Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Minna Grey versus BourneMW

Entry Nickname: Minna Gray
Title: The Awakening of Minna Gray
Word count: 89,000
Genre: YA Futuristic Fantasy


Sixteen-year-old Minna Gray’s life in SilCorp’s Emerald District is shattered when the two boys she’s babysitting are kidnapped. Guilt turns to panic when she discovers no one is looking for the boys. No one even remembers them.

It’s as if they’ve been erased.

A mysterious letter from her deceased grandmother leads her to Corrin - a boy who knows about the disappearances. They aren’t isolated events: every day more people are erased. Corrin claims Minna has a magical ancestry - that her visions, her tree-speech, and her hidden power over the elements could put an end to the ghants – the gray men who perform the kidnappings. Only Minna’s not sure how.

Corrin says there are those who understand her heritage in the Outlands – the pest-infected waste beyond the city walls. Going there could be the only way to hone her powers, but no one survives the Outlands, and Minna’s not sure she’s ready to trade life in Emerald for a slow suicide. She’s not even sure she can trust Corrin.

But soon she’ll have to decide. Time’s running out. Minna knows too much, and she’s next on the list to be erased.

First 250 words:

She’d seen one once before - years ago, with Cameron, by the seaside. Its little round body flitted between palm fronds like a tiny jeweled fairy. They were supposed to turn it in. But they hadn’t. They’d watched it all afternoon, until finally it leapt into the sky and flew away, back over the Outer Wall. Their secret.

This one seemed even more out of place, amidst the asphalt and the early evening glow of the podcar lines. For a second, she thought she was imagining it. But then Ethan saw it too.

“What is it?” he asked, gaze transfixed on the emerald blot making its way across the dull bronze shine of the hood.

“A beetle.”

His brown eyes widened. “A real one?”

Minna nodded. “Don’t touch it.” But she was mesmerized too.

He frowned, waving his PestDetector wand over it. “It doesn’t beep.”

“Maybe it’s not infected.” Yet.

They watched its twiggy, spindle-legged progression from latch to windshield. “I don’t want anyone to kill it,” Ethan whispered as he backed away.

Technically it was a vector. Technically they were supposed to destroy it. But it was so small and round and innocent. Suddenly, it lifted off. Humming, it vanished into the protective green and white flurry of the nearby jasmine. Minna exhaled.

“Probably escaped from a DomeZoo.” Ethan said, glancing at her with a shaky laugh.

“Probably, but you still need to disinfect.” Minna puffed her emergency spray into the air, enveloping them in shivering white mist. Silently they counted out the seconds ... eight, nine, ten. Safe.


Entry Nickname: BourneMW
Word Count: 88,000
Genre: YA science fiction


Sixteen-year-old Valora knows how to talk, how to play games, how to socialize… the problem is, she shouldn’t know anything.

Newly awakened from the widespread Hallucinations, a nightmarish sleepwalking state, Valora’s supposed to start life almost like a newborn. Instead, she’s able to live alone and fit in with her peers from the moment she wakes up. In the new world, where brainpower controls everything from lights to cars, Valora learns she needs to help prepare for a looming war.

Valora's gift of premature knowledge reminds her she's terrified of reading before she even touches a book and that a locket should lie on her chest. And when she gets a memory flash of her father kissing her on the forehead, Valora knows, unlike others, she lived before she woke from Hallucinations.

Although her leaders forbid her to, Valora wants to go back to her family. But she has no idea leaving means she might awaken something more sinister than the war itself.

First 250 Words:

The first thing I see is the light. It shines down on me like the sun except it’s much smaller than the actual thing. It’s about the size of my fist and nothing but the glow it generates. Staring at the ball of light above me, I prop up on my elbows, one by one, and sit, cross-legged, on the giant bed.

I lower my eyes to look around me and a room filled with pale purples stares back. Darting my eyes, I brush my disheveled dark hair with cold fingers. I blow on my hands, trying to warm them, but they won’t. So instead, I lie down again and curl into a ball like a dog as I cover myself with the thick blanket.

