Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Query Revision 68: Redux

The Prophecy of the Four: In Pursuit of Vengeance

Dear Agent,

Relying on an ancient prophecy, friendless and orphaned Vardin sets out alone to kill Armoth, the tyrant who murdered his parents. To his dismay, he is joined by Malia, the resourceful, bow-wielding princess he saves from one of Armoth’s murderous mercenaries.

After the tyrant destroyed her city and her entire family with it, Malia wants her own piece of Armoth. She wouldn’t mind having a piece of Vardin either. But in a different way. Deeply in love, Malia can’t stand the thought of living without him, completely alone.

When Malia nurses Vardin back from a serious infection, the bond between them blossoms into mutual love. But this bond is soon tested by Armoth’s magical obstacles. In reckless pursuit of the tyrant, Vardin and Malia battle whirlwinds, sandstorms, and excruciating hunger.

Not until Malia deciphers an ancient set of symbols in the sand do she and Vardin realize the folly of their seemingly heroic quest. The prophecy is clear. Two heroes cannot fulfill it. Not alone. As much as Vardin thirsts for vengeance, he doesn’t wish to meet the same fate as his parents.

But, stranded in the desert, it’s too late to turn back. When the next city on their trek greets them with an enormous monster, Vardin and Malia face a decision. Will they take cover and hide? Or will they stand tall and defend the city? Can they put aside the prophecy and their selfish desire for vengeance to risk their lives for people they’ve never known?

THE PROPHECY OF THE FOUR: IN PURSUIT OF VENGEANCE is a standalone fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 85,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

Overall, I think this reads better as far as character motivation goes. Still, the elements introduced in this version and the way they're introduced -- calling attention to the fact that Vardin is an orphan (which makes him sound quite young initially), Malia being a princess (who falls in love with the poor orphan beneath her station), the magical obstacles, the symbols that seem to appear in the sand just where the MCs happen to be, the enormous monster at the city's gate and, of course, the prophecy -- these all shriek quest trope. In brutal honesty, if that's the way the novel reads, then no matter how the query is massaged, this is going to be a hard, if not impossible, sell.

Let me share this personal tidbit: I wrote a trope-filled quest story, too, a long time ago. I had a little hook thrown in that I was certain made it different, but agents weren't biting. I'd get back that the writing was really good but no thank you. Then an agent who sees tons of fantasy queries (Jennifer Jackson, if you must know) did a quick online critique of the query. Her response was basically, "Well-written query but for the story line: Yawn. Same old, same old." Only then did the lightbulb go off. A little different wasn't going to be enough. It would have to be substantially different. I came up with a way to rewrite it, but it means a complete tear down and rebuild. I've done some of the work and may one day go back to it, but for now it's shelved -- a hard decisision, but the right one.

It's tough to take an objective look at your work, but I really think this is something you have to do. What about YOUR story DOESN'T follow trope? Concentrate on that -- both in your book and in your query. There are thousands of people out there whose first novel doesn't stray from stereotype. Be one of the hundreds whose novel does.

As for the nits in this version:

I still think it would be better to put some twist to the prophecy bit if you're going to lead with it. "Relying on an ancient prophecy" is standard fare. A reader is more likely to cut you some slack if you can hint right off the bat that there's something unconventional going on with it.

The timing here between Vardin setting out alone and Malia joining seems a bit off. It sounds like Vardin sets off first, finds Malia, and then she falls deeply in love and must have him as soon as she sees him.

I'm not sure why the physical obstacles would test Vardin (a better name choice) and Malia's bond. The obstacles might test their endurance and strength of conviction about what they're trying to accomplish. Most times, the heightened danger seems to draw people closer not force them apart.

Simply calling them "Armoth's magical obstacles" leaves it a bit unclear as to the purpose of these obstacles. Are the obstacles always in place around wherever Armoth lives to keep Armoth safe from assassins or raids? Or does Armoth know they're coming and is attacking them directly with magic?

I think, too, when you reveal "the prophecy is clear," that this needs to acknowledge and then refute what wasn't so clear about it when Vardin first chose to follow it.

