Thursday, April 30, 2015

#YayYA Critique Party: Entry #7

Name: Roxanne Lambie

Genre: Sci-Fi/Romance

Title: Quantum

35-Word pitch: 

16 year-old Willow can be in two places at once, but she doesn't know it. With a fated love and a terminally ill mom, she risks losing memories from both sides that are irreplaceable.

First 500: 

   “More right rudder Willow!” Paul yelled.
   “Ok.” My response was quiet, but only because I was gritting my teeth. I wanted to yell back at him. I hadn't been this frustrated while flying since I had switched flight instructors early on in my training. Paul was usually much more patient with me. I tried to shake it off. I’d deal with that later. I needed to do this right. Today had been a crap day. I hadn't done any of my maneuvers to standard. I really needed to redeem myself.
   I pushed harder with my right foot. I pulled back on the yoke and held it there. Then I heard the airplane get quiet except for the buzz of the stall warning horn.
   Maybe another couple of seconds. Get ready for it. Just when I expected it, the airplane quit flying and the nose fell toward the horizon. I pushed the power in all the way but I didn't apply forward pressure on the yoke quick enough.
   The airplane stalled again. This time it was much more abrupt and I hadn't been ready. The left wing dropped immediately. I had never had it snap that hard. I froze for a second. Then I pulled myself together and remembered what to do.
   Don’t use the ailerons. Right rudder. Ball in the center. Get the airplane flying again.
   Within a minute the airplane was flying straight and level again, but I had totally botched the stall.
   I breathed out a long sigh. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and shook my head. “Sorry,” I said as I looked over at Paul.
   He looked exhausted. “We need to do that again. You really should have these stalls down by now,” he seemed more calm but I could still hear the irritation in his voice and I wasn't surprised. I couldn't seem to get it together today.
   “You know what?” I asked. “I think I need to call it a day. My head isn't in the game anymore. I’m too frustrated to do it right. You don’t seem happy either.”
   I wanted him to know that I had noticed his volume and tone earlier and it wasn't helping.
   Paul nodded in agreement. “I’m sorry I got so upset. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we both need a break. Let’s head back.”
   The short flight back to El Paso was quiet except for the necessary radio calls. We were on the ground and taxiing in before I knew it. The sun had started its decent toward the mountains that would make it disappear for the night. The heat was almost unbearable so I opened the window and let some air in. The fresh air and the fact that we were on the ground was making me feel better all ready. I was mentally exhausted though so I knew I had made the right decision by calling it quits for the day. 


  1. Starting from the top:

    Genre: This is a toughie. Unless it follows the Romance tropes keep it to straight Sci-Fi. It can have a romance sub-plot and still be Sci-Fi. Now, the Sci-Fi side. I'm having a hard time telling for sure what makes the story Sci-Fi, and qualifying it may help that "Contemporary Sci-Fi" "Near Future Sci-Fi" etc.

    Pitch: I love that you have the age, but I want a bit more about Willow to firm up her character: bookworm, aspiring astronaut, lego champion, etc.

    Now, "Two places at once" is too vague. It's intriguing, but vague. What kind of places? Parallel worlds? Different sides of the earth? Self cloning so she can stay at the Hospital and attend School? (Example: My MC can physically be in one place but astral project to the other side of town. So that's what my brain immediately assumes based on the info provided.) Give me the specifics here because it will help so much.

    I do like the stakes, even though they're kinda vague, if you firm up more of the story itself I think they'll firm up as well!

    Text: I really like your concept, but the tone of the text is losing me.

    First, it reads old. I'd expect to find out that the MC is a mid-twenties woman, not a teenager. I'm not getting into her thoughts and feelings and identifying with her as a character, I'm reading blocking text of how she's flying a plane. Which, for me, is rough, and leads to me putting it down and walking away.

    My other concern is that the MC is able to clearly voice her feelings of frustration to a male in a position of authority, and that feels inauthentic to a 16-year-old after reading more about WHAT she's doing than who she is.

    It also felt kind of disorienting following your pitch because I don't know what it has to do with a girl whose mom is dying and she has some sort of positional split.

    I hope this has provided a good outsider view-point for you! I don't mean to sound rough, if that's in any way how I came across!

    Best of luck!

    -Lana (@muliebris)

  2. I think Lana has some good insights for you above. I'd add that I love all the specifics of the flight - terminology, troubleshooting, etc. - they make the action authentic. You could add some more sense details to bring it to life that much more - what does it feel like or sound like when the airplane "quits flying," for example?