For minutes, I stare at the door across the room. Not because I’m waiting for someone, but… I don’t feel anything. Emotion. I feel no emotion. My head is just hollow; there’s nothing in it. I dig my head into the pillow and rub on it, smelling the rosy scent of the pillow. Then like a truck, a barrage of thoughts rushes into my head and I jump off the bed.

Where there once was no feeling, my heart is packed by a longing to find something. Breathing fast, I reach for the drawer by the bed and empty it. I dig through all the contents, but whatever it is I’m looking for… it’s not there. I want the longing to stop. It hurts. My entire body is stinging like I’ve been skinned.


  1. This comment is reserved for voting. Judges, please reply here. Thank you.

    1. Victory to Minna Gray

      The premises were so intriguing I wanted to know what happened in both and the pages were strong. Minna Gray's was stronger and I really wanted to read on.

      BourneMW your premise really piqued my curiosity. This is tricky cause you'd have to have her memories come back slowly and naturally instead of so abruptly or how would she describe things like light or her fist. Her mind would be blank until her memories rushed back. Or you could put it in third person maybe? Something to think about. I like how the page opens, but at times your prose confused me. It was just a few minor things that made up my decision. This was so close. Like "It's about the size of my fist and nothing but the glow it generates" What does that mean? Also, how does she prop on both elbows one at a time? Is there a break between the action? Like she rests on one and then the other? I can see propping on them both at the same time. Anyway it could just be me and others may feel different and prop on their elbows one at a time. I don't know - just thought I'd point it out. I hope my comments help.

    2. Victory to Minna Gray. Your query captured my attention immediately. What a great concept! Your first 250 did a great job showing the voice and the environment they lived without any information dump. Loved it.

      To BourneMW, your query left me a bit confused. So not everyone is put through the Hallucination to forget? Her family could still be alive? How/Why was she chosen to go through it? The idea is good and your writing is good, but the questions I were left with had me swing towards the opponent. Good luck to you!

    3. Victory to Minna Gray

      Minna Gray your query kept me hooked from the beginning. Then I read your 250 and wished I didn't have to stop. There is something very enticing about your voice. You painted a vivid picture this world, and I'm intrigued by it.

      BourneMW,I like your premise. The main issue I had reading was how did she know what the sun looked like? I know you said in the query that she's different from others, but it seemed strange that she wakes with all of these memories. Still, it's a very creative idea.

      Good luck to you both.

    4. Victory to Minna Gray

      To Minna Gray:I was invested in your world before I finished reading your first page. Your wordcraft is excellent and engaging. Great job.

      To BourneMW: You have a very enticing premise, but your query left me confused. I won't repeat what other judges have said, but I will say that I would like to see more of your story in your query. As of now, your stakes don't entice me. I don't know who the antagonist is, what the looming war is about, or your MCs involvement in it. I need that information to become invested in your story and your MC.

    5. Victory to Minna Grey

      I have likes and dislikes about both of these. In the end I've gotta go with Minna because the 250 were so strong.

      Minna: The fantasy trope of "girl/boy discovering magic powers and going to find someone to train with so s/he can save the world" is pretty common, and it sounds like that's what this is. Fair warning, that might turn some agents away. I love the concept of people being erased though, and your last line gives great tension. 250: Love it. Your writing is gorgeous.

      Bourne: "something more sinister than the war itself" is very vague. I know you're going for mysterious, but unless we have a good solid villain it's hard to understand the stakes. 250: I like it, I like her sense of loss, but I'm with Storm, in that it's kind of odd having her memories just be there without the reader being aware that it's unusual for her to have them. Brilliant idea though, keep working with it!

      Good luck to both!

    6. Victory to Minna Gray

      To be honest, I felt like I've read the query for THE AWAKENING OF MINNA GRAY before. Not THIS query, just the trope of it. It's going to take the 250 on this one, I think, to convince an agent you've got something different here. As for the 250, the query didn't prepare me for the light but sure tone and the pleasant voice. A nice surprise - but then, I really shouldn't be so surprised moving from the query to the pages.

