Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Query Revision 62: Redux

The Puppet Mistress

Dear Agent:

Seventeen-year-old Vaila Grayson is the reigning video game champion. Her celebrity brings her a video game prototype to review. With no saves, continues, or resets, walking away is not an option, as a strange magic imprisons her inside her room. The only way to escape terrible monsters and challenging riddles is to successfully complete the game or let her avatar die. Vaila might be able to focus, if Sir Cenric Alva, wasn’t a sexy, twenty-one year old knight, and so very real. Unaware he’s a pawn in her game, Cenric believes he has fallen victim to a puppet master, an evil magician who controls his movements. Renegade magic threatens to annihilate all magicians, including Cenric, and finding a Spanish princess is essential in destroying the darkness.

During a battle with a mystical beast, the princess is killed. Cenric is bitten, but it is Vaila who bleeds from a similar wound. Her soul is now tethered to Cenric’s and enduring each others pain and wild emotions seems minor compared to dealing with the love blooming between them.

Their new goal is to stay alive while searching for a way to slay the dark magic. With an unforeseen doom stalking along the periphery of their adventure, Vaila only has one chance to save them both.

“The Puppet Mistress” is a 70,000-word YA fantasy novel with romantic elements, told in alternating points of view.


I think you got caught up trying to answer everybody's questions and comments from the last version. Taking a step backward is, paradoxically, a natural step in the evolution of the query. While you've cleared up some issues readers were having, you've introduced a few more.

What's happening for me, mostly, is that I don't have a sense of real story arc. For some reason, this version to me sounds more like a gaming story line. There are monsters and riddles and renegade magic and a Spanish princess who seems to be key to all, but no sooner do we learn about her than she's dead and then there's another random monster, a new goal and some disembodied dark magic, which may or may not be the same as the renegade magic and/or the darkness and/or the stalking doom.

I think even the way Cenric is described here is subtly different: "and so very real" doesn't necessarily mean to me that he's a living, breathing human. I was also surprised to learn that he seems to be a magician as well as a knight? In this version, there's an awful lot of magic and evil magicians and it all feels kind of random. As written, too, it now seems that the tethering of Vaila's soul to Cenric's is a consequence of him being bitten.

Also as written, the "one chance to save them" bumps right against them needing to find a way to slay the dark magic, but at this point there's been multiple things they've needed to be saved from. I'm feeling the dark magic isn't the Big Bad here because it doesn't feel like it's manipulating the random beasts and riddles.

Plus, this is a game. They slay the dark magic and win and then what? Is the question of the "then what" part of the stakes? An obstacle? I think that not looking beyond the game itself is one aspect that makes this feel like a gaming story. It's a closed system, and this query isn't convincing me there IS anything beyond this game campaign for these two.

Coincidentally, I saw this yesterday about half of a 2-book, 6-figure deal being about gamers getting caught up in the game, so I think interest is out there. It just has to feel elevated from the campaign itself.



All-Stars said...

Maybe if I bang my head against the wall, it’ll shake some creativity loose.
“The Puppet Mistress” is the first book in a trilogy and maybe that’s where the story arc is getting muddled. I understand that this story needs to stand on its own in regards to conflict and resolution. Some sources say you mention series potential in the query and others suggest leaving it out. What is the consensus on this?
Yes, the bite is what causes Cenric's and Vaila's souls to be tied together.
I’ve done the exercises addressing character motivation, turning point, and the dark moment, but I’m obviously struggling to portray that, with compelling flare, in my letter.
Back to the drawing board.

Phoenix said...

I think you have a special hurdle here to overcome -- the prejudice against "game campaign" stories. While of course being true to, you know, gaming campaign stories. Your turning point and dark moment, etc, may well happen within the campaign but I think you need to somehow make it relevant to Vaila's life outside the game.

As far as consensus about anything when querying - HA! Most of the advice I've seen is to assure the reader the first book can stand alone, but go ahead and mention it has "series potential." My advice is to make clear the arc of *this* book but perhaps mention something of the larger arc. I take it they don't defeat the thing that's stalking them from the periphery? You can hint it's there, but there needs to be something concrete they obtain at the end of THIS book.

Is escaping with their lives enough? I dunno. Does the dark WANT something from them? Why does Vaila even get the prototype? Why is a magician setting up this kind of interactive play? Why is a pixellated world intruding upon ours? Not all the ends have to be tied up in the first book, but I'm not sure the query can ignore mentioning something of the larger arc in this case without making the book sound like an actual deus ex machina story.

I think the bones of the query are there; for this story, I think you need to layer in the assurances now. (FWIW: I rewrote my last query 5 times before it was removed enough to not be immediately pegged as a ripoff of Jurassic Park.) It all comes down to reader perception.

fairyhedgehog said...

I think this is a book I'd read but I'm a bit confused about what's going on.

I like the idea of Vaila being a game champion and getting a game to review, and then being drawn into the game.

What I didn't understand is why she had to complete the game when apparently she could just let her avatar die. Is she physically trapped in her room? What will happen if she dies in the game?

I'm now realising that her avatar is Sir Cenric, not some image of herself as I'd assumed, and I'm finding the idea of falling in love with your own avatar to be rather strange.

If she fails in the game and her avatar dies, does she die in real life? (I don't see why she would.) I'm not sure what succeeding in the game entails either.

I don't know if you've read Charles Stross' Halting State but it's the nearest I've seen someone come to making what happens in a computer game seem to matter in the real world, and I thought he'd fudged it a bit in places!

These are just my random thoughts. If none of them are any use, then please just ignore them!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I looked up avatar because I was confused also. An avatar is the user's representation of self. Still confused.

