Query Critique 47

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Samuel Morgan is in serious trouble. Part of me likes this, but part of me feels like I want to just be told specifically why he is in serious trouble.

Not your average fourteen year old’s trouble, but more of the he-might-wind-up-dead-or-wish-he-was sort of trouble. It wasn’t so much the oversized Irishman whisking him away to a magical pocket of old Norway, or the fact that Shadow Casters were hot on their heels. Heck, it wasn’t even that his dorky parents turned out to be spellcasters. No, Sam has taken all of that pretty well. His problem is the Disgraced. I kind of feel like a lot of details are being thrown at me, and some of them are sort of vague. For instance, what is a Shadow Caster, and why should I be afraid of them? Also, why does this Irishman want to take him to maigical old Norway?

In his new life at the Viking stronghold turned spellcasters academy, everything was going surprisingly well; he’d even made some friends. But then they visited Australia. When Sam and Titus–the aforementioned Irishman–have a chilling encounter with the Disgraced everything changes. This is the second time that the Disgraced have been mentioned. And I still don’t know what they are. If they really are as important as I think they’re supposed to be, I need to know sooner what they are and why they’re important. Also, Australia seems kinda random. And really far away from Norway. Namely, Titus and Sam. Titus is quickly descending into despair. Worse still, Sam is changing. Every fear and failure he has known, true or imagined, threatens to swallow him up. He can’t let them be right. These sentences read as a little bit choppy.

Sam and his newfound friends must find a way to save Titus before it’s too late, but no one seems to know a thing about the ancient, parasitic evil. In truth, the hard part is getting someone to believe them. It’s hard for grownups to take you seriously when you’re chasing an old wives tale used to frighten children.  Every dead end they encounter sends Titus closer to enslavement. In a desperate measure, Sam procures some reliable information, if a bit unscrupulously. Ok, so he stole it, but this is important. Who does he steal it from? Are they the type of person we would feel sorry that he stole from? Unfortunately, the truth is hard to swallow, and things look dire for Titus. Now, Sam is forced to wonder what he is becoming. He has no choice: he must stop the Disgraced or lose Titus–and be lost himself. Clear stakes. Good. My overall comment is just that I need a better sense of world-building. In particular, I need a better understanding of how the Disgraced work.

THROUGH THE CASTER’S GATE is a young adult contemporary fantasy and is complete at 105,000 words. Diverse characters of varying cultures, ethnicities, and social classes will strike a chord with teens living in an increasingly diverse world. I think you can just say that it’s diverse. Agents already get why that’s important. This is my first novel. Although I do not possess any magical powers, I do have previous experience as a socially awkward teenager. I like this. Thankfully, I’m retired from that role. I am also a member of SCBWI.

My thanks for your time and attention. I have included the first ten pages per your guidelines for your consideration.  Synopsis and full manuscript are available upon your request.

Best Regards,

Ye Olde Norse

Query Critique 46

There is very little actual critique on this query, as it’s already very polished. I think it’s important for writers to be able to see really good queries as well, to have a model to work off of.

Dear Kyra Nelson,

Thirteen-year-old Stevie Blake shoots lightning at 1.21 gigawatts a bolt. I like this opening! Very specific about what makes the character unique. He supercharges iPhones into iDuds just by touching them. He even flies. (Landing is a whole different story.) Good voice.

But in less than thirty days, he won’t exist. I know this is set apart for emphasis, but I’d almost like to see it at the end of the first paragraph, because I think it would really tie the paragraph together. That’s pretty nitpicky, though.

His dad’s former sidekick, Artimus Smiles, has stolen a time machine and is using it to alter history. Suddenly, the good people of Summer Springs can’t remember a time when Smiles wasn’t the richest and most powerful Remarkable around, and they barely remember Stevie.

In the name of the greater good, Stevie breaks a few of the Superhero Handbook ™ rules to find out what’s going on. Unfortunately, breaking-and-entering isn’t legal, not even when spying on a super villain wanna-be. Neither is stealing a Memory Serum so that Stevie’s cousins remember him. Destroying the robot protecting the serum practically guarantees Stevie a life sentence, but he soon uncovers a connection between his dad’s past and Smiles’ present. A sinister connection, straight from a comic book, that could zap Stevie’s shot at a future.

