Query Critique #4: Because She Said So
Put your hands together for Holly (my fab crit partner!). Her query is below for community feedback, so please leave your thoughts in the comments (no snark permitted). Spread the word so Holly can get as much quality criticism as possibility!
Dear Agent Sooz,
Because you are fantastic and wonderful and have a love of fantasy books, (Or, you know, some kind of personalization) I believe you may be interested in my 50,000 word young adult fantasy, BECAUSE SHE SAYS SO.
Sixteen-year-old Kate is trapped in a fairy tale and must escape before the story rips away her identity or the narrator orders Kate’s death.
Kate made a stupid wish to escape her life in favor of a fairy tale dream. The promise of Happily Ever After when faced with a dying brother is enticing to say the least. When the wish comes true, Kate begins to realize that fairy tale land isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Inside the story, she is bound by the words the God-like narrator speaks and forced to play the part of the princess and repeat the same story over and over again. Plus, the venomous Prince Charming is out to kill her, there is no Happily Ever After, and Kate isn’t sure which of her so-called friends is actually helping the narrator control her.
When Kate discovers the secret to escaping this Magical Kingdom of Torture – true love’s kiss, of course – the narrator starts playing even more torturous games with Kate. First the narrator changes the direction of the story, then she steals the guy Kate thinks she’s in love with, Nathan, and replaces him with Jace – a dashing rogue Kate begins to fall for. When a stray arrow nearly pierces Kate’s heart, she finds herself pitted nose-to-nose against the Prince. Now, with Jace’s life hanging in the balance, Kate has to choose who to love: Nathan or Jace. If she chooses wrong, she won’t just lose all of her memories; she’ll also never get to see her brother alive again.
In the end, Kate must solve the riddle of true love before the clock runs out and she is trapped as a fairy tale princess forever.
BECAUSE SHE SAYS SO is a blend of THE WIZARD OF OZ and ELLA ENCHANTED, and I believe it may appeal to fans of both. Though the novel has been written as the first in a planned trilogy, it can also stand alone. I’m an active member of SCBWI, the Florida Writers Association, and YALitChat.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Leave your comments below, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more queries! Everyday for the next two weeks, I’ll be posting another query, and it’s up to YOU all to help each other. Thanks, friends and fellow writers!!
January 26, 2011 @ 9:17 am
Overall, the query gives me a good idea of the plot, but not enough of voice. I think the voice is bogged down by overexplaining. I’ve tried to show where you can cut via the numbered list–based on paragraph number–below. Le me know if you have any questions!
1. Fabulous opening. Sooz is pretty fantabulous.
2. I would split this into two sentences. “Sixteen-year-old Kat is trapped in a fairy tale. If she doesn’t escape, the narrator will rip away her identity..or order her death.” THOUGH I don’t know if I like “rip away.” Any other verb you can use?
3. I would start this paragraph with the dying brother and then making a stupid wish. Cut the third sentence (when the wish comes true…). Start the next with a “But”. “the words the God-like narrator speaks” is a little redundant–“what the God-like narrator says.” Cut “play the part of the princess” (we can assume that from the next sentence). And I would cut the “there is no Happily~~~control her.” I think the whole Death Thing is a bit bigger than those.
Depending on Kate’s voice, you could also play with describing the Prince. I kinda like “the super UNcharming Prince Charming” or something. But that’s all you.
4. I think this is way too much information. First there’s love, and then she’s shot, and then she’s somehow duking it out with a prince?! What?
I would slim it to something more like this: “Kate discovers the secret to escaping — true love’s kiss, obviously — but the megalomanic narrator has introduced two very likely True Loves. As she dodges (?) Prince UnCharming, she must choose who to love. Too bad if she chooses wrong, she won’t just lose all her memories, she’ll see her brother *never* after.
5. Cut this paragraph.
😀 Hope that helps!
January 26, 2011 @ 9:18 am
AHAHAHA I am funny and wrote my own name instead of Kate. OH NO I’m gonna get sucked into a Fairy Tale gone Grimm.
