Sunday, October 19, 2014

#263-revised once


Revision #1
Dear Query Shark:

Valadae Copperstone helps breed snakes and spiders just to keep food on the table for her family. When a mysterious contract arrives promising substantial payment for her skills, it’s her opportunity to escape this minimum wage existence. The ink barely dries on the dotted line before Valadae realizes she’s been deceived. The contract has morphed into her worse nightmare; an enlistment agreement from the United States of Alacove Army.

That first sentence makes it sound as though they eat snakes and spiders. If that's the case, Army chow doesn't look quite so bad, does it?

This is a vast improvement over your initial effort.

Now bound to fulfill an eight-year term, Valadae is thrown into a boot camp full of drill instructing warlocks and warwitches threatening to shove a combat boot up her ass. However, none of the instructors are tougher on Valadae then than Warwitch Beaning, and it’s certainly not because she sees any potential in Valadae.



Uh oh, the dreaded then/than mistake.  I've shouted from rooftops about how important it is to have every word right in your query.  Right after really bad writing, this kind of mistake is one of the main reasons I elect to NOT request a manuscript that might be interesting. If I see it here, I know I'll see it in the manuscript, and moreover I know that you DIDN'T see it which means I'll be copy editing your work forever.


Suddenly soldiers start falling ill with an untraceable sickness and dying in the midst of training. When Valadae develops similar symptoms, all fingers point to Beaning after Valadae finds a journal with Beaning and the dead soldiers’ names written inside.


Sickness or illness isn't "untraceable" it's unknown. Or untreatable.

And you don't need all the words in that sentence. Consider:  Suddenly soldiers start falling ill with an untraceable sickness and dying in the midst of training. 

or this: Suddenly soldiers start falling ill with an untraceable sickness and dying in the midst of training.

See the difference?

This means you're not paring down enough. You don't have a good sense of rhythm yet for what makes good writing.  This is just a function of practice. Absolutely no one has that at the start of their career. It is the stuff of which trunk novels are made.  After a million words of practice (the Stephen King benchmark) you'll see it when you revise. NOT when you write your first draft, but when you go back through it the second, third and tenth time.



With each turned page, Valadae discovers details of an ancient artifact called the Millicor, and its host being the heart of an entire country.


 This sentence makes no sense. For starters, you can leave out "with each turned page" because we know from the preceding paragraph she's got her mitts on a journal of some kind.

"It's host being the heart of an entire country"--I don't know what you mean here but I'm going to guess that the artifact is important.

Beaning’s scheming to auction the Millicor to any enemy insurgent with the highest bid. If things weren’t bad enough, Valadae learns in order to obtain the Millicor, the host’s must die. She needs to identify the host before Beaning or Alacove will face the biggest death toll in history.



You've left out what's at stake for Valadae personally. Every protagonist must have skin in the game. "People will die" is too abstract to qualify. What bad thing will happen to her if she succeeds? What must she sacrifice to succeed.


TIN YEAR, a YA Military/Fantasy, is complete at 90,000 words.

I am serving my eighth year in the United States Army Reserve. I drew on my beginning experiences with Echo Company 113th of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in the writing of this book.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


 I think you're querying too soon. Even if you polish up your query, your novel is going to have these same errors.  These errors indicate you need more practice. That's not some kind of character flaw, every single writer has a story about querying too soon.  (I bet some of the comments will elicit those)  The trick is to figure it out as soon as you can and get back to work writing.

By writing, I don't mean get back to work on this novel.  One of the best ways to improve your writing is by working in short forms.  Flash fiction contests are good. So are book reviews for blogs. So are short stories.  Hell, letters home to Mom and Dad are good practice. Journal writing that you REVISE is good practice. Just writing in a journal is ok, but going back over what you've written and revising and improving it is where you'll really make progress.

------------------------------
Original Query
Dear Query Shark:

Valadae Copperstone’s agenda didn’t include becoming a statistic in the Army’s portfolio of causalities. Her main focus is providing a decent living for her family, and working any odd end job available. She can’t very well do that if she’s serving on the frontlines. When a mysterious contract arrives promising substantial payment for her work skills, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. The ink barely dries on her new hopes for a better life before Valadae realizes she’s been deceived. The contract rearranges into her worse nightmare; an enlistment agreement from the United States of Alacove Army.

