Sunday, May 13, 2018

#309-Revised once

 Revision #1
Dear Query Shark,

It seems like a dream gig when Chloe gets the job offer – live in Montreal’s Underground City for a full year and blog about the experience. The flip side of the city has all the creature comforts. The year will fly by.

As if.
That's the wrong phrase here because "as if" is essentially "it'll be a cold day in hell before the QueryShark is nice to writers." If you substitute "it'll be a cold day in hell before the year will fly by" you see it doesn't work.

When I read your query I don't assess why something doesn't work, I just think "that doesn't sound right."  It's not a deal breaker this early in the query, but I'm now on alert for other things that seem off.

Not a week into her assignment, Chloe is roughed up by Scout, a young homeless woman living in the Underground City. When Chloe later stumbles across her attacker and corners her, a flicker of sympathy rises up in her for this troubled runaway struggling to survive underground, fleeing a threat she refuses to disclose.

Chloe’s no bleeding heart. She’s always looked out for number one. But this chance run-in unhinges her, and acting against all her instincts she sets herself up as Scout’s protector.

And here's the next instance. "Unhinges her" is wrong, unless you mean this chance run-in send her into a mental health breakdown. That doesn't seem logical at all. It seems like a real over reaction.

No good deed goes unpunished. Soon a whole cast of vulnerable characters crawls out of the underground woodwork hoping that Chloe will put them under her wing too. She gives in to serving as their lifeline, and plunges into her new role as guardian angel of the underground’s unprotected.

And here's the third: "put them under her wing" is wrong. "Take them under her wing" is the phrase.

At this point, we've got three clunky word choices, and no antagonist. That means I'm skimming the rest of the query.

Unaccustomed as she is to do-gooding, Chloe seeks her grandmother’s help, and together they set up a safe-house to care for her new coterie of dependents. But when Scout runs off from her bespoke shelter, putting the lives of all the others in danger, Chloe has to decide how far she is willing to go to prevent Scout from sabotaging the subterranean refuge she has turned herself inside-out to create.

bespoke shelter? Bespoke means tailored, or custom made,  for an individual. This safe house was set up for the coterie. Again, poorly chosen word.

Why does Scout running off put anyone in danger? 

TUCKED AWAY, my third novel, weighs in at 90,000 words and is complete.  My previous novels, XXX and YYY, were accepted after direct submission to two Canadian indie publishers, but I am hoping with this go-round to find representation.  I have also had short stories appear in numerous literary magazines, among them Agni, Massachusetts Review, and Prairie Fire.

The first chapter of TUCKED AWAY is included below. Thank you for your time and consideration.

 I'm not sure what went wrong with the word choices here. It wasn't in the first version of the query.
You still don't have an antagonist, which means you have a problem with the book most likely, not just the query.

Go back to your novel and answer these questions:

1. What does Chloe want?
2. Who or what is keeping her from getting it?
3. What will she have to give up or lose to get what she wants?
4. What bad thing will happen if she doesn't get what she wants?
5. What worse thing will happen if she does?

This is predicated on Chloe being the protagonist.  You should be able to answer these questions for the antagonist too, even if it's not in the query.

Bottom line: I have no sense of what the story is here. Chloe helps homeless people ...and then?


Am I taking a risk that an agent will think the Underground City is some futuristic, contrived location when in fact it’s an actual part of the Montreal downtown landscape where people shop and live and work? Does it matter?
I won a short story award in 2010. Is this too ancient to include?

Dear Query Shark,

It seems like a dream gig when Chloe gets the job offer – live in Montreal’s Underground City for a full year and blog about the experience. The flip side of the city has all the creature comforts. The year will fly by.

This is a good opening.

But there’s a catch.

To collect her whopping bonus for sticking it out till day 365, the struggling grad student must agree never to set so much as a toe outside the territory of the Underground City, submitting to an ankle-monitor to keep her on the straight and narrow. The would-be blogger doesn’t have much choice, even if the conditions are hard-core. Out of work, impaled by debt, and sole support of a grandmother whose bank account is likewise on life-support, Chloe signs on the dotted line.

