Sun Vs. Snow Critique Workshop

Michelle Hauck and Amy Trueblood are hosting a Critique Workshop/Blog Hop for anyone who wishes to join. More details can be found at their blogs linked above. The Sun Vs. Snow comes from a agent contest they finished a few days ago. All you gotta do is post your query or 35 word pitch and your first 250 words on your blog and then link it over at either of their blogs. Then, you critique the five above and the five below you.

This is my query and first 250 for my upper middle-grade fantasy novel, Wonderland. It is complete now and out with my critique partners. After I get their notes back, I intend to revise like a madwomen, so I can hopefully start querying this sometime in late March/early April. Queries are one of my weakest points, so please be honest and politely tear it to shreds. 🙂

Critique away!

Qurey:

Dear Agent:

Eleven-year-old Quilla creates worlds by wishing on dandelions.

It’s been six months since Quilla’s big sister, Amy, was murdered in Wonderland, the first world Quilla created. Six months since Quilla was chased out of Wonderland by her sister’s murderer and boyfriend and promised a quick death if she returned. Overwhelmed with grief, Quilla focuses on trying to get through sixth grade unnoticed as the only deaf and biracial student in her school.

She should’ve known it would all go wrong.

Aaron, who has only ever lived in Wonderland, is now in her Pre-Algebra class with a message she can’t dare to believe: Amy’s alive. Quilla can’t pretend her worlds no longer exist. She must return to Wonderland, but Wonderland is nothing like she remembers.

Wonderland is dying, and not only is Amy alive, but she’s queen, ruling alongside her murderer. Convincing her princess obsessed sister to abandon a kingdom and return home to attend eighth grade? Not likely. Working with Amy and the boy Quilla thought murdered her to save Wonderland? Laughable. If she doesn’t, Wonderland and all the people in it will cease to exist in three days. And being responsible for the death of hundreds of people really isn’t on Quilla’s to-do list.

But saving Wonderland and Amy may require a sacrifice Quilla isn’t ready to make.

WONDERLAND is a middle grade novel complete at 53,00 words. It is a standalone novel though there is room to expand the universe. It may appeal to fans of Catherynne M. Valente, Anne Ursu, and Brandon Mull. This is my debut novel. I have a Bachelor’s in English from East Tennessee State University and work part-time as a bookseller and a Youth Services Library Assistant. Thank you for your time and consideration.

First 250 Words:

The first time I wished on a dandelion, I created a world.

I was five and three-quarters.

The world, Wonderland, is six years old now, and I wish I could say it was thriving. I wish I could blow on another dandelion and bring happiness to the people.

But my powers don’t work that way. I can create worlds, but those who live there are not under my control.

I am not a queen, a ruler, or even a citizen of the worlds I create. I am a powerless watcher.

But everything’s changing. My worlds are melting together. The seams are thinner.

One of my made up friends is in my world now—the real world I share with every other human on Earth.

He is in my sixth grade Pre-Algebra class.

I didn’t invite him, and no one is supposed to be able leave their world. I am the only one allowed to come and go.

But he is here.

My first day of middle school and my best friend since I was five and three-quarters is staring at me from across the room. His eyes are so green they hurt, skin lighter than my own dark brown, but not pale enough for him to be white. His eyes are wide, black lashes long. His pale lips are full, his teeth white and uneven. His nose is slightly crooked, his chin pointy, hair platinum blonde, almost white.

Most startlingly of all is the scar that runs from behind his left ear and down his jawline.

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9 thoughts on “Sun Vs. Snow Critique Workshop

  1. The premise behind this story is very creative and the stakes are both understandable and gripping. I was a little confused reading the query the first time about the murder and the sister’s murderer. Was she not murdered? Was she murdered but then came back to life? Is Aaron the alleged murderer? The first part of the 250 words were a little slow with world-building that maybe could be shown as the chapter went on, but it picked up with the arrival of Aaron. I would be interested to read more.

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  2. Hi Bridgette!

    First of all, I really love the concept of this story! It sounds really neat!!!

    As far as my thoughts on your query, my biggest thought was how you went from saying that Amy was killed to having her ruling on the throne by her killer. It might be a good idea to clarify a little how that happened and why she doesn’t want to leave the throne, because my thought was, “Why would it be hard to get her away from someone that tried to kill her?”

