1. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Shadow War (fantasy query)

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Mckk, Sep 17, 2018.

    Rewritten version lower down in the thread!

    So, bypassing all the Dear Agent blah blah, below is the bit about the book that will go into the query. (Title is preliminary) A few questions:

    1. Does it stand out as a story? Or is it just like, interesting but well, you've seen it before so really it ain't all that exciting?

    2. What sort of story would you expect this book to be? Action-packed? Character-driven? A lot of emotional drama or rather sword fights and battle? Is romance a side plot or would you say more of a central plot?

    3. Would you expect one protagonist, or multiple protagonists? (Or multiple POV characters - I'm a bit fuzzy about the difference but I hope you understand what I mean!)

    4. And of course, any critique on the writing quality please!

    ETA: feel free to comment on whether the title is interesting too. It's just my current file name at the moment.

    Without further adieu: Shadow War (130k)

    When Shadow Walker captures Will's city during a civil war, William Reus had no choice but join the militia in the fight. But Shadow Walker isn't just killing men, he's killing dryads too, kidnapping them from the forests and using their flesh to make poison weapons until they are spent.

    Will - part-dryad - seeks to rescue them to form an alliance between them and the militia. He believes the dryads are the militia's only chance at victory. Moreover, he's made a promise to save them, and he intends to keep it.

    The militia, however, has their own agenda and Arlia Grithor, militia commander and Will's childhood sweetheart, must choose between obeying her father's orders to simply burn the dryads and thus destroy Shadow Walker's means of creating his deadly weapons, or help Will free them.

    Where does their respective loyalty lie? Meanwhile, Shadow Walker is interested in getting Will on his side of the fight.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2018
  2. Justin Thyme

    Justin Thyme Member Supporter

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    This looks like the sort of book I would pick up and check out, or download a sample at least.
    I usually enjoy what I think this is, eg. a fantasy action romp with swords, a bit of magic perhaps, and strange creatures.

    It looks like it should contain plenty of action and have an important, even key, romance which will hopefully also be full of angst and conflict.

    'Looks to me at first sight that your primary protagonist is Will, with Arlia and Shadow Walker as the other main chars.
    POV is another matter and I wouldn't be looking to determine that from the material you've provided.
    As a title 'Shadow War' sticks a bit, I think I'd expect it to be 'The Shadow War' or something that perhaps nails down on the story a bit more?

    Should be; 'Without further ado,' - adieu is french for 'see ya later'.

    Too vague I think? when and where was this war and who was involved, a bit more info could 'place' the rest very neatly.

    This is a bit broken, how about somthing like;
    Will believes an alliance with the Dryads is the militia's only chance of victory. He's part Dryad himself and has made a promise to save them which he's not going to give up on.

    Spare word?

    Not required; you've already said that he's killing them.

    Sounds a little odd to UK english reader I think, perhaps 'Chance of victory?' maybe this is my personal thought though.

    The militia has their own agenda, sounds more direct and simple to me.

    This this is a spare word; must choose between her father's orders and,,,

    Where do their respective loyalties lie, it's plural.

    I don't clearly see who or what shadow walker is, or even if he is the main antagonist,
     
  3. Irina Samarskaya

    Irina Samarskaya Member

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    #1: Sounds like something I've heard similar of (though nothing quite like) as the premise involves a Big Bad who is morally irredeemable and the protagonists have leaders whose own morals are questionable. Not an uncommon set up but it could be attractive depending on the type of story.

    #2: Sounds like a mix of action and romance, but little direct fighting. I would expect William to do a lot of lobbying with the dryads and humans and trying to get them to fight together effectively rather than be singled out and destroyed; while I suspect Arlia's story will either go the (typical) of ignoring her father to pursue Willian OR go the (interesting route) of following her father's orders and going against William (which spoils the potential for romance but makes it much more interesting as it brings the question of "what means are justified in throwing out a terrible adversary?" into conflict with their mutual desire to at least be friends.

    #3: I would expect at least 2 protagonists (POVs): William and Arlia. I expect William's story to involve a lot of running and talking while I expect Arlia's to be more internally moving (like having debates with herself and friends) before eventually either following dad's orders and fighting William, abandoning her dad's militia and helping William, using the militia to establish some kind of coup, OR a sort-of Third Way that manages to both keep her half of the country intact without destroying all the dryads and fighting William. I think Arlia's story would be much more interesting as William's I would expect to be mostly predictable lobbying of two mistrusting parties into unity and then go on from there with little surprises.

