Entry Nickname: Nobody’s Sidekick
Title: The Unchosen One
Word count: 30,000
Genre: Middle Grade Adventure
Twelve-year-old Peter wants to be a hero—enough to believe he’s chosen to fight a crime organization known as The Invisible Arm.
After he saves his sister from a speeding car (with a flat tire), Peter starts to believe he’s special. Lady Bologna, the (fake) fortune-teller, foresees he’s destined for greatness. Even the wise old mentor (mostly old) Sensei Cheng has been waiting for someone like him. All signs point toward Peter Harper: The Chosen One (unless they don’t).
When The Invisible Arm threatens to take over the city, Peter makes it his job to become the hero he isn’t meant to be.
First 250 words:
Third Street didn’t have a reputation for danger, but Peter’s sister chose the worst moment to chase after her baseball. She bolted from the bus stop before he could grab her knapsack and pull her back. He tried to warn her—tell her to look both ways—but his voice didn’t work. When Sally’s TOMS stepped from the curb onto the sizzling street, he began to hyperventilate. A pickup truck sped toward her, unaware of the helpless child in its path.
Peter couldn’t wait a second longer. He leaped forward, reached for Sally and raised the other arm like a traffic cop.
“Halt!” The word burst from his mouth as the overwhelming heat took his breath away. He shut his eyes and braced for impact. A deafening pop shot down Third Street. Burnt rubber and exhaust fumes drifted over Peter and Sally, but the truck didn’t follow.
Peter opened his eyes and released his breath. They survived. His damp pants suffered the most, but he did it. He saved his sister. Was he a hero? It was hard to tell, but yes, yes he was.
The driver, a scrawny boy with oversized clothes, slammed the car door, scratched his peach fuzz and examined the flat tire.
“Perfect.” He wiped his forehead and spat. “First it’s the muffler, now it’s a tire—rusted old hunk of scrap metal. Why don’t you die already?”
Peter turned to Sally. “Are you okay?” She clutched her baseball with the ungloved hand and nodded, unsure if she believed herself.
This space reserved for judge feedback and votes.ReplyDelete
Nobody’s Sidekick: Your query is funny, and pretty good, but it’s very brief. Don’t sell your story short! You have room for more information about Peter and the other characters, and especially about The Invisible Arm and exactly what the stakes are. Flesh it out a bit and it could be great.Delete
Your opening page: You need to remember two things when writing action scenes: Keep the sentences short and to the point, to keep the pace, tension, and drama up; and make sure that the scene is very clear, so a reader can easily imagine it. At the moment this is a touch long-winded and confusing. I can tell there’s a funny scene here, but it isn’t quite coming across. Edit down to just the necessary words and it’ll be tighter, clearer, and funnier too. For example, if when Peter opens his eyes, he saw that the truck was just inches from his nose, we’d be able to picture the scene better. At the moment I don’t even know where they are in relation to the car.
‘Was he a hero? It was hard to tell, but yes, yes he was.’ is a great line and made me laugh.
Girl Destroys World: I know the author and have read this one, so I can’t judge this match-up. But I can fangirl a little bit, and say that Magick 7.0 is a brilliantly clever fantasy spoof with amazing characters and worldbuilding, as well as being the funniest book I’ve read in years, with a joke on practically every line, never mind page. I honestly have no idea how it isn’t published yet. *fangirl out*
Query: This is a little muddled. I like the voice, but I'm not sure what the Invisible Arm is, why your character wants so badly to believe he's a hero, or what the stakes are. Also, your query is a tad on the short side.
First 250: This scene feels jolty and a little confusing. I couldn't get a good visual on the scene, and it was tough to really get a good feel for your character. Also, "helpless child" felt a little strange--more like something an adult would say than something a kid would say about his sister.
Girl Destroys World:
Query: I really like the voice here, and I LOVE the quirky, fun world you describe. The mix of futuristic and traditional fantasy sounds awesome! One thing I was confused about: why is she going on a quest to destroy the world, and what does it have to do with the scientist?
First 250: OH MY GOD. I have no critique. None. I want to read more SO BAD. Your voice is hilarious and shines through in every sentence, and I laughed out loud three or four times while reading. GIMME.
