Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

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sbs_mjc1
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Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by sbs_mjc1 » October 15th, 2010, 11:54 am

Hey all. Mike and I are back with another query attempt. We've got a few rejections-- not quite at the panic point, but figure the letter can always be improved.

**
Dear [Agent]

[Personalized bit]

It’s winter, 1745, and Scotland is losing a war for independence. The advancing British army has orders to leave no survivors. In desperation, Robert Maxwell and his fellow soldiers beg for supernatural aid from the daione sìdhe—faeries long ago exiled by humans to a parallel plane of existence. Robert’s plea is answered, but in exchange, the sìdhe demand a permanent reversal of their banishment and unlimited access to the human world.

Their assistance gives the Scots a temporary advantage, but chaos descends across Britain as the sìdhe prey on humans and riddle the countryside with portals that can whisk passers-by into unknown dimensions. With no way to return the sìdhe to their own world, Robert realizes the humans will have to learn to live alongside them. He and the Scottish leadership turn to Marian Cameron, a patriotic but immature teenager with rare psychic abilities, who has the best chance of understanding the sìdhe, and talented pamphlet-writer Ina Bruce, who will stop at nothing to see the Scottish side succeed.

Opposing their efforts to create harmony between sìdhe and humans is Alfred Grayson, a government official whose job is to “civilize” Scotland by selling discontented farmers to the American colonies to make room for new, wealthy landowners.

If, Robert, Ina and Marian want a future for themselves, their families, and their country, they must not only unite a new nation against military attacks from without, but foil sìdhe attempts to sow dissent among the humans and take over from within.
**

Specific questions-- does it seem too narrow? Is the concept OK?
http://sb-writingtheother.blogspot.com/
FORGOTTEN GODS is out September 17th 2011! Check the blog for details.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Nicole R » October 15th, 2010, 1:51 pm

Hi guys,

This is a pretty good set-up IMHO. I love reading stories like this! However, I know there are several similar novels out there already, which might make it harder for yours to stand out. I like the military aspect - that gives it a slightly different spin.

A couple of key questions/thoughts:
- You jump pretty quickly into the idea of "we must live side-by-side with the sidhe." Why wouldn't your characters try fighting back first? Even if they can't re-banish the sidhe, is there a way to kill them? (or, if they do fight back, tell us that.)

- You give us a good feel for the bad side of the sidhe, but how are they helping? Robert made a pact with them for a reason, but there's no explanation of if they continue to deliver on their promise to help Scotland. Again, if the sidhe aren't helping and are just ravaging the country, it seems strange to try to co-exist with them instead of fighting them.

Nice work!

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Down the well » October 15th, 2010, 2:57 pm

sbs_mjc1 wrote:We've got a few rejections-- not quite at the panic point, but figure the letter can always be improved.
Hi sbs and mjc,

I'm curious about a few things. Have you been getting rejected at just the query stage? This is a pretty good query. Also, are you targeting UK or US agents, or both? Some people have weighed in lately on the differences between the two and what they demand in a query. Apparently they want to see different things in a query.

sbs_mjc1 wrote:It’s winter, 1745, and Scotland is losing a war for independence. The advancing British army has orders to leave no survivors. In desperation, Robert Maxwell and his fellow soldiers beg for supernatural aid from the daione sìdhe—faeries long ago exiled by humans to a parallel plane of existence. Robert’s plea is answered, but in exchange, the sìdhe demand a permanent reversal of their banishment and unlimited and permanent access to the human world.
This is a really strong opening paragraph in my opinion. The only thing that might need tweaking is the last sentence.

sbs_mjc1 wrote:Their assistance gives the Scots a temporary advantage, but chaos descends across Britain as the sìdhe prey on humans and riddle the countryside with portals that can whisk passers-by into unknown dimensions. With no way to return the sìdhe to their own world, Robert realizes the humans will have to learn to live alongside them He Robert and the Scottish leadership turn to Marian Cameron, a patriotic but immature teenager with rare psychic abilities, who has the best chance of understanding negotiating(?) with the sìdhe, and talented pamphlet-writerpropagandist Ina Bruce, who will stop at nothing to see the Scottish side succeed.
1) I'm curious what "prey on humans" actually means. Does it mean they are eating people? Physically attacking them? Sexual assault? Maybe a little more specificity would punch things up here.

