Thursday, June 16, 2011

Query Revision 91

Face-Lift 531: A Thief's Honour

[The author assures us she hasn't been working on this book and this query only since that facelift was posted. ;o) She's simply thought of a new approach. I think most of us can relate!]

Dear Agentyperson

"A Thief's Honour" is a Fantasy novel, complete at 90,000 words.

Master thief Falcon was once the talk of Thesity. He could work his way into any house, charm his way out of any situation, and owned the country's finest collection. Then his partner-in-crime Roland betrayed him.

After twenty years hard labour, the Falcon is only Jenn, a man broken in body and mind. Unable to resume his old ways, he still carries the thief brand. Nobody will employ him, or even serve him in a shop. Those twenty years have been kinder to Roland: he's a member of the city board, with his own private army and a mansion to call home. Jenn wants to be notorious again, to hear his name spoken in the streets, to make the rich nervous and the poor smile. But most of all he wants revenge.

Yet revenge comes at a price. As Jenn builds a new life--with friends, family, and a new job--that price becomes dearer. Perhaps he should accept that his wings are clipped and settle for a safe, sensible life. Then an opportunity to strike back at Roland drops into Jenn's lap: his old friend wants Jenn to steal evidence that incriminates Roland as a thief... from the fortified house that defied Jenn when he was young and fit, and Roland is holding Jenn's daughter hostage. This is a job for the Falcon, but can Jenn bring him back?

(Some stuff about me here)

Comments

I think you're going to get critters who fall into two camps with this. The first will be perfectly happy that the writing demonstrated here coupled with the inciting incident are enough to carry the query. The other will tell you the first two paragraphs are all backstory and to reduce them to a couple of sentences and talk more about what happens in the story's present.

Is the book set up in three acts where Act 1 ends with the betrayal and Act 2 ends with Roland coercing Jenn back into the game? If so, then I think this structure will be fine. The only thing to maybe consider is adding a bit of motivation for why Roland betrays his partner to begin with.

If the main action of the story is that third paragraph, though, and the betrayal takes place in the first few pages, then I'd say more is needed to flesh out that last paragraph.

As is, it sounds like your story is character-driven rather than plot-driven. True? Is there some quirk or quality about Jenn you can bring out in the query? I know you want us to sympathize with him, but I feel he's been painted somewhat stereotypically as an old thief who yearns for the glory days.

One thing I'm not getting from the query is a good sense why this is a fantasy and not set in, say, 1930s Paris or 1970s London. It feels like a familiar "old thief coming out of retirement for one last play" type story save that it takes place in a fantasy town and time. I think a few words of world-building will help set the story apart. [Edited to add: Ah, I see that was a quibble in the original version too. Note I did my crit here before going back and reading the original.] At Sword's Point comes to mind as a fantasy that isn't really a fantasy, but the elaborateness of the games the nobles play is what helps categorize that one, I think. [Edited again after reading the comments to the original to add: Aha, Barbara also used the same book to illustrate this point. Coincidence? I think not.] Maybe something similar is going on here that could be brought out in the query?

There are a couple of contradictions you may want to address. We're told nobody will employ Jenn in P2, but then he has a new job in P3. We're told Jenn can work his way into any house in P1, then learn there is a house that defied him in P3.

Specify the what of "the country's finest collection." Jewels? Artwork? Rare coins?

I do think the last paragraph can be strengthened some.

Yet revenge comes at a price. As Jenn builds a new life--with friends, family, and a new job--that price becomes dearer. Perhaps he should accept that his wings are clipped and settle for a safe, sensible life.

At this point, since Jenn doesn't really seem to have a plan regarding revenge, I'm not sure I understand what the price is nor what he's thinking of doing. Does he want to murder Roland? Destroy his base of power? Rob him of his wealth? Does Jenn feel it must be so public that Jenn will lose everything he's built since being freed?

Then an opportunity to strike back at Roland drops into Jenn's lap: his old friend wants Jenn to steal evidence that incriminates Roland as a thief... from the fortified house that defied Jenn when he was young and fit, and Roland is holding Jenn's daughter hostage. This is a job for the Falcon, but can Jenn bring him back?

On a critical read, Roland doesn't seem to have a real reason for engaging Jenn, except for Jenn being someone Roland can coerce by threatening his family. Otherwise, Jenn is old, out of practice and wasn't able to break into the house in question in his prime. What would make Roland think Jenn is the right man for the job? I can see Jenn convincing himself that maybe he can bring back Falcon, but why would Roland think he could? After 20 years, you'd think Roland would have trained up someone in that private army of his who could take on the task.

