Monday, April 03, 2017

Feedback Request

You’ve mentioned before you find it hard to imagine a kingdom on a mountain. I’m not sure how to explain this concisely in a query letter without just saying something blatant like “trust me, the mountain is really big”, because the circumference of the mountain is similar to the circumference of France (there’s a mountain on Mars with a similar shape and size). [Can't you just say the kingdom of _________ is situated on the side of Mt. Era, a mountain as large in circumference as France?] The setting is something unique about my book, and so I do want to mention it. [You don't need to tell us the answers to our 
questions; you need to decide whether the answers should be in the query, and if so, how to work them in.]

The reason it seems like Lark and Alister are underqualified for this mission is because when I started plotting this story, I wanted something different from ‘the Chosen One’ plots that are seen (in my opinion) way too often in fantasy. I wanted to pick characters that aren’t particularly special before the story, but that were dragged into the plot by learning too much (in Lark’s case) or being dragged into it by others (in Alister’s case) [or by being whisked to another world by a tornado (in Dorothy's case) or by coming into possession of a powerful ring (in Frodo's case)]. Then what I find the most interesting is how they can grow and become important throughout their travels, rather than being inherently important already. [
My experience with the "chosen one" fantasy plots which are (in your opinion) seen way too often in fantasy, is that they usually do involve characters that aren’t particularly special before the story.] I’m not sure how I can express this (answering the question of ‘why him?’) best in the query letter.

(The following query isn’t too different from the last submission, just with a few small changes, because the questions above address your previously mentioned issues.)

Dear EE,

Alister didn't start his day thinking he'd leave his home forever, guilt and his hiking pack weighing on his shoulders. But after he accidentally causes a neighbour's house to crash down Mount Era's slopes, a young girl trapped inside, he packs his few belongings and leaves before anyone discovers what he'd [he's] done. [If your house is so precariously balanced that a kid can accidentally send it crashing down a mountain, you hired the wrong builders.]

Then Lark's message arrives. [If the message arrives after Alister leaves, how does he get it?] The travelling merchant had been Alister's only link to the other cities of the Union, until he mysteriously disappeared that autumn. Lark's message explains that his disappearance was no accident. He sent it moments before being taken captive by Baudouin, an unnervingly charismatic king of the western side of Mount Era. Lark discovered the king's plot to dig up the unstable Stone of Dominus and use its power to gain control of the entire mountain. The rest of the Union is oblivious to Baudouin's plans, fooled by the aid he's given them over the years, and the king doesn't seem to realise or care that using the Stone's power risks Mount Era's destruction.

Alister embarks on a journey across the Union to free Lark. Throughout his travels, Alister makes new friends and enemies, learns more about the Union's cities than Lark ever told him, uncovers the merchant's past, and learns to face his own. Although he knows Baudouin must be stopped, Alister wrestles with how far he should go to save the Union.

In the back of his mind is a nagging question—What made Lark send to him for help? [Possibly answering that question will answer our question of Why Alister? Lark's about to be captured, and in his final moments of freedom he chooses to write to a kid on the other side of the mountain asking for help. Either Alister has unrevealed talents or Lark doesn't trust any of the many people who would be better equipped to help, or the message was a ploy, or...] 

The Missing Traveller is a fantasy complete at 110 300 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.



I can accept a mountain as large in circumference as France, but to call it a mountain it has to rise in elevation somewhat dramatically. Otherwise we'd call France a mountain. Obviously Mount Era does rise dramatically, as a house would not come crashing down its slopes if they were gently rising slopes. 

The mountain on Mars that Wikipedia shows as France-sized is 13.6 miles high. But because gravity helps keep most of the air near the surface of a planet, humans can't breathe at altitudes a mere 3 miles high. Also, it's really cold at higher altitudes. If the Martian mountain were on Earth, it would reach more than six miles into our stratosphere, whereas our Mt. Everest, which is very cold near the top, doesn't even reach to the stratosphere.

None of which matters if your characters all live within two miles of the mountain's base, or if the story is set on a planet vastly different from Earth (like where gravity and physics don't matter). Anything goes in a fantasy, as long as you can get readers to buy into it.


Chicory said...

You don't really need to explain that Alister sent a house crashing and had to hike it from home. The place where he gets pulled into the main conflict is when he receives a message from Lark, so that's the place to start your query.

Anonymous said...

Saying that the big bad plans on gaining an object that will destroy the union explains the stakes. Where it happens is window dressing that I don't think you need to detail that much--if it's the only unique thing about your book, that's a problem.

