Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 15th, 2010, 1:34 pm

Hi Kappa,

I still get the feeling that you're talking around your story rather than telling it to us. It's like you want to tease the reader into reading... but I'm not entirely sure how well that works, especially for literary agents, who read a little differently. I don't think they want to be teased into reading. I think they want to see a story that works, that looks like it will be a wise investment of their reading time.

You don't really show us what happens. You dance around it a little, telling us about the characters, touching on the abstract idea of the conflict, and then hinting at tragedy. But that isn't the story. What happens? Don't hold back. An agent isn't looking for you to hold everything back to surprise them. This is your chance to show the agent your story works. Show them it functions, it moves forward, the narrative arc driving the events to a gripping conclusion.

The query, to me, is a story. Hook, character, conflict, rising action, conclusion (the lattler could at least be hinted at if not explained fully, this being a query). Don't tell me about a story... tell me a story.

You obviously have a strong idea and strong skills. Now you just have to write a 200 word story.

Best of luck, and hope this helps a little.

Ink
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by KappaP » February 15th, 2010, 4:37 pm

Gah, I don't think I'll ever figure this out. Out of curiosity, Ink, did you like the version at the top of page 2 better? I just have no idea-- I hate this query when it's super focused on the plot because that's selling the least remarkable thing about the book. The plot is good, don't get me wrong, but the real strengths of the story are the characters and theme. So de-emphasizing those in order to play up "this is what happens, then this, then this, then this" just seems so backwards to me. But at this point I'm assuming I'm just wrong.
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 15th, 2010, 4:53 pm

Kappa,

I actually thought your creative one had potential, but it would depend on the reader and how willing they were to accept something different. Always a risk and reward analyis there.

For this version, well, I think the best queries have both - plot and character/theme, etc. I don't think you have to go plot, plot, plot, plot. You sort of toss off that bad stuff happens in the story, and hint at a tragedy... but that tragedy is the story. And, yes, this is litfic, so it's not just a plot vehicle and you need to focus on character and thematic stuff too. But I think you need to blend them. Just plot and you lose what's rich in the story. Just character and theme, though, and the story becomes amorphous and abstract. We might unerstand... but we don't feel.

I think the plot forms the bones of the query; it's what allows you to root it and then build outward. The plot is the skeleton, and then the flesh and skin and pretty hair is the characters and themes you grow out from that. I think you should use the plot points to reveal the character and themes. What are the key events? What pushes this into a dark tragedy of a love story? Now how can you use those elements to illuminate the characters and themes?

Just my thoughts.

Best,
Ink
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by kaykaybe » February 15th, 2010, 10:53 pm

[quote="MaryAnn"]You need to date this somehow. If this is the present, it will be hard to sell that they will be "crucified" once found out. Then on the other hand, it is high school. But in 2010??

Ummm, it's Kentucky. If it's anything like where I live (SC), their relationship would not get approval from many adults and there would be plenty of peers to question them too.

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Serzen » February 16th, 2010, 12:16 am

Kappa,

I liked what I read at the top of pg2, liked what I read further down the page. I think that they both contain elements that tell us what you're trying to. I'll attempt to piece together what I liked:

=====
As people filter out of the arena after the basketball state championship, Cal Painter stands at the edge of the now empty court staring at a girl who will become her hope, her salvation and her downfall. Number 4, Jan Bond: the shy and beautiful basketball prodigy despised by everyone in Cal’s town for the talent she brings to their rival team. But as Cal watches Jan, all she feels is attraction burning its way through her stomach.

For Cal, life is a monotony of wins. She was born into wealth, inherited her family’s trademark blue eyes and drawled charm, and she’s a sharp-witted, bright-smiled siren to all the boys at school. But after eighteen years, Cal is itching to find a purpose beyond the drone to save herself from the stagnation of effortless fortune.

When Jan’s family moves to Miles the summer before her senior year, it ignites the town’s long-simmering championship dreams and gives Cal a dangerous salvation from her ennui by falling into an intense and secretive romance with Jan. For the two girls, love is a sweet escape from living under the direction of people’s expectations, but every passing day entangles them further into a purgatory between two worlds: one where the comfort and safety of community adoration costs them their individualism, and one where the golden apples of freedom and choice come with the heavy price of rejection. note 1

When the relationship is exposed, the small town struggles to reconcile the glorified images of their hometown heroines with Cal and Jan’s starker and more human realities.

