Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Query 86: Redux


Dear [Agent],

Talyn is the [a?] lifeweaver, able to shift injuries, diseases, even death from one person to another. The church and nobility have long exploited his family's blessing, using it to inflict judgment upon sinners and lawbreakers while healing their own righteous peers. Talyn believes in their cause of helping others while providing justice -- until he finds out he is being manipulated to punish the falsely accused.

When the king uses Talyn to fake his own assassination and incite a war, the disillusioned lifeweaver turns traitor, and begins building evidence against the throne. But a woman accused of murder upsets his plans, taking Talyn hostage in a desperate attempt to avoid execution. As she drags him through the kingdom's underbelly, Talyn sees for himself just how corrupt the church and crown have become.

To liberate the oppressed, he will have to elude an army of zealots, blackmail judges, and ally with supposed "demons". But first, he will have to trust a fugitive with his life. At every crossroad, he faces the soul-searing decision familiar to every lifeweaver: who will he save, and who will suffer for it?

I seek representation for Lifeweaver, a completed 149,000-word fantasy, and have appended the first ten pages. Thank you for your time; I look forward to hearing from you.



The author springboarded (sprangboard?) off my rewrite to come up with his revision. He says he's torn between using the obstacles specified here and the more vague obstacles I suggested in my rewrite:

To liberate the oppressed, he will have to resort to subterfuge, blackmail and unholy alliances.

Normally I would press for the specifics -- it doesn't take that many more words to be specific is my mantra. Here, though, while I think the judges being who Talyn's blackmailing is a good touch, the "army of zealots" and "supposed 'demons'" add a layer of complexity that will require some explaining. The demons in this case are simply people the church has labeled such. I think if "demon" is used in this last paragraph in any context -- even with printed air quotes -- it should be used earlier to show that the church in this world is on par with our world's Inquisition and witch-hunters.

Knowing now the demons aren't really demons, I might opt for something other than "unholy" in my version, although bringing in some other religious aspect would seem to be very appropriate here.

I think, too, I'd like to see quick confirmation as to whether the woman is actually a murderer or not. Knowing that detail colors how I as a reader respond to the rest of the query.

I also threw in a final closing sentence in my version

And soon he'll have to confront the most agonizing question of all: Are the choices he's making the right ones?

because the query just felt like it needed something more than Talyn being put through a "familiar decision" several times. Something that underscores his self-doubt and adds a bit of layered character. 
All-cap the title of the book.
The author is also concerned about cutting down his novel to meet some arbitrary word count. I'm still betting that on a sentence-by-sentence-level edit he could take it down another 10-15K words -- he just doesn't realize it yet. Still, in his defense, SF/Fantasy publisher Del Rey/Spectra recently ran a contest for unpubbed mss and they allowed entries up to 150,000 words. So this ms's word count is within at least one major publisher's arbitrary cutoff limit.   

So now, what do the rest of you think about the new version?


Chelsea P. said...

I only had one issue with this: if Talyn is a traitor to the throne, who is the woman holding him hostage from? Generally you hold a "good guy" hostage to avoid being killed by the bad guys. But if Talyn isn't a good guy anymore, how is his presence protecting the lady (maybe) murderer?

Otherwise, I liked this a lot, especially the first paragraph, which had me wanting more.

fairyhedgehog said...

This is so much better than the last version; I had a much clearer idea of what was going on and it sounded exciting. I especially liked:

who will he save, and who will suffer for it?

As a reader, I'd be a bit daunted by the length of the book, but that's just my view.

Jo-Ann said...

I liked this sleeker version, and I'm sure that the author put in a few hours of agony over the correct word choice. But I wonder if the query could benefit from being "rested" a little longer between drafts. This might give the author some distance and allow him/herself the opportunity to self critique.

I was also fascinated by Talyn's ability. But one of my Fantasy bugbears is that whenever an MC has an amazingly powerful ability (such as the god like power of chosing who lives and who doesn't) then it's harder to have a worthwhile antagonist. Like the kidnapping lady - you really need to include a phrase about why she was immune from his skill - otherwise anybody reading the query says "Huh? Why can't he just give her the kiss of black death?" or whatever.

Chelsea P. said...

I got the impression Talyn wasn't using his powers much since he discovered all the corruption. I also got the impression that he was skeptical about the woman's guilt for the same reason. So I didn't necessarily think he'd want to up and kill her (or take her life to save someone else's). But that may just be me.

Chro said...

Thanks again to Phoenix for giving such useful critiques, and thanks to all the readers who gave their constructive input as well.

To answer a question or two: Talyn can only make a transfer of injury and such when touching the person, and it takes a fair amount of time where he is helpless, so using it as a weapon is not particularly effective in a hostage situation. "Hey, hold still while I reach over to this corpse..."

The only part of Phoenix's version I actually disagree with is the last line he added. I feel like "He wonders if he's making the right choices" is so vague it could be applies to any protagonist ever, whereas the balance of benevolence and suffering is something unique to lifeweavers.

In any case, thanks again, and I will take Jo'Ann's advice and concentrate on other things besides this query for a while. ;)

Sarah Laurenson said...

SF is the one genre where longer books are not automatic rejections. That being said, it's still hard to break in with a long debut novel. Having someone good at editing go over 10 or so pages might help with where and how to cut things down some. The closer you get to 100K, the better your chances.

I took a shot at the first paragraph.

Lifeweaver Talyn is able to shift injuries, diseases, and even death from one person to another. Working for the church and the nobility, Talyn inflicts judgment upon sinners, lawbreakers, and those the church pronounces demons while healing the righteous – until he learns he is being manipulated to punish the falsely accused.

batgirl said...

Maybe instead of 'is he making the right choice', something about the terrible consequences that may follow on the wrong one? (Or heck, even on the right one!) I think Phoenix is right about the line needing some intensifying, but I agree with Chro that the suggested line repeates more than intensifies.