Query WARRIOR-MONKS

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Matthew MacNish
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Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 17th, 2010, 9:08 am

Okay I've decided to throw mine up here. I probably have not posted enough replies/advice attempting to help others to deserve all of your time and feedback but I'm going to put this up here now while I continue to contribute so that it will have time to be reviewed plentifully. Please be brutally honest and feel free to be as analytically critical as you deem necessary (theWallflower, Polymath, Justine, I'm writing to the likes of you here).

Anyway here is the hypothetical query I intend to send Mr. Bransford someday once I cut my novel to a reasonable length. You'll see a big X below in lieu of word count because it is still simply too long to admit to.


Nathan Bransford
Curtis Brown Limited

March 17th, 2010

Dear Mr. Bransford,

15 year old Lee is a reluctant juvenile delinquent. He doesn’t often break laws or rules himself but his aversion to snitching on his friends gets him in trouble frequently.

His prep school suspends him for not turning in his friend when the boy makes a desperate attempt at social vengeance. His aunt and uncle kick him out of their home when he tries to stand up for his little sister in an argument. He gets expelled from boarding school when a teacher finds the vodka stashed behind the dress shoes at the bottom of his closet.

He was living with his aunt and uncle after his mother died and his father was incarcerated for her murder. His guardians ship him off to a reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho. He is so terrified by the idea of the place that he runs away from home; but soon enough ends up accepting the inevitable and finds himself admitted to a strange but wonderful school.

The school is meant for wayward teens with criminal or behavioral problems but it turns out to have a mysterious twist on the standard curriculum.

The Eight Principles of Yong, The Way of Unifying with Life Energy, The Art of the Sword; these are the names of some of the classes. They teach Lee and his group of new found friends everything from East Asian Calligraphy and Yogic Meditation to Aikido and Kenjutsu.

Bit by bit they learn to use these talents to harness the energy that the Chinese know as Chi. Once the students are proficient in their new found skills their teachers lead them out into the wilderness for a journey of self discovery. After achieving some success they are forced to band together and defend themselves when asked to investigate an abandoned silver mine.

WARRIOR-MONKS is X words long. It is my first novel. I feel that fans of Christopher Paolini, Jonathan Stroud, and Michael Scott would enjoy this story. It is intended for upper YA readers, especially young men 14 – 17 years old.

Thank you for your consideration. You can reply to this email or reach me at: myemail@gmail.com.

Sincerely,

Matthew Last Name

I feel like there is too much backstory here. It is an important part of the novel but seems like it takes up too much of the query. The plot really starts when the MC arrives at the reform school. There are a couple of nice flashback chapters but I can't seem to figure out how to incorporate the info into the query without it taking over. Any suggestions?

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by gonzo2802 » March 17th, 2010, 11:13 am

Here are some of my thoughts, hope they help.

Dear Mr. Bransford,

15 year old Lee is a reluctant juvenile delinquent. He doesn’t often break laws or rules himself but his aversion to snitching on his friends gets him in trouble frequently.

His prep school suspends him for not turning in his friend when the boy makes a desperate attempt at social vengeance. His aunt and uncle kick him out of their home when he tries to stand up for his little sister in an argument. He gets expelled from boarding school when a teacher finds the vodka stashed behind the dress shoes at the bottom of his closet. Since you're worried about being too long in your query and this only gives us more examples of how his aversion to snitching often leads to him getting blamed for things he didn't do, you can probably leave this entire paragraph out.

He was living with his aunt and uncle after his mother died and his father was incarcerated for her murder. His guardians ship him off to a reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho. He is so terrified by the idea of the place that he runs away from home; but soon enough ends up accepting the inevitable and finds himself admitted to a strange but wonderful school. I'd try to condense the first two sentences into one better explanation. Perhaps something along the lines of ... "After the death of his mother, in which his father was incarcerated for her murder, Lee's aunt and uncle ship him off to a reform school in the bitter wilderness of Idaho." Since you said the important stuff is really what happens when he's AT the reform school, I'd leave out the running away part. Put it in the synopsis, but not the query.

