Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Misha Gericke's Current Query Critiqued

I have a huge meeting with the head of the European division of our client today, which of course they just old me about yesterday. My company is so messed up. I'm very near the bottom of the organizational ladder, and they don't pay me enough for this stuff.

Anyway, I hope I can get this done in time. So, we have Misha's query again today, this time with my feedback, which will be in red.

Now here's the query:

Dear [Insert Agent Name Here]

Callan Blair is adopted into a wealthy family and thinks it’s just her 23rd game of “Happy Family”, except this time she ends up in a different world, triggering events that will lead to a war generations in coming the making?

You do well to start of with your character, but after that, this falls apart. I don't know if this is a cultural thing, but here in the US, "Happy Family," is a dish you can get at Chinese restaurants for dinner. I have no idea what it's supposed to mean in this context. Also, the fact that what I assume is some kind of family board or card game ends up sending her to another world, a world on the brink of war, sounds pretty cool, but it's also incredibly vague. I'm hoping it will be explained in the next 'graph.

All this happens because her bratty adoptive brother, James, doesn’t know Callan’s dark secrets will get her out of his life soon enough without his help. This is also vague, and doesn't make much sense. I can't conceive of how this brother can make a game send his sister to another world, so if you're going to bring it up, you should probably explain how he has that power. So he does the sensible thing and plots her expulsion from Greyston Academy, but fails and Callan gets permission to skip her first day of school. Huh? Not only is this jumping to a whole other conflict, but it also doesn't make sense how the one leads to the other. He plots her expulsion, but fails, which somehow leads to her being allowed to skip? How and why does the first logically progress to the second? She escapes to a nearby castle where she bumps into a group of oddly non-geeky cosplayers who aren’t what they appear to be. Okay, this is another leap of logic for me, but I don't really care. The mention of cosplayers would make this an automatic request for me if I were an agent. I hope it's intended to be funny, because I find it hilarious, in a good way. Turns out they’re a group of highly trained and ferocious warriors on their way home after war. So she sees a group of warriors, and because she's not familiar with the world she's in, she assumes they're cosplaying? I hope that's how it works, because I can't really tell for sure. If that is how it works, it's an awesome scenario, but you could probably make it much clearer in your query. She finds this out the hard way when a very real battle erupts and she gets kidnapped by a psycho with delusions of love and plans to drag her to the continent of Tardith, a place she never knew existed.

Okay. At this point, I have to say, elements of the content are very cool, in the sense that showing up in a new world because of a game sounds really cool, if shocking, and even the basic mention of cosplayers sounds fun and funny, but the structure of this query isn't working for me.

Right now, it's set up like: Random thing A happens, which sounds cool. It's followed by random thing C, which has no logical progression from A, and then suddenly jumps back to random thing B, all of which sound like interesting things to occur in a story, but are vague, don't make much sense, and seem to have little or no connection to each other. I hope that doesn't sound too harsh, but does it make any sense? Of course you don't want to give everything away in a query, but things need to fit together better than this. I realize it's a fantasy world, and so the world doesn't have to be completely logical, but the way things connect to each other has to make sense, and the way one occurrence progresses into another has to be logical.

The “cosplayers”, at this point, the cosplayer thing starts to feel like a gimmick. After seeing them in a real battle, would she not stop thinking of them that way? Or is she a gamer and cosplayer herself, back in the real world, and is therefore obsessed with the concept? led by the most arrogant bastard Callan ever met and his absolutely stunning best friend, rescue her and take her to Nordaine -- a country in Tardith. There, she discovers two things: Her parents both came from this strange world and her mother was a princess in Alfen Cairn, the land of the elves. She wants nothing more than to discover her mother’s secrets and why she kept them, but to do it; Callan has to contend with politics, the elves themselves, an arranged marriage and her own darkest secret. Now this query is starting to get good. When you re-write this, focus on this section, and consider how all these sentences fit together, and lead from one to another. Try to write the rest of your query, especially the beginning, with this same kind of cohesion. For within her lurks an evil so powerful that she could never fight or expel it, and now it’s trying to destroy her life. Vague. On top of it all, she must decide where her loyalties lie in the boiling cauldron of Tardithian politics. And because all that is too easy, her choice will determine the whole continent’s future.