I have a real antipathy about describing one character in several ways in short order. You have "struggling grad student" "wold be blogger" and then you have all those things again with "out of work, impaled by debt" with the bonus of sole support of grandma. 

Your reader doesn't need that much description, and it gets in the way of what we do need to know: the plot. Which we don't so far. In other words: what's at a stake.

And that’s when her life goes into free fall.

With Chloe not at home to nix the idea, her grandmother invites her new acquaintances, the Diallos, to hole up in her basement after the family’s refugee application is returned to them stamped get lost. Chloe’s fury at discovering her grandmother has converted the basement into a safe-house for a family of five morphs into relief when she stumbles across a desperate illegal of her own who needs protecting.

And this is where the query goes to Helvetica in a handbasket. You started with a pretty interesting idea: Chloe has to live in the Underground City for a year, no sneaking out for a quick trip to Vegas.

Now we've got immigrants, and grandma going nuts, and another immigrant that Chloe knows. For starters that's too many people in a query. And we still don't have any sense of the plot.

Scout, a runaway hiding out in the Underground City, is fleeing a threat she refuses to disclose. When she comes out the loser in an underground turf fight, Chloe dispatches the battered girl to her grandmother’s where Dr. Diallo can care for her in secret.

And here's where I'd stop reading. Still no plot. A new character out of the blue, and zero sense of what's at stake for Chloe. 

The reason I'd stop reading is you're all over the place here. There's no focus, no sense of moving the narrative forward. If I don't see that here in the query, I won't see it in the book.

As the ugly details of Scout’s past emerge, putting at risk the entire crew harboured in her grandmother’s makeshift refuge, Chloe has to decide if she’s prepared to lay her cushy future on the line to rescue a group of virtual strangers from discovery and ruin.

what? WHAT? This book is about the people in Grandma's basement, not Chloe's year underground?
You START with that: Chloe is away on a year long gig, not allowed to come home so her Grandma goes nuts and invites people to live in her house.

What's at stake for Chloe here? If she leaves Underground City she's not any worse off is she? She doesn't have to sacrifice anything or lose anything no matter what she chooses or decides. That's death in a book because it means there's no tension.

TUCKED AWAY, my third novel, weighs in at 90,000 words and is complete. My previous novels, XXX and YYY, were accepted after direct submission to two Canadian indie publishers, but I am hoping with this go-round to find representation. I have also had short stories appear in numerous literary magazines, among them Agni, Massachusetts Review, and Prairie Fire.

The first chapter of TUCKED AWAY is included below. Thank you for your time and consideration.

This query doesn't work. To fix it first, figure out what the plot is, particularly what's at stake for Chloe and Grandma (if they are the main characters.) Who's the antagonist? What does s/he want? Why/how is Chloe getting in the way of that goal?

As for your two questions: I think it's clear that Underground City is real. It's certainly clear this is a contemporary novel, not and SFF novel.

A short story award in 2010 is fine but don't list that first. List your novels first.


nightsmusic said...

Who is the MC here? That's the first confusing thing. Though you start it in Chloe's story, you quickly toss in everyone but the kitchen sink so I have no vested interest in following what happens to Chloe. If it's Chloe, make the query about her, not everyone else. If it's grandma, it needs to center on her. Same with Scout.

Second, you have no real antagonist here. So Chloe loses the money if she leaves. So what? Life will go on and she'll survive it. So her grandma is harboring immigrants. There's no real sense of what will happen if she's caught. A slap on the wrist? Prison time? Financial loss? You allude to the ugly details of Scout's past putting everyone in danger but...what kind of danger? Is she the daughter of a hit man and his enemy wants to kill her? Is she the long lost princess of a foreign land and is the last living heir to the throne who needs to be destroyed? Does she have the world's highest IQ and was being exploited prior to her escaping?

And there's the rub. Scout's background puts them all in danger so is this book written from the best point of view? There's no way to tell in the query because there are too many characters and not enough time spend with any. No tension, no plot, no hook to get an agent to want to read the pages.

I know this is Query Shark, but the way this query is written, I'd have to revisit the story first and the query second.

