Sunday, November 21, 2010

#188 - Revised

Dear Query Shark,

Seventeen year old faery Penelope Hue is stuck between two worlds. She lives in a faery Colony settled outside a human town. The Council that rules her Colony hasn’t let anyone into the Queen’s realm in years. No one knows why. So she breaks the rules, disguises herself as a human, and sneaks into the town nearby. She finds comfort, a home almost, in their ways.

What's the Queen's realm? You don't have character soup here, you have location soup, a new item on the menu of "Things To Avoid in a Query!"

Is the Queen's realm the same thing as the human town? That doesn't make much sense to me.

After a Demon once thought banished (the breed that took her father) returns and attacks both humans and faeries alike, she discovers how good a Demon killer she is. She can fight the Demons and their King alongside a Council she hates. Or she can blend into the life she’s always wanted: a human one.

What is the Demon trying to do? Why does she hate the Council? What does she like about the human life (my guess is scotch and Jack Reacher novels but that's just me.)

THE WINGED LIFE is an X-Men meets Tinker Bell, YA Urban Fantasy complete at 62k words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Normally I'm bellowing queries are too long. This one is too short --140 words. You can add at LEAST another 100 words before you have to think about stopping, and you could double the word count and still be ok.
Lean and mean is good, but you're skeletal, not lean.

Here, have a cookie. Bulk up.

Dear Query Shark,

Seventeen-year-old faery, Penelope Hue, has ignored the rules all her life. She disguises herself as a human and sneaks into their town. It must be done carefully. Quietly. The last faery that who exposed herself to a human was put to death. And that would suck.

And that would suck is a funny light-hearted line.  Put to death isn't.  The contrast between the two leaves me wondering what the tone of the book is.

She meets a human boy. He’s just as rebellious and misunderstood as Penelope is and the emotional experience brings her fae gifts out. All faeries receive a gift when they come of age. As her gifts develop, she learns how to blend in with her surroundings. She can change the color of her skin, wings and clothes. She learns to help others hide themselves as well. Her gift could be used to protect the Colony, the Queen and her World.

Well, I didn't realize the Colony, the Queen, and her world were in danger.  You start out talking about a human boy but he disappears after the second sentence. Then it's a lot of description of what she can do.  Given that I can change the color of my clothes I'm not sure you want to list that as something magical.  

And, making a list of the things she can do isn't what I need to know. You've already told me she's magic. I assume she can do all sorts of cool stuff. The question is: what does she WANT and what's keeping her from it.

This second paragraph doesn't entice me to read on because I don't have a sense of what's at stake other than what seems increasingly irrational: if Penelope is discovered hanging out with the humanoids, her ilk are going to be pissed off as hell.

Problem. The Colony’s Council has kept the fae from the Queen and her World for years and no one knows why. Penelope hates the way the Council rules the Colony. After a breed of demon once thought banished returns and attacks both humans and faeries alike, Penelope questions her allegiance. She doesn't know where she belongs.

Now we have a demon and a Colony Council in the mix.  Where's the boy? What does Penelope hate about the way the Council rules the Colony? Why would she question it?  How would she know there's any other way?

You're getting lost in plot points and character soup here, a veritable expo of exposition.  Simplify. Focus!

Penelope must choose between her Colony and the human world she’s grown to love. She can stay, fight the demons and their King alongside a Council she hates. Or she can use her gifts to blend into the life she’s always wanted. A human one.

Why wouldn't she stay in the human world? At least they aren't going to kill her for hanging out with them.

THE WINGED LIFE is an X-Men meets Tinker Bell, YA Urban Fantasy complete at 62k words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

X-Men meets Tinker Bell is pretty hilarious but I don't have a sense of the story here.  Simplify.

Here's a description for a another book in this category, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.

Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost—regardless of her plans or desires.

Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.

I'm not suggesting you copy this of course, but you can see that it's very very simple.  It gives us a sense of what's at stake and what the main character's problem is.  If you look at the description on Amazon, there's more there about the rules about fairies, but this is the heart of the plot.

Right now this is a form rejection.  Start over.


  1. Seventeen-year-old faery, Penelope Hue, has ignored the rules all her life.

    No commas! No commas!

    If the sentence were

    A seventeen-year-old faery, Penelope Hue, has ignored the rules all her life.

    then you could have commas.

    If it were

    "For a seventeen-year-old faery, Penelope Hue, you sure have ignored a lot of rules."

    then you could have commas, and welcome to 'em.

    But as it stands, you want

    Seventeen-year-old faery Penelope Hue has ignored the rules all her life.

