Thursday, July 19, 2012

HNTWAQ: Practice 2 Rewrite

I've discovered my favorite part about this series: REWRITES. I love seeing the raw query and then the  so-much-better rewrites. I'm learning so much about HOW to write a query by watching these folks improve theirs. Maybe someday, I'll understand how to write a good one myself.

Until then, this is How NOT to Write a Query: Practice 2... the rewrite.


Once again, this query is by Robin Hall (not to be confused with Robin Weeks, though her name IS almost as cool as mine). This is the rewrite, which I love so much more than the last draft.

Dear Agent,

Because you’re so awesome I thought you might be interested in my magical realism YA, LOVESENSE (55,000 words).

Seventeen-year-old RAE can look at a photograph of a couple and determine the length of their relationship by its smell—a strange gift of “lovesense” she’s always had. The worse the stench, the nastier the breakup. It’s why she owns more nose plugs than an Olympic swimmer, avoids checkout stand magazines, and dreads her photo counter job. Because Rae has never sniffed an everlasting relationship, she believes true love only exists in fairy tales.

Trying to make the best of her lovesense, she runs an anonymous drop-your-photo-and-cash-here business at school. As Rae focuses on passing Junior English and conquering the 110-meter hurdles, she smells relationships ending through bat guano, rotten eggs, and half-masticated rotting seal. Until an old photograph changes everything: Rae smells something good. And, this time, she’s in the picture.

Finding the grown-up version of the mysterious baby boy she once played with becomes her quest. But just as Rae begins to open herself to the idea of true love, her nemesis exposes Rae’s secret talent and illegal school activities. Now she’s suspended from school, banned from the City-County track meet, and rumored to be a psycho gypsy freak.

Rae must embrace her lovesense and take a chance on love if she’s ever going to find her match, or face her classmates again.

I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript. The complete manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Robin Hall
[Contact info redacted]
The thing I love most about this rewrite is that it solidifies what a lovesense is and how it works--and she doesn't take forever explaining it, either. I also feel like I know Rae better: how she deals with her extra sense, how irritating it can be, and how she actually profits from it, helps me see her as resourceful and spunky. I also understand better why she wants to find her true love when she doesn't really believe in it. Her nemesis and the consequences of exposure stand in her way to not just true love, but also getting a normal life back, and if she fails, she could face permanent ostracism and never find true love (I love that so much better than just not having a boyfriend).

So it's pretty good right now, but let's see if we can help make it better. 'Cause that's what we do. Also, everyone who voted and said they'd help critique queries, now's your chance.
Dear Agent,
Because you’re so awesome I thought you might be interested in my magical realism YA, LOVESENSE (55,000 words).
Okay, so I still don't know much about genre definitions, but I found a link where agent Vicki Motter talks about Magical Realism . . . and she'd not a fan of the term, though she's not the only agent out there. I still recommend YA Contemporary Fantasy or YA Paranormal Romance.
Seventeen-year-old RAE can look at a photograph of a couple and determine the length of their relationship by its smell—a strange gift of “lovesense” she’s always had. The worse the stench, the nastier the breakup. It’s why she owns more nose plugs than an Olympic swimmer, avoids checkout stand magazines, and dreads her photo counter job. Because Rae has never sniffed an everlasting relationship, she believes true love only exists in fairy tales.
There's a lot of great information in this paragraph, and I think all of it is important. I also love the quirky details about what she does to avoid smelling a bad relationship photo. I would consider rethinking "dreads" for her photo counter job. Dread suggests fear for a future evil, and, well, if she still has the job, she probably shows up there on a fairly regular basis. Maybe a different detail? Like never peeks at the wedding photos? Also, can she tell the length of time until breakup, or just how bad it will be?

Also, maybe it's just my own worldview, but I've seen tons and tons of successful relationships, so I have a hard time buying that she has never smelled something good from a couple's photo. Also, if no one ever gets good news about their relationship, why would people pay her to predict that they will break up? I'd buy that most relationships smell rotten, but all? I have a problem with that. Especially since it seems that Rae is seemingly the only one who can find her true love. Seems unfair, even if she is the MC.
Trying to make the best of her lovesense, she runs an anonymous drop-your-photo-and-cash-here business at school. As Rae focuses on passing Junior English and conquering the 110-meter hurdles, she smells relationships ending through bat guano, rotten eggs, and half-masticated rotting seal. Until an old photograph changes everything: Rae smells something good. And, this time, she’s in the picture.
Again, good details. I'd refine the phrase "she smells relationships ending through"--I love the detail on the bad smells, but the phrasing is awkward and I had to read it a few times. Also, since this paragraph starts talking about her business, it makes it seem like the photo was submitted to the drop-box, but that's not what it says. I'd suggest clarifying it one way or the other. I do love the detail that it's a picture of herself with a mysterious boy. 
Finding the grown-up version of the mysterious baby boy she once played with becomes her quest. But just as Rae begins to open herself to the idea of true love, her nemesis exposes Rae’s secret talent and illegal school activities. Now she’s suspended from school, banned from the City-County track meet, and rumored to be a psycho gypsy freak.
This paragraph is good, too, but I think it can be better. Instead of saying that finding the boy becomes her quest, is there a way to word it that also hints at her struggle to understand why she's bothering? Again, if she has even once seen/smelled a good solid relationship, she would have a reason to believe. What is it that makes her believe in love if all she has seen is failure? (AKA: That must have been some smell.)

