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Day 15 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Carrie S. Allen and Sabrina Lotfi

Saturday, 12 September 2020  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query and first page critique from one of our mentors. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the Pitch Wars submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you in shining up your query and first page.

We appreciate our mentors for generously dedicating 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 Mentors Carrie S. Allen and Sabrina Lotfi …

Carrie S. Allen writes contemporary YA fiction where girls smash the sports patriarchy. Her debut, MICHIGAN VS. THE BOYS, was included on the YALSA Best Fiction of 2020 list, but received harsh criticism from her nine-year-old daughter for not including unicorns. Carrie is retired from sports medicine, and extra-tired from chasing around two kids and a T.Rex masquerading as a puppy. Hobbies include books, dogs, dessert, and anything outdoors on a gorgeous Colorado day. This is her third year mentoring, aka kicking butt on Team Girl Power with the other half of her writer’s brain, Sabrina Lotfi.

Website | Twitter

Sabrina Lotfi is a nationally published makeup artist with over a decade of experience in fashion and film. She writes contemporary and fantasy YA and has a deep love for history, horses, and Happily Ever Afters. She is a former content editor at Owl Hollow Press, has taught classes at writing conferences, and has been a #TeamGirlPower Pitch Wars mentor with the incomparable Carrie S. Allen for the past two years.

Sabrina lives in Texas with her vampire kitty and bat pup. When she isn’t writing, reading, or watching way too much TV, you can find her playing catch with the pup, nerding out on a puzzle, or trying to make another perfect batch of macarons.

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Carrie’s latest release…

When a determined girl is confronted with the culture of toxic masculinity, it’s time to even the score.

Michigan Manning lives for hockey, and this is her year to shine. That is, until she gets some crushing news: budget cuts will keep the girls’ hockey team off the ice this year.

If she wants colleges to notice her, Michigan has to find a way to play. Luckily, there’s still one team left in town …

The boys’ team isn’t exactly welcoming, but Michigan’s prepared to prove herself. She plays some of the best hockey of her life, in fact, all while putting up with changing in the broom closet, constant trash talk and “harmless” pranks that always seem to target her.

But once hazing crosses the line into assault, Michigan must weigh the consequences of speaking up — even if it means putting her future on the line.

Carrie and Sabrina’s critique . . .

Query:

Category: Young Adult Fantasy

Eighteen-year-old Taara is the younger warrior princess of Kantala, a kingdom of Bharat. But her fate is decided by her birth—despite her privileged background, she knows she will [she’ll] be lost in history, [In this sentence you have that she’ll “be lost in history” and “soon forgotten about.” You don’t need both to convey this.] sold off as a product of an alliance, [is this a marriage, or is she legit being sold?] and soon forgotten about. [This paragraph is a great spot to get some extra personal stakes and worldbuilding in. Who will she be sold off to? A rival kingdom? And for what purpose, other than to be forgotten? Is this a tradition that’s lasted generations or a decision made by her parents?]

When she returns from a provincial survey trip [Is this trip important to Taara or the story? Do we need to know about it to learn that Taara’s sister is leaving her the title?], however, a bizarre turn of events [phrases like this (a bizarre turn of events) are vague. It’s the details that make a query stand out, so whenever you find yourself using phrases like this, use a few extra words to let us know what those bizarre events are…if they’re important, get them in. If they’re not, we can wait to read about them in your book.] leads her older sister to leave the title of Crown Princess in Taara’s hands [In Taara’s eyes, is this new title a good thing, better than the fate she expected? Is it worse? We still don’t know a lot about your main character—what she’s like as a person or her goals and dreams. What does our girl WANT…and what is standing in her way?]—and soon after, strange things start to happen [You can also drop this “strange things start to happen” and dive into what those strange things actually are]. She receives a worrisome vision from a mysterious man telling her of ancient forces [This wording made us first think that the man had the vision and told Taara about it… but we think you mean that Taara actually has the vision of this man.] at play that threaten her land, and of a strange tale of gods, demons, and a mysterious Child of Light and Child of Darkness. [The first few times we read your query, we both thought these were separate visions Taara has (1. Gods 2. Demons 3. The Child of Light & Child of Darkness) Now we’re wondering if these are connected and one giant vision? We aren’t sure, but whatever is the case, we think that should be conveyed, but also the significance of these/this vision: is the presence of gods, demons, and these mysterious children unknown to your world, until now? If so, let us know that in your query, because that is definitely a gamechanger in your world! If they’re known throughout, what makes this vision of them unique to their typical behavior or what your world knows of them? Is Taara the only person with this knowledge?] Furthermore, ill omens are in the air, in forms of odd flower petals invoking strange emotions [Okay this is super cool!], and a godly statue appearing and disappearing out of nowhere… [These are intriguing occurrences, but they feel like smaller ripplings of unease. Focus on the inciting incident, the plot point so personally important to Taara that it catapults her into this story. Either set us up with a quick mention of the smaller happenings, and then hit us over the head with the inciting incident, or introduce the inciting incident and then support it with the additional goings-on.] [With that said, have you started your query in the right place? It feels like Taara’s sister abdicating her crown may happen before the story and not actually impact the main plot. If you drop that piece of plot from your query, will the reader miss out on vital information? If so, you may need to change your first paragraph. It sounds so daunting! But hear us out… your story isn’t really about a girl who’s facing a future of being sold off. It’s about a girl uncovering secrets that could threaten her kingdom. Two minutes before this central conflict begins, what were Taara’s goals and wants? To prepare to lead her prosperous, successful kingdom? To build it into being prosperous? To form alliances? THAT’S where your story begins, because that is what gets disrupted in the inciting incident. And the real trick is to hook the reader to that MC in the process—give her a want or a vulnerability that makes us want to hop on this journey with her! You use your world and the mystical aspects of it to hook the reader in this query– and they are fascinating! But hook us with your MC even more.]

