First Impact: Averagely Extraordinary by Utsav Mukherjee

First Impact is where I critique first impression material: your query letters, back-cover copy, opening pages, etc. Details here.

You are encouraged to share your comments as well. Every (real) critique will be entered to win a prize at the end of the month. This month's prizes are: $10 for Amazon/B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

UPDATE: Just a reminder that a "real" critique does not have to be long (though long critiques are certainly useful and awesome). Mostly, all you have to do is say whether or not you'd want to read more and (the important part) why.

A huge thanks to Utsav Mukherjee for being brave enough to submit the first query. His superhero sci-fi sounds intriguing, so let's get right to it. My in-line comments are off to the right, with overall comments at the end. Line edits are in red. Keep in mind that this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it.
Not bad, but I'm always wary of
"logline" openings. I don't think
this one is necessary.

Superpowers have not changed the one thing Jimmy Ranfaz hates - he is still average.

This is a good start, but I feel like
that first sentence could snap more.

Also, the highlighted terms raise
too many questions for me. Maybe
they can be cut or, at the least,
Academics, sports and life; -- Jimmy has always been ordinary. When, until the tree-descended super-powered people from Ulfitron pick him to be their new saviour, and the daydreaming teenager from Earth believes he finally has the opportunity to be special. Being the doppelganger of their previous hero means he has latent psionic abilities. And he can stop a returning nemesis, who wants to annihilate the Ulfitronians.

This paragraph raises a couple minor
world-building questions for me, but
mostly I love it. It has good movement
and great emotion.
He begins training on Ulfitron, only to discover that he is average at handling his powers as well. Anger and disappointment builds when he is unable to stop an attack which wipes out almost everyone in his enclave and his frustration mounts when he is forced to team up with the only other survivor, Juvall Spelding. A powerful Ulfitronian, his disdain of Jimmy's limited abilities is only outstripped by his determination to save his people.

I think the highlighted part here is
too vague. Vague secrets won't make
an agent want to
compelling choice will. Because
we don't know what the deception
is, we don't know what Jimmy's
real choice is.
When they learn of an even bigger invasion looming, their only hope of saving Ulfitron lies in tracking down the legendary trees whose unparalleled cosmic knowledge had helped the previous hero save Ulfitron. But within the journey lies a deep deception; one which reveals Juvall’s real intentions and Jimmy’s true origins, forcing him to question his loyalties. With time running out, Jimmy must decide where his priorities lie;: the heroism in attempting to save countless people or pursuing limitless power to finally rise above mediocrity.

I'm not a fan of telling comparisons
like this. I'd stick with the standard:
"available on request."
AVERAGELY EXTRAORDINARY is a 90,000 word YA sci-fi with a touch of fantasy. It can be encapsulated as a Clark Kent story with a Darth-Vaderesque twist
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Adam's Thoughts
I gotta say, Utsav, this sounds like a cool story that I'd totally read. I love that even with latent psionics, Jimmy just can't escape his ordinariness (though I hope he does by the end!).

The big issue for me is the choice at the end. You have one -- which is great! -- but it feels to me like a false choice. For one, I don't see why Jimmy can't do both. But also saving the people vs. personal gain seems like a no-brainer for a likable hero.

I suspect that knowing more about the nature of the deception will clarify how sadistic this choice really is. I don't think you need to give it all away, just enough that we know what Jimmy is choosing between and why it's so hard.

But that's just my opinion. What do the rest of you guys think?

If you would like your material to be critiqued, send it to See here for details.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I would echo Adam's concern about the final choice your hero faces. You want it to be something that makes the agent/reader sit up and say "How the heck is he going to choose between those?" Something where he had to choose between two evils or two irreconcilable goods.

The personal rise above mediocrity choice is the one that sounds false to me - after all, if he chooses to save countless people, that's certainly not a life of mediocrity. In fact, it seems like he leaves mediocrity behind (as you say) when the aliens pluck him for their savior (also: I would make it clearer in that sentence, rather than the next, why they make that choice, otherwise it seems kind of random). I can see him not handling his powers as well as he likes, and being frustrated by that, but somehow that doesn't feel like "mediocrity" to me, just "frustration." Superheroes can be frustrated, especially if they are failing in spite of their powers (which is externally focused, and a good conflict), but it starts to sound like vanity if they can't be the "best superhero evar" (which is internally focused, and a less sympathetic conflict). Maybe it comes out more sympathetic in the story, but you need to show that compelling conflict in a crystal clear way in the query.

In the end, I'm just saying, "what Adam said!" :)

sally apokedak said...

I love this kind of hero--the boy who wants to be great.

