Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Feedback Request

Another revision of the query most recently featured here.:

Dear Evil Editor,

When Charlie's five-person video game team are exposed to radiation during a lightning strike, team Valor acquires [I would say "they acquire" rather than make us figure out that team Valor is the name of Charlie's team. I did suggest in my notes on the previous version using a pronoun there.] the magical abilities of their game characters. At the same time they find out Charlie's brother Rick is missing in action. [At the same time? You mean during the lightning strike?] 

Team Valor is now in a hurry; [Can they use magic to transport over? I only ask because if they need to take a plane from Tokyo to, say, Tel Aviv, that'll take over sixteen hours in the air, and that still leaves them about four hundred miles from Iraq. A direct flight from Tokyo to Istanbul is closer to twelve hours, but now they're twice as far from Iraq. This assumes there are still seats available. What I'm saying is, if you're a hurry to get to Iraq from Japan (or just about anywhere), you're out of luck.] Isis has kidnapped Rick and his squad and are beheading one man every eight hours. Team Valor will use their new abilities to sneak into Iraq and find Rick. At first Charlie thought sneaking into Iraq and getting out again using magic would be easy, but he quickly realizes how dangerous the situation is. Isis isn't a small group; it's a large group of heavily armed fanatics.

They have found and freed the hostages [Wow. That was easy.] and now must escape on foot across Isis territory. The first enemy engagement teaches them they can't rely on defensive magical abilities; the enemy is too numerous, the hostages too weak. Charlie will lead his team into battle armed with his magic spells, a stolen fire ax and a garbage can lid. [Those last two weapons are a joke. If his magic makes them useful, that's fine in the book, but in the query it just sounds like he's an idiot.] Accompanied by the rest of team Valor, a rogue who can kill ten men in ten seconds, [Isis is beheading three soldiers a day; this guy can kill 86,400 Isis members a day. Valor may not get to Rick in time, but Isis is in trouble.] a mage who can blow up tanks with fireballs and lightning, and a ranger who never misses what he shoots at, the odds of escaping increase despite the overwhelming force they face. [I don't see how the odds of escaping increase because Charlie is accompanied by these people if they're the same people he's been accompanied by the whole time.] [It's still not clear that the ranger, mage and rogue are the members of Valor rather than added allies. Also, I'd prefer that you refer to these people by their names rather than by rogue, ranger and mage. Also, when you start the sentence "Accompanied by the rest of team Valor... you eventually want to get to who it is who's accompanied by the rest of team Valor, namely Charlie. Also, you should include Sara on this list of people accompanying Charlie. In other words: Accompanied by the rest of team Valor--Bob who can kill ten men in ten seconds; Jimmy who can blow up tanks with fireballs and lightning; Eli, who never misses his target; and Sara, who can throw up impenetrable force fields--Charlie just might beat the odds and get his brother to safety.] With Sara behind them, shielding them with her magic, team Valor is a force to be reckoned with.

Valor is a 78,000 word YA fantasy.

Thank you for your consideration,


If rogue, mage and ranger are terms from the video game the kids play, then readers won't be familiar with them. The less you talk about the video game, the better. Millions of role-playing games have been played, and the players probably think their games are worthy of being novelized, but game players would rather play games than read about other game players.

Also, it's better for superheroes to fight super villains than armies. Superman could win a war by himself, but he focuses on Brainiac and Lex Luthor.

I appreciate the attempt to address earlier comments, but overall I don't think this is an improvement.


Dottie D said...

I see a lot of things happening, but no reason why. the big issues seem to be glossed over.

I think a query should really be about why things are happening. why is this character worth my time? why should I care what happens to him/her? I'm not getting that from this query.

InkAndPixelClub said...

The fact that this is shorter than the previous draft makes it an improvement, but not enough of one to make me believe that the query is ready.

"Team Valor is now in a hurry;"

This has the same problem as "unfortunately" in one of the previous drafts. Spilling your coffee is unfortunate. I am in a hurry if I'm running late for dinner. The main character's brother being in danger and the need to save him should be described with stronger language. Also, Team Valor is in a hurry before they or we know that Rick is in danger and not merely missing. It would probably be simpler to just start with them learning that Rick and his squad are prisoners of the terrorists.

I'd change ISIS to "Middle Eastern terrorists." It's your call whether you want to do that in just the query or the book too, but keep in mind that getting a book published can take a long time. ISIS could be yesterday's news by the time your novel hits the shelves. You don't want your query reader thinking your novel will be about as relevant as an audio cassette in a few years.

"....Isis isn't a small group; it's a large group of heavily armed fanatics."

