Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Agent,

As I always do, the obvious reminder to use the agent's name if possible.

I would like you to consider my YA urban fantasy, THRICE-BORN, complete at 65,000 words.

Simple opening that works. I don't think you need anything fancy.

Seventeen years old Andra’s life is full. On top of dealing with the aftermath of drunken sex with the best friend whose advances she’d previously rejected, concealing the growing pain caused by her fractured soul, she also has to make a choice that will determine her standing in Octavian society. As a mere Initiate, she is powerless until she makes her Offering and chooses a Discipline: the spiritual Dyaus who sacrifice a piece of their spirit at the risk of madness, or the immoral but powerful Prithvi, who offer blood.

The first sentence is rough, very rough. In fact, I rewrote it five different ways in my head and determined it's probably best to scrap it altogether and find another way to start this paragraph. I assume, though, that what you want to say is "Seventeen-year-old Andra's life is full."

As for the rest of the paragraph, I have no idea where this is going. There's a huge disconnect between the fact that this girl had drunken sex with a friend, now has a fractured soul, and suddenly, boom, you hit me with the fact that this is set in another world. That threw me completely. In terms of the information about the drunken sex: This did not sound YA to me; there was something about this description that sounded very adult, as if it were two friends having drinks in a bar when one thing led to another. To make this work I think you need to watch the wording or explain the setup a little more. Did this happen after a high school party, after the big game, or just after a night of drinking when the parents were out of town? The problem for me is still that it sounds too contemporary and not like an urban fantasy at all.

I have no idea what Octavian society is or what this world is like. What is a mere Initiate or an Offering? There's no world building in the query, which is going to lead me to believe that there's some world building missing in your manuscript.

Andra’s life takes a dramatic turn when a mercenary Disciple attacks her astral twin, Andy, and stabs him with a cursed dagger. If she can’t destroy the spell draining his life, her brother will die in twelve hours. Complications arise as Andra finds out that the Disciple holding the spell is her best friend’s estranged mother, the Prithvian Priestess Alazne. Andra and the rest of her friends battle time, family and secrets best left buried as they risk everything to save Andy, and stumble in the middle of an assassination plot that could throw their society back into war.

I'm wondering again what having sex with her best friend has to do with anything in this story. Granted, in the manuscript it might be part of building her character, but in the query it adds nothing and there's no need for it.

"Andra's life takes a dramatic turn," but I have no idea from what. I get no sense that there was a dramatic turn, and I guess I don't get what her life was really like before. Maybe it needs to read (the entire blurb) more like this: "Andra always thought her life was full. Between studying, boys, and basketball she never felt that she could fit anything more in. Andra was a typical teenager. Typical until her twin was attacked..." This way we are shown and not told what the conflict is in this book.

I think the real problem is still that you mention a lot of things like mercenary Disciple, Offering and even Prithvian Priestess and I have no idea what any of these are or what the world is about. And ultimately that makes it really impossible for me to understand your story or your query.

Thank you for your time and attention.




S.P. Bowers said...

AT this point I don't know what the story is about or who the character is. You throw a lot of things at us and the query is scattered.

We need to have some sort of connect with the character to make us want to follow her through her story. Why does all this stuff matter? What are the consequences to the choices she's making? What are the choices?

Good try, it just needs some focus and cohesion. Good luck on the rewrites.

R.S. Bohn said...

I agree with SP Bowers about the query seeming "scattered." I feel that underneath there is possibly a good story, and if the query were tightened to reflect that, it might merit a request. However, I am concerned that there are so many awkward sentences, which leads me to believe that while there may be a good story, the writing itself is what is lacking. I would suggest, at this point, a course or critique group or something to help raise the level of writing. Perhaps that would polish the story and then the query as well.

Overall, this seems like something that is not quite ready -- but getting close, and as such, shouldn't be abandoned by the writer (in case they are downhearted by any criticism here).

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'm going to take a wild, assumptive guess and say it sounds like getting drunk and hooking up with the bff ticked off his priestess-Mama and she's gone after the astral brother in retaliation.

It appears as though this is a world of caste, but it's unclear what they are, how many they are, and how they relate to each other.

The writer hints at things, but it's unclear. Are the Dayus and Prithvi's enemies? Is an Astral twin an actual twin or a component of her fractured soul? Is that twin the part of herself she'd have to lose if she chose the Dayus path or would choosing that path let her be on the same plane as her twin?

Some serious clarity, and a couple of grammatical tweaks are needed.

Kimberlee Turley said...

Okay, I’m going try to make some sense of this...

