Sunday, June 15, 2014

QK Round 2: RV Arya versus Girl Destroys World

Entry Nickname: RV Arya
Title: The Raven Queen’s Revenge
Word count: 40K
Genre: MG Fantasy


After her dad moves out—for good this time—eleven-year-old Sylvie’s mom takes a job as a Louisiana state park campground supervisor, moving Sylvie and her pesky sister into a stinky RV. Ticked off and lonely, Sylvie wants to be back home with her own bed, her own stuff, and her dad.

One day Sylvie and her sister follow a fox into the woods, where they meet Lowell, a local kid whose dad is a park ranger. Lowell insists he can help Sylvie and her sister find the fox he scared off, but he loses the trail and leads them into an alternate world—Wiledyn. Frustrated with herself for following an annoying boy she hardly knows, Sylvie smashes a strategically-placed old, blue bottle against a tree, freeing hundreds of ravens . . . and their queen.

Raven Queen Keres—furious after spending the last seventeen years imprisoned, which gave her plenty of time to plot her revenge—seals all the exits from Wiledyn, confining her enemies while also trapping Sylvie, her sister, and Lowell in the crossfire of a power battle. Now Sylvie must protect her sister as they hunt down the Raven Queen, force her to unseal the exits, and—if Sylvie has anything to say about it—make her pay for the destruction she’s caused. With the help of a talking fox, a pair of cheery goblins, and a childlike druid, Sylvie and her companions struggle to return to the one place Sylvie wanted more than anything to escape: her home.

First 250 words:

Sylvie patted more dirt, wet her fingers in the plastic bowl, and sculpted the muddy mound in front of her. She looked back and forth between her mud creation and the folding, laminated field guide. 

Not quite. 

She squished and smoothed, then reexamined. Just over two inches. Tapered ends. She’d even added a few wild blackberry seeds.

Ha, nailed it! Best fox scat replica yet.

After snapping a close-up with her iPod, Sylvie stepped back for a group shot. Louisiana black bear, nutria, eastern cottontail, Virginia opossum, white-tailed deer, Northern raccoon, and now red fox. This had to make her some sort of campground expert on the subject.

She packed the replicas in their plastic shoe box, except the fox one. It had to bake in the sun a few hours before she could move it. Her dad would want to see her collection, but it wasn’t like he was going to drive four hours for it. Your father’s very busy, Sylvie. She’d been considering some sort of museum set-up and charging admission. She was sure a few weekenders would swing by, if only to check out the weird girl and her sun-baked mud poop museum. She didn’t care. Not if she could get a dollar out of each of them.

A flash of red near the trees caught her eye, but when she turned . . . nothing. No movement, no fox, nothing. Wishful thinking, she figured.


Entry Nickname: Girl Destroys World
Title: MAGICK 7.0
Word count: 85,000
Genre: MG Fantasy


There are two kinds of quests: the good kind and the bad kind. The good kind leads to pots of gold and unicorns and everlasting fame. The bad kind gets you and everyone you love killed. Horribly and painfully. Possibly by zombie sharks.

Fourteen-year-old Anne is leaving the orphanage she calls home to embark on a quest—and it isn’t the good kind. That’s what happens when you accidentally fulfill a prophecy. She could opt out, but then as per Paragraph 5 Subparagraph 3 of the Official Questing Regulations she’d be exiled forever and all of her friends would be tossed into a dungeon. But hey, at least she has options.

The goal?

Slay a silver dragon that doesn’t exist (that’s bad).

In just three days (that’s worse).

With only the help of a wizard with a platypus for an arm, a disgraced academic with no practical experience, a fused-together dwarf and elf, and a sassy holographic sparrow (that downright sucks).

Oh yeah, and to top it all off, what Anne doesn’t know—what no one knows, in fact—is that finishing this quest doesn’t actually save the world. It destroys it (so, you know, not exactly environmentally-friendly).

If she uncovers the truth before it’s too late, she’ll be a HeroTM.

If she doesn’t, everyone dies (that also sucks).

First 250 words:

At Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children they didn’t play favorites. Each orphan was treated with the same amount of disdain and neglect. They were provided with one threadbare tunic, one pair of ill-fitting shoes, and one dusty and moth-eaten overcoat. They were given a daily ration of gruel, and they were bathed exactly once per month, just before going on duty in the coal mine. This, incidentally, was consistent with the advice given in the popular self-help guide, How to Raise Orphans and Make Money.

There were three ways to leave Saint Lupin’s. The first was to get adopted. Perhaps by a nice family who would whisk you away to your long dreamed-of castle on a hill—one surrounded by forests and glens, filled with interesting and friendly people, rich with history and bright with promise and hope. The board of governors was extremely pleased with its track record in this regard as it had managed to prevent all adoptions since the Institute’s foundation.

