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.

Art by Lynn Phillips Nelson
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, 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 the next brave volunteer. For clarity, my comments are in this color. Because nobody liked the yellow 🙂

Ghosts don’t exist. At least, that’s what seventeen-year-old Emma Harris thought before one hurled her and mysterious classmate Daniel Wyatt back in time. Okay, it’s not a *bad* hook, but it’s kind of  a mouthful to get to the goods. You start off with what I call “the contradiction hook” – statement + contradiction = action to prove it’s so. Granted, I totally made that up just now, but it’s kind of a formulaic thing that needs a name, and I’ve decided it should be called the “contradiction hook.” Find something hook-ier. The idea that not only is our MC thrown back in time, but with someone “mysterious” not of her choosing is what you want to highlight, but right now it’s a mouthful to get there. Now in 19th century America, the ghost is a living, breathing, flirting girl named Lucinda Sutton. The same Lucinda Sutton who disappeared on her wedding night, according to town legend. Oh now that’s interesting. Start here – this is your hook, rephrase to get it up there front and center. 

Of all the people to be stuck with in the past, Daniel Wyatt was not high on Emma’s list. His dodgy reputation and temper were enough to keep her away before, but stranded in a foreign world of petticoats and pantalettes, like the alliteration here he’s the only anchor to her time, This feels slightly off, I’m not sure these two phrases in the sentence are actually complementing each other. When you use “before” it sounds like, there was reason for her to not like him earlier, but now – and here I’m expecting you to deliver even more reason to dislike him, but instead it’s a positive flip. Slight rephrase here. a place she’d do anything to return to.

After exploring Lucinda’s life as real 19th century citizens, I’d cut the opener, we assume they’re doing that, or else standing out like sore thumbs. It’s kind of time-travel protocol to fit in right away. Emma and Daniel believe their only way home is to help Lucinda marry. But Lucinda’s fiancé is more than gentility and smiles. He may have been the very person who made her “disappear.” Nice.
Trapped in a tragedy that’s already been written, nice Emma and Daniel must overcome their differences to battle fate for Lucinda’s life. If they fail, they may be abandoned in the past forever.

Nice, but why do they want to help her? Only for themselves? Or do they actually want to save her, too? Earlier when you used the word “flirting” to describe her I was immediately imagining that either there was going to be a love-triangle here, or some kind of jealousy on Emma’s part in regards to Daniel. But that doesn’t go anywhere, and it would be a huge hook in YA. How does Emma feel about Lucinda? Does she want to save her life just to return to her own rightful place in time? How does Emma feel about Daniel as the novel progresses? Are her feelings changing? You say she stayed away from her before, now he’s her anchor. How does she feel about that? Repulsed? Scared? Angry? Confused? Attracted?

This is well-written but you need to get the character feelings in here to give it some blood.

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