Tuesday, October 2, 2012

HNTWAQ: Practice 5

It's the first Tuesday of October and I'm back with another....

Read the rest here
This time my tribute (her word, not mine, but it was so fun I had to steal it) is Mara Valderran (@MaraValderran). Mara was kind enough to provide me with two versions of her query. One was her very first query draft and was adorably clueless (she admits that). I'm going to be helpful and critique her current query, but I might have to post her first draft some other time, just in case someone hasn't yet learned what Mara has.

If this is your first time here, remember that what doesn't work for me might work just fine for an agent. I'm mostly trying to pinpoint what I got out of the query and what I think it might be lacking. Feel free to ignore any and all advice you don't like.

First, her intact current query:
Prophecies are no different from horoscopes in the back of Cosmo, as Zelene would say. She likes to remind people that Y2K came and went without the world ending, and, yes, the world will continue to spin after the Mayan calendar ends. She does not realize she is part of an ancient prophesy of five girls born into a powerful bloodline that would bring about the end of a generations-long power struggle among worlds. She is not even aware of worlds beyond this one.
Zelene learns of the destiny the prophecy demands of her and the family she was separated from as an infant when she is ripped from the world she has known her whole life and dragged back to the one of her birth. She is reunited one by one with the other three girls but finds that her twin sister is notably absent. Ariana has been captured by enemies intent on sacrificing her in order to gain her powers and Zelene can’t help but shudder at how easily she could have ended up in Ariana’s shoes. When she questions the lack of rescue efforts, the elders tell her to focus on learning the ways of their world and how to tap into her own magic. But Zelene has never been the best at doing what she is told.
Zelene is quick to realize what is at stake. Without Ariana as the fifth, the foretold peace and healing of the war-torn worlds cannot come to pass, and the war will spill over into the world she has known as home. She knows she has to find a way to ignite the power locked within herself to save Ariana, or she risks leaving the fates of millions to a vague prophecy and the arcane politics that brought about the war in the first place.

My first impression is that the idea of a group of prophesied youngsters scattered through the universe is very fun. It reminds me of Escape to Witch Mountain, a book I loved growing up. (Love the movies, too.) I think there's a love of great information here, but not all of it is, perhaps, as directed as it could be. Let's start with my 5 favorite questions (yeah, there used to be 4 until this post):

1: Who is the protagonist? Zelene, who was born on another planet and raised on Earth. She is 1/5 of a group of girls prophesied to bring an end to a long-standing inter-world conflict. What isn't quite clear  is her relationship to the other 4 girls. One is her twin sister--did she know she had a twin sister? If not, did she sense her absence her whole life? The prophecy is making demands on her family, so it seems that the other girls are related to her somehow. Cousins? Other siblings? Also, who raised her on earth? Where were the other girls raised? Was she happy here? Did she have any clues about her heritage or was she planning to become a dentist when she grew up? What goals did she have to abandon when prophecy came knocking? The query doesn't really hint at any moments of "Wait! I don't wanna go!" Bring some of that emotion out and we'll connect to your character a bit better. Was she excited to embark on her prophesied adventure or sad to leave the only life she'd known?

Also, the query mentions powers, but not what they are. When did Zelene find out she had powers? What are they? Are they the same as the other girls' or different?

2: What does she want? The really important plot goal is that she wants her sister back so that they can fulfill their destiny. This is a great goal with wonderful layers. Keep in mind, though, that a war is never black and white (something you hinted at in the first draft). Unless the five together can control the minds of all the people on all the warring planets, peace will only come through bloody force or by negotiated consent. Or both. So who does she want to win? What makes the other side bad? What is the plan for restoring peace? Will the Fab 5 become a weapon akin to a super-nova? The kind of thing that will intimidate their enemies into submission? Why do they trust the prophecy?

It might also be good to hint at what she plans to do once peace is restored. Does she want to go back to ordinary Earth or bask in the Fab 5 lime-light out in the cosmos?

3: What stands in her way? Enemies. Yeah, this is a bit vague. I like that we know what they did--they kidnapped Ariana--and what they're going to do--sacrifice her for her powers--but I'm not happy with the facelessness. Is there an easy way to name them? Are they the main bad guys? What is their goal? If they win the war, what will they do with their victory? How will Ariana's powers help them?

It also seems like the elders are standing in her way a bit, since they aren't lifting a finger to rescue Ariana. Which, frankly, doesn't make a lot of sense. They've poured a lot of time and effort into this Fab 5 enterprise, and if their super weapon won't work without all five, they have to be frantic. Now, I'm going to assume that they have plans of their own going that they're not telling Zelene, but how does Zelene explain their inaction to herself? Do they put her off with "We have our best people working on it" or do they just tell her to mind her own training? Why don't they try to placate her?

4: What will happen if she fails? Her sister (who Zelene has never met) will be sacrificed and all hope for lasting peace will be lost. Which begs the question(s): How long does it take to sacrifice someone? What is the countdown? How much time does Zelene have to rescue her? Also, why isn't everyone else panicked? More details on the enemies will help this, since surely they're more concerned about losing the war than continuing the war. What will the enemies do if they win? What will life be like?

5: What will she have to do to succeed? She has to find a way to "ignite the power locked within herself." I guess. I have no clear picture of what that will look like or how easy the task will be to accomplish once the power is unlocked. If her power is god-like, she should spend all her time in meditation (sort of boring) because then she'll be able to do whatever she wants with a thought. If, however, her powers are more limited (which I'm assuming is the case, since you're planning a multi-book series), will she also have to travel through treacherous space to get to the planet where they're holding her sister? Is there someone who will be helping her with that? Can one of the other girls teleport? You don't have to lay out the entire plan, but give us a hint. What is Zelene's power? How will it help her get her sister back? So far, all we really have is a problem that needs solving. Give me a picture of what the actual story/plot/action of the book will be.