    I see this error so often among new writers that I wonder if it's in the process of becoming "correct". But it isn't yet, so don't do it.

  2. I'm having a devil of a time figuring out the difference between "the Colony" and "her World." I guess demons by their very nature are nasty rulers, but could you tell me exactly why they'd be worse than the disconnected Queen and the unlikeable Council?

    Why does Pen need "her gifts" to live in the human world? She did quite well with disguises before her gift developed. And how is it that "Her gift could be used to protect the Colony, the Queen and her World"? If the demons are attacking fae and humans alike, what good does it do to blend in, unless she's camouflaging herself as the nearest fire hydrant or hedge? Is that what she's doing? How does that make her more "human"?

  3. alaskaravenclaw, no way is it in the process of becoming correct! I see it a lot too, but ... noooooooo.

    There are a lot of very choppy sentences here as well. I'd urge the writer to maybe read the work out loud and see where there's room for more natural rhythm in the language.

  4. I'm cool with the concept of a rebellious faery. I have references to the human world, her (the Queen's or Penelope's or both) World, Colony, Council and Queen with no clear indication what they pertain to. Presumably, the Queen and Colony are faery realms, but then I'm lost by "Her gift could be used to protect the Colony, the Queen and her World," and THIS "The Colony’s Council has kept the fae from the Queen and her World for years and no one knows why." How can the Queen of Faeries be kept from the fae?

    The human boy, if you're not doing anything with him in this query, should probably be dropped.

    Convoluted and confusing. Nothing wrong with a quick world-building bit, but it needs to be concise and needs to be clear. You've spent most of your query on world-building and left things muddled.

  5. I think this could be funny and entertaining. I'm guessing the book probably is...but you have to show that in the query:

    Faery teen Penelope Hue is torn between joining the human race to be with the hot guy she yearns for and using her awesome fae powers to overthrow the wicked ruling Council and save the Faery Queen...

  6. Not sure if this'll help, or if it even fits your story, but from what you posted, I tried a quick restructure:

    For Penelope Hue, sneaking out and meeting boys (the national passtime for most seventeen-year-old girls) doesn't come with threats of grounding; it comes with threats of death. Penelope's a faery, and exposing her world to humans is a big no-no, but the temptation is stronger than her better judgment.

    Now, surrounded by all things forbidden, Penelope's hidden gifts emerge. "Hidden" being the key word - she can change herself and those around her to help them hide. It's a gift that could protect not only Penelope herself, but her Colony, the Queen, and the entire Fae realm.

    This would be great if anyone knew where the Queen was hidden, but only Council can tell, and they're not talking. For reasons all their own, they've hidden her and her world from the Fae. Once again, they think they know what's best for everyone, but Penelope doesn't buy it.

    She wants answers, and after a horrific attack on the Colony, she demands them. Instead, she's left with a choice that will test her allegiance: use her new gift to disappear into the human world forever, or stand and fight beside a Council and King she's pretty sure only want her for their own purposes.

  7. Thanks for changing "that" to "who." This is one of my pet grammar peeves.

  8. Alas, Alison, I fear it may come to pass. Errors become "alternate forms," and then they become correct forms. You can even find "alright" in some dictionaries now.

    I always think that back in the ninth or tenth century, grammar curmudgeons like me were muttering about the Death Of The English Language because nobody was using noun declensions anymore.

    But, as my writing teacher always said about such matters, we must hold the barabarian horde from the gate as long as possible.

  9. If there is a love affair between Penelope Hue and the human boy with no name, you need to explain it, otherwise remove him from the query.

    You have to give a reason why the fae was kept from the queen even if it's a personal feud between the queen and the council.

    Why does Penelope question her allegiance? Why MUST she choose between her colony and the humans?
    It sounds more like a personal preference to me.

    Make sure your story is not all over the place like your query, otherwise you'll need to do a lot of re-writing.

    Please note the template QS showed for the last query. The idea sounds good you just have to show us a clear view of it. Please try again.

  10. The core conflict: Penelope must stay and defend her own kind from demons, or join the humans and hook up with some cute boy.

    Aside from the Council sounding kinda mean and threatening to kill her if she consorts with humans, what's so bad about them? Is there a reason for the threat--e.g. a fairy once joined the humans and disaster ensued--or are they just mean for meanness's sake?

    And what's so great about this human boy she's presumably fallen in love with that would make her want to give up on the fairies and let them die at the hands of demons?

    The stakes are high, but I don't get the sense that it's a hard decision to make, aside from Penelope being rebellious and wanting to do the opposite of what the Council wants. Which makes her seem unsympathetic, to me. Throwing away the lives of her own kind just for some silly human boy? Why is he worth it?