I think using the phrase of 'an opportunity dropping into Jenn's lap' trivializes the kidnapping. Could Roland maybe force the opportunity onto Jenn instead?

As arranged in that one long sentence, holding Jenn's daughter seems more like an afterthought than a prime motivator. Maybe separate that bit out into its own sentence.

8 comments:

Xenith said...

Nice points.

The query I was using concentrated on the last part (breaking into the house because his daughter was abducted) but that's at the end of the book. The final "conflict".

The heart of the book is the bit in the middle paragraph. Going from having everything to nothing, and then getting it back. But when I tried to write that into the query, it didn't work because that's all internal conflict, and it does sound dull when condensed to a few sentences.

I read one too many fantasy novels with master thieves and started to wonder what would happen if one of them was caught. That's what makes it fantasy. There are other fantasy elements but they're peripheral to the plot, unless I write the sequel.

The questions at the end, yeah, he doesn't have a plan just this vague idea that these has to be some way to get revenge without being arrested; and Roland recruits him to do the job because either he succeeds (and R gets the evidence to destroy) or he fails (and he's back in gaol, away from R). Either way R wins and J loses again (as it said in my previous query) But putting all that in the query makes it a tad long.

I think writing a useful query letter for this one is beyond me.

BuffySquirrel said...

The author is telling the truth.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I think you need to go into more detail about Jenn's new life, how he manages to escape the mark of his past crimes, who his new friends and family are and what they mean to him. Yes, most readers will assume that Jenn wouldn't want to risk his new life and the lives of those he cares about for revenge, but the more detail you put in, the more we'll understand just what's at stake. I feel like Jenn transitioning from a broken man longing for revenge and wishing he had his old life back to a person with a place ib the world and new relationships to the people around him is an important part of the story, yet you don't spend much time on it in the query.

I'm confused about the final conflict. You set it up as Jenn having a choice between passing on the opportunity to get his revenge and prove himself as argued once more in order to safeguard his new life and family or risking everything he's gained to get back at his former partner. But once Roland kidnaps Jenn's daughter, the choice becomes moot. Now it doesn't matter whether Jenn wants to bring down Roland or protect his family. Either way, he has to confront Roland.

How attached are you to the place name "Thesity"? I feel that a phrase like "the thieves of Thesity," which you might have occasion to write, sounds a bit too cutesy. And it looks kind of like a corruption of "the city." Minor problem that could be limited to me, but you may want to think about it.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I moved some stuff around and added a word or two here and there to make it fit.


Released after twenty years hard labour, master thief Falcon is only Jenn, a man broken in body and mind. Once the talk of Thesity, he now carries the thief brand. Nobody seems willing to employ him, or even serve him in a shop. Those twenty years have been kinder to Roland – Jenn’s partner-in-crime who betrayed him. Roland’s a member of the city board, with his own private army and a mansion to call home.

Jenn wants to be notorious again, to hear his name spoken in the streets, to make the rich nervous and the poor smile. But most of all he wants revenge. He manages to build a new life--with friends, family, and a legitimate job. Perhaps he should accept that his wings are clipped and settle for a safe, sensible life. Then Roland kidnaps Jenn's daughter and an old friend asks Jenn to steal evidence that incriminates Roland as a thief... from the fortified house that defied Jenn when he was young and fit. This is a job for the Falcon, but can Jenn bring him back?

Anonymous said...

I read one too many fantasy novels with master thieves and started to wonder what would happen if one of them was caught.

Read Megan Whelan Turner's YA fantasy series.

No new ideas in the world...

Xenith said...

Squirrel: it is beyond me? Thanks ;)

I&P: Good points. I'm trying to pack too much into too few words. And Thesity *is* a corruption of "the city". I gave up on a name. (The next book I wrote the cities have numbers. Much easier.)

Sarah: Oh, thanks. That gives me something ideas.

Anon: That's not "caught", that's just a change in circumstances :)

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Finest collection of what? I quit reading here.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Yet revenge comes at a price.

Revenge comes at a price is stronger, to me, IMHO, but what do I know?

Why "yet"? Adverb, conjunction. I believe it is never a good idea to start a sentence with one of these. But, And, Because. I see those leading a sentence then I start looking for other stuff and leave the point (the query) behind.

That's moi.