Monday, October 16, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: WILD ONES

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.


WILD ONES is a YA fantasy novel in the same vein as Legend of Korra and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Complete at 83,000 words, it features an #ownvoices protagonist who is queer and chronically ill. Normally I say to put this at the end of the query, b/c everyone has a title and word count. But I like your #OwnVoices angle so I would say this is an exception.

Ror flees the cracked earth and yellow grass of home, traveling to forbidden territories to hunt for food. But in the forest, Ror meets a monster, sunken within folds of strange, wrinkly skin, and hears more crashing through the forest. A hunting party, and she is the prey. Right now you're using your query more as a narrative, not as a query. It's reading like fiction, in other words, which is the wrong setup for a query.

Ror turns to run, but her body is wracked by a transformation. Limbs lengthen, knees bend backwards. Pale hands grow like bony spiders tethered to her arms.

She has become one of the monsters. She has become… human.

She’s brought to a city- an infestation of humans. Everyone seems to think she’s someone else, Why would they think this? Who do they think she is? and she’s imprisoned by the priests who control the city.

Humans are complicated, and their dark religion terrifies her. A few of them seem capable of kindness, but they all have their own agendas. As Ror struggles to escape, she discovers secrets that shatter her identity and threaten the priest’s iron grip on the populace. Ror must discover who she is, and decide whether to return to the forest, or stay and join the revolution. This is the first paragraph where you have it phrased the way a query should be, but it's coming way too late.

WILD ONES is told from three P.O.V. – Ror, the reluctantly human, Vega, a tech genius, and Leo, a young soldier invited to join a military coup against gods. So there are three POVs which I assume all get equal page time, but the entire focus of the query is only on one? That's not a good angle. 

WILD ONES is written as a stand alone, with the option of being the first of a trilogy.

This is the first novel to escape my “work in progress” drawer. I’m a member of multiple writing groups through SCBWI and attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in 2015. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m grilling my high school students for YA book recommendations.

Right now this query isn't working. We don't have a sense of why Ror was being hunted in the first place, what happened that made her turn human, why she would continue to be hunted as a human, why the priests would keep some humans prisoners but not others, what the secrets are that she discovers, what the revolution is, who is leading it and why, and we know virtually nothing about the other two POVs. Also, you say that it's #OwnVoices b/c of chronic pain and queerness, but there is nothing about pain or attraction in the query. 

My advice is to go back through some of the queries I've reviewed here on the blog using the #PitchWars tag and see how others have setup their queries. Look at them as a model and answer the questions I asked above, as well as get your other two POV's in there.

1st Page:

Ror looked at the cliff in front of her. You definitely need a better opening sentence, something that will get attention rather than show us something that could start just about any novel.        

"Remember that time mom found us right before we jumped from the high rock?" Orion asked, glancing over.

She was trying to avoid thinking about their parents. She and her brother had slipped off two days ago, claiming they were going hunting. They had barely stopped moving since. They ran away? Why? 

Orion nudged her. "Do you remember?"

Ror turned. "Grandfather said that broken bones heal stronger. We had this idea that if we broke all of our bones, we'd get super strength." I like this line.

Orion grinned. "So if we fall on the way down, let's just hope our theory was right." So they are at the top of the cliff, not the bottom? Opening line is ambiguous.

Ror squinted, trying to find a path. "Is this the stupidest thing we've ever done?"

"Your idea as usual."        

She paused to gaze at the ocean glittering beyond the isle. Then a few pebbles slid underneath her, and she half slipped, half ran down the mountain.

Her muscles sang with joy. For so many years she had silenced their cries of “Further! Faster!” At night when she slept her legs mimed freedom. Her body dreamed of wandering.

Now her muscles shouted, hoarse with happiness. She couldn’t quench her thirst to see what was just around the bend, just over the hill. It burned her to know she would eventually reach the edge of the isle. Maybe she could learn how to swim and continue forever, chasing the sun.

Overall not a bad opening, but you need a stronger first line and also to explain why they are out, away from home. And... judging by the query Ror is not a human at this time, right? You definitely need to get that out there. Readers are going to assume that your narrator is a human if you don't say otherwise.

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