    #4: I like it. It's short, concise, and reminds me of a dramatic action plot. It's not particular stand-out however, but it (might) get the job done. Whether it actually does depends on whether my above answers are at all in line with what you intend for readers to think.

    Overall I think it could be a good story, though probably not a great one unless Arlia gets the main focus and her route explores an unusual/unexpected path.
     
  4. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Justin covered most of the point i'd make - my only addition would be don't use Wills diminuitive until he's been introduced, and be consistent in names "when the shadow walker captures William Ruses city, he had no choice but to"

    Also this sounds more like a synopsis for a back cover than for an agent query
     
  5. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    1.no, sorry. It's mostly characters trying to kill each other , with no other motivation than "oh, that's who they are". Making poison out of driads is interesting, but ends up being just a gimmick. Instead of dryads there could have been chipmunks, or tupperware, and the plot will end up being the same: the Big Baddie uses a weapon to kill other characters. For example, in the movie Avatar we see the blue natives'special skills and that's important to the plot but in your plot we don't see the dryads do anything.
    2. It all seems very linear and because of that it's very predictable. And at 130k words I'd expect it to be just wordy instead of full of interesting events, as there's no hint of twists and turns. There's no hint of great prose either, so there's not much to look forward to. Have you noticed the repetition of "them" in the second paragraph?
    3. I have no idea and it's not important. Probably two POVs from the male and female leads.
    4. writing is okay, title is okay.
     
  6. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @DeeDee - in my defense, the story's called Shadow War... The killing's kinda in the theme. When the book begins, the war's already been happening for some time, so the "why" isn't especially important. What the dryads do isn't especially important either.

    The truth is, the book's really primarily about the character relationships - the dynamic between all of them (as well as one more POV character that isn't mentioned, who actually forms a good chunk of the book). It's why I've chosen to focus on their choices and conflicts, as opposed to any event that really happens in the book. I was hoping by doing so, it'd reflect that this is not an action-packed sort of book.

    @big soft moose - I thought a synopsis should tell you a summary of exactly what happens from start to finish, so I'm not sure I can say this looks like a synopsis. What were you expecting from a query, so I can understand better what you feel is missing?

    @Irina Samarskaya - thank you for your detailed feedback! Arlia does get a chunk of the book as one of the POV characters. What's unusual in the relationships is actually in the love triangle where she and the romantic rival, Hayley (who isn't mentioned here, but who's also a POV character) actually become friends. A lot of the tension really comes from various different relational dynamic between different characters, and much less on the actual events that take place. The events themselves are fairly ordinary. Shadow Walker is actually a very unusual villain and there's a massive twist involving him - the solidification of his character as revealed over the course of the book is a strength. And I'd also say Arlia and Hayley's relationship is a particular strength as well as something more unusual. Unfortunately I'll admit to a particular weakness with Will's character, but it is what it is - he's passable lol. Neither of my alpha readers particularly complained about him. (what's up with me and the word particularly today...?) I'm only hoping my strengths elsewhere will be enough to carry it forward.

    @Justin Thyme - I knew "adieu" was wrong!! I just didn't know how else I should spell it haha. Thanks for the correction! Thank you also for your detailed feedback. I gave a bit more info on the book in the paragraph above to Irina. Shadow Walker's indeed the main antagonist - would you say I need to bring him more to the fore? That you assume there's a key romance is correct.

    Basically this is a very character-driven book where the character dynamics are really the thing that's interesting about the it, and not the action really. I can't say the events themselves are particularly amazing. But the character relationships are a definite strength, and that's primarily what the book is about anyway. I'm wondering if I should change the query's angle, or is it good as is? Should I bring Hayley in (the other POV character and the second girl who forms the love triangle) and put more emphasis on Shadow Walker?
     
  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I'm not an expert on queries since I self publish, however if the point is to tell the agent what happens at each stage of the plot then you aren't achieving that … as I said this reads like the teaser synopsis you get on the back of books "xyz must make a choice but will they do abc or not .."
     
