Monday, July 27, 2009

Critique Session #1

Dreaming Isis
Young Adult Fantasy
Mim Caldwell


Dear Agent,
Seventeen-year-old Isis’ life changes the day she uses magic to save herself from an exploding car. It wasn’t like she had a choice in the matter—instinct kicked in—and she did it without thinking. The only problem was that in the process she saves Dane—her stupid class project partner. The bomb was meant for him, but did he say thanks? Nope, instead he kidnaps her because of her powers and pulls her into a world of magic where two societies are warring for control.

Afraid of her family’s rejection Isis doesn’t want to join either group, but Dane insists on training her, and she begins to fall for him as they spend more and more time together. Isis discovers she is the dreamer. That means her gift is stronger than most and she can do things other people can’t –like walk around the world of dreams. It allows her to take control of people’s minds and tell them what to do and believe through their dreams. Not to mention all the magic she can do in the real world. Both societies want her and her choice could end the fighting, but Isis doesn’t know whom to trust.

Dreaming Isis is Young Adult Fantasy novel complete at 57,000 words. Further materials are available upon your request. Thank you for your consideration.


First 250 words

The halls were crowded as school ended for the day. Everyone was heading home. I was having a bad day, and I wished that I could just go home like everyone else. Instead I had a group project to work on with Dane. I struggled to keep up with him. We weren't speaking to each other, but every minute or so Dane would say hello to a friend or slap someone on the back.

Dane was getting a lot of strange looks. I guess it was because I was with him. He'd just shrug and smile as we kept walking together, not talking. I hated school. If I didn't want so desperately out of the house, I'd skip a lot more. It was just a means to an end.

Everyone seemed to be staring at us today. Normally I didn't get noticed quite so much, but the freak walking with one of the most popular boys in school was bound to draw some attention. It didn't make me feel any better that Dane had always been more than nice to me. Not that I really knew him. He had never made fun of my clothes and he didn't seem upset when we got paired up for the history project. He treated me like I was normal, just like anyone else.

When we finally got to the parking lot, we climbed into Dane's red Subaru. It was clean inside.

"You okay?" Dane asked looking over at me as he fiddled with his iPod.

Readers: If you were an agent/editor, would you request to read more based on this sample? If not, at what point and why did you stop reading? What stood out as well done in this query/sample?


Unknown said...

Hi Mim!

I liked your first paragraph in the query a lot--I felt that it had good voice and energy and gave me a sense of what the main character's voice would be.

Unfortunately, the second query paragraph made me feel a bit lost--perhaps if there was a stronger transition from exploding car to clashing family? Perhaps if you could simplify the nature of her magic even more, and then spend more time focusing on this conflict of two societies wanting her.

By the end of the query, I *do* get a sense that there is a conflict (even though I'm not entirely sure what the conflict *is*), so I think I'd read on to the pages.

First page
I think you do an *excellent* job of having a clear, strong voice in the first page, which is just brilliant. The writing here has hooked me, and I would for sure read on.

Two notes: first, while I do love the character's voice, she is a bit whiney here--self-depreciating. It may turn some people off for her to be so self-depreciaing. (For example, when you show that Dane gets strange looks for walking in the hall, perhaps a physical comparison of the two of them--Dane was tall and handsome, and I, with my dark clothes and makeup, was the last girl they expected to see beside him--might give us a better idea of who she is without the undercurrent of "people hate me and I suck")

Personally, I'd also like to know the main character's reaction to the clean car. Does the cleanliness make her think more or less of Dane? Why does she take such particular note of it?

MeganRebekah said...

First, kudos on being brave enough to post your work.

I liked the first paragraph but the second paragraph has way too much thrown in and becomes too confusing. Lines like "afraid of her family's rejection" don't fit with the flow because they don't make sense.
And for some reason the line "she doesn't know whom to trust" threw me off. The whom may be grammatically correct but it didn't fit the voice and was jarring.

