Query help - Gothic - REVISED

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Joined: December 17th, 2009, 2:34 pm

Re: Query help - Gothic

Post by djf881 » December 20th, 2009, 11:53 am

Joel Q wrote:
DJF881, You are correct that agents must make assumptions based on the query. Nathan could probably expand on that.
I am trying to be polite and encouraging, because I do think you've got the potential for a cool story. But these are the facts:

Agents can hack through about 50 queries in half an hour. They request materials from fewer than 2% of submissions. Draw whatever conclusions you want from that.
But I, and every writer, must believe that an agent will make the assumption that the writers have done the research (as I have done on both the coal mining industry in Colorado and the theology behind my plot points). The agents most also assume that the manuscript has been proof read, critiqued and rewritten to make it a logical story line with believable events. A query letter cannot contain the details behind every plot point that may or may not make complete sense in one sentence or phrase. The synopsis is the next step to reveal the plot and motives in the manuscript.
Many of the submissions agents receive are for incoherent, poorly-written books. If your query isn't a standout, then agents will not take time to look at the manuscript. If your query letter is catchy and stylish and clear, they'll assume your manuscript is. If your query letter is confusing, they'll assume your manuscript is also confusing.

The query should encapsulate the central plot or conflict of the book, it should demonstrate that you have a strong voice and it should contain a hook that catches the reader's attention. Somebody like Nathan gets between five hundred and a thousand queries every month. He'll pull, at most, two or three clients out of the slushpile in a year. Your book needs to be the single best thing that crosses his desk, or you're rejected. You don't get the benefit of the doubt, you don't get a mulligan and close doesn't count.

If your manuscript is polished to a high sheen, logical throughout, and tight as a drum, maybe you just need to rework your query. But the disparate and confusing elements of your query probably indicate similar issues with the manuscript. You should consider posting your query and first chapter in the Show Your Work forums at AbsoluteWrite. There are a lot of agented and published writers there, who know what they are doing. They will offer you on-the-point criticism that you may find helpful, if you're predisposed to accepting criticism and willing to do work on your book. I promise you, your book needs work.
Almost every story has at least one twist or element that would not work in reality. That's one of privileges of being a writer, making something different work in a creative way to bring the reader into the world in your mind.
Illogical elements, people who do things that are out-of-character, and implausible events are story problems. They break a reader's suspension of disbelief and readers are not indulgent. Your fantasy world has to have an internal set of rules. Stuff has to make sense. Your query has a lot of elements that make no sense:

It doesn't make sense that a condemned murderer would be pardoned and released to hunt down his former associates. It doesn't make sense that fallen angels' plan to disprove the existence of God would involve pretending to be vampires while killing miners in a remote Colorado town. If the miners are trying to slay the demons, it makes no sense that the bounty hunter would be in conflict with them. It isn't clear what the bounty hunter's mission to hunt down the gang has to do with the demons. It doesn't make sense that trusting a demon should be necessary.

Nothing in your plot, as you describe it, seems to follow from the other events.

Consider, in contrast, the following very short synopsis for a variation on your theme:
Jon Blair has a hell of a problem. His smooth, sweet-talking former friend Gabriel has skipped town, owing lots of money to a mobster named Paulie "Power Drill" Satriano. Jon vouched for Gabe, so if he can't track down the deadbeat within two weeks, he's likely to wind up learning how Paulie got his nickname.

The trouble is, Gabe is an ancient demon, and he's holed up with a bunch of his infernal buddies someplace in Colorado. They're having a good time up there, turning coal-miners inside out and beer-bonging human blood, so Gabe isn't particularly interested in going back to Chicago to make good on his debt. And Jon is running out of time.
See, there is a coherent story synopsis in 115 words. The protag's problem makes sense. The central conflict is clear, and it's even a little bit funny. There's a clear connection between the protag's quest and the town full of demons. If you can't do something like that with your story, you're probably not going to get positive responses.

Let's face it, given the short amount of words/space that writers have with a query letter, a lot of assumptions must take place. And hopefully the agents will make the positive assumptions, unlike yourself.
Don't count on it.
If you like my posts, please check out my writing blog; http://somethingpersuasive.blogspot.com.

Posts: 12
Joined: December 15th, 2009, 5:05 pm

Re: Query help - Gothic

Post by skottk » December 20th, 2009, 1:30 pm

Joel Q wrote:Here is a revision.

1. Does it sound like he killed his own family? (He didn't)
2. Should I take out the sentence "In order to survive...?"

Hell has come to Gothic. (Nathan, I'll take this out if I send it to you :-)

On a job to secure his freedom, Jonathan Blair, a self-condemning bounty hunter, tracks a member of his former gang to Gothic, a Rocky Mountain coal-mining town. The bounty hunter traded his death sentence for a job with the railroad company to bring in—dead or alive—the members of his former gang. Blair has two weeks left to find the last man or face execution instead of a pardon.
The first sentence has two ideas in it that I don't understand from context - "a job to secure his freedom" and "self-condemning" - and really only contributes the name and location of the setting. The second sentence, however, is a clear and vivid description of the protag's problem. How about, "Bounty hunter Jonathan Blair traded his death sentence for a job bringing in his old gang - dead or alive. Two weeks before his pardon turns into his death warrant, Blair has tracked the last man to Gothic, a Rocky Mountain coal-mining town.
The bounty hunter’s chase is hindered when he discovers Gothic is under assault by fallen angels, who disguise themselves as vampires to slaughter the miners. The vampires slaughter the miners and wreak destruction while concealing their true identity as angels. If they can cause doubt about their true existence, then the world may doubt God exists, that Satan exists—dissolving the lines between what is good and evil.
I don't take this as a logical fallacy, but as not-quite-there-yet. They're your fallen angels, this can be their intermediate goal. I don't understand from this why a) the fallen angels would want this or b) whether this is something that we should be really worried about. Are the fallen angels merely bringing us existential dread and moral confusion? Or by "dissolving the lines," do you mean, "tearing down the walls that shield the earth from the hellish beasts of the netherworld"?
The bounty hunter, who is a former pastor and convicted killer, must face his past—the murder of his family, his rebuke of God, his crimes and his first meeting with the leading fallen angel—as he tries to rediscover his self worth. In order to survive Gothic, Blair must put his trust in a repentant fallen angel and avoid a vigilante mob of Hungarian miners bloodying the town as slayers.
Vigilante mob is fine, Hungarian miners sounds like you're introducing a fresh batch of cultural conflict. The paragraph as a whole is more taglines than plot - must face his past, survive Gothic. When I covered it up, I still felt I understood what was happening in the story.
Time is running out as miners keep disappearing and Blair’s stay of execution is about to expire. The bounty hunter must decide whether to pursue the gang member or face the demons of his past, both physical and emotional.
There's the gang member again. He got a little lost for a while. I'm curious about choosing whether to pursue the gang member - doesn't that mean he gets arrested and executed? Why is it worth hanging around with the not-vampires at all -- he's got bigger problems of his own. By staying and banishing his own demons, is he choosing to die in two weeks with a shot at heaven over living out his life and going to hell at the end?
I'm sure that his reasoning makes sense in the larger story, but in this brief description it's hard to understand why he'd hesitate, given his death sentence.

The last comment I'll make is about the angels masquerading as vampires. You introduce them in that wording as if your protag immediately knew what they were, but I suspect that the discovery of the vampires' true nature is a significant plot point. If so, you might want to introduce them as vampires, and use the reveal of their true nature as the payoff at the end of your summary.


The Color of Gothic is a 93,000-word dark fantasy with a hint of a western.
Closing paragraph...[/quote]

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