Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

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Hillsy
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Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by Hillsy » January 27th, 2010, 7:58 pm

Newer draft of the query further down

Hey,

On Babel Clash Dan Abnett's was discussing his new novel, Triumff. Now, while I know the broader discussion was about world building, I noticed how much Abnett referred to the book by the idea behind the world. Not the plot, or theme, or characters; world, world, world. It got me thinking about my query. I also have a shiny world to show off, but I've removed a lot of the details in order to push the plot forward. Now when I read about Nathan's urge to do something different, I realised that most of the advice I had received, and indeed had given, was to pare down the backstory and history of the world, instead to concentrate on the plot and characters. If this was the norm, had I in fact made my query like everything else by leaving out the unique details?? I sat down and redrafted what I thought was a pretty polished query.

So I humbly ask you to look at the two queries and let me know if the extra backstory and world detail adds that "Wow" factor, or if it bogs the query down with unnecessary detail at the beginning (and yes they are the same novel....hehe)

---------------------------
Query 1: Original - 221 words

Society, polarised by ideologies, exists in a perpetual state of war that neither side can win. Forced into stalemate by the harsh, unremitting wastelands separating them, the Gangs and the Cities are reduced to petty raids and depredations.

Layne barely survived the latest Gang strike, a bold assault on the City’s military facility, the Garrison. Still in training and with a slew of discipline issues to his name, Layne is surprised when his superiors task him with uncovering how the Gangs penetrated Garrison security. However, someone else - someone with power and authority - has another role for him: Traitor.

Framed as a conspirator and without sufficient proof of his innocence, Layne’s only choice is to flee, and there’s only one place he can run - the Gangs.

As Layne tries to survive within the Gang’s Fortress he finds many of his prejudices are just Garrison propaganda, designed to make the war easier to swallow, and now he is faced with an enemy he finds increasingly difficult to label evil.

Desperate to clear his name, hampered by his ethics, Layne struggles to stop not only the Gangs from tilting the balance of power irrevocably in their favour, but also someone from using the Gang’s bold plans to forge a lasting peace.

Because while the war is bad, peace will be cataclysmic.

---------------------------------------------------------
Query 2: Backstory Heavy - 243 words

Some called Phantoms parasites, others survivors - what can’t be denied is that they changed the world forever.

Mankind tore through the barriers of their dimension not realising it was populated and what begun as an energy mining program became an unholy union of realities. A symbiosis. An exchange of life energy for raw power of the Phantom’s dimension: Magic. Animals became Monsters; Men became Gods.

Layne is a disillusioned trainee in Trachedae’s mandatory military facility for symbionts, the Garrison, protecting the city from the Monsters magic created and the Gangs they are at war with. It is a duty he altruistically pursues despite a streak of indiscipline his symbiont Phantom, Shyla, can’t keep under control. However, someone else - someone with power and authority - has another role for him: Traitor.

Framed for aiding an assault on the Garrison and without proof of his innocence, Layne and Shyla have only one place they can hide - The Gangs.

While trying to hide their true nature within the Gang Fortress, they find their prejudices are Garrison propaganda, designed to make the war easier to swallow, and Layne finds it increasingly difficult to label his enemy evil.

Desperate to clear his name, hampered by his ethics, Layne struggles not only to stop the Gangs from tilting power irrevocably in their favour, but also to stop someone using the Gang’s plans to end the war altogether.

Because while the war is bad, peace will be cataclysmic.

------------------------------------------------

Id really appreciate your opinions because I'm staring a three dilemmas: Not enough *Wow!*, not enough plot, or having enough of both and making the query too long.

Cheers!!!
Last edited by Hillsy on February 1st, 2010, 8:02 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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JustineDell
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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by JustineDell » January 27th, 2010, 8:32 pm

Okay, first I would like to point out that I am not a big reader in this genre. I didn't dare to make changes to something I didn't understand, so I left both query's as-is because they are both very powerful. With that being said, I didn't really understand the first one. The second one caught my attention better and was easier for me to digest, if that means anything.

No matter what, I think you have very distinct voice and I have a feeling your imagination is off the charts. Super kudos to you! I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help.

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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by Krista G. » January 27th, 2010, 9:30 pm

I like the second one better. A lot. The symbiotic forces at play in your world seem important - and, like you said, unique - and I don't think the second is so back-story-heavy that it's unwieldy.

A few suggestions: The second paragraph (of your second query) is a little too abstract for me to really sink into, and the abundance of short, choppy sentence fragments isn't helping. Once I'd read it three times, I got it, and actually kind of liked it - but I had to read it three times, something that an agent might not have patience for.