My decision: Because of the solid query and the amazeballs voice (and the cool world), I vote VICTORY TO GIRL DESTROYS WORLD!
Short query, and maybe even a little too vague? That first line reads odd to me as well, especially this part."enough to believe he’s chosen to fight a crime organization known as The Invisible Arm." Who is this Invisible Arm exactly? Your 250 is good, drawing me right into the action. I honestly don't have anything I'd change about it.
Girl Destroys World:
Perfect query. Love that voice. My only thing is, I'd combine the 2nd, 3rd, sentence into one. Otherwise, this query is spot on. I'll admit, though, I was a tiny bit disappointed with the 250. So much back story going on. We're not introduced to any characters yet, and it kind of loses my interest after the first paragraph.
So with that being said...
Victory to: Nobody’s Sidekick
Nobody's Sidekick: I liked this query & enjoyed the humor in it. I do wish it was a little bit longer though, and was a bit more solid in giving us unique conflict & stakes. You've given fun details but I believe that you need to add a bit more in order to show who the Strong Arm org is and what they're really about/the threat they pose if Peter can't save the world.Delete
One tip I'd like to offer for your first 250 (& the rest of your ms) is to be go through & see if there are some places to show rather than tell.
Girl Destroys World: Your first 250 is really strong & I think even with a query that isn't living up to its potential, you'll get requests if your sample pages are in line with the 250. That being said, I would work on simplifying your query. It feels a little vague yet overloaded with world building details. See if there are things you can omit and things you can keep and add that will be fun and unique instead of raising a lot more questions. Sometimes too much can pull your reader out of the query instead of pulling them into your world. I hope that makes sense! Also, something to think about: starting your query a little later--ditch a little of the back story.
VICTORY TO: GIRL DESTROYS WORLD!!
Query: I have a feeling I'm going to be the only one here to say this but the amount of parentheses really tripped me up when I was trying to read the query. Upon a few readings, I believe it's the third set "(mostly old)" that makes this a little difficult to read. I also agree with the other judges that the query is a too short. I want to know what Peter has to give up to become a hero and why he isn't meant to be one (I'm asking for stakes here). All that being said, I really like the voice and all the details provided in the query are fun. It just needs to be a little bit longer!
I think there are really vivid details in the writing like the mention of his little sister's TOMs and the opening sentence is great. It sounds like a kid narrating their life as a superhero. I do think that some of the sentences are a bit long though and could be cut to add other things. I wanted to know how close the truck had come to hitting the kids and what the driver thought about it. I had to reread "The driver, a scrawny boy with oversized clothes, slammed the car door, scratched his peach fuzz and examined the flat tire" to figure out if the driver got out of the vehicle. Besides cutting some of the unnecessary words to make the actions read faster and telling us where the truck is, I think the voice here is great and I would definitely keep reading!
Girl Destroys World:
Query: Wow, this sounds like an awesome read! I love the idea of a sci-fi fantasy and all the little details about Anvil. Kudos for setting up such a unique world in such a small space! However, I agree with Artemis. I was a little confused on how she could unwittingly start on a quest to destroy the world and what it has to do with the scientist. That's really my only nit-picky thing though.
Yeah, I have nothing. The voice in the first 250 is so funny and engaging. I wanted to read more. Like right now. Seriously, I'll wait. The story is set up great, the jokes are timed well and I feel safe with the narrator (like they are going to get me through the whole story with only a few heavily taxed bruises ;) ). I wish I had something constructive to say but this is really great! Definitely try to work some of this easy voice into the query!
This is tough because I think both stories sound like a lot of fun and I'd continue reading from both. But I have to choose so...
VICTORY TO: GIRL DESTROYS THE WORLD
I think your opening needs to be stronger. It’s a super cute premise, this unlikely hero, but the current opening is a bit vague and doesn’t punch. There’s not enough of a direct connection between his wanting to be a hero to believing he’s been chosen.
I was okay with the second paragraph but then the query just kind of stops and I’m left with no idea about the actual plot other than the setup. What is the obstacle that Peter has to overcome and what bad thing happens if he doesn’t?
