Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jessica Foster's Current Query Critiqued

Wow. Thanks to everything falling apart for our UK client this morning, I'm just getting to this at 8:30. Sorry.

So here's Jessica's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear [awesomesauce agent]:

Falling in love is the worst thing sixteen-year-old mage Kadren could do. He is imprisoned by a vile king determined to harness his fire magic. Escape should be the only thing on his mind, but within days of his capture, the voice of Brelina, a water mage and fellow prisoner, fills his head. They’ve Bonded—forever linked by? in? mind and soul, their every thought, every emotion, every experience entwined.

Hmm. Your opening has several good things going for it. For one: mages. For another: elemental magic. These are both cool things, but they've also been done. Furthermore, the bonding is a pretty good hook, but before you get to the hook, you should start with character. We know Kadren is a mage, which is cool, and tells us a bit about him, and we know his element is fire, from which we can infer a few things, but what kind of person is he? What is his character before his story starts?

Brelina is as delicate and innocent as a wisp of smoke, with a stubborn streak that drives him mad. Born a slave, she doesn’t know any different life. She worships the king and believes he has every right to order the mages beaten or killed, but Kadren cannot suppress his fascination for her.

This is a good bit of backstory, that also clues us into the world, but you might not need so many words to say this. The only important points here are that Brelina is a slave, and she worships the king. Try to be more succinct. Maybe you can include those points when you first introduce her.

She refuses to leave the safety of her captivity, and even though Kadren can command fires with whispers, he can do nothing to change her mind. Only an idiot would remain a slave for a girl, so Kadren escapes without her.

His plans slam to a gut-twisting halt when the king rapes Brelina. Whoa. Okay. That's pretty powerful. Tortured with guilt for not being there to protect her, Kadren races back to save her and swears to kill the king for what he has done. But there’s one problem: the king has a secret that makes him impossible to kill.

Maybe end with a sadistic choice. Kadren must decide whether to sacrifice his life needlessly, or allow the king to continue in his abuses. Or, you know, something better.

Kadren and Brelina are trapped and his assassination attempt only succeeds in enraging the king. Once again, Brelina is endangered by Kadren’s rash actions. If he cannot figure out the king’s secret, the threat to her will only increase. Being Bonded to him may very well be the death of her.

I don't think you need this last bit at all. You've already hooked us at this point.

BONDED working titles are great in queries, and this is a good one, but just be aware that a book with this title was just published. is a YA Fantasy complete at 74,000 words. It will appeal to fans of character-driven fantasies such as Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING Graceling (working titles of unpublished works go in ALL CAPS, but published works are in italics) and has a magic system that will be sure to please fans of Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN Mistborn series. It is a standalone novel with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Jessica Foster

Okay. In summary, this one is tough. You hit all the points: Character, Hook, Conflict, Stakes, and even though your Choice is only implied, it's there. And yet, it feels like something is missing. Or maybe it's just that's too much here.

Try to focus on the three most important elements: Character, Conflict, Choice. 

Who is Kadren? Well, he's a fire mage, and he's probably a pretty nice guy, but we need to know more about who he is, what kind of person, before we can sympathize with him, and care whether he overcomes his plight.

What is the conflict he must overcome? Well, the main thing is rescuing his lover, Brelina. Obviously the stakes are raised by the bonding, the rape, and her opinion of slavery, and those are important points, but the main conflict is the rescue, or the lack thereof.

What is his sadistic choice? Well, this one is hard. If the king is immortal, he can't simply kill him and save the girl. But he can't let her continue to be mistreated, either. He could sacrifice himself needlessly by trying to kill the king anyway, but I have a feeling he doesn't do that.

This query is already in pretty decent shape. You've got all the elements you need; I think you just need to re-work it a little, so it packs more punch, and is a bit more focused.

That's all.

What do you all think?

13 comments:

JeffO said...

I pretty much agree with Matt on this. Zorch that one paragraph and find just one more sentence to neatly tie up the previous paragraph and you should be in pretty good shape. Looks like a very interesting story!

Joshua said...

I'm in agreement on the "too much of some" and "not enough of the others" points here. There is a lot of information, but not enough that makes me stop and say "Oh, crap. Really? Wicked."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It was a lot, and probably a little too much of Brelina, since the focus is on Kadren.

Nancy Thompson said...

