Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXIV

December 11th, 2009 • Kate

book_shoeVery bookish shoes (thanks to Sara Raasch!) for Kathleen, who contributed today’s About My Query post. All the usual rules apply: be nice, be helpful, be constructive! Ready, go!

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

To escape a loveless marriage, Nicholas and Aaryanna, two characters in an unfinished romance novel, give their author writer’s block. They enter a realm of Fiction, coincidentally nicknamed “Writer’s Block” where the characters live while their authors are unable to write. Aaryanna pursues an inter-book relationship with a warrior prince from another novel. Nicholas learns it is possible to enter Reality and either permanently Block his author, or become Real, like the great King Arthur.

Nicholas’ time to achieve Reality is limited. At any moment Anne could begin writing again, which would instantly send him back to the book. Also, he is not the only fictional character in Reality. Fictional characters have roamed Reality for centuries, seeking their authors in order to become Real. Real people call them “supernatural” and they are drawn to Nicholas.

Nicholas decides that the best way to distract Anne is to date her. When she plays a game of “He loves me, he loves me not”, he has no choice but to fall in love with her. Before he can tell her that he loves her, (and potentially ruin their relationship: Real people don’t fall in love in three days), the fictional villain, Baron Farent, enters Reality. He kidnaps Anne in order to lure Nicholas back to Writer’s Block, where he hopes to imprison him in the Beastlands. Nicholas must return to the Block to rescue Anne, before the Baron realizes he’s kidnapped his author and can control the rest of the book.

Unfortunately Nicholas has become Real and is no longer a Fictional match for the Baron.

Writer’s Block is complete at 60,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Kathleen

Wow. There is a LOT going on here. This kind of detailed alternate reality story is hard to tell in a brief query, and I fear leads to some confusion. There’s ways to simplify though — first of all, the idea of Nicholas and Aaryanna giving their author writer’s block and then moving to a place called “Writer’s Block” seems unnecessarily punny. The fact that Nicholas’ author is named Anne, and this erstwhile leading lady is also a type of “Anna” makes me ponder if the author is trying to write herself into her story, which adds yet another level of confusion.

You also trip me up, personally, with the throwaway line that King Arthur is a character that became Real. Maybe another agent would think that’s neat, but I have a senior thesis in Arthurian literature that would argue this point ad infinitum.

Anyway, moving one, I think you might want to consider dropping Aaryanna from the query entirely. (And, as a side note, I’m already getting annoyed typing out that name. I’ve never seen it spelled that way.) Let your query concentrate on Nicholas, and his adventures in and out of Reality. Which raises another confusing point — you use the word “Reality” both to describe the real world, and Nicholas’ dream of becoming — like Pinocchio — a real boy. This makes sentences like “Nicholas’ time to achieve Reality is limited. At any moment Anne could begin writing again, which would instantly send him back to the book. Also, he is not the only fictional character in Reality” extra confusing, because Nicholas is IN Reality, but has not ACHIEVED Reality.

Your phrasing in the next paragraph also makes me wonder if you’re being as clear as you could be. “When she plays a game of “He loves me, he loves me not”, he has no choice but to fall in love with her. Before he can tell her that he loves her, (and potentially ruin their relationship: Real people don’t fall in love in three days)” Does Nicholas have no choice to fall in love with Anne because she’s his creator? Is he forced into it because she’s thinking he does?

I think this query raises more questions than it asnwers, but ultimately not the kind that would have me immediately digging into the pages to learn more. But maybe my readers have some other great thoughts on how to fix it. The comments are open!

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8 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXIV”

  1. Kristi Says:

    Okay, I felt a little bogged down in details reading this and then got plain confused. One point of confusion was that if Nicholas was real enough to date an author in Reality, I don't know how much more real he could get – so it was confusing that he somehow wasn't real. Also, the villain of the story appeared to come out of nowhere in the last paragraph so I didn't get a good sense of him and why he wanted to capture Nicholas.

    As far as suggestions, I would simplify the query and leave all the details to the synopsis. What caught my attention as a good hook was the concept of two characters in an unfinished romance novel who want out of their marriage but need the author's help. As the rest of the query focuses on Nicholas, I agree with Kate that a good way to streamline the query is to concentrate on him. Also, you may want to re-examine the terminology in the ms surrounding Reality, Real, realm of Fiction, etc. to see if it could be more clear. Best of luck!

  2. Rachel Says:

    Kathleen, I really like the idea, but I agree that the query is a little confusing. I think there is too much going on and you should focus on the core. The plot seems to be more about Nicholas, so I would get rid of Aaryanna. Also, I am not quite sure why Reality and Fiction are capitalized. Are these names of places? If so, I might consider changing the names, same with Writer's Block. I like it better towards the end of the query when you just say Block. It also seems like the Baron is going to play some major role, so I might mention him sooner. My life is sad and I am online on a Friday night so I did a simplified re-write, however, I am not an expert so you are welcome to tell me and my re-write where to go.