January 26, 2011 @ 1:19 pm
Thanks, Kat. That is very helpful! 🙂
January 26, 2011 @ 1:39 pm
Thanks for the in-depth crti! I think I’m “too close” to this story to do much good… I know the story almost as well as Holly now, so trying to see if the query does/doesn’t work is nigh impossible. 😀
January 26, 2011 @ 12:32 pm
Okay- I can’t wait to read this now. I have been bogged down with work, but you have piqued my interest. I love this concept. It sounds fun, fresh, and exciting. I also like that it’s fantasy without being one of the current Usual Suspects.
I am of the QS school of queries (though I respect everyone may not be). The formula for her is 250 words, you have 358. Your third paragraph in particular, beginning with “When Kate” is more synopsis than query to me. I think you can compress the themes there into the prime conflict for Kate. Is it about the two male interests? Is it about the struggle over her brother’s illness? Is it about something more personal, by that I mean is Kate figuring out something about herself? Taking control? Relinquishing control?
This is a good query, and I think with a little refinement it will be perfect.
You already have me wanting to read more. Woot!
January 26, 2011 @ 1:21 pm
I think you’re right, that third paragraph must go under the chopping block. Thanks, KO. 😀
January 26, 2011 @ 1:40 pm
How did I not notice it was >250 words? I’m usually a stickler for that too — sorry, Holly! But thanks Katharine! 🙂
January 26, 2011 @ 12:52 pm
This story sounds awesome! Let me just say that up front. I’m kind of dying to read it. 🙂
I think this query starts off really strong. I really have no complaints on the first three paragraphs. But when we get to the fourth (the one starting with “When Kate…”), I have to agree with what Katherine said. It just gets to be a little much. As I’m sure you know, the point of a query is to entice the reader to read more, and that last paragraph goes a little into oversharing territory. I don’t want to know everything that happens in the book, and that paragraph feels like you’re giving away too much. Kind of like when you see a movie trailer, and at the end you feel like you don’t need to see the movie advertised because you feel like you already know what happens. Am I making any sense at all?
So I would definitely take the last paragraph, pull out one or two sentences to set up the love triangle and the stakes, then lose the rest. And if you choose to disregard this advice and keep it as is (which is totally your right!), then I’d at least change the “When Kate…” sentence so that “Torture” and “torturous” don’t appear in the same sentence. That jumped out at me.
But in all, I think you have an awesome premise here, Holly! Sounds like the kind of book I would LOVE. Good job!
January 26, 2011 @ 1:22 pm
Thank you, Meredith! It seems to be a unanimous vote to slice and dice that paragraph. 😉
January 26, 2011 @ 1:41 pm
Thanks for all that input, Meredith. And nice spotting on the double “torture”! 😉
January 26, 2011 @ 1:29 pm
I do agree with the others. While reading, I got a little lost. The premise sounds really fun – but I want more of the voice from the story. I don’t get a feel for what your main character is like. And I’d trim down the story details to the most important.
I love your opening line! Great hook!
You could probably cut the phrase – fairyland isn’t what it’s cracked up to be – it’s vague and bit cliche.
So, tighten and add some voice and it’ll be rocking! Good luck!
January 26, 2011 @ 3:37 pm
Thank you, Laura! 🙂
January 26, 2011 @ 3:22 pm
This premise is still fantastic. I definitely get a sense of the stakes here, and a sense of the plot.
What I DON’T get a real sense of what she does during the book while strung along by the Narrator, besides pick who to love. Is there anyway to highlight that she has tried to escape already, but to no avail? MAYBE that’s considered back story, but I’d love to know she tried already.
There are some details that are kind of vague to me, but that could just be me! One is the Prince, he seems to pop up with no real consequence–I’m confused if he is really trying to kill her and what it means to be pitted nose-to-nose against him. I’m also left a little confused how Jace’s life hangs in the balance when the arrow nearly kills her–not him? But I think this might be because there’s a lot of plot going in that paragraph! Simplifying might make it clearer.
Lastly, if I’m remembering right, isn’t the story supposed to play out in the same way every time? Is the Prince nearly killing her AND this new boy a NEW part of her fairy tale? That would be a great point to emphasize–that the fairy tell she’s been in for so long has suddenly gone so wrong.
I’m looking forward to seeing how you might revise this 🙂 Good luck!
January 26, 2011 @ 3:36 pm
She hasn’t ever tried to escape the story before. She has looked for a way out, but never found anything to act on.
