Monday, February 20, 2017

1. UNQUEENLY: YA Fantasy

1.
Title: UNQUEENLY
Category and Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: 87,000

Query:
The clash of swords has always pumped fire into sixteen-year-old Janai’s veins, filling her head with dreams of becoming a warrior. But everything changes when her father is murdered and she becomes the new Queen of Emerise.
People whisper that she is too young to rule, and even worse, some believe she may become a dark priestess like her mother, who was executed years ago for destroying a village. If Janai must rule, she wants to do so with light magic to continue her father’s legacy. However, when she’s framed for using dark powers to kill someone, she’s stripped of her title and sentenced to death. With the help of her friends, she flees to a city called Sivanna, where the buildings and people are painted with beautiful works of art.
Twice a year, Sivanna hosts an event called the Spar Games, where warriors fight for prestige and gold. Janai uses her skills in swordsmanship to participate, hoping to gain the support she needs to become queen again and save her people from a tyrant who threatens their peaceful way of life. With each triumph in the arena, new enemies begin emerging, and though many of Janai’s allies watch her back, she’s sure at least one wants to put a knife in it. The path to reclaim her throne is fraught with blood and betrayal, not to mention her inner fight against the darkness she may have inherited. And being a warrior on the outside doesn’t always mean being tough on the inside.
First 250 Words:
The darkness below held the traitor in its midst.
With Ralel's steadying arm around my own, we descended, my gold high heels clacking down the stone steps. The odor of mildew, urine, and feces ambushed my nostrils. It was difficult to refrain from gagging.
We reached the bottom of the stairs and continued down a hallway lined with torches whose flames swayed as we passed them. My long gown dragged across the floor, gathering dust and who knew what else, but I didn’t mind. I did, however, tighten my grip on the muscular biceps of my most trusted defender when a rat scrabbled by us.
“I find it amusing that someone who once wanted to become a fearsome gladiator is afraid of a puny rat,” Ralel said, his tone suggesting amusement, but his face as serious as usual.
“I find it amusing that you find anything amusing,” I grumbled, giving the rat a dubious glance.
He worked hard to keep a smile off his face. “I told you this is no place for a queen.”
“You’ve made your disapproval quite clear many times. But it’s time for me to do this.”
“You should’ve allowed the guards to bring the prisoner to you in chains.”
“I want to see where he’s staying. I want to see him suffering.”

He sighed and rubbed a hand across his close-cut hair. His skin—which was a deeper brown than mine—was already glistening with sweat.

11 comments:

  1. When I give feedback, you are in no way obligated to take ANY of my suggestions. It’s your story, and you know best what will be true to it. What I’m offering is advice on how I would change the query and first 250 if they were mine.

    Thoughts on the Query:

    I can tell from your query that you have a lot of ground to cover in your story, and you’ve introduced the situation really well. I feel like I have a good idea of what kind of story this is going to be, and because I might be very wrong, I always try to tell writers what their query made me think of when I read it. Yours made me think of Gladiator. If you feel like your story has a lot of feel like that, then excellent. If your story isn’t anything like that, then you know you’ve thrown at least one reader (me) off the scent of the kind of story you’ve written. Now, on to the nitty gritty.

    For the introduction, you might want to start with something like "When Janai's father is murdered, she has to put aside her dreams of swordplay and becoming a warrior to take up the mantle of Queen." This cuts out the first sentence which does give us character development, but it could be done more efficiently, making room for other specifics.

    When you get to the part about the magic and the murder, things start to get murky. Specifically, I feel like the query wanders away from the central conflict of your story. As I see it, the central conflict is that her father is murdered, she sacrifices her dreams (which I’m concerned weren’t very realistic given the fact that she was the heir to the kingdom) to become the queen. Then after her sacrifice, she’s framed and someone wants her dead so they can take over and do bad things to her people. Some details to flesh out the main conflict would be nice to help invest us in this. For instance, who is the tyrant? Did he frame her? Drive everything back to the main conflict in the second paragraph, and give us details. Who is she accused of killing? How does she escape? Is this new kingdom far enough away to keep her safe? Why don’t the guards just come and arrest her while she’s in the arena?