But time is against Stevie, literally. His powers are weakening, he’s fading from pictures, and he could disappear any day. He has to travel in time, Marty McFly style, and stop Smiles from erasing him from existence, even if it means altering history himself. Over all, I think this query is very strong. I would maybe like it to be a little more clear on what exactly Smiles (I love that the bad guy is named Smiles of all things) is doing that’s causing Stevie to disappear. Overall, though, great voice, conflict, and stakes. All the important elements of the query are there.

THE REMARKABLE STEVIE BLAKE AND THE TIME TRAVELER is a 68,000 word upper middle grade novel with series potential. It will appeal to fans of Matthew Cody’s Powerless and John David Anderson’s Sidekicked. Italicize the comparative titles. I hold a BFA in Creative Writing, but unfortunately I possess no superpowers. Thank you for your time and consideration.

R.E. Markable

Character Exercises: Personality quizzes

There are personality quizzes all over the Internet. You’ve probably taken some of them yourself.

But have you ever tried answering the questions as if you were one of your characters? I totally recommend this approach. It forces you to really get inside the character’s head and think like they do. You may have to consider aspects of the character’s personality that you never would have even considered before.

Query Critique 45

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Claire is a white wolf. This is good in that it’s specific, but I think it could use a little more word magic or pizzaz or something. Human by day, werewolf by night. One night she goes off to hunt on her own. In her forest there are two sides, the white wolves and the black wolves, never to be crossed and never to be associated with. This is the source of your conflict, which makes it your bread and butter. Play that up for all it’s worth! After almost getting killed by a bear, she meets Seth, an interesting, charismatic, flirtatious boy eager to learn more about her. Filled with curiosity, along with an endless amount of attraction, Claire is faced with an impossible decision. “Faced with an impossible decision is sort of vague. Be clear when it comes to conflict and stakes.

Seth is a black wolf. Deemed by the forest as a “monster”, he finds a certain hunger towards nature. The wording here is a little confusing to me. Particularly towards Claire Ferguson, the wolf he chose to save. With his father coming back into his life, along with his new acquaintance on the other side, he has to decide whether betrayal is worth it. This sentence seemed a little vague the first time I read it. Tighten it up a bit. Also, where has his father been? And if he can muster up the strength to say goodbye to the only family he’s ever known.

LONE WOLF is a young adult paranormal novel about 54,500 words long. It is the first in the Lone Wolf series. My name is Werewriter, and The first half of the sentence is unnecessary since you sign your name. I decided to query you because I know you have a passion for what you do. Not only do I want to have a good relationship with an agent, but I also want them to fully enjoy the process. I can see that you love what you do, as much as I love to write, and I hope that you will consider me for representation. Thank you. This part also seems unnecessary. If you’re going to include some sort of personalization, I’d be very specific to the agent. You can read my article on personalizing queries here.



Voice Spotlight: The Penderwicks

I wanted to talk about a good middle grade book, so I chose The Penderwicks.

Middle Grade has a lot of cute books, which makes it fun. On the other hand, I get a lot of submissions for middle grade projects where it feels like the author is talking down to the reader. I and a number of agents and editors I know find this very off-putting. But Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwick’s series has all the charm and cute and fun an MG book should have without ever feeling like she’s talking down to the reader. Probably my favorite example of an authentic, fun middle grade voice.


Voice: Word choice

Just as a heads up, my linguistics nerdiness might show in this post a little.

As I was thinking about how I wanted to organize this series of posts, I decided it made sense to work from the micro level to the macro level. So we’re going to start by talking about the smallest units of voice, aka word choice.

You don’t need to be a linguistics student to know that different people use different words. For instance, you might anticipate that words like thong mean something entirely different to your grandmother than that teenager who lives down the street (for my grandma, a thong is a sandal).

