Sun vs Snow Query Critique Workshop

See here for details. Of course, of anyone has any feedback I’d appreciated it. This is an unedited manuscript, so I haven’t really considered the query. As such, it’s very rough, I’ll warn you now!

Title: Happily Ever After

Wordcount: 107,000

Genre: Fantasy, Adult

Query:

Dear [agent name]

They say that endings are just new beginnings and that could not be more true for Lavie Streaver. A noblewoman turned knight, she and her childhood friend, Harry, have fought long and hard to survive, raise an army and set the rightful heir, Prince Brendan, back on the throne. Enough blood, sweat and tears have been shed to drown the kingdom thrice over, but the war is finally over.

Lavie finds peace is harder to live in than she expected. She no longer has reason to be with soldiers, and doesn’t fit in with the nobility. Searching for a reason for her life, she finds herself seeking out conflict wherever she can. Fortunately, it does not seem to be in short supply. Assassins, raiders, and politics all threaten the fragile kingdom. Lavie worries the new king will not have the strength of resolve to reign, especially when he cannot chose between his duty to the throne and the man he loves.

As the cracks begin to appear in the kingdom, and their friendship, Lavie finds herself turning to an unlikely source of help – the man they worked so hard to defeat. Happily Ever After is an adult fantasy exploring what happens to heroes when their quest is over and featuring a strong LGBT cast. 

Yours Sincerely

Rose Black

250 words:

The stone steps rise up like a mountain. Standing at the bottom, for a moment I cannot even contemplate the idea of reaching the top. I’m exhausted. There’s sweat soaking the hair beneath my helm, spreading through the padding beneath my armour. My blade is coated in blood already, and my mail is choked with gore and viscera.

There’s a roar from ahead which reignites my determination. I can still hear the words Harry whispered to me before we parted: Go kill that bastard, Lavie. Signalling the men behind me, I put one foot on the first step, then the next, and the next until I am standing at the throne room door.

A hasty barricade has been erected, but we tear into it like a suckling pig. If there had been archers we might have been in trouble, but arrows only last so long in a siege and so long passed a while ago. As the gap grows wide enough for me to push through, I enter the last part of my journey.

He is actually sitting on the throne. The Usurper, the man who killed my king and plunged my home into three years of chaos, is sitting there, watching me with a smile. I tighten the grip on my sword, hearing the soft crunch of my steel grieves as my wrist locks into place.

I’m going to gut you like a fish.

Last-minute instincts kick in as something gleams in my peripheral vision. I duck as an axe nearly takes off my head.

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22 comments

  1. Hi Rose,

    Thanks for letting me read your query and first 250 words.

    First impressions: The query gave me a good sense of the world and introduced Lavie. I do wonder what is at stake for Lavie if her newly won kingdom crumbles.

    I like where the first 250 words begins. I enjoy reading first person in this type of story line, but right now it reads a bit passive. I would like to be more in Lavie’s head. Right now, Lavie is telling us, but not showing us. Your third sentence: “I’m exhausted.” Consider showing us her exhaustion in an active way.

    Query:
    “They say…” This beginning is a bit cliche and doesn’t really add anything. “Endings are just new beginnings and that could not be more true for Lavie Streaver.”

    Also watch throw away words: that, just, like, a little, really, actually

    250 words:
    “like a …”
    “like a suckling pig.”
    “gut you like a fish.”

    I like where this is going! I can tell this is going to have a lot of action and intrigue. Great job!

    If you get a chance I would love your insight on my work as well.

    http://www.angelad.me/sun-vs-snow-query-first-250-words-critique/

    Angela #40

    Like

    1. Similes are fun and I use them often. Probably why I notice them. 🙂 The part that can be distracting is using the same phrase or word within a small amount of writing. It pulls the reader out of the story. We think, “Hey, didn’t we just read that?”
      Just something to think about.

      Like

  2. Yeehah! I love a good gender-bendy fantasy! The concept and plotline sound great, and you have a great handle on them, as well as setting the mood. Overall, the prose flowed well, and only a few things snagged me as I read.

    The query:
    1st paragraph: The first sentence is probably the weakest link here. It could be tightened up to “Endings are just new beginnings, which couldn’t be more true for Lavie Streaver.” The rest reads great and sets up the story perfectly. The only thing I felt missing was the promise of that 1st line in the close of that paragraph, the AND that introduces Lavie’s new beginning after the war and leads into the next section.

    2nd parapraph: The “is” in the 1st sentence could be cut to tighten it up. Searching for purpose would give Lavie a touch more agency than “a reason for her life” and give you a few extra words. Cutting the repeat of finds to skip right to seeking (seeks) would also have a more active sound, plus lend Lavie a more direct role in determining her fate. The potential conflict introduced with the new king is juicy, and could have a touch more fleshing out to show how his love life threatens his ability to rule effectively (especially since this leads to the core conflict).

