Friday, March 11, 2011

Query Revision 68

Face-Lift 877: A Prophecy Ignored
(Renamed from The Four Prophecy)

Dear Agent,

Using an ancient prophecy to justify vengeance, Mardin sets out to kill Armoth, the tyrant whose servants murdered his parents. He is joined by Malia, who seeks vengeance of her own after Armoth destroys her city and her entire family with it.

Never mind that the prophecy requires four people. Not two.

Through their travels, the bond between Mardin and Malia strengthens. What starts with Mardin saving Malia’s life blossoms into love when she nurses him back from a serious infection.

But Mardin’s desire for vengeance never abates. Though Malia is not as enthusiastic, she joins Mardin because she loves him and can’t stand the thought of living without him, completely alone. Buffeted by whirlwinds, blasted by sandstorms, enveloped by a forest of sheer darkness, Malia must use her resourcefulness, and Mardin his strength, just to survive the journey.

After Malia uses her extensive knowledge to decipher symbols in the desert, she and Mardin recognize they can’t defeat Armoth. Not alone. But, by then, it’s too late to turn back; they must continue until they reach the city of Braren.

However, when Mardin and Malia believe they’ve found the safety of Braren, they discover the city is under attack from an enormous monster. Confronted with this challenge, Mardin and Malia realize true heroism is not a matter of prophecies or vengeance, but rather, risking their lives to save people they’ve never known.

A PROPHECY IGNORED is a fantasy novel, complete at 85,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

I think putting the focus on the two MCs is the right way to go here. Now it's finding the right details to use to support the story in the query.

A couple of overall comments about the names first. Mardin is better than Mard, I think, BUT common practice is to name MCs with different first letters to make it easier on the reader to immediately tell who is doing what. Not only do both your MCs names begin with "M" but with "Ma." Tolkien might have gotten away with it with Sauron and Saruman but I for one never forgave him for that.

As for your title, my personal reaction is quite strong. I really, really don't like it. It's not just a visceral reaction either; there are reasons: 1) It's not accurate. Not that a title HAS to be accurate, but it helps. This prophecy is not ignored. M&M are trying to fulfill what they think it is; they're just hoping its rules are more guidelines. 2) "Ignore" isn't really a strong word. And most of us ignore prophecies all the time. 3) I also think if you can't pair "prophecy" with something awesome, it's probably best not to have it in the title. It's one of the tropes that just screams, well, trope. You either want to downplay the trope or twist the hell out of it; not call attention to it.

Using an ancient prophecy to justify vengeance, Mardin sets out to kill Armoth, the tyrant whose servants murdered his parents. He is joined by Malia, who seeks vengeance of her own after Armoth destroys her city and her entire family with it.

You don't want to overuse adjectives, but never underestimate the importance of a good one. You can color the way the reader feels about Mardin from the outset by giving us a strong adjective when you introduce him. With the vengeance motif so strong, I think you want something to evoke empathy. Or give us a reason why he thinks he can fight Armoth.

Also, you can lose Armoth's servants, I think. It's understood most tyrants have others doing their dirty work for them.

Never mind that the prophecy requires four people. Not two.

You're really set on this. But just dropped into the query like this, it doesn't make sense to the reader. It just opens up a bunch of "huh?" and "why?" reactions. Also, the concept is off. A prophecy might be about or involve a certain number of people, but it doesn't require them in and of itself. This prophecy requires four people to act on it or fulfill it, not to simply be.

If you want to hint that things won't be so easy, you could try something like the following. Only in your voice.

But this prophecy isn't one to be so easily manipulated, nor is Armoth one to be so easily caught.

Now, throwing in a sentence like this (or your "never mind" one) sets up a more market-esy bent to the query. It adds a bit of drama (or melodrama if overindulged in). BUT, you have to follow through on it and echo that voice later on to make it work. Your version, though, doesn't. It falls into more of a synopsis approach.

Through their travels,

I'm not feeling a sense of urgency from this phrase.

the bond between Mardin and Malia strengthens. What starts with Mardin saving Malia’s life blossoms into love when she nurses him back from a serious infection.

If it's interesting the way Mardin saves Malia's life, tell us how. Briefly. "... with Mardin saving Malia from a rabid cougar ..."

But Mardin’s desire for vengeance never abates. Though Malia is not as enthusiastic, she joins Mardin because she loves him and can’t stand the thought of living without him, completely alone.

Hmm. OK Malia's motivation has changed from P1, and the progression of her feelings isn't logical. So in the preceding paragraph, if Malia is already in love, then it's just Mardin's bond with her that blossoms into love. I think we need to know how Malia feels first.

Buffeted by whirlwinds, blasted by sandstorms, enveloped by a forest of sheer darkness, Malia must use her resourcefulness, and Mardin his strength, just to survive the journey.

