Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.
First up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentors, Sonia Hartl & Annette Christie …
Sonia Hartl is a YA writer rep’d by Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency and has been published in The Writers Post Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, and the anthology Bearing North.
Sonia and Annette’s Query Critique . . .
Seventeen-year-old Kali Ravelin wants to be a soldier like her late father, the nation’s hero [Sonia: opening with a strong sense of what the character wants is great, but I’m wondering if you can touch on why she wants this? Does she want the glory or does she feel obligated to follow in her father’s footsteps or is she trying to honor him? Why she wants this will help add a personal connection to character]. She wants to protect the defenseless from the dyfarniad—venomous, mutated beaststhat terrorize the rural villages and technologically-advanced metropolises of Redioss [Annette: great description!]. The dyfarniad left Kali orphaned, and the only thing stopping her from claiming revenge is three years of cadet training and the looming shadow her glorified father left behind. [Annette: can you clarify why these two things are stopping her from going after the dyfarniad? Is it because she isn’t strong/skilled enough? She feels guilty?]
Refusing to ride the coattails of her father’s fame, Kali forges a new persona [Sonia: what is her new persona? More specific here would help characterize her a bit more] and ships off to basic training [Annette: ooooh! I love this aspect of your main character!]. There, she discovers a plot to assassinate the army’s commanding general. She doesn’t know him. She shouldn’t get involved. But she refuses to let him die [Annette: why? Is that the choice her father would’ve made?], even though trying to save the general could reveal her identity.
Now, Kali must complete her training, conceal her parentage, and protect her budding friendship with the general, all without losing her focus. A distracted soldier is a dead soldier—and in this case, also a dead general. [Sonia: I feel like the stakes could be a bit stronger here. It’s good stakes for the general, since his life is on the line, but what are Kali’s stakes? What will happen to her personally if the general dies?]
GENESIS is a 94,000 word standalone [Sonia: Category/genre?] novel with series potential, told in multiple perspectives. With action borne of subterfuge, young female warriors, and a tremulous, dangerous world, GENESIS will appeal to fans of Ann Aguirre’s ENCLAVE, Attack on Titan, and Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES series.
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentor, Carrie Callaghan …
Carrie Callaghan is a historical fiction writer living in Maryland with her family. Her short stories have been published in multiple literary journals around the country, and she is a senior editor with the Washington Independent Review of Books. She is represented by Shannon Hassan of MarsalLyon. She loves seasons of all kinds, history, and tea. Above all, she is a reader. www.carriecallaghan.com
Carrie’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: Urban Fantasy ***Adult Language warning***
Calf-deep in the cold water, I lost my balance on the slick rocks [she is probably just standing on one rock, right? Using a singular noun helps make the image more precise], windmilling my arms [I’d consider dropping this clause – since it comes after “rock,” there’s a little ambiguity about the subject of the clause, or who is doing the windmilling. Also, I think it gives a mental image that is somewhat over-the-top. But this is the sort of question that is your call!]. Precious booze spilled across my hand and into the dark water as I caught myself. God, Tess don’t waste the wine! [This is a great opening! Deeply visual, mysterious, and character-rich. We wonder why Tess is standing in the water with booze, and why the wine is precious.]
“You son of a bitch!” I shouted up at the night sky. “You took every fucking thing I had.”
[New paragraph here.] I waved the wine bottle, as if anyone was listening. As if anyone cared. “Might as well take me too!” [ß since this line of dialogue is repeated below, I think you can delete this iteration. That would make this tighter and avoid dipping into melodrama] I took a swig of the dark red, shuddering at its dry, bitter bite. God I hated wine. But I wanted oblivion, and wine was all I had. [If there’s a reason that wine is all she has, something other than chance or economics, here would be the place to hint at it. (She uses wine for rituals? They live in a world where only wine is available?) Otherwise this deflates the interest that the first paragraph generated with regard to her need for the wine.]
