About My Query: THE NAMELESS WARRIOR

January 18th, 2013 • Kate

weddingmoccasinsWelcome back to a new round of About My Query posts. To briefly go over how this works — I look at a query submitted specifically for this purpose (i.e., not one pulled at random from my slush pile) and offer my thoughts on what works and doesn’t work, what interests me, what compels, what I don’t really care about, and maybe, hopefully, what I want to know more about. Once I’m done, I ask that you add your comments as well, so we can get a full workshop going on this critique. Ready? Oh, and one final quick note before we get back into this. I used to number all of my AMQ posts, using roman numerals, and truthfully, it got a little confusing. Moving forward, we’ll just use the titles, ok? So here’s R.E.’s:

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

Kindra Odion has trained the past eight summers to avenge her father’s death and become her tribe’s first woman warrior. Many expect her to fail, but she endures the whipping ceremony to prove her strength and make a blood-bond with the tribe. It is her proudest moment, until she fails to receive her warrior name.

Determined to earn her name in battle, Kindra is eager to fight when an enemy tribe arrives claiming her priestess sister has been given to their chief as part of a peace treaty. The tribe would never sell a priestess to the Obsidians, but to everyone’s surprise her chief allows it. Kindra sets aside all thoughts of avenging her father and receiving her name to save her sister instead.

The chief’s decision divides the tribe. Half of the warriors assume he’s too cowardly to oppose the much larger Obsidian Nation. The other half believes he’s trying to eliminate Kindra’s family — the only ones who could overthrow his power. As evidence of the chief’s treachery is discovered it threatens to place her entire tribe in the hands of the Obsidians. As an Odion, Kindra’s the only one who can depose the chief and save her tribe, but it will mean giving up the quest to rescue her sister, and the hope of ever becoming a named warrior.

THE NAMELESS WARRIOR is an adult fantasy similar to The White Mare by Jules Watson or The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie, complete at 124,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
R.E.

Thanks for sharing your query, R.E.! There’s a lot here that’s good, but I do have some concerns. First of all, “Kindra Odion,” written out like that, is a very modern-sounding name. Can you use “Kindra of the Odion” or something less awkward? I do love how strong she comes off in enduring the whipping ceremony, but that moment is diluted a bit in the next sentence. We’re told it is her proudest moment, “until she fails to receive her warrior name.” The way I read that, failing to receive her name somehow makes her more proud that enduring the whipping ceremony, which I’m pretty sure is not your intention.

After all, in the next paragraph, you tell us she’s determined to earn her name by fighting. The indefinite articles get a little confusing here — I’d maybe start the second sentence with “Kindra’s tribe” instead of just “The tribe,” since the previous tribe mentioned is the enemy. In fact, maybe you can clarify even further, and say “the enemy Obsidian tribe” when they’re first mentioned. In any case, with the next sentence, we’re told Kindra is throwing aside both her quest of the last eight years, and her recently plan to earn her name in battle to save her sister — a totally valid decision, and I love what it says about Kindra and her family, but it makes her seem wishy-washy. Like, she’s going to do this, but then she decides this, no, she’ll do this instead. Maybe there’s a way to clarify, or edit to tie all her quests into one.

It certainly seems like her treacherous chief might have had something to do with her father’s death, given his actions to get rid of her sister. Why is Kindra the only one who can depose him? What does her Odion name have to do with it?

Intriguingly, there’s so much here about names, and having them, or not, that I want to know more about Kindra’s name. What does it mean to her? Would she replace it if she ever gets her warrior name? How does that make her feel?

There’s definitely something here worth diving into. I’d likely read on to test the style of the writing, but I think you could earn more by clarifying some of the above pointd. Readers, what do you think? Does this work for you? What changes would you suggest?

Photo above posted by Flickr user morgan.cauch, used under a Creative Commons license.
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12 Responses to “About My Query: THE NAMELESS WARRIOR”

  1. @MishaMFB Says:

    I like the sound of this story, although I think it could do with some focusing. The part about Kindra's sister feels more important, so I'd prefer to see more about that and less about the other storyline.

    The way I read the query, I thought it would be mainly a revenge plot, but then suddenly it becomes a rescue story. Although I know both can fit in the same book, it might look better in the query to pick one.

  2. @ericgsteinberg Says:

    The premises of this story is exciting particularly with the unique setting and culture (it would be helpful to add in what culture we're in, African tribe, Native American tribe, etc.) The character is motivating my primal emotion (revenge for her father's death, saving her sister) always a good thing which engaged the reader.

    The two main problems I encountered were, first, clarity regarded the choice Kindra has to make and a few logical gaps I'm struggling with.

    Ultimately, the Kindra's choice seems to come down to saving or sister or tribe. Rather than have her waffle in paragraph two, if you cut the last sentence of that paragraph, the query would end with the choice.

    I think a detail about her father's death, suspicious, maybe, would be helpful. Another good addition would be why she fails to earn her warriors name if she completed the ceremony successfully. It also seems like with no one liking the chief, half finding him a coward and the other half a traitor, it isn't making sense why only Kindra can depose him. The final point to clarify is why if deposing the chief she can't have her warriors name? Seems if she's the new chief, she can have anything she wants.

    I think this has a lot or promise. I hope the feedback is helpful. Good luck!

  3. sheilamcclune Says:

    "Kindra is eager to fight when an enemy tribe arrives claiming her priestess sister has been given to their chief as part of a peace treaty. The tribe would never sell a priestess to the Obsidians, but to everyone’s surprise her chief allows it. "

    I'm finding the timeline a little confusing here–the enemy tribe claims Kindra's sister has already been given to their chief, but Kindra's chief still has to make the decision to allow it. But if it's already been done, why would there be a decision involved? Or did someone else make the decision? And if so, who was it and what authority did they have?

