Ask Daphne! About My Query LXIX

August 20th, 2010 • Kate

lacelouboutinsI’m traveling this morning, so I thought we’d try something a little different. Presented, without comment, Becky’s query:

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

Jae is cursed: like all serfs, she must obey any order, answer any question, and speak only truth. She’s learned that the easiest — and safest — way to get along is to keep from being noticed by anyone with so much as a hint of power, but even that is out of her control. When she catches the eye of Lord Elan Raedan, a nobleman in disgrace for embarrassing his family, he drags her along on a seemingly-mad quest. Elan is convinced that the legendary Well is going dry, that without it their world will turn to dust and be reclaimed by the desert wasteland around it — and that saving the Well is the only thing that will redeem him.

Jae isn’t even sure that the Well exists when Elan drags her into the desert to search for it. But then strange things start to happen. A freak sandstorm drives them away from the rest of the searchers. They find an underground oasis that shouldn’t exist at all. And Jae starts to feel something, some strange power, coursing through her blood and crying out for help. Maybe Elan isn’t crazy; maybe the Well is real, and just maybe, she and Elan really can save it before the world goes dry forever — but only if she can learn to control her powers. Only if she can learn to trust Elan.

Only if she dares to do what nobody else can, and break the serfs’ curse forever.

The Serf’s Curse is an 80,000-word YA fantasy novel. I think it will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, as they both center around strong — if very different — female protagonists who come into their own over the course of the story, and they both feature major romantic subplots. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Becky

What do you think? What would you advise her to change, or fix? Or is it perfect the way it is? You get to play Daphne for the day (go ahead, try on the shoes!), but I’ll check back later this afternoon (or over the weekend, depending on how things go) and add my comments to yours.

Have fun, and be nice!

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

Tags: , ,


12 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXIX”

  1. Rachel Menard Says:

    Becky – this sounds like a really intriguing story. If I were an agent, I would request to see more. Of course, you can always take a good query and make it great.

    I think you could tighten up some of your sentences. Some of them went on a bit long and got confusing by the end. For example:

    She’s learned that the easiest…it was a little wordy.

    You could simplify it with:

    She’s learned that the easiest — and safest — way to get along is to avoid anyone with a hint of power, but even that is out of her control.

    In the second paragraph there are a couple of cliches:

    But then strange things start to happen. (But it was really good that you outlined what the "strange things" were after using this phrase.)

    And your last line:

    Only if she dares to do what nobody else can, and break the serfs’ curse forever.

    It sounds a little movie tag line, and I've read that a lot of agents do not like those.

    Again, though, I think this is a good query and thank you for having the guts to share.

  2. Mandy Says:

    The biggest catch for me is the "Well". I've read a lot of fantasy books where there is a well that isn't actually a water well, so when I read "legendary Well" my thought was "Well of what?"–Well of power? Well of the Stars? Well of Water? If it is a water well, you might want to specify, because even though the fact that it's "going dry" might indicate its a water well, a well of power could also go dry.

    And of course I understand if they think its a well of water and discover its actually a well of power, but I think you should just say what kind of well they think it is.

    I really thought for the most part that the query reads very well. I am intrigued by the idea of an entire class of people that has no choice but to obey another. The world would be a very different place today (undoubtedly for the worse) if serfs and slaves of the past (and present) had no choice and had to obey.

  3. Krista V. Says:

    I agree with Rachel. I think you presented the story well, and it definitely sounds intriguing. A little tightening is all this needs.

    For instance, you should omit the hyphen in the phrase "a seemingly-mad quest." And in the second paragraph, "Jae starts to feel something, some strange power, coursing through her blood…" could become "Jae starts to feel some strange power coursing through her blood…"

    Best of luck.

  4. Becky Says:

    Thank you all for your responses! 😀 I'm sure people would be shocked to hear that my revising process consists of a lot of cutting confusing/pointless words and phrases, because apparently I'll never settle for using four or five words if I can find a way to use ten or fifteen instead…

    @Mandy, I'll definitely give that some thought. I'm at a point where I have trouble telling what's clear to me because I know all of the backstory, and what's actually clear from just what I've said in the query. I'm afraid of getting bogged down in the query with too many worldbuilding details, but I'll definitely rethink that phrase to make sure it's clear that the Well is … uh, water-powered magic. (You hit that pretty dead on, actually. *g*)

    Thanks again! I'm still open to any feedback if anyone has further thoughts. 🙂

  5. Jess Says:

    Um. I don't know. I'm always more critical than everybody else. *has mini-existential crisis* But here are my thoughts.

