Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Workshop Wednesday

Thanks to all of your contributions, Workshop Wednesday has been a success. We're going to continue on with it for as long as we have entries and the energy to comment on them. If you haven't yet submitted but are still interested, don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Last year a statue chased Angela off a cliff at a Midsummer masquerade ball. When no one else remembers the statue or the ball, Angela's determined to find out why. Another Midsummer's Eve brings answers, missing girls, and a wolf that claims to be her grandmother. Much to Angela's consternation, the wolf has the answers.

This feels a little scattered to me. I think there are a lot of pieces here that grab my interest, but the lack of real cohesion makes it hard to hold my interest. I think part of the problem is that there's no sense of voice in this opening. And no sense of excitement.

Wolves convert human memories to supernatural energy; the party hosts, the Merdemars, have exploited this ability to steal their guests' memories to build a perfect life with magic. Angela does the opposite, converting magic back into memories, but she doesn't have her gift under control. She also has little time to learn; the Merdemars have imprisoned two thousand guests and just as many wolves in a “nowhere land”. They won't let a 12-year old ruin their perfect life, and their moving statue feels the same way.

This feels disconnected from the first paragraph. It feels like you're explaining the world instead of telling us the story. Personally, I love the idea of this Midsummer's Ball that no one else remembers.It has a very magical, fair-tale feeling, but none of your query had that feeling. In addition, I was lost by this paragraph. As a query reader I wouldn't have even read it. The minute you started explaining the conversion of memories to energy, which felt like a disconnect from a girl that was tossed off a cliff, I quit reading.

Sometimes Beautiful, a young-adult urban fantasy, is complete at 41,000 words.

There are a couple of problems with this off the bat. 41,000 words is too short for young adult and a 12-year-old protagonist is too young. Is your book really middle grade? But then are the themes and voice middle grade? One of the problems with not understanding the genre is that, sure, you could simply change young adult to middle grade, but it's typically not that simple. To write in a certain genre it's important to understand the expectations of the readers of that genre in terms of voice, style, plot, characters and tone. I'm not sure, based on the character's age and word count, that you understand the requirements or expectations of the genre.

Thank you for your consideration. I hope you have enjoyed reading this query.

You should also be aware that something messed with your formatting in translation and the fonts were really off in this letter.



Rashad Pharaon said...

I LOVED the first couple of lines. I was hooked! Excellent opening. But then, what happened? It's like the reviewer said, it scattered. There was a wolf, a grandmother, memories, a young girl, a prison--if someone was to ask me to repeat the storyline I'd be hard-pressed to remember how the grandmother fits with the wolf fits with the statue etc. If you could weave these into a simpler narrative then the magic may be there! What a refreshing concept, very promising. A few tweaks here and there and I think it would be a beautiful query.



Julie Daines said...

The whole wolf and grandmother thing made me think it was a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

I agree that the main problem is a disconnect between all the elements. I like the title though.

newmancht said...

I don't know...the opening was "tempting", but it left me with more questions than anything. I kept wondering how exactly she survived. Usually, when people go over the side of cliffs, they die.

Maybe it would work better like this:

Angela is left dangling off a cliff ledge by a lunatic statue who chases her out of a Midsummer's Ball. Later, she's scratching her head as to why her friend doesn't remember the fact NO one remembers it....

And so on. Here, it can be readily assumed that she managed to escape her predicament without a big leap of faith that it somehow all works out in the book. Inject your voice into it, make it a mini story and as was pointed out already, get some cohesion into it by making the conflict gel better with the protagonist and antagonist. Good, luck - sounds like a nice concept.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea until I got to this line...

They won't let a 12-year old ruin their perfect life

...that the novel wasn't intended for adults.

I'm a middle grade author, and my take is that the plot could be appropriate for middle grade, but the voice is a million miles away.

E.Maree said...

I'm not convinced this is 'urban fantasy' - from the summary, this leans more towards normal YA fantasy (or MG fantasy, if the author decides that age range is more fitting).

But urban fantasy's always a tricky one to tell from the query, so I might be wrong.

Eileen said...

One thing may help this query is to understand what is at stake for Angela. Why does she get involved? She could simply never go to the ball again, why does she try and thwart the plan to steal memories? What does she want and why?

Jaya Lakshmi said...

Ms. Faust, thank you for critiquing my query; I also thank everyone else who has commented and offered their perspective.

Okay, so voice is the issue, along with cohesion; I agree, because the query doesn't have Angela's sarcasm or righteous fury.

My main issue is condensing a complicated world into less than 200 words, while keeping the query interesting. Since this manuscript is on the backburner, I can experiment with pitching here and with genres.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I'd like to know what happened to poor Angela after that statue chased her off the cliff!!

Jaya Lakshmi said...

Lol, anonymous; I'm glad I grabbed your attention in that regard, although I'm also sorry for making you worry.

Debating between two different first lines: "Last year Angela went to a Midsummers' Eve party and ended up on the hospital" (getting rid of the moving statue) or "Angela is not a happy or healthy teenager." I'm worried about using the passive voice, or about adding too much information. Which would be better?

Cara M. said...

Both are problematic. The second one is a cliche structure that shows up far too much in queries, trying to tell us what the MC is like, and not show us. By getting rid of the moving statue in the first one, you've essentially killed it. The moving statue said Magic. Ending up in the hospital could be anything, crime, tragedy, thriller, but makes the fantasy unlikely.

There still isn't any voice or atmosphere in either of them. I'd start with something like,

"Midsummer's eve is approaching, along with the dance of wolves and moving statues. Angela barely survived the last one, but this time, she's going to be ready."

Or something.

Jaya Lakshmi said...

Okay, Cara; that is a fair and accurate statement. I need some time to think about what content to put in the query, then, to set it in the fantasy genre and clarify the story.

Jaya Lakshmi said...

Okay, thought about it:

The reason why I have trouble conveying voice is that the books starts moody instead of exciting, like an acrylic landscape. What are word and phrases that could be used to convey this moodiness and righteous fury?

newmancht said...

Done properly, moodiness and righteous fury should be fine in a query. I think the point everyone is trying to get across is to start "showing" this book more and not "telling" about it so much.

Also, be sure to tighten it all up by giving us the protagonist/antagonist, what the conflict is and what will happen if the protagonist (or antagonist, if that makes more sense) does "this" or "that"....consequences that build the drama.

Do this and the words and phrases you're looking for will come naturally - just like they did in your book... (right?).

Unknown said...

Here's a potential draft, based on these comments:

Last year Angela went to a Midsummer party with her best friend and got chased off a cliff. Since then Angela’s been trying to explain what happened that night, but no one remembers the party or the statue that chased her. Not surprisingly, Angela has stopped speaking to her friend after the latter calls her a liar and a freak.

When another Midsummer rolls around, Angela finally finds two girls who believe her – as well as the party hosts, the insatiable and dishonest Merdemars. They know that Angela can ruin their perfect life by telling the truth and are determined to stop her. They have a moving statue with a grudge against Angela, half of California under their thumb, and more than enough time to murder her.