Despair swamped me, suffocating as it washed over me on the heels of my anger. I staggered back to the beach, skinning my toes and probably losing a toenail on the damned wave-smoothed stones scattered across the Lake Huron lakebed. I skirted or clambered over boulders taller than a person. I turned back to the water again, the dark pine forest quiet behind me. [Nice scene-setting!]
“Why won’t you take me too?” I half-breathed, half sobbed. It [what?] was too much. I’d lost my child, watched his bright smiling face so full of life grow gaunt, his eyes become shadowed with the knowledge of things no child should know as his little body succumbed to his disease. [gut punch!]
Still lost and reeling, raw and damaged, I had stared blankly at the ER doctor who told me—only a month later—that my husband, Barrett, hadn’t survived the car wreck.
He had held me together after our son died—tenuously but with some semblance of hope—then he was gone too.
Tonight, I had arrived home from my part-time job, exhausted from wearing the mask I wore around normal people. And found my dog dead in my living room.
It was the absolute last fucking straw. [It’s interesting that her response seems to be anger, more than despair, in the face of all this tragedy. I would probably be a mushy mess, so I’m interested to learn more about this woman.]
I took another swig of the wine, cursing when I realized it was the last mouthful. I stared out at the cold depths of the lake that had swallowed so many sailors and tried to convince myself that drowning would be less painful than living.
As if in protest to my thoughts, a chill wind kicked up, rustling the branches of the watching trees, making them creak and groan, tangling its icy fingers in my hair.
Goosebumps sprang up on my arms, bared in my thin T-shirt. I should have dressed warmer—but hey, I wanted to travel light on my journey to the afterlife.
I wiped my blurry, swollen eyes and heaved a massive sigh. Turning, I took a few steps away [ß These two things aren’t happening simultaneously; she’s not turning while taking a few steps away. This should read sequentially: I turned, then took a few steps …] from the water, toward the wooded path that led back to the house, back toward what little life and sanity I had left. The breeze hadn’t quit. The hair on the back of my neck prickled and it felt as though something was crawling over my skin—like the first hints of energy preceding a lightning strike.
“What the hell…?”
A dark shape broke free from the shadows and hit me square in the chest. I rolled across the gritty sand, screaming, sobbing.
Dear writer: Thank you so much for sharing this very intriguing introduction to your story! Your writing is strong and the last sentence really makes me wish I had more to read here. Nice work!
As for feedback, I have a couple of initial thoughts for you.
First, big picture stuff. I’m wondering if this is the right place to start the story. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for Tess to be wandering out in the water. The text hints at a suicide attempt, but then she turns to walk back to what remains of her life and sanity. Most of the words here are explaining some back story, which bogs down the tension. The language itself is beautiful, but I wonder if you can disseminate the information more gradually. Maybe do it by channeling the way Tess thinks – “’Barrett and [son’s name],’ she whispered, then sobbed. She couldn’t venture any deeper into her pain.” (That’s a lame example, but you see what I mean.) What if the story started when she walks, grief-stricken, into her home, and then finds her dog dead. (I’m hoping the dog died in a mysterious fashion, and all these deaths are related to the fantasy element of the story. If not, then maybe having a dead dog is flirting with overdoing it.)
Second, writing-level stuff. As I said, most of the writing is lovely and vivid. You might want to consider taking a look at the sentence structures like this one: “I staggered back to the beach, skinning my toes and probably losing a toenail …” The first clause is a nice declarative sentence, but the second clause starts with a continuing present tense verb without a clear subject. Yes, we can infer that it was Tess who skinned her toes, but the noun most immediately preceding the comma announcing the second clause is “beach,” so the reader’s mind will want to say that the beach skinned its toes. We know the beach didn’t do so, obviously, but that kind of bump in the reading can pull someone out of the story. This structure isn’t actually wrong, but your style will sound even more polished if you watch out for this kind of stuff.
Keep up the wonderful work! It sounds like you have a great story here.
Thank you, Carrie, Sonia, and Annette, for your critiques!
Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2nd.