Jun 15, 2014

Qk Round 2: Tag, You're Dead VS Amnesiac

Entry Nickname: Tag, You’re Dead
Title: Tag, You're Dead
Word count: 80K
Genre: YA Thriller


In present-day Chicago, six teenagers play Tag, but with a twist: if you get Tagged, you get Dead.

The three "Its" have their reasons for buying a place in the Game: Brandy, the surgically-enhanced debutante, is dying to destroy a naturally beautiful girl; Robin, the so-so basketball player, desires his target's position on the school team; and Charles, the brainiac, craves a battle against an intellectual equal.

Laura, William, and Amanda, three hand-picked innocents forced to play as “Runners,” want only one thing…to survive.

From the moment the Runners “Go,” we follow their separate paths as the Game rockets them through the city, from the El to Michigan Avenue to the Lincoln Park Zoo. They must plan circuitous routes, for if they head directly to their Home Bases, they’ll run straight into their opponents’ murderous arms. Since the Runners’ coordinates are transmitted to the Its every half hour from smart watches locked onto their wrists, there is no time to rest, and barely a moment to register the threats made against their loved ones should the Runners refuse to participate.

With only so many places to hide, even in one of the nation’s largest cities, the Runners must use their unique skills – Laura’s charismatic personality, William’s brute strength, Amanda’s computer hacking – to outsmart their Its. The Game will not end until someone is Tagged, so the Runners must choose how to play: will they accept death, murder their Its, or create a third option that could end the game before anyone dies?

Six players began the Game. How many will live to see it end?

First 250:

“I can’t choose,” Brandy Inkrott said. “I want to kill them all.”

“Tag,” her mother said. “You want to Tag them all.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Either way,” her father said, “I’m afraid you have to pick one.”

Brandy studied the images of the teenage girls on the screen. Brunettes. Blondes. Asians. Hispanics. Light-skinned. Dark-skinned. Every one of them gorgeous. Every one of them middle-class. No-names. None of them like her. “They’re all so perfect. Can I pick more than one?”

A woman’s voice pierced the air, emanating from the Surround Sound speakers. “The price for two would be extravagant, Ms. Inkrott.”

“But I want—"

“Tagging more than one Runner would also be difficult. Almost impossible.”

“I don’t care. I can do it.”

Her father shrugged. “If that’s what you want.”

“I suggest this,” the woman said. “Play this time with one Runner. If you are successful, you may play again, and go after two.”

“I’m smart,” Brandy said. “I could do it the first time.”

“I know it’s tempting when you see all those beautiful faces, but you’d be setting yourself up for disappointment.”

“What do you know? You’re probably some fat old lady in a trailer park somewhere. I could Tag you."

Silence sizzled over the speakers.

“I’m sorry, Madame Referee,” Brandy’s father said. “She didn’t mean it.”

“Did so,” Brandy said.

“Bran, honey, please.”

The girls’ faces on the television disappeared, replaced by only one, which took up the entire surface of the eighty-inch screen.

Entry Nickname: Amnesiac
Word Count: 72,000
Genre: YA thriller with sci-fi elements


Something went seriously wrong with seventeen-year-old Nessa's memory removal procedure. Ever since that trip to the neuroscience lab, she's been having awful, itchy compulsions to steal everything in sight. And she's pretty sure she hallucinated a creepy old woman wearing a bunny mask in her bedroom.

When Nessa's parents haul her back to the lab to figure out what went wrong, an assistant named Amir pulls her aside and tells her he accidentally implanted another client's memory in her brain. That client just turned up dead. Amir says the freaked-out lab director is planning to scrape Nessa's brain clean to hide their mistake, and she needs to get away. Now.

Nessa's ready to punch Amir in the face, but his story explains her crazy behavior. And running away with him sounds a lot better than risking becoming a vegetable, so she does. Using hypnosis, Nessa and Amir try to dig out the secret memory so they can expose the lab. But the details are buried deep, and every time Nessa gets close, pieces of the memory she thought she had erased -- screeching tires and a boy's head smashing her windshield -- start coming back. She can't face it.

