Ask Daphne! About My Query LVI

May 14th, 2010 • Kate

summersandalsAs a contrast with last week’s post where I analyzed each and every line of the query, today I’m going to let you do the heavy lifting. Let’s see what we have, shall we?

Dear Daphne:

Marguerite Navarre is an Argent, part of the aristocratic race of her country, Maore. Everything changes when her home compound is attacked by fierce, sword welding blackbirds that murder her parents. She escapes to be rescued by young men of the subservient race of Silvers. Silvers are prevented by law from owning property, learning to read, or associating with Argents. But outside after curfew, these men do not follow the rules. Marguerite convinces the Silvers to help her flee to the capital to warn the Empereur. Along the way, she discovers that Silvers are more than she has been told.

Reaching the capital, Marguerite is confronted by the Empereur with extraordinary news. She has manifested the lost magic of her world. A magic that only works when a Silver and an Argent together form a bond called heartsouls. It can only be a joke of the Spirits that her heartsoul is her opposite in every way, from his enormous confidence to his astonishing lack of scruples.

Empereur Agenor dreams of using the mismatched couple to bring magic back to the country by removing the hostility between the races. But this cannot happen if the Argents continue to die. To this end, Empereur Agenor demands Marguerite and her unpredictable heartsoul become weapons to stop those responsible for continuing to murder her race.

Now Marguerite must face the disdain of her fellow Argents and trust the charming Silver with whom she has bonded, despite the ease with which he lies.

My completed novel, Heartsouls, is an epic fantasy at just over 140,000 words. It is the first of a series, with the second well on its way. This being my first novel, I have no previous publications to boast of or professional accolades.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.
M.H.

So, I look to you for the specifics of this query review. I will tell you what concerns me, in general, is that we’re introduced to so many different names — of people, of races, of enemies, of loves — that the story gets lost in the world-building. I want to know how Marguerite and the unnamed Silver feel about being used by their ruler, not just his plan.

What do you think?

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13 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LVI”

  1. Jess Says:

    I love doing this. Thanks for the opportunity. 😀

    Okay. *blows hair out of face* As I read this, the word that stayed with me is murky. The plot is murky and the writing is murky. I am a DEVIL about pronouns and their antecedents and this writer has me asking, who is being referred to? more than once. I hate that. (Personal tic.)

    That said, the idea underneath the murk seems like a good one. But because of the murky writing, when I got to the 140k word count, I sat back. I am SURE that could be cut if the writing were gone over better.

    This query needs focus. If the relationship between the Argent and the Silver is at the heart of the novel (no pun intended) he needs a name and the others don't. Daphne is right, all the world-building details bog it down.

    I'm unsure on the plot, too. I know epic fantasy can be a beast to sum up, but what is the major conflict? Getting to the capital safely after the attack? Fighting the crazy blackbird things for the emperor after the bond? Fighting against the bond? There are a lot of elements here and I'm not sure which one is the story.

    The world sounds rich and inviting, but I want the personal stuff on why I should care about Marguerite and her struggle (which, again, needs to be specified better).

    I think the query (and maybe the book) needs another pass for clarity.

    And, okay…. how the heck do blackbirds wield swords??

  2. Krista V. Says:

    All right, I'm going to try to go line-by-line, making a comment at everything that trips me up.

    "Marguerite Navarre is an Argent, part of the aristocratic race of her country, Maore. Everything changes when her home compound is attacked by fierce, sword welding blackbirds that murder her parents."

    Seems like there should be a more exciting opener than "Marguerite's an Argent." Also, "everything changes when…" comes across as cliche to me, especially since we don't know how everything was before to appreciate how it changes. (And I think you mean "sword WIELDING.")

    "Silvers are prevented by law from owning property, learning to read, or associating with Argents. But outside after curfew, these men do not follow the rules."

    You could probably cut most of this. Letting us know that they're a subservient race, and that they don't always follow the rules, is enough.

    "Along the way, she discovers that Silvers are more than she has been told."

    This line is too vague to be helpful. How are they more than she's been told?

    "Reaching the capital, Marguerite is confronted by the Empereur with extraordinary news. She has manifested the lost magic of her world. A magic that only works when a Silver and an Argent together form a bond called heartsouls. It can only be a joke of the Spirits that her heartsoul is her opposite in every way, from his enormous confidence to his astonishing lack of scruples."

