Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2019 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query or first page critique from one of our mentors. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or first page from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you all get an idea on how to shine up your query and first page.
We appreciate our mentors for giving their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. Our comments are set to moderate, and we will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones before approving them.
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor, Sandra Proudman…
Sandra Proudman writes SF/F YA stories with unabashed Latinx protagonists. She lives in California with her awesome husband and hanging-on-by-a-thread houseplants. When she’s not at her day job, where she’s a graphic designer and marketing coordinator, you can find her at national parks, eating her fill of vegan pastries, or testing her luck and wit against escape rooms.
Sandra’s first page critique . . .
Young Adult: Speculative Fiction
Amsterdam seemed different that day. The sun [ferociously beat] on my dark hair. I squinted against the bright light reflecting off the footpath. My ribs panged and I rubbed at the ugly purple bruise where it lay under my dress. My bronze-coloured skin had turned a deeper shade of brown from the sun. [Comment to consider: I would recommend deleting or moving the last sentence in this paragraph down. Since you’re starting off by saying that the day felt different, I would only focus on the details of the day here. What is different about it? And how does it being different affect your MC?]
Up ahead, a crowd of people [delete had] gathered in front of a brick wall. Some of them turned away in disgust, while others nodded [at it]. A man in tattered clothes stood off to one side, watching them. [Is this man significant to the rest of the story? If not, I would consider eliminating this sentence. Or further describing how he is different than the rest of the crowd. What makes him worth noticing besides his tattered clothing? How does he make the MC feel? Is she disturbed by him? Frightened? On guard? And how does he look as he stares at the people?]
A Politie [not sure if this is meant to be police?] car pulled up and I [stepped] back[delete-wards]. I had to avoid the police. [I recommend changing this sentence to something like: “I didn’t want them to find out what I’d been involved in. I’d be dead by morning if they did.” – I think rewording this way will up the stakes. Tell us what the MC stands to lose if she gets caught? Her freedom? Her life? Money?] I touched my [injured] ribs again [and grimaced at the action (I’d imagined if something really hurt, she’d be making some kind of face, or perhaps even fighting against a grimace?)].
I turned toward [delete s] the wall and the mural painted across it. [It depicted a group of] Dutch people, standing amongst tufts of bright green Oceanic grass, [drinking] from cartons of milk. The artist had played around with the Oceanic Milk logo. He’d [how does your MC know it was a he? If they don’t I would change this to “they’d”] painted black cows on the milk cartons, their eyes white crosses, in vicious strokes. In the background, [real] cows stood idly, their udders sinking toward [delete s – or you can change to “sinking down” and I think it’d save some words] the ground. Beside them were shadowy, thin farmers.
The most striking part of the mural was [that] the Dutch people [held] the cartons up to their lips, their eyes blank. [Why is this part striking? Explain here: “it was striking because they weren’t drinking milk. Oh, no. They were drinking blood.”] The artist had painted their milk moustaches red, dripping down their faces. He’d captured the exploitation of my people, the farmers, back at home. We were forced to work on government-owned land, supplying the Dutch and the Partner States with their milk and food—while we eked out an existence living off scraps.
I’d been very young when I discovered the truth. That Oceania had once belonged to us. [Who is us?]
I was four years old, holding an ancient colour photograph in my chubby hands. In it, a woman with white hair and prominent cheekbones stared up at me.
“That’s your great-grandmother, Anahera Esmond. She held onto our land for as long as she could,” Dad [had] said. “She refused to part with it, even when they served us the notice of sale. That’s why we still farm here. I blame her stubborn Māori and Scottish ways! She was a remarkable woman. She lived until she was [one hundred five] years old, even with everything she went through during the War. But I bet you’ll live much, much longer than that. Maybe you’ll get to [one hundred fifty].” He’d patted the top of my head with a calloused hand.
What was the point of living to [one hundred fifty], if you had to live like a slave? Even here, removed from everything at home, it still went on. [This last sentence confused me a little bit. I suggest removing it since the first sentence seems like a really good question that you want the reader to think about. I also recommend changing “live like a slave?” to “live a life of servitude?” I am reading this without knowing anything about you or your background or family history. But I would definitely make sure that the use of the word slave is an accurate portrayal of your MC’s situation.]
Then the artist opened his mouth and his words changed everything. [Is the artist the man watching the people? If so, I recommend adding in a line where your MC is speculating that they may be the artist, or that the artist is one of the people that’s watching the wall. That way when the reader gets to the last line both sections are tied together.]
I really enjoyed reading your page! Thank you for sharing it with me! It was intriguing, and sets up what I believe is a dystopian (possibly?) very nicely!
Some questions that came up as I read worth considering:
- What is your MC doing there? Was she on her way from the thing she doesn’t want the police to know she did? Was she simply on her way home?
- What does your MC want? I would add in a line or even a few words that hint to your MC’s motivator. Does she remember the photo and then remember that she wants to bring down the people who took over Oceania? Does she want to save her family from tyranny?
- When does your story take place? If the colour photo is old, I’m guessing in the semi-distant future. I think it’s a nice detail to add to help ground the reader into the world you’re in if it’s futuristic.
- And lastly, I noticed that you’ve set this up as a prologue, but I think you can just call it your first chapter and it will work as the beginning to your novel. Especially since prologues are not widely used in YA.]
Thank you, Sandra, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2019 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more.