First Page
I think it's an intriguing start. I would keep reading.
A few things to note. You used the word "just" four times in this short opening. It's one of my overused words too, so I always notice it.
I also think you missed some great opportunities to show instead of tell. "He never made fun of my clothes." What kind of clothes? Replace the word clothes with the specifics. Dirty shorts and oversized t-shirts? Homemade dresses her mom sews for her? A little description will go a long way!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Mim,
You are brave to be first up! Thanks for taking the plunge.
I'm intrigued by this story and your voice. I think you will generate more interest, however, if the query is specific about the magic in this world. I'm passing along a comment made to me by an editor who read an early draft of my first chapter and synopsis. She said I needed to focus on what made my main character's magic unique and not to give her too much power or else there was no tension. I think this query suffers the same problem. Isis uses generic "magic." If she is so powerful, what is the problem? Let us know what puts her in danger, what seems insurmountable, what the war is about and why she is pivotal. This doesn't need to be long, but it does need to be specific.
While I like her voice and set-up with Dane, the opening page begins with two passive sentences. You could start with wanting to go home but struggling to keep up with Dane as they push through crowded halls--thus making it active.
I didn't understand the sentence: "If I didn't want so desperately out of the house, I'd skip." If she did skip, she'd be out of the house and school. Maybe you don't need that paragraph about hating school in the opening and instead could show us some detail about Isis that lets us know she is no average teenager.
Best to you and thanks again for sharing.

Steph Su said...

Wow, brave soul. :)

That being said, I would not request this as an agent. I think the idea presented to us in the query letter is very intriguing--unintentionally saving someone's life with magic? Whoa, cool! However, the execution of that expression was unimpressive. I was turned off by the time I got to "stupid class project partner." Personally, I wouldn't want to read anything that describes a character as "stupid," because it doesn't say anything positive for both the MC and the partner in question.

The first 250 words are repetitive, and thus I am not interested. The MC sounds like a character I don't want to read about: whiny, fully ensconced in the social strata that is high school. The whole "outcast girl falling in love with hot, popular girl" thing is, unfortunately, rather overdone in YA lit.

I would suggest starting the story at a more unique place--definitely not in the hallowed halls of the high school--but maybe something that hints at Isis' tendency for dreams. And then tightening up the query letter, although I'm afraid I can't give you that much help there, as I'm not really sure what a good query letter should be like. Good luck!

christine M said...

Hi Mim,
Based on the query you have a very intriguing idea here. And while the characters voice comes through loud and clear in your opening paragraphs, it felt too much like telling to me. Things like "the halls were crowded" "I was having a bad day" are perfect places where you can delve deeper into the character.

Ex: I pushed past cheerleaders with their eyes glued to their phones, and studious types with bulging backpacks as I tried to keep up with Dane. After getting a D on the paper I'd worked so hard on and spilling ketchup on myself at lunch, what I really wanted to do was go home. No luck. And Dane wasn't making this any easier. He was of the class of people that had pathways open before them as they walked; like Moses parting the red sea. Me, not so much.

Obviously this is off the top of my head - but it gives you an idea of what I'm talking about.

Good luck!

Eric said...

I'm not looking at other responses, so this may be the same thing others have said.

Query - This started out good (i.e. first paragraph), but then it seemed to overload with information. The last sentence of the first paragraph sums the theme up pretty well (and it's well written), but the second paragraph is not as clear or concise. You delve into a bunch of details, but your voice (or the voice of the character maybe)seems lost and doesn't come through as well.

First 250 words - There is good characterization here. I get a sense of who the main character is, but I can't say I am hooked. The problem is you mention a bomb going off in your query (an exciting dangerous event), but you don't get to anything that compelling in these first 250 words. You give the sense that these two should not ordinarily be walking together, but no concrete reason why. Since I don't have a good mental image of what they look like, who they are, what they are doing, I'm not ready to read more to find out why. My advice would be this: Start off the story with a bomb going off. Use dialogue and characterization to reveal how they got there, and why the two people being together is weird. That would hook me instantly, get me wondering how the heck a bomb got there and how they survived.

Mim said...

Wow! Thanks for all of the feedback. I have a lot to think about.

I wasn't totally happy with my 2nd paragraph on my query. So I'll keep working on it.

The explosion happens on page two. I'll think about pulling it forward more, but every time I do it feels so rushed.

Isis is really only so negative at the beginning of the book. I might rethink it.

Thanks so much for all of your comments.

Robyn Campbell said...

