Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

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writeaskew
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Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by writeaskew » May 31st, 2010, 8:35 pm

**New Version In Post 5 Below***

Hi everyone! I've worked this thing over a million and one times. (Actually, 12 times, but it feels like a million) I'm lookng forward to any feedback you can give me. Thanks so much.

Dear Agent,

Barbara knows her family is crazy and dysfunctional. But when Barbara wakes up the morning of her family’s Christmas party she swears things will be different this year. She won’t wait by the door, disappointed that her aunts and uncles don’t come to help decorate anymore. She won’t let the pain and loss of the last few Christmases get her down. She lays her plans carefully, reliving her favorite childhood Christmases and remembering how close her family used to be. She relies on the support of her new step-sister and an uncle with a knack for mischief to help pull her through.

Loving her family is easier said than done though. Before dinner even hits the table Barbara’s plans are in shambles. Her aunts have already begun their traditional holiday gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and ready to remind everyone how bad holidays with the family can be. By the time the presents have been opened Barbara’s grandmother is in tears and all Barbara wants to do is escape.

Barbara feels increasingly helpless as her hopes for a reconciled family fall apart. The harder she tries the more she discovers she’s part of the problem. Driven to the edge by her relatives, Barbara loses her temper and causes a scene. When her good intentions go up in smoke she realizes she has to become part of her family if she wants to help them heal. Standing on the outside, struggling to find her place, Barbara must reconcile what she wants her family to be with what it has become if she wants a chance to love them the way she used to.

HANG A SHINING STAR, complete at 80,000 words, is a contemporary women’s fiction about a young woman learning to live with her family when they are crazy, inescapable and still worth loving

Per your submission guidelines, etc.

Very Truly Yours,
Writeaskew
Last edited by writeaskew on June 1st, 2010, 10:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Quill
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by Quill » May 31st, 2010, 9:28 pm

writeaskew wrote:
Barbara knows her family is crazy and dysfunctional. But when Barbara wakes up the morning of her family’s Christmas party she swears things will be different this year.
I'm liking your writing but seeing some areas where word order can be improved. How about something like "B knows her family is dysfunctional but this year when she wakes up the morning of her family's Christmas part she swears things will be different." Emphasis on 'different', no need for crazy and dysfunctional, eliminates one "Barbara".
She won’t wait by the door, disappointed that her aunts and uncles don’t come to help decorate anymore.
Same here, "She won’t wait by the door, disappointed again that her aunts and uncles don’t come to help decorate."
She won’t let the pain and loss of the last few Christmases get her down.
This is weaker because it tells instead of showing. Maybe put another example instead, like the great aunts and uncles line?
She lays her plans carefully, reliving her favorite childhood Christmases and remembering how close her family used to be.
I'm confused now. What plans? Reliving her childhood, like, to put herself in a better mood is her plans?
She relies on the support of her new step-sister and an uncle with a knack for mischief to help pull her through.
Still confused. What mischief? Pull her through what, the party? Again doesn't seem too momentous? Sounding like the main conflict of the story is to get through Christmas. Is that it? If so, definitely emphasize the trauma and its causes up front. Simply getting up the day of the party determined to have a better time of it doesn't seem enough.
Loving her family is easier said than done though.
Comma after "done" but I'd like to see a more dynamic statement, and without a cliche like "easier said than done" to really highlight your writing ability.
Before dinner even hits the table Barbara’s plans are in shambles.
If her "plans" are important we need to know what they are. Simply having a better attitude is all I've gotten so far. Also, the idea might be improved by replacing "hits the table" and "in shambles" with something more original.
Her aunts have already begun their traditional holiday gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and ready to remind everyone how bad holidays with the family can be. By the time the presents have been opened Barbara’s grandmother is in tears and all Barbara wants to do is escape.
This kind of goes over old ground, since you've already introduced us to the problem. I say strengthen the original exposition by working in some of this, and eliminate the reiteration here. Move on to the big inciting incident.
Barbara feels increasingly helpless as her hopes for a reconciled family fall apart.
Eliminate "as her hopes for a reconciled family fall apart" which should be obvious without telling it.
The harder she tries the more she discovers she’s part of the problem.
Tries what?? And specifically, what problem? Her aunts' gossiping? Her sister's drunkenness? It can't just be generally, part of the dysfunction. Make it specific.
Driven to the edge by her relatives,
Omit.
Barbara loses her temper and causes a scene.
Both "loses her temper" and "causes a scene" are too mild and vague for the big moment of your query.
When her good intentions go up in smoke she realizes she has to become part of her family if she wants to help them heal.
Omit as unneeded.
Standing on the outside, struggling to find her place, Barbara must reconcile what she wants her family to be with what it has become if she wants a chance to love them the way she used to.
This needs to be stated in a more...commercial, less convoluted way. It sounds like it needs to be akin to the logline of your book, a sentence that sums it up elegantly.

