First Light query. YA Fantasy

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androidblues
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Re: First Light query. YA Fantasy

Post by androidblues » October 9th, 2010, 8:12 pm

I'm just going to say it now before I chicken out. I'm feeling more sympThy for the villain and I'm not feeling anything for the protagonist. I'm weird like that but I wish you'd give me a reason to sympathyize with her and not the villain. Also the names are hard to tell apart with all of them starting with the letter a. Perhaps you should just spell them Asheley, Erik, and Alexis because it would make keeping track of them a lot easier, besides with them going to high school they seem human and I have never heard of those names spelled that way. They're kinda tripping me up. Also, what are the stakes? What is the conflict, or plot for that matter? You've sort of strung a few things together and made an odd summary. Sorry if I sound harsh. You have improved with each new query.
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Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

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androidblues
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Re: First Light query. YA Fantasy

Post by androidblues » October 9th, 2010, 8:14 pm

Sorry for the errors, typing on an iPhone is hard
http://www.thebooklantern.com

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

I never want to hear the screams of the teenage girls in other people's dreams.

In the real word as in dreams, nothing is quite what it seems.

lachrymal
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Re: First Light query. YA Fantasy

Post by lachrymal » October 10th, 2010, 8:03 am

If not remembering your past is bad then Ashalei Callister’s life is about to become hell.
I see some people have thought this is catchy--I think it's problematic. It leads to an expectation that "not remember [her] past" is what the book is about, but apart from the second and third sentence, it seems to have nothing much to do with the plot. It feels more like a bait and switch. In addition, the way it's worded, it sounds like she can remember her past, and she's "about to" forget it. Again, it leads me to think the story is about how she forgets her past, but then it turns out she's already forgotten it. For those two reasons, I think you're setting yourself (and an agent) up to be confused. If you were to make this work, you'd have to come back to why losing and recovering her memory is so important--but you don't.
Confused about flashbacks she’s been getting that seem like memories, but are from another era; where girls wore corsets and long gowns with their hair done up magnificently. She remembers fighting, of loving somebody and hoping to be married, and dying.
These sentences are awkward in their construction--watch out for unnecessary words. And flashbacks ARE memories, by definition. So you could just say "she's plagued with flashbacks from another life, long since past." Or something like that. Because you don't return to why these flashbacks are so important, I want to suggest you cut all this description--it takes up a lot of space and doesn't seem to be significant at all.
She soon meets Airik, who tells her she can control the element fire. She also learns the world is about to be attacked by the Shadowed, a group of people who have been injected with large doses of spirit energy until it destroyed them and they became evil.
I almost wish you would start your query here, because the switch from talking about flashbacks to this is jarring, and this seems to be where the story starts. In this query right now, Airik's name is mentioned twice, and he seems to be a guy she meets who gives her a key--is he important to the plot apart from conveying information? Is he one of the other three teens?

Also, Ashalei seems quite passive in general in this query--she's confused by flashbacks, she's presented with something and she's led somewhere, she learns some stuff, and she meets some people. Does she do anything? What type of person is she? I agree with a previous poster that it's difficult to develop sympathy for her because I have absolutely no sense of her apart from being someone a lot of things happen to. I am 100% sure that is not the case in your book--but you have to find a way to show that in the query.
Airik presents Ashalei with a key to draw out her powers. She is then led to three other teens that ["teens" are people, and should not be referred to as "that"--the word here should be "who"] join her in her battle to destroy the Shadowed, (a group lead Aexciea [I think you're missing a word or two here], who was mistaken for a human at birth and given away. Living her life in an abusive home she watched as her twin sister, who could control an element, grew [grow] up around peers and family that [again, this should be "who", as you're talking about people] cherished her).
I think you can delete all the backstory about Aexciea. It's a huge digression--but in it, again, you actually give us more information about the antagonist in this story--so much more than the protagonist. In the query, you just want to entice, not reveal the entire life story or motivation--you can just say something like "a group led by Aexcia, an enigmatic girl who knows more about Ashalei's past than she herself does." I'm sure you can come up with better, but giving us too much about the villian drags your query down.

