Monday, April 19, 2010

Query Revision 2

Face-Lift 755: The Burning Times

Is this better...I tried to follow your guidance and answer all your questions...Make me bloody again I will continue to improve it until it's right...

The following is a query for my approximately 102,000 word novel entitled: The Burning Times.

It's our world, with one difference: It doesn’t exist…No one knows how or when it happened, but the planet below was scorched 20,000 years ago, leaving it in a state of ruin, and mankind left to fend for itself in a space city now called Galantria. A prophecy foretelling the future of the planet said that one day the Bringer of Life would rise again. The prophecy was forgotten and mankind moved on…evolving…thriving and building a new society.

C’ La Andria- They are the modern day Merlin and the lawmakers. Their Spiritual Guidance is often called upon during times of crisis.

Dream Dancer- an outlawed mystic power that uses mind manipulation to control a victim. Jarik is such creature. His ultimate goal is to feed his hunger for death and is fulfilled by causing Lord Paxton to kill his wife. Lord Paxton is then put to death in an incinerator and his daughter Sheria is banished to the ground below. The only person Jarik fears is the one who gives him his orders in secret. He doesn’t know his name or what he looks like, but he knows the power the person has and obeys without question.

Stavon is Sheria’s true love. He has a twin sister named Dallia. On her wedding, Stavon fakes his death so he can join his love. There he finds out about that his father, Lord Cyrus has known all along that the ground below is inhabitable again and has been using the survivors as slaves. This is punishable by death according to the laws of the C’ La Andria.

Jarik decides his hunger for killing is not satisfied and he attacks Stavon’s mother, Lady Alleanna, putting her in a coma. This enables the C’ La Andria to learn the identity of the dream dancer and forces Jarik to escape to Mars. When she awakens from her coma, Jarik returns for revenge and hopes to kill Dallia’s new born son in front of her. Lady Alleanna kills Jarik and saves the baby.

With Sheria and Stavon leading them, the ground dwellers are at full force and attack Galantria, letting everyone know the planet is once again inhabitable. Dallia finds out her twin brother has been alive all along and feels betrayed. She is forced to watch as her father pays for his crimes. She signs a treaty in his stead, momentarily, stopping the war before it begins.


The best thing about having the courage to share your initial drafts with strangers who truly have your best interest at heart is that you have the opportunity to work the kinks out before someone who matters sees it. You only get one shot.

Figuring out exactly what a query is is the first step to creating one that gets requests. This revision isn't exactly what agents are looking for in a query letter. Let's take a look at some of the red flags that have all to do with structure. You'll need to be able to get these right before even thinking about whether the story itself will wow a reader.

  • Genre: Word count and title are good, but we also need to know what kind of story you think you're telling.
  • Names: Too many slows a reader down. Use descriptors in place of names when possible.
  • Characters: Stick to just the two or three main characters that carry the weight of the story.
  • Plot: Stick to the main plot. You may allude to subplots if they are relevant to your genre. For example, in a romantic suspense, you'll want to demonstrate both the romance and the suspense in the query to assure the agent the work is marketable.
  • Synopsis: Keep it short. A 3-paragraph synopsis in a query is not the same as the separate synopsis. Let us know what is unique about your plot and/or characters but don't give us the chapter-by-chapter play of how your story unfolds. The query is the sense of the story told using some well-chosen details. A synopsis is the progression of the story that demonstrates it all hangs together.
See what the commenters have to say about which plot points and characters to highlight, then try another version. This one runs 400+ words. See if you can get it down to about 280 words. That will help force you to decide what the most compelling pieces of your story are.

We'll wait.


Tom said...

I found this version more confusing than the last. Join the club!

I got little sense of how the different people and plot elements fit together. Some people were killing other people and being punished in various ways.

What is the meat of the story?

Now I know how people felt reading my poor query.

Matthew said...

A query should read like a mini-story, but this reads more like an information packet.

Each sentence should lead into the next.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Phoenix - I do not want to distract from the thread, but sometimes it's easier to see what people should be doing rather than what they shouldn't be doing. I'm sure some people have pitches that "work" so that people can better see what they need to do. Just a suggestion.

At some point if you think it would be helpful, I'd be willing to share the one my agent wrote based on EE's suggestions. Kinda a before/after thing?

Matthew's right. The query should read like a mini-story that doesn't give away to much detail but makes you want to read the pages.

_*rachel*_ said...

I have no clue what's happening here. Start with Miss Snark's hook format:

X is the main guy; he wants to do:
Y is the bad guy; he wants to do:
they meet at Z and all L breaks loose.
If they don’t resolve Q, then R starts and if they do it’s L squared.

Joe G said...

Your query makes me go "Wha?"

