Monday, September 21, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face Lift 1374 has submitted a revision and seeks your feedback.

Dear Mr. Evil Editor,

Ana is a monster. She doesn’t have claws, fangs, or even a tail-and that’s the problem. One by one everyone else around her has changed and taken on physical traits of an animal which matches their personality, just like they’re supposed to.

Everyone that is, except her. [I think you made that point in the previous paragraph.] Abandoned and feared Ana has raised herself in the woods just outside of town for eight years.

Then, one day, the forest is suddenly on fire. Before she escapes Ana rescues a coyote girl named Arella and her dog brother Rae from the blaze. The woods she called home are suddenly gone and now she must find a new place to hide. [Does Rae have the personality of Santa's Little Helper or of Cujo? 

I mean, dogs have so many different personalities (unlike cats, which are all sneaky, stand-offish, disloyal, annoying, demanding, neurotic and stubborn) that it seems everyone could take on the physical traits of a dog.] Rather than fear her, Rae and Arella sympathize with her and even offer to have her travel [take her] with them to see King Nalvero so that he might help her. [So Ana is Dorothy and King Nalvero is the wizard.] Though they seem kind something about their story doesn’t make sense. For one thing, Ana knows from whispers in the village that Nalvero and his army are invading other kingdoms and on the verge of declaring war. [It's always best to invade other kingdoms before declaring war. It catches them off guard.] For another, there’s the matter of what they were doing in the forest in the first place. [Is it so outlandish that someone who physically is a coyote would be in a forest?] She can’t trust these two-but if there’s a chance that she can end her nightmare, she’ll take it.

The three have less than a week to travel to Nalvero’s castle while avoiding his soldiers, a panther bounty hunter, curses, prophecies, [a wicked witch, flying monkeys,] and Rae and Ana’s constant arguing. [What happens if they aren't there in less than a week? If their goal is to reach the king, why avoid his soldiers? Aren't the king and his soldiers on the same side?] [Try to keep lists to three items. Curses and prophesies don't strike me as things you can avoid.]  They’ll have to rely on each other to make it, but the closer they become [get] to their destination, the closer they become [grow] to each other. [I don't see what point that sentence is making. The "but" suggests that it's harder to rely on someone you're close to. Isn't the opposite true?] With each passing day it becomes more and more difficult to keep up the ruse [What ruse?] and their schemes could unravel. [What schemes?] In the end Ana must choose who to trust in order to fulfill a destiny far beyond her choice. [Does she or anyone know what her destiny is?] 

Keeper of the Woods is a 56,000 word middle grade fantasy novel. I look forward to hearing from you.


If Ana, Rae and Arella all have human intelligence, I would think the ones with dog and coyote bodies would have the easier time getting out of a burning forest. Were they trapped under a fallen tree?

If you don't change into an animal, that's a shame, but I don't see how the king can help. They should be off to see a wizard (preferably Harry Potter or Gandalf, not Oz).

Good that you're focusing on the plot this time, but more work is needed. Try limiting yourself to nine sentences. It might help you decide what's important and what can be left out.

I would add a few commas, after Abandoned and feared, Before she escapes, Though they seem kind. And get rid of the commas in Then, one day, 


InkAndPixelClub said...

You're focusing on the story and Ana is clearly the main character now, so this is an improvement over the previous draft. But you're spending four out of five paragraphs on setup, which I assume is not the proportionate amount of space these events take up in you book. Ideally, Ana, Rae, and Arella should be one their way to Nalvero's castle by query paragraph two at the latest.

There's a fair amount you can cut here. The characters' animal traits mirroring their personalities never really comes into play in the query, so it can go. We don't need to know that the woods Ana calls home are just outside of some town. Ana never actually tries to find a new place to hide after the woods burn, so that's not needed. You can probably compress Ana's skepticism about Rae and Arella's offer and her ultimate decision that a chance to be normal is worth the risk down to two sentences. These elements may well be important in the book, but the query needs to stick with what the reader absolutely needs to know.

In both the previous query and the synopsis, King Nalvero was clearly the bad guy. Here, you present him as someone who cold potentially help Ana though she's heard he's not very nice. That could be interesting, but like EE pointed out, now the fact that they're avoiding the king's soldiers is just confusing. Even if what's really going on is that Rae and Arella are fugitives and they have to avoid the king's guards so they don't get caught, they still have to explain to Ana why they aren't just asking the guards to escort them to the palace.