The school is meant for wayward teens with criminal or behavioral problems but it turns out to have a mysterious twist on the standard curriculum. There is something about this sentence that just sounds "off" to me, but I can't really put my finger on what it is.

The Eight Principles of Yong, The Way of Unifying with Life Energy, The Art of the Sword; these are the names of some of the classes. They teach Lee and his group of new found friends everything from East Asian Calligraphy and Yogic Meditation to Aikido and Kenjutsu. I think you may be showing too many examples here and it gets a little overwhelming for the reader. I'd probably pick one or two examples and stick with that. Maybe say something like "Lee and his new group of friends attend classes on everything from East Asian calligraphy to yoga meditation."

Bit by bit they learn to use these talents to harness the energy that the Chinese know as Chi. Once the students are proficient in their new found skills their teachers lead them out into the wilderness for a journey of self discovery. After achieving some success they are forced to band together and defend themselves when asked to investigate an abandoned silver mine. The problem I see with this ending paragraph is not getting a sense of what the ultimate conflict is. To clean it up a little, you could make it a quick point to explain WHY they are being asked to go to the abandoned silver mine, or WHO is asking them to investigate it, or WHAT may or may not happen to Lee with this investigation.

WARRIOR-MONKS is X words long. It is my first novel. I feel that fans of Christopher Paolini, Jonathan Stroud, and Michael Scott would enjoy this story. It is intended for upper YA readers, especially young men 14 – 17 years old.

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by CoachMT » March 17th, 2010, 4:57 pm

Matthew Rush wrote:The plot really starts when the MC arrives at the reform school.[/b]
Here's the clue as to how to cut your novel and help your query at the same time. While the backstory may seem vital and interesting to you, my guess is that it isn't truly necessary to the story. Work some of the major highlights in to the flow of the story, but start the novel where the story starts.

Just my two cents :)

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by GeeGee55 » March 17th, 2010, 5:26 pm

Hi, Matthew:
I'm no Polymath, but I hope you find my suggestions helpful, if not, well, maybe I'll learn something by doing it.

Matthew Rush wrote:Okay I've decided to throw mine up here. I probably have not posted enough replies/advice attempting to help others to deserve all of your time and feedback but I'm going to put this up here now while I continue to contribute so that it will have time to be reviewed plentifully. Please be brutally honest and feel free to be as analytically critical as you deem necessary (theWallflower, Polymath, Justine, I'm writing to the likes of you here).

Anyway here is the hypothetical query I intend to send Mr. Bransford someday once I cut my novel to a reasonable length. You'll see a big X below in lieu of word count because it is still simply too long to admit to.


Nathan Bransford
Curtis Brown Limited

March 17th, 2010

Dear Mr. Bransford,

15 year old Lee is a reluctant juvenile delinquent. He doesn’t often break laws or rules himself but his aversion to snitching on his friends gets him in trouble frequently. This is not action, this is character, I think you need to begin with the action in the story

His prep school suspends him for not turning in his friend when the boy makes a desperate attempt at social vengeance. His aunt and uncle kick him out of their home when he tries to stand up for his little sister in an argument. He gets expelled from boarding school when a teacher finds the vodka stashed behind the dress shoes at the bottom of his closet. Mostly, backstory, important to the story? yes, but not here.

He was living with his aunt and uncle after his mother died and his father was incarcerated for her murder. His guardians ship him off to a reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho. This is where the action starts - as you said -so weave the other in, but not so much detail needed - eg: Fifteen-year old orphan, Lee, is shipped off to a reform school in the bitter wilderness of Idaho. And then what? He is so terrified by the idea of the place that he runs away from home; but soon enough ends up accepting the inevitable and finds himself admitted to a strange but wonderful school.

