Sunday, June 1, 2014

QK Round 1: One Spotted Girl vs. World on a String

Entry Nickname: One Spotted Girl
Title: The Mean Freckle
Word count: 62,000
Genre: MG Historical


Abby Ray DeWoody is nine year-old girl prone to mischief, but nothing that would put her name on the FBI’s most wanted list. When Abby visits a nearby farm on a hot summer afternoon, a woman named Miss Lucy accuses the girl of having the Mean Freckle, a mark which dooms the bearer to hurt their loved ones. Miss Lucy (who may be a crazy lady or an evil witch) chants a rhyme that sets the rules. If Abby Ray can find the Mean Freckle and erase it, she will be free, but she must not speak a word to anyone about the mark.

Abby succumbs to the effects of the Mean Freckle immediately. She lies, she steals, and she pinches! She feels powerful and big when the Mean Freckle burns, but the disappointment in her parents’ eyes makes her sad. She loves her family and does not want to hurt them. She is willing to do anything to find a cure whether it’s smearing herself with sour cream, dipping her body in mustard, or visiting a spooky graveyard at midnight.

First 250 words:

The road was dusty and the afternoon sun blazing hot as I pulled my little brother’s red wagon to the Dairyberry farm. On the right side of the road, black and white cows stood behind a barbed wire fence flashing their backsides at me. Their tails swung back and forth shooing flies. Everything was the same old same-old that day. The red dirt. Blue sky. Dry weeds. Me. A freckle-faced kid. But trouble likes to hide under ‘the usual’.

My name is Abigail Ray DeWoody. Abby Ray for short. I’m named after my dead grandma and my alive-and-kicking father, Ray. He calls me “his little ray of sunshine.” I call him Daddy Ray. I am nine years old and three feet seven inches tall. My grandpa says I am ‘two drinks shy of a full pint’, meaning I am little. I’m also covered in brown freckles from my face to my feet. I even have Irish spots on the top of my dirty toes.

Grasshoppers popped this way and that as my bare feet trudged over the ruts and weeds. Lord, I hate those bugs with their stickery legs and black tobacco spit. A big hippity-hoppity ricocheted off my shirt and landed on my forehead. I knocked it to the ground and gave it good grind with my heel. Served it right!
I have lots of chores that I perform daily. It’s a big list of ‘have-tos’ which I ‘have to’ admit I hate.


Entry Nickname: World on a String
Title: The Day I Ruled the World
Word Count: 57,000
Genre: MG Fantasy

Twelve-year-old Teddy Bridwell loves her parents. Honestly, she thinks they’re great. They’re also wrong—she shouldn’t have to wait until she turns thirteen to start learning magic. So she practices in secret. That way, they don’t have to worry, and she doesn't have to get in trouble.

Until she gets caught, of course. Then she’s in all kinds of trouble. She’s grounded and stuck doing inventory on the junk Dad collects for his business. That’s where she finds the barrette.

Teddy can feel the magic in it, but she isn’t sure what it does. She thinks it might grant wishes, which would be stellar, but the truth is even better—the barrette makes people do what Teddy tells them to do. For the first time in her life, she’s the one with the power.

Unfortunately, the power Teddy uses to make her Dad teach her magic could do mega-damage in the wrong hands. And when the wrong hands show up to claim it, Teddy has to find a way to destroy the barrette before a crazed fanatic uses it to end all the pain and misery in the world—by turning everyone in the galaxy into his puppets. Until she does, Teddy and her stubbornness are the only things standing between humanity and slavery. Which, if humanity knew, they probably wouldn’t find too comforting.

First 250 Words:

Spying is rude, and I would never, ever do it. Not without a good reason anyway, like needing to know if my parents suspected I'd been practicing spells in secret.

For Snooper's Delight, I needed a mirror, some magic, and a little privacy. Good thing I had my own bedroom, so I wouldn’t be interrupted by bossy older sisters or nosy younger brothers.