    I do love the idea of X-Men meets Tinkerbell, though.

    I agree with Ms. Shark: what's the tone? Flippant and light-hearted a la Tinkerbell? Epic and urgent a la the X-Men?

  11. Huh, so the faeries are from another world? And they colonized the human world, but secretly? And the people who run the colony have cut off communication with the queen and the homeworld?

    If that's the case, this is awesome. It's like aliens who are faeries. But I actually have no idea if that's what's going on because this query is so confusing.

    Also, to alaskaravenclaw: hear, hear.

  12. "The last faery who exposed herself to a human was put to death". On first read, I assumed the humans killed the faery (like they would a witch). Perhaps you could add "by the Faery Council". (And not sure about "exposed herself").

    Instead of saying that Pen has ignored the rules all of her life, why not state what she's wanted all of her life----to live in the human world. That's her quest, I presume.

    Then tell us why she wants this: The Council keeps the Queen from the people, Pen's fallen in love with a human boy, and humans have cable television...

    Then tell us why this crossing over becomes a near impossible battle, and what's at stake if she chooses unwisely.

    As written, I don't understand why she needs to choose sides between fae and human when demons are the common enemy. That sounds like a resolution to Pen's dilemma rather than a test of her mettle.

  13. I am sure about "exposed herself"--it's so commonly used idiomatically for "flashed her private bits" that that's the first thing I thought.

    And then it seemed clear that you meant "revealed the existence of a faery world," so do rethink that.

    There is so much backstory in this, and yet not enough backstory. In the first bit, you say that Penelope goes to "their town" as if there was only one human town in the world (if this actually is a world with only one human town, that's something really important for us to know!)

    Dial way way back on the whole "demons threatening faery world, Council, Queen, blah blah" exposition here. As others have said, you've got a clearcut dilemma here: either Penelope can go native with the humans or fight the demons who are threatening her faery people. That's enough.

    Good luck. I love the idea of a rebellious teenage faery girl; polish it up and make it shine.

  14. Actually, if you cleaned this up, the basic concept is interesting; I'd read it. Although right now what you've told us about the plot reminds me an awful lot of Wings by Aprilynne Pike. Just keep that in mind and make it really obvious how it's different.

  15. This is such a tiny nitpick, but alternate spellings like "faery", "magick", and "vampyre" bother the hell out of me - even though some of them have tons of historical/etymological basis.

    I wouldn't mind it if the prose were written in the language of the era, but most of the time it seems like the author just does it because he thinks it's creative and unusual.

    Someone please let me know when I no longer have my foot in my mouth, cheers.

    quisquic - quick quiz

  16. Did I miss something? It seemed pretty obvious to me that the Colony is where the humans live, and the Council is a subset of the humans (specifically, the ones in charge). I surmised it from the context -- no other combination of definitions seems to make sense.

    From there, I see antipathy and mistrust between humans and fey (possibly resulting from an evil plot), presenting Penelope with a challenge. Shortly thereafter, demons commence wholesale slaughter, so the setting gets more dangerous. That's good too.

    But the flaw is that you haven't described what Penelope wants, and what her obstacle is. All I can do is guess, and remember: in the opening paragraph you gave us her reaction to being put to death (and told us she's a fairy), both of which seem to make her unpredictable. This can be confusing.

    I love the contrast between "put to death" and "that would suck" --- I see it as developing Penelope's character (and maybe the culture she comes from as well).

    You do seem to go overboard with description of the fairy powers, though. Magical powers are plot devices -- like a car chase in a spy thriller. If you were writing a query for your thriller spy novel, you probably wouldn't devote an entire precious paragraph of your finite word count to describing a car chase.

    Magical powers are not character development. Cram them down to a single sentence. You address the powers for most of a paragraph (five or six sentences).
    In my opinion, that's simply too much.

  17. @ Apple

    I think the use of faery rather than fairy is moreso to differentiate the faeries the author is writing about from the more commonly thought of "Disney fairies."

    If that's the case, I think it's fine to use faery. Plus, pretty much every urban fantasy author that I can think of uses faery instead of fairy.

  18. Two things- one, the fact that her last name is 'Hue' is a major giveaway to her abilities, to the point where it's not even going to be a surprise, and is a little painful to read. Of course she can change colors, her last name is 'color'! I would go for something a little more interesting.

    Especially because, well, glamour is the most basic fae ability out there. I don't think I've seen a single story focusing on fae or fairies that doesn't involve their constant changes of appearance to suit their random moods. Why is her ability to change colors so supposedly different? Now. If you had some kind of conflict that stripped the faeries of their glamour, that would be quite interesting. As it is, this girl has a non-power. It would be like if humans had the special ability to walk upright.

