Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Query Revision 61

Face-Lift 867: Skip

Ten-year-old Brooke doesn’t like talking about her older sister Leah. It’s partly because Brooke's embarrassed by Leah’s screaming fits and crying jags. Part of it is because the last time Brooke wrote about Leah in her diary, Leah read it and ruined the journal in a fit of rage. But the biggest reason Brooke doesn’t talk or write about Leah anymore is just because she doesn’t want to. She likes pretending that Leah doesn’t exist.

Brooke thinks pretending will be easier once Leah is admitted to Cresthaven Children’s Psychiatric Center, but surprisingly it’s not. Brooke’s parents are even more distracted than they were before and everything makes Brooke think of her sister. Despite her parents requests for Brooke to visit Leah and their assurances that Leah’s Bipolar Disorder is finally being properly treated, Brooke continues to keep her distance from her sister both physically and emotionally. She isn't going to be disappointed by her sister again. But when Leah is allowed a visit home for Thanksgiving, Brooke is forced to see her sister again and decide whether to let Leah back into her life or just keep pretending.

SKIP is a middle grade novel. It is complete at 22000 words. Thank you for your time and attention.

Comments

I think this is one of those stories that will have agents requesting based on the premise alone to see if the author carries it off for the MG crowd. We've all seen the examples of imperfect queries that garner requests while the rest of us sit around and ask, "WTF?"

That said, you still have to strike the right note with the query, and I don't think the original attempt we saw on Evil Editor's site did that. This one, however, comes much closer. Stylistically, this version can still be much improved. And you, the author, will need to determine if the voice in THIS query (patient and wise beyond a 10-year-old's years) is truly representative or if the younger voice in the original query is better suited to get across what the book truly is. Or if a blend of the two might work best.

Since it's only 22,000 words and meant for early MG readers, an economy of language in the book is appropriate. That economy isn't coming across in this version of the query. There are a number of extranneous words and expressions here that can be deleted. You can use the extra space to expand on the story or just leave it a shorter, leaner letter.

In my version, I'm suggesting where some of the economies can take place and where you can maybe add a few more specifics to better help the reader see the story.

General Comment For Everyone

Changing generalities to specifics in your query does NOT have to result in an increased word count. My version below retains pretty much everything presented in the version above AND adds a couple of complications from the original on EE's site AND gives some concrete examples in place of some of the generalities. The version above is 207 words. The version below is 208. It really DOESN'T take more words on average to be specific than it does to be vague.

My Version

Ten-year-old Brooke doesn't talk much about her older sister Leah. She's embarrassed by Leah's screaming fits and crying jags. She hates being around a sister who flies into rages, rips up her books, and trashes her room "just because." She can't even have a pet because of Leah. So Brooke does her best to pretend Leah doesn't exist.

Once Leah goes to live at the Cresthaven Children’s Psychiatric Center, Brooke figures pretending will be easier. Surprisingly, it isn't. Her parents are even more distracted than before, her grades at school are tanking, and everything from the empty chair at the dining table to the closed bedroom door makes Brooke think of her sister. Still, she can't bring herself to visit Leah despite her parents' pleas and their assurances that Leah's bipolar disorder is under control -- this time. Brooke's been disappointed by her sister before, and keeping a distance both physically and emotionally is the only way she knows to be sure it doesn't happen again.

Then Leah comes home for Thanksgiving, and Brooke must make a very grown-up decision: to let her sister back into her life or just keep pretending.

SKIP is an early-MG novel, complete at 22,000 words. Thank you for your time and attention.

11 comments:

fairyhedgehog said...

It's a very interesting premise and Phoenix's revision works well.

vkw said...

this is a great revision of the query, and again I love the subject matter.

I hope the book explores the concept that Bi-Polar Disorder is just like any other disability. The only thing I didn't like in Phoenix query is:

Once Leah goes to live at the Cresthaven Children’s Psychiatric Center, Brooke figures pretending will be easier.

I don't like "live at", we don't live at hospitals we get treatment because we are ill.

I know it's a nit but I get to have a few now and then,

When Leah goes to the hospital for treatment, Brook, hoping her sister will never come back, thinks pretending will get easier.

I know the author puts in the name of the hospital to identify a mental illness but it gets spelled out in the next sentence.

Another way would be "When Leah goes to the crazy hospital.. . .

Lauren K said...

Thank you so much for the help. It really does make it easier to have an example to work from. How does this version read?

Ten-year-old Brooke doesn't talk much about her older sister Leah. She's embarrassed by Leah's screaming fits and crying jags. She hates being around a sister who flies into rages, rips up her books, and trashes her room "just because." She doesn't even like inviting friends over since she never knows what Leah will do. So Brooke does her best to pretend Leah doesn't exist.