I settled cross-legged on my bed, tugged on my pajama shorts to de-wedgie them, and balanced the mirror on my knee.

At six o’clock on a Saturday morning, Mom and Dad would normally be in the kitchen, eating breakfast alone while all the kids slept and talking about stuff they didn’t want us to hear. That was the scene I had to picture to work the spell—the counter along the back wall and the big dining table surrounded by chairs. When the mental image was as clear as I could make it, I slid it into the mirror to replace the reflection. My brain gave a satisfied sigh, and I opened my eyes. There it was, a perfect picture of my parents with plates of eggs and toast and glasses of juice set out on the table in front of them. I could practically smell the food.

I had one second to enjoy my success before the side-effects hit me, the slam of crazy emotions that came with every spell. This time it was a wave of totally-out-of-proportion, what-the-heck-does-this-have-to-do-with-anything sadness.


  1. Judges - reply to this comment to cast your votes.

    1. Okay, so I will get directly to the point! No beating around the bush here!

      One Spotted Girl:
      I love this concept. A freckle making someone naughty is quite amusing. Your voice is strong and clear, but I'm here to help you improve, right? So!
      First up, you say it's historical, but I have no idea what historical period it is set in from the query. You will need to clarify this, because the query needs to match the genre. The FBI's most wanted list feels odd to me. Why would I kid be on an FBI list unless maybe her parents were? Maybe say something about detentions, or, depending on the period, even the cane. Also, the stakes aren't really clear, yes she has a "mean" streak, but what will happen if she doesn't get rid of it? What will happen to her family and friends etc?
      Your first sentence is passive. Kill that was somehow by saying something like... The afternoon sun blazed down on the dusty road...
      I love the "flashing their backsides at me" line. Great visual!
      Telling the name like that is "Telling" rather than "showing." I'd cut and introduce her name at some point by someone else saying it. In fact, that whole paragraph is telling :-(
      The description of grasshoppers is fantastic! Her voice is strong and the visualization is crisp. Good job!

      World on a String:
      I think the query is pretty solid. The "honestly, she thinks they're great" line I could take or leave, because I don't think it's here or there with progressing the query, enhancing the hook etc.
      Strong voice, good scene setting. I don't really see much wrong with it.
      For me, I give Victory to World on a String.

    2. Oh! I forgot to put my nickname! The above comment was from The Hybrid

    3. ONE SPOTTED GIRL: Love this concept and the mischief the pitch promises. The first sentence reads a little awkward to me - I would reword to something like "Nine-year-old Abby is prone to mischief..." I got a little confused about the Mean Freckle, thinking it was a single mark that should be easy to find and remove, until I realized reading your first 250 that of course, she's covered in freckles! So, not sure if you might want to reword the pitch so it's clear the Mean Freckle is one of many. Could be just my confusion, of course.
      The genre of this confused me - I didn't see anything in the pitch/250 to nod at a different era of time.
      For the first 250, I would cut your second paragraph. It reads like info dump and cuts away from the action. That info needs to be woven in one nibble at a time, preferably through dialog or action.
      Otherwise the voice is good, and again, I love the concept.

      WORLD ON A STRING: I would combine your first line with the third to tighten it up and get right to the conflict: her using magic before her parents want her to. Something like, "Twelve-year-old Teddy loves her parents, but this time they're wrong--she shouldn't have to wait until..." I would also shorten one of the sentences in the last paragraph from "Teddy has to find a way to destroy the barrette before a crazed fanatic uses it to end all the pain and misery in the world—by turning everyone in the galaxy into his puppets." to "Teddy has to find a way to destroy the barrette before a crazed fanatic uses it to turn everyone in the galaxy into his puppets." Just tightens it up a bit. For this pitch, we don't need to know the antagonist's motivation at this level.
      The first 250 is great. Keeps us in the action and the "de-wedgie"-ing made me giggle and think, yup, this is MG!

      I also give VICTORY to WORLD ON A STRING.

