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Day 11 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Kat Dunn

Thursday, 5 September 2019  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

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, Kat Dunn… 

Kat Dunn spent a good chunk of her childhood in France and has a family who’ll drunkenly discuss philosophy in French until 3am. She spent the rest of her time in London, before moving to Japan and Australia, and back to London. She likes forests, collecting languages, and history (mostly the clothes).

Kat has a BA in Japanese from SOAS and an MA in English from Warwick. She’s written about mental health for Mind and The Guardian, and worked as a translator for Japanese television. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition.

She currently lives in London. Dangerous Remedy is her first novel.


Kat’s upcoming release…

The first in a dazzling, commercial, historical adventure series set in the extravagant and deadly world of the French Revolution. A whirlwind of action, science and magic reveals, with a diverse cast of fearless heroines, a band of rebels like no other.

Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In a fast and furious story full of the glamour and excesses, intrigue and deception of these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.


Kat’s first page critique . . .

Young Adult: Fantasy

Mara’s fingers ached where they gripped the rough bricks, but she refused to let the discomfort show on her face [you can cut ‘on her face’ – it’s obvious, save your words]. One last pull and she threw herself awkwardly beside her brother. Her landing left something to be desired, and she knew Jordy would wince if he had seen her lack of grace, but at least she had managed to remain mostly silent. Unless someone had seen her climbing, she was invisible from anyone approaching below. [I can’t quite picture where they are. On top of a building? Why do they need to be up there – does it give them a view of the docks? The ships coming in?]  

Cal made an annoyed noise from his spot beside her. “We need to work on finding ways to train you further if you want me to keep sending you on missions,” he murmured, voice quiet [cut ‘voice quiet’ – murmuring already tells us this, and you want to save your words for other things. Or could cut entirely, as you’ve already got him making an annoyed noise, which shows us more of his character.]. Mara spared her brother only a quick glare before refocusing on their target. 

“I can handle myself. And I practice as often as I can.” Her posture tightened as she watched the alley. They were in position to surprise a shipment and pilfer a portion for Snake acquisition. Or, as others would call it, steal [love this! Great juxtapositioning of their business-like language with what they’re really doing]. Jobs like these were standard for Snake members, although her brother didn’t usually join in. Mara hoped he hadn’t torn himself [away] from managing Snake business [I initially read this thinking Cal does the accounts, which gave me a very specific image of him, but maybe you meant that he runs the whole thing, which is a very different image! Maybe he ‘directs Snake business’ if so?] just to keep an eye on her. She eyed her brother and waited for him to concede that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself [I wonder if this is a bit too much ‘telling’ – I think you could cut this line and we’d still get the idea from her tight posture].

Cal’s blue eyes, the same shade as her own, glinted when he looked at her. “Oh, really? What are you doing tomorrow then, squeezing in some training on your own?” 

“There’s a garden party,” she admitted with a wince. “Elide will disown me if I miss it.” [Who is Elide? Do you need to mention her if Cal doesn’t react to her name?] 

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh, a garden party. Of course.” 

“You may have left that life, Cal, but you know—” [love this exchange, really piques my interest about why Mara is both a Snake but still at garden parties]

“Yes, Mara, I know you feel obligated, but you can’t expect me to actually care about garden parties. I don’t even like picturing you there, surrounded by insufferable nobles dancing in wastefully pretty dresses and playing social games.” He shifted, his shoulder bumping hers lightly. As though he wanted her to know that despite the harshness of his words, he still cared. [Okay I already love Cal, and so I’m already a little suspicious of him!]


[Such a pacey opening! It’s great that you start in the middle of the action, it immediately gives me a sense of Mara’s personality and her world. You also very skillfully build the relationship between Mara and Cal, and drop hints about who the Snakes are, how they operate, and Mara’s relationships with other characters. 

Please remember with all my comments, they’re just my opinion. I’ve tried to give you my honest opinion – if you don’t agree with me, that’s fine! I think your writing is strong, I just want to help you achieve everything you’re capable of. I’ve made suggestions for what I think you could do here and there, but it’s up to you if you think they’re useful. 

  1. While I loved the action-focused start, I think you could go further to help immerse the reader in your world. When writing fantasy, you’re trying to sell the reader on the world you’ve created as much as the plot and characters – all three need to work together. I want to know what makes your world unique. I don’t mean add in reams of exposition or description, but a little bit more would help. For example, they’re in position to take a shipment – but does this mean they’re by the sea? Or some other sort of delivery location? If it’s the sea, is there salt in the air? Are they hiding in the dark of night? Is your MC cold in the sea air, or are they in a humid or hot climate? Also, I’d like to get a bit more of a sense of where your world is technologically – your set up gives you so much opportunity to really enrich the world. For example, do the docks have cranes? Just lots of people lifting things? Are Cal and Mara carrying weapons? What sort of clothing are they wearing? All of this would help us build a more vivid picture of your MC and her world. 
  2. I think you could make the stakes clearer and bigger. You do a great job launching us into the middle of the action, building your characters and their relationship, so I’m in no way suggesting scrapping this and starting over – but I think you could bring your hook in sooner. What is at stake in stealing this shipment? Is there something special about it? How is business for the Snakes? What does the government/rulers think of them? What is Mara risking? Was Mara supposed to do the job on her own but now Cal has come along – what’s the stakes here? Do you want us to think this is suspicious? And most importantly, why does Mara do this? What is her motivation? We’ve got some hints – she clearly wants to be seen as competent and independent, but is conflicted over her loyalties to the old world of garden parties. Is this shipment her opportunity to prove something to Cal? Or is it a routine job and she feels insulted by it? You don’t have to answer all these questions in the first page or even the first chapter, but is there something more you could add in to this opening to hook us and make us turn the page?
  3. Finally, a minor point, but I wonder if you need to mention both Elide and Jordy? Neither name gets mentioned more than once on the page – it’s great to populate their world, but it could be stronger to focus on one other person to start so as not to overwhelm the reader with different names they’ll easily forget. I like the way you introduce Jordy as we find out a bit of his personality, but then you don’t mention him again and instead we get mention of someone called Elide. Maybe instead you could give us a bit more about Jordy? What does he think of the Garden parties? How is he involved with the Snakes?

Just to reiterate: I think this opening is great, your prose is very clean and readable, and you build your characters well. You have all the blocks here to do something great, so I think it’s a case of fleshing out your world and really making the motivation and stakes clear. Good luck!]

Thank you, Kat, 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. 

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