Friday, September 30, 2016

September Pass Or Pages Entry #5

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.



15-year-old Marc Cheeks resents hearing “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Since his mother died, Marc’s troubled father repeats the cliché every chance he gets.[SN1] During his recovery from a near-fatal stabbing, Marc becomes physically stronger. Historically, the men in his family demonstrated superhuman strength but suffered for it. Strength for a price. Anger consumes his father. Insanity institutionalizes his uncle. Cancer stole his grandfather. Marc fears what awaits him when he realizes the cliché is family fact.[RN1] [KA1]

After his dad takes his own life, Marc enlists the help of his best friend, the girl next door, and a local bartender [SN2] to decipher his dad’s last words: “Find your Kismet. It doesn’t have to be a curse.” Left with only his dad’s secret journal, Marc’s frantic search for his Kismet, a soulmate thought to be the answer[SN3], begins[KA2]. His crazy uncle offers help, but their conversation yields more questions than answers.[SN4]

As the curse repeatedly places Marc in harm’s way, he learns he is doomed without his Kismet and begins to doubt his ability to escape his fate.[RN2] [SN5]

Marc’s escalating desperation forces him to risk not only his life but the lives of those helping him. Unfortunately, not everyone wants Marc to succeed. One person in particular would greatly benefit from Marc’s death while another seeks to manipulate a Kismet-less Marc and harness his new-found power for nefarious activities[SN6].[KA3]

Success gives Marc a chance at happily ever after[SN7], but failure will mean certain death for his Kismet and his friends, and the end of his life as he knows it.[SN8] [SN9]

Trading Stitches is an 89,000-word young adult dark supernatural thriller[RN3] with series potential containing similar elements to those found in the works of Madeleine Roux or Will McIntosh.

Renee's Notes:
[RN1]This is a lot of backstory that weighs down your query.
[RN2]This is really general language and doesn’t give me a great sense of the plot. Can you add a few plot points to show this harm and doom?
[RN3]I was surprised when I read this. The query didn’t feel like a query for a thriller. I would like to get a sense of an antagonist in the query. There needs to be the feeling of desperation for your main character.

Sarah's Notes:
[SN1] I would suggest cutting all of this. [Everything before this point.] It doesn't have anything to do with the rest of your query and makes for an awkward transition into the real meat of the query.
[SN2]What? Why those three? I'm really thrown off by the bartender and it makes me have hesitations about the ability to make the story feel authentic. Even within a fantasy novel, the non-fantastical parts need to seem plausible.
[SN3] The answer to what?
[SN4] You don't need this [sentence]. It doesn't add to the core of the story line and that's all we want in the query.
[SN5] This is generic in a way that doesn't add to the story. How is he in harm's way? He is doomed to what, escape his fate of what? I don't understand what is at stake if he can't find his Kismet or what that will solve.
[SN6] [for nefarious activities] Nope. This is just too generic. What activities? This sounds like a Dr. Evil type character and it feels over-the-top.
[SN7] Success at finding his Kismet? This is the case for everyone.
[SN8] Nothing in the query has led me to believe that his life, the lives of his friends, or of his Kismet are at stake.
[SN9] Right now the query is too generic. You are adding in details that aren't needed and skimping on the ones we do need. Focus on what Marc wants, what is stopping him from getting it, and what is at stake (specifically) if he doesn't get it. Right now, this would be an automatic pass without reading the pages.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA1] The concept behind this is interesting, but the way this is structured is a little scattered.
[KA2] This aspect feels a bit random to me.
[KA3] This kind of vague detail isn't very compelling, and I'm still very unclear on how this curse/power works. It seems like there are a lot of rules, particularly with this Kismet (that I also don't understand the purpose of), and I think you're trying to leave a sense of mystery but landing more at vague confusion that won't entice me to read more.

First 250:

I thought it was a rule people didn’t use a kid’s dead mother against them. Dad didn’t get the memo.[SN10] [KA4]

“You’re using too much starch.” I tugged my collar. The fibers ran their scratchy fingers along the back of my neck.

Dad scrunched his face and stared cockeyed. “What?”

He yanked the wheel sharp left and the balding Michelin tires squealed. Heads turned as our rusty Nissan pulled into the school’s gravel parking lot. The rickety fender clung to the truck. A painful daily reminder of the past four years. It begged to be fixed, but Dad ignored it.

“We’re learning about starch in Home Economics,” I said. “Does this shirt even need it?”

He rolled his eyes, “I don’t know, Marc. That’s a question for your mom.”

I hated when he did that. A car accident ripped her from us four years ago, but he only mentioned her when he didn’t want to answer a question.

“Do other dudes know you’re learning this stuff.” My dad wiped down his scruffy face. “It’s going to get you beat up.”

“How’s that different than any other day?” I scoffed.

“Guys still pestering you?”

“It’s called bullying.” The peeling latch jiggled in my palm[KA5]. “Like you care.”

His fist slammed the faded dashboard. “I do care! Besides, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?”

“No one believes that, Dad.”

“I do. Your grandfather did,” he said. “One day you will, too.”

Dead grandfather card for the win[KA6].

Renee's Notes:
This is a really strong opening. I like the writing a lot!

Sarah's Notes:
[SN10] This opening lines feels like it's being used for effect. The pay off isn't until the 7th paragraph, but which time I've moved on. I get wanting to use a catchy phrase to start the story, but it feels artificial like you're just trying to catch my attention like a click-bait headline.
[SN11] So...his dad pulls a dead mom card, won't bother to get his car fixed and isn't really paying attention to what's going on with his son's life, but he starches his shirts? I realize this is a little thing, but right off the bat you've created a character that I don't believe and that makes it very hard to get into the story and believe the supernatural things you're going to introduce later in the story. Especially in speculative fiction genres it is essential that the parts of the story grounded in reality reflect a reality that readers can believe in. This is missing the mark for me.

Kurestin's Notes:
[KA4] What a vivid way to immediately show us their relationship!
[KA5] This little detail reminds me of every broken down car I've been in, I love it.
[KA6] So I really like the voice in this excerpt. I'd love to see more of our main character's personality in the query, and have it grounded on him as a person. This will make me more likely to follow things and request pages even if the concept sounds a bit nebulous (but cool). As it stands, I probably would have passed if just seeing the query, but that could easily change with some refining.

Renee Nyen: PASS
Sarah Negovetich: PASS
Kurestin Armada: PASS


  1. Many thanks for the feedback. It's clear a new direction is needed for the query and I've taken that to heart. Again, I appreciate everyone's time.

    1. Glad you found the feedback useful. Good luck!


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