Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Query Critique Tuesday: Focus on your protagonist's journey


If you would like to nominate your query for a future Query Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique on the blog so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I'll present the query without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to Tamara Baker, whose query is below:
Dear Ms. Bloom, 
My name is Tamara Baker, and I've written a historical novel, Doctor of Physick, that takes place in two eras spaced five centuries apart. The plot is as follows: 
In the Yorkshire of 1478, a group of witches and a former monk have been given a vision of the future under the coming Tudor usurpation: a future of witch-burnings, religious oppression, and general tyranny under a string of increasingly absolutist monarchs. There seems to be no way to avoid this bleak future... except for this: 
In the Yorkshire of 2013, Kate Larson, an American pediatrician, on a historically-themed holiday after winning a big lottery jackpot, suddenly finds herself flung back to 1478, and into the company of the very historical figure whose lot she would have most wished to improve: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, destined to become the well-intentioned yet ill-starred King Richard III of England. 
There are many obstacles in the way, and few people who she can trust. Still, she is a Doctor of Physick, and possesses a good number of other skills in the bargain... 
Doctor of Physick is the first novel in what I hope will be an ongoing series featuring Kate Larson. It is my first fully-fledged historical novel, though it is equally at home in the speculative fiction genre and perhaps the young adult field as well.  
My previous professional writing experience was as a staff writer for the audio magazine The Absolute Sound. This is my first novel. 
I thank you for your kind consideration. 
Sincerely yours,
Tamara Baker
I definitely like the premise of this novel and the idea of flinging a lottery-winning pediatrician into England in 1748. How's that for some culture shock?

But I'm afraid I found this query a little disorienting. First we have a plot line, but no characters, in 1478, then we're in 2013 and then Kate is going back to 1478.

Can we just focus the query on Kate in 1478?

Whenever possible, try to anchor your query to your protagonist and show the events from their view. That should be your main plot arc, and that character's journey is what your prospective agent (and eventually your reader) will be most interested in.

I'm also not totally clear what happens to Kate when she is thrown back in time, and there are quite a few moments where specificity would help (what are the "obstacles in teh way?" What are the "good number of other skills" she gets in what "bargain?" Does she want to get back to the present? Is she chill with 1478?

Try to center on Kate, and be specific about the choices she faces and the stakes if she succeeds/fails.

Here's my redline:
Dear Ms. Bloom, 
[Insert personalized tidbit about agent] 
My name is Tamara Baker, and I've written a historical novel, Doctor of Physick, that takes place in two eras spaced five centuries apart. The plot is as follows: 
In the Yorkshire of 1478, a group of witches and a former monk have been given a vision of the future under the coming Tudor usurpation: a future of witch-burnings, religious oppression, and general tyranny under a string of increasingly absolutist monarchs. There seems to be no way to avoid this bleak future... except for this: 
In the Yorkshire of 2013, Kate Larson is an American pediatrician, on a historically-themed holiday in Yorkshire after winning a big lottery jackpot, when she suddenly finds herself flung back to 1478 [How? Be specific]. It's a time of upheaval, and a group of witches and a former monk have been given a vision of the future under the coming Tudor usurpation: a future of witch-burnings, religious oppression, and tyranny under a string of increasingly absolutist monarchs.
There seems to be no way to avoid this bleak future... except for this: Kate is thrown into the company of the very historical figure whose lot she would have most wished to improve [I don't understand this. Why does she care about Richard III?]: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, destined to become the well-intentioned yet ill-starred King Richard III of England. 
There are many obstacles in the way [Be specific - what are the obstacles?], and few people who she can trust [Be specific - who are these people and what is the danger?]. Still, she is a Doctor of Physick, and possesses a good number of other skills in the bargain...  [I'm not sure what this means - it also seems like a good opportunity to give a sense of Kate's personality. How does she react to all of this?]
Doctor of Physick is the first novel in what I hope will be an ongoing historical fantasy series featuring Kate Larson. It is my first fully-fledged historical novel, though it is equally at home in the speculative fiction genre and perhaps the young adult field as well. [You gotta pick a genre. I'm guessing historical fantasy]
My previous professional writing experience was as a staff writer for the audio magazine The Absolute Sound. [Not sure this feels relevant to your novel] This is my first novel. 
I thank you for your kind consideration. 
Sincerely yours,
Tamara Baker
Thanks again to Tamara!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Portrait of King Richard III by Anonymous






7 comments:

RKeelan said...

Hi Nathan,

The introductory text refers several times to a page critique, but this is a query critique.

Nathan Bransford said...

Oops! Bad copying and pasting. Thanks, RKeelan

JOHN T. SHEA said...

The query describes the Tudors as usurpers and generally a bad lot, and Kate as the answer to the prayers of their opponents, as it were, so it's not surprising that she cares about Richard III, the last Yorkist king.

Thanks to Tamara Baker and Nathan.

Nathan Bransford said...

Sorry, I wasn't super clear there. It's clear why she would care, I'm confused why she wants so badly to improve his lot.

JOHN T. SHEA said...

No doubt Kate wishes to help Richard and the witches and former monk to defeat Henry Tudor and thereby keep Richard on his throne, averting the Tudor tyranny, and changing history for the better, at least in the 15th century. Whether she's right about that is a question for the novel rather than the query.

The choice of 2013 rather than the present day is interesting, and set me to wondering if that has anything to do with Richard's remains having been rediscovered and reburied in 2015. But maybe not.

Nathan Bransford said...

I don't think that's self-evident from the query. But more importantly, I still don't have a sense of what motivates her. Even if you're making accurate assumptions, why does she want to bring those events about? Altruism? Affinity for certain characters? A mix? Something else? More specificity will bring out more character.

JOHN T. SHEA said...

It's self-evident to me, Nathan. But that doesn't make it self-evident to everyone. I would not be inclined to add anything to the query, but each to his own.

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