9.06.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #84

Dear Miss Snark,

I am currently seeking representation for a completed 70,000+ word novel entitled “Good News, Bad News”. In this work of contemporary mainstream fiction set in Savannah, GA, Nina Lyles, 36, an ambitious small-town news anchor with few friends and fewer scruples, who, perhaps inadvertently, sets her co-anchor’s house on fire.. (I like her already)

The accident sets off a chain of events that threaten her position as a small-time celebrity with big-time potential while simultaneously making her more famous, and more vigorously despised, than she has ever been. Her one reluctant ally, an aged ex-hippie painter-turned-masseuse, has his own distant memories of fame and vilification, and may not be above using her circumstances and the one secret she’s been able to keep to try to stage a comeback and recover his own reputation.

This is a novel about the good and bad in the human spirit, unlikely friendships, unexpected metamorphoses, and the certainty that, however well we may think we know our neighbors, we don’t ever really know them at all. (thank all dogs)

I have attached one page for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration. I enjoy your jackhammer-blunt criticisms and insights. (I'll let you take that back if you want) You provide a very valuable service to writers.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Cordially,


Despite the fact that I think she may be a small town Miss Snark, your heroine is sadly lacking in redeeming qualities. RQs pretty much a requirement in contemporary mainstream fiction. You've got stock characters and no plot. I'll probably read your pages cause I've seen damn fine writing turn up with worse query letters, but you need to polish this up.



“That bitch ran over my foot with her grocery cart,” says a leggy blonde with narrowly spaced eyes and a humped nose.

“And she’s gotten so big. I mean, really, she had that baby, what, two years ago?” her neighbor stage-whispers back, lazily picking a piece of lint off her black pants.

Nina is the sort of woman people like a lot -- on their TV screens. But even the glow of small-time, small town fame casts shadows and there are always those who dislike slinking through them.

ZAP. I'm not sure what a humped nose is but I know POV problems when I run them over with my grocery cart.

And the unfortunate truth, Nina laments at least once a day, is that in Hollywood or New York, there are others like her, people who understand, but in Savannah, Georgia, there is practically no one. It is a little like dating at a single-gender college. Or attending a family reunion. You make the best of it, you scrutinize your company looking for some measure of common ground, and you take what you can get, all the while dreaming of sweet release and better options.
She takes her seat at church assiduously baring her white teeth and flipping her chestnut hair, toting her ruffle-clad infant with great aplomb while greeting those who like her and those who don’t and occasionally sparing a terse parade wave.

The few who can understand what this is like – ex-beauty queens and elected officials, primarily – are not her choice of companions. She would, in fact, eschew social interaction altogether, but this is the South and that would be professional death. A certain distance, maintained with a relentless politeness, is tolerated here, but does not win her any friends.
While Bunco is thankfully unnecessary, church attendance is most definitely required, and the only small comfort she has as her well-toned but admittedly larger than she’d like ass flattens on the hard pew is that three rows in front of her, silently sharing her disdain for the whole charade, is her co-anchor. She mentally traces the curve of his neck with her tongue before she grabs her husband’s hand and resolutely grips it until it becomes sweaty.


Don't worry about polishing your query letter.
You need to work on the writing.
Get to a critique group.
You'll get some comments in the comment trail here.
Pay attention to them.
Close attention.

19 comments:

McKoala said...

Does it have to be present tense? I'm all for it if there is a good reason, but I'm not seeing one here.

Even in your query there are oddities: 'In this work of contemporary mainstream fiction set in Savannah, GA, Nina Lyles, 36, an ambitious small-town news anchor with few friends and fewer scruples, who, perhaps inadvertently, sets her co-anchor’s house on fire.' Either there should be an 'is' in there, or the sentence shoud be restructured. (Love the idea, though!!!)

I got very confused in the writing, maybe it was the POV changes. Where are we? Where does Nina come into it? And then there's lots of what seems to be back story, and I stay confused.

Very Quick Comment said...

'Single-gender college' is not parlance; it's 'same-sex college'. Or you could use the term, 'an all-girls school'.

Anonymous said...

All telling, no showing, and the story doesn't start here. At what point does the protagonist find she has a problem that needs solving? The moment she figures that out should be where the story starts.

Also, it's pretty hard to connect with this character, given what a shallow snobbish phoney she is (based on the thinking patterns observed for us in the excerpt); you might consider presenting her in a less antiseptic way than this. If I were inside this woman's head, feeling her emotions, I might be able to care about her in spite of her flaws. As it is, reading about her is very much like watching someone on television, and while that might have been your intention, it doesn't serve to draw the reader into the story at all.

The writing is smooth and has some style; it's just too cold.

Anonymous said...

Please. Simplify your sentences. I got lost in the commas trying to find a subject and a verb. Not just one sentence--almost all of them.

While Bunco is thankfully unnecessary, church attendance is most definitely required, and the only small comfort she has as her well-toned but admittedly larger than she’d like ass flattens on the hard pew is that three rows in front of her, silently sharing her disdain for the whole charade, is her co-anchor.

I would start by putting a period after "required." Then maybe, "As her larger than she'd like ass flattens on the hard pew, she finds one small comfort. Three rows in front of her, silently sharing her disdain for the whole charade, is her co-anchor."

