The Saturday Slash

Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your “hook.” I call the last line the “sinker.” You want it to punch  them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I’m going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author’s brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.
Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You’ll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!
And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in yellow.

Liz has already proven that she is a terrible mother who does not deserve her child. After all, what kind of mother doesn’t even know she’s pregnant? I get that the “already” means she’s proven that she doesn’t deserve the child even before it’s born, but I almost think this hook would be better if you chopped the “After all,” of the second sentence and just used that as your hook. It’s short and to the point.

Twenty-two year old Liz is shocked to discover that she is eight months pregnant. Sure, she’s gained some weight, and sure she’s been feeling a little off lately, but pregnant? She is too young to have a baby. Is she really? I’d say no, she’s not. That might be *her* rationale but it’s not really working here as a statement of fact. She hasn’t spoken to the father in months, and certainly doesn’t want to now. If the father doesn’t figure into the story, don’t mention him in the query. If he’s not mentioned it’s assumed he’s not in the picture. It has taken eight months for her to even figure out that she is pregnant. Nonetheless, in a brief six weeks a new baby will be born, and she has a rapid decision to make. Choosing an adoption plan is the only thing she can do, and the only way she can survive it is to carry the detachment her denial provided along the way. Here’s your crux right here – this is what you’ve been getting to with everything you’ve said before this. We don’t need her rationale for why she’s giving it up for adoption – you said so yourself she’s already proven she doesn’t deserve her child (or at least believes that to be true) She Use the proper name here, you’ve been sticking to the pronoun for a while. speeds through the process, visiting an agency, speaking to a social worker, and choosing adoptive parents, all the time believing she is simply a surrogate for the deserving parents Here we are again with this word “deserving” – this is your plot point and you’re throwing a lot of distractions out in front of it. who will adopt this baby. I’ve highlighted all the uses of “eight months” and “months” in this first para. Lots of echoes here. Personally I think you can kill all of the rationalization and get down to the point – detachment, deserving – more quickly.

Now, Kill the “now” it makes this read like a synopsis instead of a query a week after signing surrender papers to finalize the adoption, Liz enters therapy hoping she will be able to you need some re-phrasing for simplicity in this sentence. “Will be able to” can be changed to a simple “can” put these events behind her and The last two clauses of this sentence are pretty much saying the same thing. Choose one to not weigh down the query return to life as normal.  Wait – has the baby been born yet? Is she still pregnant while going through therapy? After eight months of convincing herself she wasn’t pregnant, she finds no problem distancing herself from the supposed grief her therapist tells her she will feel. But as she tells the story to her therapist, who seems relentlessly insisting she have an emotional breakdown, she finds herself viewing her therapy as a game of chess she must win. Convoluted sentence here – we can assume she’s telling her story to the therapist, I’d slash that and simplify. Accentuate the “chess” idea. He pushes her to accept her denial, and her emotional detachment as natural coping mechanisms, while she views them as proof that she is unfit to be a parent. And that right there is the sum-up of what your novel is about, right? Yet it’s buried down here in the middle of the second para. When he invites her to explore her relationships with her family and her best friend, she struggles to maintain they’re denial is irrelevant. I don’t understand what this sentence means – “struggles to maintain they are denial is irrelevant.” You probably mean “their denial” but even then… denial of what? Her? Her relationship with them? Her pregnancy? Why can’t this just be something that happened? The deeper he digs, the harder she works to keep her composure. It takes the work with her therapist to help her realize that her decision is rooted in more than necessity. It is a life-changing event that will live in her heart forever.

At 76,000 words, Detached is a work of literary fiction. It is my debut work, and inspired by the true story of choosing an adoption plan. Thank you for your consideration. Good to state this here, that you know the system and the emotional intricacies. And I love the title, by the way, but it needs to be either ALL CAPS or italicized.

The story sounds quite interesting, and I like the implied complexities of this character, but that’s where your meat is and it’s kind of floundering along with the little details that aren’t relevant to the query that I mention above. Also, as it stands right now my biggest hang up is that I don’t know what her relationship with the therapist is – does she resent his digging? Does she get angry with him? Does she look at him as a partner or an opponent? You brought in the “chess game” idea but then you don’t take the analogy anywhere. It sounds like a cerebral internal journey read, and I like the way you’re approaching it, you need to carefully look at what the main sell is here before you pitch.

5 thoughts on “The Saturday Slash

  1. Jennifer, this sounds like a great, emotional read. I think once you iron out the query, integrating BBC's awesome suggestions, you're going to wow some agents.

    Best of luck!

  2. Jennifer – absolutely! And that's exactly what the Slash is for – getting you pointed in the right direction. Thanks for volunteering.

    Jemi and Bethany – agreed. The bones of a great story is here, I'm definitely pulled in, just needs some tightening!

  3. Thank you, Mindy and to the rest of you, for your comments. I've had to take a week to process the recomendations you've given me, but I feel confident in a new revision that I've posted on AQC. It's ready for notes, critique, and whatever else is about to be thrown at it.

    Thanks again!

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