15 critiques for ’15!
My wonderful critique partners have started a new freelance editing business and agreed to sponsor my January workshop. Jami Nord and K.T. Hanna have helped me spruce up my manuscripts and now they’re helping fifteen lucky and brave writers with theirs. The winners have already been picked. In the next few days, stop by and read Jami’s and Katie’s critiques and learn from their advice. Today we have our next two critiques up. We aren’t mentioning names or titles. It’s up to the writers if they want to reveal themselves.
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Critique by Jami Nord…
(Personalization goes here)
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Fisher is a liar. She lies to her friends about the huge scar on her chest. She lies to her parents about her new job. She even lies to herself about the future she doesn’t want. (I really like this repetition here. It’s a great opening.) The only people she doesn’t lie to? The police, when they arrest her for property damage and assault.
It’s not like she killed anyone; she was only trying to help a stranded sea turtle.
The arrest is only the crest of a tidal wave for Ryan that began with a life-altering heart surgery. (I don’t see the connection between the arrest and her dream job. It seems like this is missing a connective line, like, “But when the manager of the Gulfarium approaches her, impressed by her quick thinking and offers her a job, she thinks her dreams have come true.” This would also fix the wordiness in the line after.)
So when her dream job falls into her lap, she doesn’t pass up the chance, even though it’s the last thing her micro-managing parents want for her. It’s at the Gulfarium, wWorking alongside the dolphins she loves, that Ryan runs into her ex-best friend, Grayson Finley, the boy who left town—and her—without a goodbye.
Doing what she does best, Ryan lies and tells her (micro-managing) parents she got a job at a health clinic(,)
and then spends her afternoons at the Gulfarium doing grunt work with her new care-free friend, Brooke. She’ll do anything to keep one foot in the future that she’s dreamed of. But when her mom finds out about the lie? Bye-bye dolphins and dreamy ex-best friend.
But the eternal grounding Ryan receives can’t stop her when a hurricane barrels toward the coast, threatening
not only the Gulfarium , but (and) the only people who see the real her. This is the moment Ryan’s been waiting for—keep living the lie and make her family happy or finally embrace .(Embrace what? You left us hanging! But the phrasing here is reducing the tension anyway. “It’d be so much easier to keep living the lie to keep her family happy, but if she can find the strength to tell the truth, she may save everything, including her heart.” Obviously, adjust to fit the actual stakes in your novel, but something that lays out the choice she faces in as crisp a way as possible. Remember, the point right here is to make them go “I need to read this!”. You do a good job in the earlier parts, don’t blow it at the end!)
My young adult contemporary, WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, is complete at words 63,000 words.
(A short, biographical paragraph goes here, just a line or so that makes them feel like you might be a person they’d like. )
FIRST 250 WORDS:
Breathe in, two, three. Out, two, three. In two, three. Out, two, three. I repeat this in my mind over and over as my feet hit the pavement. One count for each slap of my shoe. One breath for each step further. Each step closer to my future. A future I can’t see anymore.
It used to be set in stone. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Dad the surgeon, mom the housewife and my brother…a perfect mold of my father. I used to be one of those candlestick molds (I had to read this several times before I figured out what this was saying. What would a candlestick maker equivalent be in modern life? If Butcher=surgeon, Baker=Housewife, Candlestick Maker=??) but after this summer I feel like I’m part of a different nursery rhyme that got mixed up.
There are two Ryans. The one I used to be and the one I want to be. But I can’t figure out how to be either. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. Limbo Ryan.
So I run. (This is very staccatto. There are two Ryans: The one I used to be, and the one I want to be. I can’t figure out how to be either, all stuck in the middle as Limbo Ryan. So I run. Keeping the rest of it together longer makes So I run have punch.)
If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be running again—running this soon after—I’d have laughed in their face. Running is the one thing I have in this world that is mine and mine alone. Daddy can’t buy it. Shawn can’t beat me at it. And Mama can’t regulate it, though she tries. (Either combine those last 3 sentences with commas between then, or remove the And. Again, for flow.) She’d have a conniption if she saw me out here.
And n(N)ot because she’s worried about my health. Oh no, that would be the motherly thing to worry about. The right thing. Not my mother. Not to say she’s not motherly…but some things are more important than others. It’s not the running that would bother her. It’s the state of my hair on this damp, windy morning or the fact that I’m wearing my worn out running shoes that would give her a heart attack. Though I’d never say that to her face. Heart jokes were given a cease and desist order last year. It’s all fun and games until it actually happens.
(I really like this one. It has a strong voice and a character who seems very grounded in her own head, which is always a wonderful thing in first person POV.)
