Jun 15, 2015

QK Round 2: Give a Girl a Redo v. Orphan Red

Entry Nickname: If You Give a Girl a Redo
Title: The Art of Almost
Word count: 105,000
Genre: Upmarket Women’s Fiction


32-year-old Anna Marin already carries too many regrets. She’s still pining for the one who got away and can’t forgive herself for the fallout from her mother’s stroke. On a flight home to marry the wrong man, Anna realizes she must take control of her life and stop living in the past.

But when she wakes as her 20-year-old self en route to her semester abroad in Australia, it seems fate has a different idea: a second chance with Charlie Beckham, the older man she was drawn to but never pursued. This time Anna falls hard, and being with Charlie is even better than what she’s spent more than a decade imagining.

Yet if the rest of Anna’s history plays out as it once did, in a few months her mother will suffer a debilitating stroke. And Anna’s baby sister will begin a downward spiral from which she never recovers. When Anna’s efforts to change the future from across the Pacific fail, it soon becomes clear that she must make an impossible decision: walk away from the love of her life—again—or stay with Charlie and abandon her family.

Adding to Anna’s distress, her on-and-off college boyfriend (and future fiancé) flies to Australia to win her back. Seeing him as the boy she fell in love with, Anna finally realizes she also played a part in their relationship’s unraveling.

As he shows a side Anna’s never seen, and complications emerge in her relationship with Charlie, Anna’s even more confused by what the past, present, and future hold. All the while she wonders when her time in the past will run out, or whether the clock’s been rewound for good.

First 250:

I would have given anything to be in a different moment. Any moment but that one.

I searched the audience surrounding us for red satin, careful not to let my gaze rise above neck level. To see his face. Finally I caught a flash of crimson and looked up. My eyes met my sister Claire’s and I immediately regretted it. Hers held a question; mine, a plea.

I had to look away or I’d cry. Or scream.

I tried to steady my breathing as Nick lowered down on one knee. A cool spring breeze blew petal confetti toward us, so gently that bits of white and pink remained suspended in midair before fluttering to the ground. Even the river, humming low and deep like a bass line just beyond the hotel courtyard, slowed to a crawl.

And yet I couldn’t hit pause, take a second to reflect on how I’d let it get so far.

“Anna Jane, you are my past and my future. You’re all of my best memories and the center of every great moment to come. And so to you I present—” here he paused to allow sufficient time to appreciate his pun—“this ring. It’s time we made it official!”

The choreography was perfect.

I tried to speak, to tell him it felt like I was disappearing. That putting a ring on my finger would sever the last threads tying me to the earth. But the words went sliding down some shadowy passage, piling on top of all the other things I never said. 


Entry Nickname: Orphan Red
Title: Callback
Word count: 90K
Genre: Women's Fiction


After years spent trying to make her marriage and acting career work in New York, Claire Dowler returns home with no husband, no career prospects and a mountain of debt. When her former high school drama teacher falls ill, she asks Claire to start the school year as a long-term substitute, both teaching drama classes and mounting a successful production of the musical “Annie.”

But unbeknownst to Claire, she’s cast freshman Kimmy Ralstin - an actual orphan - in the lead role, and Kimmy’s adoptive parents are furious. Claire’s also naively adopted a pit bull in the hopes of turning him into a stage star by playing the role of Annie’s dog Sandy, and she must convince the school administration and her parents that Danger Fosse is a sweet, trainable dog. She’s also trying to break into the clique of the popular teachers, but a new school counselor seems to have an old ax to grind and wants to derail any of Claire’s friend or romantic prospects.

Claire must save her production and her job, and figure out how to make peace with leaving behind her New York childhood dreams. She’s just hoping the sun will come out “Tomorrow.”

First 250:

The only difference between being a high school theater geek and a long-term substitute teacher is, instead of sitting with drama queens at lunchtime, I’m about to sit with faculty queens who love drama.

