Genre: MG Science Fiction
Word Count: 38,000
My Main Character is most uncomfortable with:
Snow reminds Xavier of his mom, who passed away several years ago while they were living on a rather wintery planet. Come to think of it--that's probably around the time she hid the microchip in his brain. Although he has, on some levels, accepted her death--Xavier still misses his mom.
Dear Goddesses of Sun and Snow:
Everyone says twelve year-old Xavier has a knack for causing havoc, when in reality he's just terribly unlucky. He's not the one who made the mysterious black spaceship show up and turn the colony into something resembling a burnt pancake. Oh wait—he is.
To be fair, Xavier didn't even know the microchip (the one the goons on the mysterious black spaceship wanted) was in his head until after the colony was fried to a crisp. See, his mom did leave a message explaining the whole I-put-a-microchip-with-my-research-on-it-in-your-head thing before she died several years earlier, but it was locked inside a puzzle box. It wasn't until the box detected the threat of the black spaceship that it opened and spilled its secret.
Now, Xavier must unlock the password to the microchip before "The Man" (the evil head of the Cornucopia Conglomerate) or his goons get their hands on him. If he doesn't, he'll never know what's on the microchip or why they want to cut it out of his head.
First 250 Words:
I thought to myself: Self, that’s not supposed to happen—just as the second dung bomb exploded. As I watched the smelly, sticky, brownish-green substance fly through the air, I knew somewhere I'd made a slight miscalculation. Taking a moment as I crouched in the wheat field, I reviewed the parameters of my little experiment.
The plastic trays held a chemical that Mr. Finch, the colony's bug guy, assured me would be poisonous to the black bellied grain beetle. The trays were covered by a heap of cow dung that would attract said beetles (again according to the illustrious Mr. Finch). Perhaps I should've consulted the colony chemist, too.
The third beetle-trap-turned-dung-bomb exploded.
I cringed. I didn't recognize the voice, the colony was small but not that small, but its tone was certainly familiar. My reputation had preceded me. Turning around slowly, I saw one of the grain farmers. I couldn't remember the man’s name, but I might've been distracted by the fact that he was covered—from head to toe—in dung.
“Yes, sir?” Why does my voice always crack at times like these?
His angry reply was cut off by the fourth and final explosion. The trap I'd proudly dubbed ‘The Hotel’ went out in a blaze of glory spewing forth a cloud of brown and a jet of yellow flames. The wave of brown speckles struck the farmers back and then fell lightly on my face. My chagrin turned toward more of a horror type feeling when I spotted the flames lapping up at the grain.
Hi, author of ENCODED! Mentor Sarah Marsh here. I love your premise, and hope I can help shine up your query so you snag some lucky agents' attention!ReplyDelete
In the first paragraph of your query, I want to know more about this colony--is the colony Xavier's home? If so, I think this needs to be clarified.
Let's look at trimming the second paragraph a bit: To be fair, Xavier didn't even know the microchip (the one the goons on the mysterious black spaceship wanted) [I think this could just be 'the one the goons on the spaceship wanted'] was in his head until after the colony was fried [I think here, just 'fried' instead of 'was fried' would eliminate passive voice] to a crisp. See, his mom did leave [I recommend 'left' instead of 'did leave'] a message explaining the whole I-put-a-microchip-with-my-research-on-it-in-your-head thing before she died several years earlier [I don't think you need the 'several years earlier bit here--can delete], but it was locked inside a puzzle box. It wasn't until the box detected the threat of the black spaceship that it opened and spilled its secret.
The third paragraph is where you lost me. You've got GREAT stakes, but I was thrown by the introduction of "The Man." Is this antagonist someone from the spaceship? If so, I think you need to name him in the first paragraph of the query--when you first mention the spaceship--so he doesn't surprise the agents at the end here. Same with the name Cornucopia Conglomerate. We need to know if this is all tied to the spaceship or not.
