Wednesday, June 5, 2013

QK Round 2: Broken Jar vs. SugarTales

Entry Nickname: Broken Jar
Title: In Pieces
Word count: 52,000
Genre: YA contemporary


Seventeen-year-old Clare has no idea what she wants do after high school, but she knows who she wants to be with. At least until her boyfriend Jesse hits her.

Part of Clare never wants to speak to Jesse again. Part of her wants to never leave her bed again. But part of her still sees Jesse as the guy who blew off house parties to take her for walks and held her hand through her ER visit when she broke her tailbone, not this new guy who keeps secrets and fails tests and skips classes. There has to be a reason he snapped.

And she’s going to find out what it is. Even if Jesse doesn’t want her to.

First 250 words:

It's 6:17 pm on January 21st when Jesse Talcott hits me. I know, because I just glanced at my watch. The one he'd gotten me for Christmas barely a month before. It’s Michael Kors, silver, with crystals instead of numbers and little interior dials that I don't even know what are for yet.

Honestly, when I opened it--the night before Christmas on the snowy porch of his parents' house because I thought Dad would freak if a boy came to bring me a gift on Christmas morning--it was kind of a what-the-hell moment. I mean, who wears a watch? That's what cell phones are for.

It’s the one time in the five years I'd known him that Jesse wasn't concerned about practicality.

So for him, I wear the watch. Our friends ooh and aah over it. Jesse’s asked about three hundred times if it's ok. If it's too much, too heavy, too silver. If I'd rather have something else. Maybe my shaking hands as I opened it or the stuttered thank you after made it obvious that I didn't know what to think of it. Tell the truth, I still don't know what to think.

Especially now, with my face stinging in a way that I would've never in a million years seen coming. I can't look at him. I can't even think of him. All I can think of is the watch, the hands frozen. In my mind, maybe it will perpetually be 6:17.


Entry Nickname: SugarTales
Title: Sweet Little Lies
Word Count: 64,000
Genre: YA Contemporary


Fifteen-year-old Adelaide Dorsten is an expert liar. But when her lies no longer seem believable and her friends begin to question her tales, she confesses her biggest secret to her best friend. The bruises she’s always tried to hide don’t come from falling down stairs or running in to doorknobs, they come from her brother.

Harper Maddock is a new student at Adelaide’s posh private school, desperate to keep the secret of her rape and attempted suicide from her new classmates. But when she falls in with a couple of popular girls, she finds herself in a spotlight she never desired. As Harper tries to keep up with her growing list of lies, she catches the attention of a popular boy – Adelaide’s older brother.

Gemma Drayton is Adelaide’s best friend, and she doesn’t want to know anyone’s secrets. In fact, she’s quite content believing what she knows are outright lies – even if that means covering up what she suspects about Adelaide’s family. But when the abuse takes a deadly turn before her eyes, her suspicions are confirmed.

With one confession, each girl’s web of lies will unravel, risking the people they love, their friendships, and even their lives.

First 250

The bruises fade long enough for a new crop to pop up, raising more eyebrows and even more questions. I run my fingers along the cheek bone under my right eye, wincing as I graze the three knuckle-sized bruises. I fall back, leaning against the glass door of my shower, glaring at myself through the mirror. How in the world will I cover these up?

My excuses get weaker and weaker, to the point that I'm not sure anyone believes me. I'm not even sure I believe me. Stuttering halfway through sentences only makes the story even less believable than it might have been in the first place.

I fling open the top drawer of my bathroom cabinet and pull out a bottle of foundation. I'll cake it on until you can't see a single bruise, despite the fact my skin will look eight shades darker when I'm done.

"Let's go loser," my brother shouts from outside my room.

I throw the foundation on the counter, silently cursing as the glass bottle chips the edge of my sink, a small porcelain triangle falling down the drain.

Glancing back in the mirror, I try carefully not to let my eyes fall to my ribs, to the pancake-sized bruises right underneath my fading violet bra. It's a relief clothes are a school requirement. No one would believe I got these bruises from a not-so-graceful fall to the ground. They're clearly in the shape of a fist.

"Adelaide, let's go!" he shouts and hits my door hard.


  1. This comment is reserved for judges' votes

    1. Victory to BROKEN JAR

      Tough subjects here! In general, I think both queries could use some fleshing out, so I let first 250 be the tiebreaker and I felt the opening of Sugar Tales was a little bit of a cliche way to present abuse while Broken Jar was quite unique.

