Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXVIII

November 12th, 2010 • Kate

midnightaspirationsanthropologieHappy Friday, all! Welcome to another editor of About My Query. Today, I’m going to ask my readers to do the heavy lifting. I have some thoughts on this query, which I’ll share next week, but for now, I want to know what YOU think. Go to town!

Dear Super Agent,

When Lily Bryant goes for a walk after work one evening, she encounters a dragon named Skade, and her life is forever changed.

Her meeting with Skade awakens within Lily her innate magical gift, unconsciously suppressed since childhood. After speaking with Skade, Lily is both exhilarated and nervous, struggling to come to terms with the existence of. She meets Patrick Murray, who recognises her for what she is. He is a sorcerer too, with a particular talent for creating illusions. Though he is defensive about his mysterious past, Patrick and Lily quickly grow close. As Lily learns to use her magical gifts, her romance with Patrick blossoms, and she finds an unlikely mentor in Skade. The promise of happiness is shattered when they meet Xander, an ambitious sorcerer with relationship issues, whose deadly goals to conquer dragons will prove to be a danger to them all.

Lily finds that, though dragons are sophisticated and unexpectedly modern, their ancient power is unable to keep their vulnerabilities at bay when dealing with the vagaries of the human-dominated world. A venerable dragon, with a surprisingly peaceful attitude, attempts to avert aggression using Xander’s complicated ex-girlfriend. But as the day of reckoning draws closer, violence seems inevitable, and everyone’s loyalties are tested.

The Lightning Path, intended for young adults, is a contemporary fantasy story with a strong thread of romance. It is complete at 98,300 words. Set in a fictional small town against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, The Lightning Path is a stand alone novel with series potential. I hope it will appeal to you as someone who represents young adult fiction, urban fantasy and romance.

In 2004, my short story was a winning submission for the Grant MacEwan Young Writer’s Scholarship. I am a volunteer writer for an online entertainment magazine called Press+1. I have an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies.

Following your submission guidelines, I have included the first three pages in the body of the email. Thank you for considering The Lightning Path.

Best regards,
M M

As always, please be constructive in your criticism. I look forward to reading your thoughts. (Not like a mind reader. Just the ones you put in writing in the comments section.)

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18 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXVIII”

  1. Olivia Says:

    *raises hand* I would read this.

  2. Kate Says:

    Olivia, I'm going to ask you to be more specific — what makes you want to read it? Was there a particular line that worked, that hooked you in?

  3. Susan Lewis Says:

    No, I don't think I would because I have to either care about the character or at least be somewhat interested. Why would I care if her life was forever changed?

    Now, that said, I find the dragon much more interesting.

    Give me some good reasons to want to find out about Lily.

    OK, my 2 cents.

  4. Liz Czukas Says:

    Great bio paragraph. Shows you've been working at this for a while, even though you're unpublished. I like that.

    This kind of story doesn't appeal to me as a reader, so I won't comment on the content so much, but there are some technical errors.

    The most noticeable is: "After speaking with Skade, Lily is both exhilarated and nervous, struggling to come to terms with the existence of." Existence of what? Is this a missing word, I hope?

    Also, I feel like there is just too much information about the story in these two paragraphs. I don't get much of a sense of who Lily is as a character, but I know an awful lot about the plot that I probably don't need to right now. I'd like to "hear" Lily's voice as a character. I want her to convince me to read her story, not you MM.

    The first paragraph (log-line, pitch, whatever you want to call it) is a little cliche. From what I know of paranormals, this could be the pitch for any of them. Just fill-in-the-blank with your mythical creature of choice. What makes your story stand out from the rest of the paranormal canon?

    Okay, I think that's enough from me. Good luck with this! I wish you the best.

    – Liz

  5. allreb Says:

    Were I an agent, I think I'd pass at this point because I don't have much of a sense of the story.