2) I think you can cut the "patriotic but immature" description. I think it's her psychic abilities that we need to know about for purposes of a query.

3) Would propagandist work better than pamphlet writer? The word has more of an agenda-based motivation behind it, IMO.

sbs_mjc1 wrote:Opposing their efforts to create harmony between sìdhe and humans is Alfred Grayson, a government official whose job is to “civilize” Scotland by selling discontented farmers to the American colonies to make room for new, wealthy landowners.
I would cut this. It feels like a subplot that isn't directly involved in the inciting incident. It's a later complication, but I don't think you need to bring it up in the query. And you don't really want to introduce another character at this point.

sbs_mjc1 wrote:If, Robert, Ina and Marian want a future for themselves, their families, and their country, they must not only unite new nation Scotland against military attacks from without, but they must also find a way to stop the sidhe from taking over from within, or (whatever it is that will happen if the fairies are allowed to continue creating chaos). foil sìdhe attempts to sow dissent among the humans and take over from within.
**


I think we need to see specifically what the fallout will be if the sidhe can't be tamed. Those are the stakes. What's the worst they could do?

Overall I think it's a very good query. And so damn cool. I love this idea.

If you have any questions just ask.
Last edited by Down the well on October 15th, 2010, 9:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by glj » October 15th, 2010, 5:52 pm

I like this. It is concise and gets to the point without excess wording.

How does the title tie in? Are the sidhe the forgotten gods?

Opposing their efforts to create harmony between sìdhe and humans is Alfred Grayson, a government official whose job is to “civilize” Scotland by selling discontented farmers to the American colonies to make room for new, wealthy landowners. I agree that this seems a bit tangential to the main conflict. Plus, which government is Alfred in, Scottish government or British? Is he a traitor? How does "selling" farmers off affect the harmony between sidhe and humans?

If, Robert, Ina and Marian want a future for themselves, their families, and their country, they must not only unite a new nation against military attacks from without, but foil sìdhe attempts to sow dissent among the humans and take over from within. Well, this paragraph does nothing for me. Everything up to here is informative and specific. Then this paragraph backs way off and does a lot of handwaving - "then they must work together to defeat the other side". I wanted something that leads up to and hints at a climax, a confrontation that I simply MUST read about. This is more of a fade out paragraph.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Quill » October 16th, 2010, 11:00 am

sbs_mjc1 wrote:
It’s winter, 1745, and Scotland is losing a war for independence. The advancing British army has orders to leave no survivors. In desperation, Robert Maxwell and his fellow soldiers beg for supernatural aid from the daione sìdhe—faeries long ago exiled by humans to a parallel plane of existence. Robert’s plea is answered, but in exchange, the sìdhe demand a permanent reversal of their banishment and unlimited access to the human world.
This is a good setup.
Their assistance
This raises questions. How are Maxwell & his fellows authorized to grant the demands. Can anyone reverse the banishment and grant access? Can a random six-year-old kid? What is the process for reversing? Why haven't others with agendas, say, the criminal element, done this previously?
gives the Scots a temporary advantage, but chaos descends across Britain
Good. And understandable, although things usually descend upon, rather than across. Upon might be stronger.
as the sìdhe prey on humans
As others have pointed out, this isn't specific enough.
and riddle the countryside with portals that can whisk passers-by into unknown dimensions.
"Dimensions" is so modern sounding, and seems too known for "unknown". How about "unknown places"?
With no way to return the sìdhe to their own world,
You mean "to their banishment". This was their world until humans threw them out, right? As written it's like saying we returned the renegade Apaches to their own world (their reservation) (from where they used to roam free).
Robert realizes the humans will have to learn to live alongside them.
Hmm. The victims will have to learn to live alongside their victimizers? Without some qualification (negotiation over terms: no chaos-making mischief), this sounds passive and like a recipe for disaster for the humans.
He and the Scottish leadership turn to Marian Cameron, a patriotic but immature teenager with rare psychic abilities, who has the best chance of understanding the sìdhe,
Is it understanding that is needed, or negotiating skill? Not sure what the teen is meant to add to this tense and broad situation. Sounds a little thin, as written. The teen is the only one with a decent chance? Are the adults all incapable? Why is psychic ability so important, I guess is the crux of the matter. Could you indicate? And why does only one person have this ability? I mean, most people have at least some psychic ability.
and talented pamphlet-writer Ina Bruce, who will stop at nothing to see the Scottish side succeed.
No idea why this person would be of help. Could you indicate?
Opposing their efforts to create harmony between sìdhe and humans is Alfred Grayson, a government official whose job is to “civilize” Scotland by selling discontented farmers to the American colonies to make room for new, wealthy landowners.
This seems almost out of left field. You mean the main problem is not between humans and faeries, but between factions of humans? And how does a plan to sell farmers overseas play in to the efforts to control the faeries in Scotland. I do not see this at all. Why is Grayson opposing efforts to create harmony in a chaotic time? Could you indicate?

