1. EnderMorph

    EnderMorph New Member

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    Age of Exploration Query Advice

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by EnderMorph, Jan 11, 2022.

    Hello, I'm finished my novel and the lengthy editing process, and now trying to figure out the query. This isn't my strong point. Please let me know what I can do to fix the below. The more specific you can be, the better, thank you.

    Will had a lot of practice moving quietly, out the back of pubs, bedroom windows, and the like, but nothing had prepared him for this. In 1752, while pushing the frontier in a place he shouldn’t, a place shrouded in whispers and sailors’ stories, he stumbles upon a dead creature and learns the rumors are true. Amidst the trees lurk pale skinned Gunthers, warriors determined to defend their island.

    A young upstart Captain musters Redcoats at the whim of a bygone General yearning for glory. The allure of adventure had brought Will to the New World, but ever since his father was lost at sea serving the Royal Navy, Will vowed never to pledge himself to something other than family, and never forgave his father for leaving. Yet, Will puts his qualms aside and boards an old river patrol ship belonging to the Royal Navy. Beyond pristine shores waits a Gunther warlord who will stop at nothing to liberate his people from the Empire’s iron-fisted rule. On the eve of battle, Will chooses to take a stand before war engulfs the island and annihilates both men and Gunther. The Gunthers fight for freedom, the Empire fights for power, but in the carnage of war, Will fights for survival.

    I’m seeking representation for AGE OF EXPLORATION, an adult fantasy complete at 96,000 words. It’s a cross between Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Brightness Long Ago and War Lord from The Last Kingdom series. I graduated from the University of Waterloo in military history. I’m an avid writer, sailor, and belong to the Barrie Writers’ Club. Given your interest in history, I thought it might be a good fit for your list.
     
  2. Idiosyncratic

    Idiosyncratic Active Member

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    Despite all my comments, I love the first paragraph. You introduce your character in an interesting manner, add in intrigue and a clear potential conflict. Most of my notes are on looking at your wordings to bridge the gap between the stuff you, the author know and what I, the query reader know.

    The second paragraph falls apart a bit for me. I think it would work better if you framed it around Will (ex: When Will hears of a young upstart captain gathering Redcoats he does something specific) The backstory sentences can be cut completely as they aren’t effecting his actions. What we need, instead, are his present day motivations. What does he need and want so badly that he’ll join the navy to do it? Why does he care about the conflict between Gunther’s and the Navy? If all he cares about is fighting for survival, then he wouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place. What does Will, personally, have to lose is he fails to stop the fighting? Finally, we need more about what actions Will is actually taking. The only specific action he takes is gettin on a boat. What does ‘taking a stand’ mean?

    Aside from one note on personalization, the last paragraph was solid.

    Best of Luck!
     
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  3. EnderMorph

    EnderMorph New Member

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    Thank you so much for your help. Really great advice. I've edited the below. No sweeping changes but I think I made the second paragraph more specific for you. I also loved the line you had about Will hearing the upstart captain gathering redcoats so I used that. I personally like this newer version of my query better, i'd be pleased to know your thoughts.

    Dear Agent


    Will had a lot of practice moving quietly, out the back of pubs, bedroom windows, and the like, but nothing had prepared him for pushing the frontier. In 1752, Will finds himself in a place shrouded in whispers and sailors’ stories, he stumbles upon a dead creature and learns the rumors are true. Amidst the trees lurk pale skinned Gunthers, warriors determined to defend their island.

    When Will hears an upstart Captain mustering Redcoats at the whim of a bygone General yearning for glory, he unwittingly puts himself on a trajectory to disaster. The allure of adventure had brought Will to the New World, but ever since his father was lost at sea serving the Royal Navy, Will vowed never to pledge himself to something other than family, and never forgave his father for leaving. Yet, Will puts his qualms aside. He reluctantly boards a Navy patrol ship that sails down a narrow river. Beyond pristine shores waits a Gunther warlord who will stop at nothing to liberate his people from the Empire’s iron-fisted rule. On the eve of battle, Will finds himself mysteriously sick, with the only cure hidden in the jungle. With aid of a shipmate, the Captain, and the General’s daughter, Will must save himself and uncover the warlords’s buried past before war engulfs the island and annihilates both men and Gunther. The Gunthers fight for freedom, the Empire fights for power, but in the carnage of war, Will fights for survival.
     
  4. Idiosyncratic

    Idiosyncratic Active Member

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    While I think this is a step in the right direction, I still have many of the same issues, so I'll try to explain my thoughts in a bit more detail. Keep in mind though, I am just one critter, not the end all be all authority, so take this with a hefty dose of salt.

