Query Workshop – A NINE DAYS’ WONDER

Time for another query workshop! This one comes from Maria Hossain. To read more about her and the future progress of her story, you can find her blog here. Maria is a YA writer and her manuscript A NINE DAYS’ WONDER is a historical novel set in London in 1973. Good luck in Pitch Wars, Maria!

Below are three of her query drafts including some of the critiques she received and what she fixed to follow the advice. One critique even comes from Naomi Hughes, a mentor for Pitch Wars. Maria’s query is a good example of just how much a query can change from revision to revision. Remember, don’t be afraid to revise! The Facebook group mentioned is our Pitch Wars hopefuls group and can be found here. Feel free to join us if you are looking for some critique, want to find someone to swap chapters with, or just feel like discussing Pitch Wars.

First draft

“Seventeen-year-old Ned Crawley goes to jail for three hours for stealing his dad’s car to escape his dysfunctional family life. After a late bail, he’s reluctant to go back to his family, consisting of overly strict father, inactive mother suffering from Idiopathic Hypersomnia (a rare sleeping disorder), perfectionist elder brother and naïve, sweet, innocent little brother who’s handicapped from a Thalidomide incident caused by his mother’s hypersomnia.

Just outside the station he meets Summer Winter, a seventeen-year-old free spirited hippie, and they click. When Summer learns about his mother’s illness and how it estranged his family, she suggests Ned to give his dad a surprise birthday party next week and try to get his family back together by the occasion. Ned slowly learns that underneath Summer’s bright colorful exterior, she hides pain and guilt: pain for living far away from her beloved New York city, guilt for being born as a white girl in a colored family and so failing to sympathize with them during racist attacks, as well as for a traumatic incident from a camping trip years ago.

While discovering more about each other, Ned slowly starts to individually reunite with the members of his estranged family and Summer prepares for the Hippie trail tour where Ned is hoping to join her. But the party causes further estrangement among his family members, especially between his parents, that soon leads to a fatal accident forcing Ned to choose between his family and the girl of his dreams.

Set in London on August, 1973, A Nine Days’ Wonder is a historical young adult novel with a 72,000 word count.”

Critique from PitchWars mentor Naomi Hughes:

I’m seeing a lot of big, blocky paragraphs–it would be easier on agents’ eyes if you reframed your query into three or four paragraphs of varying lengths instead. As far as the content, I’m seeing mostly internal conflicts and character arcs but no true external conflict–no character goal being stymied by an opposing force, with something at risk if he fails. We also need to see more of a chain of action and consequence; how does one event catapult your character into the next? How do his choices and decisions drive the plot forward?

What I fixed:

I added external conflicts to both Ned and Summer’s problems to ante up the stakes. I also shortened up most of the sentences into legible sizes.

Second draft submitted to Facebook PitchWars Secret Group for Hopeful Mentee:

“Seventeen-year-old Ned Crawley wants to reconcile his estranged parents from an unwanted divorce. But that’s easier said than done. Firstly, Ned’s mum has a nameless, causeless, incurable rare sleeping disorder. Secondly, because if this illness, she accidentally swallowed Thalidomide during her third pregnancy and as a result, Ned’s younger brother, Ted, was born with one arm and Phocomelia. Together with his two brothers, his friend-turned-girlfriend, Summer and his godmother.

Summer Winter is a seventeen years old white American Hippie living in London with her colored family. A lively girl, she wants nothing but racists to leave her colored family alone, as well as return to her beloved Philadelphia city. When her mother proposes to do the latter, Summer is hesitant, for she has a traumatic past haunting her, as well as several problems with her mother.

When these two meet and click, they decide to help each other out. While Summer helps Ned reunite his parents, Ned helps her heal from her past and deal with her present to seal a happy future. He also promises to join her at her upcoming Hippie trail tour. But a party causes further estrangement between Ned’s parents’, leading to a fatal accident. Now Ned is forced to choose, between staying back and try to reunite his parents; or going to the tour and helping Summer move on from her past to start afresh.

Set in UK on July-August, 1973, A NINE DAYS’ WONDER is a YA historical novel with a 72,000 word count.”

Critique from the group:

Too much back story. Looks almost like a synopsis. I was advised only to add crucial points of the story and cut unnecessary info, such as Ted’s birth defect. Also to keep the query under a 250 word count.

What I changed:

I cut the back story to a minimum and added some phrases and sentences Kit Grant, the wonderful and helpful admin of the group, suggested in her critique (added in the next draft in blocks and underlined).

Third Draft submitted to the same Facebook group:

“For seventeen-year-old dyslexic, aspiring photographer Ned Crawley, life is liveable, until the day he discovers divorce papers in his Dad’s study. Initially reluctant, Ned schemes with his brothers to reconcile his parents before it’s too late. But it’s easier said than done. Firstly, his mum has an incurable sleeping disorder and his dad is a chronically overworked officer of Scotland Yard.

Summer Winter is a seventeen-year-old white American Hippie living in London with her colored family. She uses her bright countenance and lively demeanor to hide the ghosts of her traumatic past and myriads of problems with her mother. When her mother proposes to go back to their beloved Philadelphia city, Summer comes face to face with everything she was running away from.

When these two meet and click, they decide to help each other out. While Summer helps Ned reunite his parents, Ned promises Summer to join her on an upcoming Hippie trail tour to help her heal from her past and deal with her present to seal a happy future. But at a party, Ned’s parents’ already fragile marriage reaches the end of its tether, leading to a fatal accident in the family. Now Ned is forced to choose, either stay back to reunite his estranged parents; or go to the tour and keep the promise he made to Summer to help her heal.

Set in UK on July-August, 1973, A NINE DAYS’ WONDER is a YA historical novel with a 72,000 word count.

Critique for this draft from the group:

What are Ned’s stakes? What does he lose if he stays with his parents? And how did the fatal accident force this choice?

From a CP:

Consider taking out most of the background information and get right into telling us what the conflict of the story is.

Note from Maria:

These are the three drafts that I’ve submitted for critiques. Currently I’m working on the fourth draft and will soon submit it to the Facebook group. Thank you, Katelyn, for posting them.

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