THE FALCONER

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I’ve noticed through my query-reading experiences that many aspiring authors have a hard time being original. There are so many vampire romances, demon-slaying paranormals, angel stories, faerie mythologies, etc. But the important thing to remember is that it’s perfectly okay to write these. So long as you have something original to add to the genre (and you clearly and interestingly express that in your query).

I give you The Falconer by Elizabeth May.

This is another one of “those faerie books”, but I was intrigued because rather than being set in America or England, The Falconer is set in Scotland. That, combined with the steampunk technology, made me want to buy and read this book.

Little did I know that these aren’t even what really set this book apart from the others. Setting is such a minor thing when compared to plot and character.

The Falconer is awesome because May is an expert with plot twists and engaging fight scenes.

Plot twists, by definition, are unexpected and often exciting. That’s their function: to throw the story in a different direction or to reveal a previously unknown fact. But May produces them in such a way that they amp up the tension and provide greater conflict.

At first the reader is led to believe that the entire purpose of the story is for Aileana to avenge her mother’s death by killing the wicked faerie who murdered her before her eyes. But that’s not the big picture at all—and accomplishing such a task proves to be harder than Aileana could have ever realized. That’s all I can say without revealing any spoilers. So go read The Falconer to see for yourself how May pulls these incredible twists off.

It is said that each scene in a story should accomplish more than one thing, and The Falconer does this effortlessly.

Anyone who has taken a writing class knows that blow-by-blow fight scenes are rarely the way to make a fight scene engaging. Such a style makes the writing feel staccato, unrealistic, and even boring. But May’s writing style is so engaging that she’s not only able to give us blow-by-blow fight scenes at times, but she also combines that with sections of telling (as opposed to showing) to string her fight scenes together. Just when Aileana defeats a faerie, a dozen more will take its place. The scenes never finish when you think they will. And May uses that to pull more tension out of the scenes. It’s incredible.

I’m an Amateur Writer Because…

I say “novel” after clearly stating something as fantasy (i.e. “Please consider my fantasy novel”).

I’m submitting to a publisher even though I self-published my book last week.

I don’t really read books, but I enjoy writing them.

I’m querying a book I haven’t finished writing—or even started for that matter.

I take my manuscript to book signings with the hope that my favorite published authors will show it to their agents.

I say I want to be a writer when I haven’t written anything.

In the case of queries…

I tell agents that my book is unique without saying why, mostly because I don’t know.

Instead of stating the major conflict of my story, I say that my book is about inner discovery.

I’m querying a novel I haven’t finished yet.

I’m asking an agent to please consider my 125,000 word middle grade novel.

My book is a YA, but all the main characters are adults or nine years old.

I say my book has 27 chapters and is 307 pages long. I don’t bother to mention the word count.

My story is about the battle between good and evil, and I will neglect to tell you anything else about it in my query.

I tell agents that I know they’ll enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Sometimes it’s hard to be professional. As writers, we desperately want to get published, and, in the case of those who are already published, we desperately hope that our next book will sell too. Regardless of what publishing state you’re in, don’t forget the basics. Remember to hang in there. Because it’s the writers who stick with it, no matter what, who make it.

Hang in There Kitty

Escapist Magazine

Query Writing Advice

There’s lots of advice out there on how to write a query, but I thought I’d throw out my two cents, focusing particularly on the most common mistakes I’ve seen as a slush pile reader and agent’s intern.

The first thing in your query should be your hook, a one to two–sentence paragraph that makes agents/interns/readers want to read the rest of your query. A hook can also be useful in stating what makes your book different from others out there.

Honestly, the hook should be the easiest part of your query. It’s the most interesting or most unique aspect of your manuscript condensed into one or two sentences.

I don’t have time to get permission to use other authors’ hooks, so I’ll give examples of hooks I’ve used in my queries. These queries got me manuscript requests from agents.

Hook example 1: “After spending four years believing herself to be the last half-demon on earth, 19-year-old demon hunter, Seph Morgan, is shocked to find out that she is merely the only female of her race, making her much sought after by demons, half-demons, and humans alike.”

Hook example 2: “In the empire of Rethvan, it is believed that the souls of those who are murdered must wander in endless torment until their deaths are avenged. Seventeen-year-old Jade must set her mother’s soul free by killing the man responsible for her murder, a man she has never laid eyes on: the emperor, her father.”