In your first 250, I recommend starting with the second line and deleting the first altogether to avoid opening with a thought. Open with action--your MC watching that bomb explode! I might do something like this... "As the smelly, greenish-brown dung bomb flew through the air, I knew I'd made a slight miscalculation." Go for action, and the fewest words that give the biggest impact. For instance, you didn't need all three adjectives to describe the dung bomb in one sentence--one or two well-chosen adjectives will do. Also with first person, you want to make sure you cut down on 'filter' terms like 'I heard, I saw, I watched,' things that are more common in third person. Filter words separate us from your MC, when we want to feel tied to his narrative/see things through his eyes. I hope that makes sense! If not, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. :)
One other thing to note in your first 250 is this line: "My chagrin turned toward more of a horror type feeling"...I'm not sure that 'chagrin' is a word too commonly used in MG, so you might consider rewording. More importantly, I think replacing 'horror-type feeling' with some actual emotion would be more effective to convey what Xavier is experiencing. Does his stomach twist into a big knot at the sight of the flames? Do his palms sweat? Or perhaps he breaks out in a cold sweat all over--you get the idea.
Overall, there's so much to love about this book--like Xavier's voice and the humor in moments like calling his big trap 'The Hotel'--and I hope my suggestions help you to put on some final polish! Good luck with this!!
Hello, I'm Vicki Lemp Weavil, mentor for TEAM SNOW.ReplyDelete
You have a fun and funny premise here, now for a few suggestions:
Everyone says (I would cut the "Everyone says" and just start with "Twelve year-old...") twelve year-old Xavier has a knack for causing havoc, when in reality (instead of "when in reality, perhaps "but really..." he's just terribly unlucky. He's not the one who made the mysterious black spaceship show up and (not sure you need "show up and") turn (maybe more of an action word here? Blast? Zap?) the colony (what colony? Xavier's colony? Maybe then say "his" instead of "the") into something resembling a burnt pancake. Oh wait—he is.
To be fair, Xavier didn't even know the microchip (the one the goons on the mysterious black spaceship wanted) was in his head until after the colony was fried to a crisp. (I would suggest trimming this -- stop after "head." You've already established that the colony was toasted.) See, his mom did leave ("left" might be better) a message explaining the whole I-put-a-microchip-with-my-research-on-it-in-your-head thing before she died several years earlier, but it was locked inside a puzzle box. It wasn't until the box detected the threat of the black spaceship (maybe just say -- detected a threat? You've used black spaceship several times already) that it opened and spilled its secret.
Now, Xavier must unlock the password to the microchip before "The Man" (the evil head of the Cornucopia Conglomerate) or his goons get their hands on him. If he doesn't, he'll never know what's on the microchip or why they want to cut it out of his head. (I think you can trim this too. Maybe just say something like -- "Now Xavier must unlock the password to the microchip before he's captured and it's cut out of his head." Then continue with something zingy, like the rest of the query. I mean I don't know your story well enough to say, but you might have something like -- "Not only would that destroy Xavier's plans for the future, it would also spell the end for his planet." Okay, that's not great, but I hope you get the idea. Give us some notion of how losing the chip might mean Xavier's death and/or the destruction of his world. Give us the stakes.)
First 250 words:
I agree with starting with the action instead of the thought. Sarah made a good suggestion on how to revise this.
Also, this sentence doesn't work for me either: "My chagrin turned toward more of a horror type feeling when I spotted the flames lapping up at the grain." "Chagrin" seems out of place and I think you need to find an action to express this, rather than "telling" the emotion. Show us how Xavier reacts -- does he gulp, clench his fists, swear, or...? Also, as Sarah mentioned, try to avoid "filter" words like "watched" or "heard" or "saw." One example: This sentence: "Turning around slowly, I saw one of the grain farmers." could be changed to something like -- "As I turned, a grain farmer strode toward me. I couldn't remember the man's name because I was distracted..." Keep things active, not passive.
I do love your voice and the way you establish Xavier's personality right away. That is tricky, so kudos to you! I look forward to seeing this again after you revise.
This is a great premise, really fun and I can picture my nephews reading this in a couple years! Instead looking like a total copycat, I'll just cut to the chase and say that Vicki and Sarah are right on with their advice. I would also bump "The Man" character up into the first or beginning of the second paragraph. You've got great stuff here, you just need to polish it up (I'd recommend you go through your full ms as well and do searches for those passive phrases and filter words) and then get ready for some requests!ReplyDelete
Good luck to you!
I think you got some great feedback on the query already. I love the microchip mcguffin and calling the baddy "the man." It sounds like a great world you've built and clarifying those little bits will help it come through even better. And the stakes are high, not only does he not want to be a screw-up, he also doesn't want a hole cut into his head, who can blame him?ReplyDelete
First 250: I like the idea of starting on the action though I love the "I thought to myself: self..." So I would still work that in. And to be clear: he wasn't supposed to be making a bomb at all, right? It just sounded like they were supposed to be traps. So it might be better to show his surprise when the first one goes off. Because THAT was very unexpected. I love the annoyed dung-covered adult, and I'm sure MG readers would too. (who doesn't love dung?) I think this is a great premise, and I have a major love of all things goofy middle grade, and this definitely fits right in! Best of luck in your revisions!