It's our world, with one difference: It doesn’t exist…

I go, "Wha?" Fiction, by definition, doesn't exist. I think people have pointed this out to you before. I know you think it's a great line but if people keep saying that to you you should think harder about it. You don't want to kill it with the first line.

I felt like with the descriptions of the races you were telling me about a video game. You go on to assault us with a whole bunch of characters who do things for some reason. I came out with a very vague impression of the plot and the general words "SPACE OPERA" in my head.

Apparently there's a war that must be stopped, and a baby who must be protected from a monster, and star crossed lovers who lead a rebellion. Focus on that stuff. Avoid having to explain to us things like "He's a C' la, which is basically a wizard, but not exactly" unless they're REALLY clever and creative gimmicks. Just say it's a wizard, or a magical shaman, or something easily digestible.

Presumably whomever it is you sold this type of thing to would get you, being an experienced reader of Robert Jordan and the like. But Jordan didn't start with the Aiel and the Aes Sedai and political intrigue and all that stuff... he started with the story of Rand Al'Thor.

Phoenix said...

Hi Stephen: I know several commenters over at Query Shark have asked Janet the same thing: to occasionally post out stuff that works. Makes a lot of sense.

The first few queries here are revisions of ones that were originally workshopped on Evil Editor's site. I want to be sure they get up ASAP so their author's can get feedback.

I'd be happy to post out the one you have as soon as the revises in the queue are posted.

Great suggestion!

Browneyegirl145 said... I will give it another try...thanks for the feedback it is appreciated...It really is difficult to figure out what goes into a query. It is something I have never had to do...Thank you for the guidance and well back to the drawing board...holy rusted metal what do I write in one...smiles...

batgirl said...

It's our world, ... a new society.

Let's see if I can trim this: 'The space city Galantria harbours the refugees of a blasted planet. Once they clung to a prophecy that the Bringer of Life would rise and lead them home. But that hope has long been abandoned and forgotten'.
(But you'll need to do something with that prophecy besides mention it - prophecies are a devalued dime a dozen in fantasy/sf.)

C’ La Andria- They are the modern day Merlin and the lawmakers. Their Spiritual Guidance is often called upon during times of crisis.

Cut this - if there is a society in the city, it has laws, lawmakers, and law enforcement. The specifics of those things do not matter here.

Dream Dancer- without question.

Could be trimmed to: 'Jarik the Dream Dancer destroyed Sheria's family and caused her exile to the burnt-out planet surface. But Jarik is only the tool of a more powerful enemy.'
(Unless the secret-order guy does something in the query - which he doesn't seem to - cut him. Actually, cut Jarik too. The mechanism of Sheria's banishment isn't important, only the result is.)

Stavon is ... C’ La Andria.

Could be trimmed to: 'Sheria's beloved, Stavon, fakes his death and follows her to the surface. There he discovers that the planet has recovered (is a pastoral paradise, whatever) but that the exiles and inhabitants are enslaved, by his own father, Lord Cyrus.'
(The legal penalty is not relevant here - what matters is that Stavon feels betrayed and that clearly his dad is the villain. Probably he's the secret-order guy, too, but that's more subplot than you need here, I think. I'm guessing he disapproved of Sheria and set Jarik onto her family to get rid of her, but unless you're willing to fill that in here, it doesn't matter either.)

Jarik decides ... the baby.

"Jarik's attempt to kill Stavon's mother fails, and he flees to Mars. When he returns to murder the newborn son of Stavon's twin sister, Dallia, Stavon's mother destroys Jarik herself."
(None of this seems relevant in the query, though I'm sure it adds considerably to the wordcount. Jarik leaves the story at this point, first by exile, then by death. So all he does in the query is cause Sheria's exile, and the reason for her banishment is irrelevant - her banishment is important in causing Stavon to follow her, no more. Also, the whole Dream Dancer buildup is undercut if his mind-manipulation fails to do in an old lady and a baby, and is knocked off by a grandmother. Just saying. Consider using this space to build whatever it is that Sheria and Stavon are doing on the surface, their tearful reunion, their big character moment of deciding to resist, etc.)

With Sheria ... it begins.

Plot happens! 'Sheria and Stavon lead the surface dwellers in rebellion. They seize Galantria and broadcast the truth, that the city dwellers can return to the planet. Lord Cyrus is executed for the crime of enslavement, to the horror of Stavon's twin sister. Dallia, who has been mourning her brother's death, feels betrayed by his deception.
(okay, then what? What do these negative feelings cause her to do? Is signing the treaty an attack on Stavon and his rebellion somehow? Or is this Dallia's big character moment, where she overcomes her feelings of betrayal and bereavement and allies with Stavon? I think you need to clarify this.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you sooo much for breaking it down like that for me. It made more since to see it like that. :O) no offense to everyone else...I just get what she was saying...smiles...I will rework it

Anonymous said...

As long as you and Batgirl know what's going on I'm good.