Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Christine Hardy's Current Query II Critiqued

Morning query critique readers. I'm beat, but I'll try to get through this. Notice a new A to Z Challenge 2012 Survivor badge, by Jeremy,  below my photo on the right. Feel free to nab it for your site, if you participated.

In case anyone is new here, Christine's query will be in plain text, and my feedback will be in red.

Here's the letter:

Dear Agent,

Faldur is a captain in the king’s rangers of Belhanor. It's much better to open with character like this, than what your letter did last time, but I'm not sure this is enough. I'd like to know more about what kind of person Faldur is. Just a word or two of backstory, and a word or two of personality would really help. He battles rebels, hunts killer lions left over from the last war, I'm not sure I understand what this means. Why would lions being still around have anything to do with the war? Unless Killer Lions is the name of some company of sellswords, I'm not sure I understand how the two could be connected. and keeps an eye on Marenya, the now-grown daughter of his deceased mentor. This is a bit vague. If he spends most of his time out hunting lions and rebels, he can't act as Marenya's full time bodyguard, so how exactly does he keep an eye on her? Try to be more specific. When Marenya’s is it necessary to use her proper name so many times? Is there a distinct reason you didn't refer to her as her in this sentence? cousin becomes engaged to the crown prince, he is assigned to escort the ladies to the capital for the wedding. Rebels attack them on the road and Marenya allows herself to be captured in her cousin’s place in order to allow an injured Faldur and the bride to escape. I like the way this opening paragraph ends. This was always your inciting incident, and it closes out your opening paragraph very well this way.

Faldur must leave Marenya behind in order to fulfill his duty, forcing him to realize his feelings for her aren’t as brotherly as he thought they were. By the time he is able to go back for her, she has been taken to a secret stronghold in the mountains by the leader of the rebel movement: the prince’s younger brother who is also Faldur’s long-lost friend. This is concise, raises the stakes, and hints at subplots of conflict, so I think it's pretty good.

Marenya believes her captor is under magical thrall to the king’s uncle, who is using him as a puppet to take over the throne. Faldur must decide whether to kill his former friend or help her try to free him, in order to save his country and the woman he loves. I mostly like this summary, but my one problem is with this choice at the end. It doesn't sound like that tough of a choice. I mean if he can free his friend, and save his girl and the country, why would he choose to kill him? I'm sure the reasons are clear in the novel, but you might want to clarify why that choice might be a viable option in your query.

THE GOLDEN GRYPHON is complete in at 100,000 words. [insert standard language]

In summary, this is much better than the last query we worked on together. Your description of the conflict in paragraph two is especially good, considering how much you cover in so few words.

My biggest concern is your opening hook. We don't really know who Faldur is, we don't get a sense of why we should care about his plight, and there are too many confusing things tossed in. I'd like to see a shorter, two sentence paragraph just about him, that packs a real punch, as your opening hook, before you even mention the stuff about Marenya.

Next, of less concern, is that this query is lacking all the wonderful voice you had in the last one. I know it's very difficult to include voice when I told you to leave off other character names and be more concise last time, but even a few world-specific words sprinkled in here and there might help.

Finally, as mentioned above, your choice at the end seems too simple. A tough choice has to have two viable options, neither easy, and neither clearly a better solution than the other. The way yours looks in this letter, I can't possibly conceive of Faldur choosing to kill Raynor.

That's it!

What do you guys think? Please share your feedback in the comments.


Emily White said...

Great critique, Matt! I will say the part with the lions didn't confuse me, though. I guess I took it to mean the other side had trained lions to attack their enemies, much like many civilizations have often trained dogs to attack and kill.

However, I do agree that this version lost a bit of the lovely voice to it. And you're right about the stakes not seeming so dire. It actually seems like the choice is pretty clear.

Thanks for sharing your query again, Christine!

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for toughing it out to post your opinion on this Matthew. I like the Christine's concept, and I hope she is able to use the suggestions (especially with the first part) to improve the bait on the hook.

Now, you should lock yourself in a hidden server room and take a nap.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

First paragraph does need a little more. And once you pointed it out, I realized it did read a little flat due to lack of voice.

Nicole Zoltack said...