The second way was to reach the age of fourteen and be unceremoniously kicked out on your bottom.

The third way was to embark upon a quest. Although quests were heavily regulated (so they could then be heavily taxed), there were no restrictions regarding age or background and thus anyone could apply. The secret to a successful application was first to fulfill a prophecy (also heavily taxed). At Saint Lupin’s, both of these topics, that is, quests and prophecies, were considered particularly taboo subjects of inquiry.


  1. Judges, reply here with your comment and vote.

    1. Really?! You’re going to make me pick between these two? My inner kid would like to read both! I mean, both ideas sound great and fun! *sigh*

      In which case, I need to let my nitpicky adult make a choice.

      RV ARYA: The query is great. My only hang up was the “strategically-placed old, blue bottle” which was also mentioned in the comments. The first 250 were interesting and give us a good idea of how quirky Sylvie is. Over all, I like it, but if I have to find a reason not to pick this one, it would be its theme and how similar it is to other MG stories. Stumbling into another realm and trying to find a way back home is a common trope, one that perhaps agents and publishers are extra careful when selecting, trying to find something unique enough to stand out.

      The query is excellent. I’m very curious about this world and everything that makes it unique. It seems from the blurb and first 250 that the author has a well-thought-out universe in which our young protagonist must strive to find a place and make a name from herself. I'm imagining a total go-getter. I wish the first 250 had been a bit more "personal"—I always like getting a bit of the character—but I’m intrigued enough that I can see past that without problem. I pick this on uniqueness of concept.


    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. RV ARYA
      The opening of the query is better, but there is a lot of back story here that I don't think you need. We don't need to know that they were following a fox and met a rangers kid...

      I think you second paragraph could simply start "Instead, she accidentally herself trapped in far off world ruled by an angry queen determined to keep her there." Then go on to explain more about some of the challenges she faces trying to get home. I liked your last paragraph here quite a lot.

      and your 250 still rocks. It's stronger than your query.

      This was a drastic, but strong query rewrite. Good job! I think you could easily lose the whole first paragraph, though, and no one notice. Start at 14 year old paragraph and after the "it isn't the good kind" bring in "that leads to pots of gold and rainbows" That gets your point across but tightens the word count.

      Your 250 also rock.

      On the pure basis of newer, not as well trodden premise -

      Victory to: GIRL DESTROYS WORLD

    4. RV ARYA

      Query: This sounds like such a cute read! I like all the ideas here, however, I’d like the query to get to the heart of the story a little faster. I had no idea this was going to be alternate world story until the query was halfway done. I think you could cut the line about Sylvie missing her bed to make it read faster. I also think cutting down the first line in the third paragraph would make this faster. The bit about the Raven Queen having lots of time to focus on revenge is implied. I think you do a good job setting up the stakes, I like that Sylvie is going to have to look after her pesky younger sister and I think the addition of Lowell is great. Nice job!

      First 250: Okay, this really great! I love your opening because we get such a good sense of what type of character Sylvie is. It made me chuckle out loud when she was talking about the poop museum. I love the voice, the set up and I’d definitely keep reading to find out what happens next. Great job!


      Query: I remember this entry from the round before and the query is SO MUCH STRONGER! I loved the voice in the First 250 and I feel like it is captured perfectly in this new query letter. The bit about the traveling companions might make it a tad long, I think you could get away with only introducing one or two, but other than that, I can’t see anything that needs to change. The parentheses work well with the voice and I love that we learn a lot more about the plot of the book in this version. This sounds awesome!

      First 250: Yeah, the first 250 are still golden! I love everything about them and am so glad that the voice carries from the query to the story. I know we are supposed to offer critique so the only thing I can say is why don’t we have more of it yet?

      Both of these stories sound amazing but because I can’t get that snarky voice out of my head…


    5. NOTE: Since I focused on queries in round 1, this time I'm focusing on the first 250 words.

      I'm not completely drawn in by the opening sentences, but I am mildly interested in what she might be making and why

      Is "scat" a word MGers would recognize? I'd find some way to work in another synonym earlier on so that the reader gets that she's trying to imitate animal droppings.

      MAGICK 7.0
      Love the name of the school, and including it in the opening makes me think we're in for a wild ride. Also love the "How to Raise Orphans" manual.

      Love the dark humor, love the voice. I can't really think of anything that I'd change. This is exactly the kind of MG book that I like to read.

      Victory to GIRL DESTROYS WORLD

    6. Arya

      I think you could cut some of the info about her dad leaving. Not all of it I just think that first paragraph is a little long for what it is-- backstory. Get to the new world as quickly as you can.