Is the whole book about that one day? That might be best made clear, to provide context.
HANG A SHINING STAR, complete at 80,000 words, is a contemporary women’s fiction about a young woman learning to live with her family when they are crazy, inescapable and still worth loving
This is not the place to encapsulate the plot. This should have already been done. Stop after "fiction."

Mountain Lion
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by Mountain Lion » June 1st, 2010, 1:10 am

I think you should start with the scene Barbara creates and tell us what it is. Then tell us how she got there and what she hopes to change. Right now there is too much set up and contemplation before you get to the moment of action and conflict. Action first, then touch on the conflict, then tell us her goals/hopes.
But it sounds like there will be a lot of interesting emotional content and characters. Can't wait to read more.
ML

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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by Sleeping Beauty » June 1st, 2010, 1:28 am

My two cents - I get the sense that this story is set over one day. Christmas Day, to be precise. Your query begins with Barbara waking up on Christmas morning; the middle part concerns the disasterous events of the day, and the last part vaguely states that Barbara has some issues to work through with her family... over pudding, I assume?

If it actually is set over one day, ignore me. But if there's a longer timeframe, I'm not getting any sign of that here.

writeaskew
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by writeaskew » June 1st, 2010, 9:38 am

Hi! Thanks for the fantastic feedback. I've been working on this thing for ages, and I feel like this is the most constructive criticisn I've received so far. I really appreciate it. I'll be back soon with a revision, and an attempt to make the letter sing.

And you're right, the book takes place during one very hectic day.

WA

writeaskew
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by writeaskew » June 1st, 2010, 10:12 am

Alright, I took the advice you gave me and came up with something a little different. I like it, but I'm terrified it's too long. Any help you can give me would be spectacular.

Thanks again.

Dear Agent,

Barbara never meant to ruin Christmas for her family. The morning of her family’s Christmas party she swore things were going to be different. But her cousin’s new doll is melting in the fireplace, her grandmother is in tears and all Barbara wants to do is escape.

Barbara knows her family is dysfunctional, but she wants to love them. She wants to have the feeling she did as a little girl- that her family was perfect. She laid her plans carefully, reliving her favorite childhood Christmases and remembering how close her family used to be. This year, there weren’t going to be any scenes. She wasn’t going to wait by the door, disappointed again that her aunts and uncles don’t come to help decorate anymore. They were going to outdo the wattage of the neighbor’s lights display. Everyone was going to be happy to be together again—no one was going to end up crying over the past.

When the family arrives everything goes to hell and Barbara’s good intentions disappear. Her aunts have already begun their traditional holiday gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and ready to remind everyone how bad holidays with the family can be.

Barbara feels increasingly helpless. Driven to the edge by her relatives, Barbara loses her temper. Barbara finds herself questioning her own role in her family and the future of the relationship that she’s held so dear. She must reconcile what she wants her family to be with what it has become if she wants a chance to love them the way she used to. It’s then she realizes she has to become part of her family if she wants to help them heal.

HANG A SHINING STAR, complete at 80,000 words, is a contemporary women’s fiction.

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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by Ghost in the Machine » June 1st, 2010, 10:38 am

Hi Writeaskew,

I love the doll in the fireplace detail. That is awesome—funny and sad. I have a three-year-old with a major attachment to a pricey doll, so this hit me on all sorts of levels.

A quick fix on the length would be to drop the second paragraph and replace it with a good transition sentence to bridge paragraphs one and three.

A tweak to the first sentence of paragraph three would do it nicely:

When everything goes to hell, Barbara’s good intentions and dreams of reliving the idyllic Christmas’s of her childhood go up in stinky smoke.