I'm not sure how we got from Malia loving Mardin to journey surviving in the same paragraph. We need a bit better transition.

After Malia uses her extensive knowledge to decipher symbols in the desert, she and Mardin recognize they can’t defeat Armoth. Not alone. But, by then, it’s too late to turn back; they must continue until they reach the city of Braren.

I'm not getting a sense of a world where you go from sandstorms to forest so readily. Perhaps keep this a desert feeling to simplify things? And the symbols in the desert seems rather random as a reason to see they can't by themselves defeat a tyrant capable of mass murder and destroying cities. In a cold read, I don't immediately tie the "not alone" bit to the needing 4 people to complete the prophecy.

However, when Mardin and Malia believe they’ve found the safety of Braren, they discover the city is under attack from an enormous monster. Confronted with this challenge, Mardin and Malia realize true heroism is not a matter of prophecies or vengeance, but rather, risking their lives to save people they’ve never known.

Heroism is all well and good, but since that hasn't been what M&M have been after, it seems odd to have that the focus here the way it's written.

A PROPHECY IGNORED is a fantasy novel, complete at 85,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

No harm in adding "with series potential" here.

My Version

This still feels synopsis-y to me, but maybe it's a launching point for a revise? And, truthfully, it still sounds pretty conventional. There isn't any real hook here or in what you've provided to make a slush reader take notice. A query letter that lays out the story and doesn't leave a lot of loose ends still won't garner requests if it doesn't have that indefinable spark in it. Can you dig a little deeper into your story and see if there's something there that you can use as your differentiating hook?

Using an ancient prophecy to justify revenge, Mardin, a Sabermaster Supreme, sets out to kill the tyrant who murdered his parents. To his consternation, Malia, a Loremaster and childhood friend, joins him. After the tyrant destroyed her city and her entire family with it, Malia wants a piece of Armoth herself. She'd also like a piece of Mardin, too, but for entirely different purposes. Secretly in love with him, she can't stand the thought of living without him, completely alone.

After Mardin is mauled while saving Malia from a sand lion, he responds to her healing touch as she nurses him back from a serious infection. The tenuous bond started between them blossoms into mutual love as they battle whirlwinds, sandstorms and uncanny darkness in reckless pursuit of the tyrant who devastated their lives.

Through it all, Mardin's lust for vengeance never abates. But the prophecy he follows isn't one so easily manipulated, nor is Armoth one so easily caught. It isn't until they stumble across a series of runes etched into the remains of a forgotten temple that he comes to his senses and realizes they can't defeat Armoth. Not alone. But by then, it's too late to turn back.

The safe haven they thought they'd find in the next city on their desert trek, though, holds a dreadful surprise. It's under attack from an enormous monster. They have no obligation to help and none but themselves to answer to. Are they hero enough to put aside vengeance and prophecy to risk their lives to save a people they've never known?

HERO'S JOURNEY is a standalone fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 85,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

10 comments:

Ryan Mueller said...

Phoenix, thank you for all the comments. I've changed Mardin's name to Hardin. I noticed it was difficult to tell them apart when I read back through the novel.

I've also changed the title to HERO'S JOURNEY: THE FOLLY OF VENGEANCE. I don't know if that works, but it seems more accurate and leaves the prophecy out.

I feel like my query is finally starting to come along. I'll probably send another query sometime soon, if that's okay.

Matt said...

I usually don't comment on names or titles because most authors I see around here need to work on more important things: sentence structure, flow, plot development and characterization.

Why do you need a fantasy world to convey themes of vengeance and abusing prophecies? As it reads, you'd be better off casting Mard and Malia as ancient Persians chasing Alexander the Great after he sacked their hometown.

I am not getting the sense that your characters are influenced by the world around them. For good examples on how this is done, refer to the desert tribes in Dune as well as the Shire in The Hobbit.

The first Dune book is also a good example of how to begin a series with a self contained story. Personally, I don't like ending a letter with "...with series potential." It's like admitting the book has an unsatisfying ending.

I laughed at sand lion and piece of Mardin. Good lines. "Piece of Mardin" also gives Malia some much needed characterization.

Anonymous said...

Is there anything to Malia? She seems to be just sort of an empty stereotype of a female-- nurturing, loves the hero, nurturing... while these aren't bad characteristics, I agree with Matt that she needs more characterization. Plus, what the query currently shows is something along the lines of a feminist nightmare, just trailing after a man... Probably, if you've decided to spend 4 books with Malia, there's more to her than that, it just isn't coming through in the query.

Rose

Ryan Mueller said...

@Matt

Thank you for your comments.

Do you have any suggestions on improving the title? I've always been terrible at picking titles for anything.

