It's time for the last Pass Or Pages reveal of 2017! We're so grateful to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. We hope you can find something to help you in your quest for an agent, even if you don't write middle grade!
Entry #5: THE BOY FROM THE MIST
Query:For your consideration I enclose the first 250 words of my middle grade [MLS1] fantasy novel The Boy From The Mist [MLS2], which is complete at 42,000 words. The story is set in an alternative medieval earth and follows 14 year old Rhi [MLS3] as he discovers that everything he has been told about life is a lie. [MLS4]
Rhi’s village lies isolated, surrounded by a mysterious and deadly mist sent by the gods as punishment for the way humans abused the planet – or so the citizens have been told. The villagers’ lives are overseen by a trusted council of Elders who claim to be channelling the will of those same gods and guiding the populace towards redemption. In reality, as Rhi discovers, they are hiding several alarming truths, including the fact that the outside world still exists. Rhi tries to share what he has discovered [MLS5] and is branded a dangerous traitor. [MLS6] Faced with no other option, he heads into the mist to find the outside world and bring back proof of the Elders’ lies.
Wholly unprepared for the challenges and realities of the outside world, Rhi finds himself attacked, kidnapped and about to be sold into slavery. [MLS7] He bands together with a pair of young outcasts who open his eyes to the ways of a strange new world, one where everyone has abilities and magic is the most sought after resource. Enthralled with his new freedom, Rhi begins to forget those he has left behind, until a numbing tragedy [MLS8] reminds him of his mission and reignites his determination to bring the rest of his village back into the real world. [MLS9]
Nothing about this concept or character stands out or grabs me.
I don’t really get enough about the main character in this to spark my interest. The world building sounds cool, but I don’t get where the story is going or why this character is the one to follow through the story. Those need to be addressed for this to be a good query. I’d pass here, unless after reading a few lines in the sample it turns out to be really good.
[MLS1]: Upper middle grade?
[MLS2]: Titles should be in ALL CAPS.
[MLS3]: Fourteen is a tricky age, as it hovers between MG and YA. Tread carefully!
[MLS4]: This is too vague. Give us specifics to the plot/story!
[MLS5]: How does he discover it?
[MLS6]: By the Elders? (Assuming it’s because they don’t want people leaving for some reason? I’d love that hashed out a bit more.)
[MLS7]: Need more specifics here: who kidnaps him? Why is he being sold into slavery?
[MLS8]: What tragedy? Again, we need more story-specific examples here.
[MLS9]: Typically, you want to end your plot summary with the stakes: what’s at stake for your protagonist and the world at large. So… If he brings proof of the real world back to the village, what happens? Will his people be freed of the Elders’ rule? Who’s to say they won’t be happy/prefer to stay where they are?
First 250:Rhi poked the dying fire with a stick and gave a deep sigh. He hated working as a sheep herder, hated the long, lonely hours and the sheer monotony. With nothing else to do, he counted the flock again and found himself wishing the mist would take one, just to liven things up a bit. When he’d been assigned the role, at last year’s Coming of Age ceremony, such had been his disappointment that he had taken to his bed and cried. His father hadn’t spoken to him for days, frustrated with his son’s disregard for the village’s traditions and ashamed at his emotional display. [MLS1] When he did break the silence, it was to deliver a long sermon about the importance of doing your duty and putting the village’s needs above your own. A youth of thirteen years [MLS2], Rhi couldn’t have cared less.[BG1]
For three seasons now he had spent his days sat at the very boundaries of his world. Whatever the weather, the sheep needed watching, and Rhi had sat through wind and rain, unrelenting sunshine and bitter frost. With each day his resentment grew. There has to be more than this? He thought to himself, as he stared unseeing toward the woolly creatures before him.
The sun dipped below the horizon and took the last of the day’s warmth with it. Not that Rhi could see it – it was forever veiled behind the never-ending mist. [MLS3]
[BG1]: I’d stop reading here and give the author a pass.
[MLS1]: As a reader, this line is distancing me from your character's immediate emotions. Here's an example of what you could write instead: For days, his father hadn't spoken to him. He supposed his father had said all he wanted to in the hours after the ceremony--jabbing a calloused finger at Rhi and prattling on about putting the village's needs above your own.
[MLS2]: Your query said he’s fourteen?
[MLS3]: While the concept of the story is interesting, I found myself not fully invested in the character. I think by working on his voice and the immediacy of descriptions, that would make the reader bond more quickly with the story and character--which could be done with a few additional rounds of editing.