In a society controlled by spells and magic, seventeen-year-old Andra must choose the disciplinary path she will follow to hone her own magical powers. Two choices lay before her:
Become a spiritual Dyaus mage, by sacrificing a piece of her spirit, though at the risk that the process might leave her mentally insane. Or, offer (the gods?) an immoral blood sacrifice, and thereby gain greater powers as a Prtithvi mage, but at the expense of (being shunned by society?) <<<I recently read DIVERGENT, so maybe I’m pulling this in the wrong direction. My biggest questions are who are the people handing out the magical powers, and why does she stand to lose by choosing one or the other.

Either choice will prove difficult, since Andra is beginning her journey with a fractured soul. <<<I have no idea if you were being figurative or literal here. Does this have to do with her astral twin?

Complicating her decision further, her astral twin, Andy, has been stabbed with a cursed dagger that slowly is draining his life, and if he dies ____ will happen to Andra. <<<I’m not actually familiar with the term “astral twin.” Is it like a soul mate? The masculine version of herself? How will his death devastate her besides the inherent tragedy of losing someone she loves?

Andra and the rest of her friends battle time,**How so? Are they looking for a magic unicorn to make him get better? Reading books? Are they looking for an old mage who has the power to heal him?** family and secrets best left buried as they risk everything **Is everything just their lives, or are they really in a position to give more?** to save Andy, and stumble in the middle of an assassination plot that could throw their society back into war.<<<If preventing an all out war is really the theme of the book, perhaps throw in a line in the beginning of how the two disciplines exist to make sure that the world isn’t destroyed by one faction or the other?

Lehcarjt said...

Great comments from everyone else. I just wanted to add that I have a really hard time when character's names all start with the same letter, sound the same, etc. Makes it hard to remember who is who.

Laila Knight said...

The way you rewrote the paragraph to demonstrate show and not tell was extremely helpful. The fact there are plenty of characters means there's a rich plot, but one thing I've learned lately while researching good queries is that they focus on the main characters and their conflict. The rest is secondary.

JPK said...

Structurally, the sentence at the beginning, I would like you to consider my YA urban fantasy, THRICE-BORN, complete at 65,000 words, should be at the end of the query.

And don't be too polite, just professional. If they're reading your query letter, then they are considering it. Instead try, THRICE-BORN is a YA urban fantasy novel complete at 65,000 words.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I happen to know this author had this same version workshopped on another crit site awhile back. They then took rewrites based on comments from that site and had them workshopped on other sites. Those workshops resulted in some true revisions that refined, grounded and focused the query.

Jessica's comments are great for others to read, but the author is -- thankfully :o) -- well beyond this version.

I have a suggestion for writers submitting work to crit sites: Consider submitting first to short-turn sites (such as Evil Editor, Query Goblin or mine) and use the comments there to do your first revises. Then submit to sites with longer-turn cycles like here or Query Shark. The industry pro's will be seeing a stronger version of your work and their comments will be more meaningful in the long run.

Getting a lot of feedback from different sources is smart, smart, smart. But using up all your chances for critique on just one or two early versions is wasting valuable opportunity. When possible, plan your crit time wisely. <:o)

Carrie Butler said...

It sounds like an interesting premise, but I found myself reading through the same passage several times, just to keep up. With a little more work, I’m sure it'll shape into something wonderful.

Update: Ah, I just caught the comment before mine. It seems that this query has already been revised on another site. Good to hear. :)

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm glad Phoenix Sullivan pointed out that this query had already been revised by the time it showed up here. The world sounds really interesting, but the query made it very confusing, especially since it started out sounding very contemporary and then threw magic at us. I'd love to see the revised version if it's been posted anywhere.

Lucy said...

Glad to hear the author revised. One thing I do want to point out, though, is that very often with crit forums, the "critters" push for writers to eliminate almost all world-building as unnecessary. That too stems from a lack of experience: good intentions to pare down and avoid back story are taken overboard.

So sometimes when an author shows up with a query like this, she's been told by well-meaning helpers to take out settings that would be both intriguing and useful.

(Seen it happen. Yes, I want to scream every time.)

Laura said...

Maybe this isn't important, but if it's an urban fantasy then I'd like to know where it's taking place. In NYC? London? A fantasy city in a different dimension? There's no sense of location. Maybe Andra is a normal teen in a normal city, but most of the query deals with the fantasy part of her life. Setting up "normal" before you dive into that is important.

Julie Nilson said...

I'm glad to read above that the author workshopped the query, because my immediate reaction was that this was probably a good novel with a too-packed query.

My thought was that perhaps the author was too close to her story and trying to include more detail than necessary and it was mucking up the query. I was going to suggest that she have someone else who had read the book take a stab at the query in an effort to draw out which plot points were truly the most vital.

I hope the new version works out, because the story sounds good!

jjdebenedictis said...

Kristin Laughtin:
The most recent version of this query posted on Phoenix's site is located here and the most recent version posted on my Query Goblin site is here.

By the way, the queue for The Query Goblin is very dry right now--if any of you have a query you'd like feedback on, I'd love to help you out!