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Why Do You Build Me Up Buttercup Just to Let Me Down

Don’t start your query letter with the name of your character. Lucy Links is on the rebound! Martine Kessell grew up in Capetown. Carl Noop never thought he was meant for great things.

Why? Why does it always sound…silly?  Or cartoonish? Is this just me?

Nora Elle Martin is heading home for her high school reunion! Arthur Horowitz walks 2.2 miles every day on the tread mill in the hopes of seeing Binny Abromowitz. Abigail Stone, when left to her own devices, thought about shards.

I think it has to do with the fact that the character doesn’t exist. THere is no context. You’ve gone off the deep end before knowing if the pool was filled. Is this making any sense? I get query letters like this every day and and they make me groan.

Ronnie Melt couldn’t stop thinking about the time she and Pablo Anger made out in the back of her father’s Jaguar. Farnia Parnassus always dreamed of flying. The first time Ricky Pert went to rehab would not be the last.

You can start a novel with your protagonist’s name, but I counsel against it int he query letter. But I’m just one literary agent.

Come on, give us a really bad sentence.

40 Responses

  1. “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

  2. “Big-breasted Betsy, being Billie-Bob’s best babe, brought Bonnie’s bastermayter beating bravely brown onto her beastly beef-biter…”

    Sadly, in the world that is Literature 2012, this would probably sell.

  3. Thank you. That drives me nuts. I could give a crap about a character and his situation until I’m deeply into the story. The story is what makes me care about the character.

    I am unable to write a bad sentence at this time.

  4. Okay, agreed. But then you have to tell us your inspiration and tactics for getting great graphics to go with every story. You must have staff or a techie graphic guru because the graphics pull me in as much as your content.

  5. Elvis Vauvinsnorwich pawned his Fender, drums and amps along with Chicks hunk of cubic zirconium; gone was his gig, his gal and his future.

  6. “Shanna, let’s get Joe’s back, and say thanks.” Sigh.

  7. Four nameless, flirty, friendly friends fly frisbees faraway. (Fantasy 8 words)

  8. Downith snorted as she read Sarah’s latest query letter.

  9. I started a query, and a book, with the sentence “Angus Tingle died of stupidity.”

    But I agree that those sort of sentences can be silly in some circumstances. Really banal names, for example, weaken them irreparably before they even start. “Kevin Fields saved the universe before lunch.” NO. I’m still laughing about Kevin saving the world. (no offence to any Kevins out there).

    Or if what happens in the sentence is really banal, even with an awesome name: “Professor Rudely Tweeting was gardening in the quadrangle when the phone rang.” ZZZZZ. Wherein the query would begin: “Rudely tweeting loved to garden” and the book, presumably, would be a BDSM erotica about a horticulture student being tied to a rose bush with hessian twine etc.

    Or if the name is uncomfortably “genre”: “Nessetar Lotrea valued his sword, his winged horse and the vow he made to his sister on the day of his induction into the Moundles of Nefula.” or “Arphan Dindilis was only trying to repair the gravitron field when the sub-space super collider ignited the tachyon drive and launched the whole mission into the side of a neutron star” etc.

    Also using “etc.” in queries is probably bad.

  10. Moffet McCrumble’s last blow job left him feeling like half a man.

  11. Once upon a time, in a nearby land, lived a civilization of guinea pigs known simply as “the subjects.”

  12. Shirley, a broad assed suburban matron afraid of being labeled a dilettante by her writing group, revved her Lexus – Starbuck’s latte in hand – and fled for her life.

  13. Turk Wasabe, the French Canadian, gave his right arm to be ambidextrous.

  14. Hortense Sparks, a wine-swilling literary agent giving to platitudinous utterances on form, had her own quirky, esoteric list of peeves she used to reject the works of the slavish writers who looked to her for their one fucking chance.

  15. Okay, joking aside–how would one start a query letter without using the name of the main character? Or does that just mean not starting with the name?

    Having lost her entire team in a security job gone wrong, ex-con Judith is content with her new life a a small town librarian.

    Working in a small town library isn’t quite as exciting as running jobs for a private fraud squad-security firm, but ex-con Judith Thompson is content with her new life.

    Guh.

    • Wait . . . unless you mean that you prefer more of an introduction?

      A bit of “Hello, this is why I’m querying you specifically,” instead of a blunt “Wham, bam, here’s the scam, ma’am?”

      Because I can see that.

  16. For the best bad writing ANYWHERE I have two words for you: Artist Statement. Even better if it’s an M.F.A. Artist Statement (thank you thank you for the series of tubes known as the Interweb):

    “Throughout all cultures, the importance of myth has threaded the reality of the human condition with imagination found in fiction.”

    Why fake it when there’s stuff like this for real?

  17. Nathan Bransford’s Query Letter Mad Lib may be to blame. It starts with a blank line for the protagonist’s name, and is high in the “how to write a query letter” search hits.

  18. Pamela McFloon knew she was going to explode one day, just like the balloon with which her name rhymed.

    Andrew Anderson was number 734 in the phone book, under Anderson, A.

    Jack never knew his father, and consequently, he had no last name.

  19. “What’s up with that?” Dick asked, and that pretty much sums up my novel.

  20. “Trust me, I’m a professional.”

    Oh, wait – y’all were talking about query sentences. I’m presently distracted with the phrase that has been an omen to yet more heartache and cost. Never mind.

  21. “Stephen Siciliano really hates the whole business of query letters”

  22. Call me Ishmael, or Ahab, or a white whale–just don’t call me Ishy or fishy or swishy.

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