Learning Indirectly

>> Thursday, February 25, 2010

So, most of last week, I spent devouring the examples of queries on Query Shark (which I learned about on Project Savior's blog. I learned a great deal, including that I had had absolutely no idea how to write a query. No wonder no one gave me a passing glance.

So, I feel better about my query for my "first" novel than I've ever felt before. Except, building an effective query brought something to light about my actual novel, the one I thought was "done." I was going to have to make some pretty drastic changes.

First of all, the novel weighs in at a hefty 130K words. Even though it's a fantasy in a world of its own, that's a pretty tough sell for a "first" novel. Since my rewrite had added some 30K+ words, it's hard for me to think of removing stuff.

Secondly, the plot, per se, doesn't kick in until chapter 6. Oh, it's not all description. The first two chapters are a very important rescue (the story of which, though changed, came from the original short story). Lots of action there. And then com description and time to get to know the main characters and then some of the side characters. But the story, the conflict doesn't really kick in until the kittens come in and force Tander to reexamine everything he thinks is true. Plus, the kittens make it hilarious.

In fact, once people get to the kittens, it's really hard to put the book down. Problem is, this doesn't happen until page 89, Chapter 7.

I've mentioned before that plots aren't my strong suit. I'm a character writer (and reader) and the delay is a direct result of the fact that I didn't have a way of putting it all together until I brought in the kittens and suddenly everything fell into place...89 pages in.

Writing the query was a wake up call that starting a novel when the real plot doesn't start until more than a quarter of the way through the book is a mistake. So, I decided to cull several whole chapters and condense the first two chapters into one. The rescue in the beginning is very important, but much of the expendable character dialog served no purpose (other than humor). The reminiscence about how the characters met was nice but could be as easily used in a later book (in fact, great to do so since we will need to reintroduce them in follow-up books). As for the character introductions, well, we'll have plenty of time to get to know everyone. It's a long book.

It was hard to do. This was material, leftover material from my first draft, the parts before I'd worked on it with Lee. It was hard to get rid of it (though Lee had never liked it). Worse was the realization that when I dropped 14K words in one fell swoop I had to do almost no corrections on the rest of it. The book doesn't miss it at all. I did all the revisions in one morning.

Now, it's a much more marketable 116K words and the kittens wander in on page 36 and the plot beginning even before that. Everything's tidier and moves much faster.

All because the query reminded me where the story really was.

Cool, isn't it?


  • Jeff King

    Yep I have been there... you have to give them what they are looking for, and unfortunately word count is huge. The bigger it is the bigger the investment or cost to produce the book is.

    It’s a fine line, but new authors have to consider what will work best to get noticed. Thing like: word count, format, proper query, book proposal... and in the end a great and compelling book. All go hand in hand.

    Query should be done in third person, present tense, and no more than one page.

    Best of luck, hope it works out.

  • Project Savior

    You hit the hardest part of being a writer, having to cut your precious words.
    My first draft of "Invasive Thoughts" was a whopping 180,000 words. 30,000 of that was showing why Wally the "Villain" was such a sad sap before he was Transformed. The funny thing is after I took it out, everyone else thought he was more sympathetic character. The final 135,000 word book is much better.
    Sometimes less is more.

  • The Mother

    One does learn a lot from reading queries. It's amazing any first time writer gets published. Good luck.

  • flit

    the kittens are SO my favourite part of that one .... will be happy to see them even more up front

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