Welcome to the feedback reveals for the first round of Pass Or Pages in 2018! Many thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Props to the authors who were brave enough to submit. We hope everyone learns something new this week!
Entry #2: HOME FREE
Set in the year 2173, Flag and her band of teens risk their lives to help people of all ages escape from the ruling government’s control.[KA1] Flag is a genius with a knack for coding and micro-machinery. She ran away from detached parents when she was twelve and never looked back. Sarcastic, skilled, and confident, she is the leader the small group of rebels need. G is quiet and excels at worrying. His bravery is underestimated and he doesn’t hesitate to take action when it counts. Fox is a goofball even in the darkest situations. He enjoys using his chemistry knowledge to cause mischief. Ray[MF1] grew up in the rough part of town and has always had to fend for herself. Despite that, she is feisty, writes poems and wants to become a tattoo artist. The four had been friends since they were eight and were inseparable. That is, until Ray was shot.[LM2] [KA2][MF2]
Old and new threats[MF3] are always lying in wait and living to see the next day is never a certainty. [LM3]With one friend already dead, that is painfully clear.[KA3] But the risk doesn’t stop Flag from smuggling people out of the ten massive cities that hold the population of North America after the new government’s takeover. In the super-cities, nonconformity is met with a smiling official and a swift disappearance. Many would rather take their own lives than face their unknown fate. Driven by anger over her friend’s death, the ever louder cry for help and the growing amount of suicides, Flag sets out on another trip with G, Fox, and four others.[KA4]
HOME FREE is a YA science fiction novel full of high stakes[KA5] and equally high-speed hoverboard chases. Told from four perspectives, it is complete at 139,000 words.[KA6][MF4] The novel would appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series and Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” series.[MF5]
[KA1]: So here, I’m mostly like “eh, every YA SFF has a corrupt regime of some sort, they’re a dime a dozen.” You give us more detail on why exactly this society is bad later on, but even then it’s a bit generic sounding. With this kind of dystopian bent, I don’t need a long explanation of the world, but I do need at least one sharp detail to show the fresh voice/hook of your world. If you put it here, you can trim the stuff you put later on and get to the real plot.
[KA2]: I really love these character introductions! I think they could be amped up/smoothed over just a little bit more though—Flag’s is the strongest because it’s so specific, so see if you can add that same specificity to G and Fox. And if you read it aloud I think you’ll catch where your rhythm falters just a bit.
[KA3]: This is awkward and can probably be cut.
[KA4]: Wait, what? Why? Where to? Is this the main plot of the story? If so, I need to hear more about it! Right now I don’t have enough to get me interested in finding out what unfolds.
[KA5]: I don’t know what they are though, alas!
[KA6]: Oh that’s definitely too long. Especially because the query was sounding like “pacey, action-packed SF,” I’d expect a word count closer to 100k.Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: Unless you’re writing a book with this many POVs (and even then I’d caution against it) beware of putting so many named characters in your query.
[MF2]: When was Ray shot? Is that your starting action?
[MF3]: What threats? I feel like you’d be better served to intro your main character (one or two) briefly and use the rest of the query to really show your plot. Avoid buzz words that are supposed to make your sound intriguing but don’t wind up doing just that – I want to know what the threats are. I want to know the stakes. Why I should care about your characters and if they’re successful or if they fail.
[MF4]: Wordcount is WAY too high for a YA. Aim to get this down around 100k.
[MF5]: I would always advise against comping to a book like Hunger Games because I see so many comps to that title.
[LM1]: Delete this opening sentence. It isn’t doing anything.
[LM2]: This needs to be about your MC and at the moment, I don’t know who that is. I have no way to connect with anyone, no one has motivation, there are no stakes. This is all backstory. I’m guessing this is multi POV, but I’d recommend sticking to one POV to give me someone to connect to.
[LM3]: Too vague. Still no stakes.
My feet fly over the dry grass making an absurd amount of noise. But stealth isn’t important anymore. I can hear the poachers – as we call them[LM1][KA1] – behind us, their footsteps heavy and menacing. The twins crashed their cars when the chase was still taking place among the trees. Shortly after, our hoverboards died. I adjust the little boy I’m carrying on my back and look to the front to find Flag. [LM2]
She’s not there.
I swivel my head around and see her at the back of the group. Her gaze is focused our chasers. She’s slowing down. I know why. I know why[LM3] and really, I do understand. And if I was braver and crazier, I might be back there with her.
“Flag!” I gasp. Her head[MF1] turns ever so slightly towards me. “Don’t.”
I know I should listen to G. I know to stop, turn around and fight would be akin to suicide; it would be suicide. But the thought is still a strobe light in my mind.[KA2]
What I want to do, with every single finite fiber in my body, is to turn around and beat all of them until they’re bloody pulps or I’m dead. Make them pay for what, for who they took from Fox, G and me.
But I’m not stupid and I’m not suicidal – though I imagine they’d be highly rewarded for bringing me back alive or dead – so I push all my unreleased anger into sprinting the last hundred feet.
[KA1]: Unless he’s telling this story to someone else, why would he frame it this way?
[KA2]: Hmmm, this is a quick POV shift. I’m not totally sold on it based on this snippet, to be honest. It seems like a third person POV might fit better. But if you’re committed to this structure, I would focus on immediately establishing strong and distinct voices for your POV characters. Right now they share a predilection for repetition and nothing is really jumping out at me as a particularly gripping detail, so you’ll have to work harder in that arena, particularly in these crucial opening pages.Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: Pet peeve of mine: watch how much you talk about head motions. Don’t turn people into bobble heads!
[MF2]: I found the abrupt voice change to be really jarring. Especially at the beginning of your story, to shift POVs after not even 100 words, I don’t have the chance to get invested in your characters.
So for YA, I’d be very cautious about the number of POVs you have going on in your book. The max I would ever have is 3. Please make sure everyone feels individual and that you do give each character the chance to shine rather than bouncing back and forth.
[LM1]: This pulls me out of the action.
[LM2]: I like starting in the action, but I do need something to connect me with your character or I’m not invested. Give me something to care about.
[LM3]: Why? This seems like something I could care about.
[LM4]: I’m going to stop reading here. Just not OK with this kind of head hopping.