      Girl Destroys world

      Love the voice! It doesn't matter what the story is about if you've got voice like this I want to read it!

      Victory to Girl Destroys World

    7. Strapped for time, voting, will offer feedback afterwards.

      Victory to Girl Destroys World

  2. RV Arya—

    The query could be simplified. I feel like it contains a lot of set up and unnecessary detail, but there's nothing that would make me stop reading. I'd prefer the focus to be on the stakes, though, not strategically placed old, blue bottles or the occupation of a secondary character's parents.

    I really like the first 250 words. My kids would enjoy reading this.

    Girl Destroys World—

    Take my money. Give me book. Also, give me a shout out on Twitter so I can follow you, so I can give you money and buy your book. (@larathelark)

  3. RV ARYA
    Query - I love the opening paragraph, especially the phrase "stinky RV." Right away, you've given me the set-up and the main character's goal. The rest of the query reads well and clearly shows the stakes. Great job! One thing that threw me off was the phrase "strategically-placed blue bottle." I'm assuming you mean someone set the bottle there so that the Raven Queen could escape imprisonment if it was broken. But a random person coming across a unique blue bottle could just as easily have taken it home, rather than smashing it. I think all you have to do is eliminate the words "strategically-placed" in the query and it won't lead to as many questions.

    First 250 - Although this scene shows Sylvie's quirkiness and makes me want to read more about her, it was kind of weird. So she's making fake poop, presumably to charge tourists to look at it? It's a good way of conveying how bored she is with her new situation, but the complete weirdness made me read it twice, to see if I missed something. On the other hand, my son, who's a middle grade reader, might totally love a story that starts off with a girl making fake animal poop, and he's more your target reader than I am!

    Query - This is cute and fun, with a great voice, but I almost felt like it was trying too hard to be clever. I don't know that you need so many parentheses, because I almost feel like you're telling me how to respond. In the last line, which reads "If she doesn't, everyone dies," I don't need to be told "that also sucks" because it's pretty obvious. I honestly think the voice will be strong enough with just a few of these side comments.

    First 250 - Again, I like the voice. It reminds me a lot of Lemony Snicket, and I think a lot of readers will enjoy it. However, I'd suggest starting with the second paragraph. I don't need to know how badly Saint Lupin's treats its orphans, right from the start; instead, you can work this in later. If you did this, you might have room to introduce Anne to the readers. Right now, I think this opening is clever and fun, but I needed to connect with a character in order to keep reading.


  4. RV Arya: I think you've got a strong query that clearly shows us the characters and the conflict while expressing your voice. Your opening scene is equally strong.

    Girl Destroys World: overall I like the query. Humor, voice, conflict. I might suggest cutting the paragraph where you list the various other characters. Though it's humorous, it's information that isn't critical to the success of the query. Read it without that paragraph, and you'll see what I mean. While your 250 is well-written, it would be more engaging to me to learn all of that information through the character's experience or dialogue or something more active and engaging, especially for the opening of a book. Translate your query's voice and spirit into the opening of the book.

    Victory to RV Arya

  5. I love both of these.

    RV Arya: My only concern about the query is that the boy falls off at the end. How does he fit into the story? How does he help Sylvie? The first 250 sets your main character up as very quirky. I don't read a lot of MG, but I don't know that I'd love to start a book with poop. But I'm not 11 years old. However, since parents are the ones who buy books for kids that age, you may want to reconsider starting it that way. Throw the poop in later when we're already hooked on the story if you must. :)

    Girl Destroys the World:
    I adore the 250 words. The voice is so perfect. I just wish it matched the query voice which seemed more sarcastic and younger than the voice in your 250. It could also be clearer in the query that the only way out of the orphanage is to embark on a quest. Otherwise, we don't know why she's allowed to leave. That's a great conflict. It would be even better if the query spoke to what the conditions are like in the orphanage, so we get a sense of why the stakes are so high.

    Overall, both writers did a great job!

  6. I adore both of these stories!

    RV Arya: I think the query is great, but I did trip a little over the "strategically placed, old blue bottle". It's a bit of a mouthful. The rest is just great. I loved the 250. I laughed out loud at the scat replica collection. The story pulled me right in. I would definitely keep reading!

    Girl Destroys World: I love the voice in your query, very funny. I also loved the 250, although I agree with others who mentioned it would be nice to have a more personal connection a little sooner. Still, very well done. I would love to read this story.

    Both of these are excellent fantasy. Well done!

  7. RV Arya:

    Good query, but I think you could shorten in a couple of places. You don't need to say what they were chasing, just that they're exploring, get lost, end up in Wiledyn. I'd also lose "strategically placed" and even why she breaks it. Let her break it and deal with the consequences :). The opening is also interesting. She's definitely a quirky girl. I wonder if you could shorten it a little and move on to the action sooner. Also, if she's hoping to see a fox, you might mention it earlier. This is a fun story. Well done.

