Jul 3, 2010

Query: The Silver Strand

Dear [Agent],

Fourteen year old ISABELLE JOHNS never dreamed her mind was capable of shooting feathers into a dartboard, let alone unlocking a prison cell.

Isabelle didn't think giving up her love of drawing would switch off her imagination, yet six months later, she struggles at school and is unable to draw. Now she must trust two complete strangers to help awaken her lost ability. Yet these are no ordinary strangers - each has a glowing silver strand of hair and can manipulate energy using their mind.

Restoring her imagination proves trickier than just completing three tests. No told her she’d dodge death and challenge a dragon. When things don’t go according to plan, Isabelle and her mentors are imprisoned as enemies of the hollow earth. Now she faces her most important test and must use her imagination to escape. In a world drenched with magic and the unexpected, Isabelle must decide if the risks are worth the destiny awaiting her in the underground city.

The Silver Strand is a 60,000 word young adult fantasy novel, filled with fairy-tale twists, a strange new world and unexpected challenges. It follows Isabelle's adventurous journey to conquer the wounds of her past, and to reawaken the magic in her mind. I am currently working on a second book about Isabelle and her study at Mastermind Academy within the hollow earth.

As per your submission guidelines, you will find X pages below. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you soon.

14 comments:

Anonymous Author said...

It sounds like you have a good story idea, but this query jumps all over the place and I found it very hard to follow. A lot of things felt disconnected-- a dart board, she stops drawing for some reason, then there are three tests and a dragon.

You're probably trying to tell too much of the story. Try to cut it down to the essentials. And be sure to show, don't tell, such things as fairy tale twists.

"Thank you for your time," period, is a fine way to end. Don't sound impatient, even if you are: this business is all about endless waiting, believe me.

Anonymous Author said...

Oh, and don't put the main character's name in all caps.

Dan Ritchie said...

It's getting a little too complicated by the second paragraph. Just try to weed out anything that isn't needed.

Dan Ritchie said...

>>capable of shooting feathers into a dartboard, let alone unlocking a prison cell

There's no reason that opening a door is more impressive than moving feathers with your mind. No reason for the "let alone". how about just "or"

Dan Ritchie said...

I relate to the character who stopped drawing. It's kind of profound.

Michelle Massaro said...

First of all, I agree with Anonymous Author. But here are some specific points:

In the first line of the second paragraph you use a form of the word "draw" twice in one sentence. I'd change that to:

Six months after giving up her love of art, Isabelle has lost her imagination and struggles at school.

BTW- this sounds young for YA. In your case it might be best to put the genre up front rather than at the end so we know what tone to expect. If this is truly YA and not MG, you might consider upping her age. At 14, I think YA is a hard sell. Moving on...

I'd cut the word "yet" in the last sentence of that paragraph. It sounds contrived to me (sort of cliche). Same with the phrase "no one told her..." in the following paragraph. That device is becoming overused.

I'd scrap mentioning the 'tests'. Seems more like challenges or exercises than tests anyway, and I'm not sure it moves your story forward in this query. She sets out to recapture her supernatural imagination and along the way faces a dragon and dodges death, and is imprisoned in the underground city.

If 'hollow earth' means an underground city, then tell us that right away. And give us some reason for their imprisonment other than that things don't go according to plan. Don't take up a whole new paragraph, but tell us succinctly what lands them in prison. (When they inadvertantly stumble upon a plot to kill the king) or whatever.

We have no sense thus far of the setting- the world in which this underground city exists, what it means, why it's there, nothing.

You mention risks and destiny but it lacks impact because we haven't seen any risks nor been given any inkling of a destiny. Why WOULDN'T it be worth an escape attempt? That seems pretty normal if you're in prison. So, unless nobody has ever survived an attempt to escape, or the penalty is an eternity of torment, we can't empathize with her hesitation. Likewise, what sort of destiny does she have? Is she the woman of the prophecies, destined to one day overthrow the evil government and free the people? We need to know.

Like Anon said, if there are fairy-tale twists, demonstrate them in the query rather than just tell us they're in the book. 'Strange new world' and 'unexpected challenges' don't need to be said, it should be obvious. The first clause of this sentence should be moved to the beginning of the query in my opinion. The next sentence is good- except that you had not shown any wounds of the past in your query. I would have liked to see that. Again, I would put this at the beginning of the query. I would also perhaps define her imagination as "supernatural" right from the start. Yeah, it's sort of implied- but I think it needs to be stated.

That's all for now. I think there is a lot we need to see added to the query, but you're going to have to scrap a lot to make room for it and make it clear and succinct.

The idea of a supernatural imagination is fun but not terribly original (Bedtime Stories), but your setting is different and hopefully puts a great twist on it. I look forward to seeing the updated query! =)

Anonymous Author said...

Michelle, I will in turn agree with you; good observations.

But "Six months after giving up her love of art" has the same problem as "love of drawing"... it's the activity she gives up presumably rather than the love, so just "giving up art" would work. Or "giving up drawing".

That's just details, of course.

Michelle Massaro said...

Anon,

True. Originally I was working to remove just one instance of the word "draw" (there previously had been two) but then ended up not using the word at all. I now think it should be left in, as Dan pointed out there can be profound meaning behind it.

louisa said...

Hi Guys. Thanks so much for the feedback (especially Michelle for the detailed critique). You're so right about squeezing too much into the query. I will rework and resubmit for your comments.

Louisa

louisa said...

I see your point Michelle re: setting the tone by using the YA fantasy part up front. But many examples I've seen have this after the mini-synopsis. What is the consensus on this issue?

Michelle Massaro said...

Hi Louisa! I've seen it both ways and have yet to hear about any hard-and-fast rule. You are right that mostly you will be told to jump right into the action. But sometimes a heads-up is necessary.

As I contemplate it, my best guess is that genre work might need the label upfront whereas general might not. Unless you have an opening line that makes it clear, like: On Venus in the year 3055, ...

:P

Michelle Massaro said...

My humble revision:

Fourteen year old ISABELLE JOHNS never dreamed she’d [meet a prince in disguise- or XXX], let alone that her mind was capable of unlocking a prison cell.

Isabelle didn't know that giving up her love of art [after the death of her parents, etc- or XXX] would switch off her supernatural imagination. But six months later she struggles at school and can’t draw a stick. Now she must trust two magical strangers to help awaken her lost ability.

Along the way she dodges death by [XXX] and faces off with a dragon. But when Isabelle and her companions [do/find XXX], they are thrown into prison by the leader of the underground city. Now she must find the strength to tap into her power if they are to escape. If she succeeds she will fulfill her destiny [as Queen of Hollow Earth- or XXX], but failure means [certain death- or XXX].

The Silver Strand is a 60,000 word young adult fantasy novel, set in the mythical city of XXX. It follows Isabelle's journey to conquer the wounds of her past, and to reawaken the magic in her mind. I am currently working on a second book about Isabelle and her study at Mastermind Academy within the hollow earth.

As per your submission guidelines, you will find X pages below. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you soon.
***

louisa said...

Michelle I love, love, love your last line about if she succeeds cause that allows me to tie in the destiny (yeah! thanks so much!). I aslo pinched your 'along the way line', but I thought I'd scrap the rest (dragons, dodging death because I tried to pack too many things into the query). Do I post my revision here or through the main page?

Michelle Massaro said...

I think you should put it in the query message again.

I left in the dragon trying to show some of that 'fairtale' element you mentioned. But if it isn't important it's of course fine to scrap it. I'm glad you found something helpful in my revision. I'm sure there are others who can add more insight, as I'm no expert.

Looking forward to reading the revision!

~ Michelle