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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » *The Keystone* (Kate and Archie) Query

   
Author Topic: *The Keystone* (Kate and Archie) Query
MattLeo
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As some of you might know, I spent almost five months with writer's block, but I'm finally within about a week or so of completing a rough draft of *The Keystone*. The way I dealt with being blocked was to write anything I could, even if it felt lousy, so the initial draft is going to come in a little heavy -- 150K words. However I don't think I'll have much difficulty trimming it to 130K or less, and once I do I think this will be the first MS I actually shop around to agents.

So it's time to dust off the old query and sharpen it up. I'd appreciate any suggestions:
quote:
(Version 1)

Captain Kate MacClaine is decisive, resourceful and self-reliant, but she can also be impatient, blunt and overbearing. Ten years of loneliness, hardship and toil in deep space have transformed her from a painfully shy young frontierswoman into a gruff and abrasive loner.

When Kate returns from her tour with the space exploration service her ex-husband Archie is waiting for her. He's a gregarious, charming aristocrat from a rich, overpopulated world. Archie barely knows one end of a spacecraft from another, but his people skills have rocketed him to the apex of galactic society.

Kate assumes he's there to talk her into living with him again. She decides to slip away before he can wear her down, but she's brought up short by a nasty shock: her ship's been stranded in port by a bureaucratic screw-up so monumental that Archie's the one man persuasive enough to cut through it. And when Archie takes the opportunity to move onto her ship, he brings along an even nastier shock for Kate: Diana, his insufferable new fiancée.

For once it's not Kate he's after, but her incomparable spacefaring skills. Archie needs her to lead an expedition that could tip the balance of power in the galaxy, but Diana's presence isn't helping Kate's temper any. Diana is younger than Kate, and beautiful, and charm is not Kate's forté; but it's no accident Kate's the finest space explorer of her generation: she's too competitive to accept second place.

*The Keystone* is a 130,000 word satire that re-imagines the 1930s “comedy of remarriage” movie (e.g., *The Philadelphia Story*) in the raygun-gothic universe of 30's pulp sci-fi. It's a universe where mighty rockets ply the stars, people read actual newspapers rather than iPads, and men might sometimes act like pigs, but you can count on them knowing how to dance. *The Keystone* might be the sci-fi screwball comedy that Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant never made.

Updated using suggestions, particularly Osiris's edits:
quote:
(Version 2)

Ten years of hardship and toil in deep space have transformed Kate MacClaine from a painfully shy young frontierswoman into a gruff and abrasive loner. When she returns from her tour in the space exploration service Kate finds her charming and aristocratic ex-husband waiting for her. Archie's never gotten over her, so Kate's got to get moving before he turns his legendary powers of persuasion on her.

Kate tries to slip away, but finds her ship has been tied up in an epic bureaucratic disaster. There's only one man who can talk his way out of port with that ship, and when Archie takes the opportunity to move in with Kate he's got an unpleasant surprise for her: Diana, his insufferable new fiancée.

For once it's not Kate that Archie's after, it's her incomparable spacefaring skills. He needs her to lead an expedition that could shift the balance of power in the galaxy, but Diana's presence tests Kate's professionalism, to say nothing of her infamous temper. Kate might be the finest space explorer of her generation, but it's starting to feel lonely at the top.

*The Keystone* is a 130,000 word satire re-imagining the 1930s “comedy of remarriage” movie (*The Philadelphia Story*) in the raygun-gothic universe of 30's pulp sci-fi. It's a universe where mighty rockets ply the stars and men might sometimes act like pigs, but you can count on them knowing how to dance. *The Keystone* is the sci-fi screwball comedy that Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made.



[ March 05, 2012, 11:48 AM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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Osiris
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Hi Matt,

I became interested in this query when I reached the third paragraph. I'm a 'plot/conflict' driven reader, so the prior paragraphs of character description didn't interest me as much.

Consider getting the conflict bits in earlier and writing the character bits more succinctly. For example, I think the second sentence of your lead paragraph does more work for you than the first, so maybe you can cut the first sentence and incorporate the important details of it in the second?

It sounds like an interesting novel. Good luck with it!

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Meredith
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It's a little long.

quote:

Captain Kate MacClaine is decisive, resourceful and self-reliant, but she can also be impatient, blunt and overbearing. Ten years of loneliness, hardship and toil in deep space have transformed her from a painfully shy young frontierswoman into a gruff and abrasive loner.

In place of this, I would use the description from below to open: "it's no accident Kate's the finest space explorer of her generation: she's too competitive to accept second place."
That's much more dynamic. And you really don't need to describe the character twice.

quote:
When Kate returns from her tour with the space exploration service her ex-husband Archie is waiting for her. He's a gregarious, charming aristocrat from a rich, overpopulated world. Archie barely knows one end of a spacecraft from another, but his people skills have rocketed him to the apex of galactic society.
I don't think we need to know that she's returning from a tour. I'm not sure the second sentence about Archie ("He's a gregarious . . .) is necessary. The last one about his people skills probably covers what we need to know.

quote:

Kate assumes he's there to talk her into living with him again. She decides to slip away before he can wear her down, but she's brought up short by a nasty shock: her ship's been stranded in port by a bureaucratic screw-up so monumental that Archie's the one man persuasive enough to cut through it. And when Archie takes the opportunity to move onto her ship, he brings along an even nastier shock for Kate: Diana, his insufferable new fiancée.

I think you could make the beginning a little stronger. I'm not sure I care what she assumes. I'd be more interested in what she feels. (That could be just me.) Maybe bring in some detail of why she wants to avoid him.

quote:

For once it's not Kate he's after, but her incomparable spacefaring skills. Archie needs her to lead an expedition that could tip the balance of power in the galaxy, but Diana's presence isn't helping Kate's temper any. Diana is younger than Kate, and beautiful, and charm is not Kate's forté; but it's no accident Kate's the finest space explorer of her generation: she's too competitive to accept second place.

