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Day 23 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Ciannon Smart & Deborah Falaye

Tuesday, 17 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 Mentors, Ciannon Smart & Deborah Falaye … 

Born in a small town in the south of England, Ciannon Smart can typically be found painting abstract canvases, playing netball, or teaching herself new scores on the piano. She’s a 2017 Pitch Wars alum; her passion for writing and reading comes in handy in her part-time career working with high schools as an Educational Consultant. A lover of the fantasy genre in particular, her debut YA fantasy novel WITCHES STEEPED IN GOLD will be out early 2021 from Harper Teen US, and Hot Key Books UK. She’s represented by Taylor Haggerty of Root Literary.

Website | Twitter | Instagram

Deborah Falaye is a Nigerian-Canadian young adult author. She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, where she spent her time devouring African Literature, pestering her grandma for folktales and tricking her grandfather into watching Passions every night. When she’s not writing about fierce black girls with bad-ass magic, she can be found obsessing over all things reality tv. Deborah currently lives in Toronto with her husband and their partner-in-crime yorkie, Major. She is represented by Victoria Marini of Irene Goodman Literary.



Ciannon’s upcoming release…

A Caribbean-inspired fantasy, the novel follows two witches from enemy castes—one seeking power, and one seeking revenge—who will stop at nothing to overthrow the Witch Queen, even if it means forming an alliance with each other and unleashing chaos on their island nation.

Coming from HarperTeen in 2021.


Ciannon & Deborah’s first page critique . . .

Young Adult: Fantasy



To sneak into her room, Mmiri first needed to make it out of the aquarium and then the basement, and that was where the whirlpool came in. [Dee: the opening sounds a bit passive/telling right now. I think with more active descriptions, this could really stand out] It was a small pulsing current, her hands threading its spin. She kept it to a slow rhythm that churned from her waist downwards, caressing her legs. [Dee: love these descriptions because you’re showing instead of telling, which makes for a more active, engaging scene. Something like this is what you need with the opening line.] Its wetness avoided her skin and tights and extended like a limb into the aquarium ways behind her. [Ciannon: I love the premise of this opening. Sneaking? Mystery? Intrigue? YES. That being said, more time could be spent drawing out the concept of this task to get into her room. How is Mmiri feeling? How is her body reacting? Give us a greater sense of setting so we really feel like we’re with her, evoking a delicious tension as we root for her to do the thing]

Mmiri was confident she had it under control until her mother stirred and her alarm snipped at the single-mindedness she had used to call up the current. [Dee: I’d suggest spending more time building up this scene. Right now, we don’t know why Mmiri desperately needs to sneak into her room or why she needs to go through the whirlpool to do so] The whirlpool began to unravel, and Mmiri was hurled sideways as water flew everywhere. [Ciannon: where? This point links back to my first. A greater sense of setting, and spending time really showing us the surroundings would be great here too, including maximising on your character’s surprise at the alarm, the pain at being ‘hurled’. Dee: agree with everything C said here] Fighting to reconnect the magic, she tried to catch stray droplets before they reached the floor.  In her distracted state of sneaking past her mother and making sure she didn’t wake, Mmiri had forgotten that water magic was a fickle art that commanded most, if not all of the wielder’s attention. [Ciannon: good world building for your magic system. Dee: this is intriguing! I love the concept of water magic]

A whirlpool was supposed to be easy practise for beginners hoping to ease themselves into intermediate level; she had spent majority of yesterday practicing her form and hand techniques [Ciannon: also great world building regarding the magic system. That being said, we don’t know much about what your mc is at this point. Dee: agreed. I think showing the magic system through Mmiri’s POV would work best here. That way, we get a sense of who your character is, what her goal is, and her relationship with the magic] Successfully making it into her room using the whirlpool without alerting her mother, and right in time for the church broadcast she had been forbidden from watching was supposed to be her self-appointed rite of passage. [Dee: as a reader, I still don’t understand what your character wants, which makes the scene a bit confusing. I’d clarify on what her goal/motivation is]

And she was failing woefully at it.

Mmiri’s hands closed into fists. How was she supposed to fare at TASO [Ciannon: what’s this?] if she couldn’t even sustain a simple intermediate spell? Maybe they only admitted her because of her mother. [Dee: who’s they? Where was she admitted? I’d suggest expanding on this a bit more] It would make sense because they had accepted her human cousin as well. The school finally choosing to admit human students after its twenty year inception had little to do with it. That girl had no special abilities whatsoever if her practical and physical test scores were any indication. [Dee: there’s a lot of information here, and I don’t think any of it is really needed at this point. Focus on Mmiri and her current dilemma. This can be weaved in later] Mmiri let a bubble escape her lips. She unfurled her fists. The whirlpool was barely holding up under her weight. If she didn’t feed it any of her attention soon, it would collapse and she would suffer a nasty fall, the noise sure to wake her mother. [Ciannon: all the information in this paragraph started to lose me a little. Where’s the mum who was woken by the alarm? Could this information be executed through dialogue/showing? Dee: I agree with C. Your opening was intriguing because you had a girl with water magic trying to sneak into her room without alerting her mother. Then you sort of wandered away from that with her cousin and the school. I’d suggest cutting those, and honing in on what’s really happening to Mmiri in this scene. Show us what she wants, why she needs to get into her room, and how she uses her magic to do so. As it is right now, it’s hard to feel grounded in Mmiri and this scene.]

Thank you, Ciannon & Deborah, 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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