DOORWAYS is a 110(,)000 words YA epic fantasy about five people: Callan who is searching for her place in Tardith, James, who follows her there in search of his redemption, Darrion, who’s fighting to save his leader and so ensure his place on Nordaine’s throne, Gawain, who’ll stop at nothing to help him, and Ward, who is more than just the quiet guy in James’s shadow. I would skip this whole thing. I'm not saying a bunch of POV characters can't work in fantasy, because it does all the time, but it's place is not in the query. You could maybe say the story is told from multiple POVs, but you can't name them all like this. Consider George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Awesome, crazy story, with tons of POV characters (even in only the first book), right? The query would still be told from Ned Stark's POV. Every story has a main protagonist, and in a query, you should almost always try to stick to one. The book is intended to be the first in a four part series. This is okay, but it might be better worded to just say it has series potential. Agents want a book to stand on its own.

A tiny bit about me: I live in South Africa, using my beautiful view of Table Mountain as inspiration when I write, blog it's okay to put a link here and work as a fresh produce trader/marketer.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


Misha Gericke

[contact details here]

All right. Summary. First of all, this sounds like an awesome, epic tale. It's a bit difficult to excavate that information from the way this query currently stands, but I can tell it's there.

As to structure, this query needs some work. The first half in particular. The good news is that it starts to get really good near the end, and the whole final stakes and choice are pretty well executed.

What you need to do is see if you can apply the same methods to your opening hook, and introductory conflict paragraph. Right now, the first five or six things you mention jump from one to another with no sense of being connected, and even though they sound cool, it throws the reader off because he's puzzling over how you got from one to the next, instead of being impressed by how cool the next thing is.

I hope this all makes sense, and helps.

That's it.

What do you all think? Can anyone suggest a better opening hook? Or perhaps think of a way to tie this compelling string of events together better?


Dianne K. Salerni said...

Well, the first few paragraphs read like a synopsis instead of a query. They are an event-by-event summary of the story, but not a really good one because, as Matt points out, specific details are left out which makes the connection between events seem disjointed.

(I would suggest hanging on to this query when it comes time to write a synopsis, but the details need to be fleshed out better.)

That paragraph where Matt says "it starts to get good" -- that's where Misha should begin her query. Most of the stuff that comes before can be boiled down to a single sentence about the inciting incident which causes her to meet these people (if that much). Character, stakes, and conflict -- that's what the query needs.

mshatch said...

I agree with both Matt and Diane except I thought "Happy Family" was meant sarcastically, because maybe that's what Callan has been told the other 22 times. You know, the sweet social worker coming and saying, guess what! We've found a happy family that wants to adopt/foster/whatever. Also, I've heard the word cosplay but have no idea what it means.

Tess Julia said...

I agree with you that the first part didn't connect well and was confusing. You give very good, specific advice, BTW.

Misha Gerrick said...

Thank you so much for the advice! I'll definitely have to work on the first parts of the Query. :-)

S.A. Larsenッ said...

I agree with Matt about the opening. I understand what you're getting at, but it's a bit too vague. Think about this character and tell us something more about her.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yep i'm with Matt. The first few paragraphs need work, but the last one is the best.
Also, i think i get what you were going for regarding the "happy family" bit, because i assume she's either been fostered or adopted 23 times before, but it's not quite clear, and i had to read it twice to make sure i understood.
Good luck!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Misha is lacking a lot of focus with this query, and you've given excellent critique. I might suggest to Misha that she focus on Callan who is the strongest voice in the book and leave the others out.

erica and christy said...

I also thought the happy family reference was because she had been in many different homes in her life before this one (I hadn't read your query before this redline).

I agree with Matt not to include all the characters in the last paragraph - too many names/characteristics muddles it. Good luck, Misha!

Nancy Thompson said...

Matt hit on a lot of what I was thinking. The biggest thing here is that there is too much backstory or setup. You must hone in on the very heart of the conflict itself & forget about most everything else in a query. I may be wrong, but I'm thinking the Happy Family game refers to the fact that she's been fostered in many homes prior to the wealthy one she's just been adopted into. It's not really a game; it's sarcasm, which is a nice character trait, but obviously this is unclear.

Forget about the brother & touch very briefly on how she finds her way into this new, dark world. Then zoom in on the conflict there in very specific examples. Show how this conflict presents her with the choice she must make, and again, be specific & direct.