    Spice it up. Give us an actual character with conflict and desires. Also, don't be afraid to have her mistakes complicate the plot. If she's seventeen and always breaking rules, she's probably making stupid decisions. It happens, she's a teenager. So play it up!

  19. Yttar: It's easier to differentiate the two by changing the spelling, but to my mind it's better to simply show the reader what "fairy" means.

    There are so many kinds of fairies, fae, whatever, in mythology as well as pop culture - the spelling of the word does almost nothing to describe them. To me, that says "affectation".

    w.v., "dessu" desu.

  20. Don't really have a problem with faery myself, though I probably wouldn't use it. Magick and Vampyre on the other hand just seem a little wanky to me... not sure why I make that distinction.

    Anyway, to me it seems like there's quite a cool little story under this but the query doesn't really show the points that I'd find interesting. As always it's the choice -> consequence that we're missing. Pen seems to just be dragging along in the wake of the real story if this query is anything to go by. I'm guessing that's far from the case in the MSS.

  21. For me, I don't think I'd assume faery or faerie are automatically affectation. All are in the dictionary and I know, for me, I have always spelled it faerie - I associate the term with Celtic cultures and the fae.

    Magick I have never used and have always though looked stupid (but that's a personal preference).

    Vampyre I have never used, but have to note that Polidori's "The Vampyre" is a precursor to Stoker's Dracula.

    Neither the magick nor vampyre spellings show up at

    My 2 cents.

  22. I need some clarification on the following:

    What is "their town"? (first paragraph).

    The faery world, the Colony and the human world need to be better defined. How are these three worlds different?

    OK, I think I got it! The Colony is in fact a faery colony, part of a magical world (with more creatures other than faeries) and then there is the human world on the side. Is that right? Whichever the case may be, it needs better clarification. Otherwise, it's impossible to keep up with all these worlds.

    The Queen: Is she a Faery Queen (the Queen of the Colony) or a Queen of the magical realm who rules over all the magical creatures - including faeries?

    When does her fae gift come out? is it the coming of age or, is it the emotional experience she has by meeting a boy that brings it out?

    Also, the gift of changing colors is a pretty standard faery magical power. However, in the context of this query it seems that she is the only faery able to do that. If that is the case, perhaps the query should read: "All faeries receive a (unique) gift when they come of age". That way, it helps the reader understand how special her gift really is.

    Overall, I liked the story and the title.

  23. You know, it's CAPEX time. And that means I have to distill a $50,000 project into 70 words. I didn't see the parallel until I'd submitted my budget, come up for air, and decided to relax on the site. My point? We all have to do this, even IT folks.

    I agree with siebendach, and I think it's a rare mis-read from QS. The contrast between "put to death" and "that would suck" is whimsical.

    My problem is that I hear the voice of Sookie Stackhouse.

    ... let's see ... a response that revolves around my personal life, a comment but not really advice for the author ... my job here is done.

    Happy Thanksgiving, kids.

  24. Stephanie: I see what you mean about the spelling, and I try to use words based on their etymology/the implications they evoke all the time.

    I think what's going on is that I've seen "faery" and "faerie" and "fairie" used way too many times for no other reason than because the author thinks it sounds cool. It tends to accompany self-insert fiction, in my experience.

    This sort of nitpick is why I would make a horrible literary agent.

  25. Apple: I think most of us have little nitpicks, triggers that make us roll our eyes. (I admit "magick" does for me).

    QS has been an excellent experience for me not only having an opportunity to see what triggers that reaction in an agent, but also readers and other writers.

    This doesn't preclude my doing something similar (like use "faerie"), but means I'm doing so thoughtfully and that I'm aware of the potential reaction.

    I think this has been a thought-provoking conversation.

  26. The thing is that "faery" is the norm now in YA fantasy. Writing "fairy" would be likely to look odd these days (as opposed to 10 years ago), at least in the US.

  27. The basic concept sounds to me a lot like Artemis Fowl for adults (or maybe YA, anyway).

    Personally, when I see faery/faerie, I turn off. It seems almost as if the author is trying too hard. Fae, is fine, if you want a change from 'fairy'. And also, if you're going to go with am unusual spelling make it consistent throughout.

    As almost every query the QS posts, you need to simplify. Break it down into relevant elements that show us what's happening and why it's important.