Told thirty years retrospectively by Cal’s haunted and guilt-ridden best friend, SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction. SCATTER aims to illuminate the dark beauty of young love and the devastating power of a community over its heroes by exploring American notions of fate, individualism and community through a doomed love between two girls in small-town Kentucky.
=====
1 I feel kinda unconvinced about the 'golden apples.' Classically they can be a reward or ultimate goal, but they usually are also tools of great suffering. It was a golden apple that started the Trojan War, for example. If you wanted to go for dualism, though, awesome. I dig the obscure reference.

That aside, I stitched together what I thought the story was as well as what I thought the theme and consequences were. It felt like you were treating both of the attempts as solitary platforms for pitching An Idea rather than all the ideas you want to talk about. If you catch my drift.

Hope you find something useful in it.

~Serzen
Il en est des livres comme du feu de nos foyers; on va prendre ce feu chez son voisin, on l’allume chez soi, on le communique à d’autres, et il appartient à tous. --Voltaire

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by KappaP » February 16th, 2010, 7:48 am

Hey Serzen, thanks for the notes! Definitely helps, will be polishing up today. As for golden apples, the dualism is intentional; a core theme of the story is how something we see as the ultimate reward or solution can also be ruinous. More specifically, it looks at the darker consequences of free will (if society has coddled us, reared us and adored us our whole lives, what happens when the choice that's best for us comes into contention with what's best for our benefactors? How separate can we ever really be from the society that created us?).

Thanks for your help, I'll post an update soon and I'll get over to your query to offer my humble opinions (I've read it, just didn't have time to comment yet).
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by cjtrapp » February 16th, 2010, 10:20 am

It seems your story has struck a chord with this community, at least, so you should be encouraged! I get the sense that everyone wants to see/hear this story told, and is anxious to get the "truth" of your book in your query.

So, clear your mind and your page. Give us the stage, place the players on the stage, tell us their problem and give us a taste of their defining moment, but leave the resolution just out of reach.

It's not about teasing, but creating intrigue.

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by KappaP » February 17th, 2010, 5:01 pm

Okay. I tried doing this again, we'll see how it goes. I don't mean to tease, I just don't want to clutter up the page with unnecessary details. If things seem to vague or teasing, point out to me where because it's honestly hard for me to spot.

Cal Painter expects nothing out of Miles, Kentucky. Rich, charming and bored, Cal is alone amidst the quiet lives and simple ambitions in a town whose livelihood hangs on its girls’ basketball team. Cal hardly expects to find love in Miles, and Miles hardly expects to become champions, but when the shy and beautiful basketball prodigy Jan Bond moves to town, she breathes life into dreams forbidden and elusive.

While Miles’s championship dreams ignite, Jan’s arrival also rouses Cal from her ennui as Cal first earns Jan’s friendship and then her affection. For the two girls, love is a sweet escape from living under the direction of people’s expectations, but every passing day entangles them further into a purgatory between two worlds: one where the comfort and safety of community adoration costs them their individualism, and one where the golden apples of freedom and choice are a crippling salvation.

When the relationship is exposed, the conservative town struggles to reconcile the glorified images of their hometown heroines with Cal and Jan’s starker and more human realities. For Cal and Jan, the conflict between their society and their souls launches a desperate scramble to find their true selves in other people's perceptions and to discover if finding their truths is worth leaving what they know behind.

Told thirty years retrospectively by Cal’s haunted and guilt-ridden best friend, SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction exploring the dark beauty of young love and the devastating power of a community over its heroes.
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by CoachMT » February 17th, 2010, 6:35 pm

KappaP wrote:Cal Painter expects nothing out of Miles, Kentucky. Rich, charming and bored, Cal is alone amidst the quiet lives and simple ambitions in a town whose livelihood hangs on its girls’ basketball team. Cal hardly expects to find love in Miles, and Miles hardly expects to become champions, but when the shy and beautiful basketball prodigy Jan Bond moves to town, she breathes life into dreams forbidden and elusive.

