Monday, April 4, 2011

Query 68: Redux 2

In Pursuit of Vengeance

Dear Agent,

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. Well, truth be told, she doesn’t focus much on the first two. Instead, she practices archery and teaches herself ancient languages, all in the hope of one day returning the favor the tyrant Armoth did to her mother.

That day, however, arrives sooner than she expects after Armoth destroys her city.

With her life in ashes, Malia seeks out seventeen-year-old 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, which includes Armoth’s magical sandstorms and whirlwinds. Malia’s many hours spent in the palace library prove useful 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 suffice.

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, Armoth will leave the city untouched. If not, they’ll bear responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Well, provided the monster doesn’t destroy the city first.

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.


I think this version is MUCH clearer than the previous ones. Focusing on a single character has really helped to focus the story. And it's helped to add some much-needed voice to the query, too.

I do have some concerns, but I think if you keep this basic structure and clean up the issues, which have more to do with the plot points you've presented, you should be good.

I'm not clear how ancient languages figure in her plot to avenge Mom. That skill does, of course, come into play later, but it feels like a contrivance as written into the query now. If I want to take down a murderer, learning ancient Greek is not generally going to be on my to-do list to get there. If you can keep the idea of teaching herself languages in P1 but not tie it to part of the vengeance plot, that would be good, I think.

In P3, blossoms and brave are both a bit cliche. Perhaps rephrase a bit? I think we need to know that M and V are having to travel a ways to find Armoth so we understand better what you mean by toughest security system.

In P4, I think they never expected is unnecessary, as is next city. I'm a little confused about the relationship between Armoth and the monster. At first, I'm thinking Armoth is using the monster to destroy the city and maybe that's how he destroyed Malia's city in the first place. But then the last sentence seems to indicate the monster isn't under Armoth's control but is acting independently.

The biggest issue for me between P3 and P4, though, comes back to the whole prophecy of 4 thing. I think spelling it out in the query in this case may not be the best way to go. If they clearly aren't powerful enough to defeat Armoth, why would he strike a deal with them? And even so, why would a murdering tyrant capable of destroying cities bargain with two teens in the first place? It feels like a major plot hole here.

There needs to be some indication in the query, I think, as to why Armoth fears them, and we need some hope that they can defeat him. Something like:

Malia’s many hours spent in the palace library prove useful as she plots their route and deciphers ancient symbols of a prophecy that hint at a way they can defeat Armoth. But it's going to take more than Malia’s meticulous plans and Vardin’s passionate anger to do it.

When they find Armoth, he's about to raze another city. Sensing the [power] they don't even know is in them, Armoth makes them an offer. If Malia and Vardin abandon their quest for vengeance, Armoth will leave the city untouched. If not, they’ll bear responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Well, provided the enormous monster hanging around outside the gates doesn’t destroy the city first.

Title-wise, I'm not in love with all the prepositions. The Temper of Revenge or some such, maybe? (Disclaimer: That's the title of one of my fav filk songs that's 20+ years old, but titles aren't copyrightable...)


150 said...

Wow, this is significantly better.

The prophecy still isn't working as included. When you have this:

These symbols tell them only a company of four can defeat Armoth. Neither Malia’s meticulous plans nor Vardin’s passionate anger will suffice.

your next paragraph better explain where they're going to get the other two, or whether they're going to try it with just two anyway. The fourth paragraph, by ignoring this, implies the prophecy has no real bearing on the plot. Which is the kind of thing you should take out of the query.

Like Phoenix, I see no reason for Armoth to deliver the teens an ultimatum rather than sniping them from the city walls.

Ryan Mueller said...

Phoenix, thanks again for all the great comments.

In the first paragraph, I have changed it to: "Instead, she practices archery and studies the art of battle..."

I think the sentence about her time spent in the palace library provides enough justification as to how she would understand and decipher ancient symbols.

I changed the first sentence of paragraph 3 to: "With her life in ashes, Malia seeks out seventeen-year-old love interest Vardin..."

By the way, is anyone particularly attached to the phrase "with her life in ashes?" I am currently over 250 words and cutting that would do the trick.

I changed the sentence about the security system to: "The bond between them strengthens as the trudge across vast regions filled with Armoth's magical sandstorms, whirlwinds, and monsters." Should I keep the part about the security system in there, or does this convey that point well enough by itself?

Phoenix, I took your advice and cut the "in the next city" and "two sights they never expected" parts.

I used elements of your rewrite of the end of paragraph 3 and beginning of paragraph 4.

Does this work as motivation for why Armoth wouldn't kill them?

"Sensing the potential the prophecy grants them, the tyrant makes them an offer."

About the monster, I changed it to:

"Well, provided the monster they disturbed in the nearby forest doesn't destroy the city first."

This way, I think it becomes clear that Armoth didn't send the monster to attack the city.


Does including the part about Armoth sensing their potential make the prophecy significant enough?

Ryan Mueller said...

By the way, does anybody have title suggestions?

These have been my titles so far:

The Four Prophecy

The Prophecy of Four

A Prophecy Ignored

Hero's Journey: The Folly of Vengeance (or something like that)

The Prophecy of Four: In Pursuit of Vengeance

In Pursuit of Vengeance

I haven't particularly liked any of these titles, and I've always been terrible at coming up with them. Maybe I'll try a few suggestions and see what people like best.

The Pursuit of Vengeance (I know, not a huge change)

The Reign of Armoth

To Kill a Tyrant (just joking here)

Fires of Vengeance

Reign of Darkness: A Tyrant Pursued

This is all I can think of for now. If anyone has suggestions, I would really appreciate them because I know a good title can make a huge difference. As much as people say not to judge a book by its cover, that's exactly what everyone does.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Congrats on the revision. Much clearer. I don't think "life in ashes" is going to be missed.

