Saturday, August 22

Query Week: Step Five. The Polish. Query Volunteer #2

I think we can extend Query Week through the weekend, right? So let's dive into Marlana's query and help her polish and tighten it up. A word of warning, I might say things here that contradict what I said earlier. That's not me losing my mind, but adapting the query as I learn more about it. An important thing to remember as you write your queries is that nothing is set in stone. If something isn't working, don't be afraid to toss it out and try another direction.

Fifteen-year old Sam Davis knows all about loss – his mother’s recent death in a tragic accident, his father’s mysterious disappearance eleven years earlier.

I like this opener, but it feels like this needs something at the end. These two things did what? This will likely be the lead in to his current problem -- finding his dad.

Sam is questioned by a state worker about his missing father, but his dad lives only in the shadows of Sam’s dreams; his mother’s promise to tell him more about the man who had fathered him having died with her.

These look like good candidates to cut, though if you can work the promise to tell him more about his father into that opening line, you could set the rest up nicely. If not, don't force it. You could set up the map connection here in some way though. Mom said something that will help Sam make the leap between the map and the town.

Disgusted with the sadistic irony of life, Sam gives up on ever finding his dad and instead curls up into the comfort of his beige universe. Arrangements for him to move to a foster home are made and he obediently fills his mom’s old mustard-colored suitcase with only the best of his second-hand clothes and the sole photo he has of his father, still housed in the tarnished bronze frame it was in when his mom gave it to him.

Giving up on finding his dad, packing the suitcase, and heading to the foster home are the key details here. You could probably condense these to one line.

Sam gives up on ever finding his dad and moves to a foster home, obediently filling his mom’s old suitcase with his second-hand clothes and the sole photo of his father, still housed in the tarnished bronze frame it was in when his mom gave it to him.

You could probably cut "it was in when his mom gave it to him." if you wanted to save more words.

Always a loner, Sam is surprised to find friendship with two other orphans, Maddie and Z. They too are [too] familiar with loss.[ Starving to belong,] the three make a pact to [be each other’s makeshift family and to] watch each other’s back.

To avoid repetition and to save a few words, you can cut the bracketed words.

Always a loner, Sam is surprised to find friendship with two other orphans, Maddie and Z. They too are familiar with loss and the three make a pact to watch each others backs.

This pact is tested [early on] when Sam [accidentally] finds a strange map [titled Caylestis] hidden in the lining of his mom’s [old] case. [The names in faded blue are unknown but] Sam realizes he has seen [some of] the strange markings before[. They also appear] on the frame of his father’s photo. [Removing the picture for the first time,] Sam [sees] Davis, WV written in his mother’s familiar script. Suddenly, Sam has a clue that might help him locate his father and Maddie and Z are determined to help him.

You might want to connect the map and the script on the back of the photo more. Not a lot, just a word or two that shows Sam putting two and two together. Perhaps Sam thinks the map is of Davis, or recognizes a landmark. Maybe Maddie or Z make the connection to show how they're contributing to the quest.

There are plenty of words you can trim out here and not lose anything. (I'll explain why I think you can cut them so you can see the thought process) We don't need to know it's early on, as that doesn't affect the story at all. Same with accidentally. He wasn't purposefully looking for it, so we can assume it was an accident. No need to know the name of the magic world yet since you'll mention it later. You already said the case was old in the first paragraph. You don't need to know any details about the names since it doesn't affect anything. Seeing the markings is enough, so you don't need the qualifier. You show where they appear, so you don't need to mention they also do. You can jump right to what the marking means since how he finds them isn't needed at this stage. Perhaps change sees to finds to avoid the repetition with seen earlier.

You'd get:

This pact is tested when Sam finds a strange map hidden in the lining of his mom’s suitcase. Sam realizes he has seen the strange markings before on the frame of his father’s photo. On the back of the photo, he finds Davis, WV written in his mother’s familiar script. Suddenly, Sam has a clue that might help him locate his father and Maddie and Z are determined to help him.

However, you say that their pact is tested, but Maddie and Z are determined to help him, which implies they help willingly. Perhaps instead of "determined to help him" you show what they have to risk to do so. "Maddie and Z must risk X to help Sam." The putting the two together line could go nicely right before Suddenly.

The three friends [sneak out and go] to Davis [where they finding a town drawing marking the waterfall with a crooked X - the same X that appears on their map.] Searching the falls, they find a Vortex and are suddenly hurtled into the convulsing world of Caylestis.