And they are soon hit with another blow: the Shehenshah of Khural, a foreign ruler, has taken over the neighboring kingdom of Madya in a brutal bloodbath with the help of the Xia Empire, who have always kept to their kingdom [How does the information in this sentence relate to Taara personally? Were any of these kingdoms where Taara was being sold to before she was named Crown Princess? Is the Shehenshah coming for them specifically because of the broken alliance? The looming threat to her kingdom feels significant, but there are a lot of names in your query, person and place, and we aren’t sure all of these are necessary, like Madya and the Xia Empire. Who is coming? Why are they coming? Why is it scary– personally, not just generally.] With this threat lurking so close to home, her father sends her with her best friend and her handmaiden [Is the handmaiden important? You mention friends below… friendships are great for showing character and hooking a reader. If the handmaiden isn’t important, delete her mention. If she is, give us a beat more on who we’re going on this journey with.] on a reconnaissance mission  [What are they looking for here, and where are they going? This feels like it relates to the impeding war in the previous sentence, but are they spying on the war? Give the reader a solid goal.] that soon turns into something more [What does it become?] when she starts to receive more chilling, mysterious visions, [“starts” is a common word in queries. Usually it’s a place where you can turn passive verbs into action. This is also a spot where you can give us an emotional reaction from your MC. Example: “She is shocked by a chilling vision (of what!) through the eyes of a girl who died centuries ago.”] this time through the eyes of a girl who lived hundreds of years ago. [Also, how does she know this? Is this girl a historical or mythical figure? Does the reader need this detail in the query? Or can you use a stronger descriptor of this girl in the vision?] While facing the Khurali [Because of the “brutal bloodbath” you mention above, this part of the sentence “While facing the Khurali” feels like they’re in battle; the rest of this sentence does not, so maybe in what way are they facing them—are they sneaking through their war camp spying?] she pieces together a dangerous tale of reincarnations, secrets, history, and magic with the help of her friends and the gods, ultimately reaching a chilling [Avoid using the same word twice in a paragraph (chilling), especially if it’s a word that should hit the reader hard.] truth about the fast-approaching dangers [What dangers, if they’ve already faced the Khurali above? This may be something you can clear up by letting us in on the vision she gets from the girl? But you have “dangerous tale of reincarnations” and “the fast-approaching dangers” in this sentence, and digging into the details a bit on both can eliminate that.] and her purpose amidst this all [Leave the reader with a HUGE dose of stakes. Make it personal. WHO is Taara fighting and WHAT will she gain or lose if she wins/loses?]

TITLE is an 88,000-word YA Fantasy set in a world inspired by Indian history and Hindu mythology. Readers of Roshani Chokshi’s A Crown of Wishes, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn, and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy would enjoy this novel. [Pick the two strongest comps, preferably two that highlight different aspects of your ms.]  This is a standalone novel with potential for a series or companion novels.

I am a 15-year-old of Indian descent who avidly reads YA and writes as a hobby, [HOBBY?! Heck no! An 88K fantasy is a full-out impressive accomplishment. You ARE a writer; it’s not something you merely do. You could drop this and go straight into the next line and give that accolade more weight.] also being one of two freshmen out of [from] my school to be recommended for [keep this concise and active as well—we’re assuming you weren’t just recommended to it, but that you actually received special training and now coach your peers] a special course to coach my peers in writing. I would be happy to send you my manuscript for review. Thank you very much for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

First page:

Chapter One

“Welcome, Princess Taara!”

