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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Query & First Page Critique - The Memory Keeper

Thank you to everyone who submitted their first page and/or query! I have enough for this week, but you can still submit using our standard submissions process to be considered for critique at a later date. Today, I have a query and first page for the YA Historical Fantasy, The Memory Keeper.

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The Memory Keeper

YA Historical Fantasy

78,000


Memories, lost identities, and expectations haunt Ashton Driver and River Morgan. They are strangers connected by a force that neither understand. Ashton wishes to succeed with his new mission to rescue the damsel in distress. After all, if he wins, he gets the girl. While River struggles to survive her curious identity crisis, decisions must be made before lives are lost or forgotten. 

I'm afraid that this whole first paragraph it too vague. You mention different general issues they're dealing with, "identity crisis", "a force", rescuing the "damsel in distress", etc., but none of these are explained and we have nothing concrete. Can you think of one specific, concrete, and possibly visual detail to lead us in with? Or it may be helpful to not worry too much about the "hook" and just start where the story starts. What is the inciting incident that gets the story started? Try starting with that as your hook and see how that works.

Ashton is every girl’s dream with mood ring eyes and glowing tattoos that change with every new military command. I say you could start here. The mood ring eyes and glowing tattoos are excellent examples of concrete, specific, and visual details. It shows how your story is unique and I can visualize the image. Survival and protection of the weak comes natural to him. However, with the recent instructions to find the missing princess, his heart melts. "Heart melts" strikes me as a tad cliche. Can you find another way to say this? Oh, the princess is beautiful all right, and smart, too. The catch? She’s one hundred years old. Okay, but you never really explain how or why the princess is 100 years old. :) Is she some kind of immortal or actually just an old woman? If it's not important to the story, I would leave this detail out as it just leads to more questions, and not in the good way. :)

While Ashton prepares for his mission at the Shadow Academy, River fights for her life in a world where she is the target. She’s the Keeper of the Memory Book, an animated diary where she records the memories of everyone. It has the power to bring memories alive or erase them, never to be remembered. She must protect the Book and herself, or she’s destined to live as nothing more than a memory. When the Book is stolen, River is the first person to experience the overwhelming power of the journal.

I do think I understand the Memory Book explanation is better here than in previous drafts. So with the memory book, River can animate or alter everyone's memories. I'm with you there. However, I don't understand why getting the book stolen would turn her into a memory. Or do you just mean they will kill her? When you talk abou the "overwhelming power of the journal" this is vague, what actually happens in the story?

Ashton and River eventually cross paths and their futures become more complicated. Ashton’s heart belongs to the princess, but he finds River mysterious, yet irresistible. River is an important piece to Ashton’s puzzle and he must discover why because the risk is way too high: return with his new princess bride or die.

Of course you do need a paragraph at the end that gives the title, word count, genre, and short bio. You may have just left it out for the purposes of this critique. My understanding of "historical fantasy" is that it's set in a real-world historical setting but with fantasy elements. Since setting and time period are so critical in historical fiction, I think it's important for you to bring these elements into the query more. At this point, I really don't know when or where this novel is set.

You have some cool elements in this story. I think the idea of the Memory Book has a lot of promise, but as it is, the query is too busy. There is a lot going on and too much of it is vague. The stories of your two main characters seem somewhat unrelated except for "they eventually cross paths". I encourage you to simplify as much as possible and be as specific as possible. Tell us your setting, your MC, and describe the primary conflict, and use that as your basic framework. Even if this story is told from multiple viewpoints, it may be good to use only one in your query as it would be much cleaner. Try making the query primary about River. And yes, you can do that! My novel is told from multiple viewpoints but I made a point to give one person the most page time so he's officially the main character. I wrote my query purely about him and his primary conflict even though there are other characters and side-stories in my novel.

I think you're getting closer, so don't give up. You can do it!
First Page:


River tore a piece of material from the hem of her petticoat and wrapped it around her hand, clenching the cloth between her teeth. The white linen turned red before she finished tying the knot.
 I like the first sentence because it gives us a sense of time with "petticoat", it includes conflict, and it's a concrete image. Her stomach tightened and for a moment she thought she would be sick. Taking in a long breath calmed her enough to stop the shakes in her hands. An image laced with pink swirled through her mind, yet River didn’t recognize it. I think this is a good opportunity for a more specific image. Instead of "image laced with pink" can we actually see something here? A pink shoe? A pink glove? A pink Whoopie Cushion? ;)

I have to get away. How did they find me? Oh God! What am I going to do? Where can I go?

