Friday, September 21, 2012

Patricia Moussatche's Current Query Critiqued

Man, I hate oversleeping. I mean, don't get me wrong, I hate waking up on time, too (so not a morning person), but waking up late sucks in a different way. I work on a 24/7 tech support team, so when I normally get in a 6 AM, I'm relieving someone who has been there all night. When I'm late, they have to stay ...

Anyway, talking about my day job is so lame, even I'm already bored. So let's get to work. Today we have Patricia's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

Here's the letter:

Dear [Agent Name],

Top graduates ever from the Academy of Demia, David and Catrine were Queries are generally written in present tense. You can break the rules if you make it work, but be careful, because your tense switches in the third paragraph. I realize you're using tense to separate backstory from story, but that means you've got two whole paragraphs of backstory! more than friends and schoolmates -- You don't usually surround em-dashes with spaces. In fact, I recommend leaving them out of queries, but if you're going to use them, make sure you use them--like this--right. they were a team. At least until the day he kissed her. Otherwise, as far as content goes, this opening isn't bad. I like this twist, I like the bit of world-building, and I like the sense of character we have, but I do think we could use a little more characterization. Who is the protagonist? David? Try to introduce him first, give us a sense of who he is, and make it clear why we should care that he succeeds.

That was the day David noticed the tiny tattoo hidden in her hair. Ooh, I like this. He recognized the symbol from a book that implied a single family had been ruling Demia since colonization. I was thinking Fantasy up until this point, but it's not really a problem, because you can mention genre in the subject line of your email. But David had never believed the book before -- it contradicted the core principles on which the planet was founded. Demia was the center of knowledge in the galaxy. It was supposed to value merit, not birthright. Everyone knew the last two headmasters were from the same bloodline -- but all of them? No wonder the history books have disappeared! I'm struggling with this. On the one had, it's all pretty cool. Certainly important to the story, and clearly makes for a fascinating world rife with conflict, but I'm not sure whether it belongs in a query. This is essentially all backstory, set-up, or world-building. Or all three. In a query, you kind of need to open with an inciting incident, and then get right to the conflict. The discovery of the tattoo might be that incident, and I realize you need to set-up the contradiction for the conflict to make sense, but you might need to go about it more quickly.

Now David is certain Catrine is next in line for a hereditary throne that should not even exist on their academic planet. You've already set this up enough, so unless you cut some of it, you don't need to repeat this point. Will his own accomplishments count for naught when the next ruler is chosen? And how can he love her if she represents the hypocrisy of the utopian society he has always believed in? Wow. Tough choice. Works excellently in this query.

When David discovers his parents are conspiring to make him king of Demia -- a position that does not exist -- by marrying him to Catrine, he is sure his leadership skills can be better employed bringing peace to the turmoil at the other end of the galaxy. He does not want to be part of a deceitful government, but can Demia prosper without him? And how long can he evade those who are determined to lure him home? The bait might just be more than he can resist. This is excellent too. If you could somehow distill this query down to these last two paragraphs, you'd be in great shape.

THE LEGACY OF THE EYE, complete at 85,000 words, is social science fiction and was inspired by Plato’s Republic. I also work with science fiction in test tubes at [the cool place I work]. If you really do it, wouldn't it be science non-fiction?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Okay, in summary: I'm having a really hard time deciding what to tell you to change about this query. You've got two long paragraphs of backstory, that I would normally say you have to cut, but then the two great plot paragraphs wouldn't make as much sense.

The one thing I definitely think you should do is introduce David by himself, show us who he is, and make us care. Then, if you could tighten up the backstory about the world, maybe into one or two brief sentences, and then get right to the actual plot/conflict/story, I think you'd be in much better shape.

Let's see what my readers think.

That's it.

What do you all think? Can the query work with all that backstoy? Or do you think there's another way to go about it? Anything else you would suggest?

18 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That backstory almost confused me.
Agree - introduce David right away.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Matt, you're right on with your suggestions. The world setting/backstory needs to be pared down so not to lose the reader's attention. You don't want agents to stop reading, thinking there's no story, before they get to the good stuff.

Patchi said...

Thanks for the comments! I had a feeling the opening was too long, with too much backstory.

My problem in introducing just David is that I have 2 main characters, David and Catrine. The novel is written in alternating POV. I focused the query on David because he is the one with the higher stakes and his choices are the inciting event for Catrine's story arc.

If anyone has any tips on queries for multiple POV stories, I would love to read them.

Chelsey said...

Hi Patchi,

I queried a multiple POV last year (fun times) and the best advice i got was to have one paragraph about one character, the second very clearly about the other, and the third tying them together--or some variation on this. That way, you can display the tiniest bit of voice-switch, to show the agent what they're going to get in your novel.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

Matt, you're brilliant. I could see there were some issues but couldn't figure out just how to suggest a remedy. Spot on again!

Chelsey said...

