Non-Standard Query Structure - pt. 2

Friday, December 31, 2010

10 Chiming In

Convinced that I was insane with my crazy query thing I wrote for Premeditated, I posted it to Query Letter Hell over at Absolute Write (which helped me shape it into the version I put here a few days ago). AW is awesome for helping knock the kinks out of things when they need a bit of an adjustment.

Then, still convinced I might be slightly less than mentally sound, I decided to send the query to Query Shark to see if the unusual structure was attention-grabbing for an agent or off-putting. I was half-expecting to end up as chum, but apparently the sharkly one liked it.

[ * insert embarrassing dance of joy * ]

She posted it on the blog today, but that's not why I've made another post out of the query. One of the comments she made was. QS said that before you do the "rule-breaking" query, you write one that doesn't break the rules.

I did that - seriously. The first attempt at a query for Premeditated was the standard couple of paragraphs following the plot and introducing the characters, but I didn't think it served the book as well as something a bit more sinister. So, for the sake of having something to talk about, I thought I'd show you the other kind of query for the same book.

Brooks Walden committed suicide the day he drove Claire's cousin to kill herself... he just doesn't know it yet.

^ This was my original "hook". It put the focus on the guy and girl and less on the cousin. In the new version, the dynamic is reversed. Dinah (the cousin) is the driving force, Claire is the one in motion, and the guy isn't a real person to her. She only uses his name because she has to.

When Claire agrees to attend the prestigious Lowry School, it has nothing to do with college prep, and everything to do with revenge. That's where she'll find Brooks Walden and his perfect life, and that's where she'll tear it apart one layer at a time - from his friends to his future. Sure, it would be easier just to kill him for his part in her cousin's suicide, but Claire's way will hurt more.

The Golden Boy's facade of perfection is shockingly thin, and easy to crack. A failed drug test here, a few not-quite-authentic photos posted to the right pages there, and the inescapable fact that rumors are powerful things. All the while, Claire plays the part of classmate and friend.

Just because she smiles, doesn't mean she's happy. Just because she laughs doesn't mean he's charming. Just because her stomach plummets when he worries over how well her plans are working doesn't mean she pities him. And just because her heart speeds up every time he comes close doesn't mean she's falling for his act the way Dinah did.

Yeah, right.

^ And this is how the rest of the "standard" query version would look.

True, the shorter version loses some of the story threads, like the fact that Claire's not evil and starts to regret the things she's doing, and the fact that she actually starts to play her part a little too well. It also cuts out some details, like Claire's transformation from Goth princess of darkness to Preppie pretty - all in the name of deception.

But, what the shorter version does, a lot better than this one, IMO, is get someone's interest. It's the core of the story, while the longer query is more set dressing. Hopefully, those who like the short query will see the extra story threads as embellishments to the core story when they read it.

(However, I think I'm flip-flopping the names. Dinah's the avenging angel now and Claire's the ill-fated cousin. Claire has a more ethereal sound to it, and Dinah's a bit harder. It fits better that way.)

I'll stop rambling now, and get back to editing so I can actually send the MS out...



Thursday, December 30, 2010

3 Chiming In
Someone left a comment on one of my older posts asking why it is that the overwhelming majority of contemporary YA books seem to be set in NYC or LA (or at the very least California in general) while paranormals stick to the smaller towns.

Easy answer? I don't know.

Contemporary, though I am currently attempting one, isn't my usual cuppa.

However, I can make an educated guess or two.

New York and California, more than being the nation's book ends, are destinations. Not in the way that "I am from here, so going there makes "there" my destination." No, NY and Cali (and NYC and LA in particular) are real destination cities. They're the places that kids who dream of being stars dream of living.

When you're writing fiction of any sort, it's still a fantasy, and New York City is a fantasy locale for many kids and teens who can only dream of a place where the buildings are more than 10-12 stories high. Manhattan's sky scrapers replace the sky-palaces of fairy tales, and the girls who dream of being princesses grow into young women who dream of being Pop Princesses or starlets, so their fantasies gravitate toward the cities where they believe those dreams can happen.

