3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 1

Dear Miss Snark,

Game Day is a YA book complete at 50,000 words, aimed at a mature teen audience.

It's tough to fit in when you're the new kid in a small, close-knit high school. It's tougher when you're a gothed-out boy in a black trenchcoat, eyeliner, and nail polish. And when some kid who dresses like you shoots up his school somewhere upstate, it's just about impossible.
(there's a hook--you've got my focused attention)

After the death of his father, Edan Donahue and his mother move to Sutterville. Though he knows it could help him socially, he refuses to tone down his look, which leads to conflict with the school's football star and bully, Jackson Armitage. Edan is befriended by some of the school's other misfits: a punk princess who hides her secrets behind rose-tinted glasses, a devout Wiccan, a stoner who does little more than take up space, a math genius who'd rather play his guitar, and a shy artist. Other than being outcasts, they seem to have little in common, but they gradually form a group identity that supports them all.

All of that is torn apart when Jackson is found dead, apparently murdered, the morning after the last game of the season. Suspicion falls on Edan, even from within his circle of friends.

Thank you for your consideration.


A. Writer

Yup, you've got a good query letter.
You've got the arc of a plot without a synopsis.
Now, let's see if you can write.

Chapter 1

Game day.

The football players, following tradition, had all come to school in dress shirts and ties. They'd roamed the halls in packs, high spirited, making noise, slapping high-fives, pretending they didn't see the looks they got, imagining them all admiring or envious.

The cheerleaders were all in uniform too: short white pleated skirts, matching tops with a royal purple "S" emblazoned on the front, cute little white shoes. They'd traveled in packs and made noise, too: rhythmic clapping and chanting or random squeals.

But not now. Now the school was on lockdown. The halls were empty, or nearly so. A lone figure strolled between banks of lockers and closed doors. He wasn't impressive by his size or by his looks. Just an ordinary kid, puny by most standards. Invisible, unnoticed most of the time.

Now, they noticed. Now, for the first time in his life, he felt powerful. Tucked under his right arm was a rifle, used the previous autumn by his next door neighbor for deer hunting. There were extra bullets in his cargo pockets. His left hand held a pistol, heavy and warm. A variety of knives, all banned by the school's Zero Tolerance policy, were tucked into boots or sheaths strapped to his belt. Oh yeah, it was game day, all right. Just not the game they were hoping for.

There was movement ahead and soft sounds of weeping, and he moved closer. Three cheerleaders huddled in an alcove, the janitor's closet door they'd chosen as a hiding place already locked. Panicked, they didn't know where else to go and now stood with their arms around each other, shaking and crying.

They quieted when he approached. One of the blondes glared at him, the other hid her face on the shoulder of the girl with the black ponytail. He lifted the pistol at arm's length and sighted them. Life, or death? It was his decision to make. He decided, magnanimously, to let them live. He smiled at them. It would be in the news tomorrow, he knew. He'd aimed a gun at them and smiled.

After he was past them, he heard soft running footsteps receding behind him. One of them had called up her courage and broke for the office, to make sure they knew.

Oh, they knew, all right.

(here's your start)
He turned and lifted the pistol, getting her in the sights, and squeezed off a shot. It missed, but she fell anyway, fear tripping her up. She slid to a halt in a heap in the center of the hall and he stepped toward her. She shook with sobs. Wasn't this the girl he bumped in the hall last week? An accident, of course. Someone like him didn't deliberately touch a girl like her. He'd mumbled an apology and she'd looked at him like lint she would flick off her sweater, and then she'd moved on like he didn't even exist. They'd gone to school together since kindergarten, but she looked at him like he was a bug.

I'm guessing this is a prologue.
You don't need it.
Your story is the aftermath, not the shooting.
We don't need another description of a high school shooting.
We all know what it looks like, sounds like, feels like.

Your story is the consequences, not the action.

I'd send you a rejection letter saying so and offering to look at the first ten pages of revisions.


Anonymous said...

I think this is well-written.

Be aware that you'll be setting the shooter up as a hero in the eyes of a minority of your readers.

I'm not suggesting that you should ram moral judgements down our throats, but...

The shooter thinks his actions are justified - all shooters do.

I think it would be more effective if the narration was either more explicitly from the shooter's point of view (closer to first person), or slightly more detached.

As it stands, the narrator's tone of sort of mild approval is a little bit uncomfortable.

Of course, making me uncomfortable is a perfectly legitimate goal - but there's a danger you'll do it in a way that just makes me stop reading and put the book down. It's a fine line.

Catja (green_knight) said...

I'd read the book that's based on the query, but not the one following the sample pages.

'arc of a plot without a synopsis' - is that the secret to a great query?

blaironaleash said...

POV discussions make my head feel like it's going to start wobbling around then drop off. But if 'he' isn't Edan - and it seems like it's not - isn't that going to create some confusion? Is the first chapter after the prologue going to be first person? (Seems like that would help, but we don't know from this).

For the rest, I generally agree with Miss Snark's snarks, but I like the writing and I really like the idea. Another one I would actually buy, given some kicking into shape.

M. Takhallus. said...

I like it.

I disagree that you need to cut immediately to the shooting. Not every book needs a bloody hook in the opening. Kid readers will hang with you longer than that nowadays. Harry does not stab Voldemort in the eye in the first graph.

I think this is a prejudice carried over from adult thrillers. It's just not true in kidlit, and I can show you a hundred examples.

In any case action without build-up or set-up is often hollow and reads as cheap sensationalism which kid readers may take as an insult to their intelligence.

overdog said...