    I think this could have used another run or two through proofing/reading aloud. Some phrases are really awkward — "Her meeting with Skade awakens within Lily her innate magical gift" and "their ancient power is unable to keep their vulnerabilities at bay when dealing with the vagaries of the human-dominated world" really stuck out to me as using some complex vocab, but doing it awkwardly.

    I also don't find a lot of specifics in the query. I'd like to care more about Lily as a character, and have some idea of what her powers are (maybe even why she repressed them) and what the deal with dragons is: what are their weaknesses, why would someone want to conquer them? I don't have a great sense of what the stakes and conflict really are here. What will happen if Xander conquers the dragons?

    That said, I think the first half of the first main paragraph is a good start: Lily meets a dragon, she develops powers, she meets other magical people. That's a fine set up, I think the rest could just use some real clarification.

  6. Deserae Says:

    Not to be argumentative, allreb, but I'm wondering what you mean when you say that there "aren't a lot of specifics." I find this query pretty thorough (if not synopsis-like) and, from my understanding, the point of a query is to be attention-grabbing and informative, but not necessarily a list of plot-points, characters, and the such. I do agree that I would like to know more about what powers she has (seeing that it's not mentioned and then all of a sudden we see that Patrick Murray is "a sorcerer too"), but overall, it does its job of getting our attention, and may at least be worth a read of the sample pages.

    I would, though, proofread for grammatical errors as this is going to be a representation of who you are as an author, MM. You don't want to give the impression that your manuscript lacks proper preliminary editing.

  7. Happy LaShelle Says:

    I think this query has great potential. But the great parts are hidden and bogged down by too many words. I don't think the paragraph detailing the dragons is necessary. Instead, I would use some sort of descriptors for the dragon in the first line hook–because it needs something more special anyway- hook me in-what's interesting about the dragon?

    The next section is good but needs tweaking. Streamline it. Every single word needs to be there for a reason–otherwise it goes. Perhaps it could be broken into two smaller hard-hitting, easier to follow paragraphs.

    here's an idea of what I mean:

    When Lily Bryant goes for a walk one evening, she encounters Skade, a (insert intriguing descriptors here) dragon who (something that he does), and her life is changed forever.

    The chance meeting awakens within Lily her innate magical gift, unconsciously suppressed since childhood. Lily is both exhilarated and nervous, struggling to come to terms with the existence of her newly discovered powers. But when she meets Patrick Murray, he recognizes her for what she is. After all, he's a clandestine sorcerer too.

    Romance blossoms when Patrick, defensive about his mysterious past, lets down his guard long enough to help Lily learn to use her magical gifts. (then maybe something about Skade's friendship here). But their promise of happiness is shattered when Xander (does something). The ambitious and envious(?) wizard's plan to conquer dragons and (something else) is a deadly danger to them all.

    Anyway, it's not perfect and I'm not sure if it all fits-just winging it here- but it's just an idea of honing in on the important stuff to hook the reader. Less is more- but I think it's harder to edit when you're so close to the story and there's so much wonderful stuff you feel like you have to squeeze in there!

    sounds interesting! Good luck~

  8. tracey garvis-graves Says:

    This query would benefit from major tightening. You have a lot of unneccessary words, and some awkward phrases. I think you could edit it down quite a bit. For example:

    When Lily Bryant takes a walk one night, a dragon named Skade informs her that she's a sorceress, awakening the innate magical gift she's suppressed since childhood.

    When she meets Patrick Murray, who is also a sorcerer, he is initially defensive about his mysterious past. As he spends more time with Lily, they grow closer and romance soon blossoms.

    Their happiness is shattered by Xander, an ambitious sorcerer whose only goal is to conquer dragons, no matter how deadly the repercussions.

    This is pretty bare bones, but maybe you could layer in just a few more of your details to add information without overpowering your query.

    And I agree with Deserae. The purpose of the query is to entice, not explain every plot point.