To transition into the next para, "sneak out and go" could become "follow the map" or even "head" if you need the words. I like the connection of the waterfall on two maps, but this feels a little too detailed right now. Perhaps take a step back with something like, "The three friends head to Davis and follow the map to a waterfall concealing a mysterious Vortex. Upon investigating, they're hurtled into the world of Caylestis, an enchanted land with a small description. (Feels like you need a bit of world building there to show what Caylestis is)

Here they meet a Myrddin who confirms Sam is the Emperor's son and the next in line to be the Keeper of Faras - a flying horse and the soul of this enchanted place. But the Emperor is dying since Faras was caught by Deimos. His territorial conquests of those he considers unworthy blanketing Caylestis in a shroud of blackness. Myrddin admits that Faras can only be controlled by an heir of the Emperor. Knowing the only chance he has of having his father in his life is by saving Faras, Sam decides to attempt a rescue. But he realizes too late that he has not only jeopardized his life, but the lives of Maddie and Z.

A few things confused me here. How are Faras, the land, and the Emperor connected? It's probably not something that needs to be stated, but it could help figure out how to word the final paragraph by showing the larger stakes. What does Deimos hope to gain by kidnapping Faras? Death of the Emperor I gather, but what will that mean to him? And if only an heir of the Emperor can control Faras (though I assume this means anyone in that bloodline, otherwise the Emperor couldn't control him), how does Deimos do it? I assume he needs to control him to capture him?

Because we need more explanation to understand all this, you can trim this final paragraph down quite a bit (which I'm sure you're relieved to hear). Since don't know what a Myrddin is, you can can probably cut that. You can also trim out a lot of the world mechanics. I'd suggest tying this all back to the original goal of finding his father, since this is really what Sam is after. Perhaps start with a transition line that shows how freaked out the three are, and then go into Sam finding his dad, and what he has to do now.

Think is terms of escalating stakes. Sam wants to find his dad. He does, but there's a catch. Dad's dying. Sam wants to save his dad, but there's a catch. Sam needs to rescue Faras to do it. Sam agrees to do that, but there's a catch. Deimos has some nasty something planned to prevent this. Then lay it out and end with how the stakes affect the situation, and possibly the original goal.

Lost and confused, Sam finds the last thing he expected: his missing dad. Problem is, he's dying and only Sam can save him. To do that, he must rescue Faras before Dad dies and he never gets to see his dad again. And something even worse happens.

Maybe even tie in one of your earlier ideas about Sam not being a leader and show him trying to back out, but he can't because only someone in the Emperor's bloodline can do this. This would show both Sam's external plot goal and the internal character growth he'll undergo in the novel.

So once we trim out and polish a bit, we end up with something that looks like:

Fifteen-year old Sam Davis knows all about loss – his mother’s recent death in a tragic accident, his father’s mysterious disappearance eleven years earlier -- leave him with a longing for a father he barely knew. Sam gives up on ever finding his dad and moves to a foster home, obediently filling his mom’s old suitcase with his second-hand clothes and the sole photo of his father, still housed in the tarnished bronze frame it was in when his mom gave it to him.

Always a loner, Sam is surprised to find friendship with two other orphans, Maddie and Z. They too are familiar with loss and the three make a pact to watch each others backs.
This pact is tested when Sam finds a strange map hidden in the lining of his mom’s suitcase. Sam realizes he has seen the strange markings before on the frame of his father’s photo. On the back of the photo, he finds Davis, WV written in his mother’s familiar script. Suddenly, Sam has a clue that might help him locate his father and Maddie and Z are determined to help him.

The three friends head to Davis and follow the map to a waterfall concealing a mysterious Vortex. Upon investigating, they're hurtled into the world of Caylestis, an enchanted land with a small description. Lost and confused, Sam finds the last thing he expected: his missing dad. Problem is, he's dying and only Sam can save him. To do that, he must rescue Faras before Dad dies and he never gets to see his dad again. And something even worse happens.

This brings it down to 267 from 447 words. That'll probably get closer to 300 when you tweak further, but still in solid query range.

If you want to trim it down ever more, you can cut out Maddie and Z altogether. I'm sure they play a large role in the novel, but in the query, they don't really add anything. All protags have companions, so unless they play a big part in the core conflict, you can ignore them for now.