      I really tried to understand what was happening in the AWAKENED query and to see an 88K-word story that isn't just a book of awakened memories. I think we need more of an idea of how the leaders will be using Valora in the war, assuming that's what she's being awakened for, and how her different state on awakening impacts their plans. As for the 250, you've chosen a very difficult concept to convey through words Valora may only be remembering as she comes to them. Unfortunately, how you've chosen to convey the scene isn't really working, imo. Had I not read the query, I wouldn't understand at a basic level what's going on - and having the benefit of the query, I'm still not sure what's happening in the scene.

    7. Victory to Minnie

      Minnie: I agree with the other comments about this being a familiar set-up but I like the idea of no one remembering the disappearing people and of her being on the list- great tension in the last sentence of the query. Honestly, it was your first 250 that sold me- loved the world-building and the voice so much.

      Bourne: I wish I had more to add but if it helps I nodded along with all of the comments above. I think the biggest issue for me was having her have language skills to describe objects when she had no memory until further down the page.

    8. Victory to Minna Grey!

      Minna Grey: I like all the levels of your query. And I’m intrigued by the pest filled outlands.

      BourneMW: I was confused by your query. It didn’t show me the stakes or what she wanted. What is Valora’s motivation? Also there was a large amount of I’s in the first page. It was noticeable. I think by adding the stakes to the query and what Valora wants this will boost your great concept.

      Good luck!

  2. I love the mix of fantasy and dystopian in Minna Gray. I love your 250. I felt like I was right there with them, watching the beetle--holding my breath--hoping nothing happens to it. Fantastic.

    Regarding BourneMW, there are a few things that cause me to stumble. In your 250 this sentence reads strange to me: "It’s about the size of my fist and nothing but the glow it generates." I'm really not sure what you're trying to say with the second half of the sentence (from and nothing on). And then this sentence: "I blow on my hands, trying to warm them, but they won’t." They won't...warm? I get it, but for some reason it reads strangely to me. But overall, I think you have some nice writing going on and a cool concept! Keep it up!

    Good luck to both of you!

  3. Minna- loving the premise and the world felt immediately real to me. I think I'd prefer a more condensed letter. Introduce Corrin and then hint at all the other stuff that happens after. And I want to know what's more central: knowing she may be on the list or surviving the Outlands. Loved the first 250. Definitely want to read more!

    Bourne MW- definitely intrigued. Want to know if Hallucinations is like an illness or what. Why is she "supposed" to be like a newborn. I think it might be a little clearer if you say something like "most victims of Hallucinations are like a newborn, but Valora is different." First 250: fairly nit-picky, I feel like if she really doesn't know or remember anything she wouldn't be thinking things like "like a truck" because she won't remember what a truck is. She might not even know that the things in the room are purple. Also "where there was once no feeling," makes it sounds like that was a while ago. It was just a moment ago she felt like her head was empty.

    Good luck!

  4. Minna
    I love your 250. Great world building. I think you can tighten the query. It feels jumpy, like you're trying to get too much in. You could cut out the bit about the letter from Grandma - she meets Corrin would be enough. Love it.

    I had a little trouble staying with you. I didn't really see the connection between the gift of premature knowledge and the reading/locket. In the 250 I had trouble seeing where she was and what was happening to her so felt frustrated.

  5. Minna: your query was great, covered everything I needed to know, and I felt pulled right into your 250

    Bourne: cool concept and I'd definitely read more to understand what is different about Valora, but I didn't feel quite as drawn in. Take a look at the number of sentences starting with "I" - I think that made things feel more like a grocery list of actions, rather than just flowing.

  6. Victory to - Minna - Ultraviolet
    Bourne - Although I thought your concept had potential, there was too much about the story logic that concerned me (most of those things have been mentioned already by other judges/commenters). I liked some of the imagery in your 250 but the wording was awkward in some cases, making me reread to try to figure out what you meant and the things she's thinking/feeling change so quickly that I had a hard time keeping up and it made me feel distanced from her.
    Minna - I enjoyed your concept and found your writing quite engaging. In the query I'd like to know why the letter from her grandmother is mysterious (did it arrive mysteriously, is it written cryptically...?) and I also want to know how Minna knows she's next to be erased - or at least get a hint. In your 250 I found very little to criticize other than mentioning two characters (Cameron and Ethan) without telling us how they're related to the MC makes me feel slightly lost. And a very minor thing - there's no need to use 2 similar adjectives when one will do "twiggy, spindle-legged"

  7. Minna Gray-Your first 250 has excellent voice, and that is also echoed in your query. I din't want that first page to stop. Really well done.