    If it's any consolation, I feel your pain. I'm still revising my novel, but I've written my query and it's not easy to condense an entire novel down to 250-300 words.

    I hope this helps. Good luck to you!

    Tracey

  9. Janine Says:

    For me, the clichéd beginning is what sinks this query for me. Girl-discovers-powers, through dragon meetings or otherwise, feels a bit overcooked. Meaning, if I were the author I'd look for another way to sell this. Also, I felt like while we got some plot points, I had no idea what kind of world we were in. I don't think you need tons of world-building in a query, but ground the reader. I'm also left a bit vague about the stakes and the risks. You name the bad-guy, but what's he got to do with your MC, and what will she have to do to thwart him?

    If it were me, I'd start the query after she's met the dragon and Patrick, and highlight what Lily will have to do to overcome her big problem.

    Good luck 🙂

  10. allreb Says:

    @Deserae: What I mean is that I don't have a sense of what makes this novel special — there are plenty of stories out there about girls who gain magical powers and have exciting romances, and at least a handful of stories where girls meet dragons. I say it lacks specifics because I don't have a sense of why I'd want to read this novel specifically and not any of the similar-sounding ones out there. (And heck, if none similar are out there, I can't tell that from the query.)

    Just for example, the climax this hints at is "everyone's loyalties are tested." So… whose loyalties, and tested how? (Skade's, Lily's, Patrick's, and Xander's would be "all," I guess, but then I'm not sure who's doing the testing if Xander is part of that list, since it seems like he'd be the one testing others. Also, their loyalties to… each other? To magic? To dragons?) I don't have a sense of what the choices Lily has to make are, or what the consequences of her choices could be, so it all feels very general — giving a better sense of those things, rather than just a summary, would make it more attention-grabbing and stand out from other novels in the genre.

    (To end on a positive, one thing I didn't mention before: I love the idea of surprisingly modern, sophisticated dragons! They're often written as formal or old fashioned, so that's a cool way it could stand out right there.)

  11. Krista V. Says:

    First off, just tighten, tighten, tighten. Once you've done that, you'll have more room to give us some character and world building details. I know a lot about WHAT happens to Lily, but I don't know much about HOW she feels about it. Giving us those details will also help establish more uniqueness. Your characters may be facing the same challenges that other books' characters have faced, but if they approach them in an unexpected way, that'll catch our attention.

    As you're tightening, watch your use of "is" in the second paragraph. You have to use "is" sometimes (as in "He is a sorcerer"), but most of the time, you can come up with a stronger verb, or just adjust the form a little (for instance, "The promise of happiness is shattered" would be stronger as "The promise of happiness shatters").

    Good luck with this. We're rooting for you.

  12. Tom M Franklin Says:

    When Lily Bryant goes for a walk after work one evening, she encounters a dragon named Skade, and her life is forever changed.

    From what I've read, starting query sentences off with "When…" is bad form. (It can be seen as lazy writing)

    "goes for a walk after work one evening" is unnecessary to the query.

    "her life is forever changed" is cliché. Also, how could someone's life not be changed after meeting a creature they have been told since birth is imaginary?

    Her meeting with Skade awakens within Lily her innate magical gift, unconsciously suppressed since childhood.

    What magical gift? How/why was this suppressed? Did her parents/family/friends know about this gift and helped to suppress it?

    Calling any magical ability a "gift" is, imho, cliché as well.

    After speaking with Skade, Lily is both exhilarated and nervous, struggling to come to terms with the existence of.

    The existence of… what??

    This shows me you haven't thoroughly read this query before the final submission. (And then makes me wonder how thoroughly you've read/edited your manuscript)

    She meets Patrick Murray, who recognises her for what she is.

    So, meeting the dragon was all but unnecessary to the story? If meeting a possible romantic interest who could "see the real her that she had kept hidden away" I don't get why you have a dragon in the first sentence.

