Friday, August 24, 2012

Mary Holm's Current Query Critiqued

Happy Friday, bloggers. Here is Mary's query letter again, this time with my thoughts, in red.

The letter:

Dear Awesome Agent,

Seventeen-year-old Taela does what she has to survive, but she doesn’t think of herself as a murderer. Whoa. This is pretty cool. As first sentences go, this packs a lot of punch. I love how it not only shocks you, but actually also spins a good deal of character into your mind, in a unique way. When the sister she idolizes is executed for treason, Taela vows to avenge her death--even if it means killing the kingdom’s only hope for salvation. Hmm. This is also cool, but somewhat vague. It's probably okay though, since you clarify in the next two sentences. Some believe renegade leader Hawke is destined to save their land from an ancient evil. To Taela, the drunken ass who charmed her sister and left her to die is no hero. Hah! He sure doesn't sound like one. I like this, you've got a good sense of two characters, and while the inciting incident is pretty clear, and there are a few options for conflict, they all seem like they would make for an interesting, high stakes story.

With the element of surprise on her side, Taela sets out after the seasoned warrior, determined to thrust her dagger into his heart. The road to revenge leads her to the mysterious Darkling Forest where, lost among shape-shifting trees, Taela has disturbing prophetic visions. Of what? Does she predict this next part? When a soldier with no soul attacks, she learns innocent men are being turned into drone soldiers for the king’s army. I like this, as a concept, but does she really learn all this from just the one soldier? It would seem she might need to discover some more evidence of a widespread conspiracy, first. She puts her vendetta aside to make a truce with Hawke. Had she caught up with him? Their fragile alliance will be put to the test when Taela discovers the truth about her sister’s death, and it forever ties Taela’s destiny to the very man she wants to destroy. Nice. Choice not explicitly explained, but it's implied.

DARKLING is a YA Fantasy novel, with series potential, complete at 72,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore or Leigh Bardugo. You saw Sarah's comment yesterday, I'm sure.

I'm an active member of SCBWI and blog about writing at Tales from the Darkling Forest, you know how to make a hyperlink, right?

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Mary Holm

Okay, in summary - this is already very good. You've got a good sense of two characters, and a clear cut difficult choice for Taela too make about revenge versus what is right.

It couldn't hurt to have a slightly better sense of Taela's character before her story begins, and the line about being a murderer (or not) loses some of its punch when the rest of the query never actually mentions her killing anyone except for maybe one drone soldier, but it's still a great opening hook, and is probably good enough to work as is.

Your second paragraph, the main conflict paragraph, is pretty good. It did leave me with a few questions about specificity, but this is only a query, and you don't necessarily need to include every detail. If anything, I think the one thing to clarify is how she catches Hawke, and whether he was aware of her pursuit - or desire for revenge.

Anyway, I might be losing my touch, but I really couldn't find anything fundamentally wrong with this query. We'll see what my readers think.

That's it.

So, what do you all think? Does any of the slight vagueness bother you more than me? Or less? Please leave your feedback for Mary in the comments, and if you have time, I've posted over at Project Mayhem today as well.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I thought it started off with a strong voice right away.

maine character said...

I liked the clear voice (with just the right amount of grit), and how there's no shortage of conflict and twists. Especially when she's aligned with Hawke and her sister's loss comes back in a new way just when they need each other most.

Sarah said...

Great feedback, Matt. I do like this query, but it sort of feels like maybe a paragraph is missing. I could be wrong, but: she discovers a drone army. She makes a truce with Hawke. And ...? I don't understand how the drone army, the truce, and the truth about the death are connected. I don't understand the "or else!" of it. Mary--you do, of course, and I'm sure it's awesome. But if I were an agent, I'd be rather confused in the second paragraph. It's totally compelling, the idea of a sister out for revenge having to team up with the dude who she thinks killed her sister, but I'm afraid it's not clear why she has to (it's implied, but making it explicit will sharpen this), how that conflict is connected to the forest, and what anyone else is trying to accomplish there.

What's Hawke doing in the Darkling Forest? You say that he's a renegade and thought to be the salvation of the kindgom, but it's never clear exactly what he's supposed to be doing? When she makes a truce, what comes after? What are the stakes? Is the kingdom in peril or are the drones just hanging out in the forest? Is there anything on the line for her besides getting revenge or not? Does she learn anything about Hawke's motives or intentions? IS he more than a drunken ass? I get no sense of him at all in the second paragraph. Basically, I think you have some connecting to do before this query is ready to do your work justice.