Lennon Faris said...

OP, you might want to say WHY the m.c is furious about her grandmother helping these people. (It might make us more sympathetic towards her). Is she worried for her grandmother's safety? Against the cause politically? And why would she change her mind for Scout? Just because she was injured physically, or is there friendship/ romance? It seems that's a big turning moment for the m.c. That's what interested me.

I would also simplify sentence structure. I am constantly telling myself the same thing. I read, "a safe-house for a family of five morphs" and imagined five tiny adorable goblin-like creatures hiding in grandma's basement. I'm not trying to make fun. Just pointing out that lengthy sentences sometimes make a reader read twice, and agents won't always do that.

Good luck, OP!

Adele said...

What does your MC want? What is stopping her from getting it? What will she do to get it? Answer those 3 questions and your query is well on its way. A query is not a synopsis, so you don't need to bring in all your subplots. After reading your query, it seems to me that your MC is Chloe, she wants a cushy lifestyle, and she is being stopped by being deeply in debt.

Somehow I don't think that's the storyline you had in mind.

I suspect your story is about how her experiences in the Underground City change Chloe's outlook and bring her to care about something outside herself, but your query leaves me having to work to figure that out. (PS: I had the same issue as Lennon, with the family of five morphs).

Sean Gates said...

The family of five morphs got me, too.

Chloe in the Underground City was interesting until the query abandoned that in favor of refugees and Scout, who seems less interesting than her namesake from To Kill A Mockingbird. I've written my share of bad queries, I think we all have. The book might actually be good but this query sure doesn't get us there.

Even if Chloe, Grandma and Scout are all major protags, you should probably pick one for the query and sideline the others as much as possible. Like Her Sharkness always says, the query is a sort of hook -- we don't need to know the whole plot but we do need to want to keep reading, so if you can focus on one character and make us care about her, that would fix the biggest issue here.

Frankie said...

The query is confusing. Too many characters but none of them gives me an idea who’s this story is about.
There are too many focuses and the story, at least from this query, doesn’t have a clear peace, a tone.
Also the stakes aren’t clear at all.
The problem might be only related to the query or it can be something related to your novel.
My suggestion, before working on the query, is to analyze your novel again. Make sure it’s clear who the MC is, keep track of the passing of time in your novel. Make sure it’s clear what’s at stake.
Then I’m sure writing your query will be easier.
Good luck!

Lochlan Sudarshan said...

Agree with the posted points and Janet's advice 100%.

In addition to these things, if the story is set in contemporary Canada, what exactly are the refugees in danger from? Canada doesn't have roving bands of ICE agents imprisoning kids in Wal-mart. What's at stake, exactly?

Also, "illegal" is no longer in vogue. The preferred term now is "undocumented person."

Julie Weathers said...

I shouldn't put my two cents in because I am notoriously bad at queries. However, this story still drives me kind of crazy. It doesn't have a clear antagonist or if it does, the author hasn't introduced it/them.

Chloe decides to take a chance on a homeless woman who attacked her. How can she help her? Get Granny involved in setting up a house for her! That works so well let's put a whole bunch of homeless people in Granny's safehouse.

I'm not saying people can't get involved in bad situations and have remarkable stories, but I think the author has missed this one. Irena Sendler is a prime example of a woman getting involved and making a great difference in lives.

The author left out the part if I am remembering this correctly about how Chloe is in dire financial straits and takes this job initially for the lucrative money. She's jeopardizing all that by getting involved with this homeless project. It seemed to me that those were high stakes. She's taking a chance of losing the money she desperately needs to help this woman.

Language choice is very important. I'm not sure why the word changes came in. Le Sharque is right about that. If you're going to make a change in a saying, it needs to be for a reason and words need to be used correctly.

Someday I'll blog about how the song made famous by George Strait "Blue Clear Sky" came about. I listened to the songwriter tell about how he wrote it and the trouble he had selling it because he insisted it had to be "Blue Clear Sky". It's hilarious.

Bespoke is a very odd and specific word. It can also mean engaged, but neither definition fits here.