Not my best work, but you can see how the first hook points out how the story is unique—a half-demon girl is the only female of her entire race. And the second hook clearly points out the main conflict of the story—a girl is seeking revenge for her mother by attempting to kill her father.

Avoid hooks that could apply to lots of already published books.

Bad hook example: “A new boy enters Kayla’s life, and she finds herself instantly drawn to him.”

While I love a good romance, this hook doesn’t tell me how this story is unique. It could be the plot to Twilight or City of Bones or Hush, Hush or a thousand other books. That’s not to say that these books aren’t unique, just that this hook would be a terrible one to use for them because they have so many unique things about them that could be used instead.

The second part of your query is a description of the plot, main conflicts, and other fun details you want to include. In other words, a one to two–paragraph summary of your story that doesn’t contain any spoilers.

Now let me interrupt for a moment to say that some people have a hard time understanding what a main conflict is. It’s NOT a list of the themes found in your manuscript.

Bad summary example: “My novel is a heartwarming tale of friendship and love in which two souls must come together after a hardship has befallen them.”

Ick. I get this one all the time. Drives me nuts. First off, don’t tell me your story is heartwarming. I’ll decide that for myself. Second of all, that’s great that a hardship befalls them, but WHAT IS THE HARDSHIP? That’s the conflict, not that other crap that they listed. I don’t want to know the themes. I want to be able to tell the themes for myself by learning the actual conflicts of the story.

A main conflict is also NOT a description of the world you’ve made up or the creatures you’ve made up or whatever else you’ve made up unless you directly relate these elements to the conflict of the story.

Bad summary example: Welcome to the world of Eldyron, where magic and technology have reached their peaks. Some children ride broomsticks while others ride flying mechanical dragons. Some brandish wands while others use telekinetic devices called spingots.”

Obviously I just made that one up on the spot, but you see the point. It’s great that you’ve made up a new world, but what’s the conflict?! Is there an evil dude planning to use his magic to destroy the world? Is the main character an evil technological mastermind who plans to take control of the world? Whatever the actual conflict is, important people want to know it.

So what is the conflict then? It’s the problem. It’s what makes your story interesting, that thing that keeps everything from being happiness and giggles.

Conflict examples: bad guy trying to take over the world, obtaining revenge, people are disappearing, the class bully, etc.

It’s okay to include minor conflicts as well. It’s all right to describe your characters in more details if you show how their personalities lead to conflict. It’s perfectly fine to include interesting facts so long as they relate directly to the conflicts.

Also, your summary should focus the most time on the most important elements. Don’t spend a whole paragraph talking about the romance if it’s a very minor element. If your story has a strong romantic element, do mention it. A romance is always a conflict, and an exciting one at that.

Don’t forget to include in your summary the word count, title, and genre of your manuscript!

And if you want to see them, here are the summaries I wrote for the two hooks I used earlier.

Summary 1: “At 85,000 words, The Curse of Beauty is the first installment in a young adult fantasy trilogy following the life of Seph Morgan. When her parents were killed by demons, Seph dedicated her life to ridding the world of the nasties that lurk in the night. Having been trained to handle a sword at an early age and being half-demon herself, Seph is more than capable of taking out any demon unlucky enough to cross her path. While Seph appreciates some aspects of being half-demon (enhanced senses and agility, fast healing, impressive strength), others she finds extremely annoying (loneliness and an alluring, flawless beauty exceeding any human’s). For a girl who just wants to do her job and stay under the radar, drawing unwanted attention can be a huge inconvenience, sometimes a dangerous one.

When taken captive by a group of hunters who are neither human nor demon, Seph is furious until she learns something that changes her life. She isn’t the last of her race; she is simply the only female, which puts her hot on the market. Seph’s invited to attend the Jansen, a school that prepares half-demons for their future careers as demon hunters. Life changes dramatically for Seph at the Jansen. Whispers and catcalls follow her wherever she goes. She is now a teaching assistant for the sword training classes—where she deals with delinquent students who would rather check her out than pay attention to her instructions—under the direction of the extremely rude, hot, and mysterious Luke. But unruly boys aren’t Seph’s biggest concern. There’s another person out for her, someone more dangerous than anything Seph has ever fought against, and he won’t stop until he has her. The Curse of Beauty is equal parts action, mystery, and romance.”

Just FYI, that second to last line there, THAT would be the main conflict.