    You can extend these details to your characters, too - instead of "he looked exhausted," for example, maybe tell us how so? Is he just now releasing a white-knuckled grip on something, or...? Same with her mental exhaustion at the end of the excerpt. To follow up on Lana's advice, you could drop a reference here to her mom being part of the reason she's so off-kilter.

    Would suggest striking some minor redundancies. Don't think you need to say she wants to yell back at him; it's implied by the previous sentence. Likewise "I needed to do this right. Today had been a crap day." is covered by her having botched her maneuvers (can you name a few of them, maybe?) and needing to redeem herself. When she freezes up, you're showing her getting it together with the italics immediately below; I think you can drop "Then I pulled myself together and remembered what to do."

    Hope this helps!

  3. I'm going to back up the other two comments here. I love all the flight terminology. It's cool. But I also really have no sense of who Willow is besides someone who is learning to fly. How does this relate to the premise. What about this is going to scream to someone, I am an SFF book. I get how hard this is. I wrote a contemp SF book, and it took me forever to find the right place to start it. A place that would unequivocably show that this was both a contemporary piece *and* SF at the same time. I'd really take a good hard look at your story, your premise and figure out where the story really starts. Where does the SF element appear and then find a way to weave that in.

    I'd also work on getting deeper into Willow's head. If the flying is important, show us why. Have her think about it. It doesn't have to be super explicit, but it does need to bring up some question. Something to hook the reader and bring them onto the next page. I think you could do a lot with getting deeper with her physical sensations too. What emotions is she feeling? How do they feel physically? How can you show us that? If the relationship with Paul is important, give us a better sense of what things are like between Willow and Paul.
    I do hope this helps, and good luck.

  4. I think the stakes from the pitch could be a little clearer. How does she risk losing memories? I think you could trim down on words. I don't think you need to say on both sides or irreplaceable. Removing those gives you room to expand on other aspects of the story. I'm also wondering how important it is to mention that she's not currently aware of this ability.

    I think it's cool that she can fly and that you're introducing that early on!

  5. Everyone else is brilliant and smart. I just have a random idea that may or may not work for this story. It sounds to me that this might work better in first person present.

    Like so,

    “More right rudder Willow!” Paul yells (from where).
    “Ok.” My response is quiet, but only because I'm gritting my teeth. I want to yell back at him. I haven't been this frustrated while flying since I had switched flight instructors early on in my training. Paul was usually much more patient with me. I try to shake it off. I’ll deal with that later.( Deal with what later? It sounds like there's a problem, hint at whatever it is that has caused the change. Even if you just change the word that to Paul's temper.) I need to do this right. Today has been a crap day. I haven't done any of my maneuvers to standard. I really need to redeem myself.

    I don't know why, but it just feels better to me.

    You want to look out for the word looked. (See what I did there?) I looked out the window could be changed to there were smudges on the window, and clouds floating above the wing. Show us what she see's, not that she's looking.

    Also when a character looks sad/mad frustrated, or seems confused/mad/ emotion, there is always a better way to show it. His jaw was tight, he bit his lip, his eyes clenched, etc.

    Not always, but usually when you have the word looked, you can change it, and strengthen your prose.

    Best of luck!

  6. Hi Roxanne!

    The pitch had me completely curious! Looks super interesting!
    However it wasn't until towards the end that I realized Paul and Willow were in two different airships and then I realized they were in spaceships... Right?
    I think you probably could take "Romance" out of the genre (but that's just what I think)
    Looks like something I would pick up and read!

    ~Cayla (#2)

  7. Hey Roxanne!

    Three things that are working well:

    1) The protagonist has a really interesting hobby/career path going on. Aviation is super cool. It reminds me of Code Name Verity and A Game of Love and Death.

    2) I love that you start the story right in the action. You don’t waffle around with her getting in the plane and taking off and la dee da dee da. You get right to the good stuff!

    3) While I think the pitch’s wording could be worked on, I like the sound of the concept! I don’t think it matters that the first page doesn’t really correlate automatically with the pitch—it does take a chapter or so before getting to the true conflict of the story.

    Some things to think about in revisions:

    1) I’d like to see more details. Willow mentions how she “hadn’t done any of her maneuvers to standard”. Rather than that description, I’d love to hear more specific examples of other things she’s botched that morning.

