Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Face-Lift 1061 Revisited

Thank you very much for trashing my terrible query several months ago (Face-Lift 1061). It really made me realize how little about the actual book I'd conveyed. I ended up scrapping most of the query and starting over. Finally, I have finished a version that may actually convey the conflict of the story. History has shown that I'm far too close to the story to be able to tell, however, so I would appreciate if you would also maim this new version and tell me whether it's crap. For one, I'm pretty sure it's too long, but I can't tell what to cut without making it a confusing mess like the last one.

Dear Evil Editor,

When an alien girl is stranded in a foreign land, she joins the military, intending to desert for home when the army marches north. She doesn't expect to become a Host's only engineer or to find herself questioning where she belongs while waiting on a spoiled harem in the shadow of a waking volcano.

Querrl's physical deformities have always made her feel an outcast, even among her loving family. An accident sweeps her downriver, into the middle of a war for resources between a tribal nation and an advanced civilization that has invented writing, domesticated animals, and black-powder guns. Her deformity lets her pass as a different caste, one of the non-fertile drudges, so the Julagnan, her new caretakers, do not send her to join their females in the mountain city of Alvita. They throw her in with a group of enemy war-orphans instead. The orphans treat her like an outsider, and the Julagnan offer her an education, but siding with the violent, arrogant Julagnan still feels wrong.

As Querrl grows to adulthood, out of place and unhappy, she plots to return home and take the Julagnan's advanced skills with her. When their army assembles to invade the country south of her birth nation, she enlists, planning to desert and ride north alone. But suddenly, Querrl finds herself actually fighting a war, and a Julagnan faction that claims Alvita sits on a sleeping volcano wants her aid in staging a coup. She just wants to go home, and she thinks she's willing to take any route to get there. But as she gains responsibilities and friends and realizes that people might need her help to even survive, she finds that loyalties aren't always easy to decide.

The Waking Mountain is a work of low-tech science fiction with a fantasy feel. It is complete at 109,305 words.


Evil Editor said...

That first paragraph isn't doing anything for you. I don't know what is meant by "a Host's only engineer." And I don't know if she ever does become one, or ever does wait on a spoiled harem, because they're never mentioned again. Start with paragraph 2.

It sounds like you're saying the Julagnan invented domesticated animals. Or, if "domesticated" is a verb, then you need a verb with the black powder guns. Also, this could be trimmed to:

Querrl's physical deformities have always made her feel an outcast, even among her loving family. An accident sweeps her downriver, into the middle of a war for resources between a tribal nation and a more advanced civilization, the Julagnan. Her new caretakers offer her an education, but confine her to a camp for enemy war orphans.

I'd drop the volcano from paragraph 3. Or get to the part where it erupts and tell us how this changes everything.

These changes will help, but it's still mainly setup. The story starts when she enlists and goes to war. What happens then? Less setup means more room for story.

I don't see much to indicate this is science fiction or fantasy.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Dammit, blogger just ate my comment. Lemme try again.

This query --and the sentences-- feel like you're trying to cram everything in. I'd back away from that. Instead, identify the essential task your character has to achieve and focus on that.

Watch out for this sort of sentence:

She doesn't expect to become a Host's only engineer or to find herself questioning where she belongs while waiting on a spoiled harem in the shadow of a waking volcano.

The problem with this sentence is that it changes direction too many times. There are six verbs ("spoiled" and "waking" being adjectives). Your character is doing several seemingly unrelated things. Engineer doesn't relate to waiting on a spoiled harem doesn't relate to belonging, and the reader's left with "huh?" And that's without even wondering why Host is capitalized.

Maybe it's very important in the story that Host is capitalized, but I don't see what the Host or the harem are even doing in the query.

Since making this less confusing is your goal, I'd suggest cutting details. We don't need 'em.

Short, simple sentences. One goal for your character. One obstacle. What must she do to overcome said obstacle?

Then I'd change the last bit to

The Waking Mountain is a work of science fiction, complete at 80,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Always thank them for their time, even though it may be 60 seconds, tops.

Stephanie Bittner said...

I am willing to start the query out at the point where she enlists. However, I would worry that I was misrepresenting my book to agents. Where EE thinks my story starts is not where it actually starts in the book. The book is a coming-of-age story, and there's a lot that happens before that point that isn't just "set-up." Perhaps this is a problem with the book and not the query. I'm about to send it to a critique group to get looked over, so I suppose I'll find out.

Also, the volcano is very important to the book, but it doesn't actually erupt until almost the end. Skipping to the eruption would miss a lot. If I drop reference to the volcano, won't there be questions about the title?