My version still isn't anywhere near well-written, but it's a whole lot less atrocious.

Grendel's Dam said...

Unless he’s got gender identification issues,the hippie dude's gotta be a masseur. (She can be a masseuse.)

sherry decker said...

I'm surprised Miss Snark didn't mention those l-o-n-g sentences. I rather enjoy an occasional long sentence, but you lost me in there somewhere.

Virginia Miss said...

Author, if you've been reading the other crapometer submissions and comments, you now know your biggest mistake -- you need to start with action, not backstory. Introduce the scene goal early, we'll need some conflict or at least tension. Allow the reader to discover the character and her background, as well as the setting, as the action unfolds.

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by the catty opening, but became lost when the point of view switched. Nina ought to have eavesdropped on the first two ladies. Kill the backstory and give us more New York attitiude in Sweet Savannah clothing.

thraesja said...

I agree with the above comments, and have not much more to add. Just a culture note.
I read the line "While Bunco is thankfully unnecessary...". My first thought after skimming it was "Who is Bunco?" My second thought upon realizing the sentence obviously referred to a thing and not a person was "WTF is Bunco?" I googled it. My third thought after reading an abbreviated version of one set of rules was "WTF is Bunco?"
It seems to be culturally appropriate to have it in there, but do realize that many of your non-Southern US readers are going to come to a complete halt at this point.

xiqay said...

Virginia Miss, I disagree. I don't think the biggest mistake is where this author starts. I think it's the writing.

In the query, the sentence "In this work..." isn't a sentence. Nina Lyles, ...who..., THEN WHAT? Either take out the who and drop the comma after inadvertently, or add something like a verb and object.

In the story, ugh. So many problems.

You need simple dialogue tags to identify speaker. (Nina said. Miss Neighbor said.) You don't need to give us a physical description of the speaker there. It slows the dialogue and doesn't add anything as a beat.

Don't change POV until you've given us something in the POV you start with. Have a reason for POV shifts. And do something to indicate they're coming (like an extra line space or a chapter break). If Nina speaks and she's your POV character, then you don't comment on Nina from outside as if looking at her. If there's a 3rd person watching the show, let us the readers know. And then stick with that narrator's POV.

Make sure you make sense. Who dislikes slinking through what?

A scene takes place in one setting at one time and something happens that moves the plot forward. If Nina is at the grocery store, make it count. When she goes to church, that's a new scene. If she's thinking she's a fish out of water, give us a scene that shows how she came to ponder this.

Give the reader a reason to like the POV character/main protagonist. Don't assume we'll like her just because she's your main woman. In this opening, there was no reason to like Nina. None whatsoever.

All in all, ugh.

Sorry, jmho.

Anonymous said...

lotta adjectives....

Susan said...

Recast this in first-person and you might be amazed at how much more natural it feels. And it might make Nina a more sympathetic character to the reader. e.g.,

And the unfortunate truth, I find myself lamenting at least once a day, is that in Hollywood or New York, there are others like me, people who understand, but in Savannah, Georgia, there is practically no one.

Anonymous said...

"...well-toned but admittedly larger than she’d like ass flattens..."

Should read:

"...well-toned but admittedly-larger-than-she’d-like ass flattens..."

Or perhaps:

""...well-toned but admittedly larger-than-she’d-like ass flattens..."

You may now return to your scheduled ass flattening.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to like this.

But present tense = instant rejection from this editor. It's either too self-conscious or too pretentious and rarely, if ever, done well. Should the camera pulls back and there is a real narrator witnessing this stuff...well, maybe, but only just a maybe.

"flipping her chestnut hair"

AAAARRRGHHHH!!

::Post-caffinated Anon. goes freakin' postal, attacking hapless writer with the eraser end of a blue pencil.:: "Take that and that and that and that! Bwahahahaha!!"

Ryan Field said...

A humped nose could be taken the wrong way...with an ounce of wit I'd mention at least one.

blissbat said...

It is a little like dating at a single-gender college.

In addition to the fact that no one says "single-gender college" (as pointed out above), this is just bizarre in the context of the subsequent explanation -- "make the best of what you have." The protag hardly seems like the kind of girl to advocate having subpar lesbian sex till you get to actually hang out with boys, so this just doesn't compute.

But really, yeah, bigger problems. Voice problems, sentences that go on waaaay too long, and a protagnist seemingly drenched in self absorption and egotism. Nothing makes me want to keep reading.

Dhewco said...

As a Georgian, none of us would refer to Savannah as 'a small town'. Compared to Houston, Atlanta, and New York...it might be a small town..compared to my town it is, at least mid size.


David

Anonymous said...

Well, damn, y'all :-) Okay, okay. I can take a hint. This was a departure from my usual style - clearly, it failed. No risk, no rewards. Anyway, thanks for the feedback. Love ya - I mean it. And love you, too, Miss S.

Kate

Class factotum said...

"Sex" refers to human beings.
"Gender" refers to nouns.

I don't care what the sociologists say.

This could be a fun, catty story, kind of like that movie that Nicole Kidman made a few years ago. I like the premise.