I don't know how you do that, Matthew. You always recognize even the tiniest little thing that's wrong or missing. Stronger character & a more concrete choice. That's exactly it. I don't read this genre so I wouldn't know what's important & what's not. I don't even know what a Mage is (except that it keeps capitalizing itself in my comment).

Kristen Wixted said...

I was a little stumped by Brelina "refuses to leave the safety of her captivity" which turns out not to be safe at all since she gets raped.

I'd change that sentence.

It does sound like an action-packed story!

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Okay, true magic has been done. But this query could rewrite that and give it a spin. See, I believe that love is a magic unto its own and the writer of this query could say something like "up until now, Kadren only had practice with conventional magic, the kind that raises elementals and burns down enemies. But when he first speaks to Brelina, he falls in love with her voice as sure as any spell from a wizard."

Anyway, it's just a suggestion and moves the love to the forefront which may be one of the stronger and more attractive elements of the piece.

maine character said...

Liked the first part, with its Count of Monte Cristo beginning, but thought the bonding might be explained a bit better. Are they soul mates, or was it a choice to bond? And is it something any two mages can do?

As far as the story itself goes, the fact that Kadren can escape without Brelina isn’t as dramatic as them needing to work together.

Also, it sounds like the king forgets about Kadren after he escapes. If the king is “determined to harness his fire magic,” doesn’t he try to track down Kadren?

It’d be more compelling for them to escape, and then, on the run, she stays behind to keep the soldiers from capturing Kadren, and is captured herself, and the king uses her to try to get to Kadren, knowing they’ve bonded.

As it is, having that bond in place surely ups the emotional stakes when Brelina is abused by the king, and would also let them communicate even though they're far apart, which is a cool thing to have.

Renae W. Mackley said...

Wow. Great comments above. Jessica has a lot to think about now. I like the way the first sentence starts and agree I'd like to know more about Kadren. I agree that the last para could be deleted and end with his sadistic choice. I also think the tags after "they've Bonded" are lyrical but don't explain what that means. I like the idea mentioned of them escaping together. Puts some new writing into the story but might be worth it.
Good luck, Jessica.

Jessica L. Foster said...

Wow, guys, thanks for the help. I'm already working on/excited for the new draft!

Stephen Tremp said...

Its great to see these long lost bloggers on Facebook. And Susan Quinn is awesome! I loved Open Minds. I really need to read her follow book.

mshatch said...

sorry so late to the game. I'll just add that I think Matt nailed it, as usual. Character conflict and choice. Especially character, because that's what entices me the most: a character I want to follow.

Jericha Senyak said...

You open with him falling in love, but the next sentence doesn't follow logically at all - what does getting imprisoned have to do with it? We figure it out in the next couple of sentences, but you don't want the first thing your potential agent feels to be confusion. Try something with more of a logical flow to it, along the lines of "Sixteen-year-old mage Kadren has just been imprisoned by a vile king determined to enslave his fire magic, and escape should be the only thing on his mind. His heart, however, has other priorities. Instead of plotting his way out of prison, he can't stop thinking about his fellow-prisoner, the innocent water mage Brelina. Problem is, Brelina's been imprisoned for so long that she thinks the evil king can do no wrong."

Also, this Bonded thing? I want to know WAY more. Were they Bonded before he was imprisoned? How did they get Bonded? What does that mean for them psychologically - I mean, how can he decide to leave her if they're so entangled? If their every thought is intertwined, how come she doesn't understand his plight enough to stop thinking the king can do no wrong, and why can't he make sense of her fear? You set up this super powerful linkage without any explanation of how it got there or what it does, and then it disappears without another word.

Abandoning her and then discovering she was raped seems like enough crippling guilt all by itself, without the Bonding. But careful -- she-got-raped-and-the-hero-revenges-her is a little bit of a contrived and cliche storyline. What about Brelina's character? Does she do anything to help herself, or is she just a victim the whole way through?

You've got a compelling story here, for sure, but as Matt said, we need to know more about the characters. Right now, Kadren sounds like a one-dimensional hero, Brelina sounds like a one-dimensional victim, and the king (what's his name?) sounds like a one-dimensional villain. I'm hoping that's not the case - so tell us more! Give us some juicy details!

Good luck to you!

Powdered Toast Man said...

It needs more zombies.