Their instant bond blossoms into mutual love as they brave the world’s toughest security system, which includes Armoth’s magical sandstorms and whirlwinds.

This sentence needs a little work.

What binds them together turns into love as they face the world's etc.

The first part of the sentence is a little old fashioned and doesn't match the second part which uses fresher language in mho.

It is great to see a revision stride forward.

Matt said...

Isn't Vardin the main character? If Malia is interesting, it would be best to rewrite the story around her.

Don't obsess over the title. While a good title will get you noticed, it's good writing that'll get you published. And note that the title falls under the province of the publisher, as does cover art. At this stage in the game, focus on three things: plot, character and writing.

"With her life in ashes," is a cliche. drop it.

"The bond strengthens between them," is weak writing. The act of them crossing the desert together is enough for the reader to assume that a bond has formed.

Also, listing whirlwinds and monsters along with the desert scene dilutes the power of all three. And making a list of any kind breaks the narrative flow.

Ryan Mueller said...

@Wilkins MacQueen

I've changed that sentence to:

"This initial bond turns into love as they trudge across Armoth's vast security system of sandstorms and whirlwinds, not to mention a few monsters."

I tried to use Phoenix's suggestion of conveying how far they have to travel to find Armoth. Does this accomplish that? Is the writing fresher?


Malia and Vardin have always received roughly equal treatment as main characters. I now open the book with Malia instead of Vardin, so I think that will make the reader view her as the main character even if they are mentioned about the same amount. Considering they spend most of the book together, it only makes sense that they receive equal treatment.

Also, does the sentence I wrote above work better for that part? I'm actually trying to get away from the heavy desert theme because only part of the journey takes place in the desert. As it is written now, the word sandstorms is the only mention of the desert.

Phoenix said...

Re: your revision suggestions:

I was going to suggest nixing "with her life in ashes" originally, but I personally am OK with one cliche per query, so elected not to say anything about that phrase. So yeah, it can go. I think the reader can well infer her life sucks at this point.

Maybe call them "Armoth's magical defenses" rather than "security system"? If you add monsters to the list, I'm back to thinking the monster threatening the city is under Armoth's control, so if Armoth agrees not to destroy the city, why would his monster be a threat?

The "forest" reference complicates the world-building here since you've mainly given us a desert setting.

I'm not sure saying "potential the prophecy grants them" helps us understand why Armoth doesn't just kill them outright. That "potential" is what could kill HIM, right? Wouldn't he WANT to take out a potential threat completely before the potential can be fully realized?

I agree and disagree with Matt concerning the title. Yes, it's out of the writer's hands. But we all respond viscerally to good and bad titles. A title is usually in the subject line when you're sending email queries, so it's the first thing an agent will know about your story. A title that grabs will make an immediate good first impression with the agent. A mediocre title probably won't lose you any points, but wouldn't you rather score bonus points right up front?

A litmus test: When YOU see the title of a story here or on EE's site, do YOU automatically make a judgment as to what genre it is or say "ugh" or "cool"? Do YOU have a first reaction to title alone?

Matt said...

If the query was polished and the author's writing flawless, I'd be open to talking about the title. Though Ryan's queries are improving, he still has a long way to go regarding plot, character and writing, and the best title in the world won't help him if he doesn't master those things.

Let's say you have a friend who's overweight, has bad teeth and can't hold her balance in high heels. Now this friend wants to start dating and asks for your help. Are you going to spend your time searching for the perfect dress to cover her flaws, or are you going to encourage diet, hygiene and exercise so that in six months she'll look good in any dress?

As for the litmus test, the only title to which I remember having a positive response was Untitled Steampunk. I liked knowing what I was about to read beforehand, even if it wasn't my favorite genre.


If Malia is now the main character, make sure the story is told mostly from her POV. Avoid head-hopping (switching POV mid-scene). It shouldn't be as easy as substituting the first chapter.

"The initial bond turns to love," is still weak. it breaks the first rule of writing: show, don't tell. And since this is a fantasy query, I think the romance sub-plot can be omitted.

If you want to get away from the heavy desert scene, it would be best not to mention sandstorms at all and to give us a more accurate setting. I recommend sticking with the desert, though.

Ryan Mueller said...


Thank you for taking the time to comment.

I don't see why it is necessary to keep it mostly in Malia's POV. I have written my book in a third-person omniscient point of view. Though I understand this can cause problems, it can also work if done correctly.

And the book wouldn't work if I spent most of it on the thoughts of only one character. If you look at the original version on Evil Editor, you'll see that I have Malia and Vardin as main characters and the other two (Berig and Tylen) as minor characters. Throughout the four book series, I alternate point of view between these four, and how much time they get depends on how important their thoughts and actions are to the plot.

As a writer and reader, I think it's fascinating to get inside the heads of the characters, though this can be difficult. When the characters are together, it is almost impossible not to head-hop if you want to convey everybody's thoughts and feelings about the current situation.

About the desert issue, I want to try to convey that the desert is only part of the journey. In my most recent revision that sentence now reads:

"As they trudge toward their goal, the varied landscape of Armoth’s magical defenses assaults them with sandstorms and whirlwinds, not to mention a pitch-black forest."

Wow, query writing is frustrating. If I could just write a query using character thoughts, dialogue, and action, that would be great.

But again, thank you for all your comments. I know I still have work to do, but compared to my original query, this feels like a masterpiece (especially if I compare it to some of my pre-Evil Editor attempts).