The teacher’s lounge is where you find your allies, or so I’ve been told. Teachers are always at war with someone: An administrator, a parent, a student, their own child who pretends to not know them in the hallway. Whether you’re the aggressor or the victim, Russia or Poland, it’s important to remember there are other soldiers on your side.

“Remember,” I thought as I stared at the lounge door. “Pretend you’re Stalin, but, you know, friendly and cute.”

As I tried to gather my courage to walk in, I was tackled by Spanish teacher Taylor Whistler.

“Oh my gosh, so happy to see you!” Taylor squealed as she hugged me. “Simona and I were just talking about you. It’s going to be the best.year.ever.”

If the teacher’s lounge were an ocean, I’d imagine choir director Simona Martin would be a beautiful seal teaching little seal pups to use their flippers and sing in unison, while Taylor is a sea lion entertaining other marine life. I am a penguin in this scenario: occasionally amusing, good when wearing black and white, and trying not to get my throat ripped open by Simona.

“Awesome,” I murmured. I thought, “Yay! Maybe I am moving from penguin to porpoise!”

“I’m a porpoise with a purpose,” I said. Out loud.


  1. Judges, please vote as a reply to this comment.


      Like the changes you made to the opening paragraph. Definitely gets us right to the conflict right away.

      The first 250 starts off a bit confusing. I'm not sure where she is (on a stage somewhere? why? is she a performer?) or why she's looking for red satin. Whose face doesn't she want to see? It takes me until Nick gets down on one knee for me to get some clue about what's going on, and even then, I'm not sure why he's proposing in front of so many people on a stage in a hotel courtyard by a river.

      That being said, the writing is very nicely done and I would definitely read on.



      Curious as to where "home" is that she's returning to in the query. Also, in the second paragraph, the "she" isn't clear -- did Claire cast the girl, or her former high school teacher?

      The first 250 definitely introduces the conflict and I like the voice that comes through here. The two extended metaphors (Stalin fighting a war, penguins and porpoises in an ocean) might be a bit much for early on. Personally, I like the ocean life one, better.

      Small, nitpicky thing - don't capitalize a word that comes after a colon.

      Victory to... ORPHAN RED!

    2. If You Give a Girl a Redo Query:

      The query spells everything out pretty clearly. The last two paragraphs to me are not needed. End with the hook, with the choice Anna faces. Subplots aren’t necessary to mention in the query.

      First 250:

      The opening is written beautifully, with a lot of great imagery, and ending on tension. I really liked this. The only minor thing I want to point out is the first line, that “to be in a different moment” gets the work done but maybe could shine brighter. If revising makes it feel overworked, I would say stay with what’s here, but it never hurts to play around with that opening line to give it real punch. :)

      Orphan Red Query:

      My first question is, where is home? This is a great opportunity for your pitch because her childhood home of Small Town, Ohio is way different than going home to Swanky Island, Fiji. Where home is will give immediate tone and setting to your story.

      Danger Fosse is a great dog name, and also shows there is humor here, though the rest of the query could probably show that humorous voice in a stronger way.

      The decision and risks here read a bit low. Claire must save her job … or what? The way this reads, she was handed the job by a friend and lives back in her hometown where I’m guessing she has family support. What are the personal stakes to HER if she loses, beyond making peace for failed dreams? This one last failure is likely very personal to her, so showing the impact both to her and to her physical situation is important. With stories that don’t involve car chases and Nazis, writers have bit of a challenge crafting those stakes, but they are there (or should be). Think of the worst case scenario for Claire, the all-is-lost moment, and craft the hook/stakes around that.

      First 250:

      Great opening line! I love the voice and how we are already at the “new” place, where life is changing. Conflict is evident with the war analogies in the teacher lounge. Some of this voice could be directly applied to your query to get more of your unique story voice in rather than the more basic plot run down. You want the story explained, but you want to show it in the voice that shines more in your pages.

      This one is really tough. I liked the voice so much for Orphan Red, but the query and opening page together were stronger overall to me for If You Give a Girl a Redo.


