Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

And a little bit of BBC literary info. We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our second brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

Taken to the hall of the dark wizard Feldon – Taken by who? Is this a situation where she has some sort of special power and Feldon needs it? Is she special? Also, the dash here before our MC's name isn't working. The whole dynamic of this hook sentence is a bit off. The hook itself is decent, but you need to restructure for more punch. Lyni comes face to face with an evil more powerful than her human will. Broken into submission by Feldon’s relentless torture which he calls training, You have my interest here, also, put "training" in quotes Lyni falls under his shadow. What do you mean by this? Sexually? Emotionally? Is this a twisted romance or simple Stockholm syndrome? Feldon orders Lyni to use her special ability to manipulate stone Aha! Here's our "why her" answer, use it sooner. I'd manipulate it into the hook. to destroy an enemy What kind of enemy? Human? fortress. Lyni must obey and kills hundreds in the process. Shocked out of a drug induced haze, The drugs complicate things for the purposes of the query. I was already getting that our MC has a weird bonding thing going on with Feldon, and I thought that was his control point for her, not drugs.  Lyni flees to the mountains seeking to escape the dark wizards Need an apostrophe here (wizard's) reach.

After hiding in the mountains for several years, Lyni is found. Garren, the second son of a King A king or The King? has sought her out to elicit her aid. A bit redundant, I think, to say he both "seeks her out" and needs to "elicit her aid." His father and brother have fallen under Feldon’s power and his kingdom is at risk. Their only hope Probably just me, but any time I hear the phrase "only hope" I always think, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi." It's a bit cliched, I'd find something else to use here. is to destroy Feldon. Though Lyni lacks confidence in her ability to defeat Feldon she knows she must help Garren in his quest. Why must she? Guilt? What's her motivation here?

Together they travel far in search of allies and then return to the site of the decimated fortress. There Lyni faces Feldon and with Garren’s aid "aid" echo from earlier para succeeds in finally banishing the dark wizard’s shadow. I definitely would strike this. What you have here is a generic wrap-up of your story. You want to pique the agent's interest, not deliver the whole story. This is fine for a short synop, but what you want in a query would be more like this: "Together G and L embark to gather an army of allies bent on banishing the dark wizard's shadow." Also, I feel like you need more punch here for your sinker.

So my overview is that we're in a high fantasy world where a girl with special rock powers is used against her will to destroy people, escapes, is then recruited again and goes back to kill the bad guy. But that's all I got. I don't have a lot of emotion or layering going on here, nothing to really connect me to your MC. Here are some questions that immediately come to mind whose answers might really help boost the query:

Lyni helped destroy the decimated fortress, isn't gathering allies going to be a bit difficult if people know she's worked for Feldon in the past? And what about a romance? Is there one? Is Garren cute or just there for "aid?" And how does Lyni actually feel about this whole debacle? Does she still have any lingering feelings / loyalty to Feldon, or does she hate him right down to his dandruff? And what about this rock ability? It's only mentioned briefly and then exits the query - is she squelching it out of guilt? And what is it anyway? Can she crush them? Throw them with her mind? Make them implode? Will it be used to help destroy Feldon? Who are these "enemy" people in the decimated fortress? Is everything in this world human, or are there odd creatures? I ask because in high-fantasy I tend to hear "enemy" and think "different."

Dig deep into these questions and get the details that make your ms different from the hundreds of others that landed in the agent's inbox that same day.

Followers, what do you say?


Krista said...

Wow what great feedback! Yoi get right to the heart of what is missing from the query. Thanks!

Jenny Phresh said...

You are good at this!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Krista - not a problem! Thanks for being a sport.

Jenny - Aww... thanks! :)

Myrna Foster said...

I'm a new follower, and you asked all the right questions. I think my query has similar problems. It's hard to write queries for fantasy that aren't confusing, at least it is for me. Thank you!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Myrna - Thanks for the follow! Hopefully the Saturday Slash is as helpful as it's meant to be.