Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: A Thread of Thankfulness

Last year was the first time I entered National Novel Writing Month. I got my 50,000 words written -- just squeaked by at the 11th hour -- but the book still remains to be finished. With any luck, that will happen during NaNo this year.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of NaNo '09, though at times I felt that I was taking a month-long break from reality. At other times, I questioned my sanity because reality refused to take a break from me. Last November for instance:

  • The book I was under contract for went to the publisher. This, of course, required the tying up of the myriad little editing loose ends that always accompany a major co-authoring project.
  • The school calendar included an entire week of half-days, which significantly impacted my writing plans. (It's a widely accepted fact that it's easier to be creative WITHOUT a six-year old hanging over one's shoulder asking to see what one is writing...)
  • The choir that I directed added additional practice days in preparation for our annual Christmas cantata the second week of December.
  • My family & I went on a 3-day Thanksgiving trip to a ginormous waterpark -- which significantly impacted my ability to say "I'm going to go write now" with any real credibility.
Now, for me, NaNo is as much a part of Thanksgiving as eating too much on the final Thursday of the month.  NaNo and Thanksgiving are inextricably intertwined in my mind.  Few things make me more thankful than having the time to write.  And a concentrated month of my family supporting my crazy career path only fuels my thankfulness.

I am so thankful to Robert, my wonderful husband, and my very good friend Chari, who read as I wrote last year and clamored for more chapters. They pushed me to keep writing -- even when I got around word 30,000 or so and became convinced that my doing NaNo was an exercise in generating crap.

Robert has always been my biggest fan. He has known of the story I am writing (in all its permuations) for years. Chari, on the other hand, is completely unfamiliar with the material. She's my "newest fan." Both of them kept me going.

This year, I was considering three different projects for NaNo.  Both Robert & Chari chose for me: they insisted that I finish the novel I started last year.  (Chari pitched a rather remarkable fit about the evils of writers who force their avid readers "to wait an entire freaking year to find out what happens.")

It pains me to admit that last year I plugged along with the project for awhile, but against my own advice ended up editing what I'd written instead of finishing the thing. Then I allowed Real Life and other projects to pull me off track.  This year, the 50K that NaNo requires will be just the thing to finish it.

I am also thankful for the students I've worked with who took the time to let me know that I was of use to them in some way. Last year at least three fellow NaNo contestants participated because I mentioned the contest in one of my workshops & encouraged students to sign up.  None of the three had ever written anything lengthy before, and all three finished!  Sometimes all a writer needs is someone to think he or she is up to a particular challenge. I love being that person!

And so, as this November looms, bringing its own bag of challenges, here's to all my writer friends -- especially those of you who are ready to jump into NaNo with both feet. May you continually find yourself surrounded with those who encourage you to grow, who support your dreams, and who fill you with thankfulness!

Are you a writer who is participating in NaNoWriMo this year?  Good luck! I invite you to take a moment to leave a note of thanks to those who you are most thankful for.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Query Quest IV: Ready to Send

The past few posts have featured the evolution of Writing Practicum member Bob Ghent's query letter from First Attempt to Gawky Adolescent Query to Yes! It's Ready / OOops! It's Not Query.

Regular readers know that just as Bob was planning on sending out the query featured in yesterday's blog, he DISCOVERED A MAJOR FLAW RUNNING THROUGH IT AND ALL PREVIOUS VERSIONS!

The horror!

Upon noticing the flaw, Bob did what any well-intentioned query newbie should do. He synthesized what he had learned thus far, incorporated his new knowledge, and wrote a kick-butt query letter that easily tops all earlier versions.

What was the problem? you ask? If you haven't spotted it yet, I'll give Bob the honor of the Big Reveal. Take it away, Bob...

~Drum Roll~


P.O.V. Point Of View! The most recent version of the query featured at least five shifts in POV! First Tonk, then Cira, Strager, Jace, and back to Cira. I didn’t stick to the POV of the protagonist(s). The query is only 244 words. How hard could it be to keep a single POV? No wonder it felt choppy when I read it.

Here's the final version -- the one I'm sending out

Version 6 - 226 words

Cira and Jace discover dragons are real when a young Tonk falls from the sky. They learn his wings are too small to fly back to the portal and when it closes in twenty-four hours, it will seal his death. Cira’s heart goes out to Tonk and determines that she and her thirteen-year old twin must save him.

They learn of a mysterious handwritten book about magic and dragons. Their search for it involves them with Kade, a seven-foot felon willing to kill to get a dragon. They cannot turn to the sheriff for help. He wants Tonk for revenge against a rogue dragon that murdered his wife.

Cira and an unlikely ally hide Tonk while Jace continues searching. He finds the book, learns its secrets and when kidnapped by Kade is forced to reveal Tonk’s location. He attempts to escape but it leaves him near death and allows Kade to capture Tonk.