Together the four teens are also [delete this word--unnecessary] able to control the most powerful elements [colon here] Water, Wind, Fire and Earth. The rule that comes with these powers, nobody can know you have them. [/color]

You have a switch to second person here. This seems like it should have come earlier, right after you mentioned that they must battle to destroy the Shadowed who are attacking Earth. I would assume that situation is pretty urgent, but from the rest of your query, it doesn't seem so.
If somebody finds out [comma here] the punishment is death.
this is interesting--who's doing the punishment? It seems like you're trying to cram in these rules here. Is there any way you can work them into your mini-narrative for the query? "The four teens must wield their elemental powers in secret--under penalty of death."
So while trying to balance high school, university deadlines, budding romances, getting ready for prom and saving the world, Ashalei learns more and more about Aexciea, and why she wants to eliminate Ashalei’s kind.
This final sentence should give a sense of what's at stake and what the major conflict is, but seems mostly focused on how your character has to learn something. It deflates the sense of urgency. You're basically saying "Ashalei has a lot to do, and in the midst of that, she learns some more stuff." Well--what happens if she doesn't? Is that knowledge crucial to something?
I am seeking representation for my young adult fantasy novel, First Light, complete at approximately 51 000 words. Thank you for your time and careful consideration on behalf of my manuscript.
I suggest you just say "Thank you for your time and consideration." The "on behalf of my ms" part is awkward.


OK, Rebecca--I know these comments might seem harsh. They are not--in any way--intended to be mean. However, I think this query needs a pretty significant structural overhaul rather than some cosmetic changes. I suggest you start from scratch and try to lay out the bones of the story in just a few sentences, and then you can flesh it out with voice (which this query lacks). Believe me, I know query-writing is difficult. It's worth it to slave over it until it's just right--until it does your story justice. Keep at it!

SarahB
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Re: First Light query {revison 4}. YA Fantasy

Post by SarahB » October 12th, 2010, 2:09 am

I agree with Lachrymal, I think... it'd be best for you to try starting over and see where that takes you.

Here's a sample-thing I whipped up. A lot of the details are made up, obviously, and it's nowhere near perfect. I'll explain some of the choices I made at the end.

Dear [agent],

Ashley Callister has never fought a war against anything worse than a stack of college applications. But strange memories of horses, swords, and burning cities say otherwise. After a particularly vivid flashback strikes in the middle of a biology test, Ashley resolves to find out the truth about her past life, hoping she can lay the memories to rest. Her quest leads her to Eric, who says he has her answers. Then again, he also claims to be an exiled nobleman from the hidden kingdom of Reitanea, so he might be as crazy as Ashley fears she is. And even if he's telling the truth, he doesn't want to lay anything to rest. He wants to wake her up.

Reitanea is in danger. A vengeful magician calling herself Tisiphone has called up a horde of lost souls known only as the Lightless, which will soon attack the kingdom and destroy the only thing keeping it safe -- its secrecy. Eric tells Ashley that her latent power -- control over fire -- could help drive the Lightless back before it's too late. He offers her a key that he says will unseal her powers. Only half-believing that it will even work, Ashley accepts.

She quickly learns why flames are a metaphor for hell. As she struggles to master her new element, her grades spiral downward, and she even sets her crush's T-shirt on fire. But as the Lightless advance and she bonds with more magicians who call Reitanea home, Ashley knows she can't back out. In her past life, she died fighting. Now she'll have to not only survive, but also salvage what's left of her ordinary life.

FIRST LIGHT, a young adult fantasy novel, is complete at 51,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

-------------------------

Some notes:

1) There is a specific inciting incident, and from that point onward, one event leads naturally (I hope) to the next.

2) Names. Your characters' names all start with the same letter and they're hard to pronounce. If this story takes place in our world, the characters should have normal names. (I couldn't get anything pronounceable from "Aexciea," so I named her after one of the Furies.)

3) Originality. "Shadowed," spirit energy, magic based on the four elements... I've seen these things before. You want your query to seem fresh and different. (You also want your novel to be fresh and different, but we're not talking about that here.) Even the query above doesn't really capture what sets this story apart from all the other "teenager with powers has to save the world" stories out there... because, of course, that's a question only you can answer.

4) Showing, not telling. Details like the biology test and Ashley's crush show that she cares about her normal life, and she's not going to just abandon it to traipse off into adventure.

5) Agency. Your main character should do things, and that should be reflected in the query letter.

6) Mechanics. You need to pay very careful attention to grammar. If you're sloppy in your query, agents will assume that you're sloppy in the novel as well.

7) Two short sentences at the end. That's all you need.

To be perfectly honest, I would find someone you trust to give an honest, unflinching critique, and get them to look at your novel. You may need to do another draft before you're ready to query, but that's okay -- it's all part of the writing process.

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