Your first sentence robs the entire paragraph of tension.  It does that because it tells us what happens FIRST, not deliver it as the punchline to the paragraph. What you've got here is the first draft. When you revise, you go back through the paragraph and take out all the things that undercut the tension or reveal things too soon. You won't see this when you write it, you'll ONLY see it when you revise.

You'll want to check your novel for this too. This is one of the things I see a lot in early novelists: they put sentences in the wrong order. One too many lessons about "topic sentences" from your fourth grade teacher stuck in your brain. Novel writing and expository writing are VERY different creatures paragraph wise.

Now bound to fulfill an eight-year term, Valadae is thrown into a boot camp full of screaming warlocks and warwitches threatening to shove a combat boot up her ass. However, none of the instructors are harder on Valadae then Warwitch Beaning, and it’s certainly not because she sees any potential in Valadae. Soldiers are suddenly falling ill to an untraceable sickness and dying in the midst of training. When Valadae develops similar symptoms, she just knows that Beaning is the cause.

Are the warlocks and warwitches the instructors? That's not clear. I thought at first that they were Valadae's fellow boots.

There's no connection between Warwitch Beaning seeing no potential in Valadae, and soldiers falling ill. That means they do NOT belong in the same paragraph unless you link them.

Consider this revision with that in mind:

Now bound to fulfill an eight-year term, Valadae is thrown into a boot camp full of screaming warlocks and warwitches instructors threatening  to shove a combat boot up her ass. However, none of the instructors are harder on Valadae then Warwitch Beaning, and it’s certainly not because she sees any potential in Valadae. 

Suddenly soldiers are start falling ill to with an untraceable sickness and dying in the midst of training. When Valadae develops similar symptoms, she just knows that Beaning is the cause.



"Just knows" drives me crazy. I think of it as sloppy writing because you haven't got a reason, it's just "she knows." Like deus ex machina, it's a device to clean things up without having to explain anything.  Even if you use "she suspects" you're better off than with "she just knows."

Again, this is something you'll see only when you revise. Revising isn't copy editing. It's not checking for spelling errors. Revising is making sure all the sentences flow in logical order,  the arc of the paragraph is correct, your style and rhythm are right.  If you're not moving sentences, and paring out words and changing words while you're revising, you're not doing it right. 

As Valadae slowly makes the connections, (what connections?) a conspiracy is uncovered. A myth surfaces surrounding an ancient artifact called the Millicor, said to hold the heart of an entire country. Anyone bearing a surname similar to Copperstone could lead towards the right country. It has to be what Beaning is after. The longer Valadae takes to prove it, the faster she risks meeting the same fate as her sick comrades and never getting back home to her family.

You're over explaining something we don't need to know. Pare down. The only thing we need to know in a query is what Valadae's choices are and what's at stake. She's going to choose to confront/kill/quit and if she succeeds X happens and if she fails Y happens. But X also means Z bad thing could happen too.

Get the stakes, not just the set up on the page.

TIN YEAR, a suspenseful YA Military/Fantasy, is complete at 90,000 words.
I am serving my eighth year in the United States Army Reserve. I drew on my beginning experiences with Echo Company 113th of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in the writing of this book.

You don't call your own book suspenseful. Of course, you want it to be, and you're writing so it will be, but that's a designation someone ELSE needs to give it. 

I'm usually not keen on including bio lines but this one works because it relates directly to the book you're writing.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Revise, resend.



Question 1): When an agent requests a partial or full of your MS, are writers allowed to request time (short time frame of course) to give their manuscript a final once over before emailing it? Or does an agent expect writers to be so extremely confident in their work that they’ll send it anyway, even with the possibility of the agent finding an error or two?

You should be prepared to send your manuscript to an agent the instant the request comes in.  The time for that once over is between sending the query and getting the request for the full.  

Of course, in the real world, there's no way I'm going to talk you nit-picky writers (and don't think I don't value that quality!) out of doing a once-over.  The trick is to do it in less than 24 hours.  Don't write back saying "hold on, I want to go over it one more time" just DO IT, and then send promptly.



Question 2): I remember you explaining in several posts (actually more than several) that shorter sentences are always better. If a query comes off as too simplistic, couldn’t that  accidentally advertise the writer’s style as being unworthy of representation?

I'm not sure what unworthy of representation is but it sounds bad, and I don't really like using the word worthy. Suitable for publication, or publishable are the standards I use.

