Sunday, June 15, 2014

QK Round 2: World on a String versus Skateboarding Sherlock

Entry Nickname: World On a String
Title: The Day I Ruled the World
Word Count: 57,000
Genre: MG Fantasy


Twelve-year-old Teddy Bridwell thinks her parents are great. They’re also wrong. She shouldn’t have to wait until she turns thirteen to start learning magic, so she practices in secret. That way, they don’t have to worry, and she doesn't have to get in trouble.

Until she gets caught, of course. Then she’s in all kinds of trouble. She’s grounded and stuck doing inventory on the junk Dad collects for his business. That’s where she finds the barrette. It looks ordinary, but it feels like magic, and when Teddy holds it, she can make people do anything she tells them. For the first time in her life, she’s the one with the power.

Unfortunately, the power Teddy uses to make her Dad teach her magic could do mega-damage in the wrong hands. Those hands belong to a fanatic who wants to end all the pain and misery in the world by turning everyone in the galaxy into his puppets. To stop him, Teddy has to destroy the barrette. Until she does, her stubbornness is the only thing standing between humanity and slavery, which, if humanity knew, they probably wouldn’t find too comforting.

First 250 words:

Spying is rude, and I would never, ever do it. Not without a good reason anyway, like needing to know if my parents suspected I'd been practicing spells in secret.

For Snooper's Delight, I needed a mirror, some magic, and a little privacy. Good thing I had my own bedroom, so I wouldn’t be interrupted by my bossy older sisters or nosy younger brothers. 

I settled cross-legged on my bed, tugged on my pajama shorts to de-wedgie them, and balanced the mirror on my knee. 

At six o’clock on a Saturday morning, Mom and Dad would be in the kitchen, eating breakfast alone and talking about stuff they didn’t want us to hear. That was the scene I had to picture to work the spell—the counter along the back wall and the big dining table surrounded by chairs. When the mental image was as clear as I could make it, I slid it into the mirror to replace the reflection. My brain relaxed, and I opened my eyes. There it was, a perfect picture of my parents with plates of eggs and glasses of juice set out on the table in front of them. I could practically smell the butter on the toast.

I had one second to enjoy my success before the side-effects hit me, the slam of crazy emotions that came with every spell. This time it was a wave of what-the-heck-does-this-have-to-do-with-anything sadness. Mean things people said to me years ago and disappointments I’d forgotten all about rolled in to drown me. 


Entry Nickname: Skateboarding Sherlock
Title: Skidsters
Word Count: 62,000
Genre: MG Science Fiction


Adrenaline junkie Jedediah Tank lives for the thrill of perfectly landed tricks on his frictionless skid-board. That is, until he crashes into the most dangerous ride of his twelve-year-old life.

After plummeting into an alley during a race, Jed witnesses two men beat up an old guy in a lab coat. Jed takes off—no sense getting caught up in that. Three hours later, a familiar-looking Skid Tech physicist turns up dead. Jed feels guilty, but what can a scrawny kid do? His guilt multiplies when Jed finds out the physicist also happened to be his best friend’s grandfather. Well, Jed’s not about to sit on the sidelines anymore.

Problem is, he can’t go to the police. And since he’s a skidster—a nickname given to kids who treat the city as if it were their personal playground—the coppers would love nothing better than to lock him in juvie and toss the key. No, the only way anyone will take him seriously is if he uncovers some hard evidence.

A question here, a favor called in there, and soon Jed realizes this runs deep into the world of corporate criminals. After some dangerous meddling, he and his friends unravel clues leading to a project that could bring Skid City to its knees. To save his city, Jed must bend the laws of physics to their breaking point or it’s… time’s up, you’re dead, Jed.

First 250 words:

In about 2.07 seconds, I was going to crash. The math didn’t lie—the acceleration of an object by the pull of gravity is 32 feet per second squared, and falling at a velocity of… nevermind. I was going to crash, plain and simple.

I glanced down at my skoard as I fell, jamming my back foot against it so the magnets would catch. Please catch, c’mon. Please.

They caught. Now I had milliseconds to save my neck. As I fell into the alley, the glint of an awning caught my eye. I kicked my heel back, forcing the sleek bottom of the board to glance off the metal canopy. My skoard and I hit a railing a story below, then a dumpster, and finally the alley floor. I grabbed the edge of the second dumpster and skidded to a halt.

I blew out the breath I’d been holding and shook my head. Lucky those dumpsters were there. That’s the trouble with skoards. With their flat, frictionless bottom they just keep going—nearly impossible to stop. But that’s also what’s great about them.

