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 #4: ELEMENTAL
Earth’s ancient forests hold a secret and fifteen-year old Colleen Muir lands in the middle of it after arriving at a seaside village for her summer vacation. [MF1] Certain she is going to join her mother on one of her research expeditions she is disappointed, but not surprised, when her mother departs, leaving her alone in the care of the innkeeper and his impetuous daughter. [KA1] After being almost struck by lightening, and living to tell about it, Colleen is left with an astonishing ability to channel water. [LM1] Soon after she discovers supernatural beings, portrayed in many of the fairytales she read as a child, do exist and live in the remote village and surrounding forest. [LM2][KA2]
Colleen learns she is an Element and must join three other teenaged Elements for training. [LM3] With the Earth’s forests under constant siege, from changing climate and expanding cities, the magic held by the ancient trees is escaping and threatens the remaining refuge of the Faery. Wild storms spawned by the errant magic must be tamed and it is their job to do it. [LM4]
While returning from a training session Colleen becomes lost in the forest and encounters ancient enchantments leaving her in possession of talents worthy of a Forest Sorcerer. [MF2] While she struggles to understand what that means and what she is supposed to do with those talents, an interfering wizard, who was not about to let his plans to capture the errant magic for himself be thwarted, causes the tenuous relationship between the Elements to collapse. Not knowing whether she will see her mother again and with nowhere else to go, Colleen realizes the forest is now her home. She must cope with a monumental task and with the focus of the team in shambles the fate of her new home becomes uncertain. [LM5][MF3][KA3]
ELEMENTAL is a young adult fantasy complete at 90,000 words. The story is written in third person with multiple points of view [MF4] with series potential.
[KA1]: These can be trimmed and combined, so you can get to the good stuff faster.
[KA2]: These can also be combined. I don’t need as much of a play-by-play as you might think, I just need the details that are sharp and intriguing—so here that would mean what sort of supernatural creatures are we talking about here.
[KA3]: Wait, is this new magic from the Forest Sorcerer the main plot? Who is this interfering wizard? Why would she not see her mother again? What is this monumental task? What is the dynamic of the team like? I’m left with so many questions, mainly because you try to pack in so many elements but end up not really telling me anything about them. Pick the main thread that gets things moving max 20% of the way through the book—is it finding her water magic and joining the team? Then focus on that and why I should want to read more to find out about it, and don’t try to tease the entire plot in three paragraphs.
[MF1]: Wait she’s dropped in the middle of a forest but is at the seaside? Is this a portal fantasy?
[MF2]: This is a pet peeve of mine – when characters aren’t active in what happens to her. She’s nearly struck by lightening and gets water power (wouldn’t it be something more fire-based?). Then she encounters some enchantments and gets more talents. She so passive in her story rather than active.
[MF3]: Also I have no real sense of who the bad guy is here unless it’s just climate change/expanding cities – what is there to do about that? Is there some big bad guy to this? Otherwise I struggle with the antagonist just being progress. Overall, I feel like your query is a lot of backstory as opposed to getting the main plot of your book!
[MF4]: Just be careful with multiple points of view. Make sure that each POV sounds completely unique.
[LM1]: I like magic concepts to be integrated more organically rather than blunt backstory.
[LM2]: How does she discover this?
[LM3]: More info dump about the magic system.
[LM4]: There is nothing in this paragraph about the character, or what she wants. Purely info dump.
[LM5]: I’m not getting a sense of who the character is or what she wants from this query, and it feels as if she has very little agency. I want more character focus with less world building.
“Once upon a time, in the Land of Nod…”
“What or where is the Land of Nod?” asked Colleen. Her eyes focused on a brilliant green beetle crawling along a blade of grass. [LM1]
The dune grass drew circles in the sand as it waved around in a breeze warmed by the late morning sun. [LM2] The beetle spread its wings and flew off settling on the book her friend had propped up against some driftwood.
“I’m not sure, really.” Leanne flicked the bug into the air. “Maybe it’s a place you go after reading that last story.”
“Not sure about what?”
“The Land of Nod. You asked me where it was. Come back to Earth.” [LM3] Leanne’s short dark hair looked wild in the breeze, but it was like that even indoors. “Now, where was I?”
Colleen drew in a deep breath. “The air smells so good out here. Better than the city air.”
“You’re too much.” Leanne shook her head and returned to the story. [KA1]
[KA1]: I like this dynamic between these two characters.
[MF1]: Technically, I don’t see anything to really point out in this. I will say, I feel like the voice may skew a little young so just be careful that your voice feels authentic for a fifteen year-old. Similarly, just keep an eye out on your dialogue too. I don’t have a lot to judge from but there’s something that does feel a little off to me. Make sure your dialogue feels authentic and you don’t fall into a trap of getting exposition out through your dialogue!
[LM1]: Opening with dialogue can work, but it needs to be more impactful for me.
[LM2]: Weather openings are cliché.
[LM3]: This feels telly, rather than showing me. I want to feel Colleen’s sense of distraction which the action above isn’t doing for me.
[LM4]: More weather.
[LM5]: This is super distant from your character and do you think of your hair in this way? This is another person’s pov, not Colleen’s.
[LM6]: The POV is too distant for me in general. I could barely tell who’s head we were in. I want a tighter third.