That would cut you down to 218 words and:

Fifteen-year old Sam Davis knows all about loss – his mother’s recent death in a tragic accident, his father’s mysterious disappearance eleven years earlier -- leave him with a longing for a father he barely knew. Sam gives up on ever finding his dad and moves to a foster home, obediently filling his mom’s old suitcase with his second-hand clothes and the sole photo of his father, still housed in the tarnished bronze frame it was in when his mom gave it to him.

Sam finds a strange map hidden in the lining of his mom’s suitcase. Sam realizes he has seen the strange markings before on the frame of his father’s photo. On the back of the photo, he finds Davis, WV written in his mother’s familiar script. Suddenly, Sam has a clue that might help him locate his father.

He heads to Davis and follows the map to a waterfall concealing a mysterious Vortex. Upon investigating, he's hurtled into the world of Caylestis, an enchanted land with a small description. Lost and confused, Sam finds the last thing he expected: his missing dad. Problem is, he's dying and only Sam can save him. To do that, he must rescue Faras before Dad dies and he never gets to see his dad again. And something even worse happens.

This gives you more space for the core issues and helps you keeps the story more focused.

Another radical and crazy idea...

If this story starts very soon after Sam is transported to Caylestis, you could even start your query there. A little set up like:

While searching for his missing dad, Sam Davis finds a mysterious vortex and is hurled into the enchanted world of Caylestis.

You could then slip in a little Mom backstory if needed, and focus on the quest more. It really depends on how much of the book takes place in Caylestis. I got the impression you spend some time there so Sam can forge his friendships and deal with is mother dying, but it's another option if it appeals to you. (And I hope I didn't just throw you back to square one. This just hit me since I was assuming things about your book that may not be true)

And there we go. When you're close like this, you'll probably go through a lot of polish revisions to get it just right. It's common to want to add more stuff to tell more of the book, but resist that urge. Instead, look for ways you can deepen the core elements more. Show the connections, the emotional levels and motivations, the main conflicts.

REVISION:

Marlana gave us another great version to rip...I mean...play with.

Still reeling from the recent death of his mother, fifteen-year old Sam Davis stares blankly at the state worker who questions him about his father’s mysterious disappearance eleven years earlier.

Why is the state worker asking about this? I suspect it's to see if he has any family that can care for him now, but it almost feels like it's an investigation from the way it's phrased.

But Sam knows nothing about his dad – his mom’s promise to tell him everything breaking upon her death making Sam’s lifetime resolve to find his dad seem impossible.

I like what this says, but it reads a little clunky as is. I think the "breaking upon" is throwing off the flow here.

Numbly accepting his fate, he curls up into his beige universe and quietly moves into a foster home.

Sam is living a normal day-to-day life when he finds a strange map hidden in the lining of his mom’s old suitcase.

He just lost his mom, so "normal" feels off here. Perhaps something that shows how he's adjusting to the foster home?

[Full of] strange markings, Sam realizes some of them also appear on the frame that houses the sole photo he has of his father. He removes the picture [seeing] Davis, WV on the back in his mother’s familiar script.

I stumbled a bit here. "Full" doesn't feel like something a map can be. Covered in, maybe. Perhaps "and sees" instead of "seeing" to smooth the flow.

[The] desire to find his dad [outweighing] the [sparseness] of the clue, [Sam] sneaks off to the neighboring town of Davis [where he locates more of the strange markings and follows them to a waterfall that is concealing a Vortex.] Stepping through, Sam is hurtled into Caylestis – an enchanted world full of magic.

You could clarify this a bit more since this is a major point. I'm also not sure "sparseness" is the right word. The clue spurs him to act, so it's important and what it represents is important. It's more the unlikelihood that the clue will lead anywhere, or the odds of really finding him that Sam is acting despite. "His desire to find his dad outweighs the [something] of the clue, so Sam sneaks off to the neighboring town of Davis [to do what?]. Then perhaps put the Vortex part in its own sentence, since it's the next step.

Sam’s heart soars when he learns his father is living in this world [and] the Emporer and Keeper of Faras - an immortal winged-horse spiritually tied to Caylestis. But this convulsing world is rapidly fading since the Emperor’s brother captured Faras; the imprisonment turning her mortal and slowly killing [her Keeper.] Sam unwittingly becomes entangled in a dangerous battle between the [two brothers] but only he has the ability to free Faras and save his father.

