Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Critique Session #3

YA SF (dystopian)
Elana Johnson


Dear Ms. Revis,

I read on your blog last week that you are looking for young adult queries to critique. Because of this, I believe you would be interested in my young adult novel, CONTROL ISSUES.

In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.

After committing her eighth crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) and exiled to the Badlands—until she demonstrates her brainwashing abilities. That earns her a one-way trip to appear before the Association of Directors.

Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen. She busts out of prison with sexy Bad boy Jag Barque, who also has no intention of fulfilling his lame ass sentence.

Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.

A dystopian novel for young adults, CONTROL ISSUES is complete at 83,000 words. Fans of Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES will enjoy similar elements, and a strong teen voice. CONTROL ISSUES addresses the topic of teens fulfilling their duty as citizens of society, along with how hard it is to grow up under the expectations of parents and other adults when they're trying to make their life their own.

I am an elementary school teacher by day and a contributing author of the QueryTracker blog by night. If you would like to consider CONTROL ISSUES, I’d be happy to forward the complete manuscript to you. I have included the first ten pages in the body of this email.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Elana Johnson

First 250 words:

Good girls don’t walk with boys. Even if they’re Good boys—and Zenn was the best. He strolled next to me, all military with his hands clasped behind his back, wearing the black uniform of a Forces recruit. His shirt had green stripes on the sleeves where his initials flashed in silver tech lights, probably recording everything. Probably? Who was I kidding? Those damn stripes were definitely recording everything.

Walking through the park in the evening is not technically against the Rules. Good people do it all the time. But walking through the park with a boy could get me in trouble.

When darkness fell, another Rule would be broken.

The whir of a hovercopter echoed high above the trees. In this park, the saplings stood an inch or two taller than me. Some trees in the City of Water are ancient—at least a century old. But the forest is off-limits, and even I know better than to break that Rule.

The filthy charcoal shade of the sky matched the impurities I’d filtered from the lake in class today. I imagined the color to be similar to the factory walls where my dad worked, but I hadn’t seen him for years and had never been there, so I couldn’t really say. People don’t return from the Badlands.

“Vi, I’m glad you stopped by,” Zenn said. His voice was smooth, just like his skin and the perfectly fluid way he walked.


Unknown said...

Personally, I feel that you should start your query with your first hook sentences (about breaking rules) and bump the where you heard about the submissions to later on in your query.

I love the voice you have in your query. It's so hard to do, and you do it so well.

I did get confused by Vi being taken to the Green, which I thought was a place, but then you say it's a group of Thinkers, which I assume are people?

The brainwashing abilities raise a lot of questions--how? just her--or is this something that happens to lots of people? etc., etc. Perhaps it would be better if you simply say "until they discover she has a unique ability and decide she's valuable as a tool for X" Something just a little vaguer--I know you answer the questions in your sample, but in the query it seems off.

You only mention Jag's name once--perhaps leave him nameless (--and possibly a new one--)

The choice seems an obvious one. Could you tell me why she might possibly want to be controled? (i.e. ...must make a choice: control her own life, or be controled by X and leave behind her problems)

The sentence "Fans of...will enjoy similar elements" --could you tell me what similar elements? I.e. Fans of X will enjoy a similar fast-paced plot in CONTROL ISSUES."

I know I made a lot of comments on your query--but I quite like it. The voice is gripping, and just from this I'd read more. Even if your first page flops, the query's pitch more than one me over for a request for more pages.

First 250 Words
Should boy and girl be capped: Good Girls and Good Boys? Might make more of a distinction.

You could move the line of dialog up a bit. I'm assuming this is a start to a conversation--what about interspersing those short paragraphs of description just above it in the dialog that follows? I think I'd like to see the dialog right after the comment about the stripes recording everything (bit of a connection there, between recording and speaking).

But yeah--I'm sold. This is good stuff, and right up my alley. I'd request a full right now!

Mim said...

I'm hooked. I don't have a lot to say about either, since I think both are ready to send out there.

I like the comparison elements you did. The voice is strong. Good job.

Steph Su said...

I agree with Beth on a lot of points: I'm definitely intrigued! I love dystopian lit, and the way you presented it in your query, while slightly inconsistent, is gripping. I would recommend tightening the length; I don't really need a four-paragraph synopsis, even if the paragraphs are short. The voice is a little uneven, altering between enthralling and whiny-girl annoying; I'd think about getting rid of most of the stuff in parentheses.