An example of what I said above. It's my query, actually, on the KT lit blog, and it got requests!

http://ktliterary.com/2011/11/ask-daphne-about-my-query-lxxxi/

Bryan Russell said...

The first sentence needs to start with "The": The top graduates ever...

Otherwise, what Matt said.

Patchi said...

Thanks Chelsey! I really like how you showed both characters.

I used to have a paragraph where I described David and Catrine, but the query was too long. Maybe if I cut some of the world-building I can put characterization back in.

This is what I had for my first paragraph before:

Top graduates ever from the Academy of Demia, David and Catrine were more than friends and schoolmates. David had brilliant ideas and Catrine had the diligence to write them down. Catrine was shy, so David gave their thoughts a strong voice. When David’s temper flared, it was always Catrine who calmed him down. They were a team. At least until the day he kissed her.

Any thoughts?

Patchi said...

Here is a revised version:

The top students ever from the Academy of Demia, David and Catrine are more than friends and schoolmates. David has brilliant ideas and Catrine has the diligence to write them down. Catrine is shy, so David gives their thoughts a strong voice. When David’s temper flares, it is always Catrine who calms him down. They are a team. At least until the day he kisses her.

That day, David notices the tiny tattoo hidden in her hair. He recognizes the symbol from a book that implied a single family had been ruling Demia since colonization. David never believed the book before because Demia is the center of knowledge in the galaxy. It values merit, not birthright.

But David is now certain Catrine is next in line for a hereditary throne that should not even exist on their academic planet. Will his own accomplishments count for naught when the next ruler is chosen? And how can he love her if she represents the hypocrisy of the utopian society he always believed in?

When David discovers his parents are conspiring to make him king of Demia--a position that does not exist--by marrying him to Catrine, he is sure his leadership skills can be better employed bringing peace to the turmoil at the other end of the galaxy. He does not want to be part of a deceitful government, but can Demia prosper without him? And how long can he evade those who are determined to lure him home? The bait might just be more than he can resist.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Is there a way to integrate enough of the backstory in the plot stuff to fix it? And I agree about knowing more about David. I kept wondering when she'd come into it more.

I'd read this book.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I agree with Matt and Stina's suggestions about the first two paragraphs. I'm not sure the rewrite quite does it. The first paragraph feels too long. Like Matt said, I think you need to get to the inciting incident quickly. But it's great that the last 2 paragraphs are already so good. Good luck!

maine character said...

Love the beginning and everything up to "No wonder the history books have disappeared!" Which didn't make sense since "Demia was the center of knowledge in the galaxy."

I also would've liked more about what David does across the galaxy - is he a diplomat, flying spaceships in battle, or both, like a Jedi?

I like the title and names and the connection with Plato. It sounds solid.

But one final thought - why would the family need to have tattoos? Don't they know who each person is? And would be able to prove who's family and who isn't by genetics? I just can't see the purpose of the tattoos beyond a ritual that might leave enough proof to expose them all.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

In both versions, the first few words threw me. How about changing your first line to this: David and Catrine, top students at the Academy of Demia, are more than friends and schoolmates.

And here's how I'd cut the backstory: That day, David notices a tiny tattoo hidden beneath her hair which suggests Catrine is next in line for a hereditary throne that should not even exist on their planet.

Because a) the tattoo is on her scalp, not in her hair and b) all the other information in that second paragraph is unnecessary for your query.

A heredity throne that isn't supposed to exist? You've got me hooked right there! I don't need to know why it's not supposed to exist at this point. I assume I'll find that out when I read the book.

I'd tweak the lines in that third paragraph a little bit and quickly get to paragraph four: David's parents are in on the conspiracy! Way to up the ante!!

I think your query will stand on that premise alone. The background information about the planet is best saved for the manuscript itself. Hook the agent and make him/her request the ms to find out more.

Alison Miller said...

Intriguing query! I love a lot of the information in the last two paragraphs so I can see the dilemma for what to keep and what to cut. But honestly, it's the last paragraph that seals the deal - for me anyway. And I don't know if we really need all that is in the second to last one (especially the questions - I'm wary about questions in a query). And with the suggested tightening in the first two paragraphs, maybe some blending of the last two, that might do it. Good luck!

mshatch said...

matt made some great suggestions as always and I think Dianne did, too. I can't add anything except my agreement.

farawayeyes said...

Nice job Matthew and everybody else. I too find it hard to write a query and leave out the back story. With out the BS, it doesn't make sense to me. Some really good suggestions to get around that.

Patchi, thank you so much for sharing your query and helping me in this troublesome area.

Carolyn V said...

Wow! Matthew, I think you're right on. I think too much backstory can ruin a good query.

Laura Stephenson said...

I have two main characters as well. I was told to focus on one, either because it's more from their perspective or they're dealing with more of the conflict/choosing how to handle it. Your query is showing David as more of the "do"er, so putting it from his perspective would be easier and more enticing.