(The school is meant for wayward teens with criminal or behavioral problems - as soon as you say reform school people know this, no need to repeat) but it turns out to have a mysterious twist on the standard curriculum. I like the mysterious twist on standard curriculum phrase. Could do that with a colon and then the list of classes.

The Eight Principles of Yong, Cut the way of, reads more cleanly Unifying with Life Energy, The Art of the Sword; these are the names of some of the classes. They(Who is they?) teach Lee and his group of new found friends everything from East Asian Calligraphy and Yogic Meditation to Aikido and Kenjutsu - rather than naming more classes, go to the action, what happens?

Bit by bit they learn to use these talents to harness the energy that the Chinese know as Chi. Once the students are proficient in their new found skills their teachers lead them out into the wilderness for a journey of self discovery. After achieving some success - this is too general and a bit too happy in tone, what are the obstacles? they are forced to band together and defend themselves from what? when asked to investigate investigate why? an abandoned silver mine.

WARRIOR-MONKS is X words long. It is my first novel. I feel that - cut Fans of Christopher Paolini, Jonathan Stroud, and Michael Scott would enjoy this story. It is intended for upper YA readers, especially young men 14 – 17 years old. Because this is for young men in this age group, I really think the query needs to focus on the action

Thank you for your consideration. You can reply to this email or reach me at: myemail@gmail.com.

Sincerely,

Matthew Last Name

I feel like there is too much backstory here. It is an important part of the novel but seems like it takes up too much of the query. The plot really starts when the MC arrives at the reform school. There are a couple of nice flashback chapters but I can't seem to figure out how to incorporate the info into the query without it taking over. Any suggestions?

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by JustineDell » March 17th, 2010, 5:39 pm

All righty....here's my stab at it. Let me reiterate my lack of being a professional in this department, but nonetheless, I hope this helps. And I am certainly no Polymath either.

Okay, on with the show!
Matthew Rush wrote:
15 year old Lee is a reluctant juvenile delinquent. He doesn’t often break laws or rules himself but his aversion to snitching on his friends gets him in trouble frequently. This opening paragraph/hook doesn't make sense to me, nor does it hook me. Okay, so Lee is juvenile delinquent, but he's a reluctant one. What is that exactly? How can be one and not the other? He doesn't break laws, therefore not a juvenile delinquent. He snitches on his friends, which in my mind doesn't make him juvenile delinquent. If he is one, and just doesn't like to be one - tell me why.

His prep school suspends him for not turning in his friend when the boy makes a desperate attempt at social vengeance. Social vengeance is pretty vague. His aunt and uncle kick him out of their home when he tries to stand up for his little sister in an argument. He obviously doesn't live with his parents. How come? Are they dead? This is just me asking here. I have no clue if that info is important to the story. He gets expelled from boarding school when a teacher finds the vodka stashed behind the dress shoes at the bottom of his closet. I'm guessing he was set up here since you said he doesn't really break the rules? If so, you might want to say so.

He was living with his aunt and uncle after his mother died and his father was incarcerated for her murder. Oh, wait...here is the info about his parents. I'm the type that needs stuff in order - this kind of caught me off guard down here. His guardians ship him off to a reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho. This would be the aunt and uncle talked about above? And the reform school you are talking about is the one he got kicked out of for the alcohol incident? See why I need stuff in order? ;-) He is so terrified by the idea of the place that he runs away from home; but soon enough ends up accepting the inevitable and finds himself admitted to a strange but wonderful school. Or is this the school he gets kicked out of? Or is this a new school? Plus, he ran away because he was terrified, so I find it hard to believe (for query purposes) that he would just suddenly decided to return. I'm sure there's more to why he returned to go to school, and I'm still confused as to which school he returned to (a new one, or the one he got kicked out of in the paragraph above). So basically I'm not getting my dots connected here.

