So, I’m a mentor in this cool writing contest called Sun Vs. Snow, organized by the awesome author team of Amy Trueblood and Michelle Hauck. Basically, writers submitted a query, the first 250 words of the manuscript, and then a short description of whether their main character preferred sun over snow.
It’s a cool contest and my job, along with many other awesome mentors, was to critique these queries.
It was fun. I really enjoyed it. But I noticed some common problems I’d like to address. Ready? Here we go:
1. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. I don’t need to know your five little B-plots or subplots. I need the bones. Your query really should answer these three questions – What does your protagonist want? How does he/she/it get it? What is standing in his/her/its way?
2. Those questions lead me into my next issue: If you can’t answer those questions, take a good look at your plot. Is your character passive? Is everything happening TO him/her/it? I’m not saying you can’t have a passive character, but it’s not ideal and something you should me aware of.
Your character should want something. I know you might say, “But Megan, sometimes things just happen to people.” Yes, I get that. I’m aware. But this is a BOOK. This is fiction. Make that character active because the reader wants to ROOT for something along with the character. Make me CARE that your main character wants to get into college, or solve a murder or survive a zombie apocalypse. Google “passive characters” and there are tons of tips on how to fix that.
2. I don’t want to know about what your character WAS or HAD BEEN DOING. I want to know what the book is about – the plot. Sure, you’ll need to include some background on your character to make the plot relevant, but focus on the catalyst that sets the story in motion. THAT’S the hook.
FIRST 250 WORDS
1. Hands down, the biggest problem I noticed was too much telling. Too much exposition. Don’t shove background information down my throat in the first 250 words. SHOW ME instead. Shove me right into the action and through that action, give me your characters thoughts on another character, or a place, or whatever you are trying to convey. Your character is smart? SHOW ME how he grins triumphantly at that red A on his test. Your character isn’t smart? SHOW ME as he glares at that red D, then crumples it in a fist and tosses it into the trashcan as he trudges from the classroom. ACTION ACTION ACTION.
2. Introductory sentences: What was it with you guys and these things? Haha. This was so common in the entries and is really not necessary. Let me make up an example:
Alexandria really hated dragons, until the day she met one.
The day started like any other. Alexandria slipped into her red gown and flounced from her dressing room.
Okay, so that was totally simplistic, but you get the point. Why start with that sentence? Don’t set me up like that. Show me in her dressing room as she flounces outside in the warm sun as she takes a walk to her favorite lake. Then she stumbles on what she thinks is a root and Oh look! It’s a dragons’s tail! Eeek! She covers her mouth with a dainty hand!… Yadda yadda.
See what I mean? No introductory sentence needed.
Now, let me end this post with disclaimer: There are exceptions to all of these points. I actually told one contestant to keep her introductory sentence because I liked it so much. So basically, with all these points, sure you can deviate. But have a good reason WHY. You have to know the rules to break them, know what I mean?
So, you might disagree with me, and that’s okay! I just want these things to be something you keep in the back of your mind.
And honestly, the talent in Sun Vs. Snow was fabulous. I had a blast and I’m rooting for all of you!
Go Team Sun! 🙂