Welcome to the July Query & 1st Page Workshop with some of our PitchWars mentors. We selected many wonderful writers from a drawing held in June to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued either a query or first page for two writers. The writers are anonymous and the titles/genres are hidden. Follow along all month to view the critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.
Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …
Ricki is an Atlanta-based freelance writer/editor, English teacher, and professional nerd. She has contributed to Writer’s Digest Books since 2009, interviewing agents and authors for Screenwriter’s & Playwright’s Market, Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and Guide to Literary Agents. This year is her second year judging WD’s Self-Published Book Awards as well. She has spoken at several writers conferences around the country, coordinated the Write-Brained Network’s writing workshop in 2011, and she’s also looking forward to being a mentor for this year’s Pitch Wars. A writer of contemporary young adult fiction, Ricki is represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and she is currently looking to fill some editing slots for the fall.
Ricki’s critiques …
Critique #25 – First Page:
Somewhere out there in the night, my boys
were slinking slunk through darkened rooms and collected collecting treasures , while I choked on the foul air in the bar of a dockside inn. Every inhale of the thick stench of booze and sweat of the foreign sailors made me want to flee. But if I left, I’d be back there again spanstyle=”color:red”>tomorrow the nextnight.
[IT’S BEST TO START OUT AS ACTIVE AS POSSIBLE, WHICH IS WHY I OMITTED AND CONDENSED SOME OF THE PASSIVE VOICE. DROP US RIGHT IN TO THE SCENE. PERHAPS START WITH “I CHOKED ON THE SMELL OF BOOZE AND SWEAT EMANATING FROM THE FOREIGN SAILORS AT THE BAR.” THIS IS MORE ACTIVE—WE CAN PICTURE IT AND EXPERIENCE IT MORE AS A SCENE RIGHT AWAY—AND IT DOESN’T CHANGE TOO MUCH OF THE IDEA OF WHAT YOU ALREADY HAD. IT’S JUST TIGHTER, MORE VIVID, AND MORE ACTIVE. LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES LIKE THIS THROUGHOUT.]
Father had insisted I practice basic confidence schemes with Mayura, and that was what I’d be assigned to do until she told him my performance had been satisfactory. My best chance at getting to run with the boys tomorrow was to succeed tonight
and not fail.
It was a waste of time, though. I’d never be a competent con artist because cons usually hinge on making someone like you.
THIS IS A LITTLE VAGUE AND CONFUSING TO ME. PLUS, THESE TWO EXPOSITORY “PARAGRAPHS” SLOW YOUR ACTION. START US OFF WITH A SCENE AND KEEP PUSHING THE ACTION FORWARD. SPRINKLE IN THE EXPOSITION, BUT TRY NOT TO DO IT IN THE FIRST FEW LINES OF THE MS.
ALSO, TRY TO LIMIT THE AMOUNT OF INTERNALIZATION YOU’RE GIVING THE NARRATOR. THIS IS “TELLING” WRITING AS WELL, AND AS I SAID, IT SLOWS YOUR ACTION AND ISN’T AS VIVID.
“CONFIDENCE SCHEMES” IS A LITTLE CONFUSING AT FIRST BECAUSE I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND YOU MEANT “CONS” UNTIL I GOT TO THE “CON ARTIST” PART. I THOUGHT MAYBE YOU MEANT ACTS TO BUILD ONE’S CONFIDENCE. (MAYBE I’M DUMB!) PERHAPS CHANGE TO JUST “SCHEMES” OR “CONFIDENCE JOBS”? JUST A THOUGHT TO PERHAPS AVOID ANY CONFUSION.
A few stools down at the bar, Mayura
was hard at work on that. She’d settled herself beside a pair of young sailors in uniforms nearly the same shade as their pale skin. The ten-pointed star on their chests announced them as Grendarians—-rich, arrogant, and gullible. I couldn’t hear herover the general din, but I could read her lips well enough, eventhrough the haze.
PERHAPS REWORK THE “TELLING” SENTENCE I HIGHLIGHTED. TRY TO DO IT WITHOUT SAYING HOW “GRENDARIANS” ARE—SHOW US HOW THEY ARE THROUGH THE ACTION AND DIALOGUE TO FOLLOW.
“Really.” She flashed them a
convincing smile.”This round is on me.” She held a hand out over the bar, hovering above the grime the black paint didn’t quite hide. With that, the bartender approached her. She held flipped upthree fingers at the bartender and he , her signal for me to get ready. The bartenderscuttled away , wiping sweat from his brow.
A FEW THOUGHTS ON THIS:
WE KNOW MORE ABOUT MAYURA ON THE FIRST PAGE THAN WE DO THE NARRATOR. MAYBE INSTEAD OF THAT TELLING INTERNALIZATION BIT WHERE THE NARRATOR SAYS HE (SHE?) WON’T PROBABLY MAKE A GOOD CON ARTIST BECAUSE HE OR SHE FEELS HE OR SHE CAN’T GET PEOPLE TO LIKE HIM/HER, YOU COULD SHOW US TO CONTRAST BETWEEN THE NARRATOR AND MAYURA A BIT MORE—MAYURA’S EASE WITH THE SAILORS AND THEN THE NARRATOR’S UNEASINESS IN AN ACTUAL INTERACTION WITH SOMEONE. PERHAPS HE/SHE STRIKES OUT—OR SOMEONE APPROACHES HIM/HER AND THE NARRATOR IS TOTALLY AWKWARD OR SPILLS A DRINK OR SOMETHING. (I’M SURE YOU CAN COME UP WITH SOMETHING WAY BETTER, BUT THIS IS JUST A QUICK SUGGESTION TO ILLUSTRATE.)