    4. One Spotted Girl: Your query has a bunch of fun and interesting stuff in it, but it needs some polishing. To begin with, you have a typo in your first line ‘Abby Ray DeWoody is nine year-old girl prone to mischief’ should be ‘Abby Ray DeWoody is a nine year-old girl prone to mischief’. Then there are some sentences that could do with smoothing, for example I might tweak the opening to something like: ‘Nine-year-old Abby Ray is prone to mischief, but nothing that would put her name on the FBI’s most wanted list. Until she visits a farm and Miss Lucy – who is rumoured to be a witch - accuses Abby of having the Mean Freckle, a mark which dooms the bearer to hurt their loved ones.’

      Also, I’m not quite sure whether the freckle is all a product of her imagination, or whether the old lady really was a witch and your genre should be Magic Realism. Finally, you need to end with stakes – what will happen if Abby can’t get rid of the freckle and keeps being mean?

      Your first page has some lovely description that really makes the setting come alive, and some great voice, but it’s very disjointed. Beware of hopping back and forth between the present and totally unrelated backstory-ish internal monologue. If you could smooth this out, I’d certainly read on.

      World On A String: I like your query, it lays out the plot and stakes pretty well, and the story sounds fun. It could be polished a little, for example I might tighten the beginning thus: ‘Twelve-year-old Teddy Bridwell thinks her parents are great. But she also thinks they’re wrong—she...’

      Great opening page! Tells us about the magic, setting and characters straight away, and is fun and interesting. I smirked at the bit about the wedgie. One tiny thing: I’d suggest splitting the opening para into three sentences for greater emphasis and humour: ‘Spying is rude, and I would never, ever do it. Not without a good reason anyway. Like needing to know if my parents suspected I'd been practicing spells in secret.’ Oh also, ‘My brain gave a satisfied sigh’ sounds odd. Otherwise, well done.

      Victory to World On A String.

    5. THE MEAN FRECKLE sounds cute. Which historical period is this supposed to take place in? It's not clear from the query. Just a nitpicky thing -- you call her "Abby Ray" in the first paragraph, but just "Abby" in the second. Also, the second paragraph has three sentences in a row that start with "she" which gets a bit repetitive.

      THE DAY I RULED THE WORLD is another really cute concept. I love the idea of a magic barrette. It isn't until the third sentence that the query really *starts* though. I think that a lot of the "backstory" in paragraphs one and two could be combined and tightened up more concisely without sacrificing the MG voice.

      Victory to World on a String

    6. Princess PrimroseJune 3, 2014 at 9:08 AM

      Dear One Spotted Girl,

      Query: Your query begins with a typo, which I would definitely fix. I actually think you can nix that first sentence entirely and begin the second sentence this way: "When nine-year-old Abby Ray DeWoody visits a nearby farm on a hot summer afternoon..." While your query does a good job conveying the stakes and main plot points, it's missing voice, which could really set it apart from the other MGs out there. Also, this isn't a contemporary MG, which means you'll have to speak about the setting a little bit as well.

      First 250: I get the feeling that this is set in the South of the US. If so, Abby's voice definitely conveys this. However, again, we have to be told fairly quickly what year and place we're in. There's another typo in your first 250 as well in this sentence: "I knocked it to the ground and gave it good grind with my heel" (Missing an "a.") Overall, I like the voice in this story, but ultimately felt the lack of setting was too disorienting and the typos detracted greatly.

      Dear World on a String,

      Query: You made me smile right away at Teddy's reasoning that her parents are great, but wrong. Bonus in an MG query! My only concern with this query was this sentence, which I felt was too long: "And when the wrong hands show up to claim it, Teddy has to find a way to destroy the barrette before a crazed fanatic uses it to end all the pain and misery in the world—by turning everyone in the galaxy into his puppets." Could you break it into two? Other than that, fabulous! I especially like the ending line--good infusion of humor and Teddy's voice.

      First 250: I really love this. You introduce us to Teddy's world immediately. So much information can be gleaned in this short amount of space, including Teddy's personality. This is definitely something I can see kids grabbing and falling in love with. Excellent work.


