Real World or Fantasy World?

Welcome back! Let’s dive into another query-pitch snippet that could benefit from a little strategic tightening. I’ll break this one down into a couple parts.

Before: Fake Book Title follows Tim Brown and his two best friends as they are spending the last days of their summer vacation at Blue Lake before they start high school in the city of Laramie, WY, where they live. During a visit to the only convenience store by Blue Lake, they come across a renowned giant and town drunk who turns on them and violently assaults Tim’s friend Skip. Tim finds himself uncharacteristically defending his friend by knocking out the great bully. With two unconscious bodies at their sides, Tim’s other friend, Chuck, tries to convince Tim he has superpowers as they wait for help, because who, or what, else could have knocked out the giant?

Commentary: 1. “Follows” (like “finds”) is another one of those throwaway words that signal an opportunity to tighten.

2. There’s a lot of exposition packed into that opening. While some framing details might be useful, think hard about how much background information you really need here. (Hint: Not much.) For instance:

  • Do I need to know they’re about to “start high school in the city of Laramie, Wyoming, where they live”? Not really. Giving me “fourteen-year-olds” and “last days of summer” is a much lighter touch. It’s all I need to know. Get to the pitch.
  • Do I need to know that there’s only one convenience story by Blue Lake? Nope.

Remember: Your goal in a query letter is to wallop us with your hook/conflict/story problem/action. Get there.

3. “Renowned giant” threw me for a loop. Keep in mind that your average slush reader is consuming 50-100 queries per day. In today’s climate, many queries include magic or supernatural/paranormal/fantasy elements. Since you didn’t lead with your genre, I don’t know if “giant” is literal and we’re in an urban-fantasy-type setting, or if “giant” just means big, mean bully. So I had to guess.

4. “Violently assaults”? Aren’t all assaults violent? Tighten, please.

5. Ack! There’s that word “finds” again! Edit that out.

6. Why is defending his friend uncharacteristic of Tim? This is ambiguous. Are you trying to imply that Tim is meek and wimpy, or is he simply uncaring—an MTV’s Jackass type of kid who stands by and laughs when others get hurt? Since Tim is your protagonist, I’m going to assume the former.

7. The mention of “superpowers” here reinforces my confusion about “giant.” What kind of world is this?

8. Why is Chuck mentioned here? Is the story going to be about Chuck trying to convince Tim he has superpowers? Or will it be about Tim coming to terms with his newfound abilities?

After: Fake Book Title is a contemporary young-adult novel, complete at 70,000 words.

Fourteen-year-olds Tim Brown and his two best friends, Skip and Chuck, are spending the last days of summer at Blue Lake, Wyoming. When the town drunk, three-hundred pounds of malicious muscle, assaults Skip outside a convenience store, Tim leaps into action. With an astonishing burst of strength and speed, he knocks the man out.

Now, baffled by what appears to be sudden-onset superpowers, Tim must…[keep pitching your story from here.]

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