Feb 1, 2010

The Butterfly Key -- Revision 2 (Revised)

Click here to read the original query.
Click here to read the first revision.

Dear Agent,

When Nicole Kuefler’s seemingly indelible faith crumbles after her miscarriage, she falls into an agonizing conflict against God. Concerned for his wife, Nicole’s husband Drew gathers his family around the Christmas tree to weave a story about God and His so-called providence. This is the allegory of The Butterfly Key.

Christian Bryson’s mother died after childbirth, his father recently lost his battle with cancer. Therefore, when Abigail, his wife, discovers she is pregnant, she is ecstatic to deliver him some good news. Sadly, before Abigail can tell him, Christian crushes her world by informing her that he is deploying for war. Consequently, Abigail reluctantly decides to keep her pregnancy a secret so Christian can focus on keeping himself alive.

When wounded in battle, Christian learns he can no longer father children, thus his promise of making Abigail a mother haunts his soul. Struggling to accept his calamity, Christian cannot bring himself to tell Abigail about his injury even as she pleads for him to come home. Believing Christian should return for love and not for a sense of obligation, Abigail wrongly decides not to tell him about the birth of their progeny.

With their marriage on the verge of collapsing, God intervenes and sends two special travelers to bring Christian back home to his family.

After Drew finishes his story, he is unsure if Nicole can forgive God. That is, until a unique present appears under the Christmas tree from an invented character in his story. A gift with the power to restore what Nicole had lost – her faith.

THE BUTTERFLY KEY is a 72,000-word work of literary fiction. A completed manuscript is available upon your request. I look forward to working with you.

8 comments:

gj said...

You're making cosmetic changes, not substantive ones.

Step back completely. Develop a new one-sentence pitch: protagonist wants X, and does Y to get it, but Z (antagonist) gets in the protagonist's way.

Then you can expand it to three sentences, one for each of the clauses in the main sentence. Expand on who the protagonist is and why he/she wants X. Expand on what he/she is willing to do to get X. And show how the antagonist is opposing the protagonist in logical and equally well-motivated ways. That's it. Done.

Next, consider pitching this as Christian fiction, NOT literary fiction.

As it stands, if your query is an accurate reflection of the book, you're giving the impression of a story that starts with a little bit of action (dialogue, discussion), then has hundreds of pages of monologue (telling the story of someone else), followed by another brief bit of action. If that's accurate, it's a serious problem with the pacing. The query is giving the impression that the story is structured something like this:

Chapter 1: Nicole won't get out of bed after a miscarriage, so Drew announces he's going to recount the allegory of The Butterfly Key.

Chapter 2: Drew starts talking about CB.

Chapter 3: Drew continues talking about CB.

Chapter 4 to whatever: Drew continues talking about CB. [It doesn't really matter what exciting things CB is doing, because the story's "now" is Drew talking. Any stakes for CB are over and done with, history, so there's no real reason for the reader to care.)

Chapter last: Nicole finds a gift under the tree from an invented character in his story, and they discuss miracles, and she announces she's refound her faith.

Now, that's a bit exaggerated, but it's the impression the query is giving. And if you think about an agent reading the query that makes this promise about the manuscript, then you can see that the agent isn't going to be excited about a book that consists of a guy telling a story for 300 pages.

An alternate possibility for your actual structure is along the lines of:
Chapter 1: same as before (the introductory frame).
Chapter 2 to next-to-last: the story unfolds through the point of view of Christian as if the frame didn't exist, rather than Drew recounting the story, and Christian's struggle escalates, with the story's "now" being in the past with Christian, and eventually Christian's struggle is resolved.

Chapter last: same as before (the closing frame).

That's the format of, say, the movie, "The Princess Bride," and it's a little more interesting than the first impression, b/c the bulk of the manuscript will be an actual protagonist in a struggle with an actual antagonist, not a third party distantly telling about the struggle. (This sort of thing is an extreme version of the "show, don't tell" issue.) But it raises the question of why you'd bother to use the frame at all in the query, if the internal story is sufficient unto itself.

Personally, I'd recommend dropping the frame FOR THE QUERY ONLY, and just pitch the story of Christian. You can always throw in a line about his experiences having far-reaching consequences or something. But the frame is causing mroe problems than it's solving, in terms of both query length and the implication that you've got an endlessly flat (non-escalating) middle of the book.

At its most fundamental, all a query needs is: protagonist, protagonist's goal (and action toward that goal), and an antagonist opposing that goal. If you can show that the book contains those three elements, with a couple interestingly different details, that's all you need to do. Establish those elements for one layer of your story and then stop. Let the agent be pleasantly surprised to find that there are multiple layers.

A.D.N said...
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A.D.N said...
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A.D.N said...

Lets try this again: I have dropped the frame as you suggest and now have this.... is it any better?

Dear Agent,

When Christian Bryson promises his wife a family, he vows to father two children with her. Instead, he gets exactly what he doesn’t expect; God and his so-called providence guiding him on that heartrending journey to help fulfill his pledge.

Christian is no stranger to tragedy; his mother died shortly after childbirth, his father recently lost his battle with cancer. Therefore, when Abigail, his wife, discovers she is pregnant, she is ecstatic to deliver him some good news. Sadly, before Abigail can tell him, Christian crushes her world by informing her that he is deploying for war. Reluctantly, Abigail decides to keep her pregnancy a secret so Christian can focus on keeping himself alive.