The rogue dragon returns with a dangerous agenda. Magic sword in hand and astride a dragon whose heart is larger than its wings, Cira battles the rogue. However, it is brutally strong. She fails and has only seconds to discover the secret of her one resource or die.

The twins are polar opposites and must learn that working together is the only way to defeat Kade, stalemate the sheriff and return Tonk home.

(NOTE: Of course, salutation, title, genre, word count, & author contact information are all included.)


And with that, Bob hit:

Hoping this was helpful to those on their own Query Quest. What process did you go through as your own query letter(s) evolved? Care to share?

["Send button" featured on]

Monday, October 18, 2010

Query Quest III: The Fatally Flawed Query

On Friday, Bob Ghent, a member of my Writing Practicum, shared his edited query letter with another self-made markup that showed he still had work to do. (See Query Quest I for the original query letter before the edits began.)

Today's query version is the one he thought he was going to send -- until a last minute review of the Query Shark's do's and don't's illuminated a heretofore unseen fatal flaw... Which he'll discuss and fix in tomorrow's post.

First, however, the one he was GOING to send:


Version 4 - 244 words

Tonk is a young dragon that accidently falls from a magical world into the modern lives of teenagers Cira and Jace. His portal is one hundred miles above their home and will close in twenty four hours. Too small to fly home, Tonk will soon die on Earth. Cira’s heart is touched and she demands that Jace help her find a way to return him.

• “Accidently” – not needed. Plus, it's spelled wrong.
• “His portal is one hundred” – Exposition that doesn’t really move the story line along.
• “On Earth” – Obviously he is on Earth if he can’t get home. Not needed. The sentence is not that good. It can be better.

They learn of a mysterious handwritten book about magic and dragons. The search for it involves Strager, a vengeful sheriff who lost his wife to a rogue dragon four months earlier. He is desperate to capture Tonk but must also deal with Kade, a seven foot felon willing to kill to get a dragon.

• “Must also deal with Kade” – So what? Not my problem if the sheriff has to deal with Kade . . . Or my readers! AND it’s really not the sheriff that has to deal with Kade, IT’S THE TWINS!
• “A seven foot felon willing to kill” – Too vague. Does this threaten someone?

Jace continues searching while Cira and an unlikely ally hide Tonk. Jace finds the book and learns its secrets but when kidnapped by Kade, he must reveal Tonk’s location. His attempt to escape leaves him near death and allows Kade to capture Tonk.

• “Jace finds the book” – This is a complex sentence that stumbles along with the words “and, but and he must”. Cumbersome to read.

The rogue dragon returns with a dangerous agenda.  Magic sword in hand and astride a dragon whose heart is larger than its wings, Cira battles the rogue.  However, it is brutally strong.  Her efforts fail and while falling toward earth with only seconds to live, she refuses to give up.

• “Her efforts fail” – This sentence is too wordy.
• “She refuses to give up” – Another, SO WHAT. This does not show her struggling with options or any decision she might have to make to save her life.

The twins are polar opposites but their strengths are complimentary. Cira, her dragon and Jace become an unstoppable team that wins over the sheriff, defeats Kade and reunites Tonk with his family.

• “Strengths are complimentary” – Sounds nice but it’s not needed.
• “Cira, her dragon and” – Long sentence that wraps up the story with a neat little bow. Never tell the ending! I think it’s better to wrap up the end with a challenge for our protagonist(s) to solve.


Bob notes:

Tomorrow, the major flaw exposed & the resulting (final) query...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Query Quest II: The Juvenile Query

Yesterday's post was the first installment of Query Quest. In it, Bob Ghent, a member of my weekly Writing Practicum, graciously agreed to transparently share the process he used to craft his first query letter.

His query went through several revisions before he deemed it fit for being sent out into the world.  Today, the first major re-write -- which resulted in a letter that still lacked focus and frame. I present: the Juvenile Query Letter...

Version 3 -- 244 Words

A dragon named Tonk falls from a magical world into the modern lives of thirteen year old twins, Cira and Jace.  The portal he fell through is one hundred miles straight up and will close in 24 hoursHe is too young to reach it and will die if he stays.  Jace knows it is impossible to return Tonk but Cira’s heart is touched and she demands he help her find a way.

  • “He is too young to reach it” – Poor sentence.  Reword for fewer words and better structure.
  • “Impossible to return Tonk” – Not needed and does not show the consequences of staying.

They learn of a mysterious handwritten book about dragons.  Their search leads to Strager, a vengeful sheriff who lost his wife to a rogue dragon just four months earlier.  Strager plans to capture Tonk but he must also deal with Kade, a seven foot felon who will kill to get a dragon.

  • “Strager plans” – Planning does not show Strager in action.

Jace continues searching for the book while Cira and an unlikely ally hide Tonk.  Jace learns the book’s secrets but Kade kidnaps him and he must reveal Tonk’s hiding place.  Jace attempts an escape but it leaves him drowning in Henderson Lake and lets Kade capture Tonk.