For a kid living in rural America, where there are still unpaved roads, one lane streets, and towns where there's no need for a traffic light because everyone has to stop for the tractors anyway, reading about people wealthy enough to send their kids to private school or live in a penthouse apartment is as far away as Never Land. It's another set of rules and expectations.

When people want to be seen, they go where they'll have the most eyes on them - and that's NYC and LA.

Conversely, with paranormal, you're usually dealing with someone, something, or both who doesn't want to be seen. The creatures passing themselves off as human have to go places where there aren't enough eyes on them to realize something's off.

A vampire can go to school in a town where there are few newcomers because the townies won't realize that their behavior is odd, even for an outsider.

Werewolves can live happily in the woods around a mountain town, safe in the assumption that no one will bother them because - strange as it sounds - many of those regions have superstitions ingrained as deep as religion. They expect strange things to lurk in the woods, so they stay out of them.

The "other" new kid can easily be the only one who notices the Fae girl or boy is other-worldly because while big cities and rich schools may be known for "cliques", they've got nothing on the insular nature of small town America. Outsiders are outsiders, and they're kept at a distance. No one gets close enough to see the eccentricities that another outsider might pick up on.

Last Place - STILL - Rocks

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2 Chiming In
Yes, this is a repost, but as the new year is coming up, I think it's valid to say it again...

You know that kid who was always picked last at sports in school? That was me.

Seriously - just under five feet tall, way too close to 150 lbs, and a year with a brace on my ankle - I wasn't first pick when it came to choosing teams in P.E.

People usually don't believe me when I say this, but I have no problem telling anyone that. It's not embarrassing to me or a reason to regret that status. In fact, I loved it.

No, I'm not joking. I really loved getting picked last for basketball and softball. I loved watching the "captains" go through the guys first and then the girls they thought might not screw up their scores. "Why?" you may ask, did this scene - played out every semester - not leave me a puddle of lost confidence on the gym floor? It's simple: I was good and I knew it.

That scene always happened in PE, but it only ever happened once a semester when the classes were mixed up and no one knew anyone else. When everyone's assumptions were based solely on appearance and not on ability. When no one had proven anything other than their ability to change into shorts and socks in five minutes flat. And if you've never seen the look on the face of a 6'2" Senior guy when a 4'10", overweight, Freshman girl wipes the floor with him in basketball, you haven't really lived. ;-)

The same goes for softball - "my" game. Sure I was, and am, small, but I batted clean-up from the time I was 6. And the first time all those smug faces shouts for the outfield to come in right behind the infield, and you get to watch them crane their necks as the ball sails over their heads, is priceless. It's hard not to walk the bases instead of running them.

Now, I didn't go into all of this just to point out that I was a good ball player. My point was that I've come to the conclusion that writing is similar to those days where the new class would choose sides.

When you send out a query, you're putting yourself in the line to be picked for a team. And when you watch people you know from writing circles and crit groups or online sites where writers gather snag contracts with agents, and then book deals with publishers, it can be tempting to feel like that kid who stands there all nervous while the captains choose everyone but him.

It seems like all they do is pick out your flaws and highlight them for all to see. Every presumption and assumption from what little of you an agent knows at the end of your query can make you want to tell the nurse you have cramps and can't do PE that day.


If you're good, and you know it,

If you know that all it takes is one shot or one solid hit,

If you know that feeling of watching those slack jawed faces turn and follow the ball they expected to roll ten feet fly fifty yards behind them...

... last place can totally rock.

All you have to do is hang in there, and the next time someone's choosing teams, they'll still probably start with their best friends, but once round one is over, they'll point at you first. When you come up to bat, they'll back up (which, of course, is when you bunt ;-) ), and when you get the ball, you find that it's the best players on the other team following you down the court.

They may not expect much of you at first, but they'll remember you by the time you're finished.

Non-Standard Query Structure

Sunday, December 26, 2010

5 Chiming In
Anyone who's serious about writing has probably already got the "basics" of query structure committed to memory.

