Query Workshop B-3: OF ICE AND ASHES

It’s day two of the query workshop with me and three of my blogging friends. Two queries on four blogs for ten days. It’s going to be awesome. And here’s my next critique…

 

Dear Super Agent,

Sixteen-year-old Wren is Tainted.

Hideous black spider-web scars mar the other survivors of an elemental explosion, but Wren’s skin is pale and perfect—and dangerous. Her icy touch causes excruciating pain for everyone except the caretaker her father left her with. Wren would give anything to walk through her home without inciting the usual cringes and gasps of fear.

When Evangeline, the supervisor of the elemental caves, calls a public meeting, Wren hopes it’s to announce a cure for her condition. Instead, she declares the Tainted—all those damaged by the explosion—are diseased and demands that their blood be purged. To begin, she executes Wren’s caretaker in front of the entire town. Wren barely escapes in search of the Tainted outcasts hiding at the fringe of the land—the deformed ones Evangeline banished after the explosion.

They might hate her for not being exiled with them. They might fear her as much as everyone else fears her. But with the fires of Tainted bodies burning at night, she’ll have to decide: wield her frightening ability to save the only people like her—even if it means taking a life—or wait for Evangeline to find her.

OF ICE AND ASHES is a stand-alone 76,000 word YA fantasy. Thank you for your consideration!

 “““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““

B’s critique …

Dear Super Agent,

Sixteen-year-old Wren is Tainted.

Hideous black spider-web (spiderweb) scars mar the other survivors of an elemental explosion, but Wren’s skin is pale and perfect—and dangerous. Her icy touch causes excruciating pain for everyone except the caretaker (I’d add a word or two here to say why the caretaker isn’t affected by her touch.) her father left her with. Wren would give anything to walk through her home without inciting the usual cringes and gasps of fear. 
  

When Evangeline, the supervisor of the elemental caves, calls a public meeting, Wren hopes it’s to announce a cure for her condition. Instead, she declares the Tainted—all those damaged by the explosion (I’m confused. Isn’t everyone damaged? Or did some escape the elemental explosion? Clarify this.)—are diseased and demands that their blood be purged. To begin, she executes Wren’s caretaker in front of the entire town. Wren barely escapes in and searches for the Tainted outcasts hiding at the fringe of the land—the deformed ones Evangeline banished after the explosion.(This aside after the emdash seems out of place to me. It should be right after “outcasts”. It’s more of an afterthought where it’s positioned. I don’t think you need it.) 

(You need a better transition into this. Something like … Wren fears the outcasts might…) They might hate her for not being exiled with them. They might fear her as much as everyone else fears her. But with the fires of Tainted bodies burning at night, she’ll have to decide: wield her frightening ability to save the only people like her—even if it means taking a life—or wait for Evangeline to find her. (I wouldn’t use so many emdashes in your query or the colon. I’d rework this to remove them.) 

Maybe something like this … But with the fires of Tainted bodies burning at night, Wren will have to use her frightening ability to save the only people like her still alive or wait for Evangeline to find her. Either way, someone will die. (You can probably work that better than mine, but you get the idea.

OF ICE AND ASHES is a YA fantasy complete at stand-alone 76,000 words YA fantasy.

Thank you for your consideration! (Give this its own line and don’t use an exclamation mark at the end.)

Is Wren on her own? Is there a love interest or a sidekick in this story? I’d populate your query with whoever it is if there is one. In YA, a love interest or friends are very important to have. Others may feel differently about my comments, so I hope they chime in.

This is a really intriguing premise. I love it! Your query may even be just fine as it is because you hooked me right away in the first paragraph.

I hope this helps. If you decide to revise and would like me to read it again, just post it in the comments of this post.

Okay, everyone, what do you think? 

And don’t forget to stop by the other blogs and read their query critiques. For each critique you leave in the comments, you get an entry into the drawing to win one of three first chapter critiques from me.

