QueryDice #50: Middle-Grade and Conflict

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

1952 San Angelo is a boy’s paradise providing ten-year-old Allan with endless adventure. But when his mother becomes ill, Allan discovers it’s not excitement he longs for, but the comfort of family and the gift of friendship. <—Nice. Great beginning. One of the most important elements in a middle-grade story is internal conflict. Kids in this age-group relate more strongly to internal conflict. Even if they see an external conflict (like war, for example, or the illness of a parent) they are not completely feeling the external conflict–they are feeling what effect that has on them. Additionally, the setting is a strong point for this query, because librarians, parents and teachers will be attracted to a historical setting (kids can learn history through reading.) Now, what I’m looking for is a strong external conflict that has big stakes for more people than just Allan and his mom…that would get a yes from me. Let’s read on…

Allan spends most of his days riding on his best friend’s handlebars while looking for escapades like hunting blood-spitting horny toads, riding a bucking bronco, and winning the best Concho River storytelling contest. <–cute. I can see the book’s personality, which makes me think the author might have a great voice.

For three years, Allan watches the construction of the town’s 128 foot dam and all he can think about is riding down its long slope. Nitpick: you should change this sentence to, “For the past three years, Allan has been watching…” because otherwise it sounds just a tiny bit like we experience these three years in your book!

He just has to convince Raymond (is Raymond the best friend?) to take the ride with him. When Raymond finally agrees, Allan hesitates. His mother’s illness—knots in her lady parts is how the doctor puts it—causes Allan to feel something he’s never felt before—fear.

He remembers his mother’s words and discovers the courage he needs to conquer the adventure of a lifetime. He begins to understand what his mother has tried to teach him about the give and take of life and the importance of family, friends, and a special little town. <–hmm. I think there is more to this story that you’re not telling us…

[redacted] is a humorous, yet tender, coming-of-age MG novel complete at 40,000 words. I have extensive experience with middle grade readers and their triumphs and challenges.  I have been an elementary school counselor for nine years and a university school counselor educator for thirteen years. Currently, I am a school counselor in a 6th-12th grade school in the largest school system in the Southeast.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

Technically, this query is fine. I know what the conflict is, I can see at least a little of the main character’s personality. I even like the premise. But I would reject it, and here’s why: remember at the beginning of this Dice, when I said I was looking for a big external conflict? I don’t see one here. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, of course. Maybe there is. But a kid worrying about his mother’s illness and endeavoring to ride down the slope of a 128-foot dam just doesn’t have the zing I was hoping for. Something in this story needs to involve the entire town while also being an internal conflict for Allan. For example, if he instead endeavored to save the town from something and his mother’s illness tied into that, and his riding down the dam was somehow part of everything, I’d bite.

Best of luck, author!

LR

**Success story: The author of this query now has an agent! The author hopes her query will encourage writers. Of her success, she says, “Even if the query letter isn’t perfect, your manuscript can still find its way to the perfect (for you) agent! Congratulations, author!

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Posted on June 5, 2013, in Advice, conflict, literary agency, manuscripts, Middle grade, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, voice, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is the query for my first ms. I still love the story, but it had major plot issues and after a few requests and rejections I trunked it and wrote something else.

    I wrote Harold-The Kid Who Ruined My Life and Saved the Day and met a few critique partners who proved to be worth their weight in gold. After several query revisions, contest entries, manuscript revisions, and one more contest Harold got the attention of my agent. Yay!

    Because I love the first story so much, I’m back to working on it and fixing the major plot issues – proving you do get better by writing, reading, and learning from others. Oh, and never give up!

    Thanks, Lauren, for providing such a wonderful learning opportunity for writers!

    Happy writing all!

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