Reeling yet? Let's see if I can help carve out some room in the query for everything I want you to add:
Prophecies are no different from horoscopes in the back of Cosmo, as Zelene would say. She likes to remind people that Y2K came and went without the world ending, and, yes, the world will continue to spin after the Mayan calendar ends. She does not realize she is part of an ancient prophesy of five girls born into a powerful bloodline that would bring about the end of a generations-long power struggle among worlds. She is not even aware of worlds beyond this one.
I like that this first paragraph grounds us in modern times, but you use too much space to do it, IMO. See if there is a half-sentence way to do the same thing. Mentioning Cosmo is fine, but this is really a huge paragraph that only really says that Zelene is part of a prophecy she knows nothing about. Try something like this: Sixteen-year-old Zelene mocks the horoscopes in the back of Cosmo and would laugh hysterically if someone suggested that a prophecy made about her--on another plant, no less--would change her whole life.

There's really no need to say what she is NOT aware of. It doesn't tell us much about her. Stick to her reactions to what she knows or will learn.
Zelene learns of the destiny the prophecy demands of her and the family she was separated from as an infant when she is ripped from the world she has known her whole life and dragged back to the one of her birth.
HOW does she learn of her destiny? Passive language is a killer in queries, too. Perhaps especially. We need pictures and lots of them. Also, try to keep things in time-line order. This first sentence keeps looping: she learns of her destiny, a few words later she's being separated from her family as an infant, then she's all grown up and ripped from the world she's known and THEN she learns her destiny? Try something like: On the eve of her school prom, Zelene's bedroom on Earth vanishes and she finds herself standing in the middle of a crowded assembly hall on Otherplanet, 5 billion light years away. There, she learns that her birth family is cursed with magical powers and prophesied to end an interstellar war that has been raging for centuries.
She is reunited one by one with the other three girls but finds that her twin sister is notably absent. Ariana has been captured by enemies intent on sacrificing her in order to gain her powers and Zelene can’t help but shudder at how easily she could have ended up in Ariana’s shoes. When she questions the lack of rescue efforts, the elders tell her to focus on learning the ways of their world and how to tap into her own magic. But Zelene has never been the best at doing what she is told.
"THE other three girls" suggests that there are only four, which you contradicted in the first paragraph. The "notably" adverb is superflous--if there are supposed to be 5 and there are only 4, it is easy to see that one is missing. I'd suggest using this part to explain the prophecy and the relationship between the girls (cousins??), and then just mention that there's a problem: Ariana, the twin sister Zelene has never known, has been captured (implies missing). Then tell us the name of the enemy and what they will do if they are able to extract Ariana's powers. Also, here is a good spot to mention the ticking clock--how long until Ariana dies?

It's really hard to provide concrete evidence of the "lack" of something, and saying that the elders aren't trying to save Ariana--without explaining why--is a mite confusing for a query. Perhaps you can simply say that Zelene is desperate to help rescue her unknown sister, but the elders force her to spend long hours training with Guru, who is teaching her to use her fire/ice/telekinetic/whatever magic. Might mention also that the elders are silent on what they may or may not be doing to rescue her. Don't say they're NOT doing it--but you can hint that Zelene doesn't think they are, if you must (but only if she also has a theory for WHY).
Zelene is quick to realize what is at stake. Without Ariana as the fifth, the foretold peace and healing of the war-torn worlds cannot come to pass, and the war will spill over into the world she has known as home. She knows she has to find a way to ignite the power locked within herself to save Ariana, or she risks leaving the fates of millions to a vague prophecy and the arcane politics that brought about the war in the first place.
Don't say that characters realize something--I'm going to assume she's smart or she wouldn't be the MC. Just say what the stakes are. Also, if you can use one word to replace seven, do it. You've established Earth as the planet she grew up on--maybe mention "her family on Earth" if you want to make more of an emotional connection. Mostly, there are a lot of planets mentioned without names--that can get confusing.

On the rest, I sort of get lost. Tell us how her specific power will help get Ariana back, what the Fab 5 can do to restore peace, and hint at what the action of the plot will look like. It's soooo tempting to turn vague at the end of the query, because you don't want to give away all your secrets, but, really: what's the story? What is the first step she will have to take on the journey to restore her sister? 

The last little bit is probably best left off or completely rewritten--there's a vague prophecy that she's simultaneously trying to fulfill AND that millions will be left at the mercy of should she fail? Aren't prophecies sort of omnipresent? Millions of fates will be subject to the prophecy either way, right? Then that mention of arcane politics right at the end is also confusing--you haven't mentioned it through the rest of the query (though maybe you should have) so it feels sort of tacked on. What are "arcane politics" anyway? Will the Fab 5 be doing something magically political? How, exactly, do they plan to end this war? Can we have a hint?

Okay, I'll stop there. To sum up:
1. More insight on Zelene's character and what drives her.
2. More specifics on what the magic does and how it will make a difference--especially how the Fab5 will be able to stop a long-term war (or how everyone thinks they can)
3. More details on what Zelene will DO to rescue Ariana.
4. Streamline everything, cutting out needless or confusing information.

Thanks, Mara, for letting me muck around in your query. *round of applause for Mara for volunteering* I'm happy to look at the next version for either another blog post or a more private critique (though I do love showing everyone how much your query can improve).

What about everyone else? What did you like about her query? What worked for you? What parts confused you? Do you disagree with any of my advice? (Please feel free!)

4 comments:

  1. I say you are a cleaver-wielding goddess. And I can't wait to see what you do with the next draft!

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  2. You really are^! You should totally be an editor:-)

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  3. Aww, thanks, girls! :) Now if only I could see my own query as clearly....

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