Saturday, December 05, 2015

Feedback Request

Dear Evil Editor,

I have taken some time to further reflect on my query and am sending you the most recent update. Thank you again for all your suggestions, and especially for helping me to rephrase my last version so neatly.

I have a few questions for everyone on this draft. First, is it important to mention why Rae and Arella are working against the king, (they are trying to save their father-the leader of the rebellion) or can I leave that out? Second, please tell me if I am clear enough on Ana's powers, or if more detail is required. Once again, thank you to everyone for your patience and input!

All of the other kids took on physical traits of an animal when they were eight, except Ana. Abandoned as "different" by her family and feared by her former friends, she has raised herself in the woods for eight years.

When a fire drives her out of the forest, Ana joins up with a coyote girl named Arella and her dog brother Rae. Rather than fear Ana, Rae and Arella sympathize, and offer to let her travel with them. They are off to see the king, who they say could help Ana become like everyone else.

As they journey to the castle, Ana finds she is suddenly able to defeat her enemies without ever touching them. Soldiers carry word of this girl with super powers to the king, who decides he has good use for her. Meanwhile, Rae and Arella confess that they are criminals secretly working against the king. Now Ana must decide: does happiness lie with her new "friends," the king, or is she better off alone?

Keeper of the Woods is a 56,000-word middle grade fantasy novel.



All you've done to my version of your last version is make minor changes in two sentences. Your first sentence, "All of the other kids took on physical traits of an animal when they were eight, except Ana." leaves me wondering whether you mean the other children in her neighborhood, her school, her town... Apparently you want that age of eight in there, so try: Ana was born human, but unlike other children, she didn't take on the physical traits of an animal when she was eight years old.

Did her parents abandon her the day she turned nine? That's pretty cold. If I'd raised a kid that long, I think I'd hold out hope that she was a late bloomer, take her to the doctor or the shaman, etc. I probably wouldn't give up on her till she was at least twelve. In which case after eight more years in the woods she'd be twenty. Is she twenty?

Your other change: "Ana begins displaying uncontrollable powers" becomes "Ana finds she is suddenly able to defeat her enemies without ever touching them." You haven't mentioned that she has any enemies, unless you mean the family and friends who abandoned her. And defeating enemies without touching them is not specific enough. Superman could do that with his super breath or his heat vision. Doctor strange with magic. Green Lantern with his power ring. Robin Hood with a bow and arrow. The Human Torch with fireballs. I could go on for pages. 

Confessing that their father is the rebellion leader puts Rae and Arella in a better light than confessing that they are criminals. Or it might, if we only knew why the king is being rebelled against.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I think it works fine up to the penultimate paragraph. I'd replace all the confusing detail about Ana's new powers and her friends' secret motives with a simple statement that makes it clear that going to the king isn't the answer after all and that things only get worse. Something more in tune with the MG-friendly clarity of voice that you've achieved in the previous paragraphs.

"But Ana's new friends seem to have a few sinster secrets of their own, and soon Ana must decide just which side she's on."

Not those exact words, but something of that ilk. And then the title and length of your manuscript and done. Remember you're trying to entice the agent to read the manuscript, rather than summarize the whole story.

SB said...

I don't think you should say "raised herself". People don't raise themselves. I would suggest "survived alone" instead. You've already told us she's 8 when it happens, so we know that what follows still constitutes part of her childhood, and I would imagine living in the woods alone would be more survival than homework and chores.

I do think more details on her power is necessary if you're going to mention it, for the reasons EE pointed out. It's just too vague to say she can kill her enemies from a distance.

Also, giving some idea of whether the king is good or evil (which would give us an idea if the rebels are good or evil) would be helpful, unless that's supposed to be a surprise.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I would change "joins up with" to "meets" or "encounters". She doesn't really join Rae and Arella until after they sympathize with her and invite her to travel with them, which is not until the next sentence.

I suspect that clarifying who Ana's enemies are will raise another problem, since it's been in several other drafts of the query. Rae and Arella tell Ana they are going to see the king for some unknown reason. Ana accompanies the, because they tell her that the king can make her half animal like everyone else. Once they get on the road, they're attacked or pursued by the king's guards. Yet Ana doesn't seem to realize that Rae and Arella are wanted criminals and they aren't on the same side as the king until they tell her. It just doesn't make sense that Ana goes through most of the book accepting the fact that they can't just ask one of the nice guards to escort them to the castle of the good king so he can help them.