These two paragraph paragraphs above are pretty good. It gives a lot of information about Lee and how he ended up at the school (and from reading the paragraph below, I realize that there are two different schools you are talking about, the boarding school and then the wayward teens school). It shows the originality of the story, but it's long and I think you can cut it down quite a bit and move straight to the wayward teens school in the next paragraph.


For example: (The way I would go from the beginning of the query)

15 year-old Lee (insert last name here) has no parents; his father is in jail for murdering his mother. Lee's guardians kick him out when he tries to defend his own sister. Then he gets expelled from boarding school for having vodka in his locker - it wasn't even his. Everyone treats him as a juvenile deliquent.....I put the dots here because I couldnt quite think of a hook to end this paragraph in. Anyways, you see I condensed you first two paragraphs into one short one? It may not be the best example, but hopefully you can see my point? You could add the small blurp about the social vengeance thing to here if you wanted.


The next paragraph can say how he runs away from his new home (which btw, where is his new home? He got kicked out of his aunt/uncles house, so I'm wondering if he's just living on the streets or if aunt/uncle played their trump cards and drug him back?)

Or start is something like this:

Lee gets forced to attending a school that is meant for wayward teens with criminal or behavioral problems. (Does the school have a name?) But this school has a very different way of teaching problem teens.


The school is meant for wayward teens with criminal or behavioral problems but it turns out to have a mysterious twist on the standard curriculum.

The Eight Principles of Yong, The Way of Unifying with Life Energy, The Art of the Sword; these are the names of some of the classes. They teach Lee and his group of new found friends everything from East Asian Calligraphy and Yogic Meditation to Aikido and Kenjutsu. (Put these two paragraphs together) Bit by bit they learn to use these talents to harness the energy that the Chinese know as Chi. Once the students are proficient in their new found skills their teachers lead them out into the wilderness for a journey of self discovery. Journey of self discovery is pretty general. I need some more action here! After achieving some success they are forced to band together and defend themselves when asked to investigate an abandoned silver mine. Ooohh...here I smell some action. But "forced together" makes me wonder why, and "defend themselves" leave more questions than answers. Specifics - not generalities (not sure I spelled that right).

And....wheres the hook? Is it the cool things they are learning at this school? Nope....Is it the new friends he is making? Nope....Is is the drama that will happend at the silver mine? Yup - I think we have a winner here. Since I obviously don't know your story, I can't be sure what you hook is - but I'm afraid you don't have one here at the end. Try to sum everything up in one line and leave me hanging on something that make my eyes bug out because I want to pick up this book!

WARRIOR-MONKS is X words long. It is my first novel.<--delete I feel that fans of Christopher Paolini, Jonathan Stroud, and Michael Scott would enjoy this story.<--I'm not doubting you here, but make sure this is true. I've read agents don't like it when writers compare their work to someone elses and they have nothing in common. It is intended for upper YA readers, especially young men 14 – 17 years old. <--and I'm not sure about this. I would probably take it out.

Thank you for your consideration. You can reply to this email or reach me at: myemail@gmail.com.<--delete. Put your contact information underneath the signature line (if it's an email) They know how to reach you.

Sincerely,

Matthew Last Name
Okay, Matthew - there's my take. Don't mind all the blue, I'm pretty long winded at times ;-) I think you have really good start here. Keep this in mind when do a re-write: don't include too much backstory, tell us what Lee's conflicts are (did he have any when he got to the wayward school?), and how he plans to overcome them (I have a feeling this involves the silver mine thing). Then, don't forgot to hook me at the end!

Good luck!

~JD

http://www.justine-dell.blogspot.com/

"Three things in life that, once gone, never return; Time, Words, & Opportunity"

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 18th, 2010, 6:44 am

Thanks so far everyone, I really appreciate your feedback and willingness to assist, great advice already. I will begin a revision today. BTW Justine there are actually 3 schools: Prep School when he lives with his aunt and uncle, then Boarding School after they kick him out of their home, then Reform School after he is expelled from Boarding School. That being said you're absolutely right, it is very muddled and confusing in the query that I posted.

