Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the First Day of Querymas

my true Genn gave to me, a role-play game that turns deadly.

Dear Agent,
 Play the game. Don't ask questions. Or else. 
I feel like this has more punch without the "or else." 
Knightmare Castle is the ultimate role-playing game. Taking up an entire island, it's a massive riddle where the crowd of contestants must work in teams using spells, weapons, and anything else they can find. The castle and its inhabitants are so real it's hard to remember it's just pretend. Every person is there for a different reason, but Morgan is the only one playing to save a life.
Fifteen-year-old Morgan keeps busy making sure her mom doesn't worrytoo much and remembers to go to work. On her last day of school,Morgan fails at both when she finds her apartment empty, her mother missing, and the note. If she plays the game and wins, her family gets to go home. If not, she'll never see her mother again. Morgan has no choice but to get on a boat headed for the castle.
I would switch the order of the two paragraphs above so it makes more sense. 
So far, so good, but the next paragraph loses my interest.  
She doesn't know where she is, why her mother was taken, or why the kidnappers are mad at her for not knowing. They act like she should be happy they showed up and carted her family away. And everyone tells her this is the only way to go home.
She does know where she is - Knightmare castle.  And the rest of the paragraph lacks the punch the previous ones had.  Personally, I would cut the whole thing.
Morgan gets the feeling she can beat the castle and when she does,something important will happen. But between nightmares when she sleeps and hearing voices when she's awake, Morgan doesn't care. All she wants is her mother back alive.
Same problem here.  You aren't really adding anything to the query.  We know she has to beat the game, the nightmares/voices are too thrown in to really add much, and we know she wants her mother back - that's why she goes to the castle.  Cut it.

The problem is that the query doesn't wrap up well above. We need something that draws it to a close, which leads me back to the beginning.  This query is interesting but it is lacking something.  I don't see the connection between Morgan and the game.  Yes, I know she finds the note and has to go to the castle to save her mom, and I know that part of the mystery of the book is why she is being forced to play the game.  There is a fine art as a writer to raising questions in a way that intrigues readers instead of frustrating them.  When a reader is intrigued they suddenly have to keep reading.  When they are confused or frustrated, they put the book back on the shelf, when this happens in a query it can send you to the rejection file.  Now I think there may be enough in Sarah's query to garner her a request, but I think she can also finesse this so that it takes it from 50/50 shot at catching an agent's eye to omg-send-me-the-full-now.

My suggestion is to give us a hint of what Morgan's relationship is to the game before her mother is kidnapped.  Is she an avid player?  Could she care less?  Bridge that tiny gap for the reader and suddenly it will feel less like a confusing plot summary and more like a cliffhanger.  To accomplish this I think the first two paragraphs can be moved around a bit and the necessary info added.  Then wrap it up with one final, toe-curling, stomach-turning cliffhanger of a closing line and this puppy is ready for primetime.  
CONDUIT is a YA Fantasy complete at 78,000 words. Fans of THE MAZERUNNER will enjoy this story and its the twist ending not even thekidnappers see coming.

Sarah Belliston

Best of luck!


  1. I think the second paragraph just needs reworking to transition better from the first, and give us the stakes.
    Something like: Ever since 15 year-old Morgan discovered she had to play the game if she wanted to save her mother's life, she's thrown herself into learning the rules. But as she gets deeper into Knightmere, Morgan learns that dodging girl-eating dragons (or whatever cool dangerous device you've created in the game) isn't the only thing out to ruin her life. She's got to (do something perilous) or risk losing herself, her mother, and her world.

    The MS sounds fab, Sarah. Good luck!

  2. I think Genn gave you some great line-by-line edits and ideas, so I'll just add that the genre threw me. This sounds like a YA thriller in the middle of a real-life RPG, but the genre description makes it sound like the spells and weapons are real. If the spells and weapons ARE real, you might clarify that. If not, I probably wouldn't call this a YA fantasy.

    Good luck with this! The concept really is fabulous. If you give us a better sense of Morgan, I think this will really work.

  3. Great story and awesome edit. I think once the author makes the connection a bit stronger it'll be a great query, definitely caught my interest. My biggest confusion is mentioned by Krista, I didn't think the spells were real until the "fantasy" genre so definitely clarify that :)

    good luck!

  4. I think Genn's suggestion to switch the paragraphs is a good one. These are strong paragraphs. Then you need a paragraph tell us what the conflict is that is stopping Morgan from reaching her goal and a final choice she'll need to make as the last hook.

    Good luck.

  5. sarah, thanks for putting your query up for crit and leading us to it! these pieces of advice from Genn will help me, too!

  6. Love Gen's suggestion for hook -- gives it that extra punch and you have a great hook BTW!. Totally fell for 1st paragraph. 2nd felt a bit mundane in comparison. Wonder if you couldn't jump to the kind of conflict 15 year old MC is gonna have to face in this game, (revealing situation with her mother in there at the same time.)
    Good luck. This sounds like an awesome story!

  7. Thanks Genn for your comments and for everyone else as well! So helpful!

  8. This story does sound awesome. Really hope I get to read it someday!