Also, this doesn’t give us a good view into Peter’s personality and voice. We get a flavor of the manuscript from paragraph two, but we have no clue about Peter (other than he has delusions of grandeur) or why we should root for him.
The prose in the opening scene seemed a little overdone to me – sizzling street, burst from his mouth etc. You might consider revising.
Additionally, you make it sound in your query like Peter is a bumbling kid who made up the hero thing in his head. But your opening paints quite the opposite picture. He didn’t hesitate to save his sister. He might have gotten lucky, but his courage is without question. He doesn’t have to “want to be a hero” as your hook says. He is one.
Not knowing what happens in your book, I’m not sure if Peter doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, thought the experience was so great he wants to do it again, becoming a bit of a hero junkie, or doesn’t realize that the flat tire is what ultimately saved them, not his courage, admirable as it was. One of those scenarios should be incorporated into your query.
GIRL DESTROYS WORLD
This isn’t exactly standard format, but in this case, I think it works for you. I like the buildup you go through to get to her real problem. However, when you answer it, I’m a bit confused. I don’t understand how “all of the above means she’s going to embark on a quest to save the world”. It’s not a natural connection.
After reading your opening, I think you might be better off drawing from the 3 ways to get out of the orphanage as the answer to your buildup line. You could add something about her problem not being that her current choice is to get kicked out or go on quest, but that to succeed at her quest would mean ending the world. I think that would also make your last paragraph not seem so vague. In the previous reveal of her problem sentence you make it seem like she knows what’s going on with the quest. In the last paragraph you have her chasing the truth to figure it out. That contradiction made your ending not work. I did like the elf line.
I thought your opening was great and had terrific voice.
Based on great voice and fun premise - Victory to GIRL DESTROYS WORLD
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Query - Great premise - I love it. This query is a good start, but I think we need a bit more to get the true feel of the story. Like, what does Peter have to gain by becoming a hero? And why does he choose the hero's role? Is it just something he thinks he should do because of the not-so-clear signs? Is he comic book obsessed and has always felt becoming a hero was his fate in life? To make his sister look up to him? Whatever the case, give us something we can relate to Peter over. I like the parenthesis - it gives us some insight into Peter's character and some fun push and pull. You have room to expand your query - take advantage of it!
250 - Great action scene, but I feel somewhat removed. Also, you head hop that last paragraph from Peter's POV to his sister's - not sure if this is written in 3rd limited or 3rd omniscient, but it isn't clear, so needs to be addressed. I think if you tighten up your sentences and add more emotion - my God, they are about to be hit by a truck - it would help pull the reader in. A nice start! I'd keep reading.
GIRL DESTROYS THE WORLD:
Query - What a fun story - your query got me super excited. I'm concerned over your word count - 85k for middle grade is a tall order. But this line really hooked me: "Her problem is that all of the above means she’s unknowingly about to embark upon a quest—not to save the world, but to destroy it (which is why you should always read the fine print)." Not expected... In a good way.
250 - Um, yes please. Quirky. Fun. I'm in it. It has a Lemony Snicket/Harry Potter feel. Two completely different styles that, when together, if done right, could really work! As for critique, your sentences tend toward the wordy side. Tighten them up. Make them punchier. You're onto something here for sure.
Two wonderfully unique, fun, and quirky stories. I'd keep reading both, but VICTORY to GIRL DESTROYS THE WORLD.
OMG, the voice in both of these! HOW DO I CHOOSE???Delete
Query is nice and concise, with excellent MG voice, but I'm confused about The Invisible Arm. Why does a twelve-year-old know about a crime organization, and what makes him think he can fight it? Is it everything in the query that comes after? The chronology here is confusing, but like I said, I LOVE the voice.
First 250 are good, but I want more of a sense of Peter here. We get the description of the scene but not a whole lot of characterization. Overall, great entry.
GIRL DESTROYS WORLD
Phenomenal voice, and while I love the query style and am hooked, it might be a little too long of a list with the "It's not..." Still, I'm ready for more.
The first 250 reads more like another query to me. Where is Anvil here? I want to connect with the MC with a fabulous name. Let us meet her and hear her voice like we do in the query.
Ack. This is so tough. I love both of these. I have to go with GIRL DESTROYS WORLD. VICTORY.