Critique by K.T. Hanna …
She escaped the lab, but not the scientist. [Very catchy line]
After seventeen years of bioengineering to become the ultimate weapon, Force wakes up on the streets of Minneapolis with no memory, an eight-inch blade at her side and her creator’s voice in her head. Now Force and her assassin alter-ego F4C fight the psychological control left in place by her power-obsessed creator, Dr. Kenneth Pulling.
The more she learns about the doctor, the more she hates him. His lethal experiments on the children she grew up with still haunt her and his obsession with controlling her, his last remaining experiment, is relentless. The programmed responses he fixed in her mind turn her into his subservient killer, but and without them she can’t use any of the her skills. she’s worked so hard to attain.[I’m curious if she’s a bionengineered ultimate weapon, how she’s had to work hard to get her skills. I would probably cut that part of it out] Skills she needs to ensure she’s the last thing Dr. Pulling will ever create. [You could make it a little more concise for maximum punch and make it: Skills she needs to ensure she’s Dr. Pulling’s last creation.]
Just when Force is learning to control the programing in her mind, Dr. Pulling imprisons her at his lab again, determined to reestablish the control [you use control twice in very close proximity. I’d suggest changing it up] he had over her before her escape. With a new bout of drugs in her veins and a cloud of amnesia [Is it really amnesia? Or is it the drugs that have induced a blur between reality and hallucination. I only ask because this query is mostly solid, and could be great with less punches pulled] blurring the lines between reality and hallucination, Force must find a new way to fight, or she won’t be the only one to die.
Complete at 74,000 words, FORCES BEYOND OUR CONTROL is a young adult novel that will appeal to readers of STARTERS by Lissa Price and PARTIALS by Dan Wells.
I graduated from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul with a BA in English. During my time there, I acted as a head editor of the school’s literary publication.
Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work.
[Overall this query gives us a great sense of the stakes and conflict. With a few tweaks I think it could pack a serious punch]
FIRST 250 WORDS:
Nothing moved. Even the minute hand on the gold-crested clock didn’t creep forward as it should. [Wordy and cumbersome – if you’re going to open like this I’d suggest: Nothing moved, not even the hands on the gold crested clock]. Open books littered the tables amid mountains of legal pads and scrawled formula sheets. A picture window should have shown the Minneapolis skyline glowing in the distance, except heavy velvet drapes covered the view. They hadn’t been opened since she’d left. [I realize that you’re trying to situate the story geographically, but this is wordy, and uninteresting.
Suggestions: Open books littered the table. A breeze found its way past velvet drapes to rustle at the mountains of legal pads. The Minneapolis skyline had been obscured since she left.]
The only living creature in the room remained as static as the desk in front of him. [Living creature? Are there dead creatures in there? Unnecessarily confusing. It doesn’t add to the story, in fact it lets the reader down as soon as they realize he’s human, or at least, appears to be human. Don’t obfuscate with big words when less complex works better]. Motionless in his leather chair, a hand pressed to his lips, one finger upright against his temple, Dr. Kenneth Pulling studied the photo of his creation on the thirty-six inch monitor across the office. Her eyes made the hairs on his neck prickle as goose bumps crawled over his flesh. [The way this is described almost feels like head-hopping. It’s not quite there, but you’re bordering it with an inanimate photo.
While you’re trying to set the scene, the descriptions drone on a bit. It would be better to be concise. Choose singular descriptions that better describe your scene.
Suggestion: Motionless in his leather chair, a finger rubbing at his temple, Dr Kenneth Pulling studies stillshot on the monitor. His creation stared back at him, her eyes so alive they made the hairs on his neck prickle as goose bumps crawled over him.]
He broke away from her stare and tapped his pen against the notes on his desk. [Suggestion: He looked away, tapping his pen against his notes. Even absent she was compelling. With the lab out of commission, the painstaking task of reviewing all the experiments he’d ever performed on her, fell to him.] Reviewing everything he’d ever done to her was a slow process, slow and painstakingly monotonous. If the Lab had still been in operation, he would have recruited a couple low-levels to write up a simple abstract for him. Instead, he sloughed through information himself looking for any bit of data that could point him to what had gone wrong. Or to where she would have run.
[She’d been gone almost thirty-six hours. The lack of alerts from local hospitals made him nervous. If F4C had been found, her condition would have meant immediate admission, if not police intervention.] It had been almost thirty-six hours since she’d left, and the fact that there’d been no reports of her at local hospitals made him nervous. Certainly anyone who found a girl with F4C’s condition would have immediately admitted her there. Or turned her over to the cops.
[This is a very interesting idea from what I can gather from the query. However the prose in this excerpt obscures the voice so much that I can’t find it. The language is stiff and has far too many descriptors which detract from the overall impact. As a first page it rambles and is very distant.
The use of she is a little off-putting, but if you trim it down then her designation as F4C will be revealed a little earlier.
Thank you, Jami and K.T.! Everyone else, make sure to stop by Thursday for the next two critiques.