    This paragraph is all right, although you could probably trim it down a bit. However, I do find it strange that you mention a lot of other names specifically, but not the second most important character's (the Silver with whom Marguerite has bonded).

    "Now Marguerite must face the disdain of her fellow Argents and trust the charming Silver with whom she has bonded, despite the ease with which he lies."

    This is all right, but as Daphne pointed out, it only hints at Marguerite's response to the situation. Spelling that out a little better will add to the plot description and flesh her character out a little more.

    Good luck with this. The word count might be a tad high for a first novel, even in the fantasy genre, but it does sound like something I'd want to read.

  3. Krista V. Says:

    Great overall points, Jess. You're totally right that identifying and highlighting the major conflict is what this query needs.

  4. Jami G. Says:

    As far as the query itself, I have the same comments as the others: too many characters/names/races and too murky to identify the actual plot. If I were an agent, I'd look at this and see too many details that didn't need to be there. Then I'd get to the word count of the novel and see that not just as a query problem but as a writing style problem.

    Believe me, I know how hard this is. I went through a query critique with Daphne when my novel was at 120K – and I thought that was great compared to the 136K I started at. But when you really look at every word of every sentence, you'd be amazed how much flab exists. From dialogue tags to adverbs/adjectives, overwriting, spoon-feeding of information instead of subtext, etc. After my hack-n-slash, my WIP is approaching 95K. So it can be done. 🙂 Good luck!

  5. mi Says:

    for me, three things jumped out right away.

    1) this is epic fantasy, but the author has used the name of a famous french aristocrat for her main character.

    2) "argent" means silver in french. i don't know if the author did this intentionally for some sort of big reveal in this book, or later in the series, but the query does not seem to reflect that.

    3) is this supposed to be set in the comoros islands? because if it is the french didn't colonize until the mid 1800's and this seems to predate that.

  6. write-brained Says:

    YIKES, here goes. I would totally pare this down first. Something like:

    Marguerite Navarre is an Argent, part of the aristocratic race of her country, Maore. Her home compound is attacked by fierce, sword welding blackbirds that murder her parents. She is rescued by young men of the subservient race of Silvers.

    Reaching the capital, Marguerite is confronted by the Empereur with extraordinary news. She has manifested the lost magic of her world. A magic that only works when a Silver and an Argent together form a bond called heartsouls. It can only be a joke of the Spirits that her heartsoul is her opposite in every way, from his enormous confidence to his astonishing lack of scruples.

    Empereur Agenor dreams of using the mismatched couple to bring magic back to the country by removing the hostility between the races.

    Now Marguerite must face the disdain of her fellow Argents and trust the charming Silver with whom she has bonded, despite the ease with which he lies.

    My completed novel, Heartsouls, is an epic fantasy at just over 140,000 words. It is the first of a series, with the second well on its way.

    And then from there make it even more succinct. I think it might need a killer first line for a hook.

    Not sure if that was helpful or not. Good luck!

  7. Michelle Says:

    Here is the reworked query I came up with recently. Still long but with the male lead's name added and other names removed. Let me know what other details can be taken out and if the hook works.

    Over hundreds of years, the people of Maore divided their society and turned their backs on magic. The races split, and magic died and was forgotten. Argents hold all the power and the more numerous Silvers live as peasants, all contact between them restricted.

    The ancient magic of heartsouls requires a pair of soul mates, one Argent and the other Silver. The magic of fire and air grows stronger as the couple draw closer. With the right knowledge, anyone may use the magic- if they can locate their heartsoul. Someone has rediscovered the magic and is prepared to kill to keep it. Removing the small population of Argent will eliminate any competition.

    Fleeing from the first attack on Argents, Marguerite Navarre stumbles into a group of Silvers and unwittingly finds her heartsoul. One of the elite Argents, Marguerite’s life was filled with smug, boring people and endless lectures on duty. Serious and shy, she finds a new world with the Silvers, and their freedom fascinates her.

    Marguerite is both drawn to and repelled by her soul mate. Jorge is her opposite in every way, from his enormous confidence to his complete lack of scruples. He is a flirt and a tease, hiding behind lies and evasions but, like a bee to a flower, she cannot resist his charm.

    As attacks against Argents continue, blame focuses on Silvers. Marguerite is faced with anger for loving Jorge. To remain with him, she must reconcile the races. Together they search for those responsible for murdering the Argents. Marguerite must learn the magic of heartsouls and trust Jorge before time runs out for her and the Argents.