    3rd paragraph: “Begin to” could be trimmed. Here and there with the query are this sort of buffer to the action, which if cut, would make the prose punchier, plus leave more room for detail. The wording could be tightened up, overall, to offer more info about the problems Lavie faces and the stakes, especially if she’s plotting with the ousted usurper.

    In all, you have a really good query. It could stand tightening to get to the meat of the conflict, plus show more detail in plot and stakes, but sells your concept well.

    The 1st 250:
    In the 1st sentence, you can cut “up”, as it should be inferred by “rise”. (I do this sort of thing all the dammned time, and have a vicious editing eye for it.) Granted, it’s not the strongest opener for mood or story. The next sentence establishes Lavie’s state much better. Maybe it could start you off instead, with a hint of tweaking. The other parts are good, but remove the reader a little. More direct description like “sweat soaks my hair beneath the helm” (which also gives Lavie more ownership of her person than the gear) would keep the reader more in the moment.

    The 2nd paragraph starts with more remove from Lavie’s head. Tightening to “A roar ahead reignites my determination” would feel more in the moment of conflict, too. Noting the roar, and then showing as active reinforcement of her determination (set gritting her teeth, setting her jaw, etc) would be even better. “Am standing” could be just stand. It’d be cool to give some detail about Lavie’s exhaustion, how she feels, and what she thinks to keep pushing her forward.

    The 3rd paragraph has some phrasing that feels a bit awkward in the setting. In present, you’re in the moment. As Lavie arrives, tears through the barricades, discovers no archers, etc., you have a great opportunity to get into her head at the cusp of achieving her goal. If you take this back to strict present, the reader can experience each moment with her, and you can add great insight into her motivations, as well as character mood/personality in the voice. Is she grim, elated, on edge, wary?

    Her reaction to the usurper could be more fleshed out. Since he’ll factor later, her gut response to the sight of him on the throne will set up the future conflict. The line that follows, as inner dialog, should be in itallics.

    The last part feels like it could be more active and in the moment, especially in present tense. An axe flies at her head. It’s a great chance to show how Lavie reacts as a warrior and keeps her cool in a moment of threat.

    Overall, I really dig where you’re going. The prose is well-written and you have a solid grasp of your world. By using the present tense effectively, you can capture the adventurous mood even more. Good luck with this. It’s such a fun idea!

    Like

      1. My pleasure! Your story is right in one of sweet spots, and sounds like a hell of a fun read, so I’m happy I was able to help. It can be really hard to find folks with time to do detailed crit, so workshops like this are a good reason to set aside an afternoon to come out and play.

        Like

  3. Thanks for your comments on my entry! A couple of thoughts back at you for experimentation:

    I wondered whether the query was starting in the right place. There seems to be a lot of setup before we get to the complication that really snagged my attention in the final paragraph (love having her turn to the erstwhile villain for help – awesome!) Is it possible to condense the context a bit so as to get there more quickly? Maybe describe the war in a phrase, rather than the entire initial paragraph?

    e.g. At the end of a brutal war of succession [or however it should be described], the rightful heir, Prince Brendan, is back on the throne, and Lavie Streaver – noblewoman turned knight – finds peace harder to cope with than she expected. …

    This would give you room to elaborate on what’s at stake for Lavie, as others have suggested. I’d also recommend expanding on her friend Harry’s role in the story, because as it stands he sort of seems to disappear after he’s first mentioned. Possibly this is just due to an unclear pronoun (I read “their” in the first paragraph of the third sentence as referring to Lavie and the king on first reading) but I’d like to get a better sense of what Harry’s up to as a major character. Is he fighting assassins and raiders alongside her? Has he disappeared into politics and abandoned her? What’s the source of the tension between the two of them?

    I second Angela’s comments on the first 250 words. I want to be right there in her shoes. Can you play up sound, smell, other sense details? What’s the barricade constructed from, what are they doing to tear through it? I’m tempted to recommend starting with her actually facing the Usurper – again, this is where the rubber hit the road for me; her voice and her emotion came through clearest here.

    Hope this is helpful!

    Like

      1. Thanks for your suggestions. They’re very helpful. Yeah, I need to find a way to work Harry into the query a bit more as he’s fairly integral to the plot – he’s the man the king is in love with. I’ll take all your thoughts on board when I come to send this out for real.

        Like

  4. Hey, Rose,

    Thanks for posting and letting me read your query and first 250 words. I loved some of the description in the first paragraphs of your story and found myself pulled in quickly. You add tension nicely with the sense of danger and the immediate conflict, but the pacing felt a bit slow for what it seemed she was facing. I wonder if bringing that lens in closer to your M.C. right from the first sentence–get us in her head and heart–so we can feel her exhaustion and determination.