While Miles’s championship dreams ignite, Jan’s arrival also rouses Cal from her ennui as Cal first earns Jan’s friendship and then her affection. For the two girls, I had to do a major double take here... to me, "Cal" indicates male, not female and I had to search for the pronoun before "ennui" to realize that it was a girl. Maybe it's just me and it doesn't matter, but I'd try to find a way to establish Cal's gender in the first paragraph love is a sweet escape from living under the direction of people’s expectations, but every passing day entangles them further into a purgatory between two worlds: one where the comfort and safety of community adoration costs them their individualism, and one where the golden apples of freedom and choice are a crippling salvation. Pretty prose, but how are they a "crippling salvation"?

When the relationship is exposed, the conservative town struggles to reconcile the glorified images of their hometown heroines with Cal and Jan’s starker and more human realities. For Cal and Jan, the conflict between their society and their souls launches a desperate scramble to find their true selves in other people's perceptions and to discover if finding their truths is worth leaving what they know behind.

Told thirty years retrospectively by Cal’s haunted and guilt-ridden best friend, SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction exploring the dark beauty of young love and the devastating power of a community over its heroes.
You obviously have a wealth of writing talent, hope these observations help in some way.

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by KappaP » February 18th, 2010, 12:17 am

OOH good catch--- didn't realize Cal didn't earn herself a pronoun in the first paragraph this round. Will work one in, that's definitely a huge necessity. Thanks for the suggestions, makes me think I'm at least getting on the right track.
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Wandaduplooy » February 18th, 2010, 9:30 am

[Personalized bit]. SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction exploring American notions of fate, individualism and community through a doomed love between two girls in small-town Kentucky.

The girls’ basketball state championship is over, trophies awarded, and as people filter out of the arena, they flow around a well-dressed girl with wealthy poise standing transfixed at the edge of the now empty court. Cal Painter doesn’t notice them. As her boat shoes toe the sidelines, all she sees is the girl across the court in the #4 jersey still breathing hard from dominating the state-title game.

They’ve never met. If Cal paid a quarter as much attention to her high school’s sports teams as anyone else in Miles, Kentucky, she’d know that #4 is the prodigious and much-despised star of Miles’ rival team. Jan Bond: The Ruthless Machine.

When Cal looks at Jan, she doesn’t realize this girl will be her salvation from a life of lethargy. Cal was born with money, charm and luck; all she wants is something to fight for. In the flashbulbs stealing Jan’s image for a front-page story, Cal doesn’t see the ever-watching eyesthat will force her and Jan to love each other in secret or the scrutiny that will crucify them once they’re exposed. why hide their love - is it because Cal is wealthy or because they are gay?

Severing the reality of a town idol from her image is painful, but Cal isn’t thinking of how she’ll deal with it. She only lets her faithfulness to people’s expectations and perceptions drift away with the crowd and smiles as the familiar, hollow ache of ennui begins to disappear.

The usually eloquent and confident Cal stutters “good game” as Jan walks past, and Jan’s shy “thank you” sits like an anchor in Cal’s chest. As Jan throws a curious glance at Cal before walking into the locker room, Cal doesn’t know she should be worried about the future or wary of fate. give a bit glimse of the future without giving too much away...

All she feels is a strengthening pulse of reviving, terrifying love.

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Serzen » February 18th, 2010, 11:41 am

KappaP wrote: Cal Painter expects nothing out of Miles, Kentucky. Rich, charming and bored, Cal she is alone amidst the quiet lives and simple ambitions in a town whose livelihood hangs on its girls’ basketball team. Note 1 Cal hardly expects to find love in Miles, and Miles hardly expects to become champions, but when the shy and beautiful basketball prodigy Jan Bond moves to town, she breathes life into dreams forbidden and elusive. Note 2

While Miles’s championship dreams ignite, Jan’s arrival also rouses Cal from her ennui as Cal first earns Jan’s friendship and then her affection. For the two girls, love is a sweet escape from living under the direction of people’s expectations, but every passing day entangles them further into a purgatory between two worlds: one where the comfort and safety of community adoration costs them their individualism/,/ and one where the golden apples of freedom and choice are a crippling salvation.

When the relationship is exposed, the conservative town struggles to reconcile the glorified images of their hometown heroines with Cal and Jan’s starker and more human realities. For Cal and Jan, the conflict between their society and their souls launches a desperate scramble to find their true selves in other people's perceptions and to discover if finding their truths is worth leaving what they know behind.

