Monday, March 28, 2011

Query Revision 71

The Anasazi Conspiracy

Jake’s plan never included rescuing a beautiful archeologist from the evil man he was hired to kill. He certainly didn’t expect to be double-crossed by his shadowy employer either. In a malevolent twist of fate, the lives of two disparate souls are united in a race against time to decipher the mystery of an ancient people and stop the enemy determined to kill them.

THE ANASAZI CONSPIRACY is a Historical Adventure, weaving a rich tapestry of the enigmatic Chama clan into the fabric of a contemporary mission to steal the discovery of a fantastic archeological find. In 1607 BC, brothers Maska and Ahote make a curious discovery inside a cave on their hunting trip, but the prize they bring home quickly propels their hidden society into chaos and leaves a baffling legacy behind.

Their legacy first comes to light after a horrific train crash in the open, wild country of 1867. When the train engineer survives, badly wounded and delirious, he stumbles across an ancient relic while desperately searching for help. But soon Stanley collapses from his injuries, the secret almost dying with him again. His destiny is sealed when rescued by a merciful Jemez tribe, eventually recovering yet unable to recall the location of this incredible find. His failed search for the lost cavern promising untold riches influences the fate of his descendants, compelling them to honor the clandestine promise he made long ago.

Flash forward to the present, when powerful corporate magnate, Robert Bradley, underestimates his hired gun and the success of a malicious business scheme, the players in this deadly game are plunged into a race against time and bullets. Jake’s endeavor to stop the ruthless adversary pursuing them reveals a brilliant ally in Dr. Courtney Kirkland as she deftly works to unravel the elusive Anasazi petroglyphs. To fail means the loss of a magnificent culture - and death.

But Jake and Courtney never anticipated the playful banter…the intense looks…or fiery passions escalating as they grapple with the coded symbols linking this diverse cast through thousands of years of mystery, deception and greed. Culminating in an explosive finale, they succeed in unearthing a chronicle that will change Anasazi history forever.

The Author is a happily married father of four monsters, ‘er, boys and a history buff. This is my first novel and is a complete work available for review. Thank you for your consideration.

Comments

There’s a lot to like about this query, and it’s a great start to build revisions from. There’s a lot of energy here, and voice as well. The trick is to maintain that energy while tightening it up (yes, it does fit on a page – only just – but it reads long) and reworking some of the cliché bits. One or two cliché phrases can get a point across quickly in the few words we have to deal with, but limit them as much as possible. Also, you want to choose your details with care – preserve your voice but go easy on the unnecessary bits. And the adjectives.

Jake’s plan never included rescuing a beautiful archeologist from the evil man he was hired to kill. He certainly didn’t expect to be double-crossed by his shadowy employer either. In a malevolent twist of fate, the lives of two disparate souls are united in a race against time to decipher the mystery of an ancient people and stop the enemy determined to kill them.

You’ll likely get mixed crits on opening with a pitch paragraph like this, then repeating the info later. I think it’s a good approach for high-concept stories where the concept is king, showing the story can be quickly pitched to editors and fans. But the paragraph is part of the word count for the query, so including a pitch up front means you have to tighten the rest even more.

That said, this pitch paragraph doesn’t quite work for me. It’s a bit too cliché filled, giving the impression the story will be equally cliché. Also, keep it active. “He was hired” is OK, but “are united” can be changed, and needs to be because the “lives of two disparate souls” is redundant: “two disparate souls (people?) unite…”

THE ANASAZI CONSPIRACY is a Historical Adventure, weaving a rich tapestry of the enigmatic Chama clan into the fabric of a contemporary mission to steal the discovery of a fantastic archeological find.

Unless the majority of the book takes place in the past, I wouldn’t call it historical. This sentence is pretty convoluted and a bit too weighty to read easily. And how does one steal the discovery of a find? Does this mean the mission is to take credit for the find?

In 1607 BC, brothers Maska and Ahote make a curious discovery inside a cave on their hunting trip, but the prize they bring home quickly propels their hidden society into chaos and leaves a baffling legacy behind.

You’re being as enigmatic as the prize. You have details but not the necessary ones. We don’t need to know they were hunting, and unless it’s something like a Cave Troll, we don’t need to know it was found in a cave. What we need to know is what it is. Did us knowing Indiana was after the Ark or the Grail or the Crystal Skull spoil us from wanting to see the movie? No. In fact, it was shorthand for letting us know how important the discovery was without being coy about it. Right now, for the reader, the chaos and baffling legacy aren’t enticing, they’re frustrating, not giving us a clear picture of what’s going on.

Their legacy first comes to light after a horrific train crash in the open, wild country of 1867. When the train engineer survives, badly wounded and delirious, he stumbles across an ancient relic while desperately searching for help. But soon Stanley collapses from his injuries, the secret almost dying with him again. His destiny is sealed when rescued by a merciful Jemez tribe, eventually recovering yet unable to recall the location of this incredible find. His failed search for the lost cavern promising untold riches influences the fate of his descendants, compelling them to honor the clandestine promise he made long ago.

Again, another paragraph that, though well-written, is rife with too many details and a lot of vague phrasing – for instance, what does “clandestine promise” mean? If the events here are somehow tied into the rest of the story, the query should reflect that. And if the query doesn’t tie them together, there’s really no reason for this paragraph to be here.

Flash forward to the present, when powerful corporate magnate, Robert Bradley, underestimates his hired gun and the success of a malicious business scheme, the players in this deadly game are plunged into a race against time and bullets. Jake’s endeavor to stop the ruthless adversary pursuing them reveals a brilliant ally in Dr. Courtney Kirkland as she deftly works to unravel the elusive Anasazi petroglyphs. To fail means the loss of a magnificent culture - and death.

