Sunday, October 2, 2011

#210-Revised 2x

Dear QueryShark:

Rowan hears the clinking of the iron shackles binding her wrists and curses herself for her foolishness. It is her own fault she is trapped in this holding cell in the castrum of Eboracum. Her consuming thirst for vengeance has landed her in this pit of darkness that reeks of human filth and despair. The stench is overwhelming; it is the stink of her failure. She has twice failed to kill the man responsible for the death of her adoptive father and the annihilation of her tribe: the Bishop Claudius.

She can see the barest traces of light squeezing through the gaps in the door. When that portal opens, she will meet her death. The question is will she die by the hands of Roman legionnaires or will Claudius deal with her personally? Only she knows the truth about him. The foundation of power he has carefully built through deceit and murder could crumble if she opens her mouth.

A small ember of hope flares in her breast. There is another weapon at her disposal, one more powerful than forged steel. She was born with the ability to move objects without touch, but there is a darker side to this power, a black gift she has kept this locked away since she was a child. Killing Claudius has proven to be a difficult task. Perhaps unleashing her rage and hate may be the key to his downfall.

ROWAN OF THE MOOR is historical (with paranormal elements) complete at 100,000 words. It is a stand alone novel set in fourth-century Roman occupied Britain and written from multiple (you MUST tell me how many if you mention this) points of view, mainly those of Rowan and Claudius.

There's a big difference between 16 and 4 points of view. The alternative is to NOT mention the number at all.  

This is  a LOT better than the previous iteration. It clearly needs some polishing up (ember of hope?) but this is much closer to where you want to be.  Good work.


Dear QueryShark:

Rowan may have been gifted with foresight and telekinetic abilities, but she must hide these curses under the guise of a boy. (Why?) Brittani and Romans may have coexisted somewhat peacefully for nearly three centuries, but Rowan's kind has been hunted near to extinction. (Why?) If she were exposed as a druid, even worse a female druid, her life would be forfeit. (Why?) If the Romans she lives among knew she could kill with a mere thought, they would never rest until she has been destroyed, or worse, enslaved and used for selfish gain. (AHA!)

You see from the insertions above that it isn't until the very last sentence that you actually tell me something enticing. In other words, start with that. Start with where the protagonist has a problem with something at stake. 

You've also got some really clunky writing going on here: If the Romans she lives among for starters.

After she has a horrific vision of death and names the powerful Bishop Claudius as the murderer, she is exiled by her adoptive father. Hurt and angry Rowan represses her abilities and searches for her mother's people. She finds an abandoned village, a half-mad uncle, and even more questions about her past. When she discovers she was sired by Claudius, she believes herself to be tainted, evil, and sinks into a deep depression until a visit from a familiar apparition snaps her back to life.

There's a puzzling failure of logic here: "she represses her abilities." If she can repress her abilities why doesn't she do it long before the stakes got so high?

What familiar apparition?
And so far, she doesn't seem to be in much danger.

Rowan follows Claudius to the Roman city of Eboracum. She will stop at nothing to avenge her slain family and the man who had adopted her, even if she must commit murder and unleash a power she secretly fears and cannot control. Death would be preferable than failure, especially if Claudius carries out his plans for Britannia.

What? I thought Rowan was hanging out in the woods with the mad Uncle? And when did Dad kick the bucket?
That's the problem with too many events in a query: you don't have enough room to connect the dots. You end up with a string of events not a plot. That's what you've got here, and it's the reason this would be a form rejection.

ROWAN OF THE MOOR is a Historical (with paranormal elements) single novel of 100,000 words and takes place in fourth-century, Roman occupied Britain.

I thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

I like the original version much better. This is a mess. It's full of events but no stakes. Rowan doesn't seem all that interesting beyond her ability to kill people with a single thought, which she doesn't appear to know how to wield with with any degree of control, or wouldn't Claudius be like dead already?

The first version was something I haven't seen a lot of. This version feels like last week's yogurt.

I'm not going to tell you what to do; it's up to you.

