Friday, January 11, 2013

Forging Fridays - It's in the Details!

Today is our first Forging Fridays Query! Yay! We love volunteers! I don't believe I stated this before, but I won't be stating the identities of the volunteers for Forging Fridays unless otherwise requested. If you feel like unmasking yourselves in the comments, be my guest. But, I won't mention anyone by name.

Here is our very first volunteer! *applause* *cheers* *confetti*


After 18-year-old Anne Marie Gessner refuses to go to college and moves in with her grandmother in Paris, she’s determined to learn about her French mother, who died 10 years prior.  But her plans change when she stumbles across the diary and letters of the infamous Charlotte Corday, an aristocrat known in French Revolution history for murdering journalist Jean-Paul Marat. Good start! We have an age & a main character, but there are some things regarding motivation that are lacking. Without having read the book, I'm guessing the inciting incident here is Anne's decision to not attend college and move to Paris (or possibly finding the diary). We have no idea what makes her decide to pass on college. We want to care about what your main character is doing from the first paragraph and a big part of that requires us to know a bit about WHY she is doing things.

As Anne discovers the secrets her family kept from her about her mom, Charlotte’s life starts taking over Anne’s, literally. While reading Charlotte’s writing or standing in front of her portrait, Anne time travels, turns into her distant relative complete with all her memories, and experiences everything that shaped Charlotte, from the evacuation of Caen to the death of Charlotte’s mother. But she can’t control the time travel and occasionally comes back to the Paris of November 2005, when immigrant youths riot for equality. A few points to discuss here: 1 - We have a bit of disjointedness from the first paragraph to this one. The end of the first paragraph is about how her plans to find out more about her mom get derailed by some unknown thing. This paragraph needs to go directly to the unknown thing, in this case, the time-travel bit. When we go back to the mom in the start of the first sentence, I feel like I missed something. 2 - There are some clarity issues about what is actually happening. You call it time-travel, but she is actually in Charlotte's body? This really isn't clear enough here. 3 - The sentence saying "Charlotte's life starts taking over Anne's, literally" is troublesome. I can see the clever angle you're trying to get to here, but it isn't quite working. Especially because if I'm understanding this correctly, isn't it Anne who is taking over Charlotte's life? (going back and living it in her place?) Or are they switching places? You can see the confusion I'm having here. 4 - Why is the coming back to the present a problem? Why are the rioting youths even mentioned? If they aren't a bigger part of the plot then they don't need to be here. If they are a bigger part of the plot, tell us how. Would she prefer to stay back in Charlotte's time? If so, what makes her want to stay there? Again, we meed more insight into motivation.

As her two realities intertwine, Anne must decide whether to follow Charlotte’s destiny — to murder a radical leader for the good of France — or to follow her own path. What she decides ends up shaping her own life in the present, and that includes what she learns about her mom’s life. Okay, now we're at the consequences part of the query. What are the stakes? They need to be specific and we need to know why it's a problem. "Shaping her own life in the present" is very vague. We need more specifics. Shaping it how? And that gets us to the root problem with this query. We know very little about the character. You've told us some about the plot, but we know very little about Anne. Is Anne terribly unhappy with her life and that's why she'd prefer to stay back then? If so, what makes her unhappy? Did she fall for someone in either timeline (or both)? If she stays back as Charlotte, will she be stuck that way? Will she go to jail for the murder? Must she decide if she's capable of murder? If she's not, will she change history? We need concrete risks and rewards. I am certain there are details in the story, you need to share some of these with us in the query. A query needs to make us care and be intrigued by a story and characters. You can't do that without more details and specifics. This does not mean it needs to be longer. I wouldn't make it longer. It means you need to use your space better. Also, the last sentence needs to pack a punch. This one is punch-less, but concrete consequences will help that.

