Sun vs. Snow Critique Workshop

The Sun vs. Snow Contest just ended, and now the ever-lovely Michelle Hauck is running a Sun vs. Snow critique workshop ahead of upcoming contests!  Isn’t she just the best?

Since I’m still revising, I didn’t enter Sun vs. Snow, or any of the other contests that have come and gone over the last few months, even though I reeeally wanted to enter a couple.  But I’m two-thirds of the way through the revision (I think), so I thought, why not?  It’ll soon be time to start polishing, so why not get a little feedback on the beginning?

You can find Michelle’s post and all the details on the workshop here.  It’s open till the 21st, so there’s still time to enter if you’ve got something you’d like feedback on.  In the meantime, here’s my entry:

TPMTLCTitle: The Price of Mercy
Genre: Fantasy
Word Count: ~100k


Dear Super Agent:

Nineteen-year-old Prince Vatren is expected to follow in his father’s corrupt footsteps.  His first task: Marry a wealthy noblewoman and fill the royal coffers to the brim.  But the prince has other ideas.

When he falls in love with a peasant named Namora, his father threatens to deny him the crown and live forever.  Vatren doesn’t doubt his father’s threats.  Magic was banned a millennium ago, but the king possesses a youth potion and has no qualms about using it.  Despite this, Vatren insists that he will marry for love or not at all.

But there are bigger problems facing the kingdom than succession.

A long-simmering rebellion threatens to explode into all-out war after the king executes an entire village.  Led by Namora’s brother, the kingdom’s malcontents demand revenge on the royal family, and they don’t care which member pays the price.  If Vatren can’t find a way to atone for his father’s actions, his throne won’t be the only thing he loses.

The Price of Mercy is a 100,000-word work of adult fantasy.  I earned an Associate’s Degree in English from Marshalltown Community College and work as a legal secretary.  My short fiction appears in the anthology A World of Their Own, forthcoming from Kristell Ink in 2015.  This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Kay Kauffman

First 250 words:

“Please, your Highness, have mercy.  I beg you.”

“I would very much like to, sir,” Prince Vatren said.  Light filtered into the gallery through twin rows of stained glass windows, exaggerating the poor farmer’s haggard appearance.  “I sympathize with you, but drought or no, you’ve still got taxes to pay.  I cannot simply let you go.”

“Your Highness, I’ll do anything – anything at all – only let me go back to my family.”  Dirty tears carved grooves through the layers of grime on his face, but hope shone in his eyes.

Before Vatren could reply, the chamber’s heavy wooden door burst open.  The prince flinched as his father stalked into the room, the queen trailing behind him.  King Tol’s gaze swept the room as the court fell to its knees.  The guards scattered about the room stood a little straighter, not wanting to provoke the king’s famous temper.  The peasant trembled before him, suddenly afraid for his life.  The prince groaned inwardly – he hated fighting with his father, especially in public.

“Vatren!”  Tol’s voice boomed through the chamber.  “If you’re not going to sentence this man, I’ll be more than happy to do it for you.”

The prince’s eyes narrowed.  “What makes you think he’s committed a crime?”

“He’s a peasant, isn’t he?”  Tol sniffed in the man’s direction.  “A farmer, by the smell of him.”

“Just because he’s a peasant doesn’t mean he’s a criminal, Father.”

“Then why is he here?”

Vatren opened his mouth, but no words came out.

So, what do you think?  What works?  What doesn’t?  Let me know in the comments!

(c) 2015.  All rights reserved.


28 thoughts on “Sun vs. Snow Critique Workshop

  1. Debra Daugherty says:

    Hi. My first thought was your query sounded more like a synopsis. Keep it brief, give enough to tease so the agent will want to read it, but don’t tell the whole story. I like how you immediately began with a conflict and action. The pace is good and I was drawn into the story at once. Your genre is adult and your sub genre should be listed as romantic fantasy, as I surmise that Prince Vatren will find romance based on your query. It’s a good story and I wish you luck!