THE UNCHOSEN ONEDelete
LOVE the premise, and the query is quirky and fun and full of voice -- I want more! You've got plenty of room to give us more info about Peter and The Invisible Arm and what's at stake if he fails.
So much fun and quirkiness in this one, too! I'd skip the last parenthetical clause - that was the only one that didn't make me laugh.
I want to read both of these books RIGHT NOW and am hoping that the blog host saves the one that doesn't win (hint, hint). For now, though,
Victory to Girl Destroys World.
I like the premise, but I'm a bit confused as to the stakes and who the Invisible Arm is, what they want, and why Peter or the reader would believe Peter would be capable of defeating it. Also, what if he doesn't? I think you need to clarify the stakes. I'd also call him "Peter Harper" in the opening line if you are going to refer to his full name later, which you do. As for the 250, I'd get rid of "Was he a hero? It was hard to tell, but yes, yes he was." I'm not sure what it adds, and if Peter is going to use the incident as validation to himself that he is a hero, why have the reader question it? Unless I'm missing something?
GIRL DESTROYS WORLD:
I found the query a little hard to follow in combination with the 250, which I love and think lays the work well for the rest of the book. I think you need to explain "quest" in your query somewhere so that the reader doesn't think "quest" is a vague turn we all writers use in describing our MC's journey. In your book, it's a specific thing--a quest to escape the institute. Right now, your query reads a tad vague with quests, dragons, and a struggle with time and destiny. The beginning of the query is specific, but when it gets to the stakes and conflict, it turns vague. Perhaps you can include more about Anvil's life in the institute and how to escape in the query?
Good luck to both--and again I'd read both of these books!
NOBODY'S SIDEKICK: This premise has lots of humorous potential and I appreciate that the query keeps things simple. I would suggest a couple additions. First - why does Peter want to be a hero so badly? I'm not saying there has to be a psychological reason, but it might pack more emotional punch if his desire springs from his personal history. Also, I wasn't sure if Peter was living in a world pretty much like our own or if he's living in a full-blown superhero universe where his attempts would disrupt the "real" chosen ones. Finally, as others said, I'd like to know a little more about the Invisible Arm and their nefarious plans. As for the first 250, I thought these were good, but I'd like a slightly more vivid sense of Peter's personality. Also, I wasn't sure about the "damp pants" line - it made me think he might have wet himself which seemed a little too intense and embarrassing/traumatic for what seems like a fun, lighthearted read.ReplyDelete
GIRL DESTROYS WORLD: I totally loved those first 250 words. They were so incredibly funny. The query includes a lot of fun details, but feels unfocused to me. I would consider dropping the lines about the things that are "not her problem" to really highlight her real problem (she's destined to destroy her own world). Also, it's not clear what solar windmills, ley lines, plasma cannons,and dragons have to do with the central story. There's lots of world-building squeezed in here, but not much in the way of other characters. I know we don't want to overload queries with characters, but I think this may go to the other extreme. Does no-one help Anvil on her journey? Hope this is helpful and,once again, I adored the opening and would definitely read on.
I love your little Don Quixote. I think Peter's antics have a lot of potential, and I think I would enjoy reading about them. I think your query doesn't do your idea justice. The first line shows promise, but leaves us wondering what the Invisible Arm is. We still don't know at the end of the query or the 250. Are they real or imagined? Is it something he read in a book or saw on the news? I feel like if they are the villain, the deserve a little more attention here. I agree with the above comment about the damp pants. It made me think he peed in them which is a very unheroic thing to do ;)
Girl Destroys World:
I feel like your query could be stronger. Have you considered using the three ways to get out of the orphanage as part of the query? It lets the reader know why she might be so willing to accept such a quest. Escape from St. Lupin's just might be worth it. I'm intrigued by the world you've created for your characters, but your query makes it seem like Anvil is pretty much alone in it. I'm curious to know if she remains so isolated throughout the story. I think your 250 is solid. I would absolutely read on from there. I think the query could use some polishing.
Good luck to both of you!