Thanks again and please come back once I put up the revision.

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Bron » March 18th, 2010, 6:47 am

I liked the idea of a reluctant juvenile delinquent. I think that description gives us a good insight into Lee's character. I also think you've given yourself a valuable critique already about the backstory. Just from reading your query it sounds like all the events described take place in the story. If they don't, you could shorten the query by taking your own advice and cutting out the stuff about the backstory. I read Gonzo's critique and I think she gives some great advice too. The story sounds really intersting and I'd love to know how long it is!

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 18th, 2010, 9:23 am

Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the advice. Here is an update. Not so much a revision as a re-write but with the advice I realized the back story had to go or at least get seriously condensed. Just the meat of the query, the intro and thanks are standard anyway.

Sometimes the light is revealed in the least expected places.

Fifteen year old Lee Ruccio is a reluctant juvenile delinquent. He arrives at reform school fearing the worst. After the death of his mother, in which his father was incarcerated for her murder, Lee's aunt and uncle ship him off to Rocky Mountain Academy, a reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho.

He is forced to work in the Wood Corral; the right to attend classes earned only after a few months of labor. He gets caught alone in the woods with a female student, which is strictly forbidden. He is placed on restriction and given work assignments by the groundskeeper. Surprisingly they become friends and the man decides to teach him the Japanese Tea Ceremony, which Lee ends up performing for the Master of the School, earning his way off restriction.

Once lessons begin the students become excited by the mysterious curriculum. The classes have names like The Eight Principles of Yong and The Way of Unifying With Life Energy. In them Lee and his new friends study everything from East Asian Calligraphy and Meditation to Aikido and Kenjutsu. Through these esoteric disciplines they learn to use these talents to harness the energy the Chinese know as Chi.

Once they are judged to be proficient in this arcane magic they take part in a sweat lodge ceremony to cleanse their minds and spirits in preparation for the coming test. They are lead into the wilderness to take part in a vision quest where they each discover their spirit animal and some uncover special powers such as healing, clairvoyance and telekinesis.

They learn that the Master of the School asked that they investigate a nearby abandoned silver mine. Elemental Creatures have been attacking industrial institutions around the world with increasing frequency and he fears that one source of the creatures may lie dangerously close to campus.

In the mine Lee and his companions are attacked by Stone Golem Earth Elementals and they are forced to band together and use their new found powers to defend themselves and survive the creature's onslaught.

I know this is better than the previous one but it still feels more like a condensed synopsis than a query. I feel like it's missing a real hook. I will try to post some of my own thoughts comments on specific parts later. Again, thanks in advance for any assistance!

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 18th, 2010, 9:36 am

Bron wrote:I liked the idea of a reluctant juvenile delinquent. I think that description gives us a good insight into Lee's character. Thanks, I agree. Originally this was the best hook I could come up with. I like the idea but I'm trying to come up with something more colorful. I also think you've given yourself a valuable critique already about the backstory. Just from reading your query it sounds like all the events described take place in the story. If they don't, you could shorten the query by taking your own advice and cutting out the stuff about the backstory. The backstory is in the novel, and that is why I thought I needed it in the query, but the novel is too long as is so the backstory needs to go or at least get much shorter. I read Gonzo's critique and I think she gives some great advice too. Agreed! Heeded. The story sounds really intersting and I'd love to know how long it is!
The first draft was 477,000 words long, approximately. Crazy, I know. It's the first novel I've ever written and the words just came pouring out. If you read my blog linked below you'll see that I ignorantly started querying at that length. I learned my lesson and have since been editing vigorously for length. I've cut to about 310,000 words but I know this is still about twice as long as what most houses will consider for a debut novel. It's frustrating because the story is compelling and works best with all the back story but if you want to get published you have to play by the rules.

Please let me know what you think and thanks again for everyone's help and honesty.