    3. Redo:

      I'm not crazy about this first paragraph. It just doesn't feel very hook-y to me. The first sentence is a bit of a cliché - we all have regrets. I'd recommend condensing all of that first paragraph to one sentence that really encapsulates your hook. Doing that will give you a little more space to explain these complications with Charlie, which I'm curious about. With adult fiction, I don't feel like you need the main character's age, either, but that's a personal choice.

      I actually like the stakes you've set out in your third paragraph better than the ones at the end. I'd actually consider putting the part about her fiancé earlier. And typically, the meat of your query should be about two paragraphs (not including the hook), so try to consolidate. Putting the query into multiple paragraphs makes it look super long—an agent should be able to read your entire query in an email without scrolling down.

      An easy trap to fall into with first-person writing is starting every sentence with "I". Five of your paragraphs on the first page start with I, which makes me think the whole thing could use another polish. Also, with any word count over 100k, every single work had to be essential. When I see filter words like "looked" and "felt" on the first page, I worry that the entire MS is full of filtering and that it could be shortened.


      Great changes to an already excellent query. You've got "also" twice in two sentences, so I'd rework one of them. Try to avoid clichéd phrases like "an axe to grind". I LOVE the last line about the sun coming out tomorrow - but it doesn't give me a real sense of the stakes. Try to rework it to let us know what's at stake if Claire fails to handle everything life's thrown at her, then hit me with the "Sun'll come out tomorrow" line.

      Your first page made me chuckle. I love the voice. You've also got a lot of "I"s on the first page, especially at the end. Consider instead something like "I murmured, thinking…" or "I stared at the lounge door…" (Since we should be able to infer that she's talking to herself.) Also, I'm not really a fan of setting off thoughts with quotes. Too easy to confuse it with dialogue.

      This is interesting, because I have literally read books with plots very similar to both of these since I voted for both of these entries in Round 1. I'd read both books happily. But one voice spoke to me more. VICTORY TO ORPHAN RED.

    4. Give A Girl A Redo

      I love a good time-travel novel and this one has all the elements of a lovely, twisty and gut-wrenching read. You've done a great job laying out the stakes and introducing us to your main character. I can sympathize with Anna's dilemma and I'm intrigued enough to want to read the story. I'm not clear on why Anna's relationship with Charlie is doomed if she goes back home to take care of her mom, however. Is that what happened the first time? Overall, however, this is a lovely strong query that I think with win a bevy of agent requests.

      First 250
      Your opening sentence is passive rather than active. Instead of making this statement, I'd much rather be dropped straight into the action. My suggestion would be to drop the first paragraph and begin with the second.

      In the second paragraph, I really like the closing line, it has a lot of punch. However, I have no idea where your characters are. For some reason, heaven knows why, I'd assumed from paragraph two maybe a graduation ceremony or party (I'm sure it's just the school year ending that's sending my brain in that direction) and yet it does point out an issue. Where are we? When are we?

      I also feel like many of the sentences in this first page could do with tightening up. For example, contrast these two paragraphs:
      "I tried to speak, to tell him it felt like I was disappearing. That putting a ring on my finger would sever the last threads tying me to the earth. But the words went sliding down some shadowy passage, piling on top of all the other things I never said."
      "I tried to speak. I was disappearing. Putting that ring on my finger would sever the last threads tying me to the earth. The words slid away, piling on top of all the other things I never say."

      The revised paragraph uses fewer words but conveys the same information. It also takes us closer into the narrator's head with a few subtle word choices and, more importantly, a few words left out.

      Orphan Red

      Excellent opening line for your query . You've immediately given us a handle on your main character's mindset and situation. Where is "home" exactly? By providing a location you can immediately contrast it with New York. I assume it's somewhere less glamorous than New York, like say Ohio.

      I suggest rewording the following sentence slightly: "When her former high school drama teacher falls, Claire is asked to start the school year as a long-term substitute teaching drama classes and mountain production of the musical 'Annie.'" The reworded version cuts a few words and avoids any ambiguity with "her" and "she" in the sentence.