That may seem obvious. Teens use more slang and are more adept at incorporating new words (or neologisms if you want to use the linguist jargon). A teen will know if something is basic, bae or on point. They sometimes have so many feels that they can’t even.

What factors other than age affect our word choice? How about geographic location. Does your main character drink soda, pop, or coke? Do they line up or queue? Do they use a jump drive, a flash drive, or a usb stick? Likewise economic class can affect what words you use and how you say them. Do you say vase with a s sound or a z sound at the end? Gender can affect word choice as well. Studies have shown that women are more likely to distinguish colors than men (a woman may say something is navy blue, royal blue, or robin’s egg blue, but to a man it’s just blue).

The point of all this is that it can be hard to accurately use words the way somebody from a different social group than you would. I have a professor who sometimes tries to mimic the way teenagers use the word like and it just sounds wrong. It takes a lot of work to sound authentic, but the first step to sounding authentic is being aware.

Here are some fun resources you can use to explore words. I’m not sure how useful they will be. But like I said, my linguist is going to town on this post.

Word and Phrase: This site was developed by one of my professors. I experimentally pasted some text from various members of my writing group. I found that I used more lower frequency words than my group members (which isn’t to say my writing is better. It’s just a stylistic difference).

Wordle: See what words you’re using most frequently.

Word Spy: This is just sort of a fun way to see what new words people are using.

Secret Life of Pronouns: Do with this site what you will. I just think it’s sort of interesting.

Query Critique 44

Elliott Waverly is thrown into a world that shouldn’t exist; a world with supernatural weapons, angel feathers, and what seems like everybody out to get her. The wording feels a little funny on the last part. I also think that while there are some specifics, I could use a little more. This is obviously an angel book and I want the first sentence to focus on that, rather than sort of mention it. Everyone she thought she knew, even her parents, have lied to her. The only person that seems to be real is Joel, an angel warrior sworn to protect her, but nothing can ever happen between them; it is strictly forbidden. The flow here seems a little disjointed. Also, I know it’s YA and we sort of assume that boy+girl= romance, but a little segue that indicates that she likes this boy would be nice. Elliott was soon to discover she was not the ordinary girl she thought she was.

Seventeen-year-old Elliott Waverly just wants to forget the past and the three bullets who that? ruined her life. She wants to forget her parents were taken away from her, killed by a man in a mask. It’s a little confusing to me that her parents are dead, because the last paragraph talks about them lying to her. Every time she comes home she’s reminded that the man she was left to, a distant cousin who’s always drunk, will never replace her parents. So she hides away in books leaving real life to others. When she comes home one night, she finds her cousin drunk just like he always is, and his hurtful words really push her over the edge. I think this could be condensed to something along the lines of ” when her cousins drunken insults finally push her over the edge…” Elliott finds herself in the middle of nowhere broken down, alone, on the side of the road with no hope in sight. That’s when a mysterious boy named Joel enters her life and changes everything.

Her cousin is unexpectedly murdered, just like her parents, by mysterious entities. Just as her demise is emanate, imminent Joel steps out of the darkness to save her. It has always been Joel’s mission to deliver Elliott safely to the Elders. This thing here about Elders comes out of nowhere, and leaves me a little confused. Who are the Elders? Why do they care about Elliott? Nothing in Elliott’s world will ever be the same. I want stronger stakes. Just saying her world won’t be the same isn’t very compelling, especially because her life stinks, and the new world with angels actually sounds better. Be more clear in telling me what she stands to lose.

Complete with 60,000 words, ANGEL WITH A SHOTGUN is a young adult science fiction novel that will draw readers in and make them beg for more as they turn the last page. First, I think the query needs to establish the world more clearly, because I was getting way more of a paranormal vibe than a science fiction vibe. I’m not saying dump information about the world into a paragraph. But show Elliott interacting more with the world. Most of the query focuses on the events leading up to her finding out about angels and whatever else. While this should be mentioned, I think your focus needs to be on establishing the conflict that arises AFTER she finds out about the angels. Also, the part about “draw readers in and make them beg for more as they turn the last page” is unnecessary and doesn’t do anything for your query.