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Ellie G » March 18th, 2010, 7:44 pm

Hi Matthew,

I think most storylines (as with all writing, there are exceptions, but bear with me on this) follow a similar pattern:
1. Character's life is [whatever situation] as the story begins
2. Something changes this -- developed need, hitting rock bottom, outside threat, etc.
3. Character responds to this change.
4. Whatever they try to do doesn't totally work, makes things worse, exchanges one problem for another, etc.
(repeat 3 and 4 until)
5. Character is faced with the ultimate choice/risk/decision/event that must be overcome to solve the big problem.
6. Character reacts to this (usually succeeding, or failing but realizing they wanted something else all along, or whatever)
7. Character returns to their "everyday" life, which has changed because the character has changed.

Now, any individual work will have multiple storylines, each following the pattern in their own way. For example, in Ocean's Eleven (warning, spoilers ahead):

Danny Ocean is in prison(1), gets parole(2), works to pull off a heist while overcoming problems left and right(3&4), until the night of the heist(5), when he pulls it all off(6), and returns to jail but has someone waiting for him on the other side this time(7).

At the same time, Danny is separated from Tess(1), who starts dating Terry(2), so Danny tries to make nice with her several times but she rebuffs him(3&4), until the night of the heist(5), when he manages to win her back(6), and reunites with her after his release from prison(7).

Okay, so, why am I blathering about this? Because I think it may help explain why your queries are heavy in backstory.

Your query begins (summarizing):
Lee is a troubled teen and arrives at reform school fearing the worst. At first, it seems like more of the same, a bunch of adults wanting to punish him. But he finds a friend in the groundskeeper and is excited by the mysterious curriculum. Lee studies everything from the calligraphy to martial arts. He learns to harness his life energy (his Chi). Through a sweat lodge ceremony and a grueling vision quest, Lee and his classmates discover their spirit animals and gain new powers.

Right now, this is all (1). This all explains the status quo that is interrupted when the Master asks them to investigate the mine(2), and they have difficulty working together while fighting the creatures(3&4) until their final assault(5) when they band together(6) and emerge victorious(7).

I'm not saying that this is actually how your book is structured; I obviously have no idea. But it's the way the story presents in the query. Compare with (this is a totally random example):

Lee refuses to trust anyone(1) but he's forced to work with his classmates at his new school(2). He fights the lessons he's learned in the past while taking classes and gaining powers(3&4). When he and his classmates are attacked in a silver mine(5) he overcomes his fears(6) and brings his classmates--now his friends--out alive(7).

For the query itself, obviously, you'd say something like "he'll need to (6) if he's going to overcome (5)" and leave out the ending. The point is that in the query, you need to start building almost immediately towards the climax, showing how each individual step advances the plot and raises the stakes. If there are parallel important storylines, which usually come together at the end (as in the first Harry Potter book, where there's a mystery and also the story of Harry learning to be a wizard) they both need to be laid out in the same way. (This is not to be confused with subplots or minor storylines. Those get left out.) If the threat of the mine is an ongoing plot, side-by-side with Lee's journey, you need to show both clearly. If they're one storyline, show that clearly--how Lee's arrival at the reform school leads, eventually and inexorably, to the showdown in the mine.

Hopefully at least a tiny bit of this is helpful. I'm no expert, just my two cents.

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Quill » March 18th, 2010, 8:33 pm

I tried boiling it down:

Fifteen year old Lee Ruccio is a juvenile delinquent. His aunt and uncle send him to a special reform school in the Idaho wilderness. Through esoteric disciplines he learns to harness the energy the Chinese know as Chi. The School Master asks that he investigate a nearby silver mine. In the mine Lee and his companions battle Stone Golem Earth Elementals.