    7. MRS N, the Query QueenJune 3, 2014 at 1:49 PM

      One Spotted Girl:
      Query- I loved your story and I so want to read it! The query is pretty good and the only thing I would take out is, “(who may be a crazy lady or an evil witch)”. It brings up too many questions and takes me outside the story. I can totally envision kids all over the world dipping themselves in mustard to get rid of freckles. LOL!

      250- I liked the easy and free spiritedness of your MC! She sounds like me when I was little. I could relate to her and I want to read more!

      World on a String:
      Query- I liked your story and I could relate to Teddy. A magic barrette? I mean, what girl wouldn’t love that? Your query is good but it feels clunky and doesn’t seem to flow. I think if you took out a few words here and there, it would flow a lot better. I get the stakes but you don’t make clear how the big bad find out about the barrette. Does it truly belong to him, like the ring does in Lord of the Rings, or maybe it has a homing beacon? State that in your query and I think you are set!

      250- I liked your first 250 although it was a little unclear why you didn’t simply say Teddy was spying because she was too young to be practicing magic. I think that is needed. Other than that, I loved the imagery of the mirror and the reflection. Great writing and very creative!


    8. One Spotted Girl

      query: Cute concept! I like the character development here and it's a nice conflict--very succinct. However, the query itself is suffering from a tragic lack of transitions, which makes the summary feel like a collection of unmoored lines instead of a logical series of events. I'm also not sure what makes this ms Historical. It sounds like either MG Fantasy or MG Magical Realism to me.

      250: I love the biography paragraph, but I didn't understand why you put it between two setting paragraphs. I also suggest you skip the line "I have lots of chores that I perform daily. It’s a big list of ‘have-tos’ which I ‘have to’ admit I hate" and instead hint at the conflict to come.


      World on a String

      query: The first 3 paragraphs can be combined, and some of the redundancies (or just plain-old-unnecessary lines, like "Honestly, she thinks they're great") can be eliminated. I'd also like to see sentences combined. Example: "That’s where she finds the barrette. Teddy can feel the magic in it, but she isn’t sure what it does. She thinks it might grant wishes, which would be stellar, but the truth is even better—the barrette makes people do what Teddy tells them to do" becomes "While cleaning the barn, Teddy comes across a barrette that's full of magic. So much magic, in fact, that it allows her to control the people around her." Etc.

      250: Great 250, but I'd like to see you *show* the sadness at the end of the 250 instead of telling us it's happening. We already know it's "out of nowhere," so instead use that real estate to describe the sadness. Make me feel it!

  2. I don't read MG (or haven't since I was in MG ;) ) but I am attempting feedback anyway. Hope it's of some use!

    One Spotted Girl
    Query: Oof. Typoes right off the bat: "a nine-year-old girl". Careful with those. Also, the Mean Freckle sounds like it should be visible (since it's a Freckle), but Abby Ray has to find it? It may be worth clarifying this. What does she have to do to find it? Also, the query doesn't seem to reflect the "Historical" part of your genre?

    I also love "She lies/steals/pinches!" but you may want to try incorporating it into the surrounding sentences for readability. I feel like those three sentences are repeating a little information, so smooth it out with something like "When the Mean Freckle burns, she lies, cheats, and pinches! And it makes her feel so powerful and big." type of thing. :)

    250: The inconsistent usage of single and double quotation marks, in addition to the typoes in the query, make me think you may want to review your MS for these types of errors. They're not deal-breakers, necessarily, but the fewer an agent sees, the better.

    I definitely hear the young child's voice, and the detail about cows flashing their backsides made me smile. Would a kid really say "alive and kicking", or make a note of their dirty toes? Again, I don't read the genre. I also love the introduction, but I wonder if it needs to lead into something more quickly?

    World on a String
    Query: I love this set up. Some phrases take me out of her point of view- "the truth is even better" about the barette, and "uses it to end all the pain and misery in the world". The rest of the query seems to be from her POV, so I would keep this consistent. The stubbornness detail is fantastic.