Also, I don't understand where the Gangs came from. I suspect they're the group that didn't agree with the whole symbiosis and borrowing magic thing, but I'd like to know for sure.

On the whole, this sounds great. I remember reading this query earlier on the forum, and the changes you've made make it sing. I'd love to read this book. Good luck with it.
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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by tameson » January 27th, 2010, 9:40 pm

I liked the second one best- but both seemed great to me (with my complete lack of experience in writing queries).

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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by Ghost in the Machine » January 28th, 2010, 12:53 pm

Hi Hillsy,

I haven’t read much SF, but this query was really hard to read. I had to slow way down and reread the passages to make sure I understood them. This does not bode well for agents. You don’t want to lose your unique voice, but this query desperately needs clarity. Since others like version 2 better, I’ll focus on that one.

Some called Phantoms parasites, others survivors - what can’t be denied is that they changed the world forever.

Questions: Where are these phantom parasites (or is it phantoms and parasites) and survivors? On earth? On Trachedae? Why is Phantoms capitalized? Wait, now I’ve got it! You mean the Phantoms were called parasites.

Is “the world” our earth or not?

Suggestion: Some call the Phantoms parasites, some call them survivors—what can’t be denied is they changed the world forever.


Mankind tore through the barriers of their dimension not realising it was populated and what begun as an energy mining program became an unholy union of realities. (Okay this sentence sounds really cool, but it makes no sense. I realize the next part tries to explain this, but more clarity is needed.) A symbiosis. An exchange of life energy for raw power of the Phantom’s dimension: Magic. Animals became Monsters; Men became Gods.

Question: I’m so lost. Are the Phantoms human? Or alien? I can’t tell for sure, but this paragraph makes me think that mankind—humans are the bad guys. And whose dimension? The word “their” might refer to mankind or Phantoms.

Suggestion: Mankind tore through the barriers of their dimension not realizing it was populated. What began as an energy mining program became an unholy union of realities.

Comment: Now comes the exchange part and I’m still lost. What is life energy? I can understand humans using up all our oil and going after new energy, but life energy? If this is something mystical, please explain.

So the exchange is energy for magic. Who gets what? I seriously can’t tell. Of course, I still don’t know if the Phantoms are really human.


Layne is a disillusioned trainee in Trachedae’s mandatory military facility for symbionts, the Garrison, protecting the city from the Monsters magic created and the Gangs they are at war with.

Okay stop. This sentence is a confusing garble. It’s breaking multiple grammar rules, and my head is spinning so badly, I don’t even know where to start. Put a period after the word “facility” and reword the rest with proper English.

It is a duty he (Layne? I don’t know why, but Layne sounds female and then this pronoun threw me for a loop) altruistically pursues despite a streak of indiscipline his symbiont Phantom, Shyla, can’t keep under control.

Say what? Break this bad boy into two sentences. One about Layne, one about Shyla.

However, someone else - someone with power and authority - has another role for him: Traitor.

Framed for aiding an assault on the Garrison and without proof of his innocence, Layne and Shyla have only one place they can hide - The Gangs.

Okay, things are starting to gel better. But in this last part, are Layne and Shyla hiding with or hiding in the Gangs? Gang usually refers to people, not a place. Clarify what you mean here.

While trying to hide their true nature within the Gang Fortress, they find their prejudices are Garrison propaganda, designed to make the war easier to swallow, and Layne finds it increasingly difficult to label his enemy evil.

Again, I get the gist but the wording is so circumspect.

Suggestion: While hiding out in the Gang Fortress, they are exposed to Garrison propaganda designed to make the war easier to swallow. Seeing this from their enemies’ perspective, Layne finds it difficult to quantify which side is good and which is evil.

Now that’s boring compared to your voice, but it’s more clear. Maybe you can tweak your version and meet me in the middle.

Desperate to clear his name, hampered by his ethics, Layne struggles not only to stop the Gangs from tilting power irrevocably in their favour, but also to stop someone using the Gang’s plans to end the war altogether.

A shorter version of this would be, I’m sounding like a broken record, more clear.

Suggestion: Desperate to clear his name, Layne struggles to keep the Gang’s power in check but not destroyed. Ending the war is the last thing Layne wants.


Because while the war is bad, peace will be cataclysmic.

Strong ending, but I can’t take “Because while”. I just can’t.

