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Day 1 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Denny Bryce

Monday, 26 August 2019  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

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.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor, Denny Bryce … 

Denny’s debut novel, WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES, is coming from Kensington Publishing in January 2021. A three-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist and a 2014 Golden Heart® winner, Denny writes mainstream historical fiction and book reviews for NPRBooks.org. She’s also written historical fiction book reviews for Washington Independent Review of Books and recaps Outlander On Starz for FROLIC. This winter she completed a fellowship at Tin House Winter Workshop.

A devotee of Joss Whedon, she began her writing journey in fan fiction. Her fandoms included Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Buffy/Spike), Angel (the TV series), Leverage, and Being Human (BBC). A member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), Historical Novel Society (HSN) and Romance Writers of America (RWA), Denny is represented by Nalini Akolekar at Spencerhill Associates and resides in Virginia.

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Denny’s first page critique . . .

Adult Southern Contemporary

November 28th [add year]

Khost, Afghanistan

 [I suggest you open with the second paragraph, which creates mystery as well as a strong sense of character] Jake knew the chow line would be long, so he stayed behind in the tent to let it shorten. No one wanted to stand or eat too close to anybody serving in the Mortuary Affairs Unit, anyway. After three years in, he knew working around dead people left a smell.

[Please begin here] Jake lay on the table [in the Mortuary Affairs Unit — let reader know where character is located as soon as possible]. He was still as a bird-dog on point. His eyes were open, but he couldn’t see a thing. [consider editing the next sentence to read: The heavy black plastic covering his body comforted him, like the thick…—reducing the use of was and using more active verbs helps to deepen 3rd person POV.] As the black plastic settled over his body, its heaviness was comforting, like the thick wool blanket his mama used to [delete used to] lay across him on cool nights when he pretended to be asleep. He had taken off his boots and socks, because he wanted to feel the smoothness of the body bag under his heels and on the tops of his toes. [Another line edit suggestion: remove extra words for better pacing and deeper POV] The bag’s weight and coolness [delete, where it] touched his naked forehead, nose, cheeks, heels and toes. Jake tried not to let his chest heave too much, so he took deep, slow breaths. It didn’t matter. Each breath heaved [heave and heaved is an echo] his chest enough to crinkle-crackle the plastic, as if bone beetles scurried across the outside surface, searching for ingress. [Love the imagery used throughout – it is vivid and fresh.]

Time stood [delete, nearly] as still as he lay. No red dirt swirled up his nose. No fingers sweated inside his blood covered gloves [consider rephrasing or deleting – this image doesn’t quite work] No dog tags lay crumpled on the ground to collect and catalog. No tattered pockets to search for hidden “I love you,” notes from wives. No wrinkled, bloodied photographs of unseen babies to smooth and place in plastic baggies. No leg-less, foot-filled boots to un-lace to remove the ragged stump. No folded letters beginning, “Dear Son,” to chase as they blew in the wind across the red dirt. No dead eyes staring sightless up into his. No suicide notes soaked in blood to send home to grieving spouses. No DD Forms waited for a signature. No processionals of flag-draped transfer cases to watch. [The impact of the repetitive phrase – no – is good but consider making a few adjustments – first, organize the ‘no’s’ so that each point builds upon the next. Also, you have a page turner – compel the reader with that last line to keep goingJ! Your POV character is intriguing, mysterious, and heart-breaking—so for me that already means I want to read more! Strong start.]

Thank you, Denny, 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. 

Filed: Workshops

  • Sarah Lael says:

    Many thanks for the bravery of the writer in consenting to share the first page. The images are so powerful and original. Also, I learned so much getting to see the editing process.

  • Andrew Phillips says:

    Thanks to Denny for her insight and “new” eyes as she took a look at my first page! To have those perceptive “new eyes” to help in seeing what I miss or just not see is terrific. Will certainly assist as I continue to work on this novel as well as on other “writing adventures!”

  • Adrienne Deeb says:

    This first page invoked very strong emotions in me. Intrigue—why would anyone want to lay in a body bag? Sadness—for those I’ve lost. Understanding—I treat veterans who’ve seen and been forced to do unfathomable things. But most of all, this first page makes me want to read more. Thank you for sharing and good luck!

We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

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