    250: Great start! Snooper's Delight made me smile. Just a few things here too that take me out of the POV- "bossy older sisters/nosy younger brothers" should be "MY bossy..." etc, and "eating breakfast alone while all the kids slept".. Not really sure I thought of me and my siblings as "all the kids" ever. Just "we" would work here. Other than that, the magic element is set up nicely and I'm already curious to read more.

    Overall, I like the idea of a Mean Freckle better causing havoc, but World on a String's 250 and overall set up is better. I'm not a judge, but my vote would go to World on a String!

  3. One spotted girl

    I have to say I'm a little confused by the Historical tag. The query gives it a fantastical feel, but I can also see how Miss Lucy might just be a mean old lady who tricked Abby into thinking she has powers. But overall, a very good query. I can really hear Abby's voice in the 250 (I'm imagining she has a strong, it not Southern, countrified accent). The back and forth between past and present isn't sitting right with me, and I know it's hard to figure out what to do in terms of describing her, especially in first person. I don't know much about MG and past vs. present tense, but I would try using one or other exclusively.

    World on a String

    First off, I love the name Teddy for girls! But anyway, from the first paragraph of the query, I could sense Teddy was about to get into all sorts of trouble. I like the voice of the query, too, and how that ominous tone stays throughout. In the 250, I could see what was happening very well, and I like the image of her pushing her mental picture into the mirror. A very good opening.

    Good luck, you two!

  4. One Spotted Girl
    Okay, I laughed at the Mean Freckle. Great concept. The story sounds like a lot of fun.

    Having said that, the query as it stands now reads more like a synopsis to me and doesn’t really end. It just sort of stops. I think you need more of a hook at the end. And assuming her name actually does get on the FBI’s most wanted list (and I do assume this), I don’t see any connection to how that might happen.

    I also had a bit of trouble getting into the 250. I really, really liked the voice of the second half, but I don’t think the opening paragraph is as strong as it could be to grab the reader. It reads fairly mundane. I’d give it another go with a mind toward making the voice in the first few lines zing like the rest.

    World on a String
    This query grabbed me and drew me straight through. Great story premise that has me eager to jump into the actual book. The only thing I tripped on was the line “everyone in the galaxy.” I assume this means the story does actually involve the entire galaxy as a setting, but nothing else in the query suggested that to me. Perhaps a line somewhere near the beginning to convey this?

    Ah, I remember this opening of the 250 from earlier in the week when we were posting first lines. A real grabber IMO. And I laughed at “de-wedgie.” In fact, I really just enjoyed the whole opening here. I think it’s pretty strong exactly how it is. Also really like the idea of magic costing the user something or having some effect. A nice touch.

    Best of luck to both entries!

    Love the first line of your query! Told me a lot about the character, the voice, and made me laugh.

    I would not normally suggest a quote, but for the chanting of the rhyme about the Mean Freckle, it might be fun to have it here if it’s short and catchy.

    In paragraph 1 it states that she needs to find the mean freckle. In paragraph 2 she can feel it burn. Does she know which one it is? Is this her imagination?
    A lot of “she” in paragraph 2. I also feel like it doesn’t have as much voice as the first paragraph. The word choice and statements such as “succumbs”and “disappointment in her parents’ eyes makes her sad. She loves her family and does not want to hurt them” sounds so mature and aware for nine.

    On the 250, you start with a lot of description of the place rather than Abby. Also, I don’t need to know what her height is, maybe just that’s she is short, if that’s relevant. I am puzzled by the voice, but that may be because I don’t know what the time and place is.

    “I have lots of chores that I perform daily. It’s a big list of ‘have-tos’ which I ‘have to’ admit I hate.” Seems too much tell rather than show.

    Ooooh, I love magic! This is so fun.

