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Day 22 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Ren Hutchings

Sunday, 19 September 2021  |  Posted by Stephanie Scott

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:

Former Pitch Wars Mentor Ren Hutchings

Ren HutchingsRen has spent most of the past few years working in game dev while plotting twisty space books. She graduated with a BA in History before completing a year of grad school in archaeology, indulging her lifelong passion for nerding out about the past just as much as the future. She loves weird mysteries, pop science, elaborate book playlists, and pondering about alternate universes. Ren’s debut novel, Under Fortunate Stars, will be published by Solaris in May 2022.

Website | Twitter | Instagram

Ren’s upcoming release, UNDER FORTUNATE STARS

When an encounter with a time anomaly sends a scientific research vessel 152 years into the past, the outcome of a long-ago interstellar war and the ensuing peaceful alliance hangs in the balance. But after the science crew rescues a small, ramshackle hauler with some of their historical heroes on board, they discover that some of those people seem to have made very different life choices.

The two mismatched crews, including a scheming con artist, a cynical mathematics professor, a history-obsessed engineer and a disgruntled corporate administrator, suddenly hold the fate of humanity in their hands. But some of them have dark secrets of their own to protect, and getting them all to cooperate might be the most difficult part when it comes to saving the future.

Coming May 2022  Add to Goodreads

Ren’s critique

Category: Adult: Fantasy

Query:

(Title) is a dual POV and dual timeline adult fantasy complete at 85,000 words. It is ideal for fans of THE WITCH’S HEART by Genevieve Gornichec and SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik. [These are great comps, and in combination they immediately get across the vibe of your story. You can get a little more specific, though, and tell us a bit about how each comp applies, eg: “with the epic revenge quest of X and the interweaving fairytale-inspired narrative of Y.”]  

As a content warning, this book deals with miscarriage, infertility, and suicide ideation.[Adding content warnings to your query for topics like these is much appreciated! You can position the CW at the beginning of your query like this, or you can include them at the end.]

Desperate to become a mother, Olwina makes a bargain with a mischievous goddess. In exchange for a child, she will give up her daughter to the goddess’s witch convent at the age of eighteen. [This sentence construction feels a little awkward, since “a child” and “her daughter” are the same person. I suggest rephrasing this: “The goddess grants her a daughter, but Olwina must give her up to the goddess’s convent when she turns eighteen.”]

Her daughter, Rhoswen, meanwhile [delete], grows up to fall in love with a boy in the traveling troupe that passes through their village every summer. Wanting only to spend the rest of her life with him, she is determined to find a way out of her mother’s vow. [Is being with the boy the only thing she wants? I suggest: “Determined to spend the rest of her life with him, she resolves to find a way out of her mother’s vow.”] She intends to milk all she can out of the witch convent’s magical teachings to do so. [This leap to her being in the convent was a little sudden – in the previous sentence, I’d assumed that Rhoswen was trying to get out of going to the convent in the first place. I would suggest adding a sentence in this paragraph explaining how she comes to join the convent: is she snatched from her village by the witches? Does the goddess summon her? Or does Rhoswen agree to go of her own free will, intending to find a way out of the vow when she gets there?]

When their village falls prey to a mysterious illness, Olwina realizes her vow with the goddess may have cursed them all to a horrible death. [Why is this illness related to Olwina’s bargain? Can you give us a clear link between action and consequence, eg: is this happening because Rhoswen escaped from the convent, and so the vow is technically broken?] Now Rhoswen must find a way to use her newly harnessed witch powers [Can you be more specific? What can she now do? Is there a cost to her using these powers?] to reverse what her mother has done before the consequences of her bargain destroy the lives of everyone around them.

I have a degree in journalism and previously wrote and edited for the Deseret News. My book reviews, author interviews, and other articles are available to read at deseret.com. Thank you for your consideration, and I looked forward to hearing from you.

[With a dual-POV query, it works well to have a paragraph introducing each character’s stakes and conflict, and then a third paragraph showing how the two storylines come together. I suggest fleshing out the query’s first paragraph about Olwina, and giving us a little more about her side of the story. For example: does she try to hide her daughter, or intend to double-cross the goddess herself? Does she encourage Rhoswen to run away? In your final paragraph, you could also get a little more specific and slip in some worldbuilding about the witches and the magic system in your fictional universe. I’m really curious what kind of “witch powers” Rhoswen has!]

First page:

Olwina tugged her shawl tighter around her shoulders while her husband buried their baby, shoveling dirt atop her lifeless body. Beneath the yellow autumn leaves of the willow tree behind their house, his thick shoulder muscles rippled with each strike of the shovel blade, strong from his normal [delete] work in the forge. Hunched over in his labor, he looked like a great mountain, folding in on himself, still and silent in his grief. [I suggest moving this whole paragraph down, and situating it somewhere after “She wasn’t grateful,” so you can open with the close focus on Olwina herself.]

Olwina’s grief was a storm. [This is a fantastic line. I’d start here, and lead with this.] It battered her from within, trapped, rattling beneath her rib cage so her lungs burned, tattered and frayed, with every breath. With every exhale, she didn’t know if she would ever manage to breathe again.   She didn’t know if she would make it to the next breath. Or the next. [There’s already a lot of evocative language in this sentence and some of it feels a bit repetitive. I think you can cut some of this.]

Part of her didn’t want to. [Powerful and emotional line!]

Inside her house, her mother and sister were busy scrubbing away the evidence [The phrase “scrubbing away the evidence” evokes a crime scene; to avoid this, I might suggest something like “scrubbing away the aftermath”] of Olwina’s neardeath experience. It was as if a ravenous beast had come through and left only [delete] carnage in its wake. That beast was her own body, rejecting the life she’d grown within her, trying to take her down with it.

Her mother had told her ten times in the last hour [delete] that she had never seen a woman survive after losing that much blood. The sheets were soaked with it.

But here Olwina stood. Not only alive but standing. Not only standing but whole, hale and hearty as she should never have been after such an ordeal. She wasn’t grateful. [That last line is heartwrenching – it gives us a vivid introduction to Olwina’s state of mind at this stage.]

[This is an intense, emotional opening, showing two very different and contrasting expressions of grief. I think it would be strengthened if you begin with a focus on Olwina in her moment of loss – first revealing what she’s been through, what’s going through her mind and what happened. You can then shift her focus to looking at her husband and what he’s doing in the physical world (burying their child) and then introduce the striking contrast of his more stoic expression of grief. Thanks so much for sharing your work with me and with the PW blog — good luck!]

Thank you, Ren, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2021 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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