For the life of me, I can't seem to write a query from the main character's POV. I've tried it from the antagonist's side and find that I like this much better:

Dear QueryShark:

Claudius has always gained what he desired through murder and manipulation. Disguised as a priest, the former druid claws his way to through the Christian church in only a few years.

If he's disguised, he's not an actual priest. If he's working his way up the church hierarchy, the Cardinals and  head honchos*** and Pope would have to think he's the real deal. And the Church keeps records.  

He is now a bishop and sought after by the rich, Roman peerage of Britannia for his wondrous ‘miracles’. Claudius cannot help but laugh. These sheep do not know the difference between God’s work and dark magic. He is now bored and covets a new title: archbishop to the Roman city of Eboracum. When he kills the previous possessor of that position, Claudius realizes he made a mistake when he allows a boy who witnesses the murder to live.

He knew he should have killed that brat when he had the chance. This boy, Rowan, is not a he, but a she … and Claudius’ bastard daughter. She is a bandrui, a female druid, driven to avenge her clan and her adoptive father all whom he had helped destroy years ago. She is a formidable enemy with power that surpasses his own- and this is a battle he cannot afford to lose. He has no choice; she must die. When she is gone, all of Britannia will bow to him, just as before.

I didn't know all of Britannia bowed to him before. Surely that's his goal, not what has already happened?

ROWAN OF THE MOOR is a Paranormal/Historical (with romantic elements) single novel of 100,000 words and takes place in fourth-century, Roman occupied Britain.

You've got three categories here. And since I'm absolutely positive that Rowan and Claudius are not the romantic element, you can surely leave that out.  

I thank you in advance for your time and consideration.


I think this is a pretty good query letter as it stands. The paranormal stuff is going to move it off my request list but I can see someone reading pages on this pretty easily.

But your note at the start makes me pause.  If you can't write about the main character (and you don't say who it is but my guess is Rowan) you might need to think about the book differently.  Maybe Claudius is the main character. He's certainly interesting enough. And he thinks he's the hero of this story, no doubt.

Query letters can do a lot of things, including make you crazy, but one of the unexpected things is it can reveal problems with the actual novel.

If  Claudius is the main character we'll certainly need to understand why he is doing what he's doing and he'll certainly need to do some character development.  You might need another pass at the novel with this re-focus in mind.

Your problem here isn't the query. 

***my lack of knowledge of the 4th Century church is pretty clear here. Commenter caught it.


Snarky Writer said...

I would totally read this. Somebody publish it! :)

journeytogao said...

A decent job overall. A few nits:

Third paragraph has two sentences starting with "He is now . . ." I'd change the second one. It seemed to announce the progression of time from the last sentence, but it's actually a description of his state of mind. And the last sentence in that paragraph, "When he kills . . . when he allows." Similar problem. How about "by allowing a boy" etc.

Finally, "the brat" seemed off-tone to me. A brat is someone you babysit, not someone who threatens your sway over all Britannia.

Huntress said...

I agree with Snarky. I'd download this novel to my Kindle in a flash.

Laura said...

A historical quibble: the leader of the church in York during the 4th century would not have been known as an archbishop. (Nor, QS, were there cardinals in the 4th century; Claudius would probably have been subordinate to a metropolitan bishop in Gaul.)

Janet Reid said...

oops. Noted in query crit as a correction.

The QueryShark swims off to read some history of the 4th Century.

Tara Lynx said...

I'm worried that the reason the query didn't work from Rowan's POV might be the conception of her character: illegitimate daughter of the bad guy, more powerful than anyone around her, and, if I extrapolate correctly, bound to defeat Claudius almost single-handedly--those are all hallmarks of a Mary Sue.

Of course, they can also be the hallmarks of a strong female character, which I'd be all for, but I can't help wondering if the reason the author can't query from her POV is that she's just not very interesting. Maybe she's not fully-rounded enough to *have* a point of view? (I may be completely off here; obviously I haven't read the book. It's just what occurred to me reading the query.)