Becca C.
Becca (Becks) Coffindaffer
 Marieke Nijkamp

Sarah Nicolas
 Sarah Nicolas

18 comments to Query Workshop B-3: OF ICE AND ASHES

  • I agree with Brenda on her comments.
    And I don’t know if it matters, but I’d like to know how old Wren is.
    I also think that friends are really important characters in YA and MG novels.
    I know Brenda said it hooked her in right away, but I was actually a little confused. As far as the elemental explosion, I felt confused about it. Could you give us some insight on this? Was it an experiment? Who caused it? What exactly is it?
    Although the idea of your novel is intriguing, I feel that the stakes don’t seem high enough. At the end it reads, “wield her frightening ability to save the only people like her—even if it means taking a life—or wait for Evangeline to find her.” I feel like the obviuos answer in a book like this would be to save the people. So for me, I feel like it isn’t much of a decision for Wren to make. I might just be weird though LOL.
    Overall, I do like the premise and I feel it is an original idea. Good Luck!

  • Yes, it’s an intriguing concept. I also feel like the stakes aren’t enough. Still a decent start for a query with lots of potential.

    Good job and can’t wait to see the rewrite!

  • I remember this from another forum! I’ve always thought the premise sounds so interesting. I think Brenda is right – stating something about the friendships or romances Wren has among the Tainted will help to up the stakes. From what I’ve read, Wren’s real dilemma is that she doesn’t want to use her painful touch power, but it’s the only way to save the Tainted from Evangeline. The way you have it written, you’ve focused on the Tainted not accepting her. It seems like it would be an easier decision NOT to use her powers in that case. Just a suggestion – good luck!

    • Great insight on the other versions you read of this query. I’d focus on her not wanting to use her painful touch power. What happens when she uses it? Is there blow back? Is it unpredictable? Has she accidentally killed someone with it before? Great suggestion to get the stakes higher.

    • I agree, this gives her a more interesting internal dilemma. And she’s coming off very young to me. That could be because we don’t have any context about friends or a love interest which could give insight about if she’s a child, young teen, or late teen.

  • The first sentence feels a little cluttered to me. Saying “Hideous scaring marks the survivors of an elemental explosion, but Wren’s skin is flawless—and dangerous.”

    My greatest piece of advice is to condense and fine-tune this query. Answer the most important questions, and focus on those. We don’t have to know each and every turn in your mss, just what is at stake, and how it comes to wrap up.

  • This is an intriguing concept. YA is not my usual thing but this sounds like something I’d read =).

    I do have a suggestion. In the first paragraph, I’d cut this line: “Wren would give anything to walk through her home without inciting the usual cringes and gasps of fear.” I feel like it doesn’t add anything and the paragraph sounds tighter without it.

    Also, in the second paragraph, I’d cut this line: “To begin, she executes Wren’s caretaker in front of the entire town.” Again, I feel the paragraph is tighter without it.

    I agree with the person above me that we don’t need to know everything; just pick what’s important and sock it to us =).

  • I think there’s a great story here. It might be just me, but after reading through the query, I was confused by what seemed to be conflicting plot points.

    Wren’s caretaker is killed by Evangeline along with, I thought, others of the Tainted. Wren flees to escape this fate. Later, I find out that the Tainted are banished. Were most killed and then some escaped?

    I don’t understand how Wren’s touch causing pain, even, excruciating pain, can kill or save anyone.

    It seems unclear why Evangeline is hunting specifically Wren, but leaving the exiled Tainted alone.

    I also don’t understand how the Tainted are people like Wren.

    I do think there story here is excellent. I’d be interested in reading it. I hope these comments help, but it entirely possible the confusion here only mine.

  • There is a lot of potential in this query and I can see how this would be a fantastic story. As the query is now, the most confusing part for me was figuring out the factions at the beginning. Even after a lot of re-reads, I’m not sure I have it right. How did the world split into what groups? How does Wren fit in? That’s the part that is blurry for me.

  • The first paragraph definitly made me want to keep reading. The second paragraphs serves to make matters worse and make me want to keep reading. And the third paragraph makes me want to read the book. If I was an agent, I’d ask for sample chapters. If I were a reader, I’d be reading the first few pages and skipping inside the book to see if I wanted to buy it. So I think your query did its job, at least for me. Good luck with it, and I hope to read it someday, if the manuscript is as interesting as your query makes it out to be. 🙂

    Personally, I don’t know that it needs anything about friends or love interests, but that could just be me.