Mentor of Team Snow, Copernicus Nerd here! It's all subjective in this grand 'ol writing world of ours, but I hope whatever I have to say helps out at least a little!ReplyDelete
Loving the premise of this story so far, and I'm getting a pretty clear idea as to what it entails just from the query. Just a few pointers! The opening paragraph is strong, and a few people already suggested some "re-wording" suggestions, so I'll leave that out. Only thing I would suggest is that you take out "everyone says" and elaborate on the colony a bit more. Overall though, its a very effective hook paragraph.
I do like your "storytelling" voice in the query. It works pretty well, and I wouldn't want to change it. It feels like a mini story, which doesn't always work but you've done a great job with it. BTW, I love CORNUCOPIA CONGLOMERATE, and THE MAN!
On to your 250 - I debated at first whether or not I liked the opening line, but then I said to myself you know what, it brings out the MC's voice, so what the heck. Keep it in there.
Be careful a bit in areas where you are doing a little bit more showing then telling. Especially the line "My chagrin turned toward more of a horror type feeling." This is telling. SHOW us the horror! Also, "his angry reply" - you don't need to say his angry. Make him scowl.
All in all, good voice in the query / 250 and in par with the great concept you've got a good MG on your hands! Great work!
Hi, Snow mentor Kate Brauning here, of Month9Books!ReplyDelete
This is a compact, solid query. Great work focusing on the conflict and using voice. This is very short, though, so you do have some room to expand in a few places. I’d want to know more about Xavier—is he an orphan now? Is any of that affecting him? It seems like there’d be added conflict and complication if he has no parents, so it makes me wonder if you can pull some of that in.
Also, the colony being destroyed sounds like a tragedy, but it’s hard to tell because we don’t get much about it. Did anyone die? Does he want revenge? It sounds like him finding the password is the main goal of the story, but I’m assuming there’s more to it—escaping, surviving, finding somewhere to live if the colony has been destroyed? I’d unpack the conflict a little more and give us just a bit more about “The Man” and his mom’s research.
The wording issues from the other mentors can help trim out the unnecessary phrases, but you do have fantastic voice here and I’d absolutely read on to see the pages. Great final line of the query!
I love your first line. It hooks us with the humor and shows us a lot about the MC. You can remove the filter words “I watched” and “I knew” by phrasing it something like “The smelly, sticky, brownish-green substance wasn’t supposed to fly through the air, so somewhere I’d made a slight miscalculation.” That gets us closer to the character and the situation.
The voice is fun, adventurous, and smart, so perfect for MG! Your writing is smooth and you have great details, too. I agree that “chagrin” sounds more adult than MG, and getting showing us more of his emotions would be great. This is very strong already, though. I’d keep reading!
Team Snow mentor Kat here!ReplyDelete
Really fun premise for this story! Your title gave me pause, though: although ENCODED is a very sci-fi sounding title, it doesn't scream MG to me, and it lacks the fun feel of your story.
Query: I think you may be able to smooth out the transition from your first paragraph to your second so that the connection between the chip in Xavier's brain and the spaceship are immediately clear. It would be good if you could re-work the first sentence of the 2nd paragraph so that you can take out the section in parentheses and have it read more fluidly. Your voice is really strong in the query, and definitely fits with your 250. Speaking of which...
First 250: Again, great voice, and the opening certainly has impact with that ick-factor! I'm not crazy about Xavier addressing himself as Self - I think it would work better if it was left out - but that's just my preference. I think everything else has already been covered by the other mentors.
Team Snow mentor here!ReplyDelete
Definitely needs more information (though beware of making it sound like a synopsis, which it's starting to). What colony? Is it on Earth? Who set up this colony? I have absolutely no idea where this story takes place.
The second paragraph is chock full of unnecessary information. You only have so much space in a query letter, don't waste it! So, Xavier has a chip in his head that his mother put there that contains some Very Important Information. Boom. That's all you need. Be economical with your words.
A query needs to establish who this story is about, where this story takes place, and what's at stake. I feel like it's flirting with these ideas without giving up the goods, so to speak.