      I don't have a clear idea of your character's stakes. She's already hit rock bottom from the first line of your query. What more does she stand to lose if she can't pull of the play? I don't feel any sort of urgency or looming disaster, just a general sense of "things go awry" from your query. What terrible choices does Claire have to make?

      First 250
      Overall, nice intro to your characters and establishing the scene. I have a sense of tone and the quirkiness you're main character seems to be channeling. This early in the novel it's important to ground the scene a tiny bit and right now that's not happening. There are no sensory details. I know she's in the teacher's lounge, but not much more. Is it an affluent school or one struggling with budget cuts? Is the teacher's lounge nice? Loud? Quiet?

      While your paragraph with the ocean analogy is interesting, it takes up valuable space and isn't adding much to the story. It's also a bit of a nonsequiter. Seals, unless we're talking Leopard seals, don't eat penguins normally. Most people picturing seals will be seeing a mental image of the cute and cuddly variety, I suspect.

      Victory goes to - Give A Girl A Redo

    5. I want you both to know I have waffled back and forth on this one all morning, and could easily have voted for either. These are both great entries, and you’re very strong writers who’ve crafted excellent queries. Be proud!

      If You Give a Girl a Redo - You do a great job presenting the pressures on Anna and the tearing difficulty of her choice in your query, and I love how your first 250 contrasts the perfectly beautiful surroundings and scenario with tension and a sense almost of doom. I found both compelling. Your writing in both query and first 250 is clear and strong. Great job!

      For the query, I think the last paragraph is the weakest part. It’s almost entirely vague generalizations. If you can make some of those generalizations even a touch more specific, I think it will increase the power of your closing.

      In the first 250, the second paragraph is confusing. You’re juggling Anna, Nick, and Claire without any context or introduction, and it took me a couple reads to figure out that the red satin was associated with Claire rather than Nick, for instance. I think the reader not quite knowing what’s going on is good and adds to the tension, but maybe focus first on either Claire or Nick and then introduce the other after establishing the first, rather than switching back and forth?

      Orphan Red - I absolutely adore the humor in this one. I love the Stalin, but friendly & cute line so hard. The light, witty voice is great, your query sets up some promisingly awkward situations and matches the voice, and it sounds like a very fun read.

      For the query, I think the closing paragraph drops the ball a bit. It’s a little vague, and the last line is kind of cheesy and leaves her “just hoping,” which doesn’t imply much agency. I’d love a better sense of what strengths and flaws she’s bringing to these challenges and how the conflict escalates before she can overcome them.

      The first 250 is so much fun. :) I think my only suggestion is that the two extended funny metaphors may drag on a little long (especially the marine life one). I think the impact & humor will be stronger if you make the connection and get out with maybe one less phrase or sentence during the long setup paragraphs, then BAM we have your funny closing lines (Stalin & porpoise with purpose) to seal the deal (wait, no, I swear I didn’t mean that pun!).

      This is a really hard choice, especially because I think I’m really comparing apples & oranges here in terms of tone. Both are excellent. By a hair, though, I’m giving the...


      The deciding factor was more clearly conveying the escalation of conflict in the query.

    6. Princess ButtercupJune 17, 2015 at 1:20 AM

      If You Give a Girl a Redo…

      Your query is well written and easy to follow. I would urge you to see if you can trim about 30 words, if at all possible. If you have to sacrifice flow or conciseness to do it, it’s simply not worth it because I dove into your first 250!

      First 250
      Only one comment: Where’s the next page?

      In an effort to be as helpful as possible, I'll make just one more comment. I was a little confused when she's obviously searching for someone yet avoiding faces. That's really the only criticism I can offer.

      Orphan Red…

      The first thing I noticed in the query was it felt like everything in the world, and then some, was being thrown at the MC. I was also confused why Kimmy’s parents are upset she’s been cast as Annie, as I’m assuming Kimmy tried out for the play and was given the lead role—that she auditioned for. If this isn't central to the main story though I'd simply cut it. Paring back on all the different bits and focusing on the most important of her challenges, which I assume is the school play, would help a lot.