One last note. Voice is lacking through this entire query. This is a very common problem. In this case, I feel like when you add in the details and let us get to know Anne a bit better, this may be at least partly resolved. Another EXCELLENT option is to take your query and tell the same facts and sentences from 1st person and Anne's POV. As though Anne sat down and wrote a letter to someone about what happened to her. NOTE: DO NOT USE THIS LETTER AS YOUR QUERY. It's just a great method for tapping into the voice of your character and your story. Afterward, using that letter as a reference, rewrite the query including more of the voice you found in the letter. Make sense? 


Okay, that's it for today and this query. Thank you so much for volunteering, oh mystery writer! :) I really hope this helped you and I think your concept is different and intriguing, the query just needs some polish. It takes guts to send in a query, to me or an agent. Go you! You have awesome guts! :)

So, what do you guys think? Agree or disagree with my assessments? Discuss! Also, happy Forging Fridays! May we all be tougher and stronger thanks to our days in the fire. 


  1. THANK you so much for your comments. They're invaluable. I've revised my query a bit (and coming out of secrecy!) I know you're in no way obligated too, but do you think I'm on a better track with this?

    Eighteen-year-old Anne Marie Gessner is ready to escape to Paris, even if means moving in with a grandmother she’s never met. She’s done living with a dad who insists she do something with her life, and she’s frustrated that her and her best friend Lisa no longer get along now that Lisa is in college. Plus, living in Paris means she can finally learn more about her French mother, who died a decade prior.

    But when Anne goes in search of her mom’s past, she finds yet another escape from her life: the diary and letters of Charlotte Corday, a distant relative and a French revolutionary who thought she could save her country by killing a journalist, Jean-Paul Marat. While standing in front of Charlotte’s portrait or reading her writings, Anne time travels and becomes Charlotte. Charlotte’s memories -- of her own mother’s death, of the streets of Caen running red with blood -- become Anne’s too. She can’t control the time traveling though, as she switches between France of 1791 and Paris of 2005, when immigrant youths rioted for equality.

    Even as Anne begins to make new friends -- Pierre, a young man who knew her mom; and Leonoor, who is fascinated by Charlotte too -- Anne increasingly wants to return to Charlotte’s life, believing that she’s finally a part of something important. Yet, she discovers she can change Charlotte’s life, in ways she was never able to control her own. She needs to make a choice: follow Charlotte’s destiny, and murder Marat, or create her own path, both in the past and the present.

    THROUGH CHARLOTTE'S EYES is a 78,000 word YA historical and includes both real writings by Charlotte as well as ones I imagined the revolutionary might write...

  2. Yes! The voice is much better here! There are still some details that get confusing and I'd read it a few times and streamline it. For example, I'm still confused about 1791 and 2005. Is 2005 the present in this story or is she traveling to two different times other than the present? Also, I think you need to hone in on the main story line. To me, it sounds like the main story line is Charlotte and the stuff about her mom is a significant subplot. If so, I'd highly recommend taking that out of the query. I don't think you need it here. With that streamlining and the voice changes, I think you're much closer! :) Good luck!

  3. This is really fascinating! Thank you for being brave enough to submit, I am learning a lot from reading your original and reading the feedback.

    If I'm understanding this right, the query does not have to give away the end or too many specifics, but it does need to show inciting incident, choices and consequences?

    1. Chris - Correct. In fact, you don't want to give away the end. You want to pitch the book in much the same way a movie trailer does. What starts the action? What does the hero have to accomplish? Who is trying to stop him/her? What are the consequences of failure?

      Those are the basics that have to be there. Depending on the type of book, other things will be included, as well. For example, if it is a romance or the romance is central to the main plot, the love interest should be mentioned. If it's a fantasy or sci-fi, setting should be there (if there is a magical power or ability of the hero that is essential to the plot, etc). BUT you also need to recognize which things are not part of the initial questions -- who, what, why, how, who is trying to stop them? And consequences?

      Don't clutter it with side-plots. Stick to the point and you're good. :)

    2. Adding this to my copious list of notes. Thank you!