    I’m traveling this morning, so I thought we’d try something a little different. Presented, without comment, Becky’s query:

    Jae is cursed: like all serfs, she must obey any order, answer any question, and speak only truth. [is there some kind of magical bind or is curse just in the sense of sucks-to-be-you?] She’s learned that the easiest — and safest — way to get along is to keep from being noticed by anyone with so much as a hint of power, but even that is out of her control. When she catches the eye of Lord Elan Raedan, a nobleman in disgrace for embarrassing his family, he drags her along on a seemingly-mad quest. Elan is convinced that the legendary Well is going dry, that without it their world will turn to dust and be reclaimed by the desert wasteland around it — and that saving the Well is the only thing that will redeem him. [so far so good, but I'd want a line about why Elan thinks he needs Jae along.]

    Jae isn’t even sure that the Well exists when Elan drags her into the desert to search for it. But then strange things start to happen. A freak sandstorm drives them away from the rest of the searchers. They find an underground oasis that shouldn’t exist at all. [Great.] And Jae starts to feel something, some strange power, coursing through her blood and crying out for help. [and you're losing me. I'm feeling really jaded lately about teens finding powers] Maybe Elan isn’t crazy; maybe the Well is real, and just maybe, she and Elan really can save it before the world goes dry forever — but only if she can learn to control her powers. Only if she can learn to trust Elan. [and I'm gone. what does her discovering she has power have anything to do with finding a well? what does trusting Elan have to do with controlling her powers? these are the kinds of lines you find in queries that don't say anything but everyone thinks they have to have. I can just hear Movie Announcer Guy saying them, you know?]

    Only if she dares to do what nobody else can, and break the serfs’ curse forever. [I still don't understand what this is, or what difference it makes.]

    The Serf’s Curse is an 80,000-word YA fantasy novel. I think it will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, as they both center around strong — if very different — female protagonists who come into their own over the course of the story, and they both feature major romantic subplots. Thank you for your time.

  6. Becky Says:

    Thank you, Jess. That's certainly a lot to think about, and most of your points are things I can indeed clarify, once I figure out how to do so concisely. Jae's powers are tied directly to the Well can I can be a lot more specific about what they are, which will hopefully make it feel less generic. Explaining how she and Elan are stuck together throughout is less easy, but now that you've pointed it out, I think it would indeed be good to add, since it's a huge part of the story. Thank you so much for taking the time. 🙂

  7. Jess Says:

    You're welcome, I just hope I didn't come off mean. Sorry, wasn't my intent at all! It sounds like a fun book. 🙂

  8. Jenn Says:

    I'll keep this short by saying three things:

    1. This sounds exactly like Ella Enchanted without the comedy.

    2. I agree with those above who recommended you tighten your sentences.

    3. I'm interested to know what's in the well. I immediately think water and especially because of the surrounding desert bit I'm leaning that way but since there are powers invovled….I'm curious to learn more.

  9. Becky Says:

    @Jenn, I wasn't actually familiar with Ella Enchanted, but from looking it up on Wiki, I can see how it would be easy to make that leap. It doesn't sound like there's more than a very general element in common, but I'll see if there's a way to make sure that's clear when I revise. Thanks for the heads up on that.

  10. Jenn Says:

    @Becky: I think you should just watch the movie and make sure you aren't doing anything they did. The idea hasn't been worn to the ground so I think you're fine. Just thought you'd want to know about similarity. It's not like it was a groundbreaking blockbuster type movie. 🙂

  11. Kate Says:

    Thanks to all of you for your comments, and to Becky for sharing her query with us. I'm sorry for the delay in adding my own thoughts, but for the most part, I think you guys have hit on what I would seek to change or improve. For me, the biggest question is why Elan needs Jae along on his quest, and what their connection is both before and after the (somewhat inevitable, I guess) romance plot.

    In addition to what's been said already, I think you hint at some really intriguing bits about Elan — his "seemingly-mad" quest and the fact that he "maybe isn't crazy" makes he think maybe he is — or that he acts so, and that's part and parcel of why he embarrassed his family. That's the kind of detail that I think can make a high fantasy novel stand out from other quest novels, especially one in which (as another commenter noted) the MC discovers a special power.

    Good luck!

  12. Becky Says:

    Thank you, Kate! (Psh, delay in doing me an enormous favor, how dare you? :-P)

    I'm definitely clarifying about her powers, because I don't think they're super-standard-to-genre (or so I hope, at least) and I want to make that clear. I'm having a bit more trouble with why Elan brings Jae along (it's basically right time/right place), which actually looks like something I may need to strengthen in the ms itself.

    Hmm… *contemplates* Thanks again (to everyone!).