Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1270 and slightly more recently in this Feedback Request has submitted a new revision, and craves your opinion.

When sixteen year old Skye Bryar is kidnapped and taken to an island in the middle-of-nowhere by her new classmate named Holt, she is relieved to discover that she isn’t crazy after all. [No need to hyphenate middle of nowhere. However, sixteen-year-old should have hyphens.] She has always believed that her emotions were controlling the weather, and now she knows the truth. She is part of another type of people, the Naturae, who can control the pure elements of earth, air, fire or water. [No need to tell us the Naturae are another type of people. We can figure that out from their element controlling power. Perhaps: She is one of the Naturae, a race of people who...] And their ruler, Mother Nature, is her birth mother, giving Skye immense power over all four elements. 

[I'm not crazy about the first sentence, as it suggests that being kidnapped is what tells her she isn't crazy. I've been kidnapped by the new kid and taken to a strange island; apparently I'm not crazy after all. Try: 

Sixteen-year-old Skye Bryar always thought she must be crazy, what with believing her emotions were controlling the weather. But then her new classmate Holt takes her to an island inhabited by the Naturae, a race of people who can control the pure elements: earth, air, fire and water. And it turns out their ruler, Mother Nature, is Skye's birth mother.]

Skye has grown up hidden in the human world from Mother Nature’s enemies, the Avarice, who have wanted to kill Skye since the day she was born. They know that she is the key to a dark revolution. The humans are killing the Earth, and with the help of her daughter, Mother Nature plans to put an end to the devastation of her planet for once and for all. The spilling of Skye’s blood as the moon rises on her fast-approaching 17th birthday will allow Mother Nature to harness her daughter’s powers and release a virus to kill all those with human-only DNA. Unaware of Mother Nature’s sinister plans, Skye settles into her new life on the island, learning how to control her powers, determining who she can trust, and struggling to understand why Holt keeps her at a distance despite their strong chemistry. And while she is enthralled by the magic around her, she is torn between this new world and the family she left behind. But when Skye discovers what Mother Nature has in store for humanity, she is faced with a horrific choice. Kill her own mother to save the humans, or help her mother save the Earth, and the Naturae, by extinguishing the human race. Or will the Avarice get to her before she even has a chance to choose sides?

[I don't see the Avarice as important to the query. The Avarice are doing what Mother Nature wants to do, namely killing off humanity. They're just doing it more slowly. A query doesn't need two villains, and Mother Nature is the one who needs to be stopped first. It's also not clear how Skye is the key to a dark revolution. If Avarice wants a dark revolution, and Skye is the key to one, why do they want to kill her? We don't know what a dark revolution is, anyway. I'd cut this paragraph down to:

Skye has grown up in the human world, hidden from Mother Nature’s enemies. But now Mom needs her. Humans are killing the Earth, and with the help of her daughter, Mother Nature can put an end to the devastation once and for all. The spilling of Skye’s blood as the moon rises on her fast-approaching 17th birthday will let Mother Nature harness her daughter’s powers and release a virus to kill all humans. 

Unaware of her mother’s sinister plans, Skye settles into her new life on the island, learning to control her powers and wondering why Holt keeps her at a distance despite their strong chemistry. Though she is enthralled by the magic around her, she misses the family she left behind. And when Skye discovers what Mother Nature has in store for humanity, she is faced with a horrific choice. Kill her own mother to save the humans, or help her mother save the Earth, and the Naturae, by extinguishing the human race.]

Are those the only options? Wipe out 7.3 billion people or kill this one person I met a month ago? Can't she come up with a virus that kills only those humans who refuse to recycle?

The other advantage of leaving the Avarice out of the query is that it's such a horrible name for the bad guys, an agent would toss the query on that basis alone.


InkAndPixelClub said...

Specific details are always going to be more interesting than vagueness. Those details are what's going to make the editor or agent want to read your story over any other paranormal YA manuscript on her or his desk. For example:

"She has always believed that her emotions were controlling the weather..." Potentially interesting idea, but it's hard to tell what the execution looks like.

"She had noticed how the rain fell when she was sad, the thunder rolled in with her anger, and hot days accompanied her feelings of jealousy, all far too often to be a coincidence." Now we've got some specific imagery that lets us know what Skye's weather controlling the emotions looks like and what kind of imagery we can expect in the book

I'd go in for some similar specifics about what powers Skye is learning to control, the nature of her chemistry with Holt and how he's keeping his distance, and what people make up Skye's family back home.