      If the play is the main focus, what’s at stake for the MC if it’s unsuccessful, beyond her (temporary) job and her childhood dreams (lots of people leave those behind)? Does she forge a special relationship with Kimmy (that’s actually where I thought it was going in the beginning)? Or is there something bigger at the heart of the story?

      First 250
      Despite my concerns about the query I was really impressed with the writing in the 250. I chuckled a bit at the realness of the teacher’s lounge—and even wondered if that might be your day job.

      I was a bit thrown off by the thoughts in quotes, might want to put those in italics. In the end, I would definitely read on. I'm so impressed with the writing, in fact, that I'm over-the-top hopeful that you can go back and rework your query so that it showcases the natural comedic voice in your 250.

      And without further ado:

    7. Redo:

      I think your query--though complicated--is clear and the stakes are very high, so good work there. The 250 I love and I would totally keep reading. My biggest concern here is the market - I can think of two recent books and a current TV show that cover almost this exact story (based on the query), so I worry it might be difficult to sell at this point in time.


      The changes made here really work! I have the same questions as others:
      - where is "home?"
      - why are Kimmy's parents mad?
      - why does she need to save her job?

      I'm guessing Claire really wants to make Annie and her job work b/c NYC didn't, but I want that to be more obvious in the query.

      The 250 is solid and very funny, but the Stalin reference does throw me off. If she were a history teacher, it might make more sense. Is there an acting reference that could be used instead? A lion and a lamb?

      Victory to Orphan!

  2. REDO: Your query is lovely! All the elements tying together her internal struggle with her external struggle make for a very compelling read. I would say if anything, perhaps cut it down a bit. It's a little on the long side. I feel like the 3rd paragraph could be tightened, and then the rest of your query would pack that much more of a punch. Your 250: This took me a second to get into your story. I think if you began with the line, "I had to look away or I'd cry. Or scream" would be the gut punch that would reel us in from line 1. Otherwise, your imagery and MC's internal monologue were engaging and struck a nice balance between tension and setting. A great opening for a work of WF!

    RED ORPHAN: Query: Is quite good but your second paragraph reads muddled to me. You have a lot of first names in here that became confusing and I think by removing one of two instances (you have 4) you would tighten up your prose and pack the fun, quirky punch you're looking for. Your 250: To be honest, this is reading like YA. How old is your MC? Her internal monologue reads like early twenties maybe mid at the oldest, but I'm not seeing WF from the outset of this chapter. The animal comparison paragraph threw me too, and while I think it can still work, it would benefit from some tightening and removing either a person's name or an animal. The imagery got lost for me, trying to keep everything straight. On the upside, it's definitely a fun read and I think you have a great premise from what your query shows us.

  3. Redo - I think this query revision spells out the story line with much greater clarity. Picky point -- I believe you need to write out 32 when starting a sentence that way. In the 1st 250, you have such lovely descriptions and turns of phrase. Though I liked this different starting place, I wasn't sure where I was. If you could anchor the scene a bit more, that will help the reader.

    Orphan - In the query, I wanted to know where home was -- the location will help the reader picture the place. I also thought you might want to trim back the number of names mentioned. Though there are only three character names listed, there's also the play name and the fictional dog's name. I liked the humor and voice in the opening 250 and the idea that the tensions of high school continue on among the adults.

  4. Redo: Great. Query. I love the concept and think you did a great job with facts and stakes. However, the 250 left me ungrounded. I'd love more of a setting up front to get an idea of where we are. Sights, smells, not much, just something to ground the reader. And watch how many times you start off with 'I'. Mixing it up a little may help with clarity and flow. Good luck!

    Orphan: Great, clear, concise query, and what a cool concept. The 250 was packed with voice and funny. :) Loved it! Not much to crit here. Good luck to you both!

