Tuesday, October 19, 2021

October 2021 Pass or Pages Entry #2


It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Kaitlyn Johnson, Hilary Harwell, Michelle Hauck, Beth Marshea, Carlisle Webber, Cortney Radocaj, for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!

Entry 2: Dance of Ice and Steel

Genre: Fantasy



Seventeen-year-old[BM1] Sophia Altus is resolute: she must find her mother’s murderer and kill them. No one harms her family and lives[KJ1][CR1].

Sophia is an Elementale with control[MH1] over ice[CW1]. Her extensive training to defend the mortal world against hellbeasts[CR2] means she’s well-versed in the art of killing anyway[CM2][CW2]. In fact, it might be the thing she’s best at. Except she couldn’t even dispatch that godforsaken creature before it tore through her mother. The designated Stupidest Thing on Earth[CR3][CW3] shouldn’t have been able to get into the palace in the first place, much less kill the Queen[CR4]. Which means there’s an Elementale involved and oh[CW4] would Sophia like to get her hands on them[KJ2][BM3][CW5].

She only plans to ask two things when she does: why, and how would you like to die[CR5]?

Except when she finds him, she almost wishes she hadn’t[CR6]. Because finding him means learning that her mother’s death was just a means to an end. That end is her - the last key in his seriously deranged plan to destroy the mortal world[CW6]. Finding him means discovering that some monstrous part of her is intertwined with him[BM4].

Sophia must decide between surrendering herself to his plan and setting the end of the world in motion or refusing and signing the death warrant on everyone she loves – both her old family and the new one she’s found along the way[KJ3][CR7][BM5][MH2][CW7].

DANCE OF ICE AND STEEL[BM6] (95,000 words) is a fantasy[KJ4] novel for fans of Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education and Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns who will enjoy similar fantasy elements and a strong female protagonist[CW8].

I am currently pursuing a degree in creative writing in New York. This will be my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ1]This feels like a very sudden, jarring decision before we know anything about who she is/what her life is like/what the world is like. Perhaps start first with how she is an Elementale well-versed in the art of killing, a skill she intends to utilize to the fullest extent once she locates her mother's killer.
[KJ2] This is feeding the reader too much. We want to start with who she is, opening situation, and then the conflict that gives her a goal and what stands in her way. I feel this would be stronger starting with her being an Elementale, intent on killing her mother's murderer, only to discover betrayal from her own people and what she must now do about it.
[KJ3] This is still too vague. It feels like the author is attempting not to "spoil" things but we need more concrete details to understand what she's a part of and why she has to make this decision.
[KJ4] Be sure to state it is YA.

Hilary's comments: None

Michelle's comments:
[MH1] With fantasy there’s a lot of competition. You really need to focus on what is unique about your story. I don’t see a lot of elementals involved with ice specifically. Maybe showcase more detail on the ice aspect. That sounds full of potential!
[MH2] I feel the details aren’t specific enough on the stakes and also so on this opponent she’s facing. A name and more about him might help. Also why he needs Sophia to destroy the mortal world isn’t clear. There’s not really a mention of her new family until the last line, and I’m unsure of a character arc for Sophia. How does she change? That’s a lot to get in a query, but maybe hints of her arc.

Beth's comments:
[BM1] I’m immediately assuming this is YA Fantasy with a seventeen-year-old protagonist. Make sure you label your genre to reflect that.
[BM2] Delete this word
[BM3] Try to simplify the highlights of the story rather than recreate it. The gist is that Sophia failed to protect her mother from a murder plot and now she’s seeking revenge, the mechanics of how that happened are less important. Right now this is a little too confusing. 
[BM4] Again, this could be simplified. She learns that killing her mother was only a means to get to her. 
[BM5] I don’t believe in these stakes. If his plan is ultimately to destroy the world, wouldn’t her family die anyway and I didn’t realize that she’d found any new family.
[BM6] I know fantasy titles have a tendency to get a little repetitive, but offhand the formula of “X of Y and Z” is way overdone. 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW1] Since you are setting up a world with your own terms and rules, you should explain what those are as soon as you mention them. The agent has no way of knowing what they mean otherwise, or how your main character’s world works.
[CW2] Delete "anyway".
[CW3] Is this an official label?
[CW4] Delete "oh".
[CW5] Words like “oh” and “anyway” make the book feel much less serious than a murder plot is. 
[CW6] What does this mean?
[CW7] I am not clear on how the end of the world wouldn’t mean her own death as well.
[CW8] Italics and delete.