    On the query, I’m not sure it matters so much that she loves her parents. What matters more is she disagrees with this rule on magic and thinks she’s ready to make her own decisions without anyone telling her what to do. How about something like this:

    “Twelve-year-old Teddy Bridwell thinks it’s ridiculous that her parents are making her wait another year to start learning magic. Really, what’s the big deal? So she’s been sneaking and practicing spells behind their back.”

    I read this that Teddy doesn’t want to let go of this barrette and its power, even knowing that it could turn everyone into slaves? Do I have that right? Maybe clarify.

    Can you give a little more on what kind of puppets the evil guy is looking for? What will they do?

    I think I would get rid of the last sentence in the query. I know slavery would be awful.

    On the 250, “while all the kids slept and talking about stuff they didn’t want us to hear” she probably wouldn’t say “while all the kids slept.” She would just say “talking about stuff they didn’t want us to hear.”

    On the description “There it was, a perfect picture of my parents with plates of eggs and toast and glasses of juice set out on the table in front of them.” You could make this come alive if you have them more active or a snapshot of an active moment, and tell something about the parents. Mom could be sweeping crumbs from the table into her hand if she’s a clean freak Dad could have eggs caught in his mustache, shoveling huge forkfuls of food into his mouth if he overindulges. Maybe they’re both staring at their food and not each other. This could be a telling scene.

    On “This time it was a wave of totally-out-of-proportion, what-the-heck-does-this-have-to-do-with-anything sadness.” Maybe ground this to an experience she’s had to make it more real. It would tell me a lot about her if I knew what the most sad thing that could happen to her would be.

    Great job. Good luck to you both!

  6. One Spotted Girl: Love the first line – great hook. You also have some awesome details, but I feel like the last sentence got chopped off. She’s willing to do anything . . . but if she fails, then what? Her parents’ disappointment is mentioned above, but the ending of the query right now is a bit flat for me.

    There’s nothing implicitly wrong with the first 250, but it just doesn’t sound like a nine year-old to me until the grasshoppers part.

    World on a String: Awesome voice and just enough detail to tease. The same for the first 250.

    Good luck to both!

  7. Miriam Vos PerezJune 2, 2014 at 10:24 PM

    One Spotted Girl: I liked the query but it seems unfinished. It needs a final sentence to bring it to a point and make it sound urgent and compelling. The 250 has a nice voice. Although you don't specify a time period, it has an old-fashioned feel to it that's appealing. It's a bit of a hodge-podge though of background information. Sort through those personal details and decide what really needs to be told right there on the first page. Save the rest to work in later on.

    World on a String: This was a lot of fun! The voice was believable and engaging. The query struck a nice balance--it told enough detail to make sense, but not so much that it could bog down the reader. The 250 was entertaining and a good introduction to the character and her world. Well done!

  8. One Spotted Girl
    Cute! My only problem was that it's labeled as historical, and I don't see that at all. It distracted me while reading the query because I was looking so hard for time period hints and not finding them. I like the premise, although I'm still questioning whether this is fantasy or if the Mean Freckles are a hoax. But you had me at the end. Bring on the mischief! :) I wasn't drawn in by the 250. I think, maybe it's the first paragraph. There's a danger of starting a story describing how things are boring and blah and the same. It's hard to get excited about that? I see why and what you're going for, but I'd rather see Abby - and what she's actually doing - right from the start. She's your star! Give us a hint of all the mischief the query promises.

    World on a String
    My fear is the idea of a magic item in a world where people already have magic makes the magic item feel less powerful? It can work, of course, but it makes me pull back a little on the query, and cross my fingers tightly hoping that it works. Because I want it to. The query itself sounds fine (except maybe ditch the last sentence). Love the first page! She's spying on her parents? And we see immediately the cost of magic and the rules? Awesome. Well done.

    Looking forward to seeing both of these stories! Good luck!

  9. A million, million thanks to everyone who commented, judges and Kombatants alike. I've already started trimming, tweaking, and improving based on your suggestions and feedback. You're geniuses, every last one!

    And special thanks to the author of One Spotted Girl for letting me sample Abby Ray's story. I loved it. Best of luck to you.