Please indicate word count and genre, so we can better evaluate the query.

Sounds like a fabulous tale. Good luck.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by fivecats » October 17th, 2010, 2:06 pm

As usual, Quill did his fantastic, thorough job of working out what works and what doesn't work here. Instead of doing that, I'll give you some general impressions of things that stood out to me in the problematic sense.

* You have four named characters in your query which, from what I've read, is about two too many. Yes, the individuals you have created in your work are important to you, but they need not be individuals to the reader of a query. Your protagonist should be named and maybe his helper, but the others, well, not so much. (Marian and Ida, for instance, seem to play very minor, if not insignificant roles in your query. Do they really need to be mentioned here at all?)

* Your story is clearly quite complicated, but your query should not be. It should clearly state the primary problem (calling forth a faerie race that becomes dangerous) and then hint at the additional problems in the "but wait, it gets worse!" ending of the query. (They're more dangerous than once thought) Personally, I think this is the heart of your query. Mentioning Alfred Grayson seems a bit of overkill to me, not to mention a bit distracting. I mean, your characters have enough on their hands in your query to deal with thanks to some angry faeries. Grayson sounds like someone making petty land-grabs by comparison.

* Your query makes the daione sìdhe sound evil and vengeful. ("...prey on humans") This stands in stark contrast to "...Robert realizes the humans will have to learn to live alongside them". Perhaps you define this better in your book, but in terms of the query, your language makes this seem impossible. I would suggest you better clarify this, either through new language or new sentences, to help strengthen your query.
sbs_mjc1 wrote: Specific questions-- does it seem too narrow? Is the concept OK?
Too narrow? No. If anything, this seems to unwieldy right now. Too many (named) characters, too much conflict. My attention is drawn into too many directions in the course of your query. Keep your query focused and your reader will remain focused as well.

Is the concept OK? Sure. It sounds like an interesting story. I'm really curious to know how you pull of solutions to both wars!

Good luck!


-- Tom
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Tom M Franklin
Franklin, Ink: Writing about Writing & Reading
http://tommfranklin.blogspot.com/

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by sbs_mjc1 » October 17th, 2010, 6:45 pm

Thanks for the feedback! There will be a new attempt shortly...both Michael and I are being eaten alive by work :(

@Fivecats: I saw your latest blog post, and I'm delighted I'm not the only one who is turned off by "sex for the sake of sex" and "swearing for the sake of swearing" in books. Also, I feel like Michael and I are less weird for not having any real sex scenes in our novel.

@Down the Well: Yes, we've got a few rejections at the query stage, zero requests for partials (granted, we sent out a small batch of queries). We were conflicted about querying UK agents for several reasons-- most importantly, Michael is American and lives in the USA, so I was not sure if that would be OK.