    Also, why will Wonderland cease to exist? That would be another thing to clarify a little in your stakes.

    What genre is it in middle grade?

    Grammar: It is a standalone novel; though, there is room to expand the universe.

    For the first 250:

    I love the opening sentences! Very catching!

    The only suggestion I want to make here is maybe saving some of the detail of the best friend for later on. It’s a lot to form in just one paragraph.

    Otherwise, I really like this!! Best of luck to you!!

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  3. Jenny Chou says:

    Great hook! I love the first sentence of your query.

    Is your Wonderland related to Alice’s Wonderland?

    Unclear if sister’s murderer and boyfriend are the same person or two different people.

    “Only deaf and biracial student . . .” This is good characterization, but maybe try to blend the information a little more seamlessly into your query. It feels a bit plunked down.

    What would “all go wrong”? I get the impression her sister has already been killed by the time the novel begins.

    I like having someone from her created world suddenly, inexplicably appear in her pre-algebra class!

    Without giving away the ending, you might be a little more specific about the kind of sacrifice Quilla will need to make.

    Rethink your description of “eyes so green they hurt”. Three sentences of description is too much for this character. Get to the scar. That the most interesting. Move more quickly into why he’s staring at her. Can some of the backstory about her worlds be saved for later?

    I think you have a good premise here. Good luck!

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  4. Very intriguing concept – haven’t heard of the wishing-on-a-dandelion-creates-worlds one before. Very fun!

    Although the query did a good job of defining the stakes, I think it was a little confusing at a couple parts. Questions I wondered about that I feel should be squared away in the query is how did the sister get into Wonderland after it was created? There was a bit of a disconnect for me between the MC creating this world and then her sister “suddenly” being there and being murdered. I’m sure it all makes sense in the novel, but it was a lot to swallow at once without an explanation.

    I also wondered if the boy who murdered her sister is Aaron. It’s not clear as is.

    For the first 250, while I like the writing, I’m afraid it opens a bit too info-dumpy for my tastes. The MC just kind of explains the situation concerning the world-creating and some of the details surrounding it to the reader. Those details are best woven into the context of an active scene, which, in my opinion, should be established first.

    Other than that, I really enjoyed this! Good luck!

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  5. emilygmoorewriter says:

    First off, I love this premise!!! Such a unique twist on wonderland.

    Bear with me as I do exactly what you encouraged me to do: tear it up! haha.

    For your query, the first thing I thought was that it was really long, and some parts need simiplification. There’s a lot going on. The thoughts running through my head echo that of the other commenters: sister was murdered but then is reigning, why would she rather reign with someone who tried to murder her, why is Wonderland dying? Another thought I had in all this is where are these girls’ parents? The word count seems a little high for middle grade. I would also take out “this is my debut novel”. I had an editor I paid tell me that wasn’t necessary; no use telling an agent you’re a newbie. 🙂

    First 250: I love the initial sentence, it pulls you in and gives you a grip on the story. It seems like the next few sentences are too much telling and not enough showing. If you can go from telling about how the MC creates worlds to whatever conversation is about to happen with the friend, this will read better. Also, the voice feels a little to old for an MG protagonist. For example, would a 12 year old say ” black lashes so long, lips so full, so green they hurt”? No, they would compare them to important things in their world.

    I hope this helps! FYI, I occasionally give away query critiques as the Query Helper on my blog, and I heard through the grape vine that there will be one next week. :0) So feel free to follow me on twitter to find out when that happens.

    Best of luck with finding this story a home!

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  6. lorarpfiction says:

    What a fun premise!

    I agree with others that the query could use a little more clarification in terms of how the sister ended up in Wonderland, much less reigning there. I think the sister’s boyfriend is also the alleged murderer, but wasn’t immediately sure about that. If it is the case, this detail should be clear from the moment it’s mentioned, but that’s a simple tweak. I’m definitely curious about why Amy was presumed dead. Did she and the boyfriend hatch a plan to get Quilla to ditch Wonderland by lying to her? Because that lie is such a cruel lie. Or did something happen that made Quilla mistakenly assume her sister was dead, but she didn’t get a chance to know for sure? If so, a little more specificity on the details could help the query.

