Aug 2, 2010

Monday, Monday--So Good to Me. Er, to You!

Jo and I have had so, so much fun reading all your input on what hooks you, what makes a good query, and what magical phrase can get you to pick up a book.

And for those of you who haven't read the comments, the fabulous Holly came up with this killer Query Checklist, modeled off the few sentences I shared about 13 Reasons Why:

"1) Premise: who is this about (in this case, teenage guy named Clay)
2) Inciting incident: what happens to Clay to rock his world (tape arrives on door)
3) Conflict: What does the inciting incident make the MC do? (find out why she recorded tapes and killed herself)
4) Character motivation: Why does the inciting incident make the MC do #3 (because she was the one girl he loved)

If set up well, this is enough information to hook me!"

YES! This is, point by point, what I would love to see in every query. And that is such an awesome, concise list. Thanks, Holly!

The other thing a lot of you mentioned is the dreaded "I am so close to my characters and story that I am inclined to over-share because OMG I LOVE THEM and want to tell you everything" curse.

As far as writing problems go, I think this is actually a pretty great one. Passion is a much looked for, much loved quality in writers--not only because it means you love your work and will promote the heck out of it, but because it generally means you are passionate about writing itself, and thus very dedicated to continue practicing the craft.

So. I love that you love your story. Trust me, agents want to love it, too. But knowing everything up front rarely (if ever) garners that response. That passion that you have, the same one you want agents to have, comes by hooking and luring.

I have a weird metaphor for this. You know the claw-machines with the stuffed animals inside? Those things ate my allowance every month when I was a kid. My mom frequently reminded me that I could go *buy* a stuffed animal for the kind of money I was blowing. But that wasn't the point. The point was that I wanted to win it. I wanted to feel like I had wanted it, and worked for it, and then won.

Overall, that's how you want readers (and agents) to feel about your book--you want them to develop a personal relationship with the story. Readers should start by caring about the characters, and once they do, have to struggle through the inciting incident with them, so that when the story ends, they feel they have earned the ending through the emotional investment they made with the character/story. And for an agent, that bonding process begins with the query. An overview of the whole story is not going to accomplish what a connection to the main character or the plot set-up will. Agents have to want to invest themselves in the story.

Samantha C. cited an excellent piece of advice from the always amazing Kristin Nelson: write a query based on the first fifty pages of your story. That number of pages should cover a connection to the character, as well as the set-up for the main problem/incident your character will face.

And as a thank you for the thoughtful comments/love you've been showing the blog, we have a giveaway for you!

Also because it is Monday, and this seems like a good way to cure any Monday blues. We'll try to brighten up many more of your Mondays in the future with more free books :)

Today, we have The Writer's Little Helper, by James V. Smith, Jr. It's filled with great checklists, Q&As, and tools for your writing.

To win, leave a comment! It does not have to be about anything in particular. Although if you wanted to share what you were spending all of your allowance on while I spent every last quarter trying to hook stuffed animals, I'd love to hear.

Well, every quarter I had leftover from book-shopping, anyways. A girl has to have priorities.

*Enter the contest by midnight Wednesday (tomorrow) night!


Sarah N Fisk said...

Well, I didn't get allowance as a kid... However, we had this great children's community center on base (military brat) in Key West that I still remember hanging out at after school every day when I was in 2nd grade. If I ever had money, I'd usually buy a snack there.

storyqueen said...

I love the claw metaphor! (And the whole notion of "earning" in a book.)

Maybe it's that old notion that you get what you pay for....or that nothing free is worth having kind of thing. Characters have to earn their endings....

And speaking of the nothing-free-is-worth-having thing, I remember having a garage sale and not wanting to put prices on stuff...really I just wanted to get rid of when people asked how much something was, I'd say, "Just take it. You can have it for free."

And guess what? Half of the time they put it back down! If it was free, they didn't want it!

So.....there's that.


Najela said...

I liked Thirteen Reasons Why and the hook that you just outline is a good way to describe a story. I might use that for my story. I was having trouble pinpointing the focus of the story.

I like the idea of it being like those claw machines. You don't want to go buy it, you want to win it! In all my years, I've only saw one person win a toy for his daughter, but it wasn't the toy she wanted so she threw a fit. lol.

Piedmont Writer said...

An investment...I used to spend my money on legal pads and fine point pens so I could write. (This was way before computers and I couldn't afford an electric typewriter.)

I've since found other ways to write but every so often I grab my pad and a pen and sit out on the porch, trying a new hook to reel something in.

Mylady said...

When I was in elementary school a group of kids in the neighborhood would go down to the corner drug store and buy boston baked beans, lemon heads, necco wafers and little bags of cotton candy. Then we would carry them home to my house to eat while we watched the Saturday afternoon horse races.
Before each race we would sit criss-cross-applesauce and study the names that flashed on the screen. On some lucky days we would even get to see a cameo of each horse. From there we would make our individual choices – what name called to us – which horse was worth our bet. Once you picked - that horse was yours – no changes, no take backs.
When the race began, we leaned forward, pumped our fists in the air and screamed for all we were worth . And for a few magical minutes pure excitement carried us out of my family room and to a place where we could feel the breeze on our faces, the pounding of the hooves under our seats.
If your horse won you jumped up and screamed louder while others threw themselves back to lay down in defeat. No money exchanged hands, you won nothing but everyone else’s admiration for the day. And that was enough.
Which is so much like writing. You are so right – the feeling is like winning. The money is nice – but what we really want is for someone else to admire what we wrote.

Deb Salisbury said...

Thank you for reposting Holly's comments - that is great advice for writing a query! I battle with what to include with every version. I want to make you love my story, too. :)

Hardygirl said...

I like Kristin Nelson's query-writing advice. I always say way too much, and my queries end up as gushers. I just don't know where to stop and leave that hook!

And, yeah. I've got the Monday blues. Our AC is out--and the thermometer reached 104 today. Bleah!


Abby Stevens said...

I didn't really get an allowance, per sae, but what money I did get I spent on books and movie theatre tickets! Had to have my books and movies! (Still do, come to think of it...)

Alicia Gregoire said...

I got an allowance, but I can't remember what I consistently used it on. I definitely used it on New Kids on the Block trading cards at one point...

Chersti Nieveen said...

That was a great claw analogy, and I think it summed it up perfectly! I agree with what storyqueen added about how characters have to earn their endings. I think it's important for the character to grow -- if they don't have challenges to face, then how can they have a character arc by the end of the book? That way the protag can better come to understand themselves as the story progresses, and the reader is going on that same journey of self-discovery.

Holly Bodger said...

I am SO changing my legal name to "the fabulous Holly"! Right after I stop grinning.

Christauna Asay said...

My allowances were supposed to be saved for summer vacation but going garage sale-ing with my dad most Saturday mornings broke my resolve. Did you know that garage sales have a wealth of unwanted and seriously nice stuffed animals for only a dime? Game over.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Like Mylady, I spent most of my quarters on candy such as Lemon Heads (I never cared much for the Boston Baked Beans). But when I got anything bigger than a quarter, I tended to save it. I was such a miser that my parents even gave me money for souvenirs when we went on a trip but said I'd have to give it back if I didn't spend it, and I still didn't spend it!