In the interests of parallel structure, I'd change it to something like "a small, disorganized group" to go with "large group of heavily armed fanatics." A couple of more specific nouns (different one for each description) than "group" would also help.

"The first enemy engagement teaches them they can't rely on defensive magical abilities; the enemy is too numerous, the hostages too weak."

This sentence has survived a couple of drafts and I don't know what it means. You've told us the result of what happened (Team Valor learned that they can't just use defensive magic) and why it happened (too many terrorists and the freed soldiers are still too weak), but you're missing a key piece of information: what actually happened. No one seems to have been killed or captured, so I have no idea how this fight was a setback for Team Valor.

This is the first time I have realized that you might mean that Charlie has an ax that would be used to break down doors in a fire rather than an ax with a blade that burns enemies. Once you introduce magic to a story, you need to be careful about terminology that could be taken to mean something mundane or something magical.

My issues with the story haven't changed. No matter how much you bring up the terrorists' superior numbers and heavy firepower, it still sounds like Team Valor is going to win easily. There seem to be very few physical challenges and no personal challenges for our heroes to overcome.

As it reads now, Charlie and his friends get magical abilities, which they know how to use thanks to the video game they all play, right before Charlie's brother is captured by terrorists in Iraq. Charlie and his friends decide to go to Iraq. So they do. They need to find and rescue Rick and his squad. So they do. They need to escape. They have an encounter with the terrorists that somehow doesn't go exactly the way they want it to. They realize that the problem is that they haven't been using any of their offensive magic. So they do.

The only point where their plan to rescue Rick hits a snag comes about two thirds of the way in and seems to have happened solely because they weren't using spells that they could have used at any time. Just saying that Charlie thinks rescuing his brother will be easy but discovers that it isn't is not sufficient. You need to show Team Valor having trouble pulling it off and facing danger. There's almost no tension and no sense that these characters learn and change as a result of their experiences. They just get magic powers, set out to do something, and do it.

Please make Sara the mage who blows up tanks.

Chicory said...

You are having a tough time with tenses. You keep switching from past tense (`They have found the hostages' instead of `they find the hostages') and present tense (`The first enemy engagement teaches them...') The switches back and forth make me wonder how much of this is backstory, and how much is actually happening. Does the book start with Team Valor banging down the door of the prison where Rick and his fellow soldiers are being held hostage, or does it begin with the lightening storm? Please pick a tense and stick with it. (I've heard present tense is preferable for query letters.)

Anonymous said...

As the other posters have said, not much of an improvement. I believe it's technically present tense and present perfect tense that you're switching between
(with a future tense sentence and past tense in a dependent clause), but it does feel like you're bouncing back and forth at auto-reject levels. Please clean this up.

Every single sentence should tell us something vital about your story. Examples:

"At the same time they find out Charlie's brother Rick is missing in action."

At the same time <-- How much of a difference does this make? They could have found this out before the tournament or during and it might affect how Charlie plays in the tournament, but what difference does finding out at the exact same time as the lightning strike make to the rescue plot? If you left off these words would it make a difference? Probably not. If the specific timing isn't important, why are you mentioning it?

Charlie's brother Rick <-- This is important info. You've established a motivation-type relationship between characters. If you left off these words would it make a difference? Probably so. No brother relationship and they're gamers fighting terrorists for kicks and giggles (not bad, but not the story you've written).

Rick is MIA <-- the importance of this can only be measured by knowing more about Rick and who/where he is, which we don't at this point in the query. It's not a term used exclusively by the military, so I'm a bit surprised to find out it's being used in the military sense in the next paragraph. The main point being, I don't find that out until the next paragraph. Do you really want to hold off giving that kind of information for an entire paragraph?

Important information that can be derived from this sentence: Charlie's brother Rick is missing. Is that everything vital that you want to include in that sentence?

Look at all of your sentences with care. Try to have information that would perk someone's interest if each sentence was the only one they read.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Dropping a random Sara into the last sentence of a summary is a bit confusing.

Down Girl said...

Author, your attention to our previous critiques is evident, and I think you've improved to an extent. Here's a passage that's improved, but that still needs work:

At first Charlie thought sneaking into Iraq and getting out again using magic would be easy, but he quickly realizes how dangerous the situation is. Isis isn't a small group; it's a large group of heavily armed fanatics.

As I read this, I thought, What's the point of magic if it's not to overcome a superior force? Larger numbers, fire power, that sort of thing? Magic breaks the laws of physics, so how is an army that's bound by the laws of physics supposed to be too dangerous? (I have problems with the random way the laws of physics are broken in the Harry Potter books, by the way.)