Staggering to her feet, River leaned against the side of the wagon. She strained her ears for any noise, any movement. Nothing. She had to hurry, before they came back for her. No time to think, no time to waste. They would return once they knew their assassin had failed. She stared past the dried up, yellowing plants of the garden towards her house.

The shanty door swung back and forth, creaking a sad, singsong melody as if to say goodbye. Someone had been inside her makeshift home. Panic clamped down as she thought of the Memory Book. Every muscle in River’s body throbbed, but she forced her legs to move forward. Her entire life hinged upon keeping the Memory Book safe, away from prying eyes. No one knew it existed. Except the Thief Takers. They had chased her for months lusting after the powers held within its pages.

Good job! I think you've done well with editing your first page. It has conflict and concrete images. I would keep reading.

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Thank you for sharing your work. Getting public critique takes guts! :) I've said what I have to say, what about you? Please share your feedback for our brave volunteer. I pasted the uninterrupted submission here:

Query:

The Memory Keeper

YA Historical Fantasy

78,000


Memories, lost identities, and expectations haunt Ashton Driver and River Morgan. They are strangers connected by a force that neither understand. Ashton wishes to succeed with his new mission to rescue the damsel in distress. After all, if he wins, he gets the girl. While River struggles to survive her curious identity crisis, decisions must be made before lives are lost or forgotten.

Ashton is every girl’s dream with mood ring eyes and glowing tattoos that change with every new military command. Survival and protection of the weak comes natural to him. However, with the recent instructions to find the missing princess, his heart melts. Oh, the princess is beautiful all right, and smart, too. The catch? She’s one hundred years old.

While Ashton prepares for his mission at the Shadow Academy, River fights for her life in a world where she is the target. She’s the Keeper of the Memory Book, an animated diary where she records the memories of everyone. It has the power to bring memories alive or erase them, never to be remembered. She must protect the Book and herself, or she’s destined to live as nothing more than a memory. When the Book is stolen, River is the first person to experience the overwhelming power of the journal.

Ashton and River eventually cross paths and their futures become more complicated. Ashton’s heart belongs to the princess, but he finds River mysterious, yet irresistible. River is an important piece to Ashton’s puzzle and he must discover why because the risk is way too high: return with his new princess bride or die.


First Page:


River tore a piece of material from the hem of her petticoat and wrapped it around her hand, clenching the cloth between her teeth. The white linen turned red before she finished tying the knot. Her stomach tightened and for a moment she thought she would be sick. Taking in a long breath calmed her enough to stop the shakes in her hands. An image laced with pink swirled through her mind, yet River didn’t recognize it.

I have to get away. How did they find me? Oh God! What am I going to do? Where can I go?

Staggering to her feet, River leaned against the side of the wagon. She strained her ears for any noise, any movement. Nothing. She had to hurry, before they came back for her. No time to think, no time to waste. They would return once they knew their assassin had failed. She stared past the dried up, yellowing plants of the garden towards her house.

The shanty door swung back and forth, creaking a sad, singsong melody as if to say goodbye. Someone had been inside her makeshift home. Panic clamped down as she thought of the Memory Book. Every muscle in River’s body throbbed, but she forced her legs to move forward. Her entire life hinged upon keeping the Memory Book safe, away from prying eyes. No one knew it existed. Except the Thief Takers. They had chased her for months lusting after the powers held within its pages.

5 comments:

Patchi said...

The first page has a good hook, but the query is confusing. I agree with Sharon that it would be better to focus on River, as she is the protagonist in the first page. You might be able to bring in Ashton at the end, if she needs his help to get the Memory Book back.

Ink in the Book said...

I did leave out, accidentally, that THE MEMORY KEEPER is a YA Historical Fantasy mash-up of Sleeping Beauty and a Celtic Myth, The Shadowy One.

Does that clarify the 100 year old princess? She is a strong sense of the story, but I could leave that out.

I have other comments, but need to mull over the questions first. Great, great things to think about...

Sean McLachlan said...

There are some interesting elements here. I agree with most of the critique that's already up. It's way to vague. Here are a few more nitpicks:
"River" makes me think of the character from Firefly.
The term "princess bride" makes me think of, well, you know.
Both of these popped me out of the story.
"Survival and protection of the weak comes natural to him." should be "come naturally"
The first page is excellent. Write your query like you write your book and you'll do fine.

Ink in the Book said...

Wow! I got so much advice to think about for my query. Thanks everyone!

Laura Stephenson said...

^This. Also, having River's first name being almost the same as the other character's last name pops me out of the story, but this would be best fixed by changing River's name, since any nerd will be hearing country music and thinking of space travel when they read it.

Also, why does she have both a wagon and a shanty? Can't she just sleep in the wagon? Or is it not a covered wagon?