A Series of Things

January 9th, 2012 • Kate

Buffy_cast_chosenAs I’m looking at queries, I’m coming across a lot of details in book descriptions that seem rushed, like so:

“She is helped in her efforts by a brooding vampire with a soul, a lesbian witch, a former vengeance demon, a British librarian, a platinum blonde vampire with a chip in his head, and a teenage little sister who used to be a mystical key.”

Yes, it’s accurate, but it also feels like you’re throwing everything at the reader in one fell swoop. In this case, wouldn’t it be simpler and just as correct to say “She is helped in her efforts by her own personal Scooby Gang”? Ok, maybe not that exact phrase, but look at how many words you save!

In queries, you don’t have a lot of room to detail the entire plot of a book, and you shouldn’t — you should concentrate on the important plot points that would compel a reader to pick up the whole thing. So you wouldn’t go into the full details of Buffy’s seven seasons of efforts to combat the forces of the Hellmouth, you’d sum it up as “One girl in all the world, with the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness.” That gives you more time to spell out her sense of humor, her quips, her keen fashion sense — to tell the reader more about what makes that character unique.

If you’re feeling like you need to use a list like the example above to get everything in you need to say, consider just leaving it all out. After all, the last thing you want is for an agent to get so turned around by a long series of clauses, they just say no.

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4 Responses to “A Series of Things”

  1. Stephanie McDonnell Says:

    Thank you for sharing this. When it comes to summing things up, I can be overly wordy. Then I check my word count and go, "450 words in a query, hmm …" Take four! Oh, and love the Buffy example. I am in the final season on my rewatch. The stakes are getting high. Eep!!!

  2. Chelsey Says:

    I think it comes from sheer desire to share the number of Awesome Things we love about our novels. I know it was really hard for me not to write pitches like: "Paris, guitars, prosthetic legs, drag queens and Harvard Square (not in that order)" and leave it at that….

    Also, Buffy has the best hook OF ALL, EVER.

  3. @dknippling Says:

    I do like them in book descriptions when they're so weird that I can't imagine how those things can possibly go together, but that takes some doing.

  4. Krista V. Says:

    I can't help but wonder if we writers resort to lists because we're subconsciously trying to mimic movie previews. Movie previews often end with those flashes of random, hopefully exciting images that don't really say much about the plot but are just designed to grab people's attention. The problem is, what works in a movie preview often doesn't in a query, just because movie previews have that visual component.