Cortney's comments:
[CR1] This sentence can be cut—it’s not adding anything. The resolution to find her mother’s murderer and kill them herself is enough to tell us she’d feel this way.
[CR2] Why has she been trained? My assumption is there’s another world aside from the mortal one—are we talking another planet? Another dimension? Or do they live in the same physical space and you’re using “world” more metaphorically? Why would Elementales care to protect mortals?
[CR3] This phrase is confusing—are you referring to the hellbeast?
[CR4] So Sophia is a princess? Up until this point I’d figured Sophia was a cog in the machine, a soldier—not intimately involved with royalty. It changes the scope of this project, and this layer of political tension isn’t touched on at all anywhere else.
[CR5] This needs to be cut; same as above, it’s not adding anything new to the pitch.
[CR6] This is a solid turn for the query; good choice!
[CR7] This all is a little too vague—one of the rare instances where I feel like the internal motivations and conflicts are solid while the external/plot isn’t (often, it’s the opposite, or neither is present). And especially for SFF, you have to have a balance of both; I have way more questions about what’s going on here than I should, and I’m left more frustrated than intrigued at the end of this query. I don’t have a solid grasp of the actual stakes here—why is she the key to the antagonist’s plans? Why does choosing not to help him endanger her friends/family? Why does he want to destroy the world in the first place? Based solely on this query, I have a hard time making sense of what the actual plot conflict and external motivations are, and it’s vague enough that I’d have a hard time picturing how to sell this and make it stand out from other fantasies.

First 250 Words

Sophia danced among the clang of swords and the glint of daggers, cornsilk-blonde hair[BM7] flying around her like a pale halo. She was holding a baselard sword in each hand, the silver of the short blade flashing as she whirled and parried a strike with one sword, the other slashing up[CW9].

“Ow!” she[KJ5] heard a yell and drew back to see Samantha rubbing her arm ruefully, glaring at Sophia. “That hurt,” she said, accusing accused [BM8].

Sophia sighed, letting her swords drop and looked at her friend. “It’s a training blade, Sam. And you’re wearing a combat suit.” It was partly true. Samantha only wore the combat top, the traditional Elementale gear out of sorts with her plain leggings[MH3][CW10].

They were in one of the Ice Palace’s training rooms, a place that was quickly becoming Sophia’s second home. It smelled the way it always did[BM9]: a little musty, the air mixed with the metallic scent of weapons and the salty[KJ6] tinge of sweat. The walls were clear, made of glass and ice. Beyond, Sophia could make out the entire skyline of Velçare, capital city of the Ice Kingdom. And beyond that, Asteri.

The Elementale world, consisting of seven kingdoms representing the elements[CW11], was as familiar to Sophia as the back of her hand (not that she spent too much time staring at the back of her hand)[CW12]. She was an Ice Elementale, born and raised in the Ice Palace. Her mother was the Ice Queen, Bayleigh Altus[KJ7][CR8][BM10][MH4][CW13].


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ5] Falling into passive voice. She is lost in the sounds of sparring, immersed in a skill that demands focus. Then a shout rings out and her partner glares at her accusingly, rubbing her arm.
[KJ6] Telling language. Instead of saying "it smelled of this" get more internal with the character. Have us experience the smells/sensations through her, not in a distant way.
[KJ7] Careful here. It's feeling like we're falling into an info dump instead of focusing on the current scene.

Hilary's comments: Overall here the query lacked the kind of clarity I look for when reviewing projects. I had a hard time sussing out the central plot of the story and felt things jumped around a little too much. You have great comp titles, but ultimately I didn’t fall in love with the writing.
Michelle's comments:
[MH3] I do see a lot of openings that involve sparring as a way to start with action but avoid a deadly encounter. It is smart to avoid deadly action scenes as an opener when the reader hasn’t had time to care about the characters yet. However, this scene needs more of a hook.
[MH4] The last two paragraphs have too much backstory too soon. We don’t really need to know these details about the world yet. Not during their sparring match. I do think that is great information to bring in a little later. I pass on this entry as I’m not really hooked at this point.  

Beth's comments:
[BM7] Perhaps other agents feel differently, but this turns me off immediately. It’s a clichĂ©. 
[BM8] Make this change.
[BM9] Why is it important to call out that it always smelled this way?
[BM10] Epic Fantasy, in my opinion is one of the hardest genres to really do well. It’s difficult to world build in a way that is not an info dump, but still provides the reader with the information they need. I think this one needs more polish and perhaps a bit more focus on the core of the story.

Carlisle's comments:
[CW9] I notice in this opening that almost every noun has an adjective. This makes the writing feel very labored and slow. Where else can some of these descriptors go? 
[CW10] What is Elementale gear and why doesn’t it fit with the leggings? More explanation is needed here.
[CW11] What elements are these?
[CS12] Asides like this make it feel like the narrative is stepping in and explaining things to the reader, instead of letting the reader into the world organically.  
[CW13] Taking a step back to explain how the world works takes the reader’s eyes off the main character. It may be better to wait on this until after the reader knows Sophia a little better.  

Cortney's comments:
[CR8]The voice here is solid, but there are a couple things that are putting me off. First, opening with a training/sparring scene in fantasy is very, very common; it’s not lessening the feeling I had after reading the query, of not being shown what’s unique about this book among the rest of the fantasy market. Second, this last paragraph or so is very information dumpy; this is information that can be woven throughout the first chapter, even the first couple chapters. As is, it feels very tacked on and out of place. This is a pass for me, unfortunately; I think with some revisions the query could sit a lot more solidly and uniquely, and same for the pages, but as is I’m having a hard time grabbing onto something that intrigues me.

Results:  [If you receive a "Pages!", click on the agent's name here or at the top of this post for submission instructions.]

Kaitlyn: Pass
Hilary: Pass
Michelle: Pass
Beth: Pass
Carlisle: Pass
Cortney: Pass


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