The cliches toward the end start to pile up and call attention to themselves: "too late to turn back," "face a decision," "take cover and hide," "stand tall," "put aside." One or two well-placed cliches will read seamlessly; too many pulls the reader away.

And since you've come out and said that Vardin doesn't want to meet the same fate as his folk, it sounds like he put aside thoughts of vengeance at that time. So the question at the end doesn't seem to reflect the current situation. Since it's been stated that Vardin's number one priority now seems to be that he doesn't want to die, it seems the bigger question is whether he can overcome his aversion to death in order to risk his life.

9 comments:

vkw said...

Here are my ideas -

Relying on an ancient prophecy, (it sounds like they disregarded the prophesy) friendless and orphaned Vardin (I thought he had friends but he left them to do his own thing. if he is 18 or older drop the orphan - because if your parents die and your 45 your not orphaned.) sets out alone to kill Armoth, the tyrant who murdered his parents. To his dismay, he is joined by Malia, the resourceful, bow-wielding princess he saves from one of Armoth’s murderous mercenaries. (why to his dismay? Why doesn't he want help? don'e make her a princess. that is one cliche, i don't think you can wiggle out of being annoying because princesses don't wield bows they wield cross-stitch).

After the tyrant destroyed her city and her entire family with it, Malia wants her own piece of Armoth. (Yawn sole-survivor and a trained fighting princess) She wouldn’t mind having a piece of Vardin either. But in a different way. (this seemed to cutesy for the seriousness of the query) Deeply in love, Malia can’t stand the thought of living without him, completely alone. (? did she know him before he rescued her? and isn't there anyone else she knows?)

When Malia nurses Vardin back from a serious infection, the bond between them blossoms into mutual love. But this bond is soon tested (usually people draw closer together when faced with danger) by Armoth’s magical obstacles. (: whirlwinds....then cut the next sentence) In reckless pursuit of the tyrant, Vardin and Malia battle whirlwinds, sandstorms, and excruciating hunger.

Not until Malia deciphers an ancient set of symbols in the sand do she and Vardin realize the folly of their seemingly heroic quest. The prophecy is clear. Two heroes cannot fulfill it. (Hmm, they disregarded the prophesy at the get go. . what made them change their mind?) Not alone. As much as Vardin thirsts for vengeance, he doesn’t wish to meet the same fate as his parents. (it sounds like he was willing to die for vengeance before, maybe Vardin doesn't just want to throw his life away on something that is sure to fail).

But, stranded in the desert, it’s too late to turn back. When the next city on their trek greets them with an enormous monster, Vardin and Malia face a decision. Will they take cover and hide? Or will they stand tall and defend the city? Can they put aside the prophecy and their selfish desire for vengeance to risk their lives for people they’ve never known? (do people on such a quest really go. . hmm, should we hide? I don't think so and heroes don't consider whether they know someone or not before saving them.

so - Can they put aside their selfish desire for vengeance to save the town? is all you need.

there seems to be something missing. So . . . they realize they can't succeed without the other two, they have to go forward, they cross the monster attacking the city. Is the evil guy behind the monster. Is this part of the prophesy?)

If a novel has a great voice and tells a good story, I don't necessarily think it has to be totally different from every other novel out there to sell. Hence . . romance novels but it has to be really good. But it will always be second best to the original and probably never be the next best seller.

AA said...

"To his dismay, he is joined by Malia, the resourceful, bow-wielding princess"

If she is resourceful and can use a weapon, why the dismay?

"Malia can’t stand the thought of living without him"

She just met him and she can't live without him.

"Armoth’s magical obstacles"

This phrase didn't make sense to me, either. I assumed it meant the whirlwinds and such, but why are these obstacles magical? Assuming they're in a desert, all of these things would be common.

"Two heroes cannot fulfill it. Not alone"

They're not alone if there are two of them. Does this mean the two heroes must be working together, therefore not alone, or that they need more people?

You don't seem to choose your words very carefully, which makes me wonder if the manuscript is like that as well.

Anonymous said...