    I also really like your opening, but I’d like to see this first scene become more active, maybe focusing on her discovering that the guy from Wonderland is there in her Pre-Algebra class while weaving in a few backstory details.

    Best of luck with this :)!

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  7. Cameron says:

    Like the others, I love your premise and your voice! I’m a little late to the critique party (I’m #49), so it seems most everything’s been said. Your query seemed just a tad long, but the opening sentence gave me chills, it’s a great hook. This part:
    “Six months since Quilla was chased out of Wonderland by her sister’s murderer and boyfriend and promised a quick death if she returned”
    Is a little much for one sentence, maybe stop after boyfriend and then break it up? Since in the query, it’s a little unclear whether or not Aaron is the murderer, it might be useful to mention the name of Amy’s boyfriend/murderer when he’s introduced in the first paragraph, so it’s easier to refer to him later, and so the reader knows Aaron is someone else. Also, if Aaron is going to be an important character, it might be helpful to define his relationship to Quilla in your query. The last thing I was confused about is what’s going to cause everyone in Wonderland to cease exisiting in three days. I loved your first 250, the voice is very clear, and despite the protagonist being so young, it definitely strikes me as upper middle grade, kind of in-between YA and MG, but that’s totally personal opinion. I hope this helped! Best of luck!

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  8. Hi Bridgette!
    Query:
    -Love the first line.
    -I had to read the “Six months since…” line twice. Maybe adding a comma here: “boyfriend, and promise…” will help?
    -I’m so drawn in. The world, her sister dying, Aaron showing up…it’s all great. I also love the line “Quilla can’t pretend her worlds no longer exist.”
    -Maybe specify why in three days Wonderland and all its people will cease to exist? It’s the heart of the stakes, but isn’t completely fleshed out. Maybe also specify Quilla’s involvement in the destruction of Wonderland.
    -I absolutely loved this. One of the most intruiging queries I’ve read. Fantastic job.

    First 250:
    -Loved the first sentence.
    -Love the “five and three-quarters.” It’s exactly what a child would say.
    -Love the first 6 paragraphs. (I know it sounds like I just love everything, but trust me, this is rare for me).
    -I was a little tripped up by “made up friends.” Maybe change it to someone from Wonderland? It’s more specific, and it’s also less confusing. I was picturing an imaginary friend, not a real person. I would maybe try to tighten this too. Something like “One of my friends from Wonderland is in my sixth grade Pre-Algebra class now. I didn’t invite him, and no one is supposed to be able [to] leave their world. I am the only one allowed to come and go. My first day of middle school, and he’s staring at me from across the room…”
    I thought you did a wonderful job. I’d read this, and I usually don’t read MG. I think you’ll go far! Best of luck!
    Gloria #46

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  9. Query: This is a wonderful premise! I LOVE the opening line, but I’m struggling with the continuity of the rest of the query. I feel like I have so many questions about how things work (where do these alternate worlds exist? how do people pass in and out of them? etc) that the query doesn’t come together for me. If you can streamline this and tighten it up, I think it’s an absolute knockout.

    Specific comments:
    + Deaf and biracial come out of nowhere for me, since everything up until then and afterwards don’t relate back to it. Does it affect the story? You might want to put it up front with the dandelions (maybe why she spends so much time with them?)

    + Axe the line about Quilla getting through 6th grade is trivial compared to the alternate worlds/murder situation.

    + Clarify where these worlds exist and how people pass in and out of them?

    + Strengthen the query by drawing a straight line through it: what is the real heart of the story? Her power going wrong and her dealing with that? Her reliance on creating worlds (and saving the dying Wonderland)? Saving her sister? Whatever it is, relate everything back to that idea.

    First 250: Love this!! Very intriguing, I love the voice and it starts and ends at a great place. Would definitely read more.

    Specific comments:
    + There are a lot of line breaks. Can some of these initial lines be put together into a paragraph? It has the effect of making your beautiful prose read choppy to me.

    + “pale enough for him to be white” is a little jarring. It’s like “he’s not white enough”. Can you rephrase?

    + The physical description of her friend goes on a little long for me. I think you can name 1-2 attributes and then move on.

    + “Best friend since I was five and three-quarters” Axe the five and three-quarters here. “Since I created my first world” maybe?

    + Is the made up friend the same as her best friend? Clarify.

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