It's an enticing query already because it's well-written, Taela is instantly sympathetic and kickass, and her motivation is clear. The problem is in the journey and the obstacles--if you clarify those, this query will definitely get the job done! Best of luck with it!

Elise Fallson said...

Doing a great job critiquing as usual Matt. One of these days I'll send you my query...I'm just too chicken at the moment, "buck buck buck, brrr-awk!"

Anyway, this query starts off really strong and sounds like a fantastic story. I did have questions about the prophetic visions part too and if/how they relate to Hawke. Good luck with this Mary!

Mary said...

Great job Matt and Mary. Sounds like an awesome read.

I think your opening is great, but your second paragraph could use a touch of. She sets off after Hawke, fights a drone, then makes a truce with Hawke. Was he with the drones? Did he help her fight the drones? When did she find him and why would she make peace when she wants to kill him? Just a sentence or two would help.

Best of luck with it!

farawayeyes said...

Great query, great suggestions. I got a little lost and spread thin in the middle there.

From everything said in past critiques, it seems that there are a few too many 'different' angles being expressed. I'm a little more interested in the direct line to Hawke, the alliance, and need for it. Shouldn't that be enough to gain the interest of an agent/editor, without all the subplot confusing the issue.

Chelsey said...

I like the opening, but I wonder if the first sentence would pack more punch if it went "Sixteen-year-old Taela doesn't think of herself as a murderer. She does what she has to survive." Something like that.

Nancy Thompson said...

You haven't lost your touch at all. It's a good, strong query. I would like to know a bit more about what makes her a murderer though.

Em-Musing said...

Yup, love the voice. Everyone else has covered my input.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

LOVED the first sentence. So strong. So clear. But the middle seemed a little squishy to me, less strong, more complicated.

And the use of "ass" was startling in a YA query... but maybe I'm out of the YA loop.

Make the whole thing as strong as that first line and, wowsers, you've got it in the bag.

Angela Brown said...

Another great critique. I appreciate Sarah's comments because they address a couple of things that crossed my mind. She voiced it well so need to repeat :-)

Mary, wishing you the best in your querying.

Mary Holm said...

Thanks for posting this, Matt. This blog is an awesome resource.

Thanks to everybody for your wonderful comments. I appreciate your support and encouragement.

Writing queries is soooo hard But enough whining….

I can see I need to make the second paragraph stronger. The challenge with a multi-layered story is to add in enough details in to make sense, without getting lost in the weeds.

How about something like this:

The road to revenge leads her to the mysterious Darkling Forest. Lost among shape-shifting trees, Taela has disturbing visions of the evil deeds taking place in the castle. When a soldier with no soul attacks, she learns innocent men are being turned into drone soldiers for the king’s army. She puts her vendetta aside and makes a truce with Hawke to fight against the king. Their fragile alliance will be put to the test when Taela discovers the truth about her sister’s death, and it forever ties Taela’s destiny to the very man she wants to destroy.

Hopefully that will clarify some of it.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great query and feedback. I really liked the first line and first paragraph in general.

Alison Miller said...

The voice shines in the first paragraph! And then yes, I am left with questions after the second paragraph (which I should be), but I don't think you need all the details. The line about prophetic visions seems out of place and if you're going to include the truce in the query, I want a little more on WHY. Other than that, I think it's pretty awesome. And the fact that you compared it to Kristin Cashore makes me want to read this RIGHT NOW. :)

Samantha May said...

I've been blog stalking you for a while but I'm only just now commenting (I promise I'm not nearly as creepy as that last statement sounded).

The first paragraph was great! I think somewhere in the second paragraph I kind of started to skim through it a bit though. It could be that the events just need to be a little more connected (in the letter I mean, I assume it's connected in the actual story).

Other than that though, it seemed like a pretty good query to me!


Laura Stephenson said...

I loved the opening line. The line about visions, thrown in there without any explanation, did interrupt the overall flow for me, but the other vagueness I found acceptable. You can't be too exact in a page length hook.

Matt, I think your critique of her query is very nice, and I can't wait to see more from you! What you're doing with this blog is very similar to what I'm trying to do with mine.