1. I think, if I read this query, I would wonder if I would feel satisfied by the end of the book-- yeah, Vardin and Malia probably defeat the city's monster, but we all know there's a bigger monster just lurking in the distance. I think if you look at a lot of popular fantasy serries-- say Harry Potter, or Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books-- you'll find that the reader is left feeling like Harry/Mercy was done fighting after each and every book. Sure, by book 5 we knew that Voldemort was probably going to pop back up again, but Rowling didn't leave the back door open for him. =p
2. You continue to add fantasy cliches to Malia-- she's a princess, she's an archer, she's madly in love (with someone she just met, too!). It doesn't help the story's chances of standing out, so I wondered--
what if the story were told from Malia's point of view? To me, it would add a lot of space for character exploration, and would give you a bigger hook-- and also more space to flesh out Malia in the query.

A re-write with Malia as the protag might look like this:
Malia was a princess-- until the evil wizard Armoth destroyed her city. Malia has spent the two years since then hiding from Armoth on the streets of another city, training to use a bow and hoping for vengeance. She selects Vardin to accompany her on her quest for vengeance; handy with a sword, he's out for vengeance as well-- and he's cute.

The two journey through the world's toughest security system, including Armoth's magical sandstorms and whirlwinds. Malia uses her castle education to plot their route and to read ancient signpost runes in the desert. The pair discover that only a company of four can defeat Armoth, and they turn to go back to their city... running headlong into an even bigger monster. Can Malia step up and be the leader she was born to be for a people she never knew, or will her selfish desire for vengeance destroy the city?

--Rose

Ryan Mueller said...

Phoenix, thank you for all the comments. Now, I just need to dig deep and really find something to differentiate my book. I'm not ready to give up on it just yet.

@vkw

Would it help if I started the first sentence with "Relying on his interpretation of an ancient prophecy?"

Regarding Vardin's friends, he and his uncle live in the forest away from the city, so he doesn't see other people all that often. The other two mentioned in the query on Evil Editor are never really his friends. Also, he's 17, but I see your point about the orphaned thing.

Yeah, "to his dismay" isn't the greatest of phrases. Looking back on it, I'm not really sure why I put it in there. Now,is the princess cliche because I have a character who's a princess or because she's a bow-wielding princess?

Actually, Malia only really taught herself how to use a bow. In fact, her battle instincts aren't very good (and neither are Vardin's).

I bring up the question about them running and hiding at the end to show that, up to that point, they have not yet become heroes. Their decision there determines that.

Again, thank you for all the comments. I actually agree with most of them, and some of the others are places where I need to clarify a little bit.

Ryan Mueller said...

@ AA

Thanks for your comments. I'll make sure to clear up these parts in the query.

"To his dismay..."

I originally used that phrase because Vardin wants to go it alone at first. Malia actually forces her way into the quest. But I still think I'll change that.

"Malia can't stand..."

By the time they set out on the quest, she has actually known Vardin for a few weeks. He is also the only person she knows after her city is destroyed.

"Armoth's magical obstacles..."

This is another one of those things that's tough to explain in the limited space of a query. In the book, I explain how Armoth created dangerous regions to separate towns, reduce trade, and keep people from working together to plot against him. There are actually three separate regions: a vast plain (with the whirlinds), a desert (with the sandstorms obviously), and a pitch-black forest. I included a bit more about this in earlier version of the query, but since the key discovery of the symbols occurs in the desert, I was told it's less confusing if I just keep the desert focus in the query.

"Two heroes..."

I agree that the "Not alone" phrase is not as precise as I would like it to be. That's because I was being OCD about keeping the query under 250 words.

Obviously, I"m not an objective evaluator, but I don't think there are the problems with word choice in the novel. I think my word choice is better when I'm just writing. In the query, I'm thinking so much keeping it short that I don't use the best word.

Ryan Mueller said...

@Rose

I really like your suggestion of re-writing the query with a focus on Malia as the main character. Even though some of the facts aren't quite right, I like the way it reads.

Thinking about it, I actually prefer Malia as a character anyways. It shouldn't be too tough to add this edit to the book. I can just flip the first two chapters. Right now, chapter 1 is about Vardin and chapter 2 is about Malia, but that can easily be changed.

I'm not really sure what to do to convince people the ending is satisfying. They can't defeat Armoth yet because it would be too abrupt and would make the rest of the books kind of boring.

If it helps, Armoth did create the monster. And I think you might have just given me an idea to make this work (I actually thought of it in the middle of righting this comment).