    Bourne-I love the premise in the query as well as how the first 250 ends. The description of the longing is great. I'd play around with sentence structure because a lot of sentences begin with "I."

    This is a super tough battle. I wish you both the best!

  8. Minna- no one else has mentioned this so maybe its just mostly me but the first paragraph of the 250 had me really confused.

    "She’d seen one once before -years ago, with Cameron, by the seaside." Right away Im trying to pitcure something so my mind is working to figure out what she saw. " Its little round body flitted between palm fronds like a tiny jeweled fairy." Huh? Still can't picture it, the imagry is So abstract to me that I still Have no idea. "They were supposed to turn it in. But they hadn’t." Here's where I'm really confused. Who? "Theyre" isnt clear because you dont have an obvious subject. Technially i think this would be about the "thing" which i still have no idea what it is. "They’d watched it all afternoon, until finally it leapt into the sky and flew away, back over the Outer Wall. Their secret." What? Huh? Their secret flew over the wall?

    Now of course it all makes sense once you tell us its a beattle and I love it from there but until then... I had a really hard tome wrapping my mind around it. I get what you were doing but for me at least, it didn't work. My suggestion is start seeing with the object and them shocked to see it (maybe even have the "what is it?" Line before the full description) to ground me in the story before going into the explanation. That would help a lot IMO. I hope this made sense lol. If not feel free to ask and I'll try again (I'm writing this from my phone si it's tough. And please forgive any typos for that reason ;-)

    BourneMW everyone pretty much hit on my issues already. We just don't have a firm grasp of the world fr this query. Are the hallucinations a sickness? Was it a comma? How long waa she out. We can't fully understand this story without more explination of that aspect.

    These are both cool stories. Good luck!!

  9. Minna Gray- I thought your query was fantastic. I like the mix of a futuristic world with magic. I've read a few books with the "safe inside the walls but the outside world is dangerous" thing, but I think your add-in of magic really makes this different and interesting. You're sample was also excellent. I hate not to critique anything, but there was nothing for me to crit! Great job!

    BourneMW- I love the premise of this as well, but a few things don't fit. Like, she wakes up and can function instead of being like a newborn, and then you go right into how she needs to prepare for a looming war. The hook is that she's not like the others, that she can do everything, but there are no consequences for that, like it doesn't matter. Does that make sense? The paragraph starting "Valora's gift of premature knowledge..." I think can be rewritten or reworded so that it's stronger. I see what you're saying, but I'm not getting the impact of what these flashbacks or memories really mean to her, or for her. In the last para, you mention the leaders forbidding her to return to her family, but wouldn't they be doing worse to her now that they know she has her memories? And the "awakening something more sinister than the war" makes me think of like a beast or monster, which comes out of left field. If that's not what you mean, then I think that last sentence could be a little less vague. I really liked your sample although there were a couple of awkward sentences. Also, if this is like she's being "born", would she even know about emotion? Would she be surprised she's not feeling anything? I don't know anything about the Hallucination place, but what exactly would she be expecting when she woke up, and does this fit? (And if it does, feel free to ignore me. ;))

  10. Minna Gray
    Great first two paragraphs of your query. Intriguing premise, great setup. Then it becomes a little vague with more telling than showing. I love the name ghants though.

    One of the reasons I think I like the first section of your query so much is that I didn’t bother to read your genre before reading the query. So it sounded ho-hum real world until your twist—no one remembered the boys at all.

    Your 250 was intriguing and sets up the world interestingly. But I am unsure how the bugs plays into the world you are creating. Plus I thought she was with Cameron, then you mentioned Ethan. Two different boys? I like her thoughts outside quotation marks.

    I think I rather the query start with the surprise, rather than telling us a 16 yo can talk and play games. The hook takes a paragraph too long to catch us.