There are a lot of rules to the world, and some characters have more freedom than others. Especially at certain parts of the story…so…while the fairy tale itself plays out the same every time, their experience getting there is different. If that makes sense. lol
Thanks for your input. 🙂
January 26, 2011 @ 3:47 pm
Yes, it does make sense! Someone certainly has a working brain up there 😛
January 26, 2011 @ 7:38 pm
Thanks for stopping by, Jessica! Your feedback is much appreciated! 🙂
January 26, 2011 @ 5:35 pm
Sixteen-year-old Kate is trapped in a fairy tale and must escape before the story rips away [agree with Kat, “rips away” is odd verb choice]her identity or the narrator orders Kate’s death.
[as well, I think the logline sums up the whole plot, and this makes the rest of the paragraphs very synopsis-like, as a few other commentators have mentioned].
Kate made a stupid wish to escape her life in favor of a fairy tale dream. The promise of Happily Ever After when faced with a dying brother is enticing to say the least.[combine first two sentences – first is choppy. I think it’d give the possibility of more voice, too, especially in the second] When the wish comes true, Kate begins to realize that fairy tale land isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Inside the story, she is bound by the words the God-like narrator speaks and forced to play the part of the princess and repeat the same story over and over again. Plus, the venomous Prince Charming is out to kill her, there is no Happily Ever After,[I think it’s clear there’s no Happily Ever After, so you can cut that] and Kate isn’t sure which of her so-called friends is actually helping the narrator control her.[I like ‘Kate’s sure one of her so-called friends is actually helping…’ better.]
When Kate discovers the secret to escaping this Magical Kingdom of Torture – true love’s kiss, of course – the narrator starts playing even more torturous games with Kate. First the narrator changes the direction of the story, then she steals the guy Kate thinks she’s in love with, Nathan, and replaces him with Jace – a dashing rogue Kate begins to fall for. When a stray arrow nearly pierces Kate’s heart,[I don’t see how a stray arrow and the Prince are related] she finds herself pitted nose-to-nose against the Prince.[in what way? wasn’t the Prince trying to kill her? now is Kate trying to kill him too?] Now, with Jace’s life hanging in the balance,[how did Jace’s life get to be hanging in the balance??] Kate has to choose who to love: Nathan or Jace. If she chooses wrong, she won’t just lose all of her memories; she’ll also never get to see her brother alive again.
In the end, Kate must solve the riddle of true love before the clock runs out and she is trapped as a fairy tale princess forever.[that last part ‘she is trapped…’ is supposed to be prefaced with ‘before’, I understand, but is off-kilter because of the ‘and’. Can you rearrange? Or simply cut this paragraph?]
BECAUSE SHE SAYS SO is a blend of THE WIZARD OF OZ and ELLA ENCHANTED, and I believe it may appeal to fans of both.[I think you can cut ‘is a blend…’ and go ‘I believe BECAUSE SHE SAYS SO will appeal…’. But it’s not a big deal] Though the novel has been written as the first in a planned trilogy, it can also stand alone. I’m an active member of SCBWI, the Florida Writers Association, and YALitChat.
Overall, I agree with previous commentators: there are all sorts of different consequences for Kate, and problems to solve, all nested within each other. I think keep the problems surface level (how will she find her way out if she can’t pick the guy?) and leave the Prince and changing story directions for the synopsis. As well, her brother is mentioned at the start and at the end; thus, he doesn’t seem very important to me…
January 26, 2011 @ 7:39 pm
Thanks for the thorough critique, Yahong! 🙂
January 26, 2011 @ 6:21 pm
Hey, Holly! WOW–great premise here. You’ve gotten tons of fabulous advice, and I just wanted to add a couple points.