But she needs to face it, because that old lady in Nessa's bedroom wasn't a hallucination. She knows exactly what's in Nessa's brain and she's willing to kill again to get it.

First 250:

I climb into the driver's seat and tug off the wig that's been torturing my scalp for the last three hours. If hair could breathe, mine would be gasping in relief right now.

"Better put these on, Nessa." My cousin Beth picks up my jeans from her seat.

She has a point: I probably shouldn't be driving Grammy’s car wearing a corset and thigh-high stockings. I pull the banana out of the front of my spangly black underwear and throw it in Beth's lap. With a horrified squeak, she tosses it onto the floor.

"What time is it?" I say.

"Almost three," she says. "I don't know what the law is in Florida, but you're probably not supposed to be driving this late. Should we call a cab?"

My knees thump the steering wheel as I kick my heels off and squirm into the jeans. "We're incognito in this old lady car. It'll be fine."

With a nervous sigh, Beth hands me my t-shirt. She played it safe dressing up as Janet for the Rocky Horror Picture Show tonight, in a plain white dress and cardigan. She didn't even need to hide her outfit when we left the house. I, however, required a full costume change in the movie theater parking lot before we went in. And for a few precious hours, I wasn't Nessa Shea, boring Junior class treasurer and crew team captain. I was Dr. Frank N Furter, the deranged cross-dressing alien and red-lipstick aficionado from Transsexual, Transylvania.


  1. Judges, reply here with your comment and vote.

    1. TAG, YOU'RE DEAD --
      The query is solid. Personally, I feel I'd like to be drawn into the personalities of the MC's a bit more, but I do realize the difficulty of focusing on one protagonist when you have several. I would suggest considering a stronger focus on the Runners -- maybe present them before the Its? Just something to consider.
      First 250 Words:
      This is technically great, and probably works very well with the book as a whole. With only seeing 250 words, I'm obviously at a disadvantage, but this beginning doesn't really entice me to read more -- I immediately hate Brandy. Now, I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to do so, but I just wonder if starting with one of the Its is the best tactic. Of course, this is just my opinion, but beginning the book with Brandy sets her up as the main MC (or one of a few) and I rather doubt that's what you're going for here. Writing is strong, but (my personal preference) I'd like a bit more indication of the setting. Doesn't have to be detailed, but some idea of where we are before we're swept up in the dialogue.
      MINDSWEPT --
      Again, very solid, although I immediately wondered why in the world Nessa had to undergo a memory removal process. I think this needs clarification, if ever so briefly. Why would a 17yo need any memories removed? Also, you might consider dropping "been" from the second sentence.
      This sentence -- " And running away with him sounds a lot better than risking becoming a vegetable, so she does" seems awkward to me. Maybe just drop the "so she does." Also, you start several sentences with "But". One or two is fine -- however, you may want to see if you can reword a bit to remove the extras.
      First 250 Words:
      This is fun, but a little confusing. The writing is fine -- it's just not what I expected, based on the query. Of course, I'm sure you're building to the whole memory-removal thing, but this reads like a YA contemporary without any scifi elements. Not sure where this is in term of the plot, but if it's after Nessa's treatment at the lab, maybe bring in some little hint of her memory issues -- some flash of a bizarre image or memory or some reference to the procedure, or....?? The tone just seems very different than the tone of the query.
      A hard choice between 2 solid entries, but -- based mostly on tone agreement between query and the first 250 words --

    2. Tag, You're Dead
      Query: Your query is a tad on the long side, and the part that goes into more detail on how the game works feels a little extraneous (starting "they must plan circuitous routes..."). I'm also not sure about "We follow their separate paths," as this (and the somewhat wooden-sounding wording of "we follow") makes it sound like a narrator will be telling us the sequence of events instead of a character telling us his or her story, which for me can be a turn-off. I think this may relate to my biggest concern, which probably reflects more on the book than the query itself: you're not pointing out one or a few main characters, so right now I'm under the impression that you have six of them. That's a lot (though it explains the too-broad, narrator feel of the query), and it can turn some agents off. Plus, with so many big characters, it feels like you're reducing them to horror-movie stereotypes because you have no space to get any real rounded-ness or personality across: the brainiac, the beauty queen, etc. I really REALLY like this concept, but it almost feels like it would work better as a movie than a book.
      First 250: You start off with an extremely unlikable character here--I kind of want to smack her. That's a gamble for your first page, as it could make your readers disinterested in reading further (who wants to spend a book with a murderous brat?). As for the writing itself, you have a good style, and nothing stuck out as being off.

