Monday, March 21, 2011

Query Revision 70

Face-Lift 879: Thrice-Born

Dear Agent,

Andra was born with a fractured soul, a painful condition that can only be soothed by her brother’s presence. Frustrated by her junkie-like dependence, she tries to concentrate instead on her upcoming Offering, a ceremony during which she’ll choose a magical discipline and at long last gain her power. However, her life is turned upside down when a mercenary tries to kill her brother, and leaves him snared in a spell that will drain his life force within twelve hours.

Cut off from their father, Andra has no choice but to ask her friends for help, including her ex-best friend, Tiar, even though she loses every shred of dignity whenever she remembers their night of drunk sex, and how he’d been avoiding her ever since. Their interactions go from bad to worse when Andra discovers Tiar's estranged mother, the priestess Alazne, is behind her brother’s attack.

Their quest takes them from their home town of Bakersfield, California, to Italy, where Tiar grew up. Her brother’s attack turns out to only be the beginning, as Alazne plans to use his stolen life force to assassinate the Magister, their society’s leader. Caught between politics and friendship, budding desire and sore regret, Andra, Tiar, and their closest friends race against time to save her brother's life.

THRICE-BORN, a YA urban fantasy, is complete at 60,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

First, let me commend the author for being willing to do the work it takes to get this right. I've seen this query on a couple of sites, so kudos to the author for putting herself out there.

This version is the one that most of us have to write to get it out of our system. It's the version where the author tries to answer everybody's concerns from the first critique or two. Reading the earlier comments and then reading this version, it's very clear the author is working hard to be sure all the issues commenters had are covered. And, of course, still keep the query to an acceptable word count. The problem is that the author is, I think, still a little too close to the work, so the explanations she's incorporated -- and how they've been incorporated -- don't necessarily shed the light expected.

Andra was born with a fractured soul, a painful condition that can only be soothed by her brother’s presence.

I think most readers will associate "fractured soul" as being metaphorical, maybe belonging to someone who's led a life where sad circumstance has forced them to give up the better part of themselves even as they struggle to retain some semblance of normalcy in a world turned againt them. As written, though, this sounds more like a congenital defect -- like a cleft palate or a club foot. We don't know what it really means or why her brother figures into the condition. To be honest, my thoughts went to a bad, incestual place. The phrase sounds cool, I'll grant you that, but to the reader coming cold into your query, it's meaningless. And it's a thread not followed through on. You can maybe work it into the query in an off-hand way, but I wouldn't make it the centerpoint opening unless you intend to elaborate on it later -- assuming it's important enough to elaborate on. Is Andra's life somehow tied to her brother's, so that if he dies, she'll lose something more of herself than just having to bear the profound loss of a brother?

Frustrated by her junkie-like dependence,

So it's a physical dependency? Not just a co-dependency kind of thing?

she tries to concentrate instead on her upcoming Offering, a ceremony during which she’ll choose a magical discipline and at long last gain her power.

I think calling it "an Offering" at this point is only confusing to the reader since the term isn't self-evident. Also, we need to know the MC is 17 or at least teenish. The last version of the query had her age.

However, her life is turned upside down when a mercenary tries to kill her brother, and leaves him snared in a spell that will drain his life force within twelve hours.

Of course her life is turned upside down. This is a chance to breathe a little more life into Andra rather than leading with a cliche. HOW is it turned upside down? Does the murder attempt surprise her? scare her? numb her? Does she know he only has 12 hours to live? And is he slowly dying or will he just up and die in 12 hours? Later, it sounds as though Alazne has his life force during that 12 hours, so maybe he's in some sort of suspended animation or coma during that time.

Cut off from their father,

Perhaps we should know why they're cut off from their dad? Is it just physical separation or something else? If Andra can travel around the world, why can't daddy get to them? How can he be cut off?

Andra has no choice but to ask her friends for help, including her ex-best friend, Tiar, even though she loses every shred of dignity whenever she remembers their night of drunk sex, and how he’d been avoiding her ever since.

I think you can leave her other friends out of the query and focus on the difficulty of asking Tiar and having to put aside that memory for the sake of her brother. Break this sentence into two.

Their interactions go from bad to worse when Andra discovers Tiar's estranged mother, the priestess Alazne, is behind her brother’s attack.

"Interactions" is an odd word choice here, especially followed by another cliche (from bad to worse -- aim for no more than one cliched phrase per query). Be specific. Does Andra no longer trust Tiar? Why does she still want his help? Is he embarrassed by mom and want to be quit of the quest?

Their quest takes them from their home town of Bakersfield, California, to Italy, where Tiar grew up.

Here's one of the incorporated bits that caught me completely by surprise - and in a not good but uncomfortable way. Nothing to this point led me to believe they were interacting in our world. I think putting California closer to the beginning would help ground the reader more. But why the made-up names if this is CA and Italy? Is Tiar short for a popular Italian name? Where does the name Alazne come from? That's part of the expectation of the world. Other than the place names there is nothing here that suggests urban fantasy. Is there a reason our world is the backdrop? How does the urban grit of the "real" world mesh with the fantasy world you've created in it? Does it?

Her brother’s attack turns out to only be the beginning,

The beginning of what? Again, choose specificity over cliche.

as Alazne plans to use his stolen life force to assassinate the Magister, their society’s leader.

Here's where the reader needs to understand why the brother, many thousands of miles away, was picked to be killed. Is his life force special? And is he still alive? At this point, I actually read this sentence as meaning that the brother's dead and Alazne has his life force. It's not even entering my head that he's still alive and I'm a little curious as to why the query bothered to mention the 12-hour time delay. When I realize he's still alive, my credibility is strained. Andra and Tiar are able to not only figure out somehow that they need to leave the dying brother and travel to Italy to save him AND actually travel to Italy AND get a flight out and through airport security and customs AND find Alazne with enough time left over to stop her?