Nobody's Sidekick: Your query was a little light on plot, but it had a fun voice. I like your tongue-in-cheek take on the Chosen One trope. Your 250 is engaging and caught my attention well. I didn't mind the "damp pants" line--it seemed like a little bathroom humor might fit with the voice you're going for. For me, the only thing that didn't fit was the driver's dialogue when he got out of his truck. He almost mowed down two children, and he's worried about his muffler? That didn't seem realistic to me.ReplyDelete
Girl Destroys World: Your query has a lot going on! It's interesting stuff, but a lot to keep straight. Your paragraph about the world's creator was the one that lost me. It's only a problem if you're the mistake? But if it's Anvil's world that's being described, isn't she part of the mistake? I think I'm confused. I did appreciate the humor in the query. I loved the line about "time, destiny, and unknown levels of bureaucracy." The first paragraph of your 250 had me chuckling out loud, too. Your writing makes me think of Eva Ibbotson. I wondered a bit about this board of governors. If they prevent adoptions in order to keep kids in the orphanage and make money off them, then why do they kick them out at 14?
Good luck with these!
Miriam Vos Perez
The query fell off at the end. The setup is fine, but I have all kinds of questions that aren't getting answered with just that one sentence at the end. Who is The Invisible Arm? Why does Peter have to get involved? What would happen if he sat back and let them take over? the 250 is a great starting point for the story - right in the action. I would like a better sense of Peter, more than just as the reluctant hero.
Girl Destroys World
While it's funny and grabs my interest, the first half of the query sounds like a super long hook. A good hook (love the voice), but a long one. I'm itching for specific goals here. What is the fine print? What is her quest? "Terrible conclusion" is vague and I want to know what this potential for disaster actually is. Oh wow, I love the opening. See, this quest to get out of the orphanage is what we need to see in the query. While the 250 is great, it might be a little heavy on the details and worldbuilding, and I want to get straight this character that I'm going to be following around for 85k wds.
Best of luck to both of you!
Nobody's Sidekick: I have a huge soft spot for superhero stories and I love this premise. I think you could weave a little more info into the query, like why he wants to be a hero and about the Invisible Arm. In the 250, I love that you start with action, but maybe slow it down just a hair and put the reader in the setting.ReplyDelete
Girl Destroys World: I really enjoyed reading this! It sounds like a fascinating story. In the query, I'd love to "hear" it in the MC's voice. It comes across as omniscient - until the very last line. And what is the fine print that was mentioned? The first 250 is a lot of fun!
Good luck to you both!!
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
THE UNCHOSEN ONEReplyDelete
I liked the premise of this entry a lot - I always prefer MCs who choose instead of those who are chosen. The tone of the query is very cute and captures the way I think the story probably undermines the whole “chosen one” trope. The 250 words are clear in describing the action and I would definitely keep reading.
A few minor quibbles:
(1) The “(with a flat tire)” in the query struck me as ambiguous until I read the 250 words. Initially I imagined a car speeding with a flat tire, out of control and that threatened his sister, instead of the car NOT hitting his sister because its tire went flat.
(2) In the second paragraph of the 250 words, it was not quite clear that Peter had interposed himself between Sally and the truck. The sense of very real danger was (for me) a bit diffused because I didn’t immediately get where everyone was.
(3) It wasn’t clear who thinks it is unclear whether Peter is a hero, then decides he is. Is the question coming from the narrator’s voice or from Peter himself? Depending on where the story goes after the 250 words, it could go either way – a wryly commenting narrator, or Peter’s thoughts being indirectly shown. Not knowing how you handled that, I can’t tell, but, if you haven’t looked at that aspect, it might be worth considering.
Best of luck – Peter sounds like a great MC, and I hope to see his adventures on the shelves soon.
First of all, if no one has actually written HOW TO RAISE ORPHANS AND MAKE MONEY, someone really needs to. Finally, a really useful self-help book for the common man!
I found the 250 words engaging and fun. The dry sardonic tone is spot on. I haven’t read the other comments, but I can see someone objecting that nothing happens – this wasn’t a problem for me as a reader. The amusement factor would keep me reading.
The query, by contrast, was a bit off-putting to me.
(1) The opening sentence (where the MC has a weird name) struck me as a bit of a cliche – and, given the humor of the 250 words, a bit of a flat joke compared with the actual narration.