It’s a love-hate relationship.

I double-clicked my heel and the hidden magnets from the bottom of my shoes and the chrome-covered top of my skoard separated. After that near-crash, I wanted to stay still for a second or two. Resting my hands on my knees, I took deep breaths. Adrenaline shot through my veins like electrical currents through a cell tower.

Calm down, Jed, you ain’t dead yet.


  1. Posting this for Invidia!

    Query - The query is set-up nicely with a premise that's easy to understand and great stakes. However, for a MG query, I feel like it needs a bit more voice. Right now, it tells me everything I need to know about the story, but I don't have a sense of Teddy's personality. I loved the last line, but I'd like to see more of that humor and voice injected into the query overall. I also feel like you could flesh the query out with more specifics. For example, listing a few pieces of the "junk" Teddy's dad collects in his business or describing the fanatic who wants the barrette. Just a few tweaks here and there could increase the humor and make me more invested in Teddy as a character.

    First 250 -- Unlike the query, the first 250 has a great voice! I love that the magic spell is called Snooper's Delight! I also liked the way the spell had side-effects, in the form of crazy emotions. This makes me realize that, although the use of magic starts out in a fun, lighthearted way, it could also have repercussions. Overall, I don't have much to add, because this is a strong opening, and I'd want to keep reading. I think it hits just the right tone for contemporary MG fantasy.

    Query - Overall, I liked the query. Interesting set-up, cool premise, and high stakes. One thing that threw me off was the lack of parents in Jed's world. It seems like his only two options are kind of extreme: go to the police or uncover the crime with his friends. Can't he turn to his parents or tell them about the crime? The last line of the query confused me a little, as well: "To save his city, Jed must bend the laws of physics to their breaking point." If his goal is to uncover the corporate criminals, I'm not getting the connection with physics.

    First 250 - The first page was well written, but the unfamiliar terminology threw me off and I had to read it twice to understand what was happening. Although I liked the internal dialogue and the "love-hate" relationship comment, I didn't feel a connection with Jed's character yet, mostly because I was trying to create a mental image of what was taking place.


  2. World on a String:
    We're not supposed to just fan-girl, right? We have to give constructive feedback? So, um.... no comment, I'm afraid. :-)

    Skateboarding Sherlock:
    Love the query, love the concept. My only concern is that I've seen so many agents say not to start with action. I wonder if it would help to back up and build the world a little more before bringing in the impact. But I LIKE the beginning, so that's constructive feedback I'm not even sure I agree with. I am not helpful at all. I'd like to fan-girl, please.

    Two great entries. Well done, both of you. My condolences to the judges.

    I like the premise, but I'd like more from the third paragraph in the query. It doesn't really tell me what the emotional stakes are, and I want to know more about the conflict and the antagonist.


    Like Michelle said, I feel like there's a false dichotomy there. Can't go to the police, guess I'll solve it myself. I also am not sure why the police would throw a murder witness into Juvie. If those premises were explained better, I'd be all for this. I want some contemporary Encyclopedia Brown for my kids.

  4. World on a String - I love the query and the writing. I agree, the query could use more voice, but the first 250 were engaging and fun. I was drawn in right away.

    Skateboarding Sherlock - I love the writing, and the action pulled me in. I must admit, though, that I was skeptical of the boy being able to go to the police when he'd witnessed a murder. I mean, couldn't he have made up some excuse why he was there? Maybe this can be explained later.

    Honestly, these are both great entries. I don't envy the judges!

    I'm not sure your query starts at the right place. The opening right now is back story. You could instead start with her already grounded - Starring at the magical barrette, 12 yr old Teddy has a big decision to make - she could prove she'd learned her lesson about doing magic before she's supposed to, or she could see what magic the shiny, powerful object holds.

    That would free up room for you to lengthen the conflict paragraphs. I didn't follow your last paragraph. How would the barrette get in the wrong hands? How does she realize she has to destroy the barrette? How does stubbornness keep people out of slavery? The villain sounds like the bad guy from the lego movie. We need more specifics about how he wants to make people puppets and why.

    Also, I agree with the other judge, who said this needs more voice. Voice sells queries and stories. You story clearly has it. The first 250 were strong. The query needs that.

    I think you did a good job clarifying some of this from your last effort. I was glad to see you got rid of all the back story on the company. But it still needs some tweaking. To me the walk you do from "Not interested in getting involved, what can I do" to "okay, it's for my friend, so I'll save the world" isn't working in the opening here.