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      It should be noted that I really, really suck at these. And the more I think about it, the more I think I’m going to have to completely rewrite this. Like, start from scratch rewrite. But this isn’t the whole story, so… *sigh*

      “Adult” is not a genre, though, it’s a category. And I’m not sure about the romantic fantasy idea – there are romantic elements, but it’s not the main plot. I don’t think. *sigh* On the other hand, I’ve delved much deeper into Vatren and Namora’s relationship with this rewrite than the first draft ever went, so maybe you’re right?

      Thanks for your thoughts! 🙂


  2. Lora Douglas says:

    first, i freaking love your blog banner.

    okay. i don’t have much to add. i think you’ve got something great here. just little picky things.
    Query: i’d take out “this is my first novel.” if you don’t list one/sales info, then it’s obvious. & i agree with debra – gimme more of a tease. think back of the book. maybe more voice? i dunno. what you have is really great. it just needs, like, one little kick to move it away from synopsis-ish. (<– look, i totally invented a word!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kay Kauffman says:

      First, thanks! I had a lot of fun making that banner. 🙂

      Oddly enough, I was thinking back of the book when I wrote this. I’m not entirely sure how to infuse voice into it without writing it in first person, which I’ve read you shouldn’t do (plus the book is in third, so that would be all sorts of confusing).

      If you’ve got any suggestions on how to make it more teasing, let me know! 🙂


  3. S. L. Saboviec says:

    Hi Kay! I’m originally from Iowa… once an Iowan, always an Iowan… glad to see us represented in Sun vs Snow. 😉

    Query: I feel like some of the wording is a bit clunky. For instance, “But the prince has other ideas” lacks punch. What about expanding (briefly) on peasant Namora? And customize it–a royal falling in love with a peasant is a trope, so you want yours to stand out! Then you could start the next sentence with his father’s threat.

    Another example that I stumbled over was the wording of “his father threatens to deny him the crown and live forever.” My brain was first trying to connect “the crown and live forever–” Wait, no, that doesn’t work. It’s “father threatens to… live forever.” So, what about, “his father threatens to live forever just to deny him the crown”? And I would cut the next sentence and just tell us about the potion.

    However, after getting to the last paragraph, I almost feel like you’re burying the lead here. The first two paragraphs make the father sound like an old, stodgy guy that doesn’t understand young love; the last paragraph tells us that HE EXECUTED AN ENTIRE VILLAGE. WHOA. So, with that in mind, are you focusing on the wrong plot? What is your overall plot, the thing that comprises your tent poles / major plot points? Is this a love story? (You’re querying as fantasy, so I would expect not.) Or is this a story about a simmering rebellion that’s about to take blood from an innocent prince?

    I don’t know your story as well as you, but I almost think you need to turn this query inside out. Start with the rebellion, the malcontents, the evil father, and show how Vatren’s life is on the line because of that.

    250 words: I’ll say right up front that I am very particular about using dialogue as the first line, and I really don’t feel like this one works. It’s a popular way to start TV or movies, but without the visual details already in place, it can fall flat. At the very least, I think you need to have a dialogue tag telling us who is doing the begging, but I think perhaps you might revisit where you start the scene. You can still keep this line, but imagine your reader’s first glimpse of your world: Disembodied voice begging some royal not to do something heinous. From your query, I imagine it’s the father. But then, we jump to Prince Vatren–and I’m immediately confused. I thought he was the good guy?

    And as the scene plays out, I’m further confused. Vatren was about to sentence him, no? His father comes in, reeking of classism, yes, but he’s insisting that Vatren was not about to do something that he was about to do. And then at the end, Vatren seems as confused as I am–you haven’t told us what he thinks about the farmer, except that he’s going to force the obviously destitute man to pay his taxes (which, by the way, doesn’t garner sympathy for your main character). So he’s standing there with nothing to say to his father, but he’s also not said anything to the reader about the situation except how he hates fighting with his father. What does he think about the farmer’s plight? Why is he going to force the poor man to pay his taxes?