(2) A minor point, but “unknowingly” in the query suggests to me that Anvil doesn’t know that she is going on a quest. Yet the last paragraph of the 250 words suggests that quests are an official legal enterprise (which I liked, btw). Only when I went back did I realize that it was possible that she knew she was going on a quest, but not that the quest was to destroy the world... an important distinction.
(3) The sixth paragraph of the query seems to me like it comes from a different query letter – like the query reboots midway through. I could, for instance, imagine a query starting with that paragraph and going from there.
I do hope to see this out soon! Especially if there are lengthy entries from the aforementioned How To manual... *dry washes hands in evil fashion*
Entry Nickname: Nobody’s SidekickReplyDelete
First I was really distracted by the parenthetical asides. I understood the comic tone they were aiming for and expected to see it continued in the 250. When they weren't, it felt more like a gimmick to me. I think it works best on the (mostly old) but the (with a flat tire) made me wonder if the car had a flat or the car was stopped with a flat tire. And the (unless they don't) made me re-read the whole sentence. So I don't think that's working - at least not for me. I'm also left wondering who is The Invisible Arm and would like to know more about that. I like the idea that he thinks he's a hero based on his interpretation of signs even though he's wrong. That's a great set-up for a comic misunderstanding.
Now I understand the flat tire part. You do a great job of building this scene and pull me right through. The action is just right and your dialogue is believable. And you've managed to set the scene for the kid believing he's a hero based on a circumstance beyond his control. So well done on that.
Entry Nickname: Girl Destroys World
I see why these two entries were pitted against each other. In this one though, I think the parenthesis work because it's clear to me what they are referring to.
I think this is the best query I've read so far. I love your repetition. I snorted at "fine print" and "In a land where." You have managed to get everything into this - voice included. Slow round of applause.
This is so much fun and makes me want to read the rest. The only thing I can find to nitpick is that it ends on a flat note. I imagine that the real first page continues on and has something punchier at the end, but you are giving us the real first 250. And if this weren't a contest that limits your words, that would be great, but since I can't see those future words, I'm ending in what feels like a middle, and not a climactic middle. Everything else about this is wonderful. Good job!
Both of these sound like fun reads and I hope to be able to get my hands on them some day. Good luck to both of you!
Arrgh! I just wrote a lot of crit and then hit the "Sign Out" button instead of the "Publish" button. I am so unhappy right now.ReplyDelete
I apologize to both of you-- here is my super-short version of what had written earlier. (It's better than nothing, right?)
It's too short. I don't have a strong sense of the character's voice from the query. I like the _idea_ of ambivalence as to the character's heroism, but in practice, it translates to a kind of ambivalence about reading the book.
Also, be aware of "Sensei Chang" as a racial cliche. I get that's we're going for broad, but I'd be careful with it. Besides, why not subvert expectations?
GIRL DESTROYS WORLD
Very funny, and I think the device in the query works. So, sure, I can't precisely put together the plot of the book from the query, but I get the idea of it, and I felt like was in good hands, if that makes any sense. I'd stick with the device, although do what you can about connecting the dots a bit more in the last paragraph, even if it means killing your chaser about the elves.
250: Very funny. As with any comedy, I find myself wanting to make tiny word/sentence edits to make jokes land harder, but this could just be me trying to recast it in my own voice. I will say the last parenthetical didn't work out-- I'd change it to "(also taxed)" (but then you need a compound sentence for the cadence of the joke to work.)
First of all, many thanks to my opponent, whose pitch I thoroughly enjoyed and whose book I hope to discover on the bookstore shelf someday very soon. Peter sounds like a great wannabe hero :-)ReplyDelete
Many thanks to Michelle for believing in my entry enough to select it for competition in the first place (the platypus concurs), and a sincere thank-you to all of the judges and other readers who took time out of their busy days to make so many useful and helpful and encouraging comments on my query and first page (seriously, I'm genuinely floored by such a positive response; to say it's been extremely heartening would be the understatement of the year :D ).
I've been revising, revising, revising over the past couple of days (mostly on the query, based on the overall consensus), and I know that regardless of how far I make it in Query Kombat my work has already benefited greatly from the feedback provided.
All the best to the other advancing competitors. I’m looking forward to round two!