Clarifying what Ana's powers are and who her enemies are will also let query readers know whether Ana is going to be using mental powers to incapacitate who are trying to kill her and her friends without any physical or long term harm or roasting people who were mean to her alive.

I'm still not clear what Rae and Arella's motivation is. Yes, they want to rescue their dad and you should mention that in the query. But why do they want Ana to come with them? Why do they feel the need to lie to her to get her to come along? Why can't they just say "Our dad has been captured by the evil king and is going to be executed. You know what it is not to have a family anymore. Will you help us, because we apparently want you to?" Ana feeling betrayed by her new friends is clearly a big moment in your story, so the how and the why of that betrayal need to make sense in the query. Even what little you have seems to have the emphasis in the wrong place. It seems like it would be much more crushing to Ana that Rae and Arella lied about what kind of person the king is than that they lied about being criminals.

Anonymous said...

At this point, I really think there are problems in the book with character motivations -- you haven't been giving us good ones because they just don't exist. a.k.a. things in the book happen because the author wants them to happen and not because anyone would think, act, or react like that. If that is the case, a good query letter isn't going to get your book published commercially.

As an exercise, every time a decision is made in the book, think of three good reasons for the character(s) to not want to go along with it. Now think really hard about why your characters are doing what you want them to instead.

Moving on.
I'm guessing you want Ana to be your MC because she's the Girl of Gifts or inherits the position or something. From what little we know of the plot, you could probably take her actions out of it and have pretty much the same story. Rae/Arella seem to be the ones with a problem that needs to be solved, they're the ones making decisions, manipulating their "friend", and taking action. The only reason they seem to be dragging Ana along with them is to deus-ex-machina the ending (btw, another way to get your story rejected).

If this is really Ana's story, she needs to be the one in the driver's seat. She needs to decide to go see the king, not because R&A manipulate her into doing so, but because she has her own plausible reason(s) to. R&A can come along for their own reasons and pretend to want to help, hence betrayal, etc.

Anonymous said...

Author here,

EE- I didn't change most of the sentences because I really liked them, however, I did adjust them further in order to follow the suggestions I received. Also, I don't need to include the bit about "eight years old," but many of the people who commented wanted to know an exact age so I added it for that reason.

So, I know it's a bit longer but would this version clarify some of the confusion, as well as returning more of the focus to Ana?

All of the other children took on physical traits of an animal, except Ana. Abandoned as "different" by her family and feared by her former friends, she has taken refuge in the woods for eight years.
When a fire drives her out of the forest she manages to rescue Arella the coyote and her dog brother Rae. They tell Ana of a king who can supposedly make her like everyone else but she can’t get there safely on her own and so must travel with the siblings. Even after she learns they are wanted thieves, she still journeys with them in the hopes of becoming normal.
However, as they journey, the trio gets into several fights and Ana suddenly finds herself able to manipulate the energy around her such as blasting back enemies, or knocking people unconscious without ever touching them. Soldiers carry word of this girl with powers back to the king, who decides he can manipulate Ana to expand his control on the land. Meanwhile Ana learns that Rae and Arella are really working against the king and only brought Ana in a desperate attempt to use her appearance and powers to break their father out of prison appearance. Now Ana must decide: does happiness lie with her new "friends," the king, or is she better off alone?

Thanks again everyone! I know I'm progressing (very) slowly, but all your input is appreciated.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I'd consider splitting the first sentence into two. Something like "Ana was born oridnary. But while all the other children took on the physical traits of animals as they grew, Ana remained human." It keeps the main character the subject of the first sentence and makes it clear from the start who the "other" children are different from.

Changing it to "the past eight years" will help to clarify that your story starts when Ana loses her home to a Forrest fire and meets the canine kids.

Comma after "forest ." We're back to Ana rescuing Rae and Arella without in being clear why they needed rescuing. If you can't make it clear why they needed Ana's help to escape the forest fire, I'd just go back to the fire destroying her safe hiding place and putting her in a position where she encounters other people.

Second sentence of what I think is paragraph 2 is too much for one sentence. Split it in two. Something more specific about what the siblings will do to keep Ana safe (take her along the back roads so ordinary civilians don't get freaked out and attack her or something) will make her reasons for traveling with them stronger.

Cut "however," unless you change the previous paragraph to clearly say they were doing something to avoid combat.