Told thirty years retrospectively by Cal’s haunted and guilt-ridden best friend, SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction exploring the dark beauty of young love and the devastating power of a community over its heroes.
Alright, I know someone else mentioned the lack of pronoun, but I needed to change it so I could read what I was writing.

1 I'm not clear on why the livelihood of the town hangs on the basketball team. Surely you're not trying to tell us that if the team loses everyone will starve to death? I think that you intend to say something about entertainment, sense of pride/self/something. But without being quite sure I don't want to dive in and try to make a change.

2 If I'm reading this correctly, you're referencing both Cal's dreams and the town's dreams, but the context is a little muddy. I think that what you're saying is that Cal's dreams are forbidden and the town's dreams are elusive. Yet, Cal's dreams are clearly elusive and there is an implication that the town has little faith in itself, perhaps forbidding themselves to get their hopes up. If it's a case of the former, you don't need 'both', but if it's a case of the latter you might want "...both forbidden and elusive."

It's quite picky, I know, but clarity is a Good Thing. I hope that it helps get the cognitive juices swishing around.

~Serzen
Il en est des livres comme du feu de nos foyers; on va prendre ce feu chez son voisin, on l’allume chez soi, on le communique à d’autres, et il appartient à tous. --Voltaire

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 19th, 2010, 11:31 am

Hey Kappa,

I'll give this another go, since maybe I wasn't clear enough before.
KappaP wrote:Cal Painter expects nothing out of Miles, Kentucky. Rich, charming and bored, Cal is alone amidst the quiet lives and simple ambitions inperhaps "of" instead of "in"? a town whose livelihoodI'll agree with Serzen on the connotations of "livelihood" hangs on its girls’ basketball team. Cal hardly expects to find love in Miles, and Miles hardly expects to become championsThis line seems a little odd in context with the livelihood line. Why would so much depend on a girls' basketball team that people don't even expect to win?, but when the shy and beautiful basketball prodigy Jan Bond moves to town, she breathes life into dreams forbidden and elusive.Your writing, as always, is fine. You've got the goods. But this is still talking around the story rather than showing it. "She breathes life..." Good, but this is a tell. How does this happen? That's the story, the hook here.

While Miles’s championship dreams ignite, Jan’s arrival also rouses Cal from her ennui as Cal first earns Jan’s friendship and then her affection. For the two girls, love is a sweet escape from living under the direction of people’s expectations, but every passing day entangles them further into a purgatory between two worlds: one where the comfort and safety of community adoration costs them their individualism, and one where the golden apples of freedom and choice are a crippling salvationAgain, some fine lines... but very abstract. The specific details of this "purgatory" would make it more concrete. The thematic and character work is sort of floating here... what are the events that force this conflict? What pushes change, resolution, tragedy? "Crippling salvation" is great... but what does it mean here? I still don't know what happens in this story.

When the relationship is exposed, the conservative town struggles to reconcile the glorified images of their hometown heroines with Cal and Jan’s starker and more human realities. For Cal and Jan, the conflict between their society and their souls launches a desperate scramble to find their true selves in other people's perceptions and to discover if finding their truths is worth leaving what they know behind. Nicely written, but still abstract. You're glossing over the story to summarize. But the character conflicts and thematic elements don't resonate because we can't see what's happening. How is the relationship exposed? What is the town's reaction specifically? The "struggles to reconcile" is rather vague and abstract. And same for "desperate scramble". What is the desperate scramble? It's hard to care about the characters until I'm inside the story, inside the events that challenge and transform them, until I can identify with them and what happens to them. And I have trouble doing that with character sketches.

Told thirty years retrospectively by Cal’s haunted and guilt-ridden best friend, SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction exploring the dark beauty of young love and the devastating power of a community over its heroes.

Your writing is great. You've got the talent. And I think you've got a story, too, but it's hard to tell from the query. I mean, after reading the query, what do I know? Two girls fall in love and come out in a small town. Hints of tragedy. And that's basically it. A coming out story in a small town does not seem all that original... because you're hiding the elements that are. Why hide the events of this tragedy? What's the story? I think once you root the characters and themes to specific events the story will really pop off the page. Right now it's like I'm hearing about it secondhand... when what I want is to be inside it, to be immersed in the experiences of your characters.

Just my thoughts. I hope they're helpful, but if they're not feel free to kick them to the curb. Follow your instincts and trust your talent (which you certainly have).

Best of luck,
Bryan
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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