At the end, focus on the genre & word count only (110,000 word - not words - YA fantasy.). Though whoa, 110,000 YA. That could pose a serious problem. It's very long. That alone might scare an agent off. Don't tell what the story is about here. You already should have shown it in the paragraphs above.

Lastly, don't put ANY links in your query. It's acceptable to use your blog link as part of your signature though. Good luck! The story sounds fantastic. Just remember, queries are difficult & take a great deal of time to master.

Johanna Garth said...

I thought Dianne had a great suggestion regarding hanging on to this for a synopsis. I think it has lots of interesting things going on but I needed more of a hook right from the get go.

Bryan Russell said...

Everybody's already said everything, except for the odd semi-colon intruding in paragraph three. So I'm just gonna lie back and have a Pina Colada or something. Or at least I will after work. Or maybe an almond latte. Unless someone has a better suggestion?

farawayeyes said...

First and foremost - Misha, thank yo so much for sharing your query, so I can learn more about the whole process. Your premise sounds interesting, but I have to admit I was confused.

I agree with several other people her that I thought the 'Happy Family' reference was more to a social worker type of comment, as in; aren't you lucky to be going to these nice people, this time. BUT, there are still tears of laughter streaming down my face from Matt's Chinese restaurant comment. I am ACTUALLY laughing out loud.

Now that I have that out of the way. Matt is the expert here, so I would listen to what he has to say. Me, I'm along for the ride, a few laughs and to learn, learn, learn.

Thanks again,for your willingness to share.

Kimberly Gabriel said...

I also thought it was a great suggestion to hold onto this for when you write your synopsis. I HATE writing those - this is a good starting point for that! I can easily tell you have a lot of really intense, interesting stuff that happens in this book. Select a few key intense points to focus on and be specific with them! Good luck as you continue editing this!

Elise Fallson said...

Like erica and christy said, I thought the happy family bit was referring to the fact she had been in and out of many homes. But now it's 11:30pm and I'm hungry for Chinese food...thank you Matthew.:P

The story concept sounds fun and exciting, something new that I'd love to get my hands on. Unfortunately, I did get a bit confused and frustrated in the beginning with the fuzzy progression of events. Matthew has given excellent advice as always. A few rewrites and this will be an excellent query. Good luck!!

DL Hammons said...

This is what happens when your late to the party...not much new to add. I agree 100% with Matt, and Dianne's comment about it sounding more like a synopsis is spot on.

The premise does sound exciting! :)

Ciara said...

I've had the honor of reading a portion of this story, and I agree with the critiques here. This query doesn't do the story justice. I'm so glad everyone is so happy to offer their assistance to Misha to get her query up to the quality of her writing. Good luck, Misha.

Misha Gerrick said...

Thanks so much, everyone!

So it's looking like the main issue with my query is that the first half lacks focus. Will definitely work on that. :-D

Jessica Silva said...

I know I'm totally being a broken record here, but definitely try to focus your query on the fun and exciting part about your story. Which is of course getting your MC to this new world. HOW she gets there can be a surprise for the agents when they read your pages :)

good luck!

Unknown said...

I have also read some of this story for Misha and loved it! As I have never written a query, I am not going to add anything, but I understand what Matt is saying about the query and would take on his advice if I were you Misha! Good luck!

Donna K. Weaver said...

I agree that the first part is confusing and probably unneeded. What comes to mind is the need to simplify and decide what the main plot is and stick to that.

I also agree that this sounds like an epic tale.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Misha. Thanks for sharing this. You're very brave. I thought your 'Happy Family' ref.was ironic? Well, at least you've got your synopsis well underway! That's good!

Stephsco said...

What may help is to focus on telling who your character is, what his/her central goal is, what stands in his/her way to accomplishing it, and what happens if it isn't accomplished. In my own query, I wrote these elements out in a list, just bare bones, and worked from there. Get these factors with a few specifics in first, then jazz it up again with style and voice. They key is to show the framework of your story sans extraneous details and give a lasting image so we want to read on.

That easy, huh? :) Query writing is a beast of its own. Every time I think I have a good one I find a better way. At least you have a starting point!

Stephsco said...

Oh, and to @mshatch, cosplay is the term for people dressing in costume (usually on days other than Halloween). Think of fans dressed as superheroes at Comic Con.