Friday, June 29, 2012

HNTWAQ: Practice 3

If you're just joining us, this is my week-o-How NOT to Write a Query, wherein I'm helping my future competitors with their queries to build up karma for myself and, well, yeah, the logic sort of breaks down after that.

Let's do another one anyway, shall we?

I should also mention that I'm starting to feel bad about putting this tag on real queries. I want to make it clear that there are a thousand ways to write good queries. I started this series because I kept finding all the ways NOT to write them and I wanted to try to analyze what I was doing wrong. I'm probably never going to be an expert on how to do it right, but I've spent a looong time studying how to do it wrong. And practicing how to do it wrong. Seriously--if there's a way to do it wrong, some agent has my query doing that in their rejected query folder. I just want to save everyone else from my fate, if possible. :)

This next query is by Tara Tyler (who has a lovely grasp on the beauty of alliteration). First, for your reading enjoyment, the intact query, in which I did remove some odd line breaks. Just so everyone is aware, it is a VERY good idea to email your query to yourself before you send it to an agent, just so you can preview all the wonky things your email program does to your formatting.
Oh Agent of my Future Publication,

Since pop travel teleportation overtook flying, people are excited about going places again, unaware that some travelers who aren’t following the rules have disappeared.

Jameson Cooper is the exception. He avoids pop travel, blaming it for the loss of his wife and successful career. If not for his brother, he’d be wallowing in a gutter downtown.

Accepting his final resting place in a small town as a low life PI, Cooper is struck with a spark of hope when a desperate stranger begs him to prove pop travel made his fiancé disappear. Proving pop travel has a glitch might ease his guilt enough to let him get some sleep, worth a trek down to the Atlanta Travelport. But when Cooper stumbles onto a video of a disintegrating traveler, people around him start to die and disappear. More than a glitch, Cooper wants to pass off the video, but realizes his brother could be next and sucks it up, determined to expose the fatal defect.

With webcams everywhere and the Q-net filtered by the government, Cooper can’t waste time with the authorities. He must go directly to the Creator of pop travel, young genius Hasan Rakhi, and convince him to admit the truth to the world. No problem. All Cooper has to do is face his pop anxiety, crash a party at Hasan’s plantation compound, and use his old lawyer powers of persuasion. What he doesn’t account for is being helplessly distracted by Southern Comfort in a purple dress, Geri Harper (a rookie Agent sent to retrieve the drive and protect Hasan). Since Cooper’s lame attempts to discourage her fail, Geri tags along and they sneak in to confront Hasan who surprises them by asking for help to escape his luxurious corporate prison. Cooper and his new accomplices concoct a plan, leading a chase across the world, hoping to reveal pop travel’s deadly flaw before they disappear.

POP TRAVEL is a thriller, complete at 80,000 words.

Tara
My first impression: love the idea of pop travel and the problem that people are disappearing. Oh, and that he's a lawyer. 'Cause lawyers are coooool. Main issue I can see is that the stakes seem to be underplayed.

Let's do the four questions first this time, shall we?

Who is the protagonist: Cooper is a married lawyer-turned widowed small-town-PI. There's quite a bit of great character information in the query. Maybe too much, actually. While I feel like I know him pretty well, I'm still confused about his motivations. Also, why he feels guilty. Why does he blame pop travel for his wife's death and the loss of a successful career? Is there a quick way to say "After Coop's wife popped out of existence, he became obsessed with exposing pop travel for the danger it was, and lost his job as a successful lawyer"? The first three paragraphs portray a man who has accepted his fate--and maybe he did that, but was there fire first? Was there struggle before the final slump? This all seems pre-inciting incident, but I bet a lot of his character could be squished into a few sentences about how hard he fought before he gave up. That would also help us understand how big the problem really is.

What does he want: Well, eventually, he wants to expose pop travel. It sort of sounds like he wanted that before, gave up, then had his passion reignited? 

What stands in his way: Not sure. There is reference to government control and to... well, someone keeping Hasan prisoner. But who is it? Who could be benefiting from pop travelers disappearing? Who is covering it up? If Cooper doesn't know, maybe say so? Without a specific antagonist, it sounds like he's boxing with clouds. Hard to hit, but ultimately insubstantial. Tell me who he's fighting. What are their strengths? 

What will happen if he fails: Mostly, it seems that he'll disappear if he doesn't expose pop travel... but what would happen if he just leaves it alone? He spends some time wallowing in a small town, so what makes him leave there? A stranger's fiancee? Strangers (and their loved ones) have been disappearing for who-knows-how-long. What is it that finally convinces him to put his life on the line to solve this problem? What will happen to the world if the problem isn't solved? What, exactly, is at stake here? It has to be something big to bring Cooper out of his wallowing small-town life, but I don't really know what it is.

