Sunday, January 13, 2013

Monday's Mixed Ink/Operation Agent Ink Query Dissection

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The art of writing is a curious and delicious habit of mine. I love writing a mysterious character who is absolutely perfect. Then, I take a special little flaw and throw it at her. She gets mad at me, but only for a while. Because she realizes that even in a book, nobody can be perfect.

So here's what I do: I give my character something to love, something to hate, something she craves that gives her joy, and something that scares the heeby-jeebies out of her. Then, I mix all of that up with a flaw that can't be overlooked and watch my perfect little character become a stronger person.

What do you do when creating a new character?


Now, it's time for our query dissection. I've posted a query letter below and it's up to you to let us know what you love about it and what you don't like. There are agents spying on us today, and they have agreed to give us their thoughts as well.

Tuesday the 15th will be your turn to post your query and get suggestions that may help improve your letter!

Query: (only the meat of the query is included here)


Lies of the Ball
Historical Fiction

-->
She’s a runaway slave.
The man she loves is the one who could destroy her.

Southern beauty Mercedes Albright lives in the prettiest plantation house Mississippi has to offer. She hosts the most beautiful parties in the entire South, and dances as though she were the belle of the ball. Mercedes is the most eligible bachelorette in town. And she has a secret that if ever found out, it would ruin her for the rest of her life.

Careful laid plans put Mercedes in good standing with the wealthy socialites of Vicksburg. To her downfall, the man she falls desperately in love with is the man whose father sold her mother years before at the slave market. Mercedes was bought by another man and sent to live in another town.

Returning to the place of her birth, Mercedes has only one thing in mind: revenge on the family who stole her childhood and ripped her mother from her arms. She never intended to fall in love with her enemy. She never expected he would learn her true identity. Now, she’s on the run again, but this time, it’s for a different reason.

19 comments:

  1. Query letter: Good plot summary. I know what it's about and where the story is aiming. The only problem I have is with some phrasing.

    'To her downfall, the man she falls desperately in love with is the man whose father sold her mother years before at the slave market. Mercedes was bought by another man and sent to live in another town.' The second sentence seems redundant while the first feels clumsy. Maybe change it to - She's fallen in love with the man whose father sold Merecede's mother into slavery'.

    As for my characters, I sit in on my sofa and chat with them...and then I wonder why people think I'm strange.

    Good luck with the querying.

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    1. I love having discussions with my characters. They tell me so much about themselves. In fact, I just finished a pretty intimate conversation with my MC's BFF.

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  2. Will these agents also take a peek at our query letters? My revamped one has four lines, including the hook.

    The hook of the above query is weak. I don't even want to read more.

    Most of the stuff in the first chapter is irrelevant. At this stage, it doesn't matter if she has the best parties. The last line of that paragraph could make a decent hook combined with her past as a runaway slave.

    I'll come back to thin a little later. It's nearly 5am and my brain isn't focusing after an all-nighter of editing.

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    1. "Mercedes Albright escapes slavery only to become trapped by her love of a master."

      I think that, for a hook, something like this has more action. She escapes and yet becomes trapped, versus she is this and he is that. That he is the son of the man who sold her mother isn't relevant at this second. He is either a master, or sounds like he is. So the hook is true.

      There's some redundancy in there. "The man she falls desperately in love with is the man," takes up extra space and time, however little, to read. Telling the reader she was sold to a different master than her mother is implies, though their separate sales can still be clarified in one condensed sentence. I'd rewrite the above as:


      Mercedes Albright escapes slavery only to become trapped by her love of a master.

      Careful laid plans put Mercedes in good standing with the wealthy socialites of Vicksburg. While living in the finest plantation house Mississippi has to offer, she hosts the most beautiful parties in the entire South and is the most desirable bachelorette in town. But she has a secret that if ever found out, it would ruin her for the rest of her life.

      Mercedes falls desperately in love with is the man whose father sold her and her mother to separate new owners years before at the slave market.

      Returning to the place of her birth, Mercedes has only one thing in mind: revenge on the family who stole her childhood and ripped her from her mother's arms. She never expected to fall in love with her enemy or that he would learn her true identity. Now, she’s on the run again, but this time, it’s for a different reason.
      ________________

      Now one thing that is distracting is how a former slave, who is likely to be black, managed to find now only acceptance, but marital desirability in Mississippi of all places, during an active time of slavery. For several decades post-slavery black people still weren't allowed to own property in many places (not until 1945 were racial bans seen as a constitutional violation), and it wasn't until the late 60's that the Supreme Court barred states from banning interracial marriage. So this doesn't jibe with the elite in a Mississippi town seeking her her hand in a marriage that couldn't happen.

      Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but I do believe if I'm distracted by these things, then some agents might be too. Disbelief can only be suspended so much. The story may be wonderful, but I don't think a query should raise questions of plausibility for a novel that isn't speculative, sci-fi, or fantasy.

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    2. There are two key elements in the query:

      #1 she has a secret that could destroy her if ever found out. I'd say it's a pretty good secret...

      #2 is the careful laid plans. Years of planning and secrets are about to explode in this town.

      A very in-depth study and research about slavery and how slaves were treated during this time period make the story not only believable but possible. In fact, the story is based on true events!!

