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.

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 🙂

“Feeling down? Unhappy with life? Then we have a solution for you! Try our newest over-the-counter drug—Happy Pills. Comes in several different emotive-inducing flavors, such as happiness, motivation, and even love! That’s right folks, only $799.99 a box. Hurry and get yours today!” Hmm… well, I know that this is kind of a rule-breaker shot at a hook, but honestly it doesn’t work for me. I can’t stand infomericals, period. So having one tossed at me as an attempt to get my attention (even if it is tongue in cheek) just makes me want to turn off the TV, or put down the query. 

Sixteen-year-old Creed Gable has it all: the car, the looks, the cash, and even his own commercial where he gets to advertises the newest over the counter hottest? most demanded? something like that drug on the market—Happy Pills. It’s all thanks to his neurotic parents who came up with the formula as their gift to a dying U.S. population. I definitely think this has more elements of a strong hook. You need to shave it down (suggestions above) and clarify why people are “dying.” Do you mean physical, actual death? Metaphorical death of the soul? What does the parents being neurotic have to do with anything? And what do Happy Pills actually do? Literally make you happy?

But when can’t-touch-this Raven Shaw transfers to his private school, claiming the drugs he’s been selling on-the-sly to his friends for cheap are adversely affecting their brains, gossip spreads through the halls. Why does it matter if the drugs he’s selling cheaply to friends are adversely affecting people? Even if that’s the actual plot point, you don’t need the little element that it’s the sidelines sales that she’s mentioning — wouldn’t it matter more if she’s claiming Happy Pills are bad, period? I’d drop the mention of backhalls deals because it’s making your sentence overly long. Even though Happy Pills went through vigorous clinical trials to make sure it was safe for the general public, Creed can’t help but take her claims personally, especially when she snubs his advances and denies his bribes to shut up.

And then the worst happens: she tips off the principal and his cache is confiscated. OK – now I get that you need the offsides sales for this plot point, but it’s still not quite working for me. If Happy Pills are being sold to the general public, then they have to be mass-produced, so I’m not sure why it would matter. Also, why would his cache be confiscated? Happy Pills aren’t illegal – they’re over the counter and he’s the owner of the formula, so I don’t see any reason why they’d take it from him. Techncially he’s not doing anything wrong. With disposable dough drying up quicker than his popularity, Creed’s only recourse is to quiet that screeching Raven once and for all. But how is shutting her up going to fix the problem? If the problem is that the drugs were taken from him, (and conceivably, if that’s the true problem and he can’t get anymore, what does making her be quiet help?) Trouble is, he’s never killed (poisoned, punched?) Is this you playing with word choice, or how you actually want the query to read? a girl, If you do decide to go with “killed,” you have to deal with the unspoken implication here that he *has* killed boys. let alone one he thinks he’s in love with. Now, if only he could figure out how to ignore her lovely eyes and smart mouth, he’d be back to the top of his game.

I think the plot sounds run, and original. What you need to do here is plug the holes. I don’t know if the holes are present in the ms itself or just the query, but you definitely need to make it clear what kind of “dying” is going on in the US. What are Happy Pills actually treating? Depression? That’s part of the issue, but I think the biggest question is why is having his stash taken away feasible if it’s a legal drug? And why would it matter if his personal stash is taken if they’re being mass produced and he owns the company? And how does making her be quiet solve his problems, if the actual problem is that his drugs were taken?

Like I said, I think there’s a great base here, but the holes need plugged.


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