Tuesday, September 25, 2018

September Pass Or Pages Entry #2

pass or pages query contest

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. Our gratitude to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying. Bravo to those entered.

Entry 2: Poison


My 80,000-word YA fantasy novel, POISON, is an [WJ1] African Snow White story [KP1] meets the Lion King. [KP2] [SH1]

[WJ2] Fifteen-year-old Princess Kala—who would rather hunt than marry and become queen—learns her stepmother, Queen Machawi, has cursed her to die by her sixteenth birthday. So she flees the palace in search of a rare, red poison [KP3] that will break the curse.

[WJ3] Along the way, [KP4] she barely escapes frequent, near-fatal accidents and animal attacks due to the curse. She learns [KP5] that Machawi is heavily taxing, enslaving, and killing their people. She also develops [KP6] her magical ability to communicate with spirits through song and dance, but accidentally causes natural disasters whenever she tries to cast big spells. Still, through her magic, she befriends several animals that help her.

To complicate matters, she falls for Adofu, a cocky but charming, young warrior prince from a rival kingdom, who reluctantly agrees to be her guide. [KP7] When she loses her magic fetish, [KP8] [SH1] Kala loses her ability to do magic as well. To save herself and her kingdom, she must believe in herself, regain her magical powers, and choose between destiny and true love. [WJ4] [KP9] [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - Retelling might be a better word choice here?
[KP2] Can you also be more specific? What parts of Snow White are you pulling from? What parts of The Lion King are you pulling from?
[KP3] Red poison to kill her stepmother? Why is this red poison the hidden gem?
[KP4] I feel like you can find a stronger wording for this. This phrase is quite passive. Make sure your query writing is ACTIVE and showcase the excitement and tension within your characters’ journeys.
[KP5] Slightly repetitive phrasing here, and is there a stronger phrase or verb you can use to initiate tension and action?
[KP6] Stronger word choice here, as well as repetitive sentence structure.
[KP7] This automatically creates a somewhat romantic tension and a want to read on. Can this sentence be moved up? Does he become her guide towards the beginning as she goes on her journey?
[KP8] Fetish? I think there can be a better word choice here. This insinuates sexual fetishes, which you don’t really want to refer to in this type of story.
[KP9] I don’t quite see the set-up for this in your query. Is it possible to elaborate a bit more on these two aspects and what she would have to choose between, specifically?

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - You have my attention.
[SH2] I wouldn’t use this word in a YA query.
[SH3] This query is too “telling” in voice but the premise is interesting so I would read the sample but it’s likely the sample is as passive-voice riddled as the query.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - This is a wonderful pitch.
[WJ2] - Rework this paragraph. Suggestion: When Queen Machawi, has cursed fifteen-year-old Princess Kala her to die by her sixteenth birthday,. So Kala she flees the palace in search of a rare, red poison that will break the curse. (The other details don't seem to be necessary and contribute nothing to the tension arc.)
[WJ3] - This doesn’t contribute to a plot or tension arc—it’s a lot of unnecessary detail. I would suggest cutting all of this.
[WJ4] - All of this needs to be re-worked. The query gives us no sign of a clear plot or tension arc—how does the story evolve, change, and tend toward a particular climax? What is the stake, here, and how is Kala going to fight against that which threatens her in an immediate sense?

First 250 words

I stalked across the cracked, red savanna hunting bush rats, bow in hand. My charmed amulet buzzed under my wrap dress, warning of danger. I halted mid-step. [KP1] A few paces ahead, a lioness crouched in the brown elephant grass that reached above my head. She snarled, eyes fixed on me, ears flattened.

As usual, I’d buried myself in deep dung, so to speak.

I tensed my legs to flee, but my feet refused to move. Slipping an arrow from my quiver, I nocked the arrow and took aim. Flies buzzed around me. One landed on my cheek, tickling my skin, but I didn’t flinch.

The lioness’s golden coat gleamed, giving off a musky odor. Her ribs expanded and contracted, [KP2] and life force radiated from her sleek body. My palms grew sticky under the sweltering sun, but I hesitated to shoot such a spectacular creature unless I had to.

Instead, I tried casting a soothing spell on her [KP3]—though in past attempts I’d been pecked by an ostrich, kicked by a zebra, and bitten by a python. I needed to improve if I wanted to pass my initiation into the magician’s cult tomorrow.

Lowering my bow, I touched my ivory charm [KP4] of a woman holding a child and gazed into the lion’s yellow eyes, rocking from foot-to-foot in rhythm with her flicking tail. Humming a made-up tune, I reached my spirit out to hers and imagined a strip of light flowing from my hand to her head, attaching us. [WJ1] [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - The difficult part with this opening sentence is that it’s very telling, and works towards quickly changing to showing, but we don’t have any of the atmosphere or world building yet to relate the descriptions and what’s happening. Is there a better way to show that your MC is hunting?
[KP2] This is good, “showing” description. It leaves a really nice picture in your readers’ minds!
[KP3] This is a bit telling. Can we go into the spell casting, rather than stating what your MC’s about to do?
[KP4] Holding a bow and arrow (which your character is doing) is usually a two handed job, and you don’t really want to hold a bow by the string. In order to touch the charm, they’d first have to put the arrow away so they could have one hand free!

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - Unfortunately, this would be a pass for me as well despite loving the premise. The sample is riddled with passive voice.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - These 250 words don’t work—the writer attempts to build out tension by telling us about a small conflict here, the encounter of the main character with the lioness, but rather than build tension, the scene falls v. flat. The entire scene needs a clearer (re)structuring.

I am also concerned that the writer is choosing to build out tension with a scene that isn’t necessary for the story; this reads like content that is being used to build out the world, instead of build out the actual plot or tension arc that is necessary to capture the minds of readers. World-building details in the first 50 pages should be totally minimal, and included only where essential, on the most part; the focus needs to be on sparking to life an interest in the character, an attachment to that character, in context of some kind of tension felt or shown, be that caused by things interior or exterior.

Be thinking about plot and pacing, especially with regards to scene structure--the way that you begin, move through, and end individual scenes: https://bit.ly/2x38n55. A huge part of the journey to publication, as well as career-building, requires a constant perfection of one's craft. Also be thinking about the compactness of your query and your pages: https://bit.ly/2QnD4u4


Kelly Peterson: PAGES: I love this concept! With more clarity in the query and an editing round to make sure you’re SHOWING and not telling, I’d definitely be open to looking at some pages! When you’re ready, feel free to send your query, synopsis, and first 15 pages to me at http://queryme.online/kellypeterson/requested
Saritza Hernandez: PASS 
Weronika Janczuk: PASS 

1 comment:

Alice said...

Thank you for all your comments. I will take them to heart and rework this and send the requested pages to Kelly!