    Your query letter was really clean. You make the stakes clear and you introduce your character well. I think your first sentence could maybe pop a little more given where your pitch and story seem to be going. Your query didn’t really grab my attention until the third sentence of your first paragraph. Maybe that’s your starting point?

    I love the last line: “what happens to heroes when their quests are over.” Cool idea. Best of luck!

    Like

  5. Hi there, I’m #43 on Blog Hop.

    This does seems like a unique premise for a fantasy, and you do a great job of showing the emotional stakes.

    Query:

    I’d leave off the first sentence and put your MC’s name in the next one to make it the opener. Make the 1st sentence of paragraph 2 part of the previous sentence: Enough blood, sweat and tears have been shed to drown the kingdom thrice over, but [with] the war finally over, Lavie finds peace is harder to live in than she expected. The 2nd paragraph can then start with her personal conflict: No longer [with a]reason to be with [the] soldiers, [Lavie] doesn’t fit in with the nobility. Maybe to make it clear that Harry is the new king’s love interest, just add his name at the end of that sentence (you already mentioned his name in the 1st paragraph so we know who he is). In the last paragraph, I suggest you change “their” to “her” in regards to the friendships.

    My only other nitpick is the title. I can totally see why you picked it, but it has the connotation of fairy tales and your premise seems more like serious fantasy than fairy tale.

    250 words:

    Eliminate “up” in the 1st sentence. Show her exhaustion (maybe her legs tremble, her eyes droop etc. with some amplifying imagery). In the 2nd paragraph’s last sentence:…until I stand at… is more active. If you want to delete “like a suckling pig” turn that phrase into an expression of their emotion (i.e. tear into it with the rage of the just). I don’t think repeating “so long” works. I think “He sits on the throne.” followed by the next sentence with the alteration of …there, smiling at me with [add some imagery here] would be even stronger.

    Nice place to end. I assume it’s still not the norm for woman to be soldiers in this world since she doesn’t fit it with them after the war so I am curious what propelled her to fight in the first place. I think you clearly show what the conflict is in Lavie’s world and why it impacts her. What would make Lavie think this Usurper might help? (Great idea, because it’s full of conflict with loyalty and friendship). Overall strong query. First page has great potential, just a few places where you can make it more active and visual. Good luck!

    Like

  6. Thanks for sharing this with me! I hope my comments are useful. Let me know if you have any questions. Leave a comment on my blog: https://kamerhesthebestthingsince.wordpress.com/

    Not so sure your title does justice to your concept. But I’m a total glass-house dweller throwing stones here ‘cuz I’m no good at titles 🙂

    Query:
    First of all, the concept sounds great! I love the light fantasy (i.e. no discernible magic system) and the LGBT cast (though you might consider making that something that can be inferred from the pitch rather than directly stated). The set-up is great. However, I find myself wanting more specifics or maybe just more specifically stated obstacles and stakes…if that makes sense. You might try condensing the first two paragraphs and expanding the third to elaborate on the “cracks [that] begin to appear in the kingdom.” Also, where’s Harry for the rest of the plot? He’s only mentioned in the first paragraph, but I don’t get any further indication of his importance to the plot. (Also, sidenote: is he a noble too? ‘Cuz if not, that would be soooo interesting!) But all these nitpicks come more from wanting to know than being turned off or confused by the story. I would really love to see your revised version of this query—provided you compose one, of course—because I am genuinely interested in this story! Nice job!

    First 250:
    + Consider cutting “even” in the very first line.
    + The visuals in the first paragraph—the sweat and the gore and the viscera—yay!!! 🙂
    + “There’s a roar from ahead” – Where “ahead”? Are there people above her on the steps ‘cuz I was totally picturing her alone…
    + Okay, now that I’m past the first two paragraphs, I’m wondering if there’s a way to incorporate the idea that she’s in the melee of battle in the very first paragraph… ??? If not, that’s fine. Just wondering ‘cuz the visuals are so good there, I thought you might be able to come up with something that suggests the raucous fray of fighting in addition to the sweat and gore.
    + “we tear into it like a suckling pig”—slightly misplaced modifier here. It makes it sound like “we” are doing the tearing just like a suckling pig would do the tearing… and I don’t think that’s what you mean. You kind of need something like, “we tear into it as if it were a suckling pig” or “we tear into it like we would a suckling pig.”
    + nice action in the third paragraph, but I would reconsider using metaphoric language with “I enter the last part of my journey.” I feel like something more concrete would be stronger, but that could just be me.
    + Consider cutting “actually” in the fourth paragraph. I think you’re going for the voice of “actually,” but it’s dependent on the reader reading it with the correct tone. So, unless you want to italicize it (which I’m not too crazy about), I would just cut it and depend on other parts to shine with voice.
    + “I’m going to gut you like a fish”—because you’ve done gross visual imagery so well before, I just feel you can do better than a cliché like “gut you like a fish,” especially considering the emotion of this part of the scene.
    + It’s hard to start with action, but I really like this. I feel like I’m pulled into Lavie right away. Consider pushing that even further by including something highly personal in the part where she’s listing the Usurper’s crimes: “the man who killed my king and plunged my home into three years of chaos…” If the Usurper had done something that affected Lavie in a relatable, my-name-is-Inigo-Montoya-you-killed-my-father kind of way, then I would feel even more for her here and ride the action with an attachment to her. All of which keeps me turning the pages 🙂

