I've been query letter writing (in an effort to delay revisions as long as possible), and I've stumbled across some helpful resources: Elana Johnson did a terrific and motivating blog series; Nathan Bransford has lots of useful tips; and Query Shark isn't afraid to tell you what agents really think.
I, however, am not an expert on query writing. I'm working on it. If I figure it out, I'll let you know. So why am I posting on this topic? While fiddling with my query, I got side-tracked again and had heaps of fun writing the opposite of a good query: The Anti-Query. Behold...
Dear Agent [I didn't bother to look up your name so imagine your name here]:
A Ninja with a dark past, a tortured soul who has tortured many souls but not soles, because Ninjas don't wear shoes, though sometimes they have those funny flats with the cloth bit that goes between the toes; I don't know what it's called, but you must know what I'm talking about, because everyone knows about Ninjas. Then he goes riding real fast through the desert on a motorcycle (I don't know how he got there, but I'll work it out later) with zombies. Yeah, zombies! 'Cause it's cool. And he loves Megan Fox. He's dating her. Well, he has her poster, which is like dating her, 'cause she's there whenever he has sex. The book's not written yet, but I expect it will be about 10 pages, maybe 12. The ninja's name is Johnny or Bob or he might be a woman. Johnette? Bobette? I don't know. I'm only halfway through the book--that's SIX pages, which is lots of writing. There's no robots in it though. Robots are stupid...unless they're sexy robots. I haven't worked out the ending, but he either gets the girl or a bigger poster. BIO: I am a 50 year old professor of socio-economic anthropology at Harvard, so I know nothing about Ninjas, and I have never written fiction before, because it's for stupid people, but I do have a poster of Megan Fox, and how hard can it be? I've attached all 6 pages to this email. I will stay online until you get back to me. Buy my book or burn in lakes of fire! I know where you live :[
So...I'm pretty sure I know what NOT to do. Just so everyone else can have a bit of query writing fun and to celebrate my having almost 50 followers (wow! thanks guys!), I'll make it a contest. Write the worst query you can and either leave a link to your blog post in comments or email me your entry to lorelclayton(at)hotmail(dot)com -- one winner will receive a fabulous prize! It will be good, I promise.
Now, just to prove that my query writing skills really aren't that awful, here's what I have so far for my last manuscript (not the one I'm working on now). I don't think it's publishable, but I thought I could use it for practice...
Dear [well researched agent's name here]:
Eva Thorne is a human refugee in a city of rude elves and matriarchal dwarfs. After the detective she tries to hire slams the door in her face, she is forced to investigate her brother’s murder on her own. She kicks off her high heels and delves into the muck of Highcrowne society in search of the killer. As a Thorne, she has a lot of muck to deal with. Her family has a sinister history and many enemies. What she discovers brings her up against a powerful slave-trading cartel, dark gods, and, worst of all, her twin sister.
Both her family and the elven authorities want her hushed. She has no money and no magic of her own with which to combat them, but she does have an illegally-freed slave, a senile nanny, and an ex-almost-boyfriend on her side. Even when she loses her job and almost loses her head in a sword fight on the same night, she isn’t deterred. It’s when the nanny goes missing that she really starts to worry.
“Tangle of Thornes” is an 80,000 word stand alone fantasy detective novel. The first five pages and a synopsis are included below this email. Thank you for your time and consideration.
*** Any suggestions for improving it will be welcomed with open arms and grateful cheek kisses (the sterile internet kind). And don't forget to enter the contest!
I bet you weren't expecting to hear from me again so soon? I try to post about once a week, but I'm back with a bit of bloodshed for Anne Riley's Murder Scene Blogfest. Australia is a day ahead of most of the Western world, so I get to post now! Head on over to Anne's blog "tomorrow" and see everyone else's contributions. They'll be great.
Sorry to disappoint anyone looking for gore, but I'm a bit squeamish about that stuff and tend to show the aftermath in my writing rather than the murder itself. This is a scene from my very first manuscript (so be kind) and I'd love to hear your comments. Here goes:
Shawn felt a premonitory chill. He moved in front of Lori and turned the knob on the door. It wasn’t locked. He slowly pushed it open.
