Tuesday, July 10, 2012

HNTWAQ: Practice 1 Rewrite

Good queries aren't just born--they're painstakingly built, draft after draft. Or, well, that's what I assume, since I'm still not sure how to write a good one.

Today, I'm pleased to produce the first rewrite of the first real query I critiqued almost two weeks ago.


Randy decided he's still speaking to me after all, and is even letting me tear apart his rewritten query. Here's the new version:
Dear Agent,

Every thousand years, Hell has a footrace to the gates of heaven, and the winner receives a second chance at life.

Banan, a Saxon warlord with a knack for fighting, defied tradition and married a Welsh woman named Morna. She had hooked his feral heart and opened his eyes to the non-violent aspects of life. But his best friend, Wregan, opposed his union to an enslaved, pagan vassal and betrayed him. Moved by love and honor, Banan killed a priest to protect Morna and was subsequently executed for his crime.

In Hell, both men retained their hatred for one another. For centuries, Wregan has been secretly eliminating Banan’s family on Earth.

Banan has only once chance to escape from the tortures of Hell and change his eternal fate. He will be competing against some of the vilest and most ruthless souls the Earth has ever produced. Then he discovers that his wife bore him a child after his death and Wregan plans to murder the last member of his family during the race. He must choose between saving a girl he doesn’t know and winning HELLATHON.

Complete at 120,000 words, HELLATHON is a fantasy novel for adults. I have stories published in Gentle Strength Quarterly and The City of the Gods: Mythic Tales with another story being scheduled for inclusion in the next City of the Gods anthology coming out in 2013. During the 2011 LDStoryMaker conference I took first place in the First Chapter contest for the speculative fiction category. In 2012 I took second place for the same competition and category.

Thank you for your time and attention on this matter, and I hope that you enjoy what you read. I look forward to your reply.

First, I like this version lots better than the last one, since 1) he's answered a lot of the questions I had, and 2) a lot of the details that were muddying things have been left out. My main complaint is that, well, Randy added some details that I don't think are necessary. That's probably my fault. :)


I think we have the details of who Banan is, what he wants, who stands in his way, and what happens if he fails--but we also have some other stuff. Here's what I would suggest:

Dear Agent,  Every thousand years, Hell has a footrace to the gates of heaven, and the winner receives a second chance at life. 
I love this new start--it tells me immediately what is at stake.
Banan, a Saxon warlord with a knack for fighting, defied tradition and married a Welsh woman named Morna. She had hooked his feral heart and opened his eyes to the non-violent aspects of life. But his best friend, Wregan, opposed his union to an enslaved, pagan vassal and betrayed him. Moved by love and honor, Banan killed a priest to protect Morna and was subsequently executed for his crime. 
This paragraph, though, is all back story. While it helps me understand Banan and Wregan, it totally halts the forward motion of the query. I'd suggest a one-sentence summary. Something in the lines of "Banan and Wregan were best friends in life... right up until Banan tried to marry the wrong woman, killed a priest, and ended up in hell." Then skip right along to the next paragraph. We don't need to know all the details of what went wrong with their friendship--just a few hints will give us a framework that will let us understand why they're rivals now.
In Hell, both men retained their hatred for one another. For centuries, Wregan has been secretly eliminating Banan’s family on Earth. 
This is all good info--I just suggest streamlining it a tad. If you take my suggestion from the last paragraph, combine with this one and give us a hint why Wregan is in hell (is it just because he's a racist?) and also why he hates Banan so much that he's killing off Banan's family.
Banan has only once chance to escape from the tortures of Hell and change his eternal fate. He was a Saxon warlord in life, but to win, he'll have to best He will be competing against some of the vilest and most ruthless souls the Earth has ever produced. Then he discovers that his wife bore him a child after his death and But when he discovers that Wregan plans to murder the last member of his family during the race, Banan realizes there might be something more important than escaping hell.
[I added this space.] 
He Banan must choose between saving a girl he doesn’t know and winning HELLATHON.
First sentence is good. I don't think the "wife bore him a child after his death" is a necessary detail--and adding it makes it seem very important. I think what's more important is the fact that he has descendants who are being killed. The last line could use some tweaking--calling his last descendant "a girl he doesn't know" seems to minimize the stakes for me. If he thinks of her that way, what is it that makes the choice hard?
Complete at 120,000 words, HELLATHON is a fantasy novel for adults. I have stories published in Gentle Strength Quarterly and The City of the Gods: Mythic Tales with another story being scheduled for inclusion in the next City of the Gods anthology coming out in 2013. During the 2011 LDStoryMaker conference I took first place in the First Chapter contest for the speculative fiction category. In 2012 I took second place for the same competition and category. 
Good stuff.
Thank you for your time and consideration. attention on this matter, and I hope that you enjoy what you read. I look forward to your reply.
Agents don't promise attention--it's your job to grab their attention. Also, they already know that you hope they'll enjoy it... and many of them will never reply. Keep it simple.

One last caution, Randy. As I've seen pointed out elsewhere, it is possible to workshop a query so much that it loses your voice and becomes lifeless. Therefore, please take all my suggestions as just that--and write it the way you feel it should be written.

After all, I still don't know how to write a good one. :)

Anyone else have some suggestions for Randy?

3 comments:

  1. Hey Robin,

    Thanks for helping give my critique a tune-up. Have you considered making this a regular feature on your blog? You could do what you did to mine and then invite people to add comments of their own. What great practice that would be for everyone involved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are very welcome, Randy. And, yes, I have considered making this a regular feature... though it doesn't appear that anyone else is inclined to comment. PROBABLY because I already said everything and they are all struck dumb by my obvious wisdom. "Why isn't this girl published?" they are asking themselves.

      What a mysterious world we live in. ;)

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    2. I suppose it is possible that there would be more comments if this were a regular feature and they knew you really wanted everyone's input. Why don't you give it a test trial and I will make sure to throw in my 2 cents worth in the comment section. Maybe that will prod others to do the same.

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