What if Charlie and Team Valor think they have the whole Rick thing sewed up because of magic -- but then realize magic's not enough if they don't know how to function as a team? Or what if they think they've got it sewed up because of magic -- then realize they also need discipline and practice? They manage the rescue by a hair-raising miracle when by all rights they should have died (maybe suffering an excruciating loss), then realize their limitations, and then work to overcome those limitations to make their escape. As InkAndPixelClub says, these characters don't grow or change as you've presented them. Make that magic a double-edged sword that forces them to work on their characters the same way the Scarecrow and Lion and Tin Man did in The Wizard of Oz.

I'm not much of a gamer, but we may have stumbled on a difference between the arc of a game and the arc of a book here. In a book, you don't just collect gold and kill turtles until you get to Level Eleventy. You have to undergo a difficult and significant personal change.

PLaF said...

It sounds like you’re trying to invent your own team of X-men and their mutant powers are similar to their gaming powers: Team V instead of X-men.
It will be difficult to provide an acceptable variation on this theme, but you can take some key learnings from what’s already been done:
The X-men were not always a team. They argued amongst themselves and not everyone trusted everyone else.
One man (Prof. X) appeared to be the glue that held everyone together as well as the oil that kept the machine running smoothly.
They did not win every battle, every time.
Super powers were not the answers to all their problems.
Some of the bad guys also had super powers.

I suggest that Team V does not exist until after they affect the rescue of Rick. If the gamers are opponents on the plane to Japan, they could do a lot of trash talking, etc. to build conflict at the start of your story. You could even to a little foreshadowing with the middle eastern terrorists (news on the plane, threat at the airport, etc.) Then, while they play the game, the residual energy of the lightning strike could imbue them with the powers of their game personalities as they battle one another.
They could mistake jet-lag for their feelings of tiredness or illness when they get home, only to discover they have new, fantastic abilities. Charlie could be the force that reunites the gamers, gets them to try to work together, and then when his brother is taken asks them to help in his recovery.
Adventure ensues. Magic is used. Teamwork is solidified. Bad guys are defeated, and older brother is glad his kid brother is not such a loser or a loner anymore.
Keep working on your story. Once you cut away everything that doesn’t work, you’ll be that much closer to being able to present it in a 10-sentence format for a query letter.

dhewco said...

If you don't change the name of the terrorists, as someone above suggests, you really need to capitalize all of ISIS. Isis is an Egyptian goddess and not the terrorist group. If you don't want all caps, change it to their other name Isil. (It still should be capitalized there, but there's no confusion with the Egyptian deity.)

Anonymous said...

Playing off of PLaF's idea, put Sara on the other team, as a bonus make her a warrior and Charlie a healer. Have both teams drop out of the tournament because the lightning/radiation effects kick in while they're playing. They're all rushed to the hospital, but half of each team dies. Bring it full circle by having the lightning/radiation caused by some experimental terrorist weapon.

This will give you reasons for both teams to work together (they're both only half). And go after the terrorists (revenge/mourning). Charlie's brother is a bonus 'in' giving them a means to find the terrorists when the government can't. Also, you can throw in some super powers on the terrorists side to even out the battle a little.

InkAndPixelClub said...

EE> "Rogue," "mage," and "ranger" are fairly generic fantasy and role-playing game terms. I imagine most readers who'd be interested in this story and some editors who work with fantasy novels would not be remotely confused by them, though it's still not a substitute for fully describing the nature and limits or the characters' powers.

There are plenty of gamers who like to read and readers who like to game, and some of them enjoy reading about other gamers. They probably just don't want to read pages and pages where Team Valor is doing nothing but playing in the tournament, just as writers have no problem reading about other writers, but may not go for a novel about proofreading. As long as it's not specifically written for gamers who don't read much, like a novel that was queried here sometime back, the potential gamer audience should not be a problem.

Anonymous said...

The plots the other minions are suggesting sound pretty cool, so if you revise it like that I'd be interesting to see it. Remember, though, everything we know about your story is from the queries here. If the book works well as it is, and it's already finished (revised, beta'd, etc.), there's no especial reason why you should change it now instead of revising the query letter to make it more appealing.

Though, selfishly, I do kinda want to see Sara throwing fireballs at enemies. Are any of the other members of Team Valor female?

Anonymous said...

Question... what happened to everyone else on the plane who presumably did NOT get super powers from the lightening strike? Did they just get ordinary radiation poisoning? :[ Also lightening striking a plane + radiation... that can't actually happen according to science and reasons. If that was a risk, we'd hear about it on a lot more flight PSA's.