    Usual ending here.

    Thanks for all the help.

  8. Vivienne Grainger Says:

    "Argent" is the heraldic term for "silver." Margaret of Navarre is an historical personage. Props to the author for using the real world creatively, but the quality of the writing in the query itself isn't that strong.

    I might eventually sign this person, but I'd ask some hard questions about how she feels about being edited first. If she wants to learn, great! If her stance is that she already knows how to write, bye-bye.

  9. Janet B Says:

    Both versions spend too much time explaining the set up, take too long to get to the main conflict, and don't give the conflict enough tension. The latest version makes the mistake of going straight into world building, and doesn't hook us.

    If this is based upon historical figures and not just a place you imagined, shouldn't that be explained in the query?

    Try again and utilize more of the very specific suggestions you've been given here. And make both the query and the book shorter. For the query, try to get the part describing the book down to no more than 3 short paragraphs–one for the hook, one for the world, one for the dilemna the MC faces.

    Good luck. This query stuff is very hard work!

  10. Mechelle Says:

    WHAT YOU DID WELL:

    1. Unlike "mi" above, I thought the Argent=silver thing was an interesting twist/play on words. I'm fluent in French, so I didn't think it was weird, just intriguining. As I read, I'm hoping you'll eventually use this play on words as a plot device. You don't need to say that in the query though. I think there's enough here to indicate that it might be the case.

    2. I think the title is appropriate, and it draws me in. I like the idea of a soulmate, and you get that from the title.

    3. You gave a word count and the genre. This is a must.

    WHAT YOU NEED TO WORK ON:

    1. I agree with Janet B. There's far too much backstory in the query. The final paragraph of the second version–"As attacks against Argents continue, blame focuses on Silvers (etc…) before time runs out for her and the Argents."–this is the crux of the story. It tells what Marguerite's big problem is. That's all an agent needs to know in a query letter. What problem exists? What complication needs solved. The other stuff is a red flag saying, "My novel is all setup and no action" and that will turn an agent off in a hurry.

    2. Don't forget to include a paragraph that explains why you've chosen this agent. Do a little research about your agent, and make sure they're the person you want. Then include something in the query that tells them you're not just querying them along with a hundred other agents.

    3. Cut the synop down to maybe half a dozen sentences or so. I know, I know, easier said than done–especially with an epic fantasy. But agents read gobs of queries at once. You've got to cut it back some for the sake of the agent's sanity.

    Best of luck to you.

  11. Jami G. Says:

    Michelle,

    I think your reworked query is clearer for the plot, but it still needs tightening and, as Janet mentioned, forgoes characterization for world-building. See if you can combine these elements:

    ***

    Marguerite Navarre has never known her Maore society to be anything but divided, as the powerful Argent race prohibits contact with the more numerous Silvers. As one of the elite Argents, her life is filled with smug, boring people and endless lectures on duty. She doesn't know the segregation of the races is only a ruse to keep magic out of the world.

    But someone has rediscovered magic and is prepared to kill the small population of Argents to keep it to themselves. When she flees from an attack upon her people, Marguerite stumbles into a group of peasant Silvers and unwittingly finds her heartsoul, the one Silver man who can ignite magic with her.

    Fascinated by the Silvers' freedom, she is both drawn to and repelled by Jorge, her opposite in every way, from his enormous confidence to his complete lack of scruples. But as attacks against Argents continue, blame focuses on Silvers. Marguerite must learn the magic of heartsouls and trust Jorge to help her find those responsible for the attacks before time runs out for her and her people.

    ***

    Obviously, I don't actually know the story or your voice, but I'm just trying to show that there are ways to combine character info with world-building. Hopefully this will give you some ideas.

    Good Luck!

    Jami G.

  12. mi Says:

    michelle, i think jamie g. has given you some great advice with the reworked query.

    and i'm afraid i wasn't clear enough with my comment regarding the argent/silver usage, as mechelle thought i was being critical.

    i didn't know if there was going to be a plot point revealed within this book or later in the series connecting the two societies.

    also, could this be considered a cross genre with historical fiction? i'm assuming you are using the actual comoros islands as a setting.

  13. Prince Says:

    i want to submit to ask daphne! about my query. some please tell me the procedure.