    In the third paragraph, I want specifics. You have a lot of generalized statements like “she hopes to gain the support she needs to reclaim the throne.” I want to know how. Is she planning to raise an army and take her kingdom back? Is she planning to prove she didn’t commit the murder? You say the “Path to reclaim her throne is fraught with blood and betrayal,” and I feel like that should also have more specifics. This sounds like a political intrigue similar to The Gladiator, but with a female protag, so we already know the path is filled with blood and betrayal. But after giving us the impression that this is going to be a battle ground, the last line of your query makes me think most of the conflict is going to be internal because you mention that warriors aren’t always so tough on the inside.

    To boil all of my suggestions down: focus on the main conflict and give us specifics so we can see how your story is different.

    ReplyDelete
  2. First 250:

    This is all really good, and you’ve started us in a great place to see what’s going on, and I find it interesting. I have some suggestions.

    I feel like you sometimes do things to bump us out of a close perspective. The “but I didn’t mind. I did, however tighten…” could be cut to make those thoughts flow together better. I’d also not mention the muscular bicep and go for arm. When we start talking about specific muscles, I start wondering about the genre since I see a lot of talk about muscular biceps in romance novels (to be clear, I’m not dissing on romance, I’m pointing out that it seems odd to mention it so specifically in a fantasy adventure).

    “It was difficult to refrain from gagging,” could also be used to show us something about her character. Maybe she clenched her jaw against the rise in her stomach brought on by the smell. Maybe she wanted to heave, but seeing this putrid traitor suffering was enough motivation to bring her down into this filth.

    Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions!

    ReplyDelete
  3. These comments are from Elsie Elmore, but blogger is having a brainfart and wouldn't let her post. Here are her thoughts:

    Your query has a lot of great detail and is in strong shape. I looked for ways to tighten/sharpen so I tinkered with phrasing. Perhaps the musing will help. Best of luck! Love this premise. (and the title)

    Query:
    Clashing swords has always pumped fire into sixteen-year-old Janai’s veins. But her dreams of becoming a warrior are derailed/ruined/altered when her father’s murder forces her -to become - to rise as – to claim) the new Queen of Emerise.

    People whisper that she is too young to rule and she may become a dark priestess like her mother, who was executed years ago for destroying a village. But Janai will (of chooses to) rule with light magic to continue her father’s legacy. However, when she’s framed for using dark powers to kill someone, she’s stripped of her title and sentenced to death.

    With the help of her friends, she flees to the city of Sivanna just as the Spar Games begin. Warriors, coming (from how far?), fight for prestige and gold. Janai uses her skills in swordsmanship to compete?, hoping to gain support and build an army to retake her throne and save her people from a tyrant who threatens their peaceful way of life.
    With each triumph in the arena, new enemies emerge, and though many of Janai’s allies watch her back, at least one wants to put a knife in it. The path to reclaim her throne is fraught with blood and betrayal,(shivers with this line – LOVE it) not to mention her inner fight against the darkness she may have inherited. Sometimes a warrior’s greatest opponent is herself? The warrior in her must rise? How can she win the war if the greatest battle is within? (Amp up the stakes at the end)

    First 250 Words:
    The darkness below held the traitor in its midst. (Awesome first line)
    With Ralel's steadying arm around my own, we descended, my gold high heels clacking down the stone steps. The odor of mildew, urine, and feces ambushed my nostrils. It was difficult to refrain from gagging.
    We reached the bottom of the stairs and continued down a hallway lined with torches whose flames swayed as we passed them. My long gown dragged across the floor, gathering dust and who knew what else, but I didn’t mind. (why not? The reaction is very defined – would love to know why especially with what follows)I did, however, tighten my grip on the muscular biceps of my most trusted defender when a rat scrabbled by us.
    “I find it amusing that someone who once wanted to become a fearsome gladiator is afraid of a puny rat,” Ralel said, his tone suggesting amusement, but his face as serious as usual. (nice detail)
    “I find it amusing that you find anything amusing,” I grumbled, giving the rat a dubious glance.
    He worked hard to keep a smile off his face. “I told you this is no place for a queen.”
    “You’ve made your disapproval quite clear many times. But it’s time for me to do this.” Would this type of comment led to rolling shoulder back to show authority? Some movement?
    “You should’ve allowed the guards to bring the prisoner to you in chains.”
    “I want to see where he’s staying. I want to see his? suffering.”

    He sighed and rubbed a hand across his close-cut hair. His skin—which was a deeper brown than mine—already glistened with sweat.