You have in your first paragraph an ordinary boy who daydreams about being great. And in comes the inciting incident--he's chosen to be a savior. This is all good. Then he sets off to defeat the returning nemesis. I suggest you cut the part about his looking like the last savior and the returning nemesis part. We don't need to know that. Instead use your limited space to put a face on the antagonist so we can feel the danger and believe there is a real threat.

In your second paragraph you have increasing conflict. I like it all. But I wonder now if the returning nemesis is real threat or if Juvall is the real threat. I'm a little confused. I want a clear antagonist. Maybe you can mention how working with Juvall hinders our hero in his quest against the antagonist, because I see a clear inner conflict in this query but I don't the external conflict is as clear.

In your third paragraph tell the agent what the deception is and what Jimmy's origins are and spell out the inner conflict at the climax. I'm assuming that to save all the people he has to relinquish his powers or his right or his life. I'm assuming he has to make some sacrifice that will make him look like an average Joe. This is what is making the choice hard. Regular Joe who saves the world but get's no credit, or super powerful boy who is worshiped by all who know him. This would be a huge choice for him, because he's always hated being normal. He's always wanted to excel and to have super powers.

I think the others are right to say this needs to spelled-out more clearly.

line by line stuff-->MY SUGGESTIONS IN CAPS:

He begins training on Ulfitron, only to discover that he is average at handling his powers as well. Anger and disappointment BUILD when he is unable to stop an attack which wipes out almost everyone in his enclave INSERT COMMA and his frustration mounts when he is forced to team up with the only other survivor, Juvall Spelding. A powerful Ulfitronian, SPELDING'S disdain of Jimmy's limited abilities is only outstripped by his determination to save his people

Disclaimer: I'm not agent and I'm no expert on queries. I'm joining in to try to learn.

Jennifer said...

All three have had some great things to point out. Where I got lost was in the world-building in the second and third paragraphs. Very minor points, but I found I was stumbling over the new words and the names used in your world. I know that they are part of making an entirely alien world, but Ulfitron is a very hard word to sound out in my head. It made it difficult to keep reading and get interested in the story. This is only my first thoughts, though, so take it with a grain of salt.

linda said...

Paragraph 1: I agree with Adam that the first sentence could be catchier. Neither "Academics, sports, and life" nor "Jimmy has always been ordinary" really hooks me. I'm also a bit curious about whether aliens are common knowledge in your world and how Jimmy responded to their appearance, but I don't think it's necessary for you to add it in. Also, the order the information is presented is confusing, so I'd suggest rearranging the parts so they flow better.

My suggestion would go something like this: Jimmy, so-ordinary-he-worries-he-disappears-into-the-sidewalk teenager, finally believes he can be a speshul snowflake when some powerful aliens pop out of his cereal one morning. They reveal that he has psionic powers -- which makes him the only person who may be able to save them from the big evil baddies threatening to obliterate their precious planet Ulfitron. (But, like, in your own voice and maybe not all in one sentence.) I think you can just cut the doppleganger part since I don't quite see how that would work and it doesn't seem to be too important.

Paragraph 2: Yay to Sally for the line edits! The run-on did make me stumble a bit. Other than that, I like that his expectations aren't met and the attack seems to have huge emotional implications for Jimmy. I'm not sure if you need to refer to Juvall by name. Maybe it's enough to say that Jimmy's forced to team up with the one person who both hates him and makes him feel more inferior than a squished pea.

Paragraph 3: Similarly, if you decide not to name Juvall, you can just mention a betrayal or deception and maybe explain a bit of the implications. I'm also with the other commenters who mentioned that the final choice isn't compelling enough as is. I think being more specific about what he has to do to save the people (maybe he has a very high chance of failing? Sally makes a good point as well) and why he would question his loyalties would help. (I'm guessing it turns out Jimmy is actually one of the baddies?) One way you could frame the choice is that Jimmy can embrace his heritage to finally achieve ultimate power on his own terms or sacrifice his one shot to be extraordinary for the people who betrayed him. Or, you know, whatever specifics actually apply to your story.

And of course, standard disclaimer: just the thoughts/opinions/suggestions of an Internet nobody, feel free to ignore any and all of my comment.

Good luck! :)

The Editors said...

First, before the critique might I suggest a critique of the set up of first impact posts? I liked the editing and comments method I just would like what kind of piece it is more clearly noted. I know you said it was a query but until I started reading it I wasn’t sure if it was a query letter or just that they were the first inquirer on being critiqued.