The last paragraph seems a bit clunky. Look at the last three sentences again. They all have a similar (longish) length and structure. Break some of these up, and eliminate some of the phrases. Pick the best pieces to illustrate her struggle.

Best of query-luck

Ghost in the Machine

writeaskew
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by writeaskew » June 1st, 2010, 6:13 pm

Okay, less clunky, more fun. Let's try again.

Dear Agent,

Barbara never meant to ruin Christmas for her family. The morning of her family’s Christmas party she swore things were going to be different. But her cousin’s new doll is melting in the fireplace, her grandmother is in tears and all Barbara wants to do is escape.

Barbara knows her family is dysfunctional, but she wants to love them. She wants to have the feeling she did as a little girl- that her family was perfect. She laid her plans carefully, reliving her childhood and remembering how close her family used to be. When the family arrives everything goes to hell. Barbara’s good intentions and dreams of idyllic family Christmas disappear. Her aunts have already begun their traditional holiday gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and ready to remind everyone how bad holidays with the family can be.

Barbara feels increasingly helpless. When she loses her temper Barbara finds herself questioning her own role in her family. She must reconcile what she wants her family to be with what it has become- if she wants a chance to love them the way she used to. It’s then she realizes she has to become part of her family if she wants to reclaim the relationship they once had.

HANG A SHINING STAR, complete at 80,000 words, is a contemporary women’s fiction.

Per your submission guidelines, etc.

Writeaskew


It feels better to me. Less slow and a little more sharp, a lot like the book. That makes me happy. I didn't change much, but I think the tiny tweaks helped. What do you think?

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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by mommalikabooty » June 1st, 2010, 7:59 pm

I really like this query and, most importantly, I want to read this book! I think this last version is good, but I notice the frequent use of "want". She wants to escape, she wants to love them, she wants to have the little-girl feelings, she wants a chance, she wants to reclaim... you see what I mean. Also, there's something about this sentence:
"When she loses her temper Barbara finds herself questioning her own role in her family."
When she loses her temper, she questions her role? It sounds passive and naval-gazing. Otherwise, interesting and engaging.
Some word choice tweaks and you've got it!

Ghost in the Machine
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by Ghost in the Machine » June 2nd, 2010, 10:43 am

Hi Writeaskew,

Things are moving in the right direction. It’s hard to know when to stop and say, this is it, I’m ready to query. But if you want to keep going, I’ll throw in some more points to ponder.

1. Each paragraph starts with the word ‘Barbara.’ Consider varying the sentence structure to change one or two of these.

2. I mentioned before how much I loved the melting doll in the fireplace. I think this query could use more of this kind of specific detail. I’ll highlight in blue some possible places where you could do this.

3. ‘family is dysfunctional’. I once had the following two words in a query: corrupt politician. It was accurate, but bugged me. Then I realized these two words together made a cliché. I think ‘family’ plus ‘dysfunctional’ might fall into the same category. I’ve heard those two words put together so many times since back in the eighties when Oprah started catching on. Does anyone have a normal family?

4. Having Barbara lose her temper in the third paragraph seems to be this woman’s breaking point. But this event doesn’t feel important enough as presented in the query. I don’t expect Barbara whipped out a carving knife and threatened Aunt Ida to stop hogging the mashed potatoes, but I think there needs to be a build up to this moment to emphasize how significant it is to Barbara and the story. Perhaps describing how Barbara just barely held things together as family member A did this horrible thing and family member B did said that unmentionable thing in paragraph two would work.

Barbara never meant to ruin Christmas for her family. The morning of her family’s Christmas party she swore things were going to be different. But her cousin’s new doll is melting in the fireplace, her grandmother is in tears and all Barbara wants to do is escape.

Barbara knows her family is dysfunctional, but she wants to love them. She wants to have the feeling she did as a little girl- that her family was perfect. She laid her plans carefully, reliving her childhood and remembering how close her family used to be. When the family arrives everything goes to hell. Barbara’s good intentions and dreams of idyllic family Christmas disappear. Her aunts have already begun their traditional holiday gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and ready to remind everyone how bad holidays with the family can be.