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by JustineDell » March 18th, 2010, 9:13 pm

Ellie G wrote:Hi Matthew,

I think most storylines (as with all writing, there are exceptions, but bear with me on this) follow a similar pattern:
1. Character's life is [whatever situation] as the story begins
2. Something changes this -- developed need, hitting rock bottom, outside threat, etc.
3. Character responds to this change.
4. Whatever they try to do doesn't totally work, makes things worse, exchanges one problem for another, etc.
(repeat 3 and 4 until)
5. Character is faced with the ultimate choice/risk/decision/event that must be overcome to solve the big problem.
6. Character reacts to this (usually succeeding, or failing but realizing they wanted something else all along, or whatever)
7. Character returns to their "everyday" life, which has changed because the character has changed.

Now, any individual work will have multiple storylines, each following the pattern in their own way. For example, in Ocean's Eleven (warning, spoilers ahead):

Danny Ocean is in prison(1), gets parole(2), works to pull off a heist while overcoming problems left and right(3&4), until the night of the heist(5), when he pulls it all off(6), and returns to jail but has someone waiting for him on the other side this time(7).

At the same time, Danny is separated from Tess(1), who starts dating Terry(2), so Danny tries to make nice with her several times but she rebuffs him(3&4), until the night of the heist(5), when he manages to win her back(6), and reunites with her after his release from prison(7).

Okay, so, why am I blathering about this? Because I think it may help explain why your queries are heavy in backstory.

Your query begins (summarizing):
Lee is a troubled teen and arrives at reform school fearing the worst. At first, it seems like more of the same, a bunch of adults wanting to punish him. But he finds a friend in the groundskeeper and is excited by the mysterious curriculum. Lee studies everything from the calligraphy to martial arts. He learns to harness his life energy (his Chi). Through a sweat lodge ceremony and a grueling vision quest, Lee and his classmates discover their spirit animals and gain new powers.

Right now, this is all (1). This all explains the status quo that is interrupted when the Master asks them to investigate the mine(2), and they have difficulty working together while fighting the creatures(3&4) until their final assault(5) when they band together(6) and emerge victorious(7).

I'm not saying that this is actually how your book is structured; I obviously have no idea. But it's the way the story presents in the query. Compare with (this is a totally random example):

Lee refuses to trust anyone(1) but he's forced to work with his classmates at his new school(2). He fights the lessons he's learned in the past while taking classes and gaining powers(3&4). When he and his classmates are attacked in a silver mine(5) he overcomes his fears(6) and brings his classmates--now his friends--out alive(7).

For the query itself, obviously, you'd say something like "he'll need to (6) if he's going to overcome (5)" and leave out the ending. The point is that in the query, you need to start building almost immediately towards the climax, showing how each individual step advances the plot and raises the stakes. If there are parallel important storylines, which usually come together at the end (as in the first Harry Potter book, where there's a mystery and also the story of Harry learning to be a wizard) they both need to be laid out in the same way. (This is not to be confused with subplots or minor storylines. Those get left out.) If the threat of the mine is an ongoing plot, side-by-side with Lee's journey, you need to show both clearly. If they're one storyline, show that clearly--how Lee's arrival at the reform school leads, eventually and inexorably, to the showdown in the mine.

Hopefully at least a tiny bit of this is helpful. I'm no expert, just my two cents.
Okay, this is totally awesome. I'm writing this down ;-)

~JD

http://www.justine-dell.blogspot.com/

"Three things in life that, once gone, never return; Time, Words, & Opportunity"

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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 19th, 2010, 9:31 am

JustineDell wrote:
Ellie G wrote:Hi Matthew,

I think most storylines (as with all writing, there are exceptions, but bear with me on this) follow a similar pattern:
1. Character's life is [whatever situation] as the story begins
2. Something changes this -- developed need, hitting rock bottom, outside threat, etc.
3. Character responds to this change.
4. Whatever they try to do doesn't totally work, makes things worse, exchanges one problem for another, etc.
(repeat 3 and 4 until)
5. Character is faced with the ultimate choice/risk/decision/event that must be overcome to solve the big problem.
6. Character reacts to this (usually succeeding, or failing but realizing they wanted something else all along, or whatever)
7. Character returns to their "everyday" life, which has changed because the character has changed.