Adding a bit of motivation behind the villain would be helpful. The reader doesn't know this world. the Magister might be the equivalent of a Qhadafi and Alazne is sacrificing the one for the good of the many. Yes, we're concerned about the brother, but are there greater political stakes if they don't succeed in stopping Alazne? Stakes that affect our MCs and that the reader should care about? And do our MCs have a hope of stopping the threat if they don't have magical power of their own yet? Also, the thread about Andra's fractured soul introduced in the beginning seems to have been lost.

Caught between politics and friendship, budding desire and sore regret, Andra, Tiar, and their closest friends race against time to save her brother's life.

THRICE-BORN, a YA urban fantasy, is complete at 60,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Of course, all the questions asked here don't need to be answered. You'll choose which are important to the query and which aren't. But to do that, you need to step back from the work just a bit and figure out how you can convey a sense of your world in just a few words and how you can better convey the dual (triple?) stakes.

My Version

It's a bit long, but I don't know your story well enough at this point to do more than massage the query here. Your next version will likely not look much like this at all (especially since I've taken liberties), but maybe this will give you some suggestions for including a bit more detail and voice in lieu of vaguer wording and longer sentences.

Andra's twin brother Randy is, quite literally, the other half of this California teen's fractured soul. The magical bond between them keeps her co-dependent. To be separated even for a short while means debilitating emotional and physical pain. So when a mercenary attacks her brother with a spelled dagger that captures his life force and leaves him with only 12 hours to live, Andra is barely able to function. Still a week away from the ceremony where her magical discipline will be conferred, Andra's choices are limited. For one, there are few like her in Bakersfield. For another, her dad is off on yet another covert mission and out of touch.

Desperate, she turns to ex-best friend Tiar who's been avoiding her ever since their night of drunken sex. Not that she has any dignity left after that night, but she needs help. Now. Together they discover that Tiar's estranged mother, a mad priestess, orchestrated the attack. In a bid for supremacy, she plans to use the stolen life force to assassinate the Magister, their coven's gentle leader. Surrounded by his Italian familiars and protected by strong magic, only the life force of another Magister can kill him. The revelation that her brother must be a Magister, too, nearly undoes Andra -- and has Tiar suddenly very afraid of her.

If Andra can tap into her latent magic, they might have a chance at stopping the priestess. But first they have to get to Italy. Fast. Taking the Magic Way, they arrive in the midst of political turmoil. Now Andra has to fight the ravaging pain of being so far from Randy, her budding desire for Tiar, and the knowledge that the blood of the Magisters runs through her in order to find her own magical gift in time to save her brother and keep her coven whole.

4 comments:

vkw said...

Kudos to the author for making the query better. It does still need work as Phoenix pointed out.

I think the author is "stuck" on this magical ceremony that the MC is suppose to be concentrating on. My advice is explain how it has to do with the plot at all or get rid of it. It sounds like it's backstory-made to give the reader a hint of the world she lives in. In actuality it's as important as knowing the MC is trying to get into college next year. (not important)

We still don't know how getting the brother's life force is going to help the villian. It may or may not be important. Can it be anyone's life force or is there something special about Randy?

It sounds like you have multiple motivations for Andra's involvement in this plot - brother targeted, soul connected, world in trouble.

This is fine but . . . . we the reader have no idea why the fractured soul is important and why the world would be in trouble if the villian succeeded.

Right now I am visulaizing a magical cult in turmoil and . . . I don't care. Those that lead lifestyles not like my own have every right to do whatever they want to as long as it does not hurt others and in particular me and the people I love. And, if they don't do either I don't care and don't want to know.

Harry Potter worked because readers were led to care about the orphaned, picked on child and then were led to understand that turmoil in the magical world resulted in chaos in our world.

I don't care about Andra. All I know about her is she made at least one poor decision in her life - drunk sex with her best friend. I don't find drunk teenagers to be interesting or sympathetic.

I would also suggest bringing in the age up front, making sure everyone knows this is happening in the real world up front like Phoenix did and changing the names to Harry or Amy or Robin or "anything normal".

And the 12 hour thing isn't working either like Phoenix pointed out.

Ryan Mueller said...

From reading this query, the world doesn't make sense to me. With the strange names, it almost seems like the author originally set this in a fantasy world and then decided to change it because urban fantasy is popular right now.

Does Andra live in some kind of separate world that coexists with ours, like in Harry Potter? Or is this set in a future time period? As far as names go, I don't think you need to change Andra, but Tiar and Alazne just sound strange (and how the heck do you pronounce Alazne).

I also noticed a lot of passive voice in the first paragraph: born with a fractured soul,her life is turned upside down, snared in a spell. If the novel contains this many passive sentences, you have some revisions to do before you send it out.

Also, in the third paragraph, "to only be the beginning" is a split infinitive, and it sounds awkward. You should probably use a different phrase in your next beginning because, as Phoenix said, it is rather cliche.

Anonymous said...

Your credulity is strained.

Your credibility remains intact.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

A fantasy world doesn't go well with Bakersfield and Italy in my head. Tiar - I kept adding an "a" to the end, making him a fairy princess of sorts.

I can accept the drunken sex thing but it seems out of character with an mc who has a fractured soul.

Fantasy with reality overtones? Reality with fantasy? Kudos for improvements and determination.

If your fantasy world is built would a couple of geographical name changes hurt it? Help it?

Rootin' for you.