“Thank you,” I called back [I’d suggest deleting “back” here, but adding it to your first line. “Welcome back”, or even “Welcome home” conveys even more than just “Welcome” and you want to give the reader as much information as possible in this first page.] with a smile, folding my hands to the old man in the crowds [Singular or plural?] that had called out to me. [It’s clear that she’s responding to him, so this “that had called out to me” isn’t necessary.] I caught a glimpse of the wide beam that brightened his tired face [Make this strong by deleting words that aren’t necessary: “A wide beam brightened his tired face before…”] before my horse whisked me away, deeper into the crowd [Setting: we already know she’s surrounded by people and traveling, so expand your reader’s view here and show us more of Taara’s world: where are they going now? The palace. Are we following a dirt road or scrubbed cobblestones? Are the citizens in the crowds ragged and poor or fancied up for the occasion? Are they cheering, etc?].

Sighing, [Curious as to what the sigh is for. She smiled at the man, so we felt that she was happy to be back.] I wiped my forehead, my hand coming back slick with sweat. Taking [Hiii! Horse lady here! Perhaps “recollecting” the reins vs. “taking them again”? Dropping the reins is extremely dangerous and kind of a novice move (even reins that are connected—and a lot aren’t!—can slip down the neck wrong and a horse can step through them), and I’m imagining Taara has experience on horses. Unless of course her saddle has somewhere fancy to hold the reins when the rider isn’t, which is a cool detail I’d definitely get in, because that is unique!] my horse’s [Does her horse have a name? Does she like her horse, or is the horse just a vehicle? (If it’s merely a vehicle and Taara feels no connection, naming isn’t necessary!)] reins again, I gazed anticipatedly [Word swears this is a word, but it tripped both of us up!] at the palace gates looming up [delete: up; looming assumes ‘up’] ahead, situated at the topmost part of the mountainous city-fortress. It had been almost two months since I had been away from home.[Word choice is important: “since I was home” or “since leaving home” are stronger, but this is also a spot to hint at where she’s been. “Since I left for school… since Father sent me to diplomatic meetings…”]

I shifted in my saddle, my waist and back aching like hell. I was riding [choose active verb usage when you can—I rode] sidesaddle—if only I could have worn my usual kurti instead of a sari. [This is a great opportunity for world building and detailing your setting. What does her sari look like? Is it fancy and bejeweled and obviously expensive? Is it specialized for royalty—colors, fabric, or adornment? Is it a foreign feeling for her to wear it, does she not feel like herself? Or if it feels more genuine for her to pine for her kurti, describe what she’s missing.]

But no. I had to travel as close to a normal princess as I could: serene, feminine, and regal. Thank the gods that I hadn’t let my mother get her way completely, or else I would’ve been stuck in a stuffy palanquin, taking days longer to travel than needed. [In your query, the biggest hook that grabbed us was WARRIOR PRINCESS. This paragraph is good for introducing us to the princess aspect of that. How about the warrior aspect? See this street, this crowd, her clothing through that lens. Does she feel vulnerable, dressed up and riding sidesaddle, with her back exposed? Is she finally comfortable riding through her people after being constantly vigilant outside of her kingdom? We think you’re about to drop the change from Warrior Princess to Crown Princess, so we need a good sense of who Taara is in this moment before that change happens.]

It already [delete: already] felt so good to be back on my city’s soil, greeting my subjects, but I wanted to hurry through the bustling streets. [This is good, but we think you can deepen here, past what she’s currently doing, because we already know she’s traveling. What is it she wants to hurry back to specifically? What is the thing she misses the most? Her bed? A bath? To put pants on or change into her kurti? A chance to spar with one of the guards?]

“Did you hear about what the Crown Princess has done?” I heard a woman ask her friend as we [This is our first mention of “we,” unless we’re counting the horse (I am totally counting the horse!) Is Taara traveling alone in this scene? Does she have an entourage? Should we see them/know of their existence?] passed by them. 

“I wonder if Princess Taara knows,” her friend replied worriedly. [This lady will have to speak fairly loud to be heard over the crowd, and to get caught gossiping about the CP while that close to Taara seems either super careless or super rude. Clearly Taara is already anxious (next two lines) so you’ve already set the reader up for this information. We might even suggest coming straight out with it: “Our thoughts are with your sister” or some kind of comment instead.]

I felt a pang of anxiousness. The rumors were among the people here as well? I had thought it was just the local [local here? or local wherever Taara has just come from?] villagers making up stories…

I must get to the palace quickly. [This is good, but you have this above already, even before she overhears this gossip: “…but I wanted to hurry through the bustling streets.” We don’t think you need this. Instead, why not show this to us with an action, like urging her horse into a quicker pace? (And they don’t have to start galloping here or anything, just like, a faster walk even!)] [Overall notes: Solid first page! Look for spots where you can sneak in character and world-building and keep your sentences active and strong.]

Thank you, Carrie and Sabrina, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2020 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more.

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