  • “Drowning in Henderson Lake” – Too specific.  Telling the story is a no, no.

With magic sword in hand and astride a dragon whose heart is larger than its wings, Cira battles the rogue dragon.  However, he is brutally strong and she must chance a desperate move.  She fails, her dragon is in grave danger and she searches for options while falling to earth.

  • “Cira battles the rogue dragon” – Time line problem. It sounds like it should go with the murder of Strager’s wife but it doesn’t.
  • “She fails” – Long complex sentence.

The twins are polar opposites but their strengths bind them together for one purpose – to return a youngling dragon to his home.

  • “Return a youngling dragon” – There’s more to the story than this. Weak ending.

After this edit, Bob went back to the proverbial drawing board, ready to make the adolescent grow up & get a job! Tomorrow, we'll see what he thought was his ready-to-send Edited Version... And discover a Fatal Flaw that he identified only at the eleventh hour.

How's your own Query Quest faring? Do you have any experience with "Juvenile Queries?" If so, please share. I'd love to hear how you worked things out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Query Quest I: A Query Letter for the Trashcan

Bob Ghent is a member of the weekly Writing Practicum that I facilitate.  He's an engineer at heart, so he's our go-to guy for spotting things in our writing that don't add up or that don't make sequential sense.

He has recently finished "DRAGOOLEND," a fantasy for middle grade readers.  Now he is heavily involved in the umpteenth edit.  He is also researching how to write a query letter -- a daunting task for nearly all writers, but especially so for first-timers.

Bob has done his research.  He's been studying the Query Shark website and applying the advice he found there.  For three weeks, he brought only his query letter to our Tuesday night Writer's Practicum so we could critique it and help him polish it. But all the work he did was his own.

I asked Bob if he would share his query writing process here.  He has graciously agreed to.  In today's installment, Query Quest begins:


My first query letter turned out to be more of a synopsis and way too long so I didn’t include it in this blog post. This starts with version 2.

I read several Query Shark critiques to help me get some ideas. Anyone writing fiction should visit that site and carefully read the good, the bad and the ugly query letters.I made a list of a little over 30 tips from the critiques.

After I completed each version, I used the tips to critique my work. It was an eye opener!

I sent version number 5 to Query Shark and only five minutes after I hit the send button, I found more changes I wish I had made.

My final, number six, is the one I wish I had sent. Well, it’s spilled milk and all of that. It’s a waiting game now.

The query letter versions are below. Needed changes are underlined, w/ comments I expect The Shark might make in blue.

Version 2 – 258 words

A youngling dragon named Tonk falls from a magical world into the modern lives of thirteen year old twins, Cira and Jace. Tonk’s wings are too small to return him home and he will die if he stays. Cira is quick to help but Jace sees the impossible side. The portal to return Tonk is at the top of the sky.It will close in twenty four hours.

  • “Youngling” takes up space and it seems more specific than a query letter needs.  It is also redundant for “wings are too small” in line two. 
  • “Is at the top of the sky” is vague.
  • “Close in twenty-four hours” Conveys little more than a mild problem and does not show any consequence.

As often happens, Jace yields to his sister and their quest reveals the existence of a mysterious handwritten book about dragons and magic. Their search for it uncovers others who know about dragons; a vengeful sheriff and Kade, a seven-foot felon.

  • “Others who know” – So what?  Where’s the danger?  Why should we care?

The sheriff closes in and Cira must leave to hide Tonk. Jace continues the search and discovers how to return Tonk but Kade kidnaps him before he delivers the answer. A daring last minute escape leads Jace to certain death and Kade to Tonk.

  •  The sheriff closes in – Specific detail not necessary in a query letter.
  •  “Certain death” implies Jace dies and I did not want that.
The wild card is a lone dragon that arrives with a dangerous agenda. It murders the sheriff’s wife and a mile above Cira’s hometown it springs a surprise attack against her. Astride her dragon and with magical sword in hand, she battles the powerful dragon but the battle proves unwinnable. Gathering courage for her last seconds of life, she encounters a magical being that knows how to defeat the dragon. However, he is upset with her and is willing to let her die.

  • “The wild card” – Not needed.
  •  “Gathering courage” – This involves two lines that lengthen the query letter and seems to have specific detail not needed in a query letter.
To defeat their enemies and return Tonk, the twins must do something they have never done.They must trust each other.
  •  “Something they have never done” – Weak.

That was Bob's first pass. This query letter was relegated to the trashcan & an edit commenced.  Tomorrow, he'll share the next incarnation of his query letter as he continued in his quest for the Perfect Query -- one that results in "send me pages."

Does the thought of writing a query letter fill you with trepidation? Would you rather have oral surgery than try to attract an agent's attention?  Why not try Bob's approach?  Write a letter knowing that you're going to trash it.  Then edit it relentlessly.  Do you have any experience with writing a "trashy" query letter? Comment below & let me know.