"Several fights" is not interesting. Describe the first time they get into trouble. Who are they fighting? Why? What does Ana do in this situation? Then you can quickly cover the idea that more fights happen - especially if they're all with the same group, like the king's guards - and move on to word reaching the king.

"Expand his control on the land" is a bit awkward. Does the king want to use Ana's powers to help him seize more territory or crush the rebellion in the land he already has?

Extra word at the end of the next sentence.

You're explaining Rae and Arella's motivations, but there are still things that don't make sense. Ana didn't know she had powers before she started this journey, so presumably Rae and Arella didn't either. That leaves her appearance as the weapon they initially wanted to use against the king. How was that supposed to work? Possibly an even bigger problem: why are they using this particular lie? Why not tell Ana that they know of other person who can make her normal (even if they don't) and they'll take her to see him/her if she helps them defeat the king? Why wouldn't they say that their imprisoned father can make her normal? If Ana had heard from some other source that the king could make her like everyone else and Rae and Arella went along with this and agreed to take her to the king because it was the only was to get her to go with them, that might make sense. But as it stands, they're telling Ana a lie that she will inevitably learn is a lie before they can get her to do what they need her to do. If they're lying anyway, why not a lie that won't be exposed as such until after their dad is free?

Anonymous said...

Author here again,

InkAndPixelClub, thank you so much. You have extremely helpful in this whole process and I wanted to acknowledge all you've done.

It's quite clear that I need to go back and rework pieces of the plot in my book so I will go and do that before moving forward with it.

Anonymous said...

"All of the other children took on physical traits of an animal, except Ana."
Concise, but unfortunately doesn't tell us if this is an expected event or if everyone just woke up that way one day. You need a little bit more.

"Manages to rescue"
In almost all cases this can be reduced to "Rescues". Maybe rephrase so it's obvious she's rescuing them from the fire. Since the forest is her home, I'd buy that she knows the best way to get out, but it needs to be made clear that's what she's doing.

"Arella the coyote and her dog brother Rae"
We've been with you long enough to know you mean a girl with coyote characteristics and a boy with dog characteristics. I'm not certain this will be clear to someone reading the query for the first time. Maybe try leaving out what particular animals they are and just keep their names.

Paragraph 2, Take the above advice and either make it a better lie, or rearrange things so the lie isn't needed.

"can't get there safely on her own"
So far, you've made it sound as though Ana's the one with all the fighting ability. Maybe something about being unable/afraid to interact with normal society, although that brings up questions about things like disguises, signs, and reading ability. Why does Ana need to travel with Rae and Arella? If there isn't a need, give us a 'want'-type motivation. This is a place to tell why the characters do what they do and what's important to them.

"manipulate the energy around her"
TMI. You don't need an explanation of how her power works, especially one that raises more questions. Do keep the examples. Simplify or expand them if needed to explain the story.

Keep the focus on the story, the "why" of everything that happens, not just the "what". This is one of the reasons you need motivations that make sense.

Hope this helps.

I know it can be tough to try to fix things, but it will be worth it. You can probably find motivations that go with most of your existing plot, just remember to not over-complicate things. There are usually easily-overlooked simple reasons available.

Good luck with your re-write.

Evil Editor said...

Yes the first sentence is off, as I&P said.

She rescues is better than she manages to rescue.

You can't say "she can't get there" unless you've already mentioned where "there" is. As in, perhaps, They tell her of a land whose king can....

They should tell her the king can help her, not "supposedly" help her.

Because "like" has two different meanings. "make her like everyone else" can mean two different things. "Help her become normal" might be better. You'd think they'd claim there's a wizard or mage or witch that can help, rather than a king.

I'd go with "the trio get," not gets. You've already said "as they journey," not "as it journeys," so you're treating trio as plural, a substitute for "the three characters."

Ana suddenly finds herself able to manipulate the energy around her such as blasting back enemies, or knocking people unconscious without ever touching them. You don't need "suddenly" in that sentence, and "such as" is wrong because you haven't said what you're giving examples of. End the sentence after "around her. Then say "This new power allows her to blast....

Now Ana must decide: does happiness lie with her new "friends," the king, or is she better off alone? That list feels unnecessarily wordy. Like if I said, Should I eat an apple, an orange or would I be better off not eating anything? Why not just say Should I eat an apple, an orange, or neither? If you want to stress the "alone" option, make it a separate sentence.

Of course these suggestions may be unnecessary after you reboot the plot, but there you are.