I think "and" should be "as?" Since this is Sam's personal quest, perhaps keep it in terms that are personal to him. It's not just "her keeper" it's "his father." And the "two brothers" are his father and uncle, family he just discovered he had. That's got to mean a lot to him, so being stuck between them is probably a hard thing to deal with. I wanted to see some hint of the bad side of this as well (as if his father dying wasn't bad enough). Having Deimos be his uncle is a fun twist to play with. Perhaps add something like, "...to free Faras and save his father -- and avoid killing his uncle to do it." (if that's the case). Something that shows him being stuck between a rock and hard place in this quest.

One quick question...I noticed you spell Emperor differently. Is that on purpose or a typo? It comes across as a typo, so that's something you might want to reconsider if it was done deliberately, as it's easy to just assume it's wrong instead of thinking it was intentional.

You're getting really close!

5 comments:

  1. Let me again say thank you so much!!! :) I have a lot of work to do and am excited to delve into it. However, I thought I could first answer some of your questions.

    This is a 23 chapter book. Chapters 1 through 7 take place in West Virginia; the remainder of the book is set in Caylestis.

    Faras is an immortal being who is spiritually tied to Caylestis. She was given to Custos Saxe (Sam's great X6 grandfather)by a spirit named Esengel with the explanation that with the winged horse's safekeeping, peace and prosperity will be prominent in the land; the responsibility of keeping her safe passing from father to eldest child. You see the job of 'Keeper' is synonymous with being the Emporer. If Faras is captured, she will become mortal and die bringing the destruction of the Caylestis the inhabitants have always known and death to her Keeper AKA the Emporer.

    LOL! You are good - questioning how Deimos caught Faras. Sam believes Deimos catches Faras using black magic. But in chapter 19 of this 23 chapter book he learns that Deimos is actually his father's twin brother. :)

    Deimos believes that only man should have privileges - not those he considers lesser beings - the Menechlures, the elves and the dwarves. Think Adolf Hitler. Although Deimos is older than his brother (Emporer El) by a few minutes, Faras changed things up during the ceremonial passing of her guardianship. Instead of bowing to the eldest child - the assumed next in line for her guardianship and ruler of the land, she bypasses Deimos and marked El as her next Keeper.

    I think that made sense? LOL

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  2. This process is cracking me up. Phase I - hated it. Phase II - thought there was hope. Phase IV -hated it, Phase V - again thinking there is hope. You are very good at getting to the meat of the query. Here's what I have after the recent feedback. 266 words. :)

    Still reeling from the recent death of his mother, fifteen-year old Sam Davis stares blankly at the state worker who questions him about his father’s mysterious disappearance eleven years earlier. But Sam knows nothing about his dad – his mom’s promise to tell him everything breaking upon her death making Sam’s lifetime resolve to find his dad seem impossible. Numbly accepting his fate, he curls up into his beige universe and quietly moves into a foster home.

    Sam is living a normal day-to-day life when he finds a strange map hidden in the lining of his mom’s old suitcase. Full of strange markings, Sam realizes some of them also appear on the frame that houses the sole photo he has of his father. He removes the picture seeing Davis, WV on the back in his mother’s familiar script. The desire to find his dad outweighing the sparseness of the clue, Sam sneaks off to the neighboring town of Davis where he locates more of the strange markings and follows them to a waterfall that is concealing a Vortex. Stepping through, Sam is hurtled into Caylestis – an enchanted world full of magic.

    Sam’s heart soars when he learns his father is living in this world and the Emporer and Keeper of Faras - an immortal winged-horse spiritually tied to Caylestis. But this convulsing world is rapidly fading since the Emperor’s brother captured Faras; the imprisonment turning her mortal and slowly killing her Keeper. Sam unwittingly becomes entangled in a dangerous battle between the two brothers but only he has the ability to free Faras and save his father.

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  3. I'm so glad I'm helping! Yeah, I've hated and loved my queries too. I think that love/hate relationship is part of writing, since I feel the same way about my stories too :)

    And thanks for the history!

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  4. I am always ready for heavy feedback! LOL - but you've been great and I totally appreciate you letting me monopolize your time just to enable me to do something better. :) I'm going into the office tomorrow but am off on Wednesday and will look at this again. Funny thing is after this query workshop, I found several things in my book that I want to develop more. Funny how that worked. :):) Thanks so much again - I'm totally indebted to you! ..OH BTW - the two spellings of Emporer / Emperor done in error. do you know the preferred spelling? My spell check likes both. Is it like gray and grey?

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  5. Most welcome. I've always seen Emperor spelled the one way, though the other could be a UK spelling?

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