1. From reading this, it doesn’t sound like the main conflict is which boy Kate is going to fall for. The main conflict seems to be between Kate and the narrator. I’d take the emphasis off the paragraph with Jace and Nathan (as several other awesome critique-ers have suggested), and replace some of that word count with more on the main obstacle Kate is overcoming–getting out of the fairytale. And yes, she is going to do that with the help of one of the boy’s described, but that detail can be one or two lines of the paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should be set-up leading to that line. Kate is trying to find a way out of this story and this world; Kate discovers how she can do that; the narrator knows Kate has figured it out, and ups the ante on the games she’s been playing with Kate by doing such-and-such (it’s a little unclear to me what the narrator actually does–does she take away a boy Kate has been close to up to this point in the story? Change the story on her? This is also the place to mention both boys); now, in the last line, Kate has to correctly choose which boy is her true love, otherwise, she’ll be stuck in this world forever.
2. Two things I’d explain more clearly: Kate’s brother, and losing her identity. For her brother, I would just clarify why she made this wish because of him. Because she can’t deal with what’s happening to him and wants to escape? Or because she wants to take her brother to a perfect world, hoping that there, he won’t die? That will give us a good feel for what kind of character Kate is.
In terms of Kate’s identity, is she slowly losing her memories the longer she stays in this land? Or will they all be wiped away at once at a certain point in the story if Kate doesn’t accomplish X, Y, and Z? I’d also make it clear that this is the narrator’s doing (I assume because she wants to keep Kate as a character in her story?).
But this really is a wonderful premise, and I hope you’ll query me when the project is done.
January 26, 2011 @ 7:39 pm
WOO! Thank you so much for stopping by and offering your very professional input! I’m glad the #ZombieVirus2011 has not yet taken a hold of you.
YAYAY Holly — you’ve gotten awesome input and an invitation to query her! 😀 YAAAAY!
January 26, 2011 @ 7:56 pm
Sara, thank you SO much! That is such helpful advice, and you bet I’ll be sending you a query as soon as it’s done. 😀
January 26, 2011 @ 10:51 pm
Haha, I have had so much vitamin c over the last few days, I do not think I will ever be sick again. My immune system = zombie resistant. Let’s hope.
And Holly, I’m glad the advice was helpful! I’ll anxiously await the query. Good luck to you as you finish the book!
January 26, 2011 @ 9:37 pm
I don’t have much to add as everyone has made such great comments, but I just wanted to say that this book sounds FABULOUS and I would totally buy it. In hardback. For full price. For all my friends.
I think it would be great to get a little bit more of an idea of Kate: is she active, aggressive, passive, snarky, defeated, sarcastic…?
Inquiring minds want to know!
I suppose the nature of a query leads us to saying “X, Y and Z HAPPEN to the MC,” and “the MC is forced/pushed/trapped etc” because we need to get the main plot points out there, but that can make the MC seem passive or helpless, and I am sure that your Kate is neither! I think that working in more of her voice (as stated above) while describing what happens would let you show her off a bit more.
Great letter! Thanks so much for sharing.
January 27, 2011 @ 1:19 am
Everyone’s comments have pretty much covered what I would say about this, but it sounds like a great read!!
I echo everyone’s sentiments about the third paragraph being a bit confusing, and I’d add that, on my first read through, I thought that Nathan (or maybe Jace?) WAS the Prince also, and it took me a couple reads to realize that they were all separate people.
The story sounds like so much fun!
January 27, 2011 @ 4:03 am
I’d probably skip the “tag line” (Sixteen-year-old Kate is trapped in a fairy tale) — it doesn’t seem to be necessary, since the synop makes all this clear anyway.
Oh, shoot: I’m just going to cut a lot of stuff, and let that be the crit. Because sometimes the sword is mightier than the pen.
Kate made a wish to escape her life in favor of a fairy tale dream. The promise of Happily Ever After when faced with a dying brother is enticing to say the least. The wish comes true — except Kate is bound by the words the God-like narrator speaks, forced to play the part of the princess, and repeats the same story over and over. Plus, the venomous Prince Charming is out to kill her.
When Kate discovers the secret to escaping this Magical Kingdom of Torture – true love’s kiss, of course – the narrator steals the guy Kate thinks she’s in love with, Nathan, and replaces him with Jace – a dashing rogue Kate begins to fall for. Now, with Jace’s life hanging in the balance, Kate has to choose who to love. If she chooses wrong, she’ll be trapped in Fairy Tale Land forever — or killed; she’ll definitely never get to see her brother alive again.
Hope this helps!
January 27, 2011 @ 4:03 am
Whom to love! Whom! Second to last line!