Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Query 75

Alannian and the Sword of Azallyan

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Dear :

Alannian is only thirteen but King Fayavor wants him dead.

After a war nearly drives the elves, humans and dwarves to extinction, the elf Elyyian crafted an Incarnation Cycle to stop such a thing from ever happening again. For millennia, Elyyian’s Incarnations worked to keep peace between the races. But the current king, Fayavor believes they have kept the humans from achieving true greatness. He uses magic to kill the last Incarnation in an attempt to break the cycle.

Fifty years later, war rages throughout the land. Alannian, a boy who loves pulling pranks, has dreams about Elyyian. From an elderly magician, he discovers he is the Incarnation, but as they flee the village, royal enforcers discover Alannian’s identity. They brutally kill his uncle, leaving Alannian grief-stricken and vulnerable. The magician hides Alannian and teaches him about the Incarnations. Alannian comes to realize he cannot run

As the lives of everyone Alannian loves are drawn into the war, the boy sets off to stop King Fayavor. Alannian knows if he fails, it will mean more than his own death--for without an Incarnation, the three races will destroy each other and leave the world in ruin.

ALANNIAN AND THE SWORD OF AZALLYAN is a 100,000-word young adult fantasy where the hope of a world rests on the shoulders of a boy, a prankster, a hero. My book will appeal to the fans Christopher Paolini’s INHERITANCE CYCLE.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Comments

I've seen a couple of incarnations (sorry, couldn't resist!) of this query on other sites. My take is going to be a bit different from Query Goblin's (which is why getting feedback from several sources is a best practice), so take with a subjective grain of salt.

First off, I think you will have to work a little harder to keep this story from sounding like a knock-off. Incarnation Cycle / Inheritance Cycle? Other than the word cycle and a young boy having to fight an evil king, which could apply to hundreds of fantasy and SF novels, what aspects of your book will appeal specifically to fans of Paolini? It's good you're not comparing the work to his, but it sounds like standard fantasy. Why are you invoking Paolini's name specifically, other than the fact that his is a big name to drop? Plus, it sounds like you're trying too hard for the title angle too. If The Sword of Azallyan is mentioned in the title, it should probably be at least a mention in the query or it seems like you're going for a riff off of The Sword of Shannara or any other named-sword titles just because they are popular. (Bear in mind I've closeted two early trope-laden fantasies of my own; coming up with the same but different story angle -- and getting it across in a query -- is tough!)

Alannian is only thirteen but King Fayavor wants him dead.

Since you move immediately away from the MC after this statement, it doesn't carry quite the weight it could. I'd recommend cutting it.

After a war nearly drives the elves, humans and dwarves to extinction,

Do you notice how you're relying on the trope for the reader to get that the war is among these factions rather than maybe it was a war with these races all ranged on one side against a common enemy?

the elf Elyyian crafted an Incarnation Cycle to stop such a thing from ever happening again. For millennia, Elyyian’s Incarnations worked to keep peace between the races.

I think a bit about what an Incarnation is would be appropriate here in place of the "stop such a thing" phrase since the next sentence tells us essentially that. How does someone get to be an Incarnation? Is it hereditary? Is it a whole new class of being? Does it cycle between being human, elf and dwarf?

But the current king, Fayavor believes they have kept the humans from achieving true greatness. He uses magic to kill the last Incarnation in an attempt to break the cycle.

So Fayavor is human, but he can use magic? If magic is so prevalent (the king has it, a random elderly magician has it), and the Incarnation is so easily killed with it, did Elyyian really think what he created could stop the wars? Also, how old is Fayavor if he's the current king now and it's 50 years later in the next 'graph?

I think the above is all pretty much backstory that can probably be summed a bit quicker, so we get to the MC and the crux of the current story faster.

Fifty years later, war rages throughout the land. Alannian, a boy who loves pulling pranks,

Are we talking about putting whoopi cushions in chairs or setting-fire-to-his-school type of pranks?

has dreams about Elyyian. From an elderly magician, he discovers he is the Incarnation, but as they flee the village, royal enforcers discover Alannian’s identity.

Hmm, so the last Incarnation in the paragraph before wasn't really the last one and it's skipped a couple of generations before manifesting again? How does that work?

Why are they fleeing? How is it Al has gone 13 years not knowing he's the Incarnation and now suddenly everyone seems to know he is?

They brutally kill his uncle, leaving Alannian grief-stricken and vulnerable. The magician hides Alannian and teaches him about the Incarnations. Alannian comes to realize he cannot run.

comes to realize is a bit weak.

As the lives of everyone Alannian loves are drawn into the war,

A war doesn't actually draw lives into itself. And who is "everyone" now that his uncle is dead? I'm assuming Al doesn't have parents.

the boy sets off to stop King Fayavor. Alannian knows if he fails, it will mean more than his own death--for without an Incarnation, the three races will destroy each other and leave the world in ruin.

To the casual reader, an Incarnation seems rather nebulous. Is he a great warrior? A master magician? An expert negotiator? What makes him an Incarnation and what gives him the ability to stop the king?

ALANNIAN AND THE SWORD OF AZALLYAN is a 100,000-word young adult fantasy where the hope of a world rests on the shoulders of a boy, a prankster, a hero. My book will appeal to the fans Christopher Paolini’s INHERITANCE CYCLE.

I think instead of this commentary at the end, if you used the word count to give us more sympathy for Al and really endeared him to us that would be a better use of space. Simply telling us he's a prankster doesn't really make him feel like one. Not enough to call it out here at the end, at least. Likewise, whatever you can do to distance this story from the popular tropes would be good.

