QueryDice #23

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

The war started with a drunkard in her library and an arrow in her arm.

The first sentence needs work. I had to read it twice to figure out that you were saying that someone had a drunkard in her home and an arrow in her arm, rather than a drunkard sitting in her own library with an arrow in her arm. Also, I’m wondering how this could possibly start a war.

Seventeen-year-old Adalmund Pratt is one of the last remaining people who can see and weave the threads of magic in her plague-ravaged country, and as such, she is the newly-appointed Advisor to the Theodyn Heir. During a peace treaty signing with the neighboring nation of Amleth, an Amleth advisor drunkenly slurs in her ear that his nation is on the brink of a revolution against the royal family, and she realizes that she and the Heir of Theodyn are in enemy territory.

This paragraph needs some serious work. First, what is the significance of seeing and weaving threads of magic? What benefit or detriment does this lend to Adalmund? Then, some world-building is necessary. What’s a Theodyn Heir? Is the Amleth advisor talking about a revolution against his country’s royal family, or that of Adalmund’s country? What is the significance of that?

The attack comes before they planned. <–You don’t need this sentence. If you want us to know the attack happened without notice, that can be done as an adjective in this next sentence. An unknown division of the Amleth army attacks and it’s an arrow through Adalmund’s shoulder and another through the throat of the Heir, who dies in her arms.

You’ve written that “it’s an arrow through Adalmund’s shoulder and another through the throat of the heir…” What is? Further, why would they attack Adalmund? Her political weight is unclear. We don’t know anything about the heir, either, so we don’t care that he died in her arms, no matter how gruesome his death. We at least need to know his importance to Adalmund if we’re expected to care about this death.

Adalmund knows that her ability remains the only chance to save Theodyn. (How? Why is this the case?)Pushing aside her own grief and feelings of failure, she doesn’t hesitate to obey when the grieving Queen sends her to spy on the Amleth army and bring the murderous army unit to justice.

My intuition tells me the real meat of your story begins with the above sentence. Since the heir dies early, and the attack doesn’t mean much to the rest of Adalmund’s journey, begin with the above sentence, which will give you much more room for world-building.

It’s not an impossible assignment until Adalmund realizes that the soldiers who attacked aren’t a part of the normal army, but are the private guards of a Prince. (What prince? Why does this matter?) The only way she can succeed is to forge a precarious truce with Peace, the mysterious leader (is this the Prince?) of the revolution in Amleth, and she’ll do it to save her country—even if the price of Peace is her life. <–This sentence is confusing. Are you talking about the price of the mysterious leader, or the price of peace?

The first in a planned series, [redacted] is a young adult fantasy novel of 75,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

I would reject this query because the important pieces of the story are not exposed properly, and I worry that will continue in the manuscript. More importantly, though, I would reject it because Adalmund has no internal struggle and doesn’t appear to face the same challenges that teens face. All the conflict is external and I like to see interplay between external and internal conflict in YA. I also know nothing about Adalmund’s personality or that of any other characters, and this is necessary for me to like the characters enough to want to see more of them.

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Posted on February 16, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Just in terms of readability, I’d suggest to Lauren to print the author’s query in its entirety and then do the line-by-line slice ‘n dice. It’s a bit difficult to piece together the query this way.

    Personally, I don’t read much fantasy. Maybe it’s because of the goofy names. They stop me mid-sentence and I tend to not go on. And I think that in part that might be because the authors don’t really *think* about the names. I’m not saying it’s the case here, although it might be – but I’m kinda skating through here, not really taking the time to stop and think about it longer (but pretty sure that’s how agents looking at queries do it too). It’s easier to explain by looking at the opposite. The name Darth Vader seems perfect for the character, while still giving the feeling of being somewhat “other.” But that’s probably because Darth isn’t that far from “dark.” And Vader, as I understand, means “father” in Danish – or some northern European language. In the Dune series, Frank Herbert has a type of royal counselor known as a “mentat,” who is a human but basically a human computer. Not far from the “mental” that would associate the word to the process and thus the character. OK, may not mean much here, just kind of a pet peeve of mine.

    I agree with the other comments that there are some good possibilities in here. But it appears to me the writer needs to do a lot more thinking about the story. I get the idea that at 75,000 words now, it’s probably a good 30,000 words too long – just judging from the query. But if the story is more well thought out, it and the query will become more coherent. Tighter. And, we hope, better written.

  2. I’d agree that this has more the flavour of an adult rather than a YA fantasy. I did quite like the first sentence but to me it promised a comic fantasy and not the straight one that follows in the query. On my reading, there’s lots of good elements here but it’s not put together clearly enough in a coherent whole. With a bit of work as Lauren has suggested, it could be much, much stronger. There’s also one or two specifics. 1) Is the arrow in the arm the same as the arrow in the shoulder? If so, it’s one or the other. They’re not the same anatomical part!2) Your heroine’s second name (Pratt). IMHO you should seriously consider changing this. Yes, it’s a genuine second name. But in the UK, ‘prat’ is also in wide, current usage to describe a person (almost always a man) who is a bit of an idiot (polite version!) and not to be taken seriously. In a global market, that name won’t run. I hope this is of some help. Any author deserves a round of applause for being brave enough to let others comment publicly on their work. Thanks for sharing and good luck.

  3. I have to quantify this by saying I don’t read a lot of fantasy, though I’ve read some, so I was unsure what unclear details I should “roll with” and which were in need of clarification. But I was with Lauren–I don’t quite get what Theodyn or the Heir is, or exactly whose territories are whose. This started me on confusion. I think bigger than this for me was that a) I didn’t get a unique “flavor” for this story–though I don’t read a ton of fantasy, it still didn’t have an original feeling for me. I bet your story does–but it’s not coming through here. Also, b) I don’t see young adult in this. The main character may be young, but I don’t see how the conflicts are typical of young adult conflicts. I bet the story does, again, but it doesn’t come through here. All best!

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