    I hope this helps a little bit! Good luck with your pitch!


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      Woo! Where in Iowa do you hail from? I love meeting fellow Iowans online. 🙂

      The line about the king threatening to live forever has given me no end of grief. I like your suggestion – THANK YOU!!! 😀

      As for focusing on the wrong plot, I’m beginning to think I might be. You’ve given me some great ideas to mull over. 🙂 And someone else gave me a great idea for starting off the scene, so I’ve got some work to do. Thank you for all your wonderful insights! 🙂


  4. Rachel says:

    Oh my word. Your blog name is the best ever.

    Okay, that said, I am a massive fantasy obsessor, and here’s my thoughts 😀


    Are the kingdom’s coffers empty? If so, mention that. If that’s why the peasants are so upset and angry and starving, point that out. That makes the MC’s marriage even more crucial. Automatic stakes could arise, based on whether or not they’re in your plot, such as, the peasants WANT him to marry a princess so their taxes are lower, which makes the Love Interest’s situation precarious, or things along those lines. Also, I think the beginning could be shortened, and bring out the king’s tyranny first time he’s mentioned. He’s obviously an awful person, not just a grumpy grandpa. Make us hate him, and then we will feel awfully sorry for his son. On the flip side, that last sentence in the pitch was fantastic.

    The first 250 is good, but I want to feel how the prince feels more. I want to know, is he annoyed, is he angry, is he furious, is he distraught? Make me feel, let me know. Otherwise, it’s good.

    Sounds like an awesome medieval Les Mis 😀 😀 😀 Which basically means I’d want to read it.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      Oh my word. Your blog name is the best ever.
      😀 Thanks!

      And this is all pretty fantastic. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ll definitely keep all this in mind as I’m polishing up. 🙂


  5. helenj0303 says:

    Ooh, I enjoyed the beginning of your story and would love to read more. With regards to your letter, I agree with the first comment that the story description is too long – it needs to be more like what you’d read on the back cover of a book, a short blurb to draw the reader’s attention. Otherwise, fantastic! And good luck 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Alice Olivia Scarlett says:

    Awesome query! Only one thing really bugged me – why hasn’t the king used the youth potion before now? Are there any downsides to immortality that he’s willing to face to punish Vatren? Also your title at the end should be in all-caps. Could you make more of Namora in the query as well? She seems to be Vatren’s primary motivation, but we’re just given her name and the fact that she’s a peasant. Could you add more detail?

    I really like the sound of your query, and I really like your first 250 words as well. The only thing with the first words is that they’re not very firmly in Vatren’s POV – there’s mention of the guards’ thoughts, the peasant’s thoughts, and although it’s fleeting it’s still enough to bring distance between Vatren and the reader. Can you make it even closer in his POV, just showing us what Vatren’s thinking and feeling?


    • Carolyn says:

      I agree that the query is more like a synopsis. Put some of the MC’s voice in and make it a tease, just enough to entice an agent to ask for the m.s.

      Also, agree that you should take out this is your first book. It’s unprofessional.

      100,000 words is a little long I think, but this isn’t my genre. Check it out by Googling.

      If you don’t grab an agent or editor in the first paragraph, you may loose them. Add more about the setting, the MC’s goal, obstacles and stakes in the first 250, the sooner, the better.

      Good luck, I like your idea.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      Actually, he has – the king is much older than anyone realizes. 😉 And there is a definite downside – once consumed, you have to keep drinking it or you revert to your true age.

      And thanks for the reminder about capitalizing the title. 🙂


  7. Patchi says:

    Hi. I really liked your query. As for your first 250, I would start with “Light filtered into the gallery through twin rows of stained glass windows, exaggerating the poor farmer’s haggard appearance. ” instead of starting with dialogue. It sets up the scene and lets us know who is talking. Otherwise, I think you have a great start, with interesting characters.

    Liked by 1 person

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