    Nicholas is a character trapped in an unfinished romance novel, but he discovers a way to give his author writer’s block so he can make his escape. He enters a realm of fiction where characters live when their creators are unable to write, and meets a few including the unsavory Baron Farent. From there, he learns that it is possible to enter reality, and live in the real world – but only for a limited time. If his author, Anne, begins writing again, he’ll be sent back to his book.

    His only chance for freedom is to find her and give her permanent writer’s block. He decides the best way to distract her is by wooing her, but as they spend time together, he can’t help falling in love with her. Before he has a chance to tell her, potentially ruining the relationship because real people don’t fall in love in three days,(I liked that line a lot) the Baron enters reality and kidnaps her in an effort to lure Nicholas back to the world of fiction. Nicholas must return to rescue her before the Baron realizes he’s kidnapped the author and has the power to control the rest of the book – and his life. But there’s one problem, Nicholas has become real and is no longer a fictional match for the Baron.

  3. Rissa Watkins Says:

    I like the idea behind the story a lot. Heck, I often picture my characters doing this sort of thing when I am not writing. 🙂

    But as the others have said, the query was confusing. I really like Rachel's rewrite.

    Definitely streamline the query. Leave out the parts about other people who have become real and the King Arthur part. I don't like the line "he has no choice but to fall in love with her" – something about it rubs me the wrong way. Is he faking it and using her to become real? Why do her actions remove his choices about falling in love with her. He should either love her or not.

    This is a book I would read. Edit the query more and I bet you will have a winner. Good luck!

  4. Adam Heine Says:

    I've seen a couple versions of this query now (Evil Editor, I think), and I'm still having trouble understanding the rules of this world. I think Rachel did a really great job of simplifying things to Nicholas and his storyline without making the rules confusing.

    In both versions, I like the penultimate line outlining the stakes: "Nicholas must return to the Block to rescue Anne, before the Baron realizes he’s kidnapped his author and can control the rest of the book."

    I'm confused about the last line though. What does it mean he's no longer a "fictional match" for the Baron? Can he not enter the fictional world anymore? Or can he enter it, but he no longer has the power he needs to beat the Baron? Both possibilities raise further questions for me, which is why I think you might delete that line entirely. Unless you can think of a brief way to make it more clear, of course.

  5. amy sue nathan Says:

    I thought of Pinocchio immediately (before reading KT's comment)…and would love to simply follow the mc's path in the query. You have an element of world building here – don't make it so complicated – because a reader can't follow along. What you want is an "OMG I must read this" reaction.

    Rewrite it with a less-is-more mindset and see what you come up with. Meaning, sometimes it's better and easier to rewrite than to revise.

    Good luck!

  6. Kathleen Says:

    Thank you very much for the comments! This is my second ever attempt at a query, and I have a lot to learn! It definitely helps to know what confuses and annoys the reader.

    For clarification purposes: In Fiction, whatever an author writes about a character instantly becomes true. In Reality, it is whatever an author says about her characters. Anne is a little confused by Nicholas (who is dating her to distract her from writing the book) and jokingly plays a game of "he loves me, he loves me not." So Nicholas quite literally starts telling his roomate that he loves Anne, but he doesn't…but he does.

    This is how he is "forced" to love Anne. If he could decide that he doesn't love her, he would become Real because that would be acting directly against his author's words. (This has to happen in Reality. A character can only become Real in Reality. Likewise a Real person could turn Fictional in Fiction.)

    And to answer you question, Adam:

    " What does it mean he’s no longer a “fictional match” for the Baron? Can he not enter the fictional world anymore?"

    The second answer is right. (Real people sometimes enter the world of Fiction through supernatural places such as the Bermuda Triangle and Haunted houses.)

    In the book that Anne is writing, Nicholas is prophesied to be the only mage powerful enough to defeat the Baron. When he becomes real, he loses most of the magic that enables him to fight the Baron. He also no longer has the physical stamina of a fictional hero. So in order to escape the Baron, Anne has to figure out a way to defeat him without the failsafe aid of prophecy. I'm not sure how to shorten that enough for the query, so I will definitely consider leaving that line out.

    Thank you again for the comments!

  7. Stina Says:

    The concept reminds me of the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke, in which characters are read out of books by gifted individuals. It was also made into a movie. I could guarantee there's quite a few teenage girls in my neigborhood who would pay me heavily if I could read Edward Cullen out of Twilight. 😀 And what romance writer hasn't dreamed of her hot blooded, broad shouldered hero stepping out of the pages of her novel, and enveloping her in his sinewed arms. So I love the concept of your story. You do, though, have to make the rules of your world clearer, and I agree with cutting Aaryanna from the query and simplying it.

    And I agree with Amy Sue Nathan. Sometimes it's easier just writing from scratch than trying to revise.

    Good luck with it!

  8. Lora Says:

    I'm new here and love this query feature!

    Read the above letter and although I agree about the detail being a bit confusing and the confounding spelling of Aarayana (I teach elementary school I can get atrocious name spelling from my class list thanks), I would read this book, no question.

    I love love love your plot it sounds exciting and fun, a great read for writers. Keep up the good work, Kathleen! 🙂