I wouldn’t name Robert as that turns the attention on him and the reader thinks he must be the MC. I’d instead drop Jake’s name in as the hired gun so the reader doesn’t have to work to figure things out. Unlike a mystery story, the query needs to be clear enough that a reader “gets” it immediately.

Watch the number of adjectives. Your tendency is to pair every noun with an adjective, and that’s extremely tiresome for the reader: powerful, malicious, deadly, ruthless, brilliant, elusive, magnificent. And that’s just THIS paragraph.

Contrary to the previous paragraphs that were all intimate detail that the reader doesn’t really need to know, this paragraph doesn’t really give us any detail. Why is Courtney unraveling petroglyphs? Who found them? What culture will be lost and how if Jake’s not successful? Whose death(s) are we talking about – Jake's? Courtney’s? The society with the “magnificent culture?” Although you’ve given us the stakes, they aren’t clear.

But Jake and Courtney never anticipated the playful banter…the intense looks…or fiery passions escalating as they grapple with the coded symbols linking this diverse cast through thousands of years of mystery, deception and greed.

The first half of this sentence is really good, then it devolves into more vagueness. I don’t know what’s going on. Also “diverse cast” pulls me out of the story line and away from your voice.

Culminating in an explosive finale, they succeed in unearthing a chronicle that will change Anasazi history forever.

No editorializing about the story structure, as in “explosive finale.” And think word precision. Unless the discovery is a time machine and history can in fact be changed, a chronicle won’t change what actually happened, but it could change our contemporary understanding of that history.

The Author is a happily married father of four monsters, ‘er, boys and a history buff. This is my first novel and is a complete work available for review. Thank you for your consideration.

The sentence about yourself is short enough to maybe make a personal connection, but it’s not really necessary, especially in an already over-long query. And the humor is a real break from the previous tone. You’ll also get some agents/editors who’ll ding you for saying the work is available for “review.” And don’t forget to add word count: I look forward to sending you the completed, 90,000-word manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.

Overall, if the query isn’t going to reveal explicitly how the discovery impacted the people who found the object in 1607 BC and 1867, there really isn’t any need to mention these events at all. There doesn’t appear to be any real tie-in to the present. Again, think Indiana – yes, the backstory is integral to understanding why the object is important, but a few words is enough to get that importance across in the query. And “prize,” “untold riches,” and “incredible find” aren’t the words to do it.

7 comments:

vkw said...

Phoenix is correct. In this query we have a lot of details but no real understanding about what happened.

We don't even know much about the MCs either.

It's like writing a query for Avatar and saying, "In this epic fantasy adventure a mega-giant corporation run by an evil man attempts to strip the resources of an entire plant. The natives' rich culture and secrets, however, is beyond anything imagineable to the corporation. Secrets that make the cultures of this planet virgin, spirtual and magical all at the same time."

It's like we are in this dance around the plot. It's poetic, it's beautiful but it has no meat.

I was put off immediately by "evil man he was hired to kill."

I knew right then and there that the author wasn't going to tell me the plot.

vkiw

Richard Pulis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Pulis said...

I get no sense of the stakes of the story. I know the query says "to fail means the loss of a magnificent culture and death' but that is too vague. Too distanced.

Try rewriting around the stakes. Somethig like:

This cave has witnessed two murders and, unless Jake can unravel these ancient petroglyphs, his will be the third.

That makes the threats a bit more personal. It's Jake's murder and he has a way of avoiding it. He has motivation.

Just a thought.
R

Matt said...

Does this book follow the artifact -- meaning that the beginning focuses on the brothers, the middle on the engineer and the end on the hitman? I hope not, because it isn't easy to build sympathy for an inanimate object.

There's a lot of words here that hardly say anything, it's like I'm reading a voice-over for a movie trailer. But trailers have pictures and special effects while all a writer has is words. That doesn't mean you have to write out every detail so we know what's in your head, rather you should provide readers with choice details that provoke their imaginations.

I'm guessing the word count is high. Once you learn how to articulate scenes without resorting to summary descriptions (such as clandestine promise), cliches (Jake's plan never included..., race against time etc.) and cut back on adjectives and adverbs, you'll be able take your 150k word novel down to 70k words.

Wilkins MacQueen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
newmancht said...

Thanks for the suggestions Phoenix.
I'll clean it up and give this another try later if that's ok. I actually have a "short" version omitting the 19th century paragraph. Sounds like the better one to "tweak out" based on the comments and suggestions here.

Part of the difficulty for me is this is a pretty big MS at 164K words and 2 historical timelines, with their attendant MC's and subplots interconnected with what's happening in the present. In short, there's a LOT going on in this book.

My intial goal in this Query version was to do more of a teaser style, providing mostly the voice/pace of the book with enough the general plot/conflicts/consequences to persuade the agent to want more. Then, let the full synopsis do the explaining. Sounds like the result was a mixed bag of interest and frustration. Not exactly what I was looking for. Comments?

I admit leaving the word count off deliberately, having seen suggestions on other query sites recommending this stratgy since many agents would take one look at that number and immediately assume it was an editing nightmare, overblown with gibberish. I assumed it would be wiser to hook the agent first and deal with the "bad news" on a strong synopisis or (better yet) the actual writing on a partial or full request. Your thoughts?

Again, I really appreciate the review.

Phoenix said...

@Newmancht: I think the consensus here is to focus on the contemporary events and leave the backstory of the relic to the synopsis. You can certainly create mystery but there need to be enough concrete details (vs hype)for a reader to be comfortable there's a story there that hangs together.

You're more than welcome to send your revision when it's ready.

As for not mentioning word count, you're basically cluing the agent in to the fact that the ms is either very short or very long or that the author is a real newbie who doesn't know what's needed. In any case, its absence will be a red flag.