You know how to address the agent (and how not to). You know to include word count and genre. You know to follow the basic main plot, in voice, and keep the agent's attention. You know to shoot for around 350 words, total.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before that I like to get my query locked down early on, because it helps me streamline the plot before all the sub-plot threads are added. To that end, I've decided to try something a little different than the usual two paragraphs of plot and one of personal info model. Whether it will work or not, I've no idea, but I think it gets the point of the story across, and hopefully it will stand out.

Dear Agent McAwesome:

One week ago, Claire's cousin Dinah slit her wrists.

Five days ago, Claire found Dinah's diary and discovered why.

Three days ago, Claire stopped crying and came up with a plan.

Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair.

Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator's camouflage.

Today, she'll find the boy who broke Dinah.

By tomorrow, he'll wish he was dead.

Premeditated is a 60,000 word contemporary YA novel. Chapters or a synopsis are available on request.


Friday, December 24, 2010

1 Chiming In
If I knew what I was doing, I'd be posting those nifty YouTube viewing windows to share a few of my favorites with you, but I can't see to work out the particulars. So... I shall give you links instead.

1. Christmas Eve / Sarajevo -- Trans Siberian Orchestra

This is an instrumental masterpiece, plain and simple. Orchestrated like a grand piece of fine art, it incorporates modern instruments, synthesizers, upbeat tempos, and too many other good things to list. It's popular with people who like to synch their Christmas lights to a musical track, but this link goes to a recording from one of their concerts. It's got the cleanest audio of the clips I've seen on YouTube.

2. The Little Drummer Boy -- the Animaniacs

Arguably the best cartoon ever animated (American, at least. I maintain that Danger Mouse is the best internationally), the Animaniacs was a show from the 90's produced by Steven Spielberg. It was the adventures of three siblings (the Warner bros. and their sister) who lived in the water tower on the studio lot and generally wreaked havoc with everything and everyone. I think Pinky and the Brain are probably the best known segment, but one year, they did a Christmas special, including the clip I've linked here. It's their own take on the Christmas carol with Wacko (*cough* Ringo *cough*) playing the part of Drummer Boy. Soon the whole manger's rocking to a swing-style rendition of the tune. Truly unique, and memorable.

These last few are the songs I listen for every year on the radio when our local country station plays their Christmas marathon. ( I was raised on classic country music, so my "traditional" listens mostly come from that.)

3. Pretty Paper -- Willie Nelson

I can't explain why I love this song, because it's exactly the sort of sentimental song I usual detest, but I have to hear this song at least once a year, or else it's just not Christmas.

4. Happy Christmas / War is Over -- John Lennon

Celine Dion has a decent remake of this song, but I'm going with the original. It's not a happy song, and is rightfully melancholy for the content, and it's absolutely one of my favorite Christmas songs ever.

5. Blue Christmas -- Elvis Presley

I admit it. I listen to this one to laugh. I love hearing it on the radio, but it makes me giggle. (Yes, I know it's shocking, but I CAN giggle :-P )

6. Christmas in Dixie -- Alabama

Another semi-sentimental one, but still worth a listen.

7. Hard Candy Christmas -- Dolly Parton

Yes, it came from a movie about prostitutes, but I don't care. The song is something I like to hear. Deal with it.

8. All I Want for Christmas is You -- Vince Vance & the Valiants.

My all time favorite Christmas song, bar none.

9. Christmas Time in Texas -- George Strait

Do not badmouth George Strait. Just don't. There are laws. (Not the best audio.)

10. Baby it's Cold Outside -- Glee

A new favorite, sung by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss. Yes, they're both guys, but I defy a female to sing this song as well as Chris C.

** disclaimer**

I found videos with the songs doing a quick search, I didn't watch them all the way through.

How to know you've been at it long enough

Sunday, December 19, 2010

1 Chiming In
When you're writing something out by hand, with pen and paper, and you get the urge to save the file.

Yes, I have officially been writing too long.


There is no ALT-F / S with a Bic pen. I cannot crash a paper notebook. There is no ALT-F /S with a Bic pen. I cannot crash a paper notebook.



