10.20.2006

Awash in words; here have some soap

Queen Snark, (jeeze...please not!)

I am preparing to query agents regarding the manuscript for my literary novel. The narrative involves a creative/complex structure, interweaving the separate narratives of four main characters in successive chapters, and within each chapter interweaving a current-time story for the character with a story from that character's past. So, here are my questions:

1) Are creative plot structures good or bad things in an agent's eyes? If good things, should they be mentioned in the query letter, and, if so, in what sort of detail?

2) In my example, the easiest description would be that my novel entails intersecting narratives of distinct characters, as in Altman's interpretation of Carver's "Short Cuts," mashed up with the disjointed chronology of Arriaga's "21 Grams." Both of these analogies compare my manuscript to films, not to other books. Is this taboo, as it might display some lack of essential allegiance to printed words? Or is it OK, because film is an easy reference-point in today's pop-culture society?


Here, have some scissors and white out. You're over explaining everything and, in a cover letter, that is death. Succinct. Succinct, did I mention short and sweet yet?

First I'm not sure what creative plot structures are. Do they come in primary colors and attract children?

You have a plot. You have characters. You have backstory. You have successive chapters wherein each character is seen in present time and also from a previous time.

In a cover letter you're giving a very basic roadmap of what the pages will SHOW not tell. It's akin to saying "this pasta has a cream sauce not a tomato sauce" rather than listing all the ingredients of the cream sauce and how you sauteed the truffles to bring out just a hint of pig snout.

Even in a literary novel, being all artsy in the cover letter is the sign of someone in love with their words. That's never ever a good sign.

I tend to dismiss people who use film comparisons for their novels but Short Cuts would be an exception to that. I adored the film, I adore Altman and Raymond Carver IS a god. But you won't know that when you query me, and sadly, not every agent is of like mind (fools! fools!).

You'll be safer using book references.

10 comments:

Lorra said...

Will I ever learn to move the coffee cup to the other side of the room before reading this blog?

Pig Snout = Trip to the computer store . . . AGAIN!!

Jillian said...

Coffee snort: "and how you sauteed the truffles to bring out just a hint of pig snout"

You are your very own genre, Miss Snark.

Cynthia Reese said...

I agree with Miss Snark about the short and sweet. But I also understand the need to warn agents up front that your book doesn't follow the usual chrono order of things.

The only reference you need to use in regards to your structure is "non-linear narrative." That tells the agents you are fooling around with time in your novel.

One other thing ... I once wrote a book with a non-linear structure ... and then my editors wanted it to be more linear and to concentrate on the more contemporary story. To my utter surprise, when I yanked out half the book and substituted it with microscopic bits of backstory throughout the book, I didn't miss what I'd chopped out.

So are you CERTAIN you need that much backstory as part of your novel? If you are, go for it.

Good luck!

Alli said...

In a cover letter you're giving a very basic roadmap of what the pages will SHOW not tell. It's akin to saying "this pasta has a cream sauce not a tomato sauce" rather than listing all the ingredients of the cream sauce and how you sauteed the truffles to bring out just a hint of pig snout.

Miss Snark - that's the best description of how a cover letter should be!

Texas WordSorter said...

Ms. Reese is correct, especially about backstory.

I struggle with it all the time as an author because it's tricky to do well. And as an editor and reviewer, I hate being bogged down in backstory to where I lose what's going on in the present. I've thrown more books against the wall when that's happened :-).

Well, not really, but figuratively.

An agent I respect tells me the same thing So be very cautious when using backstory as a tool. Your concept sounds interesting, though. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

In a cover letter you're giving a very basic roadmap of what the pages will SHOW not tell. It's akin to saying "this pasta has a cream sauce not a tomato sauce" rather than listing all the ingredients of the cream sauce and how you sauteed the truffles to bring out just a hint of pig snout.

This may be your best explanation ever, Miss Snark. Thanks.

Therese said...

This advice is timely. Thanks!

Jessica said...

"First I'm not sure what creative plot structures are. Do they come in primary colors and attract children?" If I drank coffee, it would be all over my keyboard. That was too funny.

swampytad said...

All right, I have it, the newest revision of my query letter:

"Dear Miss Snark,

I am seeking representation for my literary novel of 100,000 words, The Greatest Book in the World.

Greatest Book has a plot. It has characters. It has a backstory. The characters sniff truffles with their pig-snouts and eat only non-linear pasta in cream sauce.

In case you care, I adore Robert Altman and think Raymond Carver is a Dog, and Greatest Book reflects this. If you do not care about those things, know that I often make book references.

Yours in snarkdom,
Swampytad"

In all seriousness, Miss Snark, your response was beneficial, as was the helpful comment of cynthia reese. Thanks.

Texas WordSorter said...

I want to read "Swampytad's" novel. I think it has "best-seller" written all over it :-).