      Query: The creepy old woman in a bunny mask detail draws me on to read more--nice job there! "Nessa's ready to punch Amir in the face" caught me off guard; this seems like an overly strong violent reaction. Is Amir a love interest? I couldn't get a feel for his age or whether there would be a romance.
      First 250: I like the fun voice! I do agree with Silverwolf that it feels different in tone from the query, though I think it may be the query that needs to change to reflect that voice instead of you needing to squeeze in any sci-fi elements right off the bat (though of course that's subjective).

      My Decision: This was a tough one! Tag, You're Dead has a very cool concept, but the six-main-characters feels like it could be hard to sell, and the bratty character in the opening also put me off somewhat. Though Amnesiac's premise didn't draw me in as much, the fun tone of the first 250 did, and for me the writing always rules. Because of that, I say: VICTORY TO AMNESIAC!

    3. Tag, You're Dead: I loved this before, and I see you've done quite a bit of revising since the first round. The query was good before but is even better now - although I still think you should tell us flat out how many POVs to expect. All six? It'd be good to know before going into the pages.

      The first page is brand new - I liked it before but this one is great too. I already hate Brandy, which is fun in a love-to-hate-her way. You make her super unlikeable in just a few lines, and the fact that this is isn't some secret game (which I thought it might be before), but is actually something her parents are in on, makes me even more interested in your world and the story. So, really well done.

      Amnesiac: Very good query, I'm hooked, the old woman in the bunny ears especially creeped me out, and it sounds like a thrilling story. But... YA is pretty swamped with memory loss stories. If I've seen a lot just on the shelves, I'm guessing agents have seen dozens in their slush piles. So I'm afraid the amnesiac part works against you as not being a very original set-up.

      First page: I like that we don't rush into the inciting incident too quickly, I always like to get to know the MC and their world bit first. And this first page is well-written, and shows us that your MC is fun and unusual. However it doesn't really grab me. Might it be more fun to meet your MC and her sister while they're actually at the Rocky Horror Show, rather than in the car on the way back? Or somewhere else? Why open with this particular scene? The opening para especially seems an odd way to begin a book, with something as unimportant as a wig. I'd try to begin with a punchier first line that tells us something about your plot, MC or world. I'd think whether there might not be a better way to begin your story.


    4. Allusion AssassinJune 16, 2014 at 5:19 PM

      I liked your originally query better. It seems like you're introducing some more formal language here that didn't work for me as much. For example, look at your opening sentence between this query and the original. The When version feels...less harsh. Softer. Ditto "Once the runners receive Go" vs the current "From the moment the runners...we follow" This version makes it more impersonal.

      And what in the world happened to your first 250? I thought the original was terrific. Given that you named the "Its" in the query and are now starting with Brandy, I'm thinking maybe your story is told from the POV of the villains? If so, I think that will make this a harder sell. Who would we root for?

      Still the writing is solid. If the POV is not from the villains, I highly recommend you switch back to the original or hint at the POV in the query. As is, I think it will unnecessarily turn some agents off. You can get a feel for that by looking at the reactions here.

      Of course, you only need one agent (and publisher) who all in love your story, and if that's how your story is really set up, it will keep people from wasting time. But there's no point weeding some of them out if it's not necessary. If your story shows a more rounded view of Its vs Runners and gives us someone to root for, your query should reflect that.

      I still don't understand why she would go with Amir, why she would believe him and why on earth would he help her? I get warning her, but putting himself in danger for her? There are too many holes here still.