    I really enjoyed this! Thanks again for sharing, and I would love to read more!

    Like

    1. Hi Kamerhe,

      Your comments were really helpful, thanks! I hadn’t really considered the query (I’m still at the early editing stages with this one) so it’s pretty disorganised, but hey, this seemed like a good place to start. To answer your question, no. Harry’s not nobility and his relationship with the king despite his status is one of the big conflict points. I really ought to get that into the query, huh 🙂

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  7. Hi, I enjoyed reading your query and first 250. Your writing is clear and well-organized. I agree with what a couple of others said about the first sentence in the query – I like what you’re saying there but think it could said better. The second sentence seems fairly long to me, and is pretty complex – maybe you can split into two sentences. requiring fewer commas?

    In the third paragraph of the query, when you say “their friendship” I’m assuming you mean Lavie & Harry, but you haven’t mentioned him since the 1st paragraph so I’m not completely sure. You’ll also need to add the word count where you provide the title and genre.

    I like the first 250, but would suggest the following revisions. “reignites my determination” seems a bit off to me, I’d suggest using “renews” or “restores” instead. The suckling pig comparison doesn’t resonate with me, but some of the other critiques like it, so it’s probably just personal frame of reference on my part. Finally, the third paragraph starts with a passive verb construction “A hasty barricade has been erected” – I would replace it with something like “A barricade blocks our way” or “We find a barricade blocking our way” or “A hastily-constructed barricade blocks our way”.

    Hope you find this helpful, good luck!

    Like

  8. Hi Rose,

    Thanks for sharing! I love the idea of exploring the heroes after the quest is over.
    -At the end of your query’s first paragraph, I wondered, well if the war is over, now what? And I thought it took a smidge too long to realize that our focus is the aftermath. Perhaps you can hint at this in the beginning? Maybe move your description at the end about the book to the start of the query?
    -I also wanted to know more about the aftermath conflict and see higher stakes. Perhaps the beginning can be condensed some to make room for more details as to what the cracks are, why the situation is so desperate, and why Lavie needs help, especially from a former enemy. Consider making the current conflict the focus of the query.

    I love the suckling pig imagery. Overall, the first 250 is strong. Some details:
    -I felt a tiny bit lost in the beginning. I just didn’t quite know what was going on, which is fine when I’m reading the whole novel, but harder when only the first 250 are available. I felt like I was still grounding myself after the first few paragraphs, and personally as a reader, I wanted more clarity and more action. It really picked up for me toward the end (I love the “gut you like a fish” and then the swinging axe!) and I wanted to see more of that instead of her climbing the steps and thinking. Just a personal preference, but I would like less of the description and more of the action.
    I love the premise and the title! I enjoyed reading! Best of luck!

    Gloria #46

    Like

  9. Title: Nice!
    Happily Ever After reminds me of the show Once Upon a Time.
    Query: Great!
    Lots of plot and strong characters. Love that this has LGBT characters as well!
    A very nice dynamic between Lavie and Harry. Maybe show a line at the end of what it would mean to her to lose Harry’s friendship.
    Was wondering if there was any magic to the world?
    I would add in more specific names to emphasize the world building. Use less general terms to make it stand out. For instance what type of kingdom is this,etc? I’d love just a few more details.
    First 250:
    Lots of tension!
    I’m not too big a fan of in media res starts, but then I don’t read a ton of action either. So it’s hard for me to comment.
    I got confused at “I will gut you like fish.” The way it stands alone like that it didn’t click as internal dialogue for a moment. Might be nice to say that out loud and have the Usurper say something to back. That establishes their relationship in the world, and it reduces that little bit of telling right before.
    I really love Lavie! You’ve got a wonderful dynamic character there!

    Like

  10. Query: your query is well written and gets the story across well. You seem like you have a great premise.

    250: I like your style and voice. I was drawn in right away but when you got to the end about the ax almost taking off her head I was like, “You can’t stop there,” I believe it will intrigue agents to ask for more.

    Like

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