It is science fiction. It's on another planet, and the characters are aliens with eight limbs and a larval stage. There's no magic to make it fantasy. For some reason, people object to labeling books about aliens as mainstream. Should I put more emphasis on that in the query? I thought it would be confusing and divert from the actual plot.

Thanks, guys. Back to the drawing board with me. I think, with your help, that I am starting to narrow in on what the actual book is about. I'll try to par down the details. You're right that I'm cramming too much in.

Mister Furkles said...

You should delete the first paragraph. You can tighten the second paragraph something like this:

An accident sweeps Querrl downriver into a war between the [NAME] tribal nation and the more advanced Julagnans. Her physical deformity, which has always made her an outcast, lets her pass as a different caste. The Julagnans put her in a camp of enemy war-orphans.

They educate her and when she grows to adulthood, she joins their army. She plans to desert and return to her home. But …

Now tell us about the main conflict. What choice does she face? Who or what is blocking her from doing what she wants to do? What are the consequences either way?

Evil Editor said...

I wasn't suggesting you call the book mainstream. I was suggesting you indicate in the query what makes it science fiction.

Querrl's goal is to bring her new knowledge to her homeland. As she can't do this until she gets out of the orphan camp and enlists, that's where the story begins. No matter how important the events before that were, or how much of the book they encompass, they were setup.

As for whether anyone will understand e title if you don't mention the title, you do mention that it's a mountain village. And readers are smart enough to know that a waking mountain can mean a volcano. And if you don't buy that, then tell us in the query what's so important about the volcano instead of just saying a faction claims the village is on a volcano.

St0n3henge said...

"She doesn't expect to become a Host's only engineer or to find herself questioning where she belongs while waiting on a spoiled harem in the shadow of a waking volcano."

I think it's pretty safe to say NO ONE expects this.

This does read like an extremely condensed synopsis. It's hard to get through. I would personally try something more like this:

Querrl is a singular mistake of nature: a girl of her species that can't swim. An accident sweeps her downstream where the soldiers of the more advanced Julagnan civilization drag her from the river. Querrl grows to adulthood under the shadow of an ancient volcano and learns things her own culture never invented: writing, math, and powerful guns able to kill at a distance. Even so, Querrl feels at odds with the violent, arrogant Julagnan.

When the army assembles to invade another country, Querrl enlists, planning to desert for home. She dreams of bringing her people the knowledge she's gained. But suddenly, Querrl finds herself actually fighting a war amid rumors of the volcano's impending eruption. Querrl just wants to go home, and she thought she was willing to take any route to get there. Now that she has real responsibilities and people might need her help to even survive, she finds that decisions are not as easy as they once were.

At least, something like this would make me want to read it.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Stephanie, you're not misrepresenting your book if you don't cram every available detail into the query.

You're overthinking this. I can't remember if I suggested this before but: Reduce your entire book to a sentence under 20 words in length. Build your query from there.

Though it sounds like you have some work to do on the manuscript first.

Evil Editor said...

AA's plot summary gets the job done. The reference to "her species" is enough to suggest science fiction. The setup fits into one paragraph. The volcano gets mentioned.

The fact that you can tell your whole story without mentioning that the characters are eight-limbed aliens leads me to wonder why they are. Some readers may say, I'd rather read about human characters than giant lobsters. Perhaps Querrl's deformity is that she looks like a human being?

Stephanie Bittner said...

Thank you all, especially AA for the excellent summary. I am definitely overthinking this. That's unsurprising, since overthinking things is a tendency of mine.

Since it is important to the story that they're aliens (which you sure can't tell from the query, it's true), I obviously need to stop pussyfooting around the fact. I think that I've been afraid of scaring off people. But the people who would put the query down because it's about aliens are the same ones who would read the word "flippers" on the first page and close the book. So if I'm dumb enough to write a book about aliens that cannot be changed to a book about humans without completely destroying it, I better own up to it.

I think I'll put the query aside for a little while, think on it, and send the story on to a critique group. I'm fairly certain the main problem here is the query, not the book, but it's best to know for sure.

Thanks again. I'm sure I'll be back with another revision eventually.

St0n3henge said...

You're welcome. I didn't know what to do with the 8-legged thing, so I made it read like they could easily be humanoid or at least bipedal. If not, it is important to let people know before they read your pages and say "What the Farquon?!" I believe the surprise might put them off. If they are Sci-Fi author's agents, they should expect some non-humanoid species. If they aren't, why are you querying them?

Stephanie Bittner said...

They actually are bipedal, so that works out fine. I have no intention of querying agents who don't read Sci-Fi. That would be wasting their time and mine. I think I just have some nerves because, of the books I've written, this is the first that has been good enough to consider querying. I'm sure I'll get over it and write more graceful queries after another book or two.