Mim, I'm a bit late in this and I don't want to read other writers takes on this because it might steer me away from what I want to say.

First off, it sounds interesting. The whole idea of magic and Isis being able to do these wonderful things with it. And I love the names you have chosen. I also love the idea of the good looking, popular guy paired up with the unpopular girl.

I wonder if you have started it in the right place. In the query you mention the car exploding. I'm assuming that car is Dane's Subaru. Should you start the story there? With the explosion? And there seem to be a lot of telling(I do this too)in the first 250 words. Is all of this important to the story? I know you're trying to introduce the characters, but at least think about starting the first chapter in the story. Good luck with this. It sounds wonderful. And based on the query I would read the first 250 words but based on the first 250 words I might not read anymore. The one thing that had me in the query was the magic and the explosion. Exciting stuff. All of which wasn't even mentioned in the first page. Take care and may I add, Bravest of the brave award goes to you! :)

Bontemps said...

Sorry I'm late with comments. I like it. The first paragraph is great, it's concise, crackles and moves along with speed.

The 2nd para ia little wordy, perhaps you could try, paring it back slightly to make it zing a bit more like your 1st para.Especially combine and shorten the sentence starting 'Isis is a dreamer...' and the one ending ' the real world.'

As for the 250 words, they seemed a little flat to me and could do with a touch more elaboration. I hate saying this but to me it seems like this start is you paddng a touch, just until you get to the good stuff. You said the action starts on the 2nd page, maybe you should start more or less then, hook us from the start.

I liked the character and a distinct voice cme through.

I liked it, from that query I wuld read more.

Now you've made me nervous about my writing!

Natalie Allan said...

Dear Mim,

Congratulations on a *fantastic Query!* Most of the queries you see online really need a lot of work, however yours was very well polished and gripped me from the start. The second paragraph seems a little bit passive in the sense the first one was booming with fast forward action, whereas the second slows a little too much. Try and keep the same forward momentum and energy in the second part.

First Page.
*God I feel really bad* but I have to say, I wasn't hooked. I'm really sorry, andI'll try and make my reasons clear. *Your writing is fantastic!*, the voice is very strong (Everyone else has gone on about Isis being a bit whiney so I won't repeat everyone else. Perhaps we need a bit more clarity on the difference between social status between Isis and Dane.

Now I say I wasn't hooked. Not because the writing was bad, the writing is GOOD, however I feel in my opinion, you're first paragraph could have been plucked from the middle of the book. It's hard to explain, but perhaps you should add a one line paragraph as your starter. Stay something booming and snappy to really grab that reader attention, then move in with the school.

Maybe something like "Dane: the most handsome guy in the school, and I was working with him." Okay, this could be better, but its just an idea! Then lead in with what is currently your first paragraph.

Congrats on a great piece of writing. I'd love to read more.


Jessie Oliveros said...

Mim, I read another draft of your query on your blog awhile ago, and I think it has really improved! I agree that the second paragraph needs tightening. You said that you have the explosion on the second page. Someone suggested starting with Isis' dreamer capabilities. Maybe the dream could be a prologue? It sounds like you have good stuff, even the second paragraph of your isn't just needs better organization. Jessie

Teri K said...

Mim, I know this comment is late. Basically I agree with the above ideas. I think it needs some tweaking, but it could turn out really well. What I missed in the opening was a real sense of who Isis is. The voice was too passive for me. I felt like I'd read this same opening many times before. I'm sure you can inject more personality in it, though.
As to beginning with the explosion, if that feels too rushed, and it may be, why not find another smaller 'crisis' to start with? The project explodes the beaker, her old shoe falls off as she rushes after Dane, something like that, to bring us right into the story.
That said, you've done a good job. Thanks for being willing to share.

Clementine said...

Hi Beth! I like the story-line, but the dashes in the opening paragraph are a bit of a distraction. It jumps around a little too much for me. Isis's power to control people through their dreams isn't mentioned until the second paragraph. I'd hit that sooner.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the first 250 words. The MC had a good voice. I agree with the suggestion to start with the bomb, or perhaps you could build some suspense leading up to the explosion?

I'm afraid I can't really help with the query, I have no idea what a good one should be, but I agree with the others that you should tighten up the 2nd paragraph.