it's important to you the person of course.)

I am looking for representation and appreciate you taking the time to consider my work.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


You could be the best writer on the planet but this query doesn't show me that. It's listless and flat and has no plot.

When I get a query like this I don't even look at the pages other than a quick glance at maybe the first line to see if somehow, maybe, good writing has wiggled through.

This is a form rejection.

17 comments:

alaskaravenclaw said...

Okay, writer, you've written 100,000 words of the million that we writers have to write before we've got something of publishable quality. And you're working on the next 100,000. That's great.

As you forge ahead, spend some time getting to know sentence rhythm. Learn the care and feeding of the comma. Read your work aloud, a lot, if only to yourself, to see what sounds right and what sounds wrong.

Think about storytelling, too. Marion Zimmer Bradley said (I paraphrase) that a story consists of a likable character overcoming an obstacle to achieve a worthwhile goal. Show us a character we can root for. Put her back to the wall. Show us how she comes out swingin'.

Mister Furkles said...

Janet,

You wrote “That first paragraph should end on an upswing.” So, I reread some of the queries that worked. Some openings end on a decided downswing for me. What do you mean? To me, the ones that you liked do three things:

1. Show a story teller’s voice – compelling prose.

2. Introduce an intriguing main character.

3. Suggest that the MC is on a path to crisis.

Especially numbers 172, 179, and 192. Those are hits on the first try. So, what do you mean by ‘upswing’.

Reno Chris said...

I am genuinely interested in hearing more about your "spell czech" ;)
He or she must be a nice person to endure all that running and checking things twice. A recent immigrant perhaps?

Just kidding. That's a great example of the kind of things that get output by speech to computer typing programs and yet wont get caught in any spelling check computer program.

Bethany said...

Author,

You got 100,000 words--congratulations! That takes time and writing--two things writers have to have to put their stories together.

However, I think the Shark's point is that you need to tell us why this story is important...not because the character needs a man so bad, but WHY she needs one and WHY she needs/wants to be an actress.

You need GMC. That's GOAL MOTIVATION and CONFLICT. I see a bit of the goals here, but I don't know what's motivating the character. I don't know WHY everthing is so important to the character or why I should care about her. I also don't know what's at stake. What could happen if the character doesn't accomplish her goal? I don't have any reason to ROOT for the character. Readers need to connect with characters to root for them.

For example, in the story BEAUTY & THE BEAST, if the Beast fails at finding a woman to love him despite his appearances and love her in return he must remain a beast his entire life. He hates being a beast, so obviously it's going to motivate him to find that woman. His conflict? Externally he's a beast (what woman wants to fall in love with a frightening looking creature?) also in a lot of stories he lacks patience and control over his temper--that can chase women away...but through Beauty looking beyond his physical and through him LEARNING how to overcome his shortcomings, they're able to achieve him turning back into a man.

On a personal note, your query left me feeling like all the character did was fail at every single thing she tried. I don't know about other readers, but to me, that's depressing. I want a story where, even if there's not a total happily-ever-after, I leave feeling like character might find a way to his or her happily ever after.

For example, in Syrie James's NOCTURNE, not everything about the ending is happy...but you have hope that maybe someday it will have a complete happily-ever-after.

You got the ideas, you just need to add depth. GMC worksheets can help with that.

Also, if you don't have a critique partner, I recommend getting at least one. Joining a writers' group where you have a chance to really learn about the business and get ideas for stories and plotlines is another thing I highly recommend.

Best wishes in the future.

Rachel6 said...

104,000 words. That's impressive. Even if 99% of those words are garbage and the other 1% are conjunctions. That's a lot of words you've written.

The query did not grab me, but other people can give you better advice than I.

QS's line "comb your hair, polish your shoes, check your spells" conjured up a witch going into a job interview....

Perun Thunder said...

I took out all of Query Sharks comments so that I could clearly read your QL.

I am not going to comment on the pros and cons of the structure of the QL, Query Shark does it better – clearly!

I will comment on what this mini-synopsis (that’s what it looks like to me) expresses to me;
Vivienne never learns from her past/ is destined to continue to repeat her mistakes.
Bad choice in boyfriends
Bad choice in acting jobs
Flighty (changing careers at the drop of a hat)
A give-up attitude
Flighty (changing countries and careers as the drop of a hat – you never explain how being part of a band can lead to acting work)
Flighty & give-up attitude, gives up on musician
Bad choice in men
Bad choice in acting jobs (how can a small-time movie director lead her to the Oscars?- HUGE leap especially given how flighty she is.
I half expect her to end up doing soft-porn – which by the way, would be more interesting)
And then, just to top it all off, she 30+ years old and her biggest fear is forgetting her lines?

Your main character is not so much boring as uninspiring. I have no desire to know her. Truth be told, I actually find her frustrating and weep a little for all the suffragettes who marched a 100 years ago, so that a modern 30-year-old could be this pathetic.

