Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2021 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 Mentor Kat Dunn …
Kat Dunn grew up in London where she is currently based, but has spent time in Japan, Australia and France. She 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. Dangerous Remedy, her YA debut, was released in 2020 by Head of Zeus, followed by the sequel Monstrous Design in 2021.
Kat’s recent release, DANGEROUS REMEDY …
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.
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Kat’s critique . . .
Category: Young Adult Fantasy
TITLE is a 83,000-word YA fantasy which can be pitched as MOANA meets LEGEND OF THE SEEKER in a West African setting.
Sixteen-year-old Zahra Usman yearns to find an ancient Order with powers to resurrect her mother, but the fey underlings of the Demon King lurk outside her village walls, preying on anyone who dares to venture out. When catastrophe strikes on Harvest Day, the fey invade through a fissure in the earth and decimate Zahra’s world. Desperate to save her village and brother’s life [as well as bring back her mother? Is this an expansion of her earlier quest to find magical help?], she enlists the help of a Xorc hunter [Is Xorc a creature he hunts, or the name of the order mentioned earlier. If so, maybe name order at the start?] named Hamzah—the only person who has crossed the fey border and lived to tell the tale—to seek out the magic of his people.
With the veil between the Abyss and the land of living torn, Zahra and Hamzah have until the next full moon to seal the rift and stop the Demon King from wiping out the world [could this be clearer earlier? feels like we’ve switched from wants to bring back mother, to wants to save village from attack, to wants to stop end of the world – is the attack on harvest day the tearing of the veil? Mostly I can follow and make educated guesses but might be good to echo some language to make links clearer – eg call demon world the Abyss earlier, mention what demon king’s aim is earlier?]. But the ancient artifacts required for the ritual are locked in a realm hovering above the clouds, [I’d consider stopping the pitch here, and leave us on the cliff hanger – how will Zahra stop the demon king, save her home and bring back her mother? Is that still on her list of things she wants? You’ve mentioned it in the first line so as I read the pitch I keep waiting to find out where this goes – but we don’t hear about it again.] and they must brave cunning jinn, vicious soul eaters and dangerous humans to reach the gatekeepers. Only to fall into the Demon King’s trap, and be captured to the underworld.
They escape with the help of his stooge, but not before the Demon King imprints on Zahra, awakening a murderous rage in her. Fearing that she will sabotage the quest, Zahra fights against the Demon’s wish, causing her soul to ebb away and her new magic to get stronger. Soon, all she wants is to repay the betrayal that damned the Demon King to the underworld by spilling the blood on which his curse was sealed, the blood of a Xorc. But in that blood lies her people’s salvation and with the Demon King on the verge of escaping to earth himself, Zahra must break free of his hold on her before she makes a mistake that will doom her people forever. [I think by this para you’re telling us too much of the story, it’s getting a bit complicated to follow. You have your synopsis that’ll break down the whole plot, in the query, you just want to whet our appetite so we turn to the pages.]
My work won first-place in the 2017 Writing for Peace contest and my story was published in Dovetails, an International Journal of the Arts. I was also chosen as a Teenpit class of 2018 mentee where I worked with a professional writer to hone my skills.
I look forward to speaking to you about my work. Thank you for your time and consideration.
[I think this is a strong query over all, you write clearly and excitingly about a story with a clear hook, main character and world she occupies. I think you could cover less of the story in your pitch to keep things easier to follow. This would then give you some extra words to make sure the plot is really clear.]
My people call them ghosts. But mama says [said?] they’re not really dead.
Now she’s part of them. [one of them?]
Restless. Wandering a realm between life and death, soul trapped in the inky haze that swirls around the boundaries of our village. [this is a great start, I’m immediately curious how her mother ended up one of these people]
Their whispers drift through the midnight breeze, raising the hair on my skin. If I listen hard, I’ll hear mama’s voice amongst them—anguished and desperate to be free. But also attempting to lure me in. [How so? these feel almost too contradictory – is the anguish a trap to lure Zahra in? Or is she bait? Could this be a little clearer?]
I can’t lose my soul [unclear how going to her mother will lose her her soul?] if I want to bring her back.
I drop quietly from the window into the yard, digging my fingers into wet sand. The smell of rain lingers in the air, laden with the tang of overripe mangoes. A passing wind rustles the trees, and roosters flap their wings on the branches, hinting of the approaching dawn. [Gorgeous description that creates a clear image of the world immediately]
I press against the clay wall, blending into the darkness below the eaves to listen for warning sounds. The night is quiet. Shutters stay closed on the squat mud houses. It’s the eve of harvest festival. After weeklong toil in the fields, I don’t expect most to be awake before the sun. Let alone spot me as I slip outside. But the tattlers in my clan always have a way.
I rise up and tighten the strings of my pouch. Worn fabric holding chalk, cowrie and bone. The village will have me whipped for carrying these. But if they find out why I’m heading to the boundary in the first place, stealing from the shrine will be the least of anyone’s complaints.
This is a really strong opening. Your prose is clear and engaging, your description immediately conjures up a vivid world, and you have a hook immediately front and centre. I don’t have too much to critique! Perhaps on a prose level you could look a bit more at the balance between long and short sentences – it’s a little over staccato in places – and perhaps spend a line or so more making the ‘loser her soul’ stakes clearer. You want to balance withholding info for the sake of intrigue with giving us a cogent enough set of rules for this world that we can follow along. I don’t think it would take much, but that line was the only place I got thrown out of the narrative. Otherwise, excellent. Well done!
That was so good!!! That opening hooked me. Best of luck to you! And loved reading the critique 🙂