    Patrick is all you need to use for a character name, unless his family name comes into play later in the book. (Clan wars, etc)

    He is a sorcerer too,

    Sorcerer is the male version. Sorceress is the female version. Not knowing something like this, when it's so crucial for your book makes me nervous about the rest of the story.

    with a particular talent for creating illusions.

    Which only makes me wonder more about that Lily's special talent is.

    Though he is defensive about his mysterious past,

    Although we know very little about Patrick, I feel we now know more interesting things about Patrick than we do about your main character.

    "his mysterious past" is also cliché.

    Patrick and Lily quickly grow close. As Lily learns to use her magical gifts, her romance with Patrick blossoms,

    "romance blossoms" is also cliché.

    and she finds an unlikely mentor in Skade.

    Why is he an unlikely mentor? If he "found" her and awakened her powers in the first place he must have had a reason for doing so. Why wouldn't he want to help train her in learning how to use her powers 'properly'?

    The promise of happiness is shattered

    cliché.

    when they meet Xander, an ambitious sorcerer with relationship issues,

    "with relationship issues"???

    I get that you need to introduce an antagonist, but what does him having "relationship issues" have to do with his desire to conquer dragons?

    If you've given Xander this trait as a way of making your bad guy more complex, more human and less two-dimensional, that's one (still questionable, imho) thing. However, there is no need for that here in a query.

    whose deadly goals

    (a) cliché

    (b) "whose deadly goal" not "goals".

    to conquer dragons will prove to be a danger to them all.

    You're stating the obvious here.

    Lily finds that, though dragons are sophisticated and unexpectedly modern, their ancient power is unable to keep their vulnerabilities at bay when dealing with the vagaries of the human-dominated world.

    "though dragons are sophisticated and unexpectedly modern," is important to your world-creation, in terms of your definition of dragons, but isn't necessary in a query.

    A venerable dragon,

    cliché.

    with a surprisingly peaceful attitude, attempts to avert aggression using Xander’s complicated ex-girlfriend.

    Okay, you've lost me here. The peaceful dragon tries to distract the guy who is h3ll-bent on destruction by using the bad guy's "complicated ex-girlfriend"? Really?

    But as the day of reckoning draws closer, violence seems inevitable, and everyone’s loyalties are tested.

    cliché.

    The Lightning Path,

    Your title should be in ALL CAPS.

    intended for young adults, is a contemporary fantasy story with a strong thread of romance.

    You need to be more specific on your genre. This shows that you know your writing and know where it would fit on a bookstore's shelves.

    Here's my problem with your query: I don't feel I know enough about your main character to care what happens to her. I don't know who she is, what she wants or why this fight is so important to her. And this is exactly what your query is supposed to be: an invitation to get to know your engaging character and follow her through the circumstances and her decisions that lead to the climax of your story.

    One of the hardest things I had to learn about writing queries was that they are not supposed to be summaries of your story. Instead, I needed to pull out only those few details that told who my character was, what they wanted and what was getting in the way of that desire. Yes, you gut most of what you've invested in time and imagination into your story, but that's just not what a query is for. (That's what your story is for) A query is just enough (200 words!) to tell an agent who your character is, why they should care, and who you are.

    Good luck. As Krista V says, we're rooting for you!

  13. Shannon Says:

    The most glaring thing I see with this query is that it is "telling" not "showing." I don't feel drawn in. The thing I personally struggle with most is forcing myself NOT to just retell the story – IMO that is what you are doing here.

    Here's an example of what I mean:

    "After speaking with Skade, Lily is both exhilarated and nervous, struggling to come to terms with the existence of." (First, this is a fragment sentence.)This could be – Lily responds to Skade's incredible story by hiccuping for hours and giggling like a Justin Beiber groupie(I have no idea, this is just an example.) 🙂

    How close can Lily grow to Patrick when he is secretive? I've read a lot of queries and this is an easy thing to do. When trying to create conflict, a writer creates a contradiction instead.

