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, Jennifer L. Brown
Jennifer L. Brown writes middle grade novels about awesome kids having adventures. When not writing in coffee shops around NYC, you might catch her performing in plays or flirting with bankruptcy at a local bookstore. She has strong opinions about the oxford comma, musical theatre, and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Jennifer is a proud member of the Pitch Wars mentee class of 2017, and her writing is represented by Alyssa Jennette at Stonesong Literary.
Jennifer’s first page critique . . .
Middle Grade: Speculative Fiction
Pop’s home from the mine way too early. Afternoon sun’s still hanging high in the sky. Billows of rusty dust follow his worn leather boots up the front steps. He brushes off his coveralls in one last attempt to remove the dust that never leaves. I stop my search for a four-leaf clover among the blades of grass on the front lawn when Mom pushes the screen door open. [Nice voice! Very evocative already!]
There’s surprise in her voice] [I would cut this line. There is enough surprise in the dialogue and the ellipsis] “Why Tad, what brings you . . .”
I guess she stops ‘cus she sees the look in his eyes. In a hushed tone, as quiet as I’ve ever heard Pop speak, all mixed up with the songs of the blue jays out back and the buzzing lawn mower of our neighbor Mr. Walters, I make out the whisper, “It’ll be okay, Faye.[”]
[I’d add a physical reaction from Annabel here so we get some insight into her emotional state. Is she confused? Curious? Worried? Something else? And how does she show it in her body?]
“Annabel, why don’t you head across the street and check on your sister?” Mom’s the strongest women I know. [Show us how Mom is being strong in this moment rather than telling us she is. Or cut the line. Mom’s strength might not be important to know on page 1. Save it for later and focus on Annabel/the mystery of why Dad’s home so early] And if she hadn’t just used my full, given name I would have thought everything was going to be okay. [Tiny thing but full given name to me means first and last. If Annabel goes by a nickname normally, you can add that to clarify].
I cross the street, hoping to find Autumn swinging from the rings of the metal swing set.
Hoping whispers between parents aren’t really something to worry about.
Hoping full, given names don’t really mean trouble. [Particularly since this story is speculative, I’m not sure what trouble means. Is it a “normal” trouble like Dad losing his job or did everyone in the mine come down with some sort of magical virus? Some more grounding in the world would be helpful.]
We’ve got the best “across the street” in all of the Eighth-Addition. In fact, in all of the town. Maybe even in all of Marquette County. If anything can make everything okay, this place can. It’s crazy that they call it The Winter Sports Area; the best time to be here is in the summer.
[Your voice is great! There is clearly something afoot, which is awesome for page 1. In terms of world building, a lot of the descriptive details you mention are super of this world: swing sets, 4-leaf clovers, lawn mowers, etc. This story is speculative, which means in all likelihood your world shouldn’t look/feel/smell etc. like our world as we know it. Since I don’t have the query, I am not sure about what kind of speculative story you’re telling, so it might be okay not incorporate these details, particularly if the speculative element of the world gets introduced later in a dramatic way. For example, if aliens land out of the blue on page 15, then you’re okay (even in that case, some foreshadowing might be nice). However, if the speculative elements of the world are present from the get-go, I’d pepper in some details on page one. For example, if we’re in the future or a different version of the present (the present with a magical twist, the present but a big event in the past never happened, the present but everyone believes in ghosts, etc.), I’d want to have at least an inkling of that by now. Thanks for submitting!]