I have no idea if your novel has some great images and fantastic twists and turns, but if I was reading this QL, that’s the list I would make - and of-course never forget the lack of spell-check and clearly not re-reading ones own work; 1st draft perhaps?

Sarah said...

The problem I see is that Vivienne is not pursuing her dreams in the slightest. Both your plot twists are initiated by other people miraculously spotting her talent without her ever having to go out and WORK for what she wants. That's not inspirational. That's the story of the luckiest woman on the planet and how lucky she is.

MISTER FURKLES: I believe Madame Shark means an upswing in action and tension. The character's circumstances may be grim, but the story is cooking.

Lady Epsilon said...

I'm a little confused by the fact that the main character wants to be an actress but is making her community theatre debut at 33. I mean, that's a fine thing to do, but if she wants this as a career, why is she just starting now? Did she have an epiphany at 32 after 10 years as an insurance adjuster? Did she suffer from debilitating anxiety throughout her 20s and has recently had a breakthrough? Is she just really, really bad at acting but determined to improve?

I'm not asking to be difficult, but because I think the answer to this question will reveal what makes your character interesting and worth rooting for. Because I have a feeling she probably is, we just don't know it yet.

Scribble Orca said...

Nonplussed, perplexed, flabbergasted. It's obviously still possible to submit a query that fails on so many do-this-and-do-not-do-this instructions available in the archives.

Lady Shark and previous comments sum up better anything I could contribute.

Laura W. said...

"Spell czech." I lol'd.

This sounds like wish fulfillment. Woman wants dream; it magically appears without her having to actually do any *work*. She's on vacation and Frank just offers her the chance to work with his band? What did she do to get his attention? ...or maybe the question is, *who* did she do? :P And anyway, how does working with a band help her "pursue her love of acting"?

As an actor, the line "will La La land give Vivienne the courage to conquer her fear of forgetting her lines onstage and fulfill her dreams of becoming an Oscar winning actress?" was a red flag of DID NOT DO RESEARCH. Film acting and stage acting are completely different. Mainly, you don't have the pressure of f/ing up your lines in front of a live audience when you're in film. If you flub, then whatever, you just do another take. If Vivienne wants to get over her fear of performing *onstage*, then going into film won't help her. Also, Oscars are film awards...not stage awards.

First her dream is community theater (?!?), then it's working with a band, then it's the film business and winning an Oscar...and there's a romance in there somewhere. This woman is all over the place.

I don't know what she wants, and the way Vivienne is described makes me wonder if she even has any talent. Men in the business offer her opportunities for seemingly no reason. A book can't just be a string of lucky breaks.

JQ Trotter said...

This seems like a very common story. If you are going to get an agent, or even readers, you need to show why it's uncommon. If you have an amazing voice that makes the story worth reading, I don't see it here in the query.

Plus 104,000 words? That's a lot. Particularly for a debut.

Mister Furkles,

I think that she means something enticing by upswing or at least something that's leading somewhere. You're right that 172, 179, and 192 are all start with something not happy but they are enticing. For example from 192: "One week ago, Claire's cousin Dinah slit her wrists." While that's not happy, it's interesting. The first thing I wondered was: Why? And I read on. The beat in that was full of tension, too. It was also short and to the point. Not 52 words of a series of depressing things that seem to go nowhere but Vivien giving up on her dreams and doing nothing. I could be wrong, but that's at least what I think.

Theresa Milstein said...

I wonder how long the writer has been at his/her craft. When I had my idea for my first book, I understood plot, but I don't think I was able to articulate it in a query. This is one of those instances where reading many successful queries might help or it might just take a lot of writing to put all the different aspects that make a book together. It took me years to figure out how to get the story right and how to articulate it in 2-3 paragraphs.

Theresa Milstein said...

This is such a different query. It was so different that I didn't remember the first one and had to check it. I have a much clearer sense of what's at stake. Much improved!

Buzz Malone said...

"You're telling me this is a comedy in a letter that isn't funny; that it's quirky in a letter that isn't and inspiring in a letter that isn't that either."

Damn it. My latest query letter isn't funny at all either. Ah well, lucky for me, nothing says humor like writing a query letter for the hundredth time. Back to the drawing board. Thank you for saving me from me, query shark.

Theresa Milstein said...

I bet George Clooney doesn't date too many women over 30. This would work better if you said George Clooney-type. Many women could then relate to her need to be attached to someone rich, handsome, and successful just as they'd relate to her own drive for success.

Let us see the humor in and feel for her winding up with a cheating Mr. Wrong (hey, maybe that's more like George Clooney than she knows). Show us her bumbling pursuit of her dreams.

Ah, Tiger Beat. I got all my Duran Duran info from there. (Should I admit that?)

Theresa Milstein said...

As each new line appeared, I became more intrigued. No wonder this query wins. Congrats!

Laura W. said...

Wow! This one came a long way. It sounds really compelling!