I think this is well written. It caught my attention. Yet I understand the points the previous posts make.

I sense a...not quite a double standard, but a fine line. Miss Snark suggests we start in the middle of the action. Maybe we have to be careful which action we start with. "The aftermath" Miss Snark mentions, in and of itself, doesn't sound very exciting. Perhaps there will be action within it.

However, I would read on.

Bernita said...

I agree with Miss Snark on this one.
This is not bad ( except for the pov problem), but why do we need a description of the up-state killer in action to "prove" why the main protagonist is considered creepy by school mates?

#99 plus 1 said...

Miss Snark guessed correctly that this is a prologue. (She's far too clever for my own good.) The shooter doesn't exist after that, so I don't think there's confusion.
I'm delighted to know I can write a decent query letter, and the comments from Miss Snark and all of you are beyond valuable. This boosts my confidence and gives me some direction.
Thank you!!

Elektra said...

Everyone always forgets the marching band. Nowadays most marching bands wear their show shirts or some other form of casual uniform on Fridays. It's just as common--and perhaps even more so--as cheerleaders dressing up.

JRBrown said...

Hi #99 plus 1,

I'd go with Miss Snark on this one; unless the unnamed killer is someone Edan knows, or is otherwise used in the body of the book, scrap the prologue.

Start with Edan's school being on lockdown because of the killings elsewhere. Let us get attached to his point of view. Let us see how he reacts to the shootings.

The prologue just doesn't seem to add anything that would justify the mental effort of assuming the killer's POV, even for two pages. I think it weakens the story.

Shannon said...

I disagree that you need to cut immediately to the shooting.

I think Miss Snark was saying that you could cut directly to the protagonists' life rather than the shooting described in the query letter. I actually agree with her in that we know about school shootings, and unless the characters are showing back up again, we don't need a description of one. It sets it up perhaps to be a teensy bit too dark.

As for the marching band, not all high schools have them. My large suburban school had a very good football team and a crowd that was into it but no marching band. The band director wasn't interested and neither were students, so it just didn't happen.

Bella Stander said...

If this is just a prologue & the shooter doesn't figure in the subsequent book, then axe it & just get on with the REAL story. Judging from the quality of your writing, it will be just as gripping.

I'm with Miss Snark: We all know how horrific a high school shooting is (especially those of us here in Columbine's back yard). YA readers especially don't need the moment-by-moment, gory details.

Janet Black said...

Figuring out where to actually start your book can be tricky. I agree with Miss Snark; your story is about the aftermath. Start there. Your writing is strong.

Anonymous said...

Eeeeh yowwweee. Does this writer ever know how to turn the screws! Very creepy, very fascinatng.

I read this while holding my breath, both afraid and compelled to keep reading.

Author - whoever you are - you have a wonderful gift for pulling the reader along. Don't be turned aside lightly; keep polishing and submitting. A good editor might be useful. But don't disdain your gift for letting the reader see the world through someone else's eyes and mind. You've a wonderful career ahead of you.

Just my opinion, for what it's worth....

Anonymous said...

Why a high school shooting? My God, this just promotes violence in the schools. Haven't we seen enough already. If I had a teenager, I would never let him read this.

McKoala said...

This reminded me of 'We need to talk about Kevin', but in that story the actual violence is very late in the book. We know it's coming and that raises the tension hugely.

The tone, his approach to his victims and the idea of linking high school killers also reminded me of 'We need to talk about Kevin' too. That's a great book - and an adult one - but I would be concerned that this is going to be very similar to it. That might just be me.

blaironaleash said...

Had a re-think, myself. If the POV can be rendered unambiguous, I think the prologue is what would differentiate this from how most writers would churn the same story out.

I'm not thrilled with being led to identify with an aggressor (any aggressor, including the snots here who considered the killers less than amoebae back when they were just kids). But it can serve a purpose, both dramatic and moral.

Writerious said...

If the shooter is not a character in the book, the whole shooting scene doesn't need to be anything more than a headline in the paper and the reason that the MC is now living in a different community. After all, this scene involves "some kid upstate," not the MC at his old school or his new one.

If it were me, I'd open with the MC and the jock in a scene together. Set up the tension between them immediately.

And if you really want to rachet up the tension, don't wait until one week after the big game to kill off the jock. Do it one week BEFORE the big game with the school's arch rivals, and both schools are neck-and-neck for the championship.

blissbat said...

I read a lot of YA, so here's my two cents: the characters in your query letter sound like stock characters. Can you describe then in ways that don't seem quite so stereotypical? Shy artist? Useless stoner? We've seen them a million times and they sound like a collect-em-all set.

I agree that the prologue's unnecessary. (Through the person who thinks that your book will promote violence is a loon.)

Perhaps most importantly: kids who are starting high school this fall were in *second grade* when the Columbine shootings happened. They're your audience. Dated references are the kiss of death, and teen fashion and music cycle fast. Are the eyeliner boys in Sutterville gothy or emo? Both? You have to know.

Anonymous said...

I might be wrong but I have a feeling I have read something very similar to this before. Don't know where or when, but I read a lot of YA and it just keeps niggling at me.
I knew straight away that the person here is not the main character. Now I have to go and check my bookshelf.

Anonymous said...

OK, found the book. "After" by Francine Prose. Not totally similar to this one, but close enough that I think the writer should read it and make sure she/he doesn't accidentally go down the same track.
Just trying to be helpful.

Rei said...

Well, *I* liked the first pages. Very creepy, full of action.