Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pitch Wars #SaltyCrit - Query Mentor Critique

(If you're looking for it, you'll find my Pitch Wars bio and wishlist here)

A couple brave souls agreed to have the critiques they won from me last week posted on my blog. Let's give them a hand, shall we?

Here's a query from one of your co-hopefuls!

Seventeen-year-old, art obsessed Ros swears she’s hallucinating when an eccentric witness’s footage shows her beloved father as he’s yanked inside Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream. So, when Interpol comes knocking, asking questions about her missing art dealing father—the only family she ever had—her heart wrenches, and she refuses to tell the authorities about viewing the strange abduction, fearing they’ll lock her up.

Okay, so premise-wise, this sounds fantastic. But I have a big, big, big question: Why would she not just show the Police the footage? Since that would, at the very least, let them see that she's not hallucinating, but has this abduction belief based on something tangible. I fear we may have a significant problem here, but I'll keep reading to see if it applies.

One detail note which may/may not apply: There's actually four versions of Scream, only one of which is in the US. It would be worthwhile to identify if your protag is in a different country than the US.

On a field trip to the Louvre, she takes matters into her own hands, seizing the opportunity to poke around for unsettling shifts inside other paintings, willing to do anything to uncover a way to retrieve her father. 

So, she is in a different country than the US? You'll need to indicate that at the beginning. International settings are important to some agents, and add flavor, regardless. It's a plus. 

My question on this blurb point, however, is that if she's willing to do anything, why did she have to wait for a field trip? Why wasn't she actively pursuing access to the paintings? And none of the versions of Scream are at the Louvre, are they? So why would she go there? Why not go to wherever she saw her father be abducted? That would be the logical goal. 

When movement within the Mona Lisa catches her attention, she locks eyes with a guy about her age inside the painting holding a photo belonging to her father. The young man reaches out to her, and when they touch, she’s transported into the famous art piece. 

So, I love, love, love this idea of being transported into the paintings. In terms of a query however, you don't need to say "a guy about her age". You can just call him a guy, or a strange man, or whatever. I assume he's going to be a love interest (yay!) 

In terms of the actual writing, rather than "the young man reaches out to her", which is kind of distant and lengthy, I'd go simple and more tactile with something like "When the two touch, she's transported . . . " or something like that. Queries don't have to tell all the detail. We'll see in the book how that happens.

Ros asks him to guide her through a maze of masterpieces to save her missing father. 

Again, there's nothing wrong with this, but it lacks punch. Try something like "With NAME as her guide, Ros must navigate the maze of masterpieces in search of her father." (We already know he's missing.)

While exploring, she always finds herself one step behind a shadowy figure lurking within the labyrinth. She must survive and outwit his barrage of traps disguised in each painting, preventing Ros from escaping.

I think you've missed an opportunity here to give us a really clear picture of the conflict. Mainly because you're telling, rather than showing (which is sometimes necessary in a query, don't get me wrong). But in this case I think you'd really open this query up if you gave an actual example of the person and kind of things she has to outwit--especially if they're very imaginative, or compelling. My advice would be to provide the name or nature of the villain, then take the approach of, "But Ros is forced to endure ACTUAL OBSTACLE at the hands of NAME OF VILLAIN," or "The search becomes deadly when Ros is faced with ACTUAL EXAMPLE OF OBSTACLE," that sort of thing. Like, be specific. 

If she fails to rescue her father before her adversary ensnares her in his ultimate trap, she’ll become art herself, entombed like her father in a nightmarish still life, forever.

Again, all the right elements, and great stakes, but the phrasing lacks punch. Try something like "Then Ros learns that unless she can (do X), NAME-OF-VILLAIN will entomb Ros and her father forever in the nightmarish still life of the paintings." Or something along those lines. Like, give us a picture of the choice or obstacle she faces and what the stakes will be if she fails.

VANISHING POINT is a YA contemporary fantasy complete at 74,000 words and has series potential. It would appeal to those who are fans of Brenda Drake’s, Library Jumper series and Charlie Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series. I’m a member of SCBWI, a 2016 Nightmare on Query Street mentee, and have also attended LDSTORYMAKERS conference for the past four years.

Ah ha ha! I see what you did there! These are great notes under the circumstances, but be aware that agents will be less impressed by competition mentorships (except for Pitch Wars, of course, which has developed something of a reputation *Insert Winky Face*.) They'll like your comp titles and professional affiliations more.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I have a hunch that the writing behind this story is much stronger than the query. You definitely understand what the important elements of a story are, and where they need to be communicated here. So that's the hardest obstacle overcome.

Unfortunately, I know if agents read this they would have the same concerns I do that there might be issues with a passive protagonist, or passive writing. But your premise is great, so I suspect you'd get requests anyway. So you need to make sure your pages sing. And, if applicable, switch the focus of your query markers at the beginning so Ros sounds like she's pursuing her father's case, because the Police have dismissed her, rather than that she's waiting around to get somewhere where she might be able to look into it, and letting someone else call the shots. 

I believe if you actioned the notes I've offered here, it will combat that. But if you choose not to, maybe Google "passive versus active writing" and get a feel for what you can do to adjust your phrasing as it's currently written. That will help also.

Either way, good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Author of VANISHING POINT,

    I want to read your book. I need to read your book!

    Amelia (@AmeliaHworth)