    Girl Destroys World:

    I love this, and I can't think of a thing I would change. It's risky not to introduce the MC on the first page, but this approach, along with the fabulous voice, remind me of the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And honestly, there isn't much higher praise I could offer. I can't wait to see this on the shelf!

  8. RV Arya: I love your quirky girl. Sculpting poo as a hobby is just weird enough that it totally works. This snippet makes me think that your book would be a very fun read.

    Girl Destroys World: Love the revisions! Definitely for the better. Give me a shout when your book is available so that I can buy it :) @pixxiecrafter in case you didn't know ;)

  9. I think both entries were significantly stronger this round, so well done with the revisions.

    RV Arya: I think the plot, characters, and stakes are well described in the query, but I'm looking for more voice and a sense of what makes this MG fantasy world unique. I like the introduction to Sylvie in the first 250 - she's clearly quirky and different. However, if she's the kind of girl who likes modelling scat and tracking foxes, you'd think she'd like living at the park and campground (at least a little).

    Girl destroys world: Can I spend a couple hours raving about the first 250? I just love them. Query is definitely stronger. I might drop the "horribly and painfully". It seems punchier to go directly from killed to the zombie sharks. I like the idea of the escalating "bad" ... "worse"... "sucks", but I think the cadence is interrupted by the length of the line about her various companions. Maybe focus on just the two characters which seem to create the worst problems for the heroine: the incompetent wizard and disgraced academic. The fused dwarf-elf and holographic sparrow are quirky, but not obviously unhelpful and sucky. Overall, love this concept and look forward to seeing it in print.

  10. Girl Destroys World:

    I love this 250, as I've stated before. The query I feel like is still not quite at the level of the 250. I like where you're going with the "pots of gold and unicorns and everlasting fame." / to the bad, but I feel like it could actually go a little bit more purple. I also was sort of expecting an inversion, but didn't get one. (Good quest = pots of gold and maidens with unicorns. Bad quests = maidens with gold and pots of unicorns.) ;-) But I would go larger with the good quest stuff.

    I love the parentheticals, but I'd be careful with the suckage. 'Suck' is a word people can react strongly to, and I don't thinkthe risk of using it is balanced by the humor. There are just funnier words, and those words aren't going to set off a prudish reader.

    The untrained academic feels little bland next to a wizard with a platypus for an arm and a dwelf. You might consider ordering these differently so that it goes from (relatively) normal to outlandish.

    RV Arya:

    I echo the concerns about the "strategically-placed blue bottle" and then also voice. The accidental entry into another universe is a well-worn trope-- and as much as I do love my tropes-- I wish there was just a little more in the query to give me a sense of how this is going to be different.

  11. RV Arya

    Query: The query is straightforward in telling us what happens, laying out the necessary amount of details without bogging it down. One suggestion would be a small addition as to why finding this fox is so important. Is there something strange about the fox, like the White Rabbit in Alice and Wonderland? Wearing clothes and holding a watch makes a random critter worth tailing. Voice is one of the illusive unicorns spoken of in the industry, no idea where to look for it, how to find it, but when you see it you know what it is. Try to inject a little more of Sylvie’s voice into the query, her anger, annoyance, and loneliness.

    250: Things seem a little unfocused here, in opposition with the query. She’s concentrating on sculpting, then wanting her dad to see her work, then opening a museum a la lemonade stand, then looking for a flash of red that might be a fox. I find myself asking a few questions, during the description of “over two inches. Tapered ends. She’d even added a few wild blackberry seeds,” to what? And then she made a fox scat replica, so I’m wondering if it’s a replica of fox scat, or a replica of a fox made from scat, and is she really molding poop? These replicas made her a campground expert on the subject of…what? I think honing in on what Sylvie’s goal is here will help focus the page.

    Girl Destroys World

    Query: This query is full of voice and humor, I actually laughed out loud at one point. Just a couple of nitpicky things, when listing her band of merry adventurers, the disgraced academic with no practical experience, of what? Tell us what s/he was studying so we know how to place them. Everyone else I can picture, this person I cannot. My only other complication is the paragraph about the quest ending the world instead of saving it. I don’t know what’s bothering me here, possibly her not knowing something but somehow having an opinion on it (via the parenthesis). Otherwise, nicely done.

    250: I enjoyed this page, though there’s a lot of was and were verbage. A lot. Cutting some of these would require sentence tweaking and reworking, possibly providing lists like you do in your query. Otherwise, there wasn’t much else I would suggest.