    So, I ran out of words. L I would have kept on reading. I like the imagery, the details, the characters you’re beginning to develop. And the dialogue is effective.– I added a few thoughts/suggestions. Great start.

    All thoughts/suggestions/opinions are humbly offered. Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey there-

    Thoughts on the query:
    I liked the first line because it gave me such a good picture of who Janai is, and then we find out she's a princess, so it's a nice little aha since princesses aren't supposed to want to be warriors, right? After that, the query starts to sound a little generic. Princess forced to take over the crown then she runs off. I'm curious to know if she has any idea who framed her. Is she trying to find out? I'd also like the stakes to be clearer. "Reclaim her throne" is a little ho-hum. Why is she going to be better than anybody else? I think there are internal stakes as well, and I'm not seeing that clearly on the page. You lost me with that last line. She's a strong fierce young woman and I think the last line was not as strong as it could be. Not that she can't be emotionally vulnerable, but she's a kickass heroine and I want her to stay that way in the query.

    First 250:
    Pretty solid.

    I wondered about your word count. 87K seems really long for a YA.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just verifying that 87k is fine for YA, especially fantasy. With fantasy, I've seen agents/editors get nervous if the WC is much lower than that, actually.

      Delete
    2. agreed, 87k is fine for YA fantasy. There's a lot of wiggle room in WC in the fantasy genre.

      Delete
  5. My opinions...please take what helps and ignore the rest!

    Query:
    The clash of swords has always pumped fire into sixteen-year-old Janai’s veins, filling her head with dreams of becoming a warrior. But everything changes when her father is murdered and she becomes the new Queen of Emerise. (Good set up. I know her, what she wants, and her problem.)
    People whisper that she is too young to rule, and even worse, some believe she may become a dark priestess like her mother, who was executed years ago for destroying a village. (Let's focus on what Janai thinks...she hears the whispers...does she think she's too young, does she feel this dark power in herself?) If Janai must rule, she wants to do so with light magic to continue her father’s legacy. However, when she’s framed for using dark powers to kill someone, she’s stripped of her title and sentenced to death. With the help of her friends, she flees to a city called Sivanna, where the buildings and people are painted with beautiful works of art. (I WANT TO GO TO SIVANNA! Though why does she go there?)
    Twice a year, Sivanna hosts an event called the Spar Games, where warriors fight for prestige and gold. (Oh, is that why she goes there? To be able to fight?) Janai uses her skills in swordsmanship to participate, hoping to gain the support she needs to become queen again and save her people from a tyrant who threatens their peaceful way of life. (This Tyrant should be set up earlier...as part of the conflict in the para 2. Otherwise I feel like you threw him at me last minute. If he a big problem put him in earlier.) With each triumph in the arena, new enemies begin emerging, and though many of Janai’s allies watch her back, she’s sure at least one wants to put a knife in it. The path to reclaim her throne is fraught with blood and betrayal, not to mention her inner fight against the darkness she may have inherited. And being a warrior on the outside doesn’t always mean being tough on the inside. (There might be too many things in here. What is the main story? Then what keeps her from it? I feel like the people trying to stab her in the back because of her success in the arena is a subplot...and maybe not needed? The path to reclaim her throne...that sentence is too vague. What must she overcome? What is the big moment that gives her a choice? What will happen or won't happen when she chooses? The last line doesn't do it for me. But I like Janai! I want to know about her world. And I think 87K is a pretty darn good length for YA fantasy.)

    ReplyDelete
  6. First 250 Words:
    The darkness below held the traitor in its midst. (I like this line! Now I want to be in the head of the person thinking about this traitor.)
    With Ralel's steadying arm around my own, we descended, my gold high heels clacking down the stone steps. The odor of mildew, urine, and feces ambushed my nostrils. It was difficult to refrain from gagging. (Okay...details, description...but who is this person in gold high heels? Who are we with? What are they thinking and feeling as they descend?)
    We reached the bottom of the stairs and continued down a hallway lined with torches whose flames swayed as we passed them. (How is she feeling as she goes? Should I be nervous? Angry? Annoyed?) My long gown dragged across the floor, gathering dust and who knew what else, but I didn’t mind. I did, however, tighten my grip on the muscular biceps of my most trusted defender when a rat scrabbled by us.
    “I find it amusing that someone who once wanted to become a fearsome gladiator is afraid of a puny rat,” Ralel said, his tone suggesting amusement, but his face as serious as usual.
    “I find it amusing that you find anything amusing,” I grumbled, giving the rat a dubious glance.
    He worked hard to keep a smile off his face. “I told you this is no place for a queen.”
    “You’ve made your disapproval quite clear many times. But it’s time for me to do this.”
    “You should’ve allowed the guards to bring the prisoner to you in chains.”
    “I want to see where he’s staying. I want to see him suffering.”
    (Ah. Nice exchange! Gives me insights into their characters and gives me story! But I also want a bit more emotion...this seems like a big deal...and they're joking...to try and lighten the mood?)