      Delete
    3. I love this one line hook you suggested:

      "Mercedes Albright escapes slavery only to become trapped by her love of a master."

      Thanks!

      Delete
  3. I love the hook because it's simple while telling us something about the protagonist and her stakes in two succinct sentences.

    The next paragraph confused me at first, and I didn't realize we were talking about the same person at first. Once I realized that the second paragraph did tie in with the first two sentences I liked it because it's a good set up of the life the protag currently lives and tells us something about her. It also sets her up for a fall, which adds to both the plot and the emotional stakes. While the confusion is an issue that could give someone pause, I'm not sure there's a better way around it.

    The third paragraph reveals Mercedes' true intentions and not just about her enjoying pretty balls. The chick has balls! She's gutsy, conflicted, loyal, and in love; and that love could destroy her. It sounds like all the elements are there for a juicy love story while still being much more than the average historical romance because it tackles the prejudices of the times.

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    1. You nailed the book. I love how you explained it and you haven't even read the first chapter. Oo-lala!

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  4. Southern beauty Mercedes Albright lives in the MOST LAVISH plantation house Mississippi has to offer. She hosts the most ELEGANT parties in the entire South, and REIGNS AS QUEEN OF ALL HER GATHERINGS. Mercedes is the most eligible bachelorette in town. And she has a secret that if ever found out, it would ruin her for the rest of her life.

    I'D SUGGEST GETTING RID OF THE WEAKER ADJECTIVES AND FINDING SOME THAT HAVE MORE DEPTH AND INTEREST. ALSO I'D SUGGEST NOT STARTING WITH THOSE FIRST SENTENCES. AT FIRST, I THOUGHT THERE WERE TWO WOMEN IN THE STORY.

    HER CarefulLY laid plans HAVE ESTABLISHED Mercedes AS ONE OF THE wealthIEST socialites of Vicksburg. BUT the man she falls desperately in love with is the man whose father sold her mother INTO slaveRY YEARS BEFORE . Mercedes was bought by another man and sent to live in another town.

    Returning to the place of her birth, Mercedes has only one thing in mind: revenge. SHE'S DETERMINED TO RUIN the family who stole her childhood and ripped her mother from her arms. She never intended to fall in love with her enemy. She never expected he would learn her true identity. Now, she’s on the run again, but this time, it’s for a different reason.

    SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT STORY. GOOD LUCK WITH IT.

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    1. Thank you so much for your insights! Stronger adjectives. Right! Working on it now!

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  5. I like the idea of your story, but I had trouble with the first two sentences of your second paragraph as well, and the first paragraph seemed like it had too much information. The third paragraph really got into the meat of the story, and I would focus a hook around that.

    I kept thinking about it . . and here's a shortened version (just an idea):
    Southern beauty Mercedes Albright lives in the prettiest plantation house Mississippi has to offer. And she has a secret that if ever found out, it would ruin her for the rest of her life. She's a runaway slave. Carefully laid plans put Mercedes in good standing with the wealthy socialites of Vicksburg.

    Returning to the place of her birth, Mercedes has only one thing in mind: revenge on the family who stole her childhood and ripped her mother from her arms. She never intended to fall in love with her enemy. She never expected he would learn her true identity. Now, she’s on the run again, but this time, it’s for a different reason.

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    1. Thank you for your suggestions. I will put them to good use!

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  6. The story sounds interesting, and I like the setting and situation. Makes it unique.

    Unfortunately, the first 2 sentences did nothing for me. They don't introduce the MC and don't make a unique hook. Like the others, I found the first paragraph pretty packed with back-story/character description, instead of getting to the meat.

    I personally found the first sentence of the third paragraph a good hook line. Then, I'd put a very short part about her wonderful life and difficult past without going into detail (short). And then I'd go into the problem/conflict. Maybe a line or two about the man, a little about her relationship with him, or maybe the tension at the discovery... simply the 'dramatic/tense' grabbers, instead of explaining how she got where she is.

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    1. Thanks T (!) I'm thinking about the tension addition right now:)

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  7. Hi! I wanted to give a few thoughts about this query! :)

    I like the beginning. It’s short, to the point and simple. It shows us it’s a romance and the problem with that romance right away.

    -When I read queries, I don’t focus on the adjectives or adverbs. It’s hard to write a query or a synopsis for most people. So if an author can get the book in a few sentences, explaining the main characters, plot and problem I’m one happy camper.

    -Although, when I first read this, I thought there were two different characters. When I read back over it, I realized it wasn’t. I would start the paragraph beginning ‘Careful,’ differently so that we know that you’re continuing Mercedes’ part and not starting in on another character.

    -Besides that I do not see anything wrong with the query. It sounds pretty interesting. 

    Brittany Booker! :)

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  8. It's not bad, but it could be reworked to hook the reader better. For instance, the first 2 lines could be left out. I would also suggest condensing the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs. Not a bad start.

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  9. I actually assume my characters are fully formed, then put them into various situations to see how they react.

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  10. ooo ooo ooo!! love your blurb!!
    and
    magnificent strategy! my superhero girl has a tortured past, but needs a flaw and a fear! mwa ha ha!
    thanks!

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  11. I love your technique of creating your characters! Those are super ways to make them real. :)

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