    Look at the verbs attached to your protagonist, for each one I’m going to note whether Will is actively doing something to further the current story or not. It’s fine to have a few things happen to the protagonist but you want the majority of the query showing the protagonist causing things to happen.

    Is (state of being, passive)
    finds himself (passive)
    Stumbles upon ( passive, but that’s okay for an inciting incident)
    Hears ( passive)
    Unwittingly puts himself (passive)
    Vowed (is backstory, so still passive)
    Boards (active, technically. It’s a bland verb and he's doing it 'reluctantly' The underlying concept of joining the Navy is solidly active though)
    Finds himself (passive, and a repeat)
    Must save and uncover(A hypothetical, not something he's actually done, therefore passive. Watch out for words like ‘must’ ‘needs to’, ‘has to’. If a character must do something, it takes away their agency and it’s less interesting than them doing something, or at least choosing to do something.)
    Fights (active and a strong verb, but vague as he's not actually fighting something)

    Overall that is only two active verbs, and one is bland while the other is vague. Give me active, specific, interesting verbs to make the query pop.

    Secondly, I feel that you would really benefit from narrowing down your focus to allow the plot and main character to shine. Right now you're drowning in world-building and secondary character details. They're cool details, and you clearly know how to write interesting sentences, but they aren't getting to the heart of the story. You tell me about an upstart captain, a bygone general, a Gunther warlord, Will's father (who isn't in the story nor does he affect anything else that happens in the query), a shipmate, and the General's daughter. Cut some of these details and you'll have a lot more words to dedicate to your protagonist.

    Try narrowing things down.

    Who is Will?
    The Query gives me some on his personality which might be enough, but something concrete would be good too, a job, a skill, etc.

    What does he want?
    Not clear, towards the very end he wants a cure for his illness, but that doesn't get much focus and doesn't explain why finding a corpse made him join the navy. 'Survival' alone is too general of a goal for a query. Every (or at least every non-suicidal) character wants to survive.

    What is stopping him from getting it?
    Not clear. There is plenty of big-picture drama going on around Will, but nothing specific standing in Will's way.

    What will happen if he fails, the stakes.
    We have big picture stakes (War) but no personal stakes.

    In comparison, the Gunther Warlord has more compelling answers to these questions. He's a warlord. He wants freedom for his people. An army of invaders from the empire is standing in the way of freedom. If he loses his people will be slaughtered.

    I recommend starting from scratch (including the things I said I liked) You can come back to this version again later, but it’s easy to get so attached to certain turns of phrase that it’s hard to make significant changes: starting from scratch sidesteps that issue. Try condensing most of the lead-up and getting to those big four questions, and see how you feel about that version. You can always add back in the voicey bits later.

    You've clearly got the writing chops, queries are a tough beast to conquer!
     
  5. EnderMorph

    EnderMorph New Member

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    Hi, sorry it took so long to get back to you. I took your advice and showed it to my writing group. We all thought your advice was great so I really hope to hear back from you. Based off your feedback, I've writing the below query letter.

    I don't think I have much of a hook but hopefully this is a step in the right direction. Please let me know your thoughts.

    Dear Agent

    Growing up on the wrong side of an ever-industrializing colonial town and its polluted skies, Will had a lot of practice moving quietly, out the back of pubs, bedroom windows, and the like, anything to keep him from the Empire’s sight. Longing for a simpler life on the frontier, and desperate for coin, he puts himself on a trajectory to disaster working for a man he doesn’t yet trust. They push through uncharted jungle shrouded in whispers and sailors’ stories.


    Beyond pristine shores waits a Gunther warlord who will stop at nothing to liberate his people from the Empire’s iron-fisted rule. With war looming over Will like a heavy fog, laboring his every breath, he breaks a vow, and pledges himself to the Royal Navy. He forms a band of brotherhood with his shipmates while on patrol up a narrow river, and dreams of settling down in a log cabin along the gentle waterway. Yet, dark smoke lashes out against a pale blue sky in the distance. Gunthers sleuth through the trees, and Will is thrust into combat when his ship is ambushed. The Gunthers fight for freedom, the Empire fights for power, but in the carnage of war, Will and his shipmates fight for survival. In the chaos, Will wonders if he is loyal to the right side until his friend is slain. As the riverbank burns, he fears everything he ever wanted could go up in flames. Though he is no war hero, Will must decide between fleeing while he still can, or taking a stand before war engulfs the island and annihilates both men and Gunther.
     