Overall the concept of the story is intriguing. As it is clear that Jimmy is less average then he thinks and it’s in the title too, I would use different ways to talk about it after the opening about how normal his life was at the start. Maybe get into whatever reasons he has such issues that saving countless people still leaves him feeling average (Or what would happen that would actually make him average for real.). Also I would get into more details on his origin that clearly is very important to the story. I would cut out some of the details about the aliens as you don’t have enough space to really explain about them and the short details is more confusion then just saying that he is made the leader of this group who are fighting with this other group. And in general I agree with all the main points that everyone else had. I hope these ideas help you some as this story sound like something that would be well received in the YA market.

Adam Heine said...

Hey thanks for your critique of the First Impact post itself! I really appreciate that. I'll clarify that more in future posts.

maine character said...

First, to Adam, I really like the look of your comments, with the highlighted areas and especially the column on the right - no idea how you formatted that, but it looks very professional.

About the query, all the important stuff's been covered, especially about his choice at the end, and I'd agree with what everyone says.

So for my own take on what I would've thought if I was an agent, my main problem was with this phrase: "the tree-descended super-powered people." So they're people, but they started off as trees? I couldn't see that happening, unless they were like ents, but you don't mention that.

So I figured you meant they once lived in trees until I saw "their only hope of saving Ulfitron lies in tracking down the legendary trees." So they are trees. You'd have a challenge making that believable to me, so you might add something at the start like "mobile trees" or "intelligent trees" or something that gives a hint of what's special about these trees.

Second, as said above, Ulfitron seems a little awkward, but I really like the title.

And finally, I really like the realistic twist on the superpowers, with how he struggles with them and isn't as good as a classmate, even though he's supposed to be the savoir.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Two things jumped out at me right away: first, that some of the verbs could be stronger; and second, that some of the plot elements reminded me of Orson Scott Card's SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD.

Some of the verbs are passive (like "is forced" in the second paragraph; who or what forces him to team up with Juvall?), and some are just a little weak (lke "is unable" in that second paragraph). If you beef up your verbs, you can usually convey more information in fewer words.

Also, I wanted to know more about how the trees play into the plot. Like I said, I wondered if the relationship between the Ulfitronians and the trees would be like the relationship between the piggies and the trees in SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. If you haven't already read that book, you might want to check it out just to see how they compare.

Good luck with this!

P.S. Adam, you might consider changing your comment form to a pop-up, at least when you host these critiques. I had to keep scrolling up and down the page while I was typing my comment, and it was a little bothersome.

Stephsco said...

The other commenters covered quite a bit already, and I do agree the repitition of the word Ulfitron tripped me up. I would suggest look for ways not to use this word more than once or twice.

For the end, I suggest listing a current comparative title rather than mentioning Darth Vader and Clark Kent; while they are both characters still known today, it does not show that you know the current YA fiction market. Even if you were to reference an older work, like Orson Scott Card's Ender series, I would still suggest finding something more current with a thematic or genre similiarity. Or just leave it out as the original critique pointed out.

Stephsco said...

One last thing -- you might want to put Jimmy's age in when you introduce him (sixteen-year-old Jimmy...) because I thought this was middle grade until I got to the end. Jimmy sounds younger to me, like a little kid.

Victoria Dixon said...

I agree with Adam's assessment of Jimmy's choices, but my main problem with the query seems to come from the first paragraph. It's got some stuff I don't think is necessary to understanding the basic story and it's making me stumble at the very beginning of trying to understand.
Academics, sports and life, per se, do not come back up in the query. I'd cut them. Keep his ordinariness. "Tree-descended" just sparks questions for me, (not a bad thing!), but it also doesn't seem relevant to the rest of the query, so I'd either show how it fits with the story, or remove it. (Yes, I know he goes in search of special trees, but we don't need to know that the Ulfitrons are descended from the trees as of right now. Make sense?) I would keep in that they believe he's their reincarnated savior or whatever. That seems important. Hope all of this is helpful and not overwhelming.
Good luck with it!

Matthew MacNish said...

Having missed this actual post, which I know is the first in Adam's awesome new series (I know, I'm sorry), I'm not going to comment on the query. Instead, I want to talk to Adam about the format, and to thank him for being so awesome.

So, below the first line break, those are images, the comments beneath the blue lines? If so, I think I like it. It looks good, it makes sense, and it balances the post out nicely. My only problem so far is reconciling the in-line red ink. They look a lot like tracked changes in word, but for some reason, I'm seeing deletions and insertions the same, and I think it's just a matter of remembering what I'm looking at when reading a blog.

Do the blue highlights correspond directly to the comments? Because they don't seem to. Seems the comments can relate to multiple things.

Okay. I've said enough. Adam, email me. Utsav, keep it up. This is obviously a dope premise, and I think it will succeed.

Utsav said...

Drat the bloody spam. The notification of this post went to spam and I didn't even look at this post till today.

Many thanks to Adam and all people who commented. They really help!

And Adam's blog is awesome.