Friday, May 26, 2017

Pitchwars Early Bird Critique 15 - QUERY - YA Fantasy

When I read a query, or query blurb of a story, I'm looking for five major elements communicated crisply, quickly, and clearly:

Who is the book about, where are they (and when, if applicable)? What does the protagonist want? What's the conflict, and who or what is the antagonistic force? And for your final hook, what specific obstacle will potentially stop the protagonist from achieving their goal? And what's at stake if they fail?

If a query can outline that in under 250 words, it's a winner.  So let's take a look at this query and see how it stacks up:


After sixteen-year-old Izzy Ruiz alcoholic mother kicks her out and leaves her homeless, she wants nothing more than to feel at home, safe. She has no idea that her new, invitation-only boarding school on the coast of New England is exclusively for half-elfs and fairies.

Great opener. Unfortunately, you have a typo in the very first sentence (you’re missing the ‘s in “Izzy Ruiz’s alcoholic mother”), which may work against you. Most agents understand we’re all prone to mistakes. But a mistake that early on will give them pause—if you can’t proofread a one page letter, can they expect a much greater issue in a 90k manuscript? Don’t give them a reason to pause in the read and question you. Or fall on the side of rejection if they’re wavering.

When the broad-shouldered elf named Drake approaches Izzy, their magnetism throws her off-balance. They soon discover in archery, after multiplying one arrow into seven, that they have a joint power, called Share. This power amplifies their gifts. But the Share puts them both in danger of losing their lives, when the emergence of their power draws Adima attention.

First off, “off balance” feels like . . . not enough. Use a descriptor that engages our emotion—is she drawn to him romantically, sexually, magically? Whatever word you use, make sure it gives the fullest impression of how this magnetism works.

Secondly, we’ve got a small info dump here, so work backwards: Share only the information that’s needed to understand the story, then frame it in plot/character intrigue.

In this case, it’s only important for Drake and Izzy to learn that they have a joint power called Share. Instead of describing the specifics of arrows and so forth, frame it in their magnetism. Show them being drawn to each other, then just state that that connection leads to them learning they have Share, which puts them at risk of losing their lives.

And again, rather than that risk being a factual statement (drawing the attention of Adima—who we have no connection with), either state that it draws the attention of X person who can do X to them, or (better) give us the scenario that causes the attention to be drawn and show us the consequences.
I.e. Izzy and Drake, unable to keep their hands off each other, have been secretly meeting in the woods to Share. But when their kiss sparks fireworks right outside the shop of Adima, the local villain-for-hire, it could cost them their lives . . . (I know this isn’t how your story works, I’m just trying to show you the structure)

Adima, the last elf known to possess Share, lost her power during her people’s migration back to the elf’s home realm. When her twin decides to stay with his pregnant wife, breaking all ties, he is killed. Sister is convinced all half-humans are to blame for her the death of her brother and the weaning of her powers.

This is all backstory, and isn’t needed in a query. It breaks your flow and tells an entirely different story. Stay on Izzy and Drake. To describe a threat, you only need to show that it’s a threat.

While I don’t think the previous paragraph ends ideally either, I’ll use it to demonstrate what information is needed about Adima:

“…But the Share puts them both in danger of losing their lives, when the emergence of their power draws the attention of Adima, a powerful witch, hell-bent on destroying every half-human in existence.”

Do you see what I mean?

Sister is hell bent on destroying all of the half-humans in return. Students have already disappeared and professors are on edge as all the students’ lives are at risk. Izzy and Drake’s power is the only thing that can stop Adima and save the missing student.

Unfortunately, this misses the boat. The intrigue of students disappearing and professors on edge should be earlier in the query—as world-building. Izzy and Drake’s “power” needs to be specific—not in title, but in what it can achieve.
What you want here is conflict, definition of success, and what’s a stake in the event of failure: “Izzy (and Drake?) must do X to achieve Y, or Z will happen.” i.e. “Izzy and Drake must Share enough sever to Adima from the source forever—a spell that has never been successfully cast by a student of magic. But if they fail, Adima will absorb their combined power and use it to kill. First Izzy and Drake—then every other student at (their school).”

Completed at 90,000 words, [TITLE] is a YA fantasy action romance.
Thank you for your time.



While I’ve given you a lot of correction here, I can see that all the right elements of a really, really good story are here. I’m not usually a fantasy reader, but I found myself wanting to check out your pages and see how this all comes together. I hope (because it’s what I like to read) that Drake and Izzy’s power draws them together romantically, as well as magically. And that there’s the added tension of them losing their relationship through this awful conflict, as well as their lives—and their concern for each other’s lives.

But that’s a totally subjective comment. What I’m trying to say is, even though I’ve told you to cut and change a lot, I know that you wouldn’t have the information you’ve got if there wasn’t a story worth telling behind this summary.

So please don’t be discouraged! Rework your query to give your pages the best chance of being read by a professional, but don’t take this critique as a signal the story doesn’t work. Writing blurbs is a very different skill to weaving 90,000 word stories. I have a hunch you’ve got what it takes.

Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Great comments!! Thanks for posting; it's really interesting to see queries broken down like this. :)