Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Query Workshop,

Thirteen-year-old Cody hasn’t planned on running away, but when his mother refuses to tell her new boyfriend about him and his father is moving to California with his giggly girlfriend, Cody runs to the woods to think.

Interesting . . . I’ll continue reading.

He soon finds out why the woods are forbidden [They are? Says who?] when he meets two kids with ESP who talk about their fantastic city hidden deep underground. With only an empty sense of family to go back to, Cody follows his friends into the darkened tunnel to begin a whole new life in Larimar. With his new friends, Cody explores crystal caves, climbs giant rock walls, and hears legends of ancient artifacts.

And he discovers Larimar’s dark secret – the city’s leaders are scared to death. Despite their paranormal abilities, they have no idea how and why their people are disappearing.

A better sense of this world would be beneficial here. What paranormal abilities? What can they do? What kind of people live in Larimar? How long is Cody there? Does he develop deep relationships with the people there? Are there quirky and fun characters living there?

Cody can’t even juggle let alone do anything paranormal, but with his new home in a crisis, he tries anything to uncover clues to the missing people.

I want to get a better sense of Cody just as much as I want a better sense of Larimar. Is he quiet and watchful? Precocious and razor-smart? In this query, he appears to me as just four letters in a row who can’t juggle and I need more than that, even if just a few adjectives, to get a taste of him. And that’s what a query should be—an accurate taste of the real thing.

What he discovers is his freaky ‘accidents’ are no accident – someone is trying to kill him.

Whoa. You’ve lost me. What “accidents”? Who would have reason to kill him? Because there’s no description of the threat, someone trying to kill Cody seems outlandish and there’s no immediacy to it.

But just when Cody suspects he's getting close to the truth, he learns that his mother’s health is declining fast.

How would he learn this? He lives underground.

Cody rushes to the surface to reunite with his mother and meets a future stepfather he actually likes. As his mother’s health improves, Cody finally enjoys a loving family life.

Then a vision of Larimar’s destruction invades his dreams. Now Cody struggles between staying with the real family he’s always wanted and risking his life and his mom’s health to go back and save the friends he left behind, before his nightmare comes true.

Why would his mother’s health be dependent on him not going to Larimar? I think there are two major problems with this query, in addition to the ones I’ve written above. The first is that there is some information left out, such as why Cody’s mom is sick, and who might be trying to kill Cody.

The larger problem is that there is no hint of Cody taking an emotional journey of growth. This is middle grade, so the conflict in the story needs to be largely internal, just like conflict in the lives of middle-graders. Does Cody develop a stronger identity? A feeling of belonging to a family? It sounds like there are traces of a conflict when Cody is torn between staying with his real family and returning to help Larimar, but this is not explained fully, so I’m left wondering if that’s just my own supposition and expectation, or if it's actually in the manuscript.

LARIMAR – THE HIDDEN CITY is my middle grade manuscript complete at 59,000 words. The sequel, RETURN TO LARIMAR, is complete at 41,000 words.

I work in the medical field and I enjoy mixing science facts with myths and legends to create my stories. May I send you the full manuscript, LARIMAR – THE HIDDEN CITY?

This is a multiple submission. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

It is helpful to know that a sequel is complete and that it is a multiple submission.



Kristan said...

Lauren's commentary indicates that she would like more answers, but I'm wondering if the issue (with the query, not the story) is that it's raising unnecessary questions. To me, it seemed kind of long -- almost like a synopsis/query hybrid -- and thus there were a lot of details that may not have been central to the story and couldn't be fully explained (like the "accidents," or even the father and stepfather).

I'm not a huge Middle Grade reader, but I like this premise (boy feels disconnected from parents, finds magical underground world, then has to choose). I think the query just needs to be pared down to those basics and really show us Cody (as Lauren also said) and his struggle to figure out where he really belongs.

The writing itself is pretty clear, age-appropriate, and compelling, IMO.

CB Hoffman said...

I really like the premise, but I get the feeling that it might be difficult to properly treat all the issues you've raised and answer all these questions in 59,000 words.

Colin Smith said...

I think there's an interesting story behind this query. For the query's sake, though, the author (IMO) needs to establish the major conflict. Is it the fact that his life's in danger in Larimar, or is it that he's torn between being with his mother, and returning to help the people of Larimar. One of these needs to be the focus of the query--along with the character and premise-setting points Lauren pointed out.

Julie Daines said...

I love these workshops. They are so helpful. And I agree, there are too many issues raised in the query. Focus on the main conflict, and what's at stake.

Unknown said...

I thought some of the sentences were a little confusing due to their wordiness. Did anyone else feel that way, or is it just my lack of coffee???
Otherwise, this seemed like it had potential to be an interesting story. Just needed to be pared down (like the others said) and the main conflict identified.

Anonymous said...

Honestly I have more problem with the critique of this query than the query itself: "What paranormal abilities?" The writer's just told you the people from Larimar have ESP. "What kind of people live there?" The fearful kind, as stated. "What kind of internal changes does the character undergo?" You're kidding me, right?

Slow down, Lauren, and be fair to the writer. The query needs work, but not THAT much work. The writer's got voice and a compelling, age-appropriate story, and deserves a better look than what he or she got here.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I have to agree with Kristan and Anonymous here. I think the query is already telling too much, which does raise unnecessary questions, and that you (Lauren) seem to be asking for every detail of the story in what should be a short pitch.

Right now the query just seems really long. He goes to Larimar. He goes back home. Then he goes back to Larimar, and all these comings-and-goings are caused by different reasons that (in a query) don't seem all that connected. My guess is it might go smoother if you cut out the random part about the accidents (again, just from the query; I'm sure it makes more sense in the story) and possibly his mom's health and set up the major conflict that defines the rest of the novel, regardless of where Cody is: gaining the loving family he desires or losing it to go save Larimar. (Just my guess from the information presented here.) Of course, I guess then you would need to leave in some info on how his family suddenly becomes loving... Oh well. The overall point is to simplify and stress the really key issues, and not necessarily include every plot point, especially all the back-and-forth.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all so much for your comments. I have actually revised this query long since submitting for this workshop and have focused more on the main conflict. It is so helpful to hear all these comments as I continue to revise.

Thanks to all!
the author

Anonymous said...

THink it's best to leave out the sequel. Sell 1 book at a time. You want the agent's attention on the book you're selling right now, not some other book. Makes you seem scatterbrained, like one of those dabblers with desk full of manuscripts, none of them published.