@Nicole R: Off the top of my head, I can think of Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as having a somewhat similar premise (good grief, I need to read more!) and a short story with a ''war between humans and faeries'' premise. But yes, the military history aspect is fairly dominant in our novel (and yes, I'll admit, we specifically picked 1745 because it's been extensively written about, romanticized, analyzed, etc, since 1. it's a time period that people are fixated on interested in, and 2. there's a lot of primary sources available).
http://sb-writingtheother.blogspot.com/
FORGOTTEN GODS is out September 17th 2011! Check the blog for details.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Down the well » October 17th, 2010, 9:26 pm

sbs_mjc1 wrote:@Down the Well: Yes, we've got a few rejections at the query stage, zero requests for partials (granted, we sent out a small batch of queries). We were conflicted about querying UK agents for several reasons-- most importantly, Michael is American and lives in the USA, so I was not sure if that would be OK
Good news is there are well over a hundred US agents who rep fantasy. Hang in there.

Also, I wanted to let you know I tried your black bean stew recipe. I used jalapenos instead of scotch bonnets, but it worked fine. Delish! Love the recipe blog. Wish I was a better cook. :(

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by sbs_mjc1 » October 18th, 2010, 9:45 am

Taking another shot at it. Thanks again for the feedback.
@DownTheWell: Glad you liked the black bean stew!
**

It’s winter, 1745. Scotland is losing a war for independence. The advancing British army has orders to leave no survivors. In desperation, Robert Maxwell and his fellow soldiers beg for supernatural aid from the daione sìdhe—faeries long ago exiled by humans to a parallel plane of existence. Robert cannot make an official treaty with the sìdhe, but the leader of the Scottish army, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, can. But the Prince, ignorant of the true nature of the sìdhe, makes a hasty deal that gives them permanent and unlimited access to the human world in return for helping the rebellion.
Sìdhe assistance gives the Scots a temporary advantage as their magical weapons send the British army fleeing south in terror. Unfortunately, a number of the sìdhe creatures are happy to feed on Scottish soldiers and civilians when their English prey is gone.
There is no way to return the sìdhe to their own world without waging a full-scale war against them. Besides, without the sìdhe on their side, the Scots are back to facing annihilation from the British army waiting at their southern border. Robert realizes the humans will have to learn to live alongside their new allies, so he and the Scottish leadership turn to Marian Cameron, a teenager with rare psychic abilities, and talented propaganda writer Ina Bruce.
In spite of their best efforts, the Scottish population, formerly united behind their bid for independence, has disintegrated into hostile factions. English agents take advantage of the rising panic, and stir up riots across the capital city of Edinburgh. Worse still, Marian discovers that even the seemingly friendly sìdhe have a sinister hidden agenda. Using magic, they have begun to control the Scottish leadership, manipulating decisions—and slowly killing the people they control, including the charismatic and overwhelmingly popular Prince, who is the only person keeping the country from plunging into complete chaos.
http://sb-writingtheother.blogspot.com/
FORGOTTEN GODS is out September 17th 2011! Check the blog for details.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Quill » October 18th, 2010, 10:52 am

sbs_mjc1 wrote:Taking another shot at it. Thanks again for the feedback.
@DownTheWell: Glad you liked the black bean stew!
**

It’s winter, 1745. Scotland is losing a war for independence. The advancing British army has orders to leave no survivors. In desperation, Robert Maxwell and his fellow soldiers beg for supernatural aid from the daione sìdhe—faeries long ago exiled by humans to a parallel plane of existence. Robert cannot make an official treaty with the sìdhe, but the leader of the Scottish army, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, can. But the Prince, ignorant of the true nature of the sìdhe, makes a hasty deal that gives them permanent and unlimited access to the human world in return for helping the rebellion.
Sìdhe assistance gives the Scots a temporary advantage as their magical weapons send the British army fleeing south in terror. Unfortunately, a number of the sìdhe creatures are happy to feed on Scottish soldiers and civilians when their English prey is gone.
There is no way to return the sìdhe to their own world without waging a full-scale war against them. Besides, without the sìdhe on their side, the Scots are back to facing annihilation from the British army waiting at their southern border. Robert realizes the humans will have to learn to live alongside their new allies, so he and the Scottish leadership turn to Marian Cameron, a teenager with rare psychic abilities, and talented propaganda writer Ina Bruce.
In spite of their best efforts, the Scottish population, formerly united behind their bid for independence, has disintegrated into hostile factions. English agents take advantage of the rising panic, and stir up riots across the capital city of Edinburgh. Worse still, Marian discovers that even the seemingly friendly sìdhe have a sinister hidden agenda. Using magic, they have begun to control the Scottish leadership, manipulating decisions—and slowly killing the people they control, including the charismatic and overwhelmingly popular Prince, who is the only person keeping the country from plunging into complete chaos.
I would like to see line breaks between paragraphs. And word count and genre so to best evaluate the tone of this query.