Claudius sounds like a fascinating bad guy, and he needs an equally awesome counterpart for the story to work, no matter whose story it turns out to be in the end.

Lehcarjt said...

Totally my kind of book. I'd read it...

Until I got to the end and it said it was a Paranormal/Historical with Romantic Elements. 'Cause that threw me a bit. I think I could handle Historical with paranormal elements (or something similar), but the moment Paranormal took first place and historical took second (and romance was mentioned), my interest declined.

And the reason for this is that you sucked me into the situation as shown - a complicated (perhaps evil), brilliant man trying to kill his daughter - isn't really the story you are writing. I'm thinking the actual story (so the reverse - a daughter and her lover trying to stay alive as her father tries to kill them) isn't nearly as interesting to me.

Which is the problem with not writing your query around your Protag. Although, I suppose if the goal is get agents to read pages, perhaps it doesn't matter. (But it bugs me.)

Toaster Men Podcast Network said...

My undergrad degree is in Ancient History. While I am extremely interested the misstep in proper church organization makes me wonder at other historical inaccuracies.

I am hoping this is just a typo or "modernizing" the term as we tend to do. The 4rth Century Church was a time of turmoil: Council of Nicea, Constantine the Great retook the western part of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths sack rome....the list goes on. There is plenty to move the world, enough tension for a priest with a dark past and motives, to be found out.

A wolf in sheep's clothing is perfect for this time.

Marian Perera said...

I like the query, but I think it would be stronger without, "He is now bored". For some reason, reading that a character is bored always makes me feel bored too - and if his deceptions or power struggle are going so well that he's bored, there's not much conflict.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Given how much more interesting the query sounds from the antagonist's POV, I'm following the same line of thought as some of the other commenters and wondering if perhaps the novel should be told from his POV as well. Claudius is interesting, as are stories told from the perspective of a "bad guy" who thinks he's really doing the right thing. Rowan, on the other hand, seems to be just...there. Plus, the inside of the church structure would be really interesting to see more of (provided more research was done to correct the inaccuracies present in the query), and I wonder how much of it could really be revealed in any believable fashion from Rowan's POV.

I also wonder about the boy-is-really-a-girl thing. Maybe it matters for some reason in the story, but is it necessary for the query? You've only got so many words to convince an agent, and that part just made me wonder why it was important, and why you couldn't just cut to the chase and say "Claudius realizes he made a mistake when he allows his bastard daughter who witnesses the murder to live".

Considering how much I love this time period though, I would LOVE to read this story should it be published someday. Keep're close.

Theresa Milstein said...

The problem is we don't know the story from the POV we'll be spending the most time with. While the plot sounds interesting, I don't know completely what's at stake for the protagonist (besides life and death) or exactly how she feels and reacts. I like the antagonist's POV fine, but I don't know how much time I'll get to spend with him.

Voldemort, The Malfoys, Snape, and Bellatrix LeStrange were all wonderful antagonists. But seeing the series through their eyes, wouldn't really be Harry Potter's story and I would have no sense of who he is or exactly what obstacles he faces.

I agree with QS, switch POV of the query or the manuscript.

Vivian said...

For me personally, this query did not sound like something I wanted to read. To be fair, I don't generally like historical horror/romance novels. However, reading the query from Claudius' point of view was sort of a turn-off for me, because I honestly didn't find the character very likable.

I suspect that if you had a hard time writing the query from the antagonist (the daughter?)POV that we're probably going to spend most of the story on Claudius' POV. Personally, I wouldn't want to spend that much time with a character who murders people as a career move. However, that's just my opinion, and it looks like there are a lot of people here who would love to read the book.

Miranda White said...

I would read this if the novel were from Claudius's point of view. It'd get extra brownie points from me if he emerged victorious at the end, too. I have to agree with Tara -- I'm leery of Rowan because she sounds like a Mary Sue.

The tone of the query also seems a little off at times, almost seeming to hint that Claudius is a two-dimensional villain instead of a complex, interesting character.