Thirteen is likely an awkward age for your MC in a YA. For an MG or a tween book, though, it would be perfect.

6 comments:

Ryan Mueller said...

I think their might be a good story here, but this query isn't conveying it at the moment. The writing is generally clear, though it could be a bit more vivid.

As it is written now, I don't understand how the Incarnation Cycle works. You describe why Elyyian created it and Fayavor's reaction to it, but there's nothing in here about how it keeps peace.

I have the same question as Phoenix. How does it skip to fifty years later? Shouldn't a knew incarnation be born as soon as the old one dies?

P1: This would work better if you stuck with Alannian in the next paragraph.

P2: "Such a thing" is vague and not very interesting. I agree with Phoenix. Cut it, and explain more about the Incarnation Cycle.

P3: "a bow who loves pulling pranks" This is telling, not showing.

I'm not sure "leaving Alannian grief stricken and vulnerable" is necessary. That's implied by the death of his uncle.

P4: The query contradicts itself here. I don't necessarily see that the races will destroy each other without him. They've managed not to for fifty years. What says they can't wait another fifty years for the next Incarnation? Or is Alannian the last one?

P5: I would stop after the word fantasy. The next sentence is all telling and things that were shown (or should have been shown) earlier in the query.

Good luck on your revisions.

vkw said...

So the story is:

An elf makes something that brings peace between the races. But, it doesn't work and appears to be lost, until a 13 year old gets it.

Now the humans want the 13 year old dead so that war can continue and they have a chance to conquer/own/rule/exploit the other races.


What is the something? That's all I want to know right now. What is it? What does it do? Can I get it? Can I give it someone else? Can my children get it?

That's seems to be pivotal thing missing. I know the answer is "incarnation" but that means nothing.

Anything that happened 50 years ago is backstory. cut it

AA said...

What vkw got out of this is basically what I got out of it. The author seems to be relying on readers who read another author's works to read his story. That limits the readership considerably.

It also makes me think the author probably stole a lot of stuff from this other hard-working published author, which is not an endearing quality.

I suggest re-writing this so that any reader, even ones who don't read fantasy, will get it.

Ryan Mueller said...

I wanted to see if I could rewrite the query earlier, but I didn't have time. I'm not guaranteeing this is better, but I think it can be helpful and good practice for me in my own query writing.


Thirteen-year-old Alannian is the Incarnation, the most recent in a lineage that has preserved harmony between humans, elves, and dwarves for millennia--ever since a powerful elf created the Incarnation Cycle. But King Fayavor believes the Incarnations have prevented humans from achieving true greatness, and he wants Alannian dead.

When an elderly magician informs Alannian of his duties and the king's plans to kill him, Alannian must flee the village. He'd much rather (insert prank here), but he and his uncle face imminent danger if they stay. As they flee the village, the king's forces brutally murders Allanian's uncle and force Allanian into hiding.

But try as he might, Allanian can't avoid the racial war raging throughout the land. He quests for the fabled sword of Azallyan, then sets out to stop King Fayavor. If he fails, the three races will annihilate each other and the world will fall into ruin.

ALLANIAN AND THE SWORD OF AZALLYAN is a young adult fantasy, complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Obviously, this still leaves a lot of holes, but I think it brings the focus more to what really matters. As important as the back story might be, the focus should be on your protagonist. It's only about 170 words, though, so there is room to flesh out a few plot points. I would also find a way to rephrase my first sentence if you plan on using this in any form because it's a little too long right now.

Without fully understanding the Incarnations and receiving no information about the sword mentioned in the title, it's difficult to really add to those parts, but I tried.

I could see young adult readers who are into RPGs possibly liking this, though I have been told this is a difficult audience to target.

Right now, as Phoenix said, there is nothing in this that doesn't scream fantasy trope.

Young unsuspecting hero? check

Evil ruler to thwart the hero? check

Magic? check

Orphan? check

Some kind of special weapon? check

The chosen one? check

Saving the world? check


As I have learned in my query-writing process, you should try your best to downplay the tropes. I have nearly all of these in my novel too. One person gave me great advice, indicating that I should focus on a character and downplay the more cliche aspects of the plot.

Well, I hope I was able to help. As a fellow writer, I know how difficult the query process can be.

Anonymous said...

I can see where the author got the MC's name, adding the Latinate common fantasy ending -ian to "Allan," but every time I look at the name I think, "Oh, Alanna!" Which the author probably doesn't want first because of gender confusion, but also because there's already a series out there about a young knight-in-training-gonna-save-the-world-newbie named Alanna.

I agree that this query is really heavy on backstory, and I think vkw did a really good job distilling that into a much better length for the query.

I also agree, though, that this seems to be full of tropes and used ideas. Hopefully with less space devoted to backstory, the query can show what, if anything, is really unique about this story.

Word ver: explashm.

Rose

Anonymous said...

Shelving the mc after one line isn’t a good idea in the query.

I did arithmetic to figure out ages. I put the king at 70. Back story, others have commented.

Why was Al ignored for 13 years? How does a kid prankster kill a king? (No whoopee cushion jokes.) Why is a better question if the Incarnation is to make peace and maintain it. Contradiction.

The cycle ended decades ago with the death of the previous Incarnation. I guess that is part of the reason for the long war.

Al is not battle ready unless he finds some help (magic sword?) to solve his lack of training and experience.

Saying everyone he loves is drawn in can be deleted.

I'd make sure the old magical elf doesn't resemble Yoda.
Wilkins MacQueen