Suggestion: War is bad, but peace? Peace would be cataclysmic.

Now my brain is fried. I need a break. Lunchtime!


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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by CharleeVale » January 29th, 2010, 1:47 am

I read alot of sci-fi, and I would never pick up a book that was marketed using the first query. It sounds to me more like a trumped up, non-musical version of West Side Story.

The second one however, I really really liked. It's late, so i can't do a full scale critique of it tonight, (Maybe tomorrow) But it definitely captured my attention. And I LOVE the ending. (Just drop 'because')

CV

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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by Yoshima » January 29th, 2010, 5:29 pm

Hey Hillsy! Here's my thoughts. Hope they help. :) I wasn't a fan of the first, so I'm critiquing the second.
Hillsy wrote:Hey,

Query 2: Backstory Heavy - 243 words

Some called Phantoms parasites, others survivors - what can’t be denied is that they changed the world forever. (Interesting! Sounds like an alien take-over. I'm definitely reading on.)

Mankind tore through the barriers of their dimension not realising it was populated and what begun as an energy mining program became an unholy union of realities (too long a sentence. Break up the ideas; it'll help keep us on track, too.) A symbiosis. An exchange of life energy for raw power of the Phantom’s dimension: Magic. Animals became Monsters; Men became Gods.

Layne is a disillusioned trainee in Trachedae’s (um...who are they?) mandatory military facility for symbionts, the Garrison, protecting the city from the Monsters magic created and the Gangs they are at war with. (another long sentence with too many ideas. I'm guessing you did that so it wouldn't sound choppy, but as a reader, having separate sentences for different ideas, even if they're related, helps a lot.) It is a duty he altruistically pursues despite a streak of indiscipline his symbiont Phantom, Shyla, can’t keep under control. However, someone else - someone with power and authority - has another role for him: Traitor. (oooo, sounds cool!)

Framed for aiding an assault on the Garrison and without proof of his (their?) innocence, Layne and Shyla have only one place they can hide - The Gangs.

Connect these two paragraphs.

While trying to hide their true nature within the Gang Fortress, they find their prejudices are Garrison propaganda, designed to make the war easier to swallow, and Layne finds it increasingly difficult to label his enemy evil. (Good conflict!)

Desperate to clear his name, (lose the comma and add "and") hampered by his ethics, Layne struggles not only to stop the Gangs from tilting power irrevocably in their favour, but also to stop someone using the Gang’s plans to end the war altogether.

Because while the war is bad, peace will be cataclysmic. (Great ending!)

------------------------------------------------

Id really appreciate your opinions because I'm staring a three dilemmas: Not enough *Wow!*, not enough plot, or having enough of both and making the query too long.

I think elaborating a little on the Shyla symbiotic relationship thing would help increase the Wow! factor. For a sci-fi book, I think it's okay to have a longer query. You've got a whole world plus a plot to explain and that's really hard to do in 250 or less words. I'd rather spend an extra 10 seconds reading more about your world than leaving the query without a sense of what makes your world special.

Cheers!!!

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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by Hillsy » February 1st, 2010, 8:01 pm

This is the newest edit

Wow! Some very insightful responses there. Thanks to everyone for reading and pitching in and thanks again for the suggestions.

Well I've done a re-edit, but as you can see I've started to get dangerously close to the upper limit on Nathan's "Sweet spot" of between 250 and 350 words. So much of my world is important to the plot and the characters (of course some people might see it differently...hehe) that I'm worried now I'm spending too much time up top setting the scene. If you don't have two worlds co-existing, you can't have the war between the Cities and the Gangs. If you don't have the war you can't have the threat that a permanent solution brings to it. Query 1 was a stripped down, non-backstory version focusing purely on the protagonists problem: his vilification by both sides in the war. But it seems that everyone preferred having the unique world there too (and to be honest so do I). So here's an effort to do just that:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Some say the Phantoms are parasites, others survivors. But everyone agrees they didn’t have a choice.

Mankind’s scientists thought they had found a gravitational anomaly. It turned out just one experiment separated the Phantom’s dimension of pure energy from the material plane. It was nearly the end of both. Raw energy poured into the world destroying the flora and twisting animals into monsters of matter and magic.

The Phantoms did the only thing they could; they latched onto the life force of mankind, drawing it into their own plane to counteract the cataclysmic siphoning of their existence. A symbiosis was built: Those Humans linked to a Phantom could exchange the very essence of their life for access to the destructive power of Magic. Where animals had become monsters, men became Gods. Gods at war. The world fractured into isolated pockets of humanity dominated by two polarised ideologies: Cities and Gangs.