So let's get back to the query and see if we can carve out some room.
Oh Agent of my Future Publication,
Since pop travel teleportation overtook flying, people are excited about going places again, unaware that some travelers who aren’t following the rules have disappeared.
Maybe some sort of time-frame reference? How long has pop travel been all the rage? 2 years? 20 years? And when did people lose their excitement for going places? What are the rules that make people disappear if they don't follow them? Is it a pop travel rule or a general government "do-what-you're-told-or-the-next-time-you-pop..." sort of rule? Also, how is it that people aren't noticing that people are disappearing? Maybe something like "Twenty years ago, pop travel teleportation replaced flying as the favorite form of long-distance travel. It's fast, it's cheap, and it's a great way to make rebels, malcontents, and lobbyists disappear." Only, you know, better.
Jameson Cooper is the exception. He avoids pop travel, blaming it for the loss of his wife and successful career. If not for his brother, he’d be wallowing in a gutter downtown.
Let's get painfully specific here. Jamison's wife popped out of his life... when? What, exactly, did he do to find her? Lay blame? Ruin his career? What did his brother do to bring him back? This paragraph makes it sound like she never came back from a pop trip and he was all "Aw, dang. Well, you won't catch me using pop travel anymore! I just bet something's wrong with that there contraption. Where's my whiskey bottle?" Specifics will save you.
Accepting his final resting place in a small town as a low life PI, Cooper is struck with a spark of hope when a desperate stranger begs him to prove pop travel made his fiancé disappear. Proving pop travel has a glitch might ease his guilt enough to let him get some sleep, worth a trek down to the Atlanta Travelport. But when Cooper stumbles onto a video of a disintegrating traveler, people around him start to die and disappear. More than a glitch, Cooper wants to pass off the video, but realizes his brother could be next and sucks it up, determined to expose the fatal defect.
There's a lot that doesn't make sense in this paragraph. Where does his guilt come from? Why does a stranger's loss spark hope? Did he need to be asked before he could generate the gumption to finally solve this problem? How does he stumble upon  a video of a disintegrating traveler? How many people "around him" die and disappear? People he cares about or random strangers that happen to be standing near him when he finds the video? What sort of a time period are we talking about? The last sentence, especially, is convoluted--What is more than a glitch? He wants to pass off the video to who?? Why does he think his brother is next? How can he "suck it up" and still be determined to expose the fatal defect?
With webcams everywhere and the Q-net filtered by the government, Cooper can’t waste time with the authorities. He must go directly to the Creator of pop travel, young genius Hasan Rakhi, and convince him to admit the truth to the world. No problem. All Cooper has to do is face his pop anxiety, crash a party at Hasan’s plantation compound, and use his old lawyer powers of persuasion. What he doesn’t account for is being helplessly distracted by Southern Comfort in a purple dress, Geri Harper (a rookie Agent sent to retrieve the drive and protect Hasan). Since Cooper’s lame attempts to discourage her fail, Geri tags along and they sneak in to confront Hasan who surprises them by asking for help to escape his luxurious corporate prison. Cooper and his new accomplices concoct a plan, leading a chase across the world, hoping to reveal pop travel’s deadly flaw before they disappear.
This paragraph seems to finally get to the heart of the conflict, and makes me wonder if the third paragraph is even necessary. Finally, we have a specific plan: get the creator (lower-case c, by the way) of pop travel to denounce his creation. I don't know why Cooper thinks this will work, but I love how the tension escalates with the revelation of a kidnapping, a jailbreak, and an international pop-chase. (It is a pop-chase, right? Please tell me it's a pop-chase.) Given everything that came before this paragraph, the one thing I wonder about is... when, exactly, does this visit to Hasan happen? It seems probable that this is a looong time after the inciting incident. If so (or even if not) you may want to disguise that fact by speeding the query along to this point: Pop travel sucks, Cooper's wife is gone, he sets out to expose pop travel, visits Hasan. I'm not quite sure what to do with Geri, since she sort of comes out of nowhere, and I don't know what she's an Agent of or what the drive is that she's trying to retrieve. What is Cooper trying to discourage her from? Why? You might want to just mention her as "a sexy pain-in-the-butt federal agent" who joins him on his pop-chase to protect Hasan and [whatever she wants to do with the drive].
POP TRAVEL is a thriller, complete at 80,000 words.
I'd stick Sci-Fi into the genre description. Just sayin.'
Tara
Okay, so I'm not sure how helpful all that gobbeldy-gook was, so let me sum up:
  1. Identify what Great Evil Cooper is trying to prevent.
  2. Identify Cooper's plan to prevent it (and his motivations).
  3. Identify the antagonist.
  4. Lose the brother, the engaged stranger, and anyone else who doesn't directly factor into the above three points.
  5. Rewrite the query focusing on only the most essential elements. And keep it to 250 words, total.
Let me know if you'd like me to tear it apart again. :)

Okay, your turn, everyone. Chime on in and let us know if you agree with me, if you think I'm giving bad advice, and if you suddenly have a hankering for a good pop-chase.

4 comments:

  1. LOL! Thanks for showing me how to NOT write a query! :D

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  2. Wow. This is great, and the story is intriguing. Love your observations, Robin. So much of that beginning stuff is backstory, too. The query needs to know what the current conflict is.

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  3. I like this blog series :) Queries are so tough!

    P.S. I gave you an award on my blog!

    http://britneygulbrandsen.blogspot.com/2012/06/booker-award_30.html

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Robin! I loved your questions for the author. They were so thought provoking and would surely get the query ball rolling in the right direction. The story sounds amazing, anyway but with the answers to your questions put into perspective, I think this query letter will POP right off the page:)

    ReplyDelete

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