    Maybe avoid it all together. Don't try to justify all the ins and out he takes to getting involved. Start from the point that he is. Tell us it was bad when he saw the murder and really bad when he learned the victim was his friend's grandfather. Then start with the paragraph on how he can't go to the police. And I agree with the previous judge who said you need more voice in the query. What's Jed's personality like, why would we root for him? You have this in the opening page - he's tenacious. Not afraid etc. He reminds me of the kid from Treasure Planet.

    I still think this jumps in to the action too soon before we are adequately grounded.

    This was a hard decision for two very different stories that both had their pluses and minuses. Neither query was great, both openings were strong. Ultimately, I went with personal preference. I felt the skateboard premise had more legs and a better bad guy than the fantasy.


  6. World on a String: I like your query. My only nitpick would be to cut the last phrase and instead end it with "between humanity and slavery." To me it's more effective. The additional phrase just takes the air out of the severity of the situation. Your opening 250 is strong and gives us a good sense of the character.

    Skateboarding Sherlock: The query needs to be tightened a little. Some suggestions would be to cut the entire last two sentences in the second paragraph about the connection with his friend. The query reads fine without it. It's a detail that leaves me expecting to hear a bit more about the friend later in the query, but it never comes up. In the third paragraph, using "and" to start the second sentence is confusing because it makes it sound like the first sentence and the second sentence should be two reasons why he can't go to the cops when in reality it's just the one--he's a skidster, so simply say "Problem is, he can't go to the cops because he's a skidster..." I liked your opening 250.

    Victory to World on a String

  7. World on a String
    Although I thoroughly enjoyed the first query, I like this revised version even better. It feels more streamlined. One nit: I’d suggest changing “They’re also wrong” to “She also thinks they’re wrong” for better rhythm. The 250 is still great :-)

    Skateboarding Sherlock
    I like the new query here too. It feels much more streamlined and straightforward than the first one. One nit: It says “Problem is, he can’t go to the police. And since he’s a skidster…” which makes it sound like there are two reasons why he can’t go to the police (i.e., an unspecificed reason AND that he’s a skidster). If that’s the case, then the first reason should probably be mentioned. If there’s really only one reason (i.e., he’s a skidster) then I would siuggesting deleting AND (so “Problem is, he can’t go to the police. Since he’s a skidster…”). The 250 on this one is still strong too.

    I think this is going to be a tough match-up to judge.

    Best of luck to both entries!

    1. That of course should read "... then I would suggest deleting..."

    In the query, I see what you’re trying to do with the opening lines, but they made me pause. Teddy’s parents are great, but they are wrong? The contrast jolted me and not in the best way. In the next paragraph, I think mentioning Dad’s business might add to your world-building. As it stands, all I have in mind in our world plus some magic—which is fine in general, but I would expect there to be more. If Dad has magical barrettes among the junk, I’m curious to know what he does! I’m also curious about the villain. He feels like such a faceless figure. We need a bit more. Does he steal the barrette? (I assume so since Teddy now has to destroy it, and if she had it, she would just do it.) How did he get it? Through lies? Breaking and entering? Murder? Maybe mentioning a couple of things along these lines can help with making him feel real.

    I like the opening 250 more than the query. Teddy’s voice is great. The mention of the side-effects made me very curious. Magic that comes at a cost is the best kind. I was able to connect with her enough to want to keep reading.

    After reading both query and first 250, I felt I needed to know Jed’s age. From both samples, I’m imagining a teen, therefore, more YA than MG. The voice doesn’t suggest MG to me. Maybe a well-placed word here and there to add inflection and character could help show us his age with clarity. I feel that is the biggest problem in the query, though a couple of other things made me pause. One, the way Jed went from not caring about the fact that someone got murdered, to being all-in when he finds out that this someone is his friend’s grandfather. It makes him feel a bit shallow. It would play better, IMO, if he had always wanted to do something and, gaining the courage necessary, was just a side effect of finding out who the old man was. Two, the closing line: what exactly is Jed going to do to defeat the corporate criminals? The line “bend the laws of physic” confused me. I assume that means there’s going to be lots of skateboarding??

    As far as the first 250, voice is also the main problem for me. I didn’t feel connected to Jed as much as I would have liked to. I like the premise, but I think characterization still needs some work.


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

    The first sentence caught my attention, but the second seems too wordy. Is there some way you can tighten it up?

    The details of how she goes about the magic are kind of interesting, but it seems a bit strange that if she's worried about her parents finding out she's been doing magic that her way of finding out if they know is... by doing more magic. I'm having trouble understanding why it's so important and why she couldn't just listen in around the doorway or something.