You caught everything I did. Great critique!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yep, Matt said everything i said.
Though i assumed the lions are actually like war lions abandoned after the war. I really hope that's the case because seriously, i think i would read any book with waar lions in it.

Zan Marie said...

Good critique, Matthew. I'm intrigued by a lot of this, but the flat language is hurting it.

mshatch said...

The idea of the story sounds really interesting and I can imagine it being an awesome read. Unfortunately I don't think the query does it justice - yet. Matt's suggestions are excellent.

Elana Johnson said...

I agree with Matt -- he's a genius. I'm wondering about the seeming shifts in POV. Is this novel dual-narrated? Even if it is, I'd try to keep the focus of the query on Faldur. For the most part you do this, but there are a couple of sentences that slip away from it.

The "Marenya allows herself" bit, for one. And the "Marenya believes her captor" sentence. I want the whole query to pertain to Faldur.

I think it's enough to know that Marenya is captured, and let Faldur figure out what he needs to do to free his newfound love.

Also, nitpicky, but I don't like "long-lost friend." Can it be "childhood friend"? Most of us have fond memories of such friends, and that creates a feeling for the relationship immediately. Long-lost feels...trite. Sorry!

And yeah. What Matt said. :)

Donna Hole said...

This is better, more informative, but I agree the voice read flat. I was looking for more excitement in the pacing; perhaps more active verbs of something. This read kinda - this happened and he/she wants.

I agree with Elana about keeping the focus on Faldur, and his tasks. That might help pick up the adventure.

The query is getting there Christine. Keep at it; the novel is worth it.


cleemckenzie said...

One suggestion:
Captain Faldur of the king’s rangers battles rebels and hunts the remaining killer lions from the last war waged in Belhanor.

I'm guessing that this is to show his commitment to Belhanor's safety?

Why is he dedicated to protecting Marenya? Is it because of a promise to his mentor? I get later that it's because he has romantic feelings for her, but could that be hinted earlier?

"Marenya believes her captor. . . " This is a shift in POV and I think it would be better to stay in Faldur's.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Well done again, Matt. I like this much better than the first one. It's cleaner and clearer. I agree about the hook. The first line defines a bit about the mc, but not what's at risk.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Great critique, Matt, and you've hit my major concerns, too.

Christine, the way you've presented the story in this query is much clearer than last time. Kudos! Now, as Matt said, you need to recapture your voice.

If you tweak the language, phrase things as Faldur and Marenya might, infuse the query with their personality, and clarify those points raised by Matt, I think this is really going to shine.

Rusty Webb said...

Ugh. I hate queries so much. You spend forever perfecting the book and then you have to sell it to someone in a couple of paragraphs. It doesn't seem fair.

Anyway, the constant tweaking and revisions are killer. Good advice though.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Enjoyed reading your comments and Elana's on this query. You both have great suggestions.

Damyanti said...

Congratulations, Matthew, on a great challenge, and on being up and about so soon.

I avoid looking at queries in general, but should start studying them now that I'm working on a novel.

Libby said...

That is super helpful. I'm glad I stumbled on your blog through the A-Z. Looking forward to reading more critiques.

Eric W. Trant said...

First off, I love that you left a hanger at the end. It leaves the reader pondering your query.

The first sentence is passive and flat. Hook them!

Better to start like this: Captain Faldur battles rebels, hunts killer lions, and keeps and eye on Marenya, the now-grown daughter of his deceased mentor.

I like the last paragraph, and remember this too, about all the advice you get: It is subjective, all of it. Read this article if you don't believe me:

Query Mistakes

Be informative and hook the reader. It's that simple, really.

Above all else, show that you are a ~writer~ and you'll capture any reader's attention, be it agent or potential reader. Matt mentioned voice, and I second that. No sense going monotone on your pitch. Get shnockered one night and write a query. Don't send it out, but read it later, after you sober up, and see if there's some voice in it you can make use of. ;)

- Eric

farawayeyes said...

Ugh! a month off and I feel like I lost a lot of what I had learned before about writing a good query.

Of course, Matt's suggestions are great and I would have to agree with him and the rest of the comments that this seems pretty 'flat' compared to the last one.

Keeping it all straight, relevant and exciting, while maintaining the voice of the novel - no problem, Right Christine? Thanks for sharing, so the rest of us can learn.

Traci Kenworth said...

Great critique!!