    I also agree with the other commenters in that the query seems a bit unfocused. First, she wants to avenge her father's death more than anything. So she becomes a warrior…but is denied a name, which she wants more than anything. So she decides to earn her name in battle, but then her sister gets traded off to another tribe, and she wants to save her more than anything. And then she discovers that her chief wants to betray her tribe, and she wants to save it more than anything.

    Hmmm…that might be an approach to consider. "Kindra thought she wanted to become her tribe's first warrior–and avenge her father's death–more than anything. So she [undergoes lots of training and a whipping ceremony], only to be denied a warrior's name. She resolves to go into battle and earn her name.

    But then the leader of the enemy Obsidian tribe appears and demands Kindra's sister as a tribute. Kindra finds she has to re-assess her goals, especially in light of evidence that the chief of her tribe may be plotting to hand his people over to the Obsidians. She's forced to choose between rescuing her sister or saving her tribe…" etc. Except with more details and much better written, of course. But present it as "x is what she thought she wanted, but then things changed, and now she has to choose between y and z."

    Did that make any sense? Or am I just blathering?

    On the plus side, I like the idea of this strong female character, and the fact that her family and tribe are important enough to her that she allows them to shape her destiny. Based on what you've presented, I'd definitely read further.

  4. Tiana Smith Says:

    I agree with the wishy-washy comment. First she changes her mind when she decides to give up being a warrior. Then she has to give up on her sister for a third thing presented to us (deposing the chief). Three things in succession like that make me wonder where this book really is going.

    The writing is really good though. There was only one phrase that tripped me up: "The chief’s decision divides the tribe." <– This to me, made me think that half the people agreed with the chief and half of them don't. But really, the whole tribe doesn't really like the chief. Maybe there's another way to say this?

    I like the idea behind the book. Kindra seems like a very strong character and someone who gets what she wants in the end.

  5. callen Says:

    I love the strong female character, the concept of the first woman warrior and the whipping ceremony "hook" in the first paragraph. Those aspects definitely get my attention.

    I do feel confused about the setting in the first paragraph. If you use the word "tribe", your American readers are going to automatically think Native American tribe. But since this is a fantasy book, maybe that sends us in the wrong direction and just leaves us confused? While I think you're right to emphasize Kindra as your heroine in the first portion of the query, I think it would be important to set the scene as well.

    Each plot point mentioned in your query sounds interesting (the sister's fate, division over the chief, Kindra's personal quest for her name), but I feel like the storyline is a series of smaller moments, whereas I'd like to feel like it's building to one big moment. Showing connectivity between these plot points would imply that the storyline will flow in the book as well as giving the readers a big hook to drool over!

    Thank you for sharing with us!

  6. Carrie Harris Says:

    Hey, I recognize this! 🙂 I've been lucky enough to read some pages from this manuscript, and Kindra's strength really shines through in this query.

    I agree that there's a lot going on in this query. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I wonder if working backwards might help to determine which details really belong here. If you start with Kindra's choice between family and her dreams of being a warrior, and then list out the things that are pulling her in one direction or the other, those are the elements that you need to hit to form a cohesive picture. I think this may help to keep Kindra's dilemma from getting buried in all the other story elements you have going on here. She really shines in the manuscript, so let her take center stage in the query!

    Thanks for letting us read!

  7. Kurt Says:

    Right now the story is more compelling than the query letter. Most of paragraphs 1-2 are backstory. What I get hit with on my own letters all the time is who the character is and what she’s got to lose. There’s a multi-layered story here, so settle on the driving narrative, which is all ‘graph 3. Kindra is the focal point of a powerplay that involves politics and gender. Pull back on the worldbuilding and push hard on the action. Maybe use the issue of naming is the hook?

    thanks!!!

  8. Dana Says:

    I really like the strong female MC!
    My main concern is that she gives up her desire to avenge her father's death, later she gives up her quest to rescue her sister, and she might even give up on her hope to be a warrior. That's a lot of "giving up" in a query. I get that her new focus is getting rid of the chief and saving her tribe – maybe focus on this more.
    I can tell this story will have lots of action and that would make me want to read more.
    Good luck, RE!

  9. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    I agree with Callen that it would help to have a sense of the overall plot–ultimately, what is Kindra's major goal (not immediate goal, which is what I think slows down this query), why does she want it, and what is in her way. (This also focuses on what she wants rather than on what she's giving up.) Since this is a 124,000-word manuscript, we first need that very high-level view to feel like we have a sense of Kindra's character. Then, we highlight those elements that most challenge Kindra's character (I mean her heart and soul) throughout the novel–most likely the initial disturbance in Act I and the two doorways to leave Acts I and II. Always easier said than done. 🙂 Good luck!

  10. jhider Says:

    I agree with the previous comment. It felt a little too specific to me. I think that is why it came off unfocused. If you pull back and look at the larger conflicts then it wont matter that we dont see why she is making every little decision. I think this is one of the hardest parts of a query. Build up interest without telling too many details. Teasers, without spoilers. Very tricky, good luck.

  11. My Brain Is A Fuzzy Leaden Rock « Rebecca Enzor Says:

    […] to it, Aledans (or at least hold my hand while I did it). I told you that my query would be up on About My Query on Friday (there are so many helpful suggestions in both the post and the comments!). I told you […]

  12. Rebecca Enzor Says:

    I wanted to thank everyone for the help. I sent out my first query this morning, and got a partial request within thirty minutes! I couldn't have done it without all the great advice on AMQ 🙂