Unclear how Maxwell, apparently a simple soldier, rises to such a prominent role in the Scottish leadership.

No apparent reason to include the name of the Scottish Prince. The fewer names in a query, usually the better.

Unclear what Ina Bruce is doing in the query (or book). What "best efforts" do Bruce and Cameron make? Can't imagine. Envisioning and writing?

Not sure it wouldn't be better to give the age of Marian, rather than describe her as a teenager. It sounds kind of modern, and needlessly vague, and back then, when people didn't live as long, a late teen was considered an adult, right? Weren't many of the soldiers teens, too?

These faeries dine on people? Is this part of British faerie lore? Wondering how large are these faeries? Do they attack in packs like velociraptors? Hard to picture.

Why do the faeries (apparently) stop at the Scottish border (where the English army "waits"). Why don't they flow over and consume British and wreak havoc there, too.

If the faeries have been given permanent and full access to our world, why say they can be returned to their world through "full-scale war"? Unless you mean if they are annihilated by the Scots, which doesn't seem feasible.

The leader of the Scottish army has the power to negotiate for the entire human race, the whole planet? I'm wondering how.

Wouldn't the population be "united in their bid" rather than "behind their bid"?

It doesn't feel like the psychic teen is doing much in the story, except basically reporting the obvious (that the faeries have a sinister agenda).

By the end, the query seems more like a synopsis. I would like to see the last half shortened and end with a bigger punch line.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by fivecats » October 18th, 2010, 11:22 am

sbs_mjc1 wrote:Taking another shot at it. Thanks again for the feedback.

It’s winter, 1745. Scotland is losing a war for independence. The advancing British army has orders to leave no survivors. In desperation, Robert Maxwell and his fellow soldiers beg for supernatural aid from the daione sìdhe—faeries long ago exiled by humans to a parallel plane of existence. Robert cannot make an official treaty with the sìdhe, but the leader of the Scottish army, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, can. But the Prince, ignorant of the true nature of the sìdhe, makes a hasty deal that gives them permanent and unlimited access to the human world in return for helping the rebellion.
Sìdhe assistance gives the Scots a temporary advantage as their magical weapons send the British army fleeing south in terror. Unfortunately, a number of the sìdhe creatures are happy to feed on Scottish soldiers and civilians when their English prey is gone.
There is no way to return the sìdhe to their own world without waging a full-scale war against them. Besides, without the sìdhe on their side, the Scots are back to facing annihilation from the British army waiting at their southern border. Robert realizes the humans will have to learn to live alongside their new allies...
And close.

Quill, as usual, is correct: this reads more like a summary than a query. The first key to writing an effective query is in knowing what to leave in and what should be left out. You should include the main character, his problem, what he does to overcome the problem and how the problem is made worse. Really, that's about it. Slap on a "how things just get worse" to the end of the last sentence and I think you're done.

I suspect some of your lack of response has been due to overwriting your query. Too much information, too many characters, not enough paring your story down to the bare essentials. (If you can't do that, agents fear you haven't been able to pare down the writing of the book, either)

Here are two takes on how to write a query that I've kept with me for a while now. The first is from the venerable Query Shark:

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2008/04/12.html

Try this -


1. When statement (nine times out of ten this is the way to start) also called a "hook". When ___ happens, main character reacts in this way and gets in a heap of trouble because...