Once Leah is admitted to the hospital Brooke thinks ignoring her sister's existance will be easier. Surprisingly, it isn't. Her parents are even more distracted than before, she's points away from failing English for the semester, and everything from the scratched CD in the car to the closed bedroom door makes Brooke think of her sister. Still, she can't bring herself to visit Leah despite her parents' pleas and their assurances that Leah's bipolar disorder finally under control. Disappointed by her sister before, and keeping a distance both physically and emotionally is the only way Brooke can be sure it doesn't happen again.

Then Leah comes home for Thanksgiving, and Brooke must decide whether to let her sister back into her life or just keep pretending.

SKIP is an early-MG novel, complete at 22,000 words. Thank you for your time and attention.

I was also wondering if anyone had suggestions on how to write a synopsis for this. For example in the first scene Leah destroys Brooke's diary. Brooke only states that her diary was ruined. She doesn't explain until later in the book that Leah did it. How do I write that in the synopsis? I've been having a hard time finding advice on dealing with an unreliable narrator.

Thank you again for all the help.

All-Stars said...

This is just just my $0.02
In the first scene of your bookk, does Brooke walk in on Leah trashing her journal? You could open the synopsis with Brooke finding Leah with the journal and her reaction to it. It sounds like the story is told from Brooke's POV and perhaps the synopsis should reflect the same.
In your revision of the query in the comments, which is nicely revised, you mention Leah goes to the hospital. I think you should clarify with "psychiatric" or "mental" hosptial. My mind immediately thought regular hospital and that Leah was deathly ill or had a major accident.

chelsea said...

Hmmm. For what it's worth, Lauren, I liked the second paragraph of your first revision a lot - the one that mentions Cresthaven by name. It did that tugs-on-my-heartstrings thing and I really felt Brooke's emotional distress.

I do miss the journal in the newer versions. I agree that it didn't quite work to make it the focus of the query, but I think you could still add it to the line about pretending Leah doesn't exist. Something about Brooke having one sacred space that's all her own, even if that space is a book.

Sorry if all the contradicting advice is driving you crazy! I agree that the query is definitely getting close.

no-bull-steve said...

I like it! Phoenix is right. Make sure every word of the query (and every word of the novel means something).

I'm probably not the guy to ask on synopsis work. I hate them with a passion. They're nothing but busy work for lazy literary agents. That said, I'd suggest opening your synopsis with "After her older sister destroys her old journal in a fit of rage..." Even if it's not specifically shown at the begining, it happens and it's important to the plot.

My 0.02

Good luck with this!

Matt said...

A synopsis should follow the events of a story in chronological order, regardless of how they appear in the book.

Jo-Ann said...

Hi Lauren
Interesting concept. When I read the original query on EE's blog, I imagined that the sister either had Tourette's or a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder - Bipolar disorder caught me by surprise. So it's good that you named the condition in this version.

I believe that the synopsis needs to be a tour of the plot. So if Brooke knew that Leah was responsible for her diary being destroyed from the start, that info needs to be delivered then.

Out of curiosity, is Leah ever stable between the two phases? Does she have any talents or other redeeming features at all? Do the girls connect in any way? Some people with bipolar disorder are lots of fun to be with ("life of the party")at the start of the "manic" phase, before it peaks.

chelsea said...

Hi again! I thought I'd take a stab at the synopsis. Taking into account the things I know about the story, I might write it a little like this:


Ten-year-old Brooke writes about everything in her journal: school, her friends -- most of all, her big sister Leah. Bipolar Leah isn't like other sisters. She doesn't share hand-me-downs or help Brooke with her homework. Mostly she just hides in her room and cries. And when Leah finds out what Brooke's been writing in her journal, she goes ballistic and destroys it.

That's when Brooke really admits to herself how hard it is living with a sick sister. She has to walk on eggshells all the time. She can't have friends over for fear of what Leah might do. And the worst part? Her supposedly loving parents never have time for her. Desperate for a place where she matters, Brooke starts a new journal -- one where Leah doesn't exist.

At first, the journal is like a breath of fresh air. Brooke has the freedom to rant about spelling tests and fights with her best friend. And when the outside world tries to creep in, she just fights that much harder to keep it out.

Then [this, this and this] happen, and Leah gets sent away to Cresthaven Children's Psychiatric Center. Suddenly it's like Brooke's fantasy world has become reality. But the real world without Leah is nothing like her journal world. Everything reminds her of her sister. And her parents are more distracted than ever, in spite of their claims that Leah is finally getting help.

Now Brooke is missing Leah and resenting her at the same time. She doesn't want to blame Leah for all of these problems, but she can't stand to be let down by her big sister one more time. Then Leah comes to visit at Thanksgiving and Brooke is faced with a horrible realization: she's let her sister down, and if she doesn't let Leah back into her life, her connection to the real world may be shattered forever.

Lauren K said...

Chelsea, I really like that version of the query. Thanks so much for posting it.

Lauren K said...

Jo-ann,
Leah does have quite a few positive qualities and can be a lot of fun. Brooke kind of forgets about that though since it's been a while since she's had a good time with her sister.
(Leah actually suffers from type 2 bipolar disorder and doesn't experience a true manic phase.)