Monday, May 27, 2013

Query Critique: Where All The Missing Pieces Go, a YA Fantasy by Christine L. Arnold

Today is the debut of our new query critique feature on Operation Awesome! Our first volunteer, Christine L. Arnold, sent us the query for her YA fantasy, Where All the Missing Pieces Go. First, the original query: 

Dear Awesome Operation Awesome Bloggers,


Thank you so much for hosting my query on your blog. I hope you enjoy taking a look at my query for WHERE ALL THE MISSING PIECES GO, my YA fantasy set in a world that’s a mix of steampunk and fairytale, and complete at 74,000 words.

Imprisoned by Madame Viola Grandosia, High Sorceress to Emperor Myloc, sixteen-year-old Jane Fisher is forced to perform the life-threatening ritual of painting the stars. The Sorceress is desperate for the power trapped inside Jane’s locket, but since it’s linked to her bloodline, she can’t wield that power while Jane lives.

Being a Mundane, Jane is protected by the Boxcroft Benevolence from the Sorceress’ usual, mess-free murder by magic, which is why she forces her to paint the stars. But the ritual doesn’t kill Jane. Instead, it steals a piece of her each time she performs it, creating living, breathing stars that take the shape of glimmering nymphs.

Before Madame Grandosia can rethink her plan of attack, Jane escapes to track down the stars that stole her voice, vision, and memories, which are now running wild across the kingdom of Gael. Finding them is the only way she’ll be strong enough to protect the locket.

What she doesn’t expect to find is the wizard whose soul is trapped inside.

WHERE ALL THE MISSING PIECES GO is a YA Fantasy complete at 74,000 words. It will appeal to teens who enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and the vibrant world building of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.

I have not yet published any of my work, but I’m very dedicated to growing as a writer. I’m a two-time attendee of DWF Writers Conference and Midwest Writers Conference, and a member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,
Christine

And now, the query with my (Angelica's) comments:


Dear Awesome Operation Awesome Bloggers,

Thank you so much for hosting my query on your blog. I hope you enjoy taking a look at my query for WHERE ALL THE MISSING PIECES GO, my YA fantasy
set in a world that’s a that mixes (or perhaps a stronger verb like fuses or blurs)  steampunk and fairytales,  and complete at 74,000 words. You have the word count in two places and although it can vary, the standard seems to have settled into putting it at the end.

Imprisoned by Madame Viola Grandosia, High Sorceress to the Emperor Myloc (we just had a lot of names/titles in the beginning of this sentence so I don’t think we need to add in the Emperor’s name at this stage), sixteen-year-old Jane Fisher is forced (I’m curious about how she’s forced—is her family held hostage? Is it a threat to Jane herself?) to perform the life-threatening ritual of painting the stars.
The Sorceress is desperate for the power trapped inside Jane’s locket, but since it’s linked to her bloodline, she can’t wield that power while Jane lives. This sentence and the next were a bit repetitive and use some passive language; perhaps you could combine them into one stronger sentence. There does need to be a transition to the “But the ritual” line.  Being a Mundane, Jane is protected by the Boxcroft Benevolence from the Sorceress’ usual, mess-free murder by magic, which is why she forces her to paint the stars.

But the ritual doesn’t kill Jane as the Sorceress hopes--instead, it steals a piece of the girl each time she performs it. Creating living, breathing stars that take the shape of glimmering nymphs.

Before Madame Grandosia can rethink her plan of attack, Jane escapes, determined to track down the stars that stole her voice, vision, and memories, which are now running wild across the kingdom of Gael. Finding them is the only way she’ll be strong enough to protect the locket.

What she doesn’t expect to find is the wizard whose soul is trapped inside. This feels a little tacked on to me, which it shouldn’t if it’s supposed to be a big reveal . I think if you mention the wizard, you may have to do a little more explaining. Your word count has a little wiggle room to do that, or you could just leave off this line. You’re the best judge of how crucial this reveal is to the story, obviously.

WHERE ALL THE MISSING PIECES GO is a YA Fantasy complete at 74,000 words. It will appeal to teens who enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and the vibrant world building of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.