    Interesting magical side effects. I like that concept!

    Love the opening sentences - the MC's personality and voice really shine through.

    Love the love-hate relationship comment.

    Nothing more to add. I'd keep reading, even though I have very little interest in skateboarding IRL.


  10. I left feedback on both of these in Round 1, and neither's changed significantly, so I'm just going to swoop in and leave a vote. A REALLY REALLY HARD vote, because these are both very good in their different ways. Sherlock has a bit more originality and some slick prose on the first page, which normally would win me over, but World just has a certain charm - it's likeable and so easy to read and the first page has me wanting to know what happens next more.


  11. Seriously two GREAT entries here. I can see why they are both getting so many votes!


    Great voice in this query! I do think you're burying your hook though in the third line. The real key here seems to be that Teddy is breaking the rules and practicing magic in secret. Also your conflict doesn't appear until your last paragraph, while the other two paragraphs feel like set-up. I'd recommend trying to get your conflict into your second paragraph and then explaining the cost in your third.

    Also, you have a great concept here but your sinker doesn't deliver. I'd think about rewording so it has more punch.

    First 250:

    Love the opening line! You've also done a great job of weaving in voice as well as background (comments about brother and sisters). Once you get to the spell part you lose me. I feel completely disembodied. Is Teddy climbing through the mirror or has she changed the setting where her parents are sitting? This was unclear to me.


    Your query is spot on. I immediately get a feel for the character and the conflict. I did wonder though if Jed is the only one doing the investigating? You did mention a best friend. Is he somehow involved? As a reader I'd like to know if Jed is going alone or if his friend is going to be his sidekick esp. because this is MG.

    First 250:

    Great world building here. I immediately get a futuristic sense. I would caution you on using made-up words (skoard) and then not somehow following up with an explanation of their meaning. It could confuse the reader in the beginning. I'd also recommend moving up the description of how the magnets secure Jed's feet to the board. This was not clear at the beginning. Overall, a job well done. I'd definitely keep reading.

    Hard decision but victory goes to: SKATEBOARDING SHERLOCK


    Query: I love the voice in this query. It feels very quirky! I wasn’t expecting the magic aspect so that really got me excited and I think the villain has a really interesting mission. I like that we get a sense of his goals in just a few short words so we know he isn’t going to be “all evil”. The only thing I noticed that could use some tweaking is the last sentence. I’m not sure the stakes are very high here. It seems like she can make the problem go away at any time by destroying the barrette which makes it seem like there isn’t much of a story. Does she lose the barrette or something that makes destroying it impossible? I think we need a little more there to tell us why it becomes difficult for Teddy. Besides this, I am completely charmed by this query!

    First 250: I love that the quirky voice in the query is carried into the first 250. All of the details are great and the first sentence tells me some much about Teddy as a character. However, the beginning paragraph being in present tense and the rest of the story being in past really threw me off. I’d suggest revising so it is all in past, especially since it is at the beginning of the story.


    Query: Talk about stakes! I love the voice in this query and I got a real sense of the setting in just a few short words. This even does an awesome job of introducing a few slang words without it being overwhelming. The only thing that read a little strange to me was the end of the last sentence. I think it is more of a voice thing but I wasn’t wild with how it was phrased. I’m not sure it’s worth changing thought because it is more a personal taste thing. Otherwise, this seems like an awesome read!

    First 250: I like that the voice carried over in this beginning but I have to admit that the actions confused me. When Jed activated the magnets on his board, I thought they held him stationary so he couldn’t fall. But then he was able to click his heels? How could he if his feet are so strongly magnetized that he was stuck to the board? I have a hard time visualizing how they ride the skoards. Are they ridden like skateboards? I do love that we get his thought process here and his blend of intelligence and slang is wonderful. I’d just like a few details ironed out so I could get a clearer picture of skoards.

    Both entries have really strong queries and quirky characters but because I could visualize the first 250 just a little bit better...


  13. World On A String
    I think you spend a bit too much time talking about her sneaking around to do magic. The quicker you get to the point the better. I'd simplify that whole first paragraph and cut it down as much as you can.
    Your stakes were a bit weird to me. You basically tell us the world is saved once she destroys this object almost like its easy and all she has to do is decide. Whats really stopping her? Is she really that stubborn that she'd risk the world for more time with it? Or maybe its hard to destroy and she has to figure out how. I just think it needs something else.