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  6. Idiosyncratic

    Idiosyncratic Active Member

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    Glad you’ve found my rambling helpful! This version is hugely improved, in particular the stakes and choice at the end are *chef’s kiss* I have a few suggestions for rewording at the bottom that you can take or leave at your leisure (I tend to have a lot of thoughts, don't let all the blue intimidate you), but the only thing I had an issue with structurally was the first part of that second paragraph. A few questions I had about that bit:

    - What is a Gunther? This is fantasy, so a fantasy creature? What sort of fantasy creature? The name of a tribe of humans? The first version gave me the description of a ‘pale skinned creature’ which led me to believe non-human (though I would like something a bit clearer, to tell me what sort of creature) but this version has nothing.

    - We switch briefly to the Gunther's perspective, which is jarring, and disconnected from the previous sentence. On a minor note, you talk about pristine shores when we were previously in the middle of a jungle. Looking back I can figure out this is a river in the jungle, but I associate large shores and Navys with oceans so was initially confused. How does Will know about the Gunther warlord? You could use that information in place of the vague ‘war looms above his head’.

    - Why would he join the navy? You established his goal as ‘live a quiet life and avoid the empire’. How does joining a war with the empire's military help him achieve that goal? It sounds like the exact opposite of his goal.

    My recommendation would be something like this (order of information-wise, not wording or specifics-wise, as I'm making those up) When he arrives at the riverside frontier settlement, his hopes of peace are short-lived. Pioneers are turning up murdered and sailors whisper of pale, snake-like monsters called Gunther’s haunting the jungle. Then a Gunther leader sends a declaration of war; he threatens to kill every settler who lands on his shores in order to free his people from the empire's grasping hands. Will realizes the only way to protect his fragile new home is to join the fight and the Navy he loathes.

     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2022 at 1:58 AM
  7. EnderMorph

    EnderMorph New Member

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    Thank you so much for your great response. This is amazing advice. I made some quick changes below based on your suggestions. I really like the track you have set me on here, it's great, thank you.

    - Good catch on asking what a gunther is, I put it back in at the start, I could remove it from there and place it before Will is ambushed in the ship. I kept it at the start to now because this leads to the warlord introduction in the second paragraph. I know you don't like it there, and i don't either, but I use that as motivation for Will to join the Navy. Navy recruitment is desperate because of the warlord so Will joins.

    - Great point on Will bonding with the shipmate, I name Cutler early now, not sure if two names plus the warlord is too much, but hopefully this works.

    - I have a feeling this is slightly more streamlined but i'm open to making it better. I kept that dark smoke lashing against the sky line but only because I thought maybe it works here and im not sure whatelse to do with the 13 words, but I agree with you and can cut it quickly if I know what to put in instead.

    Please let me know what you think and what I should do from here. I really like the track this is on and feel it needs to be smoothed out a bit. Thank you so much for your help, I look forward to your comments.


    Growing up on the wrong side of an ever-industrializing colonial town and its polluted skies, Will had a lot of practice moving quietly, out the back of pubs, bedroom windows, and the like, anything to keep him from the Empire’s sight. Longing for a simpler life on the frontier, and desperate for coin, he takes on work from Cutler, a man Will doesn’t yet trust. They push through uncharted jungle shrouded in whispers and sailors’ stories. Will discovers a dead creature and learns the rumors are true. Amidst the trees lurk pale skinned Gunthers, warriors determined to defend their island.


    Beyond pristine shores waits a Gunther warlord who will stop at nothing to liberate his people from the Empire’s iron-fisted rule. With war looming over Will like a heavy fog, laboring his every breath, he not only trusts, but follows Cutler, pledging himself to the Royal Navy he loathes. He forms a band of brotherhood with Cutler and his shipmates while on patrol up a narrow river. Will even dreams of settling down in a log cabin along the gentle waterway. Yet, his hopes of peace are short-lived. Settlers have gone missing. A dark smoke lashes out against a pale blue sky in the distance. Haunting the jungle is the warlord and his beady eyed Gunthers. Will is thrust into combat when his ship is ambushed. The Gunthers fight for freedom, the Empire fights for power, but in the carnage of war, Will and his shipmates fight for survival. In the chaos, Will wonders if he is loyal to the right side until Cutler is slain. As the riverbank burns, he fears everything he ever wanted could go up in flames. Though he is no war hero, Will must decide between fleeing while he still can, or taking a stand before war engulfs the island and annihilates both men and Gunther.
     

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