      I still love your 250

      Based on writing and premise, victory goes to: TAG YOU'RE DEAD


      Query: There’s a lot of voice and menace here, and you’ve done a good job of boiling down a complicated story to an easily to follow query. My only question is about the ending. Can a Runner Tag an It and end the game, or do all three Its have be murdered before it will end? (And honestly, I’m not even sure this is an issue as it as much my own curiosity. So, hey! You’ve hooked me. Great!) I’m normally not a fan of rhetorical questions in queries, but I think you’ve pulled it off. I think this is really well done. I can’t find anything to suggest on revision.

      250: The good news is you’re very good at writing dialogue. It flows well and feels natural. I get a good sense of voice. The bad news is that I think there is entirely too much of it for the first page. I would avoid having a first line that is dialogue. Give us a line or two that sets the tone (you have so much great tone in your query! Let some of that bleed into your first lines) and gives us some context. When you start with dialogue, we have to read further to make sense of it, then hop back to it to put it all together, which interrupts the flow. Or if you really want to open with that first line of dialogue, jump right in after it with something that grounds us (maybe the computer screen paragraph?). Overall, I think you should add more description and setting into this page. It feels too much like talking heads to me.


      Query: Great first line that really drew me in, and I liked the juxtaposition of all these creepy things and a bunny mask. I felt like I was following your pitch pretty well until the middle of the third paragraph, when you start talking about the secret memory, and that’s where I started to feel lost. What is a secret memory and how will it expose the lab? Also, I’m guessing she was supposed to have only one memory removed during the procedure as opposed to a complete memory wipe? I think you want to make that clear from the beginning. Overall, I think this is really good, the last half of that third paragraph just needs some fleshing out.

      250: I really enjoyed this. There’s some fun voice in here and you’ve weaved in some character traits and details without feeling too heavy handed. Nicely done! There are a few spots where you could add a word or two to play up the voice and/or really make the description pop. For example, in the first line you could give us a unique description of the wig in one or two words that plays up the voice. Similarly what type of car is it (not necessarily ‘82 Chevy Impala but it is a boxy, brown boat of a car, etc). Just tiny things you could add to make it even better.

      This is so tough! Both of these are very strong and definitely going places. TAG, your query is phenomenal, but AMNESIAC your 250 is fantastic. I think I’m going to give a little more weight to the first page on this and declare victory to AMNESIAC.

    6. Tag, You're Dead.
      I saw the explanation about your title being the same as your nickname, and it IS a good title so I won't dock any points ;) It wouldn't have mattered though, this is pretty fantastic.
      I think you could possibly shorten the query. There's no real need to explain the game in so much detail. I didn't mind it, I didn't get bored or anything, but if you sufficiently hook the reader with just a couple paragraphs, then why keep pitching? You've done your job.

      The lines about using their talents in the game could be cut, it really doesn't add very much. And then you'd just jump to "The game will not end until someone is tagged" which is a great line and would be more powerful at the beginning of a paragraph anyway. You could also cut a little from paragraph 4 (the big one) just to trim it down some. This query has the potential to be short, punchy and powerful. Don't over do it if you don't need to :)

      I usually tell writers to start as quickly as possible but your query almost starts too quick. I can't really relate to the story unless I know what's really happening and I don't. What's a memory removal? Why is she getting it done?
      Otherwise very interesting concept.

      Victory gose to : Tag, You're Dead.

    7. NOTE: Since I focused on queries in round 1, this time I'm focusing on the first 250 words.

      Wow, shocker of an opening paragraph. It definitely got my attention.

      "If you are successful..." - I think this sentence has an extra comma; you don't need one after "play again"

      I already dislike Brandy, and that's not easy to do in so few words. I'd definitely read more.

      Intriguing opening paragraph. I'm definitely wondering why she's wearing a wig.

      "nervous sigh" - I'm having a hard time imagining what exactly this would sound like.

      "And for a few" - I'm not always opposed to sentences starting with "And" but here I think it sounds better w/o it.