Tis the Season

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

3 Chiming In
.... for frustration. Fa-la-la-la-la l'la-la-la.

I'm at that point most writers hit where they don't like to look at their WIP for even one more second. It comes in the home stretch, when you're almost ready to wrap things up and call them shiny, and suddenly your brain goes on lock down.

It could be stress (yay, holidays!). It could be some sort of latent fear. (It's almost done - now people will judge it! Yikes!) It could be boredom. (Not this again! I saw this story yesterday! Wah!)

This is also the point when things get a bit dicey for the writer. It's tempting to shove the hateful WIP in a drawer and say NO MORE! Just scrap it and go on to the next thing. If you were running, this would be the point you hit the wall. But, like running, there's something on the other side of that wall. There's a second wind and more speed than you believe possible.

When it happens, and it will, you'll know what I mean. This is where a back-up story comes in handy, I think. If you have something productive to do other than your main WIP, then you won't feel so bad about neglecting the word count. (And you will feel bad for that.)

Right now, I'm on the not so fun side of the wall, but hopefully, I'll be seeing the view from the otherside soon.

/ whinge.

First Drafts are Not Crap Writing

Monday, December 6, 2010

7 Chiming In
Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone's.

So there.

Yes, I know that flies in the face of the mantra of the moment which is "Give yourself permission to write crap."

Don't do that. Just don't.

1st drafts are RAW writing, not crap writing - and there IS a difference.

When you designate something as "crap", it becomes refuse. You expect it to stink and you expect to toss it out in the end. 1st drafts shouldn't be like that (no draft should). Treat your drafts as raw materials. Freshly picked cotton or newly shorn wool. Raw diamonds and unprocessed gold.

It may not look like much, in fact it may look worthless or even gross, but realize that it's not yet ready to be used. It needs to be processed.

You have to wash it and pick out the burrs. You have to bleach it. You need to heat it up and let the dross separate. It has to be cut and polished.

Those are steps you have to go through to get from raw material to a marketable finished product, and they're steps that won't work on crap. It doesn't matter how well you dress it up or if you throw glitter on it or if you try and paint it gold, it's still crap underneath.

Writing (even the bad kind) takes effort, and that should never be treated as refuse. It should be treated with respect and handled appropriately for what it can become in the end if the correct methods are applied to it in order to utilize the raw material present.

Going into a new WIP, or working on the existing one, with the idea in mind that you've given yourself permission to write terribly just puts you in the mindset to not expect your first draft to be worth anything. But it is - first drafts are EXTREMELY valuable because they are the foundation of what comes after.

Time spent writing something you expect to throw away is time wasted, and writing takes long enough as it is without wasting time on something you don't intend to use.

Crap is a lousy foundation. It decomposes quickly and takes down everything on top of it with the void left behind. I refuse to allow myself to build my stories on crap.

Does that mean that my first drafts are perfect? No.

What is means is that, while I don't obsess over perfection (*looks around to see if anyone notices crossed-fingers*) with the first drafts, I do put effort into them, and I do strive to make them the best they can possibly be. Because, in the end, I'd rather sit down to create a diamond ring with rocks in a bucket than crap. And I know I'd sure rather put my name on something made from gold than garbage.

Great Contest Opportunity

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

3 Chiming In
CA Marshall, who is a freelance editor type person, is having a contest over on her blog for Christmas. YAY!

The prize is a substantial edit for an up to 100,000 word MS. Double YAY! (English MS, only, though.)

(This nifty little button should get you there if my coding skills have completely deserted me:)

a href="" target="”_blank”">

Pop on over and see if it sounds like something you'd want to give a try.

And since part of this is what you want/would give for Christmas --

For giving, unless someone tells me something specific, I go the gift card route.

For getting, it's a little weird this year.

If you've read this blog, you know I like vampires, and have since I was a kid. Well, what you don't know (unless you are a stalker and go through my trash) is that the "L" in my name stands for "Laura". At the store the other day, while shopping for cousin-munchkins, I came across "Monster High" in the toy aisle, and their vamp-girl "Draculaura". It's too perfect for inspiration.



Though, I'm fairly certain, even the doll is taller than me. :-P