I’m looking at scrambled eggs. Cencric in para one thinks he’s in the clutches of an evil puppet master, in para two Vaila’s soul is tied to C’s they endure each other’s pain, wild emotions ensue but those wild emots are minor to blooming love. Huh? How did that happen?
Next para they have a new goal. Staying alive, that was her first goal. I think. The Spanish princess who had to be found to destroy the darkness, was she supposed to be killed to destroy the dark? If so, why do they have to slay dark magic? Is the darkness different from the dark magic? I am guessing so. Alluding to unforeseen doom doesn’t tell me anything about the story. I don’t think the princess matters to the query.
I guess at what’s going on.

Focus on the story, not events and extra characters. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Attraction to a computer game character seemed ridiculous to Vaila until the day she tested a super game and tumbled into love with Sir Cenric, her screen Knight. The game becomes complicated when Sir C takes a nasty nip from a dragon and Vaila bleeds . Virtual/actual reality blending bites.
Communication is hard with a computer screen dividing worlds but not impossible. Emotions blend in this new age game. As the two take on murderous other world challenges the game grows a spider web of complications inside and outside of the program. Cenric hates having his strings pulled.
A Knight is just what Vaila needs in her life. If she can help Cenric stay alive her most important challenge will be to figure out how to merge their worlds and lives. First, he has to quit thinking she’s an evil puppet master.

All-Stars said...

I love your revamp of this query. It's awesome. Thank you.

I was under the impression that "avatar" could be used interchangable with "video game character." My mistake has led to a lot of confusion.

Hopefully I've cleared that up with Take #4, though I feel like I'm writing in circles.

While seventeen-year-old Vaila Grayson is the reigning video game champion, she is overwhelmed by a game with no saves, resets, or continues. Stubbornness won’t allow her to walk away and neither will the dimpled smile of her video knight, Sir Cenric Alva. She soon realizes Cenric is not just a collection of pixels, but a real person under a curse.
Unaware he’s a pawn in her game, Cenric believes he has fallen victim to a puppet master, an evil magician who controls his movements. This complicates his quest to destroy the Negura, a renegade black magic that threatens to annihilate the magicians of 14th century Spain.
When Vaila’s fighting skills fail to deliver against one of the Negura’s beasts, Cenric is bitten, but she also cries out when blood dribbles down her arm. Their souls are now intertwined. Emotions and pain alike are shared and death would certainly take them both down.
The guardian of secrets holds the information to defeating the Negura, but finding him will unearth more that just their enemy’s weakness. Hidden abilities are rising to the surface in Vaila as she enlists her ingenuity to tackle side quests and terrible monsters. Her greatest challenge, however, is ignoring the sparks igniting between her and Cenric. With the Negura stalking her every move, Vaila has only one chance to stay focused.

Matt said...

All-Stars, avatar is interchangeable with video game character. Our friend Mac just happens not to be familiar with the word or modern gaming, I guess. And I think FH was confused by your writing, not the word. Make things clear by introducing Sir Cenric as such: "...her avatar Sir Cenric Alva..."

Is the setting in the video game world or in the real world? Your latest revision makes it sound like she gets sucked into the game, but earlier versions left me with the impression that she was more or less hypnotized by it, much like the Haunted Majora's Mask youtube legend.

If she's sucked into the game, take a step back and look at the overall plot. You might try focusing the query on her purpose for being drawn into the game (not forgetting goal, motivation and conflict).

If this is a psychological and/or haunting story that mostly takes place in the real world, make that clear while focusing on internal conflict and characterization.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Oh my, am I confused again? I didn't think I was until I went to Wki and they gave me this.

Avatar (computing) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaAn avatar is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, ...

A-S, whatever works. It's no never mind to me. Language, meaning and use change rapidly. Matt, you gave me a good belly laugh/coffe spew. I appreciate your delicate phrasing.

Your last take, if this is a query, you need to cut it back. Take those hedge clippers and trim away. Brutal, like losing a limb for every phrase but necessary.

I could be wrong but from what I read the length is enough for those evil agents to hit auto reply.

Having blurted that out, you are getting closer to how you want to present the query, right?

I confess I did the Anon query, I couldn't get signed in, (new computer)running late so copied and pasted then took off for the bus at a run.

I'm going to re-read your last again.
Best you two,

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Once I put this in a word doc, it isn’t too long at all. Sorry! I played with it. One issue: when does C. realize he’s not in the hands of an evil puppet master? Does he love her back when he’s bitten and his fear goes away? Maybe a line at the end – if (when) she wins, then where do the two of them go/meet?

Seventeen-year-old Vaila Grayson, reigning video game champion, feels overwhelmed playing a game with no saves, resets, or continues. She’s stubborn and won’t walk away from the game and the dimpled smile of her video knight, Sir Cenric Alva. The game goes to a new level when she realizes Cenric is a real person under a curse.

Cenric believes he has fallen victim to an evil puppet master who controls his movements. His quest to destroy the Negura, a renegade black magic that threatens to annihilate the magicians of 14th century Spain and his entire family.

Vaila’s fighting skills fail to block one of the Negura’s beasts. Cenric is bitten but blood dribbles down her arm. Their souls are now intertwined, like it or not. Emotions and pain are shared. Death will take them both out of the game and their lives.

The Guardian of Secrets holds the key to defeat the Negura, but finding him will let other monstrous things loose. Hidden abilities rise in Vaila as she tackles side quests and terrible monsters. Her greatest challenge, however, is ignoring the sparks igniting between her and Cenric. With the Negura stalking Cenric Vaila must focus. She’s playing the game of their lives.

Good luck and we all feel like we're writing in circles after rewriting so much. You made progress, good progress here. Ignore/use my changes, I was jamming around with it,