Your third paragraph which should give details about plot progress is very generic. Try including some SPECIFIC details about what Alistair does and what happens.

St0n3henge said...

EE makes some good points.

Alister IS a Chosen One. Many Chosen One characters are pig keepers or tavern owner's sons that get caught up in some kind of adventure. That's fine. I never personally had a problem with the MC's “qualifications.” I grew up in the eighties, when many characters were shown to succeed or prevail simply because they were more determined than other characters, not because they had any special ability or magical quality. So I honestly don't see this as being the most important thing to address.

I'm also a little confused at how Alister can cause a house to fall down a mountain, accidentally or otherwise. This isn't the sort of accident a child should be able to cause. Unfortunately, it doesn't come across as believable.
For contrast:
In the novel Treasures of The Snow, Lucien, a fatherless child who bullies to hide his insecurities, is tormenting a younger boy on the Swiss Alps by holding the boy's kitten over the edge of a cliff and pretending to drop it. In the scuffle for the kitten, Lucien accidentally does drop it, but it lands safely on a small ledge below. The boy Dani climbs down to get it but falls, breaking his leg badly. Everyone in the village blames Lucien.
The guilt drives Lucien's behavior throughout the story. This is a much more believable mishap.

“Alister embarks on a journey across the Union to free Lark. Throughout his travels, Alister makes new friends and enemies, learns more about the Union's cities than Lark ever told him, uncovers the merchant's past, and learns to face his own.”

These things seem kind of “meh” compared to the stone thing. You just mentioned a stone that has great powers but has been buried, then this king found out about it somehow and wants to use it to rule an enormous kingdom even though it could cause the destruction of everything. This is exciting and brings up questions in a good way. Who buried the stone? Where does it get its power? The next paragraph is about a kid finding out more about life and stuff.

And it's super vague. “Alister wrestles with how far he should go to save the Union. “ How CAN he? Does he, also, have a powerful stone? Or is he using the super klutz power he used to send a house down a mountain?

“In the back of his mind is a nagging question—What made Lark send to him for help?” Absolutely no one cares about this. Probably the only guy left on the mountain that doesn't want Lark strung up by the balls for getting his daughter pregnant.

I know there's an interesting story in here somewhere, but you're focusing too hard on the parts that A. are, quite frankly, dull, or B. don't make sense.

St0n3henge said...

Mostly what is missing here is a sense of the characters or story. We know Alister runs away to save himself. Whether or not he can save Lark is only a guess and whether it will change anything if he does is uncertain. And again, it's unlikely that Alister can stop this maniacal king. Even if he doesn't, he can't very well go home, so it's hard to tell if he's doing this to be brave or if there's simply nowhere else to go.

As for Lark, we don't know what skills he brings to the table or what his personal stake is in all this. Because the characters' motivations are vague, the story has no driving force as shown here.

Classy said...

I'm a suck for well-written fantasy, but I wish I could get a better sense of what concrete powers this Stone has, and what kind of magic/skills do the inhabitants of Mt. Era possess. Are the Cryomancers or white magicians or dragon-tamers? So far the setting sounds awfully real, awfully dull.
I know you don't have much space in a query letter, but just a lick of detail will be nice.

Anonymous said...

Or by a bunch of darkspawn killing his brother, the king(Dragon Age)...

Or by being one of the two remaining wardens in Farelden(Dragon Age)...

I know someone mentioned this before me, but is this Dragon Age fanfic?

Anonymous said...

Alister, a lonely orphan, lives for the times when travelling merchant Lark visits Alister's small village on the side of Mount Era. Lark brings exciting tales about the other cities of the Union, scattered around the giant, 600-kilometre wide mountain.

But this autumn, Lark only sends a message. Reading between the lines, Alister realizes that Lark is in danger of being captured by Baudouin, the unnervingly charismatic king of the western slopes. According to Lark, the king is plotting to dig up the unstable Stone of Dominus and use its power to gain control of the entire mountain.

But Alister, already in trouble after accidentally causing a landslide, has no one to tell or ask for help. Desperate, he embarks alone on a journey across Mount Era to find Lark. As he learns more than Lark ever told him about the Union and the dangers of the Stone....

That's exactly the point where your query cuts off, and it's too soon. We need at least one more sentence that reveals some of what Alister learns and why his discoveries could save the mountain.

I find it odd that Alister's dilemma is whether to act or not, rather than how to act. He's going to save the mountain, isn't he? Why be coy?