If this book were written with Claudius as a villain protagonist and in his POV, I'd pick it up in a heartbeat. If it were from Rowan's POV, I'd probably walk right by it with a "meh."

Sharon Wachsler said...

None of this is my cup of tea (paranormal, history, romance, etc.), but what really threw me was the error in the first graf -- the extra word. (I think it was, "to through.")

QS, do you let this type of thing go because you know this is a draft to you, not the actual final product? Would an agent let that go in a query? (I thought there were other problems with the mechanics of writing here.) As a proofreader, I cringed.

Elissa M said...

I agree that writing the query in a different POV from the book is a problem. Over and over, I see agents saying that the voice in the query is what caused them to ask for more. An agent might well request pages thinking the novel will be the villain's POV, and then reject when the manuscript turns out to be not what she expected.

As has already been said here, you should seriously consider changing either the novel's or the query's POV. If you really can't write the query from the protagonist's POV, that is definitely a sign that you need to rethink the novel entirely.

TheLabRat said...

"When he kills the previous possessor of that position, Claudius realizes he made a mistake when he allows a boy who witnesses the murder to live."

You've got a "when when" going on there.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

The query makes me want to read this but the comments so far raise questions I would not have thought of. There is always so much to learn on this blog.

My question is why is it "paranormal"? Isn't paranormal a genre that is more contemporary? This is presented as historical. Are the druids paranormal or historical?

Cristin Bruggeman said...

I think there's a lot of potential for an interesting story here, but I suspect you're a draft or two away from being ready to pitch this to agents.

I also write this era, and have done loads of research on the Roman Empire in this period as well as the 3rd and 4th century church. A previous commenter was correct, the churches of Ireland and Great Britain were governed out of Gaul. There would not be an archbishop in Britain. There would be Bishops who had authority from the church in Gaul (who had their authority from Constantinople) to ordain other priests and church leaders).

St. Patrick, for example, didn't rise up the ranks of the church. He had to go to Gaul and ask to be sent to Ireland. He was denied for a number of years before he was finally made a bishop and sent with the blessing of the church leadership. If he had died, the most prominent priest wouldn't automatically replace him, it would be decided somewhere far away, and the archbishop would put someone in they new personally to be trustworthy.

Long comment, but my point is you may need to rethink some elements of your story and do some more research.

I also don't have a clear idea from your query what Claudius wants. Why is he doing it? That might make him more sympathetic if he is going to be your main P.O.V.

One more nitpick, if he is a former druid, his name wouldn't be Claudius, but a local name. Unless he's assumed someone's identity, which could be interesting! :)

Cristin Bruggeman said...

p.s. - A good biography of St. Patrick, like the one by Phillip Freeman, can give you a lot of insight into life in Britain at that time, the perils of travel, the church in Gaul, the differences in worldviews between Christians of that time and druids, the responsibilities of a 4th century bishop, etc. Definitely a great resource for making your story probable.

Anonymous said...

Like Sharon, I also found the writing rather awkard.

I was also thrown by the shifts in voice and POV within the query.

The story line sounds interesting, though.

Taymalin said...

Did anyone else get an Evil Overlord List flashback while reading the part where he let the murder witness live?

I didn't buy it. If he's the bad guy I need to know why he let her live, immediately following the statement that he did. Like in the same sentence. Or, at least, in the following one.

Kate said...

This query lost me pretty early on, but maybe this just isn't my genre. Something about the writing felt a little stilted. It could just be me. It wouldn't be the first time. ;)

Stephsco said...

@Angie: paranormal can be historical, but I think maybe we see it more often in contemporary stories. Saundra Mitchell's The Vespertine is YA historical with paranormal abilities within it.

I agree about removing the romance genre tag because nothing in the query sounds romantic.

Hope said...

As far as we know there were no female druids. In fact we know so little about druids in general it's hard to say exactly what they were up to. Stuart Piggot did a book on it a while back if you are interested. Stonehenge (if you are interested in that) also predates druids by a very, very long time.

As a historian I already didn't like it - I'd move it entirely into the realm of the paranormal, because there isn't a lot of real history going on here.