As much as possible, stick with Skye's point of view. The whole section about the Avarice and Mother Nature's plan takes me away from Skye just as I'm getting to know her and feel invested in her situation. I'd save the reveal of Mother Nature's plan for later, when Skye finds out about it. For the purposes of the query, it might be better just to say that Mother Nature plans to use Skye to kill all the humans. The fact that she might sacrifice Skye in the process tips the scales too far away from Skye ever siding with Mother Nature. At the very least, we don't need to know all the specifics of the virus creating ritual.

You've dumped Mother Nature's illness from the query and I've never been clear about how the Naturae are at risk from humans destroying the Earth. If this is going to seem like a difficult choice, we need to be clear on the stakes, particularly for Holt if he' she one Skye is closest to.

I'll say this one more time and if it' still in the next draft, I'll drop it: PLEASE change the name of the Avarice. Unless you have passages where the characters talk about the name in particular, like discussing its meaning, it should be a simple "find/replace” operation. Metaphor needs to stand on its own legs and be a convincing story even if you don't understand the metaphor. A group of people giving themselves a name that literally means "greed" is not plausible and is likely to elicit eyerolls from more than a few readers. Also, EE is right: they come off as a superfluous outside threat in this draft. Plus it still doesn't make sense that Mother Nature would leave her child in the outside world, where the Avarice are, instead of bringing her to the secret island where they aren't.

Anonymous said...

I think you needed to embrace the evil in your story, and you've done it in this version -- to the point that I'd recommend yet another name change, this one for "Mother Nature." Call her something like Maleficent or Lilith or Eva Braun and explain that while we imagine her as maternal, she doesn't regard us -- or anyone, including her real daughter -- with a mother's fondness. As one of those Fake Plots said, "red in tooth and claw." Just an idea, although you could also work with the irony of someone named "Mother Nature" being genocidal.

But that does leave us with this huge problem:

Wipe out 7.3 billion people or kill this one person I met a month ago? (and who presumably wants to kill Skye as well? -- or will spilling Skye's blood by the light of the moon merely make her faint?)

C'mon, the choice is blazingly obvious. Does Skye actually agonize over it? What does she decide? And how will the birdies and fishies survive without Mother Nature if Skye decides to take her out? Or is there yet another option -- can Skye moot the whole awful decision by making herself scarce on her 17th birthday?

Mr Baskerville said...

If Avarice remains in the query, can you add some specific details about them? Have they infiltrated Mother Nature's secret island base, forcing her to hide her daughter in the human world? Are Avarice also in the human world?

Who is Skye's main antagonist: Mother Nature or Avarice?

IMHO said...

" ...will allow Mother Nature to harness her daughter’s powers and release a virus to kill all those with human-only DNA."

This is a problem for me. The book is described as paranormal, and your readers will expect a paranormal revenge, something more magical than a super-bad influenza. Conversely, if you are trying to include a sci-fi element, you'll need to explain (in the book, not necessarily in the query, though if I were an agent reading this I'd wonder) how the virus (a) avoids killing chimps and bonobos, whose DNA is +99.5% identical to humans, while (b) achieving 100% lethality on humans -- even though human DNA varies among individuals. Wouldn't Skye's blood release a magical remedy? Turn all humans into mushrooms, or earthworms, or bacteria capable of degrading plastic shopping bags?

Anonymous said...

I'm with the above anon in that this makes it sound as if Mother Nature needs a name change. Too much mental baggage with the original, too limited of powers with yours. (maybe if it's more of a title?)

person/species specific tailored viruses have been around for a long time in the sci-fi world. Even if the virus really does manage to target only humans at first, I hope you've got a plan for preventing it from mutating and killing the apes, the monkeys, the shrews, the lemurs, and slowly working its way back to killing everything else on the planet (viruses are scary that way).

Also, like it or not, humans are a part of nature (bad-guy logic isn't always logical, but if they're 'good' bad guys, they could at least be making an effort to be 'good'). It might make more sense to make humans humans incapable of mass-destruction by wiping out their tool-using ability, or their intellect, or something instead of straight-up genocide.

The set-up still doesn't make sense. Why abandoned? Why then brought back and trained? If all they need her for is blood/life on her 17 birthday, it'd be more convenient for them to kidnap her say a week before (to give a bit of padding timewise), and then lock her up until they need her. If they shorten the time and kidnap her the day before, they wouldn't even need to worry about feeding her. She's obviously not important enough to have kept around originally, why has any of that changed? This needs to make sense in the story (and not be a question in the query). If these are currently plot holes, fix them.