  8. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I believe a query should communicate essentially who are the characters, what's the premise, and what's at stake, the last one being the most important. A query should not communicate each stage of the plot, no. A synopsis is what should communicate each stage of the plot, including the resolution. Happy to be corrected though, but this is how I've always understood it from reading submissions on Query Shark.

    But the query should basically say what's the plot (I guess, defeat SW and save the dryads) and what's at stake (the conflict in the romance between Will and Arlia, and potentially the corruption of Will's character). Do you think what I wrote communicated these things?

    ETA: and entices you to read the book or at least opening chapters?
     
  9. Lifeline

    Lifeline Into the Cold Contributor

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    You know where I'm coming from writingwise so... when you mentioned 'civil war' in the first sentence of the query, I perked up. I'm wondering how this will play into the story.

    From the query, it sounds like sword fights and battles. I didn't get much sense of romance, because aside from the one mention of Arlia being Will's child sweetheart, no other emotional connection gets mentioned.

    I would expect Will to be a protagonist. Arlia, mmmh. I'm not sure.

    And now I'm giving you a detailed feedback. Please ask if I'm unclear about something :)
    All in all, it sounds like an interesting premise which I would read, also or because of the 'civil war' :oops:. Yeah, that's me.
     
  10. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    War is not about killing people. It's about territory, resources, the pretty princess, something. Killing is means to get it, it's not the main purpose. Nobody gets up in the morning and goes "Oh, lets go kill some people." It's more like, "Oh, that beach property will make a really nice vacation home, let's go take it over." And if the owner of said property replies "Only over my dead body", only then things get messy. There's some sort of interaction, resistance, obstacles etc.

    Besides, you say it yourself - the book is primarily about relationships. But there's no relationships visible in the querry. Instead, the characters actions are motivated by their part in the war. They don't really interact with each other. They are just on different sides of the conflict. The query doesn't show what each of those two people want either, they just go in the direction they are being pushed by external forces. Will is part dryad, so he's just obliged to take their side. He's also obliged to be in the militia. And he's kinda obliged to still chase his childhood sweetheart, even if she's a terrible person. He doesn't sound like a reasonable person, does he... Unless you convince us that he is a great chap, by revealing what he thinks about all that stuff. Maybe he has a good reason after all.

    If characters come first, war is background, then why start the query with a long explanation of how that war is fought? That leads to false expectations and ends with dissatisfaction.
    You could instead start with the clash between the two main leads, then use the middle to passingly mention about their positions in the war factions, and end up with what lies ahead of them. Bonus points for making the query sound like there are several plotlines (saving dryads and getting back that sweetheart while evading an angry boss). The query doesn't have to follow the book chronologically.

    Example (not really trying to rewrite your work) : "When evil creature Shadow Walker brings rack and ruin to town, country bumpkin Will The Hero takes up the chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his sweetheart, Arla The Warrior and joins the resistance under her command. But destruction is the most innocent of Shadow's intentions. He's also wiping out the dryads of the forest and Will, being part-dryad himself, hold special interest for the invader. And that's not even half of Will's problems. For Arla has orders to destroy all dryads as desperate means to prevent the unstoppable Shadow from taking over all of the land. Torn between love and duty, both Will and Arla have to choose their loylties wisely or face not only the wrath of the Shadow but also the stern disapproval of Arla's dad."

    Note that the above example is not just a sequence of actions.
     
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  11. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @DeeDee thank you because that's very useful feedback. So I need to express better their reasons for their actions, and their goals (which would also reveal the stakes). I agree with you there's little "voice" in the summary - will try to spice it up.
     
  12. Nariac

    Nariac Active Member

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    This looks like my first attempt to do this horribly daunting task of writing a cover letter. How can we possibly summarise our beautiful creations into a single page? (Which is usually all that we're allowed to attach) When I tried, I was told it looked too much like the back-cover blurb, and not the sort of thing an agent wants to see. An agent wants to see a story which is gripping, interesting, and totally unstoppably commercial. Most importantly, it should grab the reader by the emotions and never let them go until the end.

    The best way I found to do that, is to add emotional hooks to my plot summary. I've included my own synopsis, and highlighted the hooks, as reference for you to see what I mean.

    For reference the story I've summarised in this synopsis is about 400,000 words long, so I actually had to simplify the plot to make it fit. You can do this too, if you need to. Remember, make it as interesting as you can. Pull out all the stops!