Gemma Buxton said...

I like the sound of this, though I think there are some slips in to the character's POV - "These sheep..." I think that it's jilting to read. Apart from that though, with the advice given by others, I think that it sounds like an interesting concept - I'd give it a read!

Crystal said...

Thank you for all of your feedback.

I am currently working on a query from the protag's POV and will post it in a few days.

To address a few of the issues:

I can remove 'romantic elements' from the genre. Rowan's love affair isn't crucial to the plot. I think the paranormal tag needs to stay. There are curses, prophecies, apparitions and shapeshifters in the ms. 'Paranormal' describes this perfectly.

'Archbishop' and 'priest' are modernized. This will be no problem to change if requested.

Though I am not a historian, I am a history buff, especially in periods that interest me. Unfortunately, Celtic history was written by Romans and Christian monks. Because of this, female druids (bandrui, bandroai) were demonized. Celtic society treated each sex equally. Its not a big stretch of the imagination to believe female druid once existed.

Jaimie Teekell said...

The query definitely made me want to read it, but I'd probably be disappointed if the book were from the good guy's (girl's) POV -- just based on it being so different from the pitch. You really did a great job of hyping up the villain's story here. It sounds great.

(I like history and fantasy, so.)

Anonymous said...

Post-revision-- The writing here is even more awkward than the original. So, unlike Query Shark, I will tell you what to do: Go through your manuscript. Read it aloud. Listen for things that sound clunky and awkward. Fix them.

Crystal said...

See what I mean? Writing the query from Rowan's POV is difficult for me and it shouldn't be. I have a problem finding the best plot points to describe her story and end up with a disjointed mess like this.

This is something that will require a lot more time and work.

Miss Emma said...

Normally i'd agree. It's absolutely necessary to read one's own writing aloud and iron out all the kinks in the language: sound advice.

At the same time, there's no point in spending long hours giving the language a high polish, if the actual integrity of the story and plot isn't there yet. You don't paint a house before you've erected all the walls... and if you're still on the fence about who the true protagonist is, than chances are your not ready to clean up the language just yet.

In my experience 'rough' writing is much easier to revise, and also makes cutting the extraneous passages much less painful.

@ Marian Perera:
Yes, i felt the same way. There's no room for boredom in a query, unless boredom itself serves as a sort of inciting incident. Here, it just kills momentum.

I also felt the same way about Rowan's depression. "Depression" in this context feels limp and inactive, a real energy sap. Is she depressed? or is she determined and enraged?


Anyway, the POV protagonist question is a doozie, and ultimately only you will know how to resolve it. But from what i can tell without having read the book, it sounds like this story really wants to be told with the POV split between Rowan and Claudius.

I agree with what others have said, Claudius is the more compelling and unique of the two, but i wouldn't want to spend a whole book with him (no way).

On the other hand, with Rowan as the sole protagonist, this book becomes just another story of a "powerful-young-magician-looking-to-thwart-evil", in other words, nothing new.

But if you were to write this book with a split protagonist, switching back and forth between the two sides: now that's a book i'd be interested in reading.

Miranda White said...

Reading the revised query, Rowan sounds just as boring and cliche as I'd thought she would. There's nothing new or interesting about her.

Crystal, I think you should compare feedback to both versions of the query -- it was always mixed, but Claudius received a much better response as a character. Your issue is probably that you have the wrong protagonist. If you were to rewrite the story to be about Claudius, from his point of view, I for one would go from "not interested whatsoever" to "I'll flip through a few pages to see what it's like."

I don't think Rowan's story has anything new or unique or interesting. Claudius's just might.

Crystal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crystal said...

@ Miss Emma:

You have certainly hit the nail on the head. This story is told from multiple POVS: Rowan's grandfather, her mother, Uncle Rhys, and a priest who uses Rowan to bring about Claudius' downfall. These characters are brought together by Claudius' machinations.

Finding the right POV from the two main contributors (Rowan and Claudius) has been the biggest obstacle in writing the best query for this ms.