    2. Victory to Sugar Tales
      Broken Jar - I mentioned my concerns about your premise in Round 1 so I won't repeat them. Your writing is very good, and would have swayed me to vote for you if I didn't have those concerns.
      Sugar Tales - I agree with Judge Hedgehog that your opening could and should be less predictable, but I voted for your because I think the topic of sib abuse is less predictable and therefore I'd be more interested to read about it. I am still however, concerned about that many unreliable narrators in one story...

    3. Victory to Broken Jar

    4. Victory to Broken Jar

      Good luck to you both.

    5. These are so close. Victory to Sugar Tales!

    6. Victory to Broken Jar

    7. Victory to Broken Jar.

      Both sound amazing. I just felt like Broken Jar's query was clearer. Sugar Tales, multiple POV's are rough, believe me, I know. Good luck to you both!

    8. Victory to Broken Jar

      Both premises sound heart wrenching!

    9. Victory to Broken Jar, but it wasn't easy.

      I think Jar's opening line on the 250 was the clincher for me.

      Well done, both.

    10. Victory to Broken Jar

      Both of these entries are hardcore and amazing. This was a hard one to pick.

  2. Victory to BROKEN JAR

    Again (and again and again, it seems) I like the entry nickname better than the title.

    Query: Nice and tight, but needs more of a hook. “Even if it kills her” for the last line would do the trick.

    Story: Strong writing. Puts us right in the scene, even though there’s backstory. The watch is what binds it all together.


    Query: I like the idea of intertwining the three girls’ stories, similar but different. Watch typos and grammar: “The bruises she’s always tried to hide don’t come from falling down stairs or running INTO doorknobs. They come from her brother.” (Two sentences instead of one.) Don’t tease: Tell us how the abuse takes a deadly turn. Does someone actually die? “It's a relief clothes are a school requirement.” It sure is!

    Story: Do you mean: “The bruises never quite fade before a new crop pops up”? Suggestions: Delete 2nd paragraph and insert that info at a later point. In 3rd paragraph, change “I’ll cake it on” to “I cake it on” to keep it immediate. (Or do you mean she doesn’t have a chance to put it on?) 4th paragraph: Wouldn’t the glass bottle break before the sink chips?

    I’m wondering where the parents are in all this.

  3. Wow. Both are tough subjects and due to the subject matters I can't say I'd necessarily pick either one up, but both entries are well written.

    Broken Jar: I agree with the judges, I think you need a new opening. I also agree with MM. I like your nickname. Other than the opening paragraph strong first page.

    Sugartales: Strong first page. Just a little tightening with minor errors.

    Great job to you both. This competition is full of such amazing stories.

  4. This was a tough one because the subject matter and style of the entries are so similar.

    BROKEN JAR - Good query. The conflict is clear, and I like that there seems to be more to the story than simply will she or won't she leave the abusive boyfriend. In the first 250, I liked the way you used the watch as a way to introduce Claire and Jessie's relationship. However, your verb tenses are all over the place in the first few paragraphs. Paragraph 1 goes from present to past perfect (s/b simple past, "he got"). Paragraph 2 is past, which is fine for a flashback. Paragraph 3 is present, while you're still in the flashback.

    I also think we need to be more firmly grounded in scene when you come out of the flashback. We know the time from the first paragraph but not where they are or what set Jessie off. I think it would only take a few words in that last paragraph to provide the context. Something like, "Especially now, as I sit here in __________ with my face stinging, just because I said _____________." Filling in those blanks ought to make us feel Claire's shock more concretely by showing that the attack was unprovoked.

    SUGAR TALES - I think your query is a good example for how to show multiple viewpoints in a clear, concise way. Is there an inconsistency, though, between the Adelaide and Gemma paragraphs? In one you say that Adelaide confesses her secret to her best friend, in the other you say that Gemma only suspects the abuse in Adelaide's family, until she witnesses it first hand.

    Your first 250 are well-written, but the only action in this first page is a girl looking in the mirror and putting on makeup. I wonder whether you could find a way to show Adelaide's secret in a more active scene. Just as food for thought, what about trying to cover up her bruises while she's changing for gym, or trying to hide the pain when someone bumps her sore ribs in the school hallway?

    I'm glad I'm not a judge. If I had to pick one, I'd probably give the win to BROKEN JAR, because I really liked what you did with that watch.

  5. Broken Jar
    As a mother of a teen reader, I struggle with your concept. Because I don’t want to teach my daughter to “investigate” the reasons her boyfriend hit her. And the charming things he did before—choosing her over parties and holding her hand--aren’t really telling or redeeming. I still want Clare to RUN and make a police report.
    I love the watch concept in the era of cell phones. But it isn’t enough to overcome my reservations. It’s all subjective.