    Emotional Hook Highlights.png
     
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  13. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So I've gone for a swim around Query Shark and read a few more query critiques over there. I've rewritten the query if any of you care to take a look and give me some feedback :) It's a little on the long side (288 words I think) but I'm hoping if it means it expresses an interesting story, then I'll probably be forgiven for it.

    ---------

    Rucer Pelzarro isn’t coming. He might be a powerful mage, but he’s also missing, which is as good as dead as far as William Reus is concerned. The rebels, though, are still waiting for Rucer’s return, probably the only reason they’re still fighting a losing war against their eyeless, mouthless king, Shadow Walker.

    In the meantime, men are dying, because Shadow Walker is as powerful as he is cunning. He’s hunting dryads and using their flesh to make the deadliest weapon. Will sees no option but to seek the dryads for an alliance, because they can’t wait forever. Norlina the dryad agrees on one condition: first save her sisters from Shadow Walker’s stronghold.

    Arlia Grithor, militia commander and Will’s childhood sweetheart, isn’t sure. Will finds himself falling for her once again, despite all the water under that particular bridge. But he needs the mages under her command – there’s no other way to move walking trees discreetly out of enemy territory – but burning them would be just the same as removing them as far as Arlia is concerned.

    But the dryads are more to Will than just allies. He is part-dryad and becoming increasingly disillusioned with the militia, who just wants to use him for his healing abilities and even as bait to trick the dryads into helping them.

    In his moment of weakness, Shadow Walker comes along – fight on his side, and perhaps Will could talk the dryads into a different alliance which would eliminate any need to hunt them at all. Shadow Walker possesses dryad flesh too – that is, the mask he’s wearing. Because while everyone thinks he’s a phantom loosed from the Underworld, he’s simply a man with a mask, and none other than Rucer Pelzarro.
     
  14. Nariac

    Nariac Active Member

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    That's much better, but still feels a bit too much like a blurb to me. I think the problem is the same one I had ... it's hard when you're trying to sell a book, to expose it, blood and guts, for the person to dissect easily. But you have to, since that's the key difference between blurbs and synopses - in the latter, you must spoil EVERYTHING! :D

    And that feels weird, really weird, but you have to do it. All those awesome plot twists, super sweet reveals, and the climactic ending - put it all out there. Because the agent wants and needs to know what it is she's buying.

    So tell us the ending. :p
     
  15. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A query can, but doesn't have to, tell the ending. You're confusing it for a synopsis. I'm not trying to write a synopsis (will have to check my original post to see if maybe I called it a summary, which may be what's confusing people). And honestly, I already gave away the biggest twist of the novel.

    A query should entice the agent to read the book. As far as it not resembling a blurb, a blurb may or may not give away the real plot of the book and will certainly use a lot of vague buzzwords and hooks, all of which should be avoided in a query. I don't think I have used any vague hooks and buzzwords?

    What matters is, does it tell you the plot? Or do you feel the plot is still missing? Are the goals and stakes clear? And is it enticing? Does the story stand out?

    ETA: I appreciate your energetic post @Nariac - it makes me smile :D sorry if my reply comes off as a bit short/snappy. Been trying to sum this stupid thing up so many times by now...
     
  16. Nariac

    Nariac Active Member

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    Oh, sorry, I must have misread. My bad! In that case it's a great query. :)

    And, well ... when you get to the synopsis bit ... just remember what I said. :D

    When I sent out query letters, they always asked for the query in the e-mail, the first 3 chapters and a one-page synopsis in the attachments. I think I just got confused, because it was always the synopsis which I had trouble doing.
     
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  17. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    I'm by no means an expert on queries, but my understanding was that you should focus on one person and only give one name--here, I'm counting at least six.

    Second, this sort of reads like a synopsis to me. This happens, then that happens, then this happens, instead of, this Will, this is what Will wants, this is his problem, and these are the stakes, which is closer in line to what I thought a standard query should be.

    Third, the writing here comes off a bit choppy, largely because you use so many commas, ESPECIALLY in the opening paragraph. I'm also not a fan of your use of hyphens and colons here.

    I really liked the opening chapter for this novel that you put a while ago in the workshop, so don't take this as a criticism of your writing in general, just of this particular text.
     
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