I have not yet published any of my work, but I’m very dedicated to growing as a writer. I’m a two-time attendee of DWF Writers Conference and Midwest Writers Conference, and a member of SCBWI. Nice way to handle not having any published credits, and still show that you’re concentrating on craft.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,
Christine

Fantasy novels are so difficult to summarize in a query because if you put in too much of the worldbuilding, it’s overwhelming in such a short pitch. But if you leave out specifics, your book ends up sounding like every other fantasy book out there.

Your query blurb is actually fairly short (if you combine those two sentences) and although short and concise is generally better, this is a query that could benefit from expansion. You’ve got some great imagery with the stars/nymphs/memories, but I didn’t get much of a feel for Jane (or the Sorceress for that matter). We know Jane is the protector of the locket but that’s about it.

I’d like to know what about Jane makes her the heroine of the story, other than her bloodline. Right now, she seems like she’s more reactive (things happen to her and she deals with them—or doesn’t) than active. And since you put the wizard in there, how does his presence affect her? Does he complicate her life as well as her mission? Is this an element of romance in the story?

All in all, I think you have a world and characters I’d like to learn more about. You just need to let them show themselves in a way that makes us NEED to read more. Good luck and thanks for being our first volunteer!
 
Encouragement and feedback are welcome in the comments, but please make sure they're constructive and helpful. If we get a good response, query critiques will become a regular feature of the blog, so please let us know if seeing this critique gave you any insights into your own work!

6 comments:

  1. There are a lot of interesting things happening in your query--maybe too many. I agree, the opening line is too heavy on character names. Even in the second paragraph, you have phrases like 'Mundane' and 'Boxcroft Benevolence' which are interesting, but perhaps confusing. If Jane's status as Mundane gives her protection, say it a little more directly: Being a Mundane, Jane is immune to the Sorceress' usual murder-by-magic' or something like that.

    I love the image of 'painting the stars.' That just completely fascinates me, and the idea that she's creating life, essentially, as she does this.

    I'm on the fence about the last paragraph. Not sure I'd say, "I'm unpublished but...", however, I'd leave in conferences and SCWBI.

    Good start, Christine. Best of luck!

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  2. Good morning! I just wanted to stop by and thank you for visiting my blog during last Monday's Blitz. I'm glad you enjoyed the poem.

    Have a great day! ☺

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  3. This paragraph brings up questions for me...

    "But the ritual doesn’t kill Jane. Instead, it steals a piece of her each time she performs it," (so.. year after year she preforms this ritual?)

    creating living, breathing stars that take the shape of glimmering nymphs. (love creating the breathing stars.. :-) )

    Before Madame Grandosia can rethink her plan of attack, (why would she rethink the plan if Jane is growing weaker each time she does the ritual? Doesn't she just need to wait until Jane is weak enough to kill? if not by magic,then by ordinary means?)

    Jane escapes to track down the stars that stole her voice, vision, and memories, (how can she remember her mission if she has no memories? And by vision, do you mean she's now blind and trying to find her way? Seems like there's a lot of missing information)

    which are now running wild across the kingdom of Gael. (could be very interesting and unique-- voice, vision, and memories running free like living things..or do you mean the nymphs are running free with these things?..)


    It sounds like an interesting story, but I feel sort of confused by the details. Like Angelica, I'd like to know what role the wizard plays, if he's a big character in the story or not. What would he do to get his soul back? Does he know she has it? Does he think she's been keeping it from him? He might be a bigger threat than Grandosia or a love interest-- we really have no idea.

    I also agree with JeffO-- no need to mention you're not yet published :-)

    Good luck!

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  4. Thanks so much, Christine, for letting us all see your query and the critique. I learned a lot from Angelica's critique -- loved getting to see the process! I basically agree with everything Angelica noted. I even wondered about take a few more of the names out of the first sentence since it's a lot to go through before getting to the story. It does sound like an interesting story though. Good luck with it!

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  5. I just want to thank everyone for the wonderful comments and feedback, as well as Angelica and the rest of the Operation Awesome crew for the opportunity!! I've been playing around with my query and really believe you guys all helped me make it much stronger!!!

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  6. Glad to hear people found it helpful! Thank you to Christine for stepping up for our experiment, and to those who contributed feedback and comments!

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