How does this sound? When they arrive at the city, they see the monster approaching, but when they turn around, they see Armoth. He makes a deal with them: if they agree to abandon their quest to defeat him and defeat the monster, he will leave the city alone.


By the way, if anyone is interested in seeing how my writing compares to the query, I have posted the current first chapter on a blog I just started. If you click on my name, you should be able to find it.

Ryan Mueller said...

@ Rose

I don't think this is a finished product or anything just yet, but here's a new version with the focus on Malia. I hope you don't mind that I stole your security system line. I really liked it.

Sixteen year-old Malia fulfills the normal duties of a princess: observing ladylike manners, obeying her father’s wishes, and secretly plotting to avenge her mother’s murder. Truth be told, she doesn’t focus much on the first two. Instead, she practices archery and teaches herself ancient languages, all in the hopes of one day returning the favor the tyrant Armoth did to her mother.

When Malia escapes her royal prison, she meets seventeen year-old Vardin in the nearby forest, and they fight off one of Armoth’s evil servants. This battle forges an instant bond between Malia and Vardin, but before she knows it, her father’s search party locates her and drags her back to the palace—just in time for Armoth to destroy the city.

With her life in ashes, Malia seeks out Vardin to aid in her vengeful quest. After all, Armoth murdered his parents too. Their instant bond blossoms into mutual love as they brave the world’s toughest security system, including Armoth’s magical sandstorms and whirlwinds. Malia’s many hours spent in the castle library come in handy as she plots their route and deciphers ancient symbols at the edge of a canyon. These symbols tell them only a company of four can defeat Armoth. Neither Malia’s meticulous plans nor Vardin’s passionate anger will be enough.

In the next city, they encounter two sights they never expected: an enormous monster and Armoth himself. The tyrant makes them an offer. If Malia and Vardin abandon their quest for vengeance and defeat the monster, Armoth will leave the city untouched. If not, they’ll be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

IN PURSUIT OF VENGEANCE is a fantasy novel, complete at 85,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Anonymous said...

I like it! Right now it looks a little heavy on backstory, presuming the story really starts after Armoth destroys the city. Also, I don't think there's space in the query to explain how Malia was the sole survivor of the destruction of the city-- or even of her family-- so I might rewrite the first bit into something like:

"Princess Malia dutifully tats lace, but she prefers archery and study ancient languages. She runs away from home to avenge her mother's death at the tyrant Armoth's hands-- right before he destroys her city."

Or something like that-- just so that the query focuses less on how the story starts, and more on the meat of the plot.

Also, did Armoth send the monster? For some reason I thought that he did, which made me question why he'd make a deal with the protags to get rid of it. Actually, how would getting rid of the monster help Armoth, and why would our duo help him? Is the question whether they can (temporarily) work with Armoth long enough to save the city?

Finally: Malia's 16? Is this YA? If it isn't, it might help to bump her age up a few years.

Rose

Ryan Mueller said...

@Rose

Thank you again for all your comments. I finally feel like I have a decent query. It's amazing how changing the focus really helped it.

I included the back story because of all the complaints I received about how/when Malia and Vardin meet. But I'll see if I can cut it down. As it is right now, the query is about twenty words too long, so that would probably do the trick.

Regarding the monster, Armoth created it, but he didn't send it. It has actually tried to attack the city for years, but it doesn't destroy anything unless it sees people. And it sees Malia and Vardin. Armoth shows up because he knows that, deep down, their desire for vengeance will always be there. If they continue to pursue him, he will destroys the city. If not, he says he will leave it untouched. Malia and Vardin have to fight the monster because it has seen them and will destroy the city if they don't. It's also to prove their heroism and show how they have come of age during the story.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can convey this clearly and concisely?

I originally intended it to be young adult, but I received complaints that some parts were too mature for the younger young adult readers. I know YA is normally 12-18, but I see my story appealing more to the 14-18 (and older if they're into this type of story) demographic.

Do you think it would help the book's marketability if I market it as young adult? It fits with the age of the characters and the idea of coming of age. Not to mention, my focus is mostly on things like plot and characters and less on themes (though they are there if you're looking for them).