    Here's my attempt. Warning: I have never been published and in the middle of fixing my own Query. Feel free to ignore my opinions. 🙂

    When Lily Bryant goes for a walk after work one evening, she encounters a dragon named Skade, and she is dragged into a his new world kicking and screaming.

    Merely being in the presence of a dragon is enough to awaken Lily’s own dormant magical powers. She meets Patrick Murray, a sorcerer with a particular talent for creating illusions and enticingly secretive about his past. Lily doesn’t let his arms-length attitude stop her from nudging her way into his heart. Lily’s life is encore after encore as she learns to use her new powers, her love for Patrick blossoms and Skade becomes her caring mentor. But, her dream of happiness is shattered when they meet Xander, an ambitious sorcerer with relationship issues, whose deadly goals to conquer dragons will prove to be a danger to them all.

    A venerable dragon attempts to avert aggression using Xander’s complicated ex-girlfriend as a trap. But, Xander twists the chess board and Lily finds that she must decide between keeping her own powers and saving Skade, or losing her powers and saving Patrick.

    Okay – I've never read your MS and I made a bunch of stuff up – but you get the idea.

    Good Luck.

  14. Meghan Says:

    Thanks so much for all the feedback, everyone! Seriously, I can't say how much I appreciate it!

    I'm a bit embarrassed about that typo. I cut out part of that sentence just the other day, and I guess I accidentally took out an extra word. My bad! At least I never actually queried anyone with that particular error!

    I have been struggling with this query for so long that I think it really got to a point where I didn't know what to do with it anymore. It was very stiff, and I completely agree that it was tough to get a sense of what Lily is like. I wrote a new version after reading all this fabulous feedback. I'll put in the new stuff below. I cut out the third paragraph entirely – something I've been considering for awhile, and based on what I've read here, I think it's a sound decision.

    Thanks again for all of your help!

    Dear Agent,

    Lily Bryant has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has just graduated from high school, and is working at a coffee house for the summer. Luckily, her light-hearted Aunt Vivian isn't pressuring her about college, and is glad to keep her home for awhile longer.

    Lily goes for a walk after work one evening, and meets a bossy dragon named Skade, who is a lot more interested in humans than she is in her own species. Her encounter with Skade awakens within Lily her innate magical gift, unconsciously suppressed since the deaths of her parents. Nervous and exhilarated after her cryptic conversation with Skade, Lily runs, literally, into Patrick Murray. He recognizes her for what she is – after all, he is a clandestine sorcerer too, with a particular talent for creating illusions.

    Though Patrick is guarded about his mysterious past, a strong mutual attraction creates closeness between him and Lily. As she embraces her new identity as an enchantress, Lily learns to balance her job and her relationship with Vivian against the secret twist her life has taken. She comes to rely on Skade's wisdom, enjoying friendship with the prickly dragon.

    The promise of happiness shatters when they meet Xander, an ambitious and dangerous sorcerer. His goals to rule the dragons and claim their hoards of treasure threaten the unlikely friendship, and Skade's life. Always a fast learner, Lily all her energy on mastering her adaptable powers, determined to protect both Patrick and Skade, and the extraordinary new lifestyle she has discovered.

  15. brandi Says:

    The new query is awesome! The only quibble I have is the very last sentence. Simplify it, maybe turn it into two sentences, because as it stands, it doesn't make sense.

  16. Liz Czukas Says:

    Much better. I think there's still some tightening to be done, but you've given us a much clearer picture of what matters to Lily. Any chance you bring more of her "voice" to the query? I know that's the hardest thing of all to do, but it really helps make your query shine.

    Great revisions!

    – Liz

  17. allreb Says:

    Much better! I think you're still missing a word, though: "Lily ___ all her energy on mastering her adaptable powers"

  18. Meghan Says:

    Argh, I hate not being able to paste things in here to make comments! I wrote my revisions in word, but then had to type them in here again. It's "Lily focuses all her…"