I think this paragraph needs to be boiled down a bit, too. This one is about Kate's choice and the consequences. Make it more about Kate and less about Diana.

quote:

*The Keystone* is a 130,000 word satire that re-imagines the 1930s “comedy of remarriage” movie (e.g., *The Philadelphia Story*) in the raygun-gothic universe of 30's pulp sci-fi. It's a universe where mighty rockets ply the stars, people read actual newspapers rather than iPads, and men might sometimes act like pigs, but you can count on them knowing how to dance. *The Keystone* might be the sci-fi screwball comedy that Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant never made.

It's a little offbeat, but I like this paragraph. I think I might leave out the bit about the newspapers. That's the one thing that feels a little off and not really necessary.

Good luck with this.

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MattLeo
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Interesting, interesting.

Osiris, you bring up a point worth discussing, which is whether a query should be character-oriented or plot-oriented. I think I'll start a post about that over in the Writing Discussion group.

The book itself is *very* character oriented, and a lot of the humor comes from the contrast between Kate's outlandish competence at space engineering(think Wile E. Coyote, only *her* contraptions would actually work) and her extreme social ineptitude (which defines the start of her story arc). Archie is of course exactly the opposite. He literally can't remember the difference between right and left but if you told him "fork side" he'd know which side of a place setting that'd be.

Meredith, the paragraph that needs boiling down originally wasn't in the query. It probably isn't needed at all, it just describes a convention in these remarriage movies, which is that the discovery of the new fiancee goads the the protagonist into desperate action. I agree with you on the iPad thing, that's more a kind of thing that has to be explained to readers than in a query.

I'm thrilled you found the last paragraph offbeat. That's exactly what I want. They're called *screwball* comedies.

The bit about "assuming" also might not be needed in a query; it's a comic plot twist. Even though Kate left Archie, she can't imagine that he'd ever love another woman. But maybe it makes sense in a more plot oriented query.

I'm going to put some thought into this and produce a radically different version, one that is more plot oriented, and see how that works.

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MAP
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I think this is a good query just in need of a good edit.

I've bolded everything that I think should be cut.

quote:
Captain Kate MacClaine is decisive, resourceful and self-reliant, but she can also be impatient, blunt and overbearing. Ten years of loneliness, hardship and toil in deep space have transformed her Kate MacClaine from a painfully shy young frontierswoman into a gruff and abrasive loner.

When Kate returns from her tour with the space exploration service her ex-husband Archie is waiting for her. He's a gregarious, charming aristocrat from a rich, overpopulated world. Archie barely knows one end of a spacecraft from another, but his people skills have rocketed him to the apex of galactic society.

Kate assumes he's there to talk her into living with him again (I don't like talks her into living with him again. How about wants to win her back instead). She decides to slip away before he can wear her down, but she's brought up short by a nasty shock: her ship's been stranded in port by a bureaucratic screw-up so monumental that Archie's the one man persuasive enough to cut through it. And when Archie takes the opportunity to move onto her ship, he brings along an even nastier shock for Kate: Diana, his insufferable new fiancée.

For once it's not Kate he's after, but her incomparable spacefaring skills. Archie needs her to lead an expedition that could tip the balance of power in the galaxy, but Diana's presence isn't helping Kate's temper any. Diana is younger than Kate, and beautiful, and charm is not Kate's forté; but it's no accident Kate's the finest space explorer of her generation: she's too competitive to accept second place.

*The Keystone* is a 130,000 word satire that re-imagines the 1930s “comedy of remarriage” movie (e.g., *The Philadelphia Story*) in the raygun-gothic universe of 30's pulp sci-fi. It's a universe where mighty rockets ply the stars, people read actual newspapers rather than iPads, and men might sometimes act like pigs, but you can count on them knowing how to dance. *The Keystone* might be the sci-fi screwball comedy that Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant never made.

Overall, it sounds like a fun story. Good luck with this.
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Osiris
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Heading on over from your query post in open discussion, I wanted to give an example of how you may be able to get both plot and character into the first paragraph of the query. Forgive me if I've 're-written', I'm just intrigued by the challenge and hoping it can be helpful. Feel free to ignore. [Smile]
-----

Ten years of loneliness, hardship and toil in deep space have transformed Kate MacClaine from a painfully shy young frontierswoman into a gruff and abrasive loner. When she returns from her tour to find her aristocratic ex-husband Archie waiting for her, she tries to slip away before he works his charms on her. Kate's ship is locked down by bureaucratic red tape so monumental that only Archie's persuasiveness can cut through it.

-----

I think something like this gives us the two main players, an idea of their personalities, and the obstacle that Kate immediately faces, all in the first paragraph.

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MattLeo
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Osiris -- no problem on the "rewrite". It's another beautiful edit. I'm continually surprised by the talent people here display.
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angel011
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I'd just add "However" at the beginning of "Kate's ship is locked down...", and at the end: "...-- but Archie's help comes with a price Kate is not happy to pay." to what Osiris wrote.

Sorry about the rewrite of a rewrite, I'm a fan of making it short-short, so I couldn't resist.

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Osiris
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Good additions angel. Yay teamwork! [Smile]
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I love it when people work together like this.
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Tryndakai
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HUGE fan of the second attempt. The first attempt had me very interested . . . eventually. The second attempt got right to the fun. And I'd *love* to read a screwball rom-com in 1930's sci-fi style . . . Gimme gimme! [Wink]

Genre bending is so much fun. [Wink] Much luck with your project.

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