2. Rising stakes in order of appearance (and, if the book is written well, in rising order of pandemonium). I'd go with three--s/he reacts, the $hi† hits the fan, s/he does X, SHTF again... 



3. Until final ultimate crisis that makes your agent/editor go "Man, how's he gonna get out of this one??" 

Mix in a little voice to reflect your book and bob's-yer-uncle, you got yourself a query. See? Easy-peasy.
_____________________________

or, put another way:

http://meganrebekahblogs.blogspot.com/2 ... opsis.html

4 Sentence Query Synopsis

Sentence 1 - Who the protagonist is and what they want
Sentence 2 - What's standing in their way
Sentence 3 - How they're going to get around the obstacle
Sentence 4 - What complications arise from their course of action
_____________________________

Now, I don't necessarily suggest you cut your query down to four sentences, but I do think doing so is a fantastic exercise. (As is writing a one sentence summary of your story) From there, add in a sentence, then another. Add them carefully, breaking up old sentences if necessary, and adding in only that information that enhances the conflict and/or the character.


(And thanks for visiting my blog. Glad you agreed with me!)


-- Tom

p.s. Many thanks for the comment on my query as well.
______________________________________
Tom M Franklin
Franklin, Ink: Writing about Writing & Reading
http://tommfranklin.blogspot.com/

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Down the well » October 18th, 2010, 3:24 pm

Ooh, they really are eating them. Wondered about that. And yes, Quill, there are some very bad faeries out there.

Okay, I have no idea if this is any better, but I tried to take the two query examples and organize the information so that it is a little more streamlined. As written, it is 240 words. One thing I think you should mention at the end of your query, along with word count, is the fact that you came up with this story based on finding an actual British pamphlet that referred to the Scots using supernatural aid. Normally you wouldn't do that, but I think in this case it's a very cool piece of information that might set your story apart. Anyway, what I put together is just a suggestion. Feel free to ignore.

* * *


It’s winter, 1745, and Scotland is losing a war for independence. The advancing British army has orders to leave no survivors. In desperation, Robert Maxwell and his fellow soldiers beg for supernatural aid from the daione sìdhe—faeries long ago exiled by humans to a parallel plane of existence. Robert’s plea is answered, but in exchange, the sìdhe are granted permanent and unlimited access to the human world.

The sìdhe’s magical weapons give the Scots a temporary advantage, but when the English army flees south in terror, some of the sìdhe begin to turn on the Scots, feeding on their flesh, snatching away their young, and riddling the countryside with hidden portals that can whisk passers-by into parallel dimensions. Chaos erupts. The Scottish population, formerly united in their bid for independence, disintegrates into hostile factions, blaming Robert and his allies for the country’s troubles.

With no way to return the faeries to their own world, and no way to defeat them in a head-on battle, Robert realizes the humans must negotiate with the sidhe or lose all control of Scotland. Turning to Marian Cameron, a young woman with rare psychic abilities, Robert and the Scottish leadership seek to understand the sidhe better, and learn if they can live side-by-side in peace. What Marian discovers, however, is that even the seemingly friendly sìdhe have a hidden agenda, and no amount of negotiating will be enough to save the country they all love from the sidhe's sinister intentions.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Quill » October 18th, 2010, 4:14 pm

Nice work, Down the well!

I'd say "their plea" instead of "Robert's plea".

I'd add one final sentence to suggest a solution, if there is one. As you have it, it seems hopeless and a done deal. If that's the case, I'd back off and leave this ending up the air somehow.

Also, "seemingly friendly" does not appear to go with the rampage underway. How about "seemingly willing to parlay" or some such.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Down the well » October 18th, 2010, 4:50 pm

Quill wrote:I'd add one final sentence to suggest a solution, if there is one. As you have it, it seems hopeless and a done deal. If that's the case, I'd back off and leave this ending up the air somehow.
Yeah, I agree. I wanted to add one more sentence, but didn't know how they were going to get out of that mess.

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Re: Forgotten Gods Query-- trying again

Post by Quill » October 18th, 2010, 8:51 pm

It does really sound like a cool story.

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