And by shorter sentences, what I mean is sentences that don't go on too long. Nice concrete standard there, no? 

You're supposing that short sentences sound simplistic. I assure you they don't. Short sentences have a punch and vigor their lengthier comrades lack. That said, style and rhythm are key. Short and long are better than one or the other.






15 comments:

AJ Blythe said...

A good short sentence is often harder to write than a long one. At least, that's my experience.

Natalie said...

I like the pair of terms warlocks and warwitches.

Theresa Milstein said...

Warlocks and warwitches threw me because until then, I didn't think there was anything paranormal about the manuscript.

I agree that this manuscript could be more concise and better show what's at stake. But it doesn't seem that far off for this query to shine. Good luck!

E.Maree said...

I really, really love the concept behind this story. It sounds fantastic and I'd love to read it! Wishing the writer success. :)

LynnRodz said...

The only paragraph I found interesting in this query is the one revealing the ancient artifact called Millicor. I think you need to expand on the conspiracy and on the name Copperstone as well. These are the intriguing parts that would entice someone to want to read your book. Then again, I'm not into warlocks or warwitches, so this is only my opinion for what it's worth. Good luck!

DLM said...

Whose is the famous quote, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but simply did not have the time" ... ? Distilling and shortening is like writing poetry, it is incredibly sophisticated and difficult.

Pragmatist said...

I very much doubt this comment will be posted but here goes: In regard to the question about a full manuscript, I would advise this writer to stop and think about stakes. I used to think writing had no stakes. What did I have to lose by trying to make money out of my own thoughts? But the stakes are your life, and every hour spent on your book is an hour less with your spouse, your children, your parents who won't always be around. Agents are overflowing with manuscripts. Why then spend precious time completing an entire novel when a book will sell on its premise,regardless of whether it's well written? I advise doing no more than three chapters and a synopsis. If the agent likes what they read, they'll wait. If not, move on.

Liz Mallory said...

I really liked that too!

Janet Reid said...

Pragmatist, I did post your comment but you're wrong. Books do not sell "on the premise" very often.

And pragmatically, it's better to write the full book while you have time to revise and think, and write yourself out of a corner, than on a deadline.

All aspects have life have an opportunity cost. Why not spend your hours on something you love. And I'm betting most of the readers here love to write. Or at least love having written.

Dana Breann said...

Any time you are doing something you want to be doing, you're giving up something you want. Writer's write because they want to more than they want to watch TV, read Facebook, etc.
I am a sahm mom and am very active with my family, as well as my spouse's family. I find the time to write bacuse I enjoy it.
And why bother writing a whole novel? Everyone has different goals. Some write to make money, and a few of them do. Some write to complete a piece of work, and a few of those do too.

Shawna said...

Pragmatist -

If your only goal for writing is to make money and your only measure of success in writing is if you've made money, then you're not a writer at heart and probably shouldn't waste any of your time doing it.

K White said...

I, too, liked 'warlocks and warwitches'. Three simple words that set my imagination spinning.

As for the rest of the query, I agree with pretty much everything that's been said. I especially liked this bit of advice: "If you're not moving sentences, and paring out words and changing words while you're revising, you're not doing it right."

However, I will add that for me the tone of the query fits Urban Fantasy more than YA.

Glad to see Query Shark posting again. You've been missed.

Kalli said...

I really like all the elements in this story - the military, witches and warlocks, fantasy locations. But I have no idea how they're put together. Being tricked into military service is obviously the inciting incident, but I don't know what the main plot is. What does the MC want? What's standing in her way? What does she do to overcome it and what happens if she fails to? I see this with a lot of fantasy queries, where there are so many details to fit into such a small space that they all get chopped and smooshed and conflated until it's like a plot Jackson Pollock. It just needs a bit more organisation and rearranging.

The Sleepy One said...

I'd ask the writer one question: are you sure this is YA? Escaping a "minimum wage existence" doesn't sound very YA to me unless the protagonist has taken on a lot of responsibility very early.

Shimmin Beg said...

In the first paragraph, "worse nightmare" looks like another then/than.

You're wrong about "untraceable sickness", though. An unknown sickness is unidentified, an untreatable sickness is known but has no cure, and an untraceable sickness is one whose origin can't be found. This seems to describe exactly what the author means, based on the rest of the text. Your alternatives do not.