    2) I’d love to get an idea of what will happen if Willow doesn’t get the plane out of the stall. Will they crash? Will they spin? Will they plummet? I’d never stalled a plane, so if she could think about the long-term dangers, that would help me out.

    Cool stuff here!

    -Mollly (@mollycluff)

  8. Hi Roxanne!

    First off, I love that Willow can fly. Who doesn't like a kick-ass leading lady? But like others have said, we need to get into her skin more. In the opening scene we learn that she can fly, that she has an instructor, and that she stops early. But it sort of reads like an action sequence without much of a character filter.

    As you revise, maybe think about how you can weave more emotional depth/voice for Willow into the action while also slipping in little details that will suggest where the story is headed/what this world is like, etc. Once you strike that action/voice/world-building balance I think this scene will be a lot of fun!

    As for your pitch, I'm intrigued but maybe a bit confused. Is the two-places-in-once thing a curse? A super power? I want to understand because I can tell there's a cool explanation in there!

    Hope this helps :)


  9. Hi!

    First of all, I was kind of thrown off by the pitch. You have sci-fi/romance listed as the genre, yet in the pitch I saw zero elements of romance. Maybe it's not the focal point of your novel, but I would think if it's important enough to be listed as one of the genres, you'd clue the reader into that with your pitch.

    First 500: I enjoyed your descriptions of the girl flying. It all sounded really cool and brought me into the moment with your MC. The thing is though, I don't feel like it moved the story forward in any manner, or prepared me for whatever happens next. Maybe trim some of it down, or start at a different point so that the reader is more grounded in what's happening. Though the scene was interesting, as other commentators have said, I didn't feel any sort of connection to Willow. She was just kind of a girl flying a plane. This opening has potential. Great job!

  10. I have to admit, I read your genre and groaned aloud. I dislike romance and HATE sci-fi (with the passion of 1000 firey suns. Have never managed to make it through a sci-fi novel I actually liked). Then I read your pitch and thought, WOW. LOVE this pitch. Fated love juxtaposed against terminally ill mom, and add to that, she can literally be in two places at once but doesn't know it? So weird. So sad. So dramatic. Perfect. Don't change it. So I was happy to dive into the excerpt.

    The excerpt was... okay. I'd cut the last line of it, though. We know she's exhausted and that she wants to call it a day, that was made abundantly clear, so reminding us by restating just feels like using up extra words you don't need. I'd like to see more of who Willow is - right now she's just a frustrated girl flying a plane without her head in the game. Can we get a hint of why it was a crap day? Just one specific to keep us connected? I assume three's a reason she's not as engaged in flight as usual.

    I loved the pitch, like the name Willow, and am interested in a girl who flies - but I need something more to suck me into this story within the first 500 words. Just a little something.

  11. I agree with the above posters, the pitch is very interesting but I want to know how she is able to be in two places at once.
    I enjoyed your first 500 but show me more, why was she having a crap day, what was she feeling as she botched the stall. The present tense Sheena was mentioning could be a good way to really make the reader feel like right in the middle of it.

    All in all I enjoyed where it started off, she seems like she is an interesting girl if she's already flying at 16 and even though you say its an airplane and they are going to El Paso, something in my head makes me think it isn't just normal current every day America. I want to be more invested in the moment though. If something started doing something wrong in a plane I was flying when I was only 16 I'd be tripping, but if she has been doing this long enough that an event like that is common place then let me know she's been flying a while and why she takes it all in stride :)

  12. Hi Roxanne!

    I'm going to keep my comments relatively brief considering you just WON my three chapter crit giveaway :D But remember that all advice is subjective in the art world and you are more than welcome to burn mine if it's totally opposite of what you think is best for YOUR story! :D

    I think your pitch is good. Here's why: I read all the other comments, and besides mentioning that it's rather vague they all want to know more. Ha! Guess what that means? You have them hooked!! XD

    I totally understand how hard it is to pitch such a complex concept (I love the concept, BTW) in so many words. So yay for you!

    Yay for non-WW2 pilot heroine!! I know that this is set in our era from another crit hop we were both in. So maybe try to make it clear in a showing but non-telling way that this is the 21st century.

    I don't think there's really anything wrong with your opening in itself. It's an interesting place to start and you do a good job of adding the pilot lingo without bogging us ignorant readers in the technicalities. I think what needs the most polishing is your narrative. It comes across in some places as wordy telling, but thankfully that's easy to fix. For example (and remember my suggestions are going to sound like me. If you make any changes make sure they sound like Willow :D ):

    He looked exhausted. “We need to do that again. You really should have these stalls down by now,” he seemed more calm but I could still hear the irritation in his voice and I wasn't surprised.