      I like how you introduced the characters and kept us guessing in this section. I'm already wondering what's going to take place on their way home or if they're going to be found out (by Grammy, maybe?)

      Victory to TAG, YOU'RE DEAD


      Wow, this is such a cool concept. The query seems solid. I was able to understand the stakes and motivation for both groups. I wish I knew more about the Runners’ but what you have works.

      My only suggestion is to add: (and) Amanda’s computer hacking).

      I really want read this to see how bring depth to such a despicable group of “Its.” This really became clear after your first 250. I’m curious about the society in which this sort of behavior is condoned by parents. It seems crazy to me, but intriguing.

      I wish I had more world-building before the dialogue with Brandy. I can’t picture the scene because there aren’t any descriptions. But the dialogue seems solid, and I immediately hate Brandy (and her parents). Which is what you’re going for in this scenario.


      Okay, you caught me with this first paragraph with the “creepy old woman wearing a bunny mask.” LOL.

      I think you could delete: And running away with him sounds a lot better than risking becoming a vegetable (delete-, so she does). This obvious upon reading the next sentence.

      Maybe add the reason why she had her memory erased to the first paragraph so it’s clear why she had the procedure in the first place and the risk to her sanity if it returns. The move to the complications that come from the procedure.

      Loved the first 250. I totally want to read what happens next.

      Two very interesting stories. It’s always difficult to choose, but I’m basing my decision on the 250 in this case. I really didn’t have enough sense of place in Tag to ground me in the setting. I wish you both luck.

      Victory to AMNESIAC

    9. DivaDeconstructedJune 17, 2014 at 6:36 PM


      Query: Your Query is very exciting, and I love the concept. I'd prefer to know a bit more about what compels the "runners" to go along with this. You mention it later in the query, but I think puttig that info closer to the top (in the 2nd paragraph) would help. I'm also not a super fan of "you get Dead." It seems odd, and I'm not sure that "Tagged" and "Dead" should be capitalized. However, your query does one thing very well...IT MAKES ME WANT TO READ! So you've got me hooked. Now onto your first 250 words.

      First 250: Given that I know the premise here, I'm pretty pleased with your first 250. Had I jumped into this cold, I'd probably be less interested solely because the section repeats itself. While I am sure this is telling us a lot about Brandy (she seems stubborn and spoiled) I'm not sure you need her to say "I want to kill 2" more than twice. By my count she says it 3 times. You're query has me hooked, but the first 250 words don't give me much to go on. It's not a slow start exactly, but it's one that lacks movement which is a concern.



      Query: The query does a good job of telling us what your novel is about. It could be condensed and restructured a bit. I think hinting at what she wanted erased earlier might help us care/sympathize more with Nessa. There are some details in the query seem to create questions. For example, you mention that Nessa is brought back to the lab by her parents, but then they are never mentioned again. Are they helping her run away? What happens to them? I like the basic plot, it's gripping and intriguing, but I think you should look at each sentence and see if it is essential to conveying this.

      First 250: So I feel you get bonus points for all the Rocky Horror stuff. I'm a little confused why there is potentially a law against a teenager driving at night. It's possible that I'm just old (I got my license at age 16) and that now things are different. You're words are well written and engaging. The dialogue is definitely strong, it feels like Beth and Nessa are old friends (or maybe just family?) I like what you've got here. While it is clearly setting up something later on (I am assuming the car crash she wants to have erased) I'm worried it's a little still. I wish they were driving when the story begins. Her attempting to drive and change clothes would certainly be reckless. However, that might not fit into the story you are telling.



      I'll be honest, I assumed "TAG, YOU'RE DEAD" was just going to run away with this one. I wasn't as big of a fan of AMNESIAC's Query as I was for TAG, YOU'RE DEAD, however, AMNESIAC has a really beautiful first 250 words. The only thing that puts one over the other for me is the potential overall plot. I'm slightly more interested in the game of tag, so for me

      If the author of AMNESIAC doesn't progress to the next round, I'd be happy to give more feedback! So once Query Kombat is over and our identities are revealed feel free to drop me an e-mail!