    Sugar Tales
    So everyone lies. I had to reread the query because you had two liars in quick procession and then a third by omission. I like the drama of having a friend date the abusive brother.
    In your 250, I dislike your first sentence. I had to reread it as well. The brother doesn’t seem a bit concerned about being found out, if he is leaving visible wounds on her face. The shift in tense in paragraph three (until you can’t see a single bruise…) threw me.
    Why did the sink chip instead of the bottle? She would have to throw it pretty hard to make anything chip. Work on your sentence “it’s a relief clothes are a school requirement.” Of course they are. Maybe mention no cropped tops or midriffs showing. I can see this addressing some pertinent YA issues though.

    Good job and good luck.

  6. Broken Jar: I like stories that deal with the harsh reality of life. I think Nicole has a point, from a plot standpoint. When our MC's make a "bad" decision they need to have a REALLY good reason. So the reader at least understands the reasoning even though they don't agree with the choice. If you don't do this, the reader will disconnect from the story. I suspect there's more to your MC's reasoning than we're shown in the query. I suggest you pull that out and show why she chooses to dig deeper into his behavior.

    The conflict is her trying to find out why he's changed and his dislike of this. But what are the stakes? What happens if she succeeds? What happens if she fails? Why must she find out?

    Sugar Tales: I really like the premise of this one, too. The story is told from three POV's so when you say Adelaide's school in the second paragraph, you need to change that to the name of the school. From Harper's POV, the school doesn't belong to Adelaide. And to make the connection that they go to the same school, try to squeeze the name into the first paragraph or something.

    Your query seems pretty great. It doesn't have clear stakes, but that last sentence still gives us a hint of what's at stake. I think if you can work in some more clear stakes, it'd be stellar.

  7. BROKEN JAR! You know from last round, I'm a fan. I really like the opening 250. The query tells the story clearly and what you're gonna' get.

    SUGAR TALES! Nice writing and powerful query. Someone mentioned there aren't any clear stakes.'s about sibling abuse! Methinks that's pretty clear.

    This is a really good, close match-up with two uncomfortable, topical issues forming the back-bone. Way to go, writers!

  8. Broken Jar: First of all I love the way you rolled the watch, time, and incident with Jesse hitting Clare all into one simple but standout moment. I really hope that maybe you reference that time later on. Especially considering the last line of your 250. So good! Oh, and I love the cell phone bit--I was thinking the same thing before she even said it! My only constructive criticism would be to maybe rethink the structure of the last sentence of your query's second paragraph. It's a doozy and I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I didn't miss anything.

    Sugar Tales: I remember you mentioning in round 1 that we were going to be reading this from 3 different perspectives. I think that's awesome and I love head-jumping when it's done well. You paint the scene very well with your first 250 and I'd be very intrigued to see how the voice compares and contrasts among the different POVs. I think your query does a good job to show the format of the story as well.

    Good luck to both of you!

  9. Broken Jar: I disagree with the others about her boyfriend not being redeemable. Why? Because this is from a teenaged girls perspective. Parents perspective? Yes, dude needs to go no matter what. But I know first hand how hard it is to let go of someone you love (though, no, I wasn't abused). I suggest reading The Hate List if you haven't already, its not about abuse but it's about a school shooting through the perspective of the shooters girlfriend. She struggles between loving/missing him, and hating him for what he did. I LOVED that book. And though clearly different subjects/issues, it still seems to have a similar inner conflict. It would help to see how someone else successfully pulls off a MC loving a villain character.

    I'm personally not as big a fan of the quiet opening, it doesn't feel immediate to me with all the talk about the watch. But, I think I'm out voted there:-)

    Sugartales- I can't remember if I commented in the last round or not but the multiple POVs in the query is tough to pull off. It gets really confusing. Oh, and on this note I remember that I did comment because I said I thought you needed to add a little hope into the query.

    I think your opening page is strong though.

    Good luck to both of you!

  10. Broken Jar and Sweet Little Lies, your 250s are equally great. I really enjoyed the voice in both of them and got a quick sense of the setting and the character in such a small span of words. I'd give the edge to Broken Jar because the query was practically flawless. Great job!

  11. Both os these have really interesting premises. Broken Jar seems to have a clearer story line but I felt like I tripped over a few sentences in the opening 250. Sugar Tales- I preferred your writing and I think sibling abuse is a really unique topic, but the 3 POVs addressed in the query got a little confusing.

    If I had a vote, it would probably be for Sugar Tales :)