Layneden is a disillusioned, ill disciplined trainee in the City’s mandatory training facility for Symbionts, the Garrison. Even so Layne, and his Phantom symbiont, Shyla, embrace their duty to the City to protect it from the Monsters and the Gangs However, someone else - someone with power and authority - has another role for him: Traitor.

Framed for aiding an assault on the Garrison and without proof of their innocence, Layne and Shyla have only one place they can hide - The Gang Fortress. It is a society alien to them and they must understand it if they want to survive. But with it comes the realisation that Garrison propaganda is exactly that: Lies.

Faced with an enemy he finds increasingly difficult to label evil but desperate to clear his name, Layne must battle to keep the Gangs power in check. Ending the war is the last thing Layne, Shyla and all the Phantoms, want.

While the war is terrible, Peace will be cataclysmic.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That's 314 words and to be honest I'm thinking that's too long. So which parts of the set-up do you think is unnecessary? Do you even get how the world works and how it came about? Have I - once again - confused everything in my search for brevity? You opinions are highly valuable and very welcome.


P.S. I'm also beginning to see the problem with having my Named factions (Phantoms, Cities and Gangs) all as nouns in their own right - they have a duality to them which I think is obfuscating what they represent. Phantoms are beings who live in the magical dimension, named by humans because they are, well, a lot like ghosts - transparent and ethereal. The Cities are a network of, well, cities walled in against the world and who represent the "Good Guys" at the beginning. The Gangs are very similar except each city is independent of each other and they are depicted as the "Bad" society.

So how do I go about naming them? I've already half-made the decision to rename Phantoms 'Revenants' as this has less connotations. As for the Gangs and the Cities, do I go with more nationalistic themes (Trachedae is the City in question and the Gang they are up against is The Moire Jedey in the novel) or do I simply choose less generic terms? It's something I've got to address. It flows easily in the novel, but you get a bit more than half a sentence to explain everything.

Again, all thoughts welcome

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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by christi » February 1st, 2010, 8:14 pm

I totally followed the second one, and am wondering why I can't buy it yet :-) This is totally up my alley. I didn't much care for the first query. The second sounds a lot like the back of a book jacket, which is a good thing. A powerful, pull you in synopsis.
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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by Hillsy » February 3rd, 2010, 1:50 pm

Cheers Christi - consider yourself penciled in for a signed copy, he he.

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Re: Of Shadows And Angels - Query about a query

Post by Seadhlinn » February 4th, 2010, 1:32 am

Some say the Phantoms are parasites, others survivors. But everyone agrees they didn’t have a choice.

Mankind’s scientists thought they had found a gravitational anomaly. It turned out just one experiment separated the Phantom’s dimension of pure energy from the material plane. It was nearly the end of both. Raw energy poured into the world [,]destroying the flora and twisting animals into monsters of matter and magic.
I assume by "the world", you mean the human world-- I'd suggest you say "human world" here.

The Phantoms did the only thing they could; they latched onto the life force of mankind, drawing it into their own plane to counteract the cataclysmic siphoning of their existence. A symbiosis was built: Those Humans linked to a Phantom could exchange the very essence of their life for access to the destructive power of Magic. Where animals had become monsters, men became Gods. Gods at war. The world fractured into isolated pockets of humanity dominated by two polarised ideologies: Cities and Gangs.

Layneden is a disillusioned, ill disciplined trainee in the City’s mandatory training facility for Symbionts, the Garrison. Even so Layne, and his Phantom symbiont, Shyla, embrace their duty to the City to protect it from the Monsters and the Gangs[.] However, someone else - someone with power and authority - has another role for him: Traitor.

Framed for aiding an assault on the Garrison and without proof of their innocence, Layne and Shyla have only one place they can hide - The Gang Fortress. It is a society alien to them and they must understand it if they want to survive. But with it comes the realisation that Garrison propaganda is exactly that: Lies.

Faced with an enemy he finds increasingly difficult to label evil but desperate to clear his name, Layne must battle to keep the Gangs power in check. Ending the war is the last thing Layne, Shyla and all the Phantoms, want.
While the war is terrible, Peace will be cataclysmic.
Why would peace be so awful? For whom? You should probably explain this, so we know what the stakes are.

**
Overall Thoughts: This is not a genre I would usually read, but I like your pitch overall. You seem to have created a strong world. The only problem is that at the end of the letter, the stakes of the conflict are confusing.

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