Now, any individual work will have multiple storylines, each following the pattern in their own way. For example, in Ocean's Eleven (warning, spoilers ahead):

Danny Ocean is in prison(1), gets parole(2), works to pull off a heist while overcoming problems left and right(3&4), until the night of the heist(5), when he pulls it all off(6), and returns to jail but has someone waiting for him on the other side this time(7).

At the same time, Danny is separated from Tess(1), who starts dating Terry(2), so Danny tries to make nice with her several times but she rebuffs him(3&4), until the night of the heist(5), when he manages to win her back(6), and reunites with her after his release from prison(7).

Okay, so, why am I blathering about this? Because I think it may help explain why your queries are heavy in backstory.

Your query begins (summarizing):
Lee is a troubled teen and arrives at reform school fearing the worst. At first, it seems like more of the same, a bunch of adults wanting to punish him. But he finds a friend in the groundskeeper and is excited by the mysterious curriculum. Lee studies everything from the calligraphy to martial arts. He learns to harness his life energy (his Chi). Through a sweat lodge ceremony and a grueling vision quest, Lee and his classmates discover their spirit animals and gain new powers.

Right now, this is all (1). This all explains the status quo that is interrupted when the Master asks them to investigate the mine(2), and they have difficulty working together while fighting the creatures(3&4) until their final assault(5) when they band together(6) and emerge victorious(7).

I'm not saying that this is actually how your book is structured; I obviously have no idea. But it's the way the story presents in the query. Compare with (this is a totally random example):

Lee refuses to trust anyone(1) but he's forced to work with his classmates at his new school(2). He fights the lessons he's learned in the past while taking classes and gaining powers(3&4). When he and his classmates are attacked in a silver mine(5) he overcomes his fears(6) and brings his classmates--now his friends--out alive(7).

For the query itself, obviously, you'd say something like "he'll need to (6) if he's going to overcome (5)" and leave out the ending. The point is that in the query, you need to start building almost immediately towards the climax, showing how each individual step advances the plot and raises the stakes. If there are parallel important storylines, which usually come together at the end (as in the first Harry Potter book, where there's a mystery and also the story of Harry learning to be a wizard) they both need to be laid out in the same way. (This is not to be confused with subplots or minor storylines. Those get left out.) If the threat of the mine is an ongoing plot, side-by-side with Lee's journey, you need to show both clearly. If they're one storyline, show that clearly--how Lee's arrival at the reform school leads, eventually and inexorably, to the showdown in the mine.

Hopefully at least a tiny bit of this is helpful. I'm no expert, just my two cents.
Okay, this is totally awesome. I'm writing this down ;-)

~JD
Holy @#$%! What an incredibly astute analysis Ellie, thank you SO much. I definitely agree with Justine.

You are absolutely right and I now realize that has been a big part of my problem with my query letters up to now. The thing is my book is actually a lot like Harry Potter (not on purpose): Young Man, no family, goes to strange school and discovers powers. The problem with my querying until now is that the plot of the novel is mostly about what goes on at school (like Harry learning to be a Wizard). The whole vision-quest in the wilderness and then battle in the mine doesn't even occur until the last few chapters. It is misleading and difficult for me to make it the focus of the whole query but then it is difficult to make it sound like a fun read just focusing on the classes and normal social school stuff. I am going to attempt a complete re-write based on your advice. Please let me know if I can ever assist you in any of your endeavors.

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Matthew MacNish
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Re: Query WARRIOR-MONKS

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 25th, 2010, 2:46 pm

I'm still working on a revision to this based on Ellie's awesome feedback. In the meantime I'm just trying to bump this thread to see if any others have something to add.

I see JTB is busy helping everyone one out today.

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