In general, I wouldn't need a fantasy world to portray those themes. The fantasy world is vital to the plot, though. Without it, their journey would be kind of boring. What makes it interesting is that the whirlwinds, sandstorms, and darkness are Armoth's magical obstacles. Moreover, if I changed the setting from a fantasy world, that would really mess up the rest of the series.

How vital is it in a query to show how the world influences characters? With the limited space, I focused on characters, plot, and voice. If this were a synopsis, I would explain a bit more how they're influenced by the world around them. I tried to explain more about the world in my original query on Evil Editor, but it was too much information in too little space. Because of that, I changed the focus to the characters and only revealed the most crucial aspects of their world.

Can you really tell if an ending is satisfying from a query? I thought part of a query was leaving some suspense about the ending.

By the way, I liked "piece of Mardin" too, and I incorporated it into my most recent revision.

Ryan Mueller said...

@Rose

Thanks for commenting on that. Malia is actually a very strong female character. In many cases, she's actually the one leading Mardin and coming up with solutions for their predicaments.

But you're right. It doesn't come across in the query. In my most recent revision, I have added her resourcefulness and the fact that she's a skilled archer.

Do you think that helps?

Matt said...

Whirlwinds, sandstorms, darkness -- you can find these things in the reality. How is the fantasy world vital to the plot? If it's just because the journey would be boring without it, then your characters and plot are weak.

Showing how the world influences characters doesn't need to take extra space. Remember: every sentence should serve multiple functions (E.g. advance the plot and flesh out a character).

And it depends on the query, but you can point to an exciting climax without giving away the ending.

Ryan Mueller said...

The fantasy world is vital to the plot because, without it, Armoth wouldn't have anyone to rule. To trap his subjects in his domain, he created a ring of mountains around the area.

This is also a world that involves magic. In reality, people can't use magic (well, as far as we know). The whirlwinds, sandstorms, and darkness are not natural.

Also, the big moment that really gets the story going is the magical destruction of Malia's city. While real life features the destruction of cities, it doesn't feature it in such a way that only four people survive.

I think part of the reason I don't describe all that much how the world influences them is because they spend much of the book on their own. Since my focus is on the journey, I feel using space to show how the world influences them early in the book would just crowd the query. I think readers are smart enough to know there's more to a book than a 250 word query tells you. They do interact with the world, especially early in the book, but I see no point in giving everything away.

I could be wrong, though. If I am, please point me in the right direction.

150 said...

The title HERO'S JOURNEY: THE FOLLY OF VENGEANCE sounds like nonfiction to me.

The fantasy world is vital to the plot, though. Without it, their journey would be kind of boring.

That...worries me. (Warning: thinking-through tangent ahead! As much for my benefit as yours.) "To keep it from being boring" implies that the fantasy elements are interchangeable obstacles that are there to be cool and lengthen the book but may not be directly important to the theme, the character development, or the long-term plot. What I'm saying is--that's not vital. That's window dressing.

Why sandstorms, not snowstorms? Why darkness instead of blinding light? Every element should have a good reason for being there, and have consequences specific to it, and a cause that isn't arbitrary. I don't see, for example, why anyone would bother to magic up a sandstorm when a) the prophecy of four is only half complete anyway and b) there are easier ways to kill two specific people. I'm not buying anyone's motivations, least of all the antagonist's.

As presented, I can't see the point of the journey--other than it turns a few scenes into a novel.

I see no point in giving everything away.

GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY. I'm serious. Everything you've written so far is extremely standard fantasy. Typical. Tropetastic. If you have an ace in your hand, play it. What can I get here that I can't get by just reading Prydain again?

For the record, I can think of non-fantasy scenarios that might produce between one and four survivors.

Here's a worksheet that might help suss out the specifics of your plot. If you can't easily fill this in, you may have a major problem.

1. Once upon a time . . . The beginning, the setting of the scene, the introduction of a character

2. Every day . . . The life of the character as it is, and is about to be disrupted

3. Until this . . . Something happens, the inciting incident, that throws a character’s life out of whack

4. Because of this . . . The character reacts with an attempt to put her life back on track, but there are complications.

5. Because of this . . . The effort fails, and then the character tries again (there can be a series of these), and there are complications.

6. Until finally . . . The climax, the point in the story that the character achieves her goal

7. For every day . . . The resolution, the tying of things together (or not, if you have an ironic ending) that completes the story experience

Anonymous said...

I think it would help much more if you showed Malia coming up with a solution rather than just saying that she's an archer; if she was amazing with an axe, however, I'd be interested in that. =)

Rose

Anonymous said...

"They have no obligation to help and none but themselves to answer to. Are they hero enough to put aside vengeance and prophecy to risk their lives to save a people they've never known? HERO'S JOURNEY is a standalone fantasy..." See Kal Bashir's screenwriting / hero's journey work at http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html