Barbara feels increasingly helpless. When she loses her temper Barbara finds herself questioning her own role in her family. She must reconcile what she wants her family to be with what it has become- if she wants a chance to love them the way she used to. It’s then she realizes she has to become part of her family if she wants to reclaim the relationship they once had.

Hope these comments are useful.

Ghost in the Machine

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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by julieack » June 2nd, 2010, 3:00 pm

Dear Writer Askew,

After reading this, I still have some questions about the essence of your story. Have you read Nathan's post about the one-sentence pitch? If not, I really recommend it--it greatly helped me as I drafted my query (which I hope to post here soon.)

I love the new doll melting in the fireplace and I love the first sentence. Is the essence of your story soemthing like this? "Twenty-something woman hosts Christmas at her house hoping to reconnect with her family. After some hijinx, she discovers she will have to learn to tolerate their flaws and let go of her idealized childhood notions of a perfect family if she wants meaningful relationships with them." that's awkward wording of course, but that's what the essence seems to me from reading just this query.

I took out some things and made a few suggestions below. Hope this is helpful. Good luck!

Julie Ackerman


Dear Agent,

Barbara never meant to ruin Christmas for her family. The morning of her family’s Christmas party she swore things were going to be different. But by noon on Christmas Day her cousin’s new doll is melting in the fireplace, her grandmother is in tears and all Barbara wants to do is to escape.

Barbara knows her family is dysfunctional, but she wants to love them. She wants to have the feeling she did as a little girl- that her family was perfect. She laid her plans carefully, what are her plans? reliving her childhood and remembering how close her family used to be. When the family arrives everything goes to hell. Barbara’s good intentions and dreams of idyllic family Christmas disappear. Her aunts have already begun their traditional holiday gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and ready to remind everyone how bad holidays with the family can be.
Barbara feels increasingly helpless.When she loses her temper Barbara finds herself questioning her own role in her family. She must reconcile what she wants her family to be with what it has become- if she wants a chance to love them the way she once did. It’s then she realizes she has to become part of her family if she wants to reclaim the relationship they once had.

HANG A SHINING STAR, complete at 80,000 words, is a contemporary women’s fiction.

Per your submission guidelines, etc.

Writeaskew


It feels better to me. Less slow and a little more sharp, a lot like the book. That makes me happy. I didn't change much, but I think the tiny tweaks helped. What do you think?[/quote]

writeaskew
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by writeaskew » June 3rd, 2010, 12:34 pm

I can't tell you all how much help you've been so far! I'm taking your suggestions into consideration and I'll be posting a revised query sometime this afternoon, with any luck.

Something I'd love to point out, so far, you've all gotten the essence of the story. You've been massively encouraging, and I can't tell you how much that means. I had utilized another forum to do some of my testing out, and was pretty well told my query was crap and that it was probably because my MS was crap and I had no hope as a writer. So your support is encouraging.

Thanks again.

writeaskew

writeaskew
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by writeaskew » June 6th, 2010, 5:21 pm

Right, I took some of your advice and changed things up a little. I tried to make the query a little tighter, I'm hoping it worked.

I'll look forward to all of your wonderful feedback. You have all been great.

Dear Agent,

Barbara never meant to ruin Christmas for her family. The morning of her family's Christmas party, she swore thigns would be different. But her cousin's new doll is melting in the fireplace, her grandmother is in tears and Barbara wants to escape.

Even though her family is dysfunctional, Barbara tries to love them. She longs for the feeling she had as a little girl- that her family is perfect. Laying her plans carefully, remembering how close her family used to be, she decorates for the party and anticipates ways to avoid conflict with her relatives. When they arrive everything goes to hell. Barbara's good intentions and dreams of an idyllic family Christmas disappear. Her aunts have already begun their traditional holiday gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and ready to remind everyone how painful holidays with the family can be.

Barbara feels increasingly helpless as her spoiled cousins and spiteful aunts ruin the party. When she loses her temper and throws her cousin's doll into the fire, she finds herself questioning her own role in the family's unhapiness. She must reconcile what she wants them to be with what they have become- if she wants a chance to love them the way she used to.

HANG A SHINING STAR, complete at 80,000 words, is a contemporary women's fiction.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

etc.

So, any better?

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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by Ghost in the Machine » June 7th, 2010, 10:49 am

Hi Writeaskew,

My first impression with this version is that it has improved but needs tightening.