Also, calling a nemesis a "nemesis" is rather cliche and cartooney. This is compounded by the fact that I'm guessing that the nemesis is the boy in the photo, so I want more details and I think you're trying to be sneaky by hiding behind cheesy labels--which only draws more attention to it. If I'm right, give him/her a gender (preferably male) and a name so that I can think I'm right and so I'll really really want to read the book to find out. If I'm wrong, leave the nemesis out and just say she's exposed. True nemeses are important--just ask Perry the Platypus--so they deserve a few more details. The more (brief) details you can give me about him/her, the more I'll wonder if my crazy theory is wrong.
Rae must embrace her lovesense and take a chance on love if she’s ever going to find her match, or face her classmates again.
I think this is adequate, but think about also tossing in her plan to thwart the nemesis. It'll be even better if my crazy theory is right and she's both trying to find him and thwart him. :)
I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript. The complete manuscript is available upon request.
I'm assuming you're also going to put some sort of biographical information in the query? If you have zero writing experience, it's okay to leave it out, but if there is anything that makes you the perfect person to write this book, it could be helpful to include it. 
Thank you for your time and consideration,Robin Hall
[Contact info redacted]
As I said before (and I'm not the first)--be careful not to let your query voice fall victim to a desire to take someone else's advice. In a toss-up between good voice and a perfectly structured, voiceless query, agents are more likely to overlook structural flaws than flat voice. Or so it seems to me. You write it the way you want it, and everyone else can butt out.

Speaking of whom, anyone else want to chime in? Any genre experts? Anyone else suspect that the nemesis is really Rae's true love?

10 comments:

  1. Nice! First, we know this is a good query because it makes me want to read the book.

    I think that magical realism sounds right for this genre. A slight quirk of extra-natural ability (like Tita's cooking ability in "Like Water for Chocolate") is precisely what MR does. UF or PR connotes a much higher concentration of paranormal element/creatures.

    I agree with you about her sniffing true love. If I had her gift, the first thing I'd do is get online and look at some of those we've-been-married-for-sixty-years couples. I think it would work just as well to say that in her time sniffing at the HS, she's never sniffed true love. I could buy that.

    Overall, though, I think this is a great query. I hope the book gets picked up so that I can buy it!

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    1. Well, there you go. Heidi is a much better source for genre advice than I am, btw. :)

      I do totally agree that I want to read it. :D

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    2. Thanks for your help, Heidi! So glad you want to read my book:)

      And yes, it's that she's never sniffed true love in HS (It's hard to scrape our stories to the bone and then still cram enough into queries to have voice and clarity) Perhaps that's the real reason we have to write these darn things. If we can write a good query, maybe, just maybe we can write a good story:)

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  2. I SO want to read this book.

    The only line that kind of threw me off was "half-masticated rotting seal." Because I got super distracted from the query, wondering how she knows what THAT smells like. O_o But maybe she lives by an ocean and she came across a seal corpse that a shark had...you see, I'm getting distracted and getting all sorts of visuals. ;)

    Still: I want to read this book!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Laura, you have a good point there. I have smelled half-masticated rotting seal, but it's doubtful that Rae has. Hmmm.

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  3. P.S. I should add that the only line that threw me off to distract me was that line. Plot-wise, I also wonder about the bit where she's never smelled any good kind of love.

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  4. This rewrite is so much better. I love the voice and I'd definitely read it. The only part i'm not crazy about is

    "Rae must embrace her lovesense and take a chance on love if she’s ever going to find her match, or face her classmates again"

    It wasn't clear to me what you meant at first and I'm not exactly sure what she needs to do and what the stakes are. Do you mean she needs to be proud of her ability and not worry about what everyone thinks(in order to be at school)? and also trust her sense enough to go after her true love and make herself vulnerable? I think you could keep the school info, but the boy is the main plot. I'd like to know what the school drama has to do with the boy (does he even go to her school? does she have to be at school to find him?) and have something about how she actually tries to find him or maybe a hint at what she'll have to do to get him. (of course you can't add too many more words either)

    an example of how I might reword:

    Afraid to show her face, Rae needs to embrace her lovesense and brave going back to school. Because that's where she'll find her true match.

    I don't know, maybe something like that...

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    1. I struggle with my last paragraph-it seems so blah. Thanks for giving it some thought and me some ideas for how to make it better:)

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  5. You're so good at this Robin! You should turn these posts into a book:-) I also don't understand magical realism. Love the premise behind this novel though--I want to read her book! Also, are those "You Might Also Like These Posts" totally random at the end of your blog? I saw the query contest I hosted w/ Nicole was on there and it just got my attention. BTW, that one girl never emailed me her query for you so I guess she forgot or changed her mind:-(

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  6. Robin W. Thanks so much for having me again. Your HNTWAQ must be helping because I think I'm starting to figure this out. One of these days I'm going to have a query that even I'm thrilled about.

    Thanks for hosting and the critique:)

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