  2. Tag, You're Dead:
    Usually, I'd caution against naming so many people in the query, because it can get confusing. But I realize that, if you've got six MC and tell the story from each POV, it's a tough call. But I love the premise and the way you've laid out the plot and the stakes.

    I don't like Brandy. I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to. :-) This is very well done, and I'd keep reading if for no other reason than out of hope that she loses the game horribly.

    Creepy query. I'm a little wigged out. In a good way.

    I've seen this first 250 before, and I love it more every time. My only real issue is that nothing about it says "Thriller." If it didn't say in the query, I'd never have known. But it's still a killer opening.

    These both sound amazing, and I would be extremely happy to find either of them in my local bookstore. Good luck to both of you.

  3. Tag, You're Dead
    I get a clear sense of the game in your query, but I still have questions. Does Chicago shut down for this? Is it just their personal game, or are there spectators? Is this the first/only time they've played this? If it's an ongoing game, I wonder how they're getting away with killing each other in the middle of Chicago.
    I'm not a big fan of starting a story with a line of dialogue, but this one does pack a punch. And now we find out that at least the parents are in on the game? Oh. Ew. And they pay for their targets?? I am equally repulsed and intrigued. :-) The first page does feel like it's dialogue heavy. It's good dialogue, but I feel like I need to be a little more grounded in a character at this point, especially if we're going to be POV hopping a lot, which it sounds like might be the case. Also, from the query it sounded like it would be from the runners' POVs, but now we have an It, so maybe make it clearin the query how many there will actually be.

    Oh, wow. Now I'm creeped out! Nice query. I'm hooked. I do have questions about why she needs her memory erased and why this guy wants to help her. The second I can live with and find out in the book, but I feel like you might need to be clearer about why she's getting a memory wipe in the query. And from the first 250, I love Nessa already.

    Love both of these stories. For real. Gimme. :)

  4. Tag, You're Dead:

    I like the revisions you've done, especially to the first 250. Brandy is definitely a love-to-hate character--like a murderous Violet Beauregard--and I'm looking forward to her comeuppance. Of course, starting with such a powerfully unlikable character is a risk. Some people won't be willing to stick around, but I think a lot of people will (as evidenced by the judging so far). And it's definitely powerful writing.


    I like this concept. I'm intrigued to find out what got put into her head accidentally. The story (as presented in the query) reminds me of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which is good. The first 250 is a bit of a jolt because it starts, presumably, before the events in the query, but I'm okay with it. I like some grounding and an introduction to the character before everything changes. Since I'm assuming the bad thing she needed to have wiped from her memory happens on the way home, I'm already holding my breath. Well done.

    1. Darn it! Not Violet Beauregard (bad as she was)--Veruca Salt!

  5. Tag: This isn't the typical type of book I would read, but your query drew me right in. Then, your first 250 sealed the deal. Very compelling. I hate Brandy already and I want to see what's going to happen to her. I'm rooting for her runner already. Great job!

    Amnesiac: Again, not my typical book choice, but this was wonderfully done! I like how you started. You showed a real sense of who Nessa is without just telling us. I agree with a previous commenter about the "wanted to punch Amir in the face" in the query. It just seemed off from the rest of the query.

    All in all, great job to both of you guys! You've made me want to read books I wouldn't typically pick up. Good luck!

  6. I think this is one of the toughest match-ups. Both queries are really solid and the writing in the first 250 sparkles.

    Tag you're dead: My only suggestion for the query is to trim the details about how the game is played and give us a little more insight into the runners' characters. For the first 250, the piece is extremely well-written, but I'm not sure about starting with a character that is so actively repellent. Clearly that's a personal call and others may feel completely differently.

    Amnesiac: Just a few small things in the query. (1) I'd drop "risking" in paragraph 3 (2) I'd drop "again" in the final paragraph. In the first 250, I'd like to feel a shade more foreshadowing of the accident (which I'm guessing from the query is imminent).