Barbara never meant to ruin Christmas for her family. The morning of her family's Christmas party, she swore thigns would be different. But her cousin's new doll is melting in the fireplace, her grandmother is in tears and Barbara wants to escape.

Comment: The first two sentences have “Christmas for her family” and then “family’s Christmas party” giving a redundant vibe. Either change the wording on one of them or lose ‘for her family’ in sentence one. Typo alert “thigns-things”.

Even though her family is dysfunctional, Barbara tries to love them. She longs for the feeling she had as a little girl- that her family is perfect. Laying her plans carefully, remembering how close her family used to be, she decorates for the party and anticipates ways to avoid conflict with her relatives. When they arrive everything goes to hell. Barbara's good intentions and dreams of an idyllic family Christmas disappear. Her aunts have already begun their traditional holiday gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and ready to remind everyone how painful holidays with the family can be.

Comment: There is nothing technically wrong here, but the writing doesn’t pop for me. It could be my genre preference, thrillers, so take this advice with a large grain of salt. I do like “When they arrive everything goes to hell” and the sentence about the backbiting aunts. But the rest is sleepy. What do I mean? Well how about starting with something like, “Despite their shortcomings, addictions, and oft-times vicious behavior, Barbara holds fast to the ease with which she loved them as a child. Back then, her family seemed perfect.” Find your inner Barbara. Let her emotions guide your words.

Barbara feels increasingly helpless as her spoiled cousins and spiteful aunts ruin the party. When she loses her temper and throws her cousin's doll into the fire, she finds herself questioning her own role in the family's unhapiness. She must reconcile what she wants them to be with what they have become- if she wants a chance to love them the way she used to.

Comment: Adverb alert: increasingly. Now I think every query should be allowed one or two. But you should always question them and consider alternatives. How about “Barbara’s rising despair threatens to overcome her as her spoiled . . .” Okay, that’s way too wordy.

I love that Barbara was the one to toss the doll into the fire. Whoa, baby! But the “she finds herself questioning her own role in the family’s unhappiness” line still doesn’t quite pack a punch. It’s more like this heinous act makes Barbara stop and realize, “Oh my goodness. Here I’ve been looking down on drunk sis and laying judgment on Aunt Ida and wondering if these sad sacks deserve my love, but I’m just as bad, if not worse. Do I deserve their love?” Somehow you want to make this epiphany shine.

Hope this helps. Sorry to hear the other writing forum was a downer. But keep your head up. We’re all on the same level. Any advice, yes I mean me too, is coming from someone who hasn’t read your book and can easily make the wrong assumptions. Even though I love thrillers, I was enthralled by Sue Miller’s The Senator’s Wife and there is not a ghost, vampire, or car chase in the whole thing. So don’t listen to the nay-sayers.

Best, Ghost

writeaskew
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Re: Hang A Shining Star- contemporary women's fiction

Post by writeaskew » June 7th, 2010, 6:18 pm

Ghost-

You've been so immensly helpful. Somtimes I feel like you're writing the hard parts of the query for me :) Despite the fact you haven't read the book, you have a great handle on the plot and the themes, which gives me a lot of hope. I'm at least communicating those, however poorly I might be doing it. I took (well, stole) some of your suggestions, and I think this one works a lot better. We'll see.

Dear Agent,

Barbara never meant to ruin Christmas. The morning of her family’s Christmas party she swore things would be different. But her cousin’s new doll is melting in the fireplace, her grandmother is in tears and Barbara wants to escape.

Despite their shortcomings, addictions and often vicious behavior, Barbara holds tight to the ease with which she loved her family as a child. Laying her plans carefully, remembering how close they used to be, she decorates for the party and anticipates ways to avoid conflict with her relatives. When they arrive, everything goes to hell. Barbara’s good intentions and dreams of an idyllic family Christmas disappear. Her aunts have already begun their traditional gossiping and backbiting. Her sister shows up drunk and reminds everyone of how painful the holidays can be.

Barbara’s feeling of helplessness overwhelms her as her spoiled cousins and spiteful aunts ruin the party. When she loses her temper and throws her cousin’s doll in the fire, she realizes she is a part of her family’s unhappiness. Barbara discovers she must accept her family as they are if she wants to love them the way she used to- and for them to love her in return.

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