Critique #26 – Query:
Sixteen-year-old Ilan always gets what he wants. (I ADDED THE “ALWAYS” FOR CADENCE PURPOSES—THE SENTENCE FLOWS A LITTLE BETTER WITH IT. HOWEVER, I’M TEMPTED TO SAY SNIP THE ONE-SENTENCE HOOK ON THIS BECAUSE IT DOESN’T REALLY TELL US TOO MUCH ABOUT THE MS AND, THEREFORE, ISN’T PROBABLY AS “HOOKY” OR HIGH CONCEPT AS YOU WANT IT TO BE FOR A FIRST LINE. YOU CAN PROBABLY TRIM IT AND JUMP RIGHT IN WITH THE PITCH.)
With every rule he breaks, another girl vies for his attention and another poser kisses his ass. Besides his sister Eris’s annoying reminder that he’s an uncontrollable, reckless screw-up, being a rebel has always worked in his favor.
I OMITTED AND CONDENSED IN THE FIRST LINE TO TIGHTEN—AND SINCE THAT ALL MEANT JUST ABOUT THE SAME THING, JUST REPEATED) I ALSO ADDED ERIS’S NAME UP FRONT BECAUSE WE SHOULD KNOW CHARACTERS’ NAMES RIGHT AWAY. YOU MIGHT LOOK INTO CONDENSING “UNCONTROLLABLE, RECKLESS SCREW-UP” TOO BECAUSE USING THE WORD “REBEL” DOES SOME OF THAT WORK ALREADY, AND I DON’T KNOW THAT YOU NEED ALL THREE WORDS TO DESCRIBE HIM—YOU DON’T WANT TO GET REPETITIVE.
Until his latest excursion—an impulsive joy ride turned fatal car crash. Lucky for him, Ilan walked away
with no major injuries withOUT A SCRATCH. Not even a scratch or a bruise. And as usual, he didn’t suffer any consequences. (LAST SENTENCE NEEDED? I THINK “WITHOUT A SCRATCH” COULD IMPLY THAT AS WELL.)
But now he’s being hunted and only Eris knows how to stop his predators. He must repay his debt, the one he owes from that car accident. Because he didn’t actually survive.
(THIS PART IS A LITTLE CONFUSING BECAUSE IN THE PREVIOUS SECTION, YOU MENTIONED THAT HE WALKED AWAY UNSCATHED AND WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES?)
Turns out he was resurrected just like Eris. THIS IS A BIT OF A TWIST I FEEL LIKE WE NEED TO KNOW SOONER THIS SECTION NEEDS TO BE CLEARER AND MORE SUCCINCT SO WE CAN UNDERSTAND THE STORY BETTER.
THE DEAL IS, If Ilan wants to stay alive, a target will have to die in his place. THE ONLY PROBLEM IS, IT’S
Too bad his target is his best friend. YOU SHOULD PROBABLY MENTION THE BEST FRIEND EARLIER
VALUED is a YA thriller with fantasy elements complete at 57,000 words and would appeal to readers of PROXY by Alex London and REBOOT by Amy Tintera. Thank you for your time and consideration. GOOD, CLEAR CLOSURE. 🙂 THE COMPARISON PIECES DEFINITELY HELP PAINT A PICTURE OF WHAT YOU’RE GOING FOR.
ONE NOTE: SOME AGENTS *MIGHT* CONSIDER THIS TO BE ON THE SHORT SIDE, FOR A THRILLER/FANTASY. IMHO, IT’S BETTER TO ERR ON THE SIDE OF BEING SHORTER RATHER THAN LONGER, SO THIS MIGHT NOT BE A HUGE DEAL—AND YOU STILL ARE WITHIN THE REALM OF A HEALTHY WORD COUNT—BUT I’M JUST LETTING YOU KNOW WHAT SOME MIGHT SAY.
Juliana has been writing seriously since 2010 and tends to mainly write Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, though she has also dabbled in Adult fiction. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen of the Stonesong Literary Agency. When she’s not writing, you can find her exploring Tennessee’s State Parks with her family, rock climbing, or finding new creative outlets such as making paper snowflakes.