I quite like the first line. The voice is clear, I have a sense of who this person is. I get it. What I would like to see more of is the colony! Again, I have no idea what kind of world this is, so I feel really detached from what's happening. You need to anchor the reader. I don't expect a ton of worldbuilding in the first 250 words, but I need to know where I am.
Also a mentor! So, I think the comments you've got already hit the bases. The 'the colony' is a tad vague--clarify that it's his colony.
I'd also think about nixing the brackets and straight-up giving out that info.
In the 250, consider nixing 'chagrin'. I was a precocious kid and I don't even think that's a word I'd have known.
The trap I'd proudly dubbed ‘The Hotel’ went out in a blaze of glory spewing forth a cloud of brown and a jet of yellow flames. <---there's a comma missing after 'glory'. Had to reread to get the gist.
Apart from that, I like this a lot!
I love your premise and the 'secret chip buried in the unsuspecting head' thing. Be careful of longer or older words as I'm sure there are ways to get 'shock and awe and laughter' out of your readers with simpler words. Great job! Good luck for the next round.ReplyDelete
Just a reminder to take the feedback that works for you when revising for the agent round. It’s a lot to take in, but you’re the expert on your story and know best. If you have any questions about the next round you may ask here or on twitter.ReplyDelete
Thought you’d like to know why you were picked. Obviously the first 250 are amazingly funny. Voice fairly explodes (pardon the pun) from it. But you also got a good dose of voice into the query! The middle paragraph is my favorite as it tells us something about the MC.
Question: Now that I have done some revising and fixing--the last sentence of the original first 250 would push my word count to 275. If I leave it out the count is 248. Should I leave it out? Or can I leave it in since it was part of the original entry?Delete
I love your voice for this one! It draws me in immediately and I really liked your query. I also loved the action in the opening 250!ReplyDelete
Good luck in the agent round!
Thanks for everyones comments so far! It has helped me get a good perspective on the changes I need to make.ReplyDelete
Hi, there! Fellow Team Snow member here with a few comments for you--hope they're helpful in some way!ReplyDelete
Query: Overall, I like how much voice you managed to inject in this query. I was mildly confused by what happened to the colony, though. When it's described as "fried to a crisp", I wondered if it was just surface damage--or were people injured? It sounded quite dramatic, and yet there was no mention of what happened to the people living on the colony. I was assuming it was Xavier's home, and he is unharmed, so were the people somehow not burnt up as well?
First 250: I agree with the suggestion to start with the second sentence. I found the first one just a little awkward. I also agree with those who said that "chagrin" is a bit advanced for an MG. Other than that, though, nothing to criticize! The voice is fantastic, and I think MGers would adore this.
Hi fellow team snow member. I am the PB writer here so this is way out of my comfort zone.ReplyDelete
A microchip in the kids brain is fantastic! I can see kids absolutely loving this one! Nice job!
Best of luck in the agent round!
Love the premise of this humorous MG sci-fi. The other commenters have given tons of great advice already. You just need to tighten up your query/first 250 and it'll really shine. I also agree that you should change the title to something more suited to fun MG.ReplyDelete
-TeamSun member (ducks from flying snowballs).
Is this humorous? Or serious? I get that your first 250 is humourous but the tone of the query is more serious. Make sure it's clear. Great voice. Good luck in the agent round!ReplyDelete
Fellow Team Snow contestant here.ReplyDelete
The voice is excellent. The stakes in the query are clear. You have some great feedback. I agree with not naming the Man or his company specifically, describe who they are in relation to your MC. I'd also like a little more clarity about the colony, in both the query and 250. The 250 is pretty good-I misread "bug guy" as "big guy" so that threw me for a minute and I agree maybe "chagrin" isn't the right word for MG. Overall, I like this and would keep reading!
Good luck in the agent round!
Great voice - perfect for MG!ReplyDelete
#TeamSun Leader Amy
Thanks for everyones comments! I thought what I had was good, now I'm thinking this query (and first 250) is going to be totally awesome!ReplyDelete
Teammate #6 here, stopping by to wish you luck with revisions and the agent round! I'd love to connect on Twitter, so I can keep up with you after the contest! @kranky_crowReplyDelete
Let's blow Team Sun away!
Heard you've already got your revisions in, so I'll just say you have an interesting story idea and engaging voice. So good luck!ReplyDelete
Whoops, meant to note that it's Matt Sinclair, Snow Mentor and Chief Elephant Officer at Elephant's Bookshelf Press...Delete