Wounded in battle, Christian learns he can no longer father children, thus his promise of making Abigail a mother haunts his soul. Struggling to accept his calamity, Christian cannot bring himself to tell Abigail about his injury even as she pleads for him to come home. Believing Christian should return for love and not for a sense of obligation, Abigail decides not to tell him about the birth of their progeny.

With their marriage on the verge of collapsing, God intervenes and sends two special travelers – one alive and the other not – to bring Christian back home to his family.

THE BUTTERFLY KEY is a 72,000-word work of literary fiction. A completed manuscript is available upon your request. I look forward to working with you.

Regards,
A.D.N

gj said...

You're still about 50 words too long, while still being short on external conflict, so a bunch of existing words need to be cut and some new ones added.

To cut it back some more, get rid of the vagueness and repetition.

Shortly after Christian Bryson promises his wife a family, [Omit as redundant: he vows to father two children with her.] [Omit as too vague, and both clauses are "telling" --Instead, he gets exactly what he doesn’t expect; God and his so-called providence guiding him on that heartrending journey to help fulfill his pledge.] [add: he is deployed to war]. [You might also add to the first phrase that he promises his wife a family to raise in God's love or something to indicate that the underlying issue is religious faith].

[Cut all of this as backstory and information that Christian doesn't know; keep the query in his pov: Christian is no stranger to tragedy; his mother died shortly after childbirth, his father recently lost his battle with cancer. Therefore, when Abigail, his wife, discovers she is pregnant, she is ecstatic to deliver him some good news. Sadly, before Abigail can tell him, Christian crushes her world by informing her that he is deploying for war. Reluctantly, Abigail decides to keep her pregnancy a secret so Christian can focus on keeping himself alive.]

Wounded in battle, Christian learns he can no longer father children, [omit this as redundant; the haunting of his soul is implicit in the next sentence, where he's struggling to accept facts: thus his promise of making Abigail a mother haunts his soul.] Struggling to accept his calamity, Christian cannot bring himself to tell Abigail about his injury even as she pleads for him to come home. [This is problematic, because if Christian doesn't know about the pregnancy, then it's not a problem for him. It's the solution, really. Omit for now, and have it part of the ending, which needn't be revealed in a query: Believing Christian should return for love and not for a sense of obligation, Abigail decides not to tell him about the birth of their progeny.]

With their marriage on the verge of collapsing, God intervenes and sends two special travelers – one alive and the other not – to bring Christian back home to his family.

***
Okay, so the revised version would be something like:

Shortly after Christian Bryson promises his wife a family, he is deployed to war, something he views as just a short delay in starting the family they will raise together for the glory of God.

Wounded in battle, however, Christian can no longer father children. Struggling to accept God's most recent test of his faith [it would be better to give an example here of WHAT HE'S DOING to accept his calamity -- is he praying? meeting with a spiritual adviser? what?], Christian cannot bring himself to tell Abigail about his injury.

With their marriage on the verge of collapsing, God intervenes and sends two special travelers – one alive and the other not – to bring Christian back home to his family.

***
Except, of course, you'll want to work back in some of your voice that I have undoubtedly stripped, and you have a literal deus ex machina (without the machina, actually, with a real deus) ending. It would be good if you could turn the phrasing around, so it's more along the lines of "With their marriage on the verge of collapsing, Christian resists the help of two travelers, which he ultimately realizes were sent by God to bring him home."

You've definitely got the persistence and determination to get this right. Simplify. Focus on the core struggle, with an emphasis on the EXTERNAL. You've got the internal struggle solidly in place, but need to show how the external actions reflect that struggle.

A.D.N said...

Okay GJ, persistence and determination equals stubbornness, right? Well since you have kinda taken me under your wing and have beat me (in a good way) into doing this query better... I have come up with this...

Dear Agent,

Shortly after Christian Bryson promises his wife a family, he learns he is deploying for war, something he views as just a temporary setback in fulfilling his wife’s dream of having children.

When wounded in battle, however, Christian discovers he can no longer father children. Lying in his hospital bed struggling to understand God's providence, Christian determines he can no longer be the man that Abigail, his wife, deserves.

Haunted by a promise he cannot keep, Christian refuses to tell Abigail about his injury, even as she tearfully pleads for him to come home. Wishing death’s hand would have taken him instead of this second chance at life, Christian finds himself lost in a world of despair.

With their marriage on the verge of collapsing, God intervenes and sends two special travelers – one alive and the other not – to return Christian home to not only his wife, but also his unknown progeny.

THE BUTTERFLY KEY is a 72,000-word work of literary fiction. A completed manuscript is available upon your request. I look forward to working with you.

Regards,
A.D.N

gj said...

At this point -- how do you feel about it? Have I browbeaten you into something that feels wrong? Or does it feel right to you?

If it feels wrong, if it feels as if it doesn't reflect the real story, then start again and toss anything that I've suggested that feels wrong. If it feels right, then sit on it for a week or so while you do other things, and then take another look at it to be sure it still feels right, and then try it out on an agent or two and see what happens.

Or post that version (after giving it some settling time) here to see if anyone else has some insights.

Rick Daley said...

Starting again from scratch is not a bad thing. It will either be an improvement, or illustrate that you were on the right track to begin with and give you a renewed confidence in the track for the primary drafts.