  28. I'm sure a lot of people feel strongly about different spellings of the word "faerie", but we're starting to blow it out of proportion here -- there's an awful lot of posts on this, some to the exclusion of all other aspects of the query. It's hopelessly subjective: if the project is fantasy escapism rather than a scholarly treatise on the history of the linguistics of Celtic mythology, then no spelling is "correct". As much as one reader/agent prefers one spelling, are certainly others out there who hate that same spelling.

    Don't let minutiae distract you from the brass ring of query construction: describing your story as efficiently, concisely and enticingly as possible.

  29. This doesn't exactly alter the Earth's rotation or anything (although it might tilt it a bit), but I don't think it really matters if there's a fairy or a faery or a fa'ree. We all know what it is (except maybe the last one), and in the end that's what matters to me when I pick up a book.

    The problem is that I'm not sure about the rest of it. After reading the comments, I've heard twenty contradicting claims regarding the meanings of the Council and the Colony. Personally, I'm picturing this giant bee hive, with a queen faery at the center, surrounded by a fat group of Council members doing evil laughs. I am fairly certain it's all to do with Penelope's world, and the human world is just normal, but that's just my take on things.

    188, you have what sounds like a great story. If you clear things up a bit, the world will all be good (at least, the human world will). Good luck!

    Oh, and Me- honestly, I think it sounds a bit opposite to Artemis Fowl, but either way Artemis Fowl is great, and probably could count as YA anyway. Sorry, I know, minor little thing.

  30. Hi!

    I find what I've read of your story really interesting. It seems like you have a pretty complicated and elaborate plot that isn't easy to pin down. I urge you to come up with a one-sentence pitch that hits directly at the core of your story. Then your query becomes a method of justifying the importance and impact of your pitch.

    Your query revision left me with a few questions about your story: Is the demon attack the climax of the story? Is her desire to live in the human world the biggest issue for Penelope? Is it imperative to your story to have the Queen's realm be outside of the human world? Are the Council's politics important for Penelope's story?

    Good luck :)

  31. On Revision:

    I'm still not gettting what's at stake here. Her allegiance can't be torn if the Demon is a common enemy of fae and human, so you've presented a false choice.

    And even if she chooses not to fight alongside the Council, how can she live peacably amongst the humans when a Demon is terrorizing them too?

    You've also left out explaining what's so great about the human world, and more importantly what's so bad about living in the Colony. She doesn't approve of the fae government? Humans usually don't approve of theirs either. (Are the humans aware of a Demon in their midst?)

    Seems to me you're leaving out her actual (heroic) quest----which I'm guessing is to free the Fairy Queen from the oppressive Council. As is, you've presented the Demon as the antagonist, when its more likely a complication.

  32. Rev 12/4:

    I don't know why she can't be in the human world (you don't say, just that they can't come in). I don't know why she can't fight demons from the human world. Or why she has to support the council.

    Bottom line, I don't understand what the conflict is and why it matters, other than there's a threat to both faery and human enclaves. I need to if I'm going to identify with this story and the character that leads it.

  33. The opening paragraph is still very convoluted. So much so, that I couldn’t move on from it. This is what I understood from it:

    a) There are two worlds: the Human World and the Queen’s Realm, which encompasses the Faery Colony.

    b) For unknown reasons, the Faery Council doesn’t allow anyone into the Queen’s Realm. (It doesn’t make sense that the Faery Council won’t allow anyone into the Queen’s Realm, when they are already inside of it. I thought that the Faery Colony was PART of the Queen’s Realm. Did I misunderstand this?)

    c) “The Council that rules her Colony hasn’t let anyone into the Queen’s realm in years. No one knows why. So she breaks the rules, disguises herself as a human, and sneaks into the town nearby.”

    I can only get one meaning from the construction of these sentences as they follow each other and are connected by that “so”. My understanding is this: As a consequence for the Council not letting anyone into the Queen’s Realm, Penelope breaks the rules and sneaks into the Human World disguised as a human.

    Whoa, whoa, whoa… I thought I had my worlds figured out! Two worlds: One human. One magical Realm. The Faery Colony being part of the latter. But now that Penelope sneaks into the HUMAN WORLD as a consequence for the Council not allowing anyone into the QUEEN’S REALM, I don’t know what to believe. My world is topsy-turvy and I see myself back to square one.

    Kindly explain, oh gentle writer, is the Faery Colony part of the Queen’s Realm and separate from the Human World? Or; is the Queen’s Realm part of the Human World and separate from the Faery Colony?

  34. Here have a cookie and bulk up? That's too funny.

    I think you took out some parts that were working in the last query draft. (Where's that human boy? Is he important?) Especially when you're explaining an alternative world, you want to be clear so more is better.

    Good luck!