    What is premature knowledge? If she is a miracle survivor, why is she lumped in with the rest preparing for a looming war? So I am assuming others wake from their hallucinations but no one else remembers their life beforehand? It is an interesting premise but I think it needs to be spelled out more thoroughly and better. You end with a big though.

    The 250 words are visual and lovely. There is some off choreography—she doesn’t sit up before she sits down. What are pale purples? Freshen up your clich├ęs. These are the best way to show the world through your character’s eyes. It has nice tension and emotion though.

    Good job and good luck.

  11. Minna Gray:

    Very strong query! The only thing that stuck out for me was "District." I'm seeing lots of Districts since the Hunger Games, and not to say those books hold the copyright on word or concept, but just saying there is a lot of this out there right now. But your query hooks me from start to finish and did its job.

    "Twiggy, spindle-legged progression" is a bit of a mouthful. I stumbled over that. I also found a handful of words in your 250 that I felt I was supposed to know the meaning of in this context (vector, DomeZoo, etc.) and wonder if words like this will be sprinkled throughout without further explanation. But apart from that, I'd read on. Good work!


    Your premise is intriguing, but your query brings up a few questions for me. What's this looming war? Who is it with, and why? I think you could drop your opening sentence for a stronger query, as most 16-year-olds know how to do all those things, so reading that *first* before learning she shouldn't be able to doesn't have as big an impact as your story could offer. I think a bit of rearranging could really make this shine!

    As others have said, you've got good imagery in your 250, but I think if you could out some of those "I"'s you could hook us in quicker. They tend to stand out, detracting from the lovely descriptions. And perhaps you could jump into the action a bit quicker... maybe give us an opening paragraph of what she wakes up to, then give us something more than just her taking it all in?

    Both interesting premises, both have good points and things that could be tightened. Good luck!!

  12. Minna Gray

    Query--Definitely intriguing, great job of explaining a whole new world in seriously limited real estate. A few nitpicks:
    "Corrin says there are those who understand her heritage in the Outlands" seems a bit awkward, maybe "Corrin says she should seek understanding from the [sages, insert name of people]."

    "Time is running out" is somewhat of a cliche, we don't need it because you establish urgency by telling us she's on the list.

    Watch the en and em dashes (short vs. long). They're awful to format outside of a word doc but the technically correct use is longer than what you're using. In Word, this formats automatically if you type a letter--and another letter, and does not look like it does here.

    First 250--I totally agree with Stacey that I just want to know the thing is a beetle in the first paragraph. You don't have to put it in for "one," but one of the "its" can be replaced. You can leave the "what is it" and we still get a great sense of your world. Otherwise, the treatment of the bugs and pests and vectors leave me with enough mystery to read on, but I'm not totally confused.


    Lose the ellipses in your first sentence, they're a pet peeve for many, not just me. Just use a period. Also, be more specific. How does she learn of the looming war? I agree with much of the other commentary here.

    First 250--Agreed with the mentions of some awkward sentences above. Might just need a quick "read aloud" check.

    Reading suggestion: Octavia Butler's "Fledgling." About a vampire who wakes up with no idea who or what she is. Pretty awesome. Might give some tips on how to handle the progression into knowledge.

  13. Minnagrey: This premise is enticing and I think you have some real stakes set up here. Sometimes the stakes are "be a hero" or "don't be a hero," and while a lot of those are great too (actually mine would fall into that category...heh) I think what you have, which is more, "Can I be a hero by doing this or can I save my brothers by doing something else...oh and also I need to save my own life!" is more dynamic. So good job!

    The first 250 also set up some nice mysteries/questions, like the bug being infected, which would keep me reading.


    I like the premise set up in the query, and there are some nice lines, like the reference to her father. My only suggestion would be to expand more on how, exactly, she would get back to her family. Is it something the leaders HAVE to approve logistically, or could she get back on her own?

    I really liked that the first 250 plops her into what I assume is her awakening. I think in general what you have is good, and would keep me reading, but some of the lines need a little polish:

    This is a little awkward:It’s about the size of my fist and nothing but the glow it generates.

    Can you avoid saying 'pillow' twice: I dig my head into the pillow and rub on it, smelling the rosy scent of the pillow.

    Great stuff and good luck to you both! :)