    He sighed and rubbed a hand across his close-cut hair. His skin—which was a deeper brown than mine—was already glistening with sweat.
    (This is intriguing! I would definitely keep reading, cause I want to know who is in the dungeon!)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Title: UNQUEENLY
    Category and Genre: YA Fantasy
    Word Count: 87,000
    Query:
    The clash of swords has always pumped fire into sixteen-year-old Janai’s veins, filling her head with dreams of becoming a warrior. But everything changes when her father is murdered and she becomes the new Queen of Emerise. (Great opening! Strong hook that entices me to read more. I’d cut the ‘but’ and start the second sentence with ‘everything.’)

    People whisper that she is too young to rule, and even worse, some believe she may become a dark priestess like her mother, who was executed years ago for destroying a village. (I’d cut the last clause off of this sentence and end with ‘mother.’) If Janai must rule, she wants to do so with light magic to continue her father’s legacy. (Good insight into Janai.) However, when she’s framed for using dark powers to kill someone, she’s stripped of her title and sentenced to death. With the help of her friends, she flees to a city called Sivanna, where the buildings and people are painted with beautiful works of art. (You lost me here. The works of art are out of left field, and it distracts from the very streamlined version of your story that you need to tell in a query. Also, it doesn’t appear to be important in the third paragraph. I’d cut it.)

    Twice a year, Sivanna hosts an event called the Spar Games, where warriors fight for prestige and gold. Janai uses her skills in swordsmanship to participate, hoping to gain the support she needs to become queen again and save her people from a tyrant who threatens their peaceful way of life. (I’d meld the first two sentences together and cut out the extraneous words. ‘Janai competes in the Spar Games, using her swordsmanship skills to become queen…….etc’) With each triumph in the arena, new enemies begin emerging, and though many of Janai’s allies watch her back, she’s sure at least one wants to put a knife in it. (When did she get many allies?) The path to reclaim her throne is fraught with blood and betrayal, not to mention her inner fight against the darkness she may have inherited. And being a warrior on the outside doesn’t always mean being tough on the inside. (LOVE this closing. Clearly delineates the conflicts of the novel and gives Janai some additional personality.)

    Your first 250 words are great. Strong voice, descriptive, and makes me want to read more.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The blurb for UNQUEENLY caught my eye at the visual idea of swords clashing and a young woman wanting to become a warrior. And the thought of people painted as beautiful works of art is intriguing. Nicely done. However, I am wondering why winning a contest or competition would enable her to rule again. Now, if it is to win back the favor of the people, that is understood. Therefore, make it clear how winning will enable her to take back her rightful place.

    Nice opening hook in the excerpt provided. It is short, catchy, and to the point—not to mention highly active. One thing I’d like to suggest is to NOT tell the reader the odors ambushed the central character’s nostrils . . . show the reader what this action felt like. Did her nose burn? Did the aroma turn her stomach? Show the action don’t tell the reader.

    Now, I’m not sure how to take the arm tightening when the rat ran past her since she longs to be a warrior. However, it could open the door (or window) for some humor. One thing to really watch in your manuscript is the repeat use of words in close proximity. When a word is used as a literary device (alliteration) that is one thing, but when the word is not used as a literary device and is repeated in the same sentence or in back to back sentences, it creates a redundancy or repetitive feel to the piece that you want to avoid. Also, what does a close-cut hair look like to the central character? Can you show this instead of telling the reader? And what emotional reaction did she have to the glistening sweat?

    When reading pieces, the YA voice of this selection stood out because the central character is spunky and speaks with a hint of humor. She’s strong and confident, and isn’t afraid to show her uneasiness in the face of confrontation . . . even if it involves a rat. *winky face*

    April A. Luna

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow thanks for all the great advice guys!

    ReplyDelete

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