Summary 2: “Getting close to the most protected man in the world seems impossible, but Jade has an advantage that she doesn’t even know about. She has spent her life far from the Imperial City, living in the mountains—where her mother, the emperor’s twelfth wife, has kept them hidden from her father’s abusive habits. But after Jade finds her mother’s dead body and vows to avenge her death, she meets 23-year-old Tyrian, who plans to use her to gain his own political aspirations. He tells Jade about her previously unknown lineage, that as one of the emperor’s eligible children she can compete for the throne, and about his intent to help her do it. Tyrian might be conceited and dealing with his own tortured past, but Jade recognizes in him the same relentless determination that drives her. They both are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want. Jade has no intention of ruling an empire, but she has no problem using Tyrian. She’ll go with him to the Imperial City and pretend to play this political game to try to win the emperor’s favor. How else is she supposed to get close enough to kill him?

Divine Vengeance is a young adult fantasy that combines the revenge plot of The Count of Monte Cristo with the royal sibling rivalry found in Stardust. Full of romance, political intrigue, adventure, and mystery, the manuscript is complete at 100,000 words. It is a standalone with series potential.”

And lastly, you’ll want to include your author bio in your query. Very little needs to be said about this. If you’ve got writing credentials, include them, if you don’t, don’t lie. It really doesn’t matter. Unless you’re a New York Times’ bestselling author looking for a new agent, the big guys really don’t care about your credentials.

So there, now you have no excuse NOT to include the plot of your manuscript in your query.

Word Sprints

Today’s post might be of particular interest to the NaNo-ers among us. I know you’re out there. You probably haven’t slept more than six hours a night in the last two weeks and, if you’re like me, there are a lot of undone items on your To Do lists, but hopefully you’re all still alive and hopefully this post might help that general state of living-ness continue.

So, onto the topic at hand: Writing.

Sometimes writing is honest-to-goodness the greatest thing in the world. It is better than chocolate, it is better than curling up with a good book while the world is blizzarding outside, it is better than steak (and I love me some steak). But other times, writing feels like a chore. It’s just one more thing that needs to get crossed off your To Do list, which is already about a mile and a half long. It’s that thing that needs to get done before your mom will let you go  play on a Saturday afternoon.  It’s not fun–in fact, it is about as much fun as going to the dentist.

For me, the writing is a chore feeling usually comes along when I’m already tired and stressed out and my story is broken and all I really want to do is watch another Big Bang Theory rerun. But I’ve found that (especially during high-stakes months like NaNo November) if I skip writing one day, I am more likely to skip the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that one…ad nauseam.

And the only way to get out of this cycle of suck is to sit down and stop whining and actually write something. But this hard, which is why I have taken up the sport of word sprints.

The basic premise behind word sprints is you set a timer (I usually set mine for a half hour) and you do nothing during that half hour but bust your butt writing.  No checking facebook, no responding to that text message. The internet will still be there when you are done–this is a solid block of time that is just for writing.

And the goal is to write as much as you possibly can. I like going into my word sprints with a certain word count in mind. I like having a goal–and then I like utterly wasting that goal. Other writers like to do word sprints in the form of word wars. You and your writing buddy sit down and you each try to write more than the other. This fosters a friendly (or not so friendly, depending on the competitiveness of both you and your writing buddy) spirit of competition, which can be a great motivator.

And really, that’s all word sprints or word wars are. They are means of motivating yourself to get something done.  Because it’s really easy to say to yourself, “Self, for the next [insert block of time] we are going to nothing but breathe and write. And I promise that once [block of time] is up, we can go back to watching Big Bang Theory instead of studying for that test/writing that paper/cleaning the house/walking the cat etc.” Knowing that you only have to sit and focus for a little amount of time makes the writing seem way more obtainable and a lot less scary and intimidating. It’s a small step towards completing your goal.

Of course, you need to keep in mind that what you write during a word sprint is most likely going to be crap. It’s a natural consequence. Going back to the chore metaphor, word sprints are the equivalent of shoving everything under your bed, wiping off the visible dust,  spraying the room with air freshener, and declaring your room “clean.” It’s a shoddy job and definitely not a permanent fix, but it gets the job done.

Because sometimes you just need to get the words on paper. Sometimes you just need to write through whatever problems you’re having with your story. Because you know what? Once it’s written, you can fix it. It’s not going to get fixed as some amorphous blob in your head.

So next time you hit a roadblock in your writing, turn off your wifi, set a timer, and get sprinting.