    Skateboarding Sherlock
    I think this sounds cute. My only comment is to agree that your voice is borderline too old. It works for real 13 year old boys but remember your readers will be more like 9-11 which is what makes MG voice so tricky. Its a balancing act. I don't think this is a YA per say, just watch your voice and try to keep it on the young side of that line.

    Victory to Skateboarding Sherlock

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

    Victory to Skateboarding Sherlock

  15. Ugh. Tie breaker time.

    So as the judges already found out, both these entries are wonderful. Full of voice and humor. This is really hard and really subjective. I have to pick the one that made me chuckle. I'm going to say...

    Victory to World on a String!

  16. World on a String:

    I'm already late to this party, so I'll be brief. A few things.

    "the power Teddy uses to make her Dad teach her magic" - I got lightly confused by this backhanded reference to the barrette. I get what you're going for-- I just stumbled over it a little.

    "For Snooper's Delight, I needed a mirror, some magic, and a little privacy." Feels like a missed opportunity. I was hoping for something a little more concrete than "some magic". I'd put more details here, and make it feel really solid. What sort of "some magic" are we talking? Incantation? Candles? Grimoire? Consider setting the stage for the spellcasting a little more.

    "Good thing I had my own bedroom, so I wouldn’t be interrupted by my bossy older sisters or nosy younger brothers." Feels a little stage-y to me. Too many modifiers? And the 'good thing I--' construction makes me wonder who he's talking to.

    Skateboarding Sherlock

    "two men beat up an old guy in a lab coat." I don't like this description at all. It feels little juvenile (it's a lot of three and four letter words) and vague. Juvenile is fine for the 250, but in the query I'd try to anchor this inciting incident with a little more color.

    "it’s… time’s up, you’re dead, Jed." - This kicker doesn't work for me-- or at least, could be replaced with something that worked better. I feel like a skating metaphor is what belongs here. "Time's up, you're dead Jed" I'm guessing is something that comes up somewhere in the novel, but in the query we don't know any of that. I'd try to find a similar metaphor that felt like it connected with the skating crime world you created. (Something about crashing?)

    I love the 250, however, and wouldn't change a thing about it.

  17. Really enjoyed these, and congratulations to both of you on a hard-fought match!

    World on a String: Your query explained your story well. It flowed smoothly up until the last line. Something about the structure of that sentence, "Until she does, her stubbornness is the only thing standing between humanity and slavery, which, if humanity knew, they probably wouldn’t find too comforting," doesn't sound right. I like the concept within it, but I think it needs to be rephrased.

    Skateboarding Sherlock: I agree with the comment above that "time's up, you're dead, Jed," didn't quite fit. I like the idea of replacing it with something skateboard-specific. In the 250, I was skeptical of the opening line. If Jed was really headed for a crash in a matter of seconds I don't think he'd be doing mental math. However, once I got past that line, the rest of it hooked me.

    Well done, both Kombatants!

  18. Thank you all so much for your feedback on World On a String. I used it to prepare my round 3 entry, so if I lose, I'm blaming you ;). Seriously, though, I know how much time and effort it takes to give a thoughtful critique, and I sincerely appreciate it.

  19. World on a String

    Query: Very straight forward and concise, I know what’s happening in the story and why. Well done. My only issue is the stakes: destroy the barrette, face the enslavement of humanity. With no real sense of why Teddy is willing to risk so much to keep the barrette, we have an obvious choice and thus deflated conflict. A sentence or two on what she’ll lose, aside from the power to control people, will help clear that up.

    250: I didn’t get that Snooper’s Delight was a spell until later in the page, and I’m not sure how the magic system here works at all. Is it simply via thought? If so, why does that need to be taught? And how does she “slide” the mental image into the mirror? How are emotions connected to the spells? These questions are a result of needing to know more about the basics of your system. You don’t have to spell everything out, but a couple of context clues would help.

    Skateboarding Sherlock

    Query: To the point and clear. I really don't have anything more to suggest. Sorry! Though that's a good thing, I think. Well done.

    250: The pacing is off in the very beginning. We’re told something is going to happen in two seconds, then we get a lengthy explanation of why and what he does to stop it. The first paragraph provides voice, but with the hard time limit of 2.07 seconds, it’s sort of a boxed in element. It has to happen quick, now, not a whole page later. Perhaps cut the 2.07 and simply say “in a matter of seconds” or something along those lines. My only other hang-up is this kid gets pretty banged up, bouncing off awnings, hitting railing, dumpsters, etc. He doesn’t feel any pain whatsoever? And if he’s skating across these while remaining upright (that’s not the image I got while reading) a hint that he somehow managed to stay on his feet will avoid the confusion.