You may have missed the advice before, but give yourself TIME. Think through your story. If it helps, make a list.
*What makes your story unique/unusual/different? What sets it apart from all the other books on the shelves (if it's the MESSAGE, try again)
*Why would someone want to read your story? (hint: preaching only works to the choir, why would an unbeliever want to read it?).
*In what way would someone connect to the MC?
*What is the plot? What are the consequences/rewards of the plot (for all parties)?
These are the basic things that need to be present in the query in as succinct and interesting a way as possible. Make every word count (If it helps, think of it as being forced to give $20 to a strip-mining operation for every word you use).

Tk said...

I thought this revision was much better. You did a good job adding specifics which makes the story much more interesting (even if it also allowed all the scientists among us to pounce!) Don't get discouraged and keep at it, each draft has been an improvement.

AA said...

I also am confused by the two villains. I don't get how it works.

If you kill humanity, nature probably survives. If you kill Mother Nature herself, doesn't this wipe out nature? And nobody survives. So that, arguably, is not even doable.
And Avarice are killing humanity by destroying nature, since we are interconnected.
I can maybe see it if the two groups are sometimes at odds and sometimes working together. That would make Avarice more of a shadowy, mysterious group than a group of "bad guys."

Anonymous brings up a good point, which is: Why bring Skye back and allow her time to learn about her powers if she's just going to be a blood sacrifice? Perhaps Mother Nature wanted to meet her daughter and is trying to think of any way possible not to have to sacrifice her. That would make for a more complex character.

I kind of like the idea of a virus that devolves humans rather than killing them. It's creative.

Think it through. Why does each character do what he does? What is he trying to gain, accomplish, fix or create?

Naturae Author said...

Thanks again for all your help. I will go into more detail and try to leave no questions unanswered. I swear there are not plot holes in the story the way there are in the query!

The only thing I dont understand is, well, alot of what I've read about queries says it is supposed to read kind of like the blurb on a book jacket. But those blurbs are always so vague. They dont give much detail or really anything at all away. That's why my original query for example left alot to be questioned. So just to clarify, this advice that I've read about is wrong? Because most book jackets are something like "There's a boy and a girl in a magical town and they must band together to fight the bad guys or else..." you know what I mean?

On a side note, the Avarice (whos name I will change, don't worry... although it is all explained in the novel how the name came about) are more of a sub plot. But they are also the reason that Skye grows up with humans. So I can't really leave them out, because I have to explain why she didn't grow up on the island, right?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Just try to tell us the story as simply and directly as you possibly can.

Short, simple, direct sentences. Say exactly what you mean.

Evil Editor said...

People read what's on the book jacket before they read the book. Most of them don't want to have the whole story spoiled for them, which is why those descriptions are vague. People don't read your query letter, as that's between you and your agent or editor, so there's no harm in providing specific information. Unless you're writing to someone who specifically asks for a query letter that sounds like back cover copy, don't send back cover copy.

I believe I managed to redo your query without mentioning Avarice. Why is it so hard for you? If the query is focused on Skye, and Skye knew nothing about Naturae or Mother Nature, then I assume she also knew nothing about Avarice or how she came to be living among humans. All she knows is that she was suddenly whisked away to the island, and that's all you have to say to set up her situation.

alaskaRavenclaw said...

There's a lot of writing advice out there on the internet that is being generously proferred by the deeply clueless. This includes the advice to sound like a book jacket and the advice to start with a log-line.

InkAndPixelClub said...

A reader picks up your book and reads the jacket copy with the assumption that you have satisfied the basic requirements for a story, as your book has been published. She or he just wants to know enough to get an idea of what the book is about and whether she or he might like it.

An editor or agent is making no such assumptions about your book. She or he has probably seen any number of manuscripts that fall down on the job with plot, characters, quality, or any number of other elements. Editors and agents want to know that you have more than just a good idea. If you do not demonstrate that you have interesting and believable characters and an exciting and coherent plot, they will assume that you do not. They don't care about spoilers, so you can reveal most of the book and leave the conclusion as the unknown thing to entice them to read the whole thing.

Book jacket copy can be a good place to start looking when you need ideas for how to approach your query. It does have the same basic job as a query: to make the reader want to read the who,e story. But you have to recognize that the needs of editors and agents are different from those of the average reader and tailor your query to those needs.