I love the story's title, though!

I really enjoy the systematic capitalization in the first 250 words, as well as the first line. However, I'd be wary of that protag's strong voice: I think she comes off as TOO strong, too ready to get in your face at the slightest transgression or offense you make. It makes me uncomfortable to read characters whose narration oozes no-nonsense defensiveness.

The final thing is a big one, so I don't know if you'll end up doing it, but I'm thinking that your story might work better in the third person. I really enjoyed the voice in the query, and found myself actually disappointed when I discovered the story was written in first-person. Vi's voice is not especially endearing as of now, whereas the voice in the query was. I'm not sure how you will choose to use that observation...?

All in all, a strong start. Some tightening and adjustment of crucial issues, and I think you have a promising chance!

B.J. Anderson said...

I really like this! And the query has a lot of voice, which I've heard is a good thing. I don't have a problem with the length you've used in explaining the story in the query. And the first 250 words have me hooked. Great job!

~Jamie said...

Please don't rewrite your story in third person. That is exactly the kind of story that was meant to be written in first person. My only issue with the query is that it's a little long for me... but only because I have the attention span of a gnat.

But-I'd TOTALLY read it :)

Bontemps said...

That is how its done! I loved the Query letter, strong voice, no wasted sentences. Definitely interested me.

As for the excerpt, again its dripping with a distinctive style. I particularly like the way you don't explain what every term means, as I'm sure you'll show us later.
The dialogue line so far from the initial description of Zenn walking with 'you', was a little confusing to me and I had to quickly look back to the top (perhaps you could recap the walking with Zenn line to refresh it in the mind of the reader - or maybe its just me).

Very strong, I'd be hooked after that excellent tidbit.

Elana Johnson said...

Thanks guys! :-) Beth, you rock!

MeganRebekah said...

First off, let me say I love this. Love it and would read it immediately. I have no doubt that you will get many requests.

That said, the query feels a bit long with a bit too much world setup. The crux of the problem doesn't come in until the very end. Trim it down a bit and you will be rock solid.

I also loved the voice in the excerpt and would recommend staying first person because it works.
I'll point out a few things that caught me. Why would she imagine that her dad's factory is charcoal if she's never been there? How does she even know he's working in a factory if no one ever comes back from there? It seems like it would be more of a mystery.
And the last line, with the dialogue, Zenn's voice is compared to both his smooth skin and strides. Sounds a little weird. All of those things can be smooth, but it felt weird to have all three compared together.
And adverbs. You've got 6 in this short excerpt. They add voice, so I'm hesitant to say cut any, but be very, very careful throughout your manuscript. Cut every last one that doesn't belong so as to not distract from the good ones.

That's all. Loved it!!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Yowser! I love your voice. I love the names you have come up with for this world. I love the spunk of your MC and the way you've established tension from the get-go and in so few words.
Most of what I have is nit-pickers. Query, second graph--if she's not shattering the Thinkers to pieces it needs rewording. Third graph--I'm confused by brainwashing abilities--is she supposed to brainwash others? Or just show she is brainwashed? Needs an explanation. Lame ass needs a hyphen.
But I love the sexy bad boy. I'm not sure whether it's a good idea to compare your story to blockbusters or not. Someone with insider info might be better at second-guessing that.
But who knows, you could be the next blockbuster, cuz this first page rocks. Give me more!

Trisha Pearson said...

This is great! I don't think I've ever read a query with such a strong voice before. I would definitely want to read more, based on both the query and the first 250 words.

I really agree with two changes that Beth suggests: In the query, say which elements compare with The Giver and The Hunger Games, and in the first 250 words, move up the second line of dialoge to keep the reader walking along with Zenn.

In the first 250 words, I'd also give a hint about how the MC feels about all those rules and walking with Zenn. Maybe throw in a little more of that attitude that comes through in the query.

Great job! Thank you so much for sharing. Your query is one I'll keep in mind as a fantastic example.

Anonymous said...

I'd probably read on. I agree that it's great in first person.

Abby Annis said...

I love this, and I love the voice in your query and first 250. You are the Query Queen. I would definitely request to read more. Love your writing, Elana! :)

Lenore Appelhans said...

A snarky dystopia - just what I've always wanted to read!