Tuesday, May 30, 2017

May Pass Or Pages Entry 2

It's feedback reveal time for Pass or Pages, the query contest run at here Operation Awesome. We hope you'll find tips to benefit your own work and query letters. Copious thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. We give obeisance to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying, the surest path to failure is to not try. Bravo to those entered.



I recently completed writing and editing my book[LC1][WA1], Every Move I Have Made, which is a 57,000-word Young Adult contemporary novel.

17-year-old Hayley is counting down the days to when she can escape;[LC2][LO1] escape from her parents and the life she feels sure she will inherit from them. Her father’s simmering anger at the impotence of his world [WA2] threatens daily to boil over, while her mother has retreated into herself, never leaving the house. In Hayley’s home, darkness always lurks just below the surface.[LO2]

Hayley has a plan, though, and is determined not to let anyone stop her, and her courage is fueled by the kindness of her two best friends, although not even they know all her secrets. But when the most popular boy in school suddenly turns his attentions to her, she finds herself questioning exactly what it is she wants, until she learns that danger can be found everywhere, not only at home, and even within the boy you love.[LO3] Soon, she needs to make a decision on just how far she will go to ensure that nobody stands in her way. [WA3][LO4]


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]I don’t think this is the best way to start. It’s expected that the book has been written and edited before submitting. Use this first sentence to hook the reader.
[WA2]“…at the impotence of his world” I’m not sure what this means. And I really want to. Knowing what his world is would give me an instant understanding of what Hayley’s world is as well. Based on this query, Hayley could just as easily be an heiress to a dot-com billionnaire as she could the daughter of impoverished alcoholics. I have no grounding.
[WA3]: This paragraph is quite vague. Other than the relationship with the popular boy, I have literally no idea what kind of plot we’re looking at. What kind of plan are we talking about here? Running away? Going to college across the county? Killing someone?

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: It’s generally a good idea to not say something along these lines. Saying so suggests you finished it last night without any critiques or feedback from others.
[LC2]: There’s no need for the semi-colon. The sentence could have continued without the repetition of “escape” and the semi-colon. The use of a semi-colon is impressive when used correctly, appropriately, and necessarily. I would stop reading here.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: Could you give us something more to root us here? Something of setting or dad’s occupation or a sense of what Hayley wants to escape TO, rather than just what she wishes to leave behind?
[LO2]: From what you describe here, darkness seems very much on the surface. Also, the above feels a bit abstract; it feels as though it floats about the more tangible aspects of the story. Can you drill down a bit, per my comment above?
[LO3]: Lots of run-on sentences here.
[LO4]: I’m afraid that this last paragraph doesn’t give us much in the way of specific story elements. Time, place, goal, stakes, a sense of what Hayley loves, what she’s good at, with what she struggles. Clearly, I don’t recommend stuffing all of that into the synopsis, but we need a stronger, specific sense of the story’s elements. This feels like a too-generic/abstract sense of things. It doesn’t really tell us much, I’m afraid.

First 250 words

When the phone rings in the middle of the night, you know it's not good news.[LO1] No one's calling to say you've won the lottery. Or you've got into that [LC1]Ivy-League college. Calls in the middle of the night mean only one thing.

So when I hear a phone ring and my eyes flash open to find darkness, when I hear footsteps in the hallway and my bedroom door opening, and when I see the outline of my mother appear in my doorway, [WA1] I know what it means.

“Halina, wake up.”

I push myself into a sitting position. My breathing is shallow, as if I’ve been running.

“Some woman was on the phone looking for her son,” my mother says. “She says you know him. Says it’s your boyfriend.”[LO2]

“Jesse?” My voice breaks on the second syllable.

Her figure in the darkness shifts, and her voice is flat. “Woke your father up.”

I fumble in the dark for my phone, saying with a dry mouth, “I don’t know where Jesse is.”

My hand finds the phone and I switch it on. The screen lights up my room but doesn’t reach my mother who hasn’t even crossed the threshold. I look towards her squat shape nearly filling the doorframe.

“We were at the quarry,” I say. “All of us. The boys were swimming. Jesse’s at the quarry.”

“He’s not. His mother says his clothes are still there. But he’s not. And Halina, it’s four in morning. No one’s at the quarry.” [WA2][LO3]


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: Too many “when” statements in this paragraph. I know the intent is to build suspense, but it’s unsuccessful and wordy. I’d revise to something like “When I see my mother in the doorway, the house phone pressed to her ear, I know …”
[WA2]: This feels like an entirely different story than the one pitched above. I never would have guessed they were the same book.

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: Grammar. I’m also not a fan of the use of second person, even if used briefly in a manuscript. I would stop reading here.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: This might be stronger if we had a sense that Hayley knows this to be true from past experience. Build up a few questions in the reader’s mind. Otherwise, it feels a bit too adult and generalizing to really grab me as a reader.
[LO2]: Would the mother try to reach out to Hayley via cell phone before trying their house? Doesn’t feel quite credible to me that she’d call people she doesn’t know before trying to get in touch with Hayley directly, if it’s an option.
[LO3]: I appreciate the bit of mystery at the end of this passage and the friction between Hayley and her mother, but this scene feels a bit too familiar and well-trod to spark my interest as strongly as it might.
Might you start at the quarry or somewhere else? Might you give the reader a stronger sense of some conflict between Hayley and Jesse? Can the same moment unfold in more unexpected circumstances or a more unexpected setting?   


Whitley: PASS 
Laura: PASS
Lorin: PASS


Raimey Gallant said...

"My voice breaks on the second syllable." Love that.

Deb Atwood said...

I'm curious about Laura's comment regarding the use of second person. I can see how it's confusing to start a novel with second person, but I wonder how many agents are opposed to all second person asides.

Kara Reynolds said...

This highlights one of the strengths of the contest, in my opinion. If an author is trying to decide whether to query Laura or another agent at her agency, knowing Laura's personal taste in this matter could help the author make their choice. It doesn't mean that the author (or someone else observing the feedback) needs to change his or her writing style, but it's helpful to know that Laura doesn't necessarily like it.