If you can reduce the setup to one or two paragraphs, you'll have ample room to explain why the bounty hunter is after them, what Rae and Ana are arguing about all the time, and how the three of them become closer. Vague references to ruses, schemes, choices, and destinies aren't going to be enough to convince an editor or agent that you've got a great story. You have to explain what choices the character will be faced with and what the consequences of those choices might be.

Anonymous said...

First, the good news. I think this is a considerable improvement over your original. The opening contains a nice twist, and you do a much better job of describing your characters' motives and the beginning of their quest. It actually seems like something with a lot of charm and fancy.

Now, the advice. EE pointed out the continuing ambiguity about what the half-human creatures actually look like and behave like. Is anyone half-fly, by any chance? That didn't go well for Jeff Goldblum, David Hedison, or Bart Simpson. Also, it appears your novel really takes place in that "less than a week" that you rush through. This is like spending three paragraphs on Kansas, then stopping short at "The house falls down in Munchkinland" and giving two sentences to what happens after Dorothy hits the yellow brick road.

And finally, it's a craft. Your technique displays numerous small weaknesses -- hyphens versus em-dashes, like versus as, that versus which, and the biggie, commas after adverbial phrases. If I were you, I'd spring for a copy editor so you don't annoy the heck out of an agent who requests pages. "Before she escapes Ana rescues a coyote girl" is a twister, thanks to the lack of a comma after "escapes." I ran into the sentence thinking that someone is escaping Ana and that before they do that, they do something else -- then I have to back up because the person escaping turns out to be Ana. I hope the entire book isn't written in such a way that the reader has to continually take two steps forward and one step back.

But let me conclude on a positive note. The work you put in is evident and the parts you got good, you got really good in my view. Keep it up by trimming the setup and expanding the meat of the novel, and it should be leaps and bounds better still.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, you've made a few steps forward in the right direction.

The general advice is three sentences of setup, three sentences of progress (what happens in act one), and three sentences to point where the story is headed (plan a, obstacles, plan b). Use specifics, not generalities.

I still don't understand how being a late bloomer/physically immature (especially considering what her age should be if this is a middle grade book) makes Ana frightening or a monster. I also don't understand the logic behind how she's decided she never will get her animal characteristics. Note: this doesn't need to be explained in the query, it would be better if the questions don't come up.

Maybe something like:
Ana lives alone in the woods [because she hates having her differences rubbed in her face]. She rescues Rae and Arella from a forest fire. They convince her to go with them by promising her [she can be like everyone else if they talk to the king].
They avoid the king's soldiers by [hiding in a farmer's wagon]. They escape a bounty hunter by [pushing him into a pond]. They almost get caught when Rae and Arella argue about [whose name should be listed first on the bounty poster.]
[Ana grows suspicious that her new friends don't want to just talk to the king. After all, why are they avoiding his guards? And why are their names on a reward poster? In the end she'll need to choose between what she's always wanted and the only people who have accepted her for who she is.]

AA said...

This is better. There are many things I still don't understand. They don't all matter that much, but there are a few that I think would give an agent pause.

I don't get why they only have a week. That suggests a "ticking clock," which is good, but what's the reason?

"Though they seem kind something about their story doesn’t make sense. For one thing, Ana knows from whispers in the village that Nalvero and his army are invading other kingdoms and on the verge of declaring war."
Kings are always doing this. What is it about this particular bit of information that makes Ana think their story is fishy?

"For another, there’s the matter of what they were doing in the forest in the first place."
As EE suggested, this doesn't seem strange.

Where do curses and prophecies come from? This suggests villains and wizards, both of which are absent from your query.

Matt said...

If Ana is the protagonist, then I'm worried that she's a bit passive. It seems that Rae and Arella are the ones leading her. Did Rae and Arella burn down the forest just to get her to help their father? If so, that might be a could thing to reveal in the query — readers might be interested in seeing what choice Ana makes when she finds out the truth.

If Ana doesn't make any tough decisions, or face any dire consequences for those decisions, then the story itself may need revising.