    I would make it something more like this:
    Exhaustion lined his face. "We need to do that again. You should really have these stalls down by now."
    Despite sounding calmer, irritation still sparked his tone. No surprise. I just couldn't get it together today.

    There's a couple other sentences that could be tightened and deepened like that, probably even more than I did LOL but we'll cover that in your crit :D Hope this helps for starters!!

  13. I like the mid flight tension. I think you could ratchet up tension and smooth out the flow, with more sentence variety. You had a string of sentences that were simply... I (predicate). I (predicate). Then I (predicate).

  14. Hi Roxanne!

    Let me just say, this might be one of my favorite entries so far. The opening scene is great! Now, on to more specifics...

    Pitch - It sounds fascinating, but I agree it is a little vague. Yet this makes it even more interesting. I'm wondering, why doesn't Willow know about her ability? When does she find out? How is the reader's knowledge of Willow's ability addressed throughout the book? Once she does find out about her ability, does everything fall into place, or does she face even more challenges because of it? The great thing is, these things don't need to be explained in the pitch! Even though I don’t have much knowledge of what happens in the story, I have enough to crave more – enough to read the book. And like Rachel mentioned, the plot is a hard one to describe in only 35 words, and I think that is all right. Sometimes all a reader needs is to be tantalized a little.

    First 500 - Fantastic opening! It throws us head-on into the action, but not necessarily into a bunch of confusing details or world-building information (my pet peeve in the first 500). While I agree with some other commenters that it would be wonderful to see more of Willow's personality, I also feel that in this scene she is concentrating so hard on flying that she doesn't have time to focus on much else. While her confidence comes through in some ways (like when she talks to Paul), her personality is mainly absorbed in flying. To me that feels authentic. But other than the few details we can glean (such as she is learning to be a pilot, and that she has a nice instructor), there is not much about her personality. On the one hand, this makes us miss out on knowing her during this scene. But on the other hand, we are all the more curious to get to know Willow in the next few pages, which is good.

    One commenter added that it would be nice to have information on what would happen if Willow failed to pull out of the stall. I totally agree! I was freaking out for her life when she was in the stall. I thought the plane was going to plummet, but afterwards all she cared about was how she had botched it - so I figured that it must not have been that dangerous after all.

    And I do think Willow came across as older than most 16-year-olds. But perhaps her life experiences have contributed to this – if she was raised to be more independent, or if she has seen a lot of tragedy. I have read some YA where the MC is unusually capable because of her past and/or her personality. I don’t know much about Willow’s life except what was in the pitch, but I would assume either she is very mature, or she has always flown (maybe her dad was a pilot or something), and that is why she is so comfortable in control of a plane.

    I hope my ramblings were helpful to you in some way! Happy writing!


  15. PITCH: Okay, immediately I was smitten with your pitch because it reminds me of one of my fave movies in recent memory, “About Time” (please tell me you’ve seen it/was inspired by it. It’s SO good)

    First 500: Your writing is strong, no question, but the opening scene doesn’t pull in with the pitch (don’t worry, I had this same thing with my book too—wish I could have had folks make it to Page 4!) So I’m not sure how much stock you want to put in the possibility of rewriting it when a lot of the other feedback is that it’s a strong scene. And it IS a strong scene. I feel like you should go with it and only after you start getting query feedback consider a possible rewrite to it if needed.

  16. Pitch: I like the idea of being in two places at once, but I’m finding the wording too vague. Do you mean parallel universes? Or does she actually inhabit the body of two different people? Fated-love is unclear to me, though it sounds romantic, but fated means something will happen no matter what. I like the idea of losing memories from both sides. I’d stick to your main plot in the pitch, which seems to be the parallel lives.

    500: First of all, I think you start way too many sentences with “I”, which is the challenge of writing in the first person. I’m not suggesting you change – just mix up your sentences a little. “I hadn't done any of my maneuvers to standard” could become “None of my maneuvers had been to standard.”

    The premise from your pitch sounds so interesting, but nothing in your first 500 reads like a sci-fi novel or a romance. There are too many technical details about flying. I would cut some out and give some hints about your plot and conflict. Her flight instructor’s annoyance with her isn’t enough tension to carry an opening.

    Best of luck!

  17. Agree that the flying terminology could be really cool- but it needs to be mixed in with with more of Willow's voice and personality.