    Query: Love your revisions. The stakes at the end of your third paragraph are so good, I’m not sure you need to keep the last two.
    250: To me, the opening feels a bit slow. Probably, because the references to the audience and red satin bog down the pacing of your scene. What if you added these descriptions later? I absolutely love “I would have given anything to be in a different moment. Any moment but that one,” but find the part where Anna is trying to avoid her fiance's gaze unnecessary. I’d cut to “I caught a flash of crimson and looked up. My eyes met my sister Claire’s and I immediately regretted it.” Otherwise, lovely writing with clear, vivid imagery and a heart-wrenching dilemma for your MC. This is a book I’d happily read.

    Query: Great query. I wouldn’t change a thing.
    250: I instantly get a sense of your MC’s voice and her predicament. Claire's quirkiness makes me chuckle, though I want to see more of her surroundings to ground me in the scene. Just a few additional details will make your opening shine. I hope you get lots of agent requests.

    Best of luck to both of you!

  6. Redo - Excellent query! It set up the situation clearly, and the stakes rose as the query went on. I feel like you may want to look at the final paragraph of the query because it read a little odd to me, but if it's anything, it's just mechanics stuff. As for the 250, I agree with the commenters who have mentioned not being quite grounded. A bit slow. But, I did enjoy the opening and closing lines of the 250, and I do believe I'd read on.

    Orphan Red - I loved the query. The changes made, even little stuff like adding 'adopted' to the orphan's parents really helped, and I love that last line about "Tomorrow." Wouldn't change a thing. As for the 250, I thought it was great, and really helped the voice come through. I will note though, I was kind of taken out of the story when thoughts were distinguished by quotation marks instead of being in italics. I'm not sure if that's a style thing or not, but maybe look into it. I just think it makes it look cleaner. :)

    Two excellent entries, and best of luck to you both!

  7. Give a Girl A Redo: Query: Very polished and smooth query! Change nothing. :)

    First 250: Oh my. Such a difficult and tense situation to start with - I love it! I thought the execution was a bit "floaty" - I didn't feel like I was "there", in the scene. I feel like it could use some punching up with sensory details, such as what she sees when she glances away.

    Orphan Red: Query: Fantastic revisions - they really make an impact. Now I understand how one can be an orphan and still have parents. I feel like defining "why" she must save her job (to pay her debt? To save face? To prove something?) is necessary.

    First 250: The last line made me laugh out loud! I loved the imagery of marine life - reminds me of the scene in Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan's character imagines her classmates as jungle creatures. It works well as a mind-movie and puts the reader in the story.

    Good luck to both entries!

  8. Give a Girl a Redo

    I love Peggy Sue Got Married/13 Going on 30 stories, and this sounds amazing. I think the query is tight and gripping.

    The 250 is also gripping. I can feel her desperation and empathize with the situation. My only hesitation is over the intended pun - I see the pun on paper, but I’m not sure it works if he’s saying it aloud? (It’s present, right?? Now I’m worried I’m missing something.)

    Orphan Red

    Query is tight and clear and charming. And your 250 is full of great metaphors. I laughed at each of them!

    First sentence thoughts: It’s so funny and I love it, but I’m wondering if cutting some of the adjectives would make it punchier. What about just student vs. teacher, and then mention drama teaching and substituting later? Because of course there are drama queens among all kinds of students and teachers… ☺ I would also replace the first comma in the first sentence with “that.”

    I can’t wait to read these someday! They’re both great stories.

  9. If You Give a Girl a Redo

    Query: The query seems a bit long, perhaps, but I love it. So...you probably shouldn't change it. The stakes and everything are clearly laid out, and while this isn't my typical fare, I'd pick this one up anyway.

    First 250: I feel like the second sentence is redundant, but other than that, I was into this.

    Orphan Red
    Query: I feel a little unclear on the stakes at the end. She needs to keep the job and save the production and come to terms with letting go of her dreams...but isn't the job temporary? Only a year long? What is stopping her from returning to New York when the year is up--and if it's temporary, why does it matter if she succeeds at it or not? She doesn't want to be a teacher for the rest of her life--or does she?

    First 250: Is there any way to slip a few setting details in somewhere? I don't quite feel grounded yet. I also find having thoughts in quotes instead of italics to be quite confusing. Other than that, there's some nice tension here!