Juliana critiques …
Critique #27 – First page:
I struggled, sometimes, with why I married my husband. While he struggles with addiction and mental illness, I try to keep him on the wagon. He hasn’t plunged from the wagon in about five years and with his track record, that worries me. Watching him, I smiled. His hands flailed as he explained something to a fellow paramedic. When Anthony responded, Jimmy’s hands calmed and I watched his right arm twitch. His tremors were normally under good control with medication. Shaking my head as his hands flailed again, I wondered what point he was trying to make. I’m really unsure of what’s happening in this first paragraph. Who’s the MC and what’s the setting? You have a few styles of writing going on and it’s making the sentences feel disorderly and unconnected. In the first three sentences, we’re in the MC’s head giving a summary of her marriage/husband. In the next, we’re switching over, looking out from her eyes, and in the next we find out there’s a paramedic (are we in a hospital? An ambulance?). Can you place us solidly in the scene first (show us the setting) and then allow the MC to tell us a bit about her marriage/husband?
The ER was quiet at the moment. Mondays are typically slow days for us so we used the time to clean and help hold up the nurse’s station. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Returning my attention to Jimmy I smiled when he laughed. I liked seeing him happy, even if it did take a cocktail of medication to keep him that way. But when I saw how badly his right hand shook, I frowned. Either his med-cocktail has failed him or he forgot to take ’em this morning. I shook my head and dismissed the thought.
However, his right arm trembling like the San Andreas Fault didn’t bode well for him being on his meds. I narrowed my eyes at him and the thought struck me that he might’ve missed his tremor medication and possibly his anxiety meds, too. I made a mental note to check his pills when we made it home tonight.
“Earth to Jacoby.”
I glanced at Hollister Macintosh, my friend and co-worker, as she settled into a chair beside me. Frowning, I returned my attention to Jimmy. He wore his blue flight suit, ready to hop into Creighton One at any time. Creighton One was our flagship medical chopper and Jimmy’s pride and joy.
An overall critique of the writing is that it seems as if you’re giving us a summary of what’s happening versus actually letting the reader see it for themselves (show vs tell). Instead, you could give us a clear picture of the setting and characters to really root your reader in the book before giving the MC’s internalization (which sounds pretty interesting, I might add!) As is, I’m having a difficult time following and understanding what’s happening in the scene.
Critique #28 – Query:
Seventeen-year-old Elisabeth Bell Pierce never dreamed the first time she finally saw Bell Hall, the crumbling English castle that was her mother’s childhood home, she’d be delivering her mother’s ashes. She hopes the gloomy corridors will shed some light on her mom’s mysterious past, but instead discovers the castle conceals a more ancient secret — one that could alter England’s history, and her future, forever. I would suggest changing your first sentence to: “The first time 17yo Elisabeth Bell Pierce sees Bell Hall—the crumbling English castle that was her mother’s childhood home—she’s delivering her mother’s ashes” in an effort to be more concise. It’s also beautifully intriguing on its own without the “never dreamed” part. Your second sentence though can be moved to the end of the query—it’s a really great “stakes sentence”. In this first paragraph, keep focused on Elisabeth’s life, such as including the information about her father, her mother’s final wishes, and her grief. I think you can end this paragraph with the information about Richard of York (it’s a good cliff hanger to push the reader into the next paragraph).
Between the echoing noises in the walls and the dank stone piled to the ceilings, Elisabeth struggles to make Bell Hall home. Even after she lays her mom to rest, Elisabeth can’t find peace. Not while her dad, fanatical historian Dr. Harrison Pierce, insists on excavating the grounds in his quest to find England’s infamous Lost Princes — against her mother’s final wishes to preserve the castle.
Hiding from the grief she can’t escape, and her dad’s attempts to enlist her in his quest, Elisabeth explores the medieval castle, and learns she isn’t the only person hiding at Bell Hall. <–That’s a great sentence to end paragraph 1!
Deep beneath the castle, Richard of York, Lost Prince of England, has waited faithfully for over 500 years, bewitched to live in darkness until his stolen kingdom is restored. In Richard’s arms, Elisabeth finds the peace she’s been looking for, and with his help, unravels the secrets about Bell Hall her mother kept for so long.
As her father digs closer to unearthing England’s greatest secret, Elisabeth must find a way to rescue Richard from his spellbound prison, before her father reveals him to the world — because not everything that’s lost wants to be found. The rest of your query reads a bit disjointed. All of the right information is there, it just needs to be re-ordered a bit. Sometimes, it’s best to keep to a typical query format of two paragraphs (the first to describe the main character, the setting, and the inciting incident; and the second to describe the main conflict and the stakes). It sounds like a good starting point for your second paragraph would be to focus on the conflict between her father’s desires and the need to keep Richard a secret. I would suggest ending this paragraph with the stakes information of “…one that could alter England’s history, and her future, forever.” That’s wonderful, tightly written, and gives me a great sense of foreboding. Your current sentence of “because not everything that’s lost wants to be found” runs on the cliché side, and doesn’t give me a true sense of what’s at stake.
ENCIRCLED is a 95,000-word YA Fantasy, where a dash of magic and a love deeper than darkness put a new twist on the historical mystery of the disappearance of two English princes. <–I’ve never heard about this! It sounds wonderful. I would suggest taking out the general information of “a dash of magic and a love deeper than darkness” and writing something more specific about the two English princes.
I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Utah with degrees in English Literature and Theatre. My love affair with British history began in the seventh grade, when I stole my social studies textbook for some light summer reading, and got hooked on kings, castles, and betrayal. Perfect.
Thank you, Ricki and Juliana, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!