  • The second paragraph really grabbed my attention! I really felt for the MC when her caretaker was murdered, and I could feel the tension.

    My questions are:

    Why do the others have scars?
    Why is she different?
    Why does her skin inflict pain?

    I think if this much backstory is going to be introduced into the query, it either needs to be explained a little more or left out.

    Good job!

  • The concept sounds intriguing, but I’m left with questions about the world you’ve created. In the first sentence, the words “elemental explosion” almost implicate a magical world, but it’s not defined. To understand the impact, it would help to know the status quo.

    The scars mar the survivors, but not Wren. So is Wren a survivor of the same elemental explosion? Or has her skin always been like that?

    Is the caretaker important to Wren? How long has he been taking care of her? Knowing his importance will impact the reception of his execution. In that line about his execution, I would reword to eliminate “to begin” as it lessens the shock of his execution in the pitch. Reword to make stronger.

    Is Evangeline their leader? Supervisor implies a type of middle-management role, so then why would everyone obey her decisions and exiles?

    I would agree with Brenda’s thoughts about a better transition into the final pitch paragraph connecting it back to the exiled. Also about the friend’s/love interest. So much of YA/MG is about relationships with others but this reads like she is all on her own. Maybe she starts that way, but I can’t imagine her ending alone as well.

    Good luck!

  • Laurie Litwin

    I think you have a great start and a great premise. But, like most have said, I’d like to see a little of the confusion cleared up. If you can find a way to streamline the main information into succinct sentences, this would be great. Good luck!!

  • I agree with Jennifer. This is a great premise, but this query needs to be fine tuned to focus on a summary of the main plot. You can go into more detail in the synopsis.

  • Thanks so much guys! I’ve given a shot at a version that cuts out the caretaker and includes a bit about the other characters in the story. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    NEW VERSION:

    Sixteen-year-old Wren is Tainted.

    Unlike the other survivors of an elemental explosion, Wren’s body isn’t disfigured by hideous black spider web scars. Her skin is pale and perfect—and dangerous. Her icy touch causes excruciating pain for everyone, but her strangely flawless skin is the reason she wasn’t banished with the deformed Tainted. Still, she’d give anything to walk through her town without inducing the usual cringes and gasps of fear.

    When Evangeline, a charming leader with a particular disdain for Wren, calls a public meeting, Wren hopes it’s to announce a cure for her condition. Instead, she declares the Tainted are diseased and demands that the normal townspeople purge their blood. Wren barely escapes in search of the surviving Tainted.

    What she finds are not the crippled survivors she expected. They’re healthy, eager for a fight, and bewildering. With the company of a hurricane tempered girl and a normal boy whose aid has kept the Tainted alive for years, Wren soon realizes that she’s not alone.

    But with the fires of Tainted bodies burning at night, she soon might be.

    • I do like this a lot! This sentence “Wren barely escapes in search of the surviving Tainted” could use reworking. “Wren barely escapes and goes off searching for…) or something.

      That second to the last paragraph needs more clarity. Why are they bewildering? It’s too vague. What’s a “hurrican tempered” girl?

      Other than that, great revision!

    • Oh, also, I forgot, what is Wren going to do to stop this? You do mention she’s aided by the girl and normal boy but you only mention that Wren is not alone but might soon be.

      With the help of a girl who can (what) and a normal guy whose aid has kept the Tainted alive for years, Wren will have to use abilities to bring Evangeline to her knees or lose her new found friends and join the Tainted bodies burning in Evangeline’s death pit.

      Of course this is a horrible example. You’d have to structure it to your story, but I hope you get the idea.

  • I loved the premise too. Especially because Wren is the outsider amongst outsiders. I agree with the above comment that you could give more detail about Wren’s power.

    I also felt you could have given a bit more information about how Wren was going to save the tainted ones. In your query the big decision was whether or not she was going to use her power to kill – but is there a bigger goal? ie. Find a cure? Change the mind of someone influential? Overthrow the leadership?

    Your query would’ve hooked though!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  

  

  

20 + 18 =