“Maggie?” Lori called.
He put a finger to his lips to silence her. What was he doing? He had the urge to run away; instead he kept moving forward. He crept into the hall, wincing as floorboards creaked. He looked into the living room where Maggie’s easel sat. She spent most days working in front of it or tending her garden. She was in front of the easel now, sitting in her rocker. He didn’t relax. There was something wrong.
He inched toward her, looking around the room for any sign of what had put him on edge. Then he noticed the plastic ties that bound her arms to the chair. There was no movement. He remembered what had happened to Barney, and he couldn’t go any closer.
Lori reached her grandmother’s side, and her eyes widened. Shawn waited for her scream but heard tape ripping, followed by Maggie’s pained gasp. She was alive. He hurried to them and saw the bruises on the old woman’s wrists and ankles where the ties dug in. Her head lolled weakly to the side, mouth red where Lori had torn off the gag.
“Dave.” Tears glistened in Maggie’s eyes.
He noticed the chair was angled away from the easel, facing the dining room. He looked through the doorway and saw horror laid out on the formal table. Bright red blood, lots of blood staining the white lace, and the remnants of a person. He looked away before it could sink in. Bile rose in his throat. He saw Maggie’s tormented stare and knew she had been forced to watch as her friend was tortured and killed. He turned her chair away.
“I can’t take them off!” Lori struggled with the plastic ties, growing more frustrated. She kept her back to the dining room; she must have caught a glimpse as well. “I need something sharp.”
“Just a second.” Shawn headed for the kitchen, glad to get some distance from that room.
He opened a drawer and searched for something to cut with. He found a paring knife. As his hand grasped the handle, he felt that chill again. He turned around. A figure dressed in black jeans, windbreaker, gloves and ski mask stood there, calmly watching him. Shawn jumped and pressed his back against the cabinet. The killer was still here.
Thanks everyone who stopped by! Hope to see you later!
It's so frustrating when a main character is passive, boring and dragging the whole book down with them. The novel I'm reading now never shows the resolution of a conflict. The girl runs away and her protector dispatches the villain off camera. Argh! Why is she even the main character? I'd rather be viewing events through his eyes.
In Nancy Kress's book "Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint", she says you have to decide who you're going to tell the story through. I dismissed her advice at first--I start with a great idea and a main character and I can't *gasp* change it!--but I've seen many instances where it would've been better to axe the main and use the sidekick or the opponent as the focus of the story.
The main protagonist should drive events, make the choices that affect how everything turns out, and preferably be strong. In Stephen King's "On Writing" he talks about how Carrie was never his favorite character because she was so meek and passive most of the time. It was a very successful book, but I don't think it would have been if she hadn't transformed into the evil, scary, exactor-of-vengeance she became at the end. Nowadays, most people's attention spans are shorter (as we are overwhelmed with books, TV and movie choices) and I doubt few people want to wait until the end before the character is interesting. I know I've decided to never buy another book by the author I'm reading now, no matter how it turns out. There's been too much agony along the way.
My feelings on this subject have affected my own writing lately. I've noted where a character behaves more passively than I'd like. I also found one instance where my main was saved by somebody else! That won't do. I'm now rewriting it so, even though people who care about him are trying to help, they can't, and he has to find a way to get himself out of hot water. I think it will make for a more engaging story, so it's worth the effort.
What about you? What really annoys you in books? Do you often find a secondary character more interesting than the main? If you're a writer, have you ever thought about making someone else the main protagonist?
I've been writing all my life (even won a trophy in first grade) but it got shoved to the back of the closet (writing as a priority as well as my trophy) because I was too "levelheaded" for that nonsense. Now, twenty years later, I've learned a flat head isn't all it's cracked up to be. Writing is the one thing I felt I had to do, and I always told myself I'd write a book someday. Well, it IS someday.