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, Brenda Drake …
Brenda Drake is the New York Times bestselling author of the Library Jumpers series, the Fated series, THUNDERSTRUCK, and ANALIESE RISING, and she’s the founder of Pitch Wars and #PitMad. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).
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Brenda’s first page critique . . .
Middle Grade: Science Fiction
It started with tacos. Doesn’t it always? [Love this opening! Makes me want to read on and find out what started with tacos.]
Henry almost never stayed after school. But today Lucy was begging. “Come on, Henry. Just this once.”
“School’s long enough already, Lu,” he said. “You’re supposed to hate middle school, not want to stay extra.”
Lucy tossed a book in her locker. “Your security picking you up?”
“Naw. Full-blown babysitting doesn’t start till next week.”
Lucy nodded [Can you make this action tag better? Something that reveals her character?]. “Which means you just need to text your mom and you could stay.”
“Except that I don’t want to go to Spanish club. I already speak Spanish.”
“Right,” she said. “That’s why I need you there. Today.”
“Because why?” Henry asked.
[This dialogue exchange is great, but I can’t get a visual on what Lu and Henry look like or where they are in the school. There’s no atmosphere—sounds, scents, visuals—to ground the reader in the setting. Tiny details about your characters and the setting can do a lot to bring it alive for the reader. Mix some action tags and introspection between the dialogues. And make it funny like that first line!]
Lucy sighed. [You’re missing an opportunity to show us how she sighs instead of telling us she sighs. Does she sigh dramatically or is she frustrated or sad? Or show us something unique about her personality here. I’d rework this to show us this or another action instead.] “Some kid moved in. I just thought it’d be cool if you could help me talk to him.”
Henry tried to give Lucy a hard stare, but she refused eye contact. Henry had seen the new kid in homeroom. He’d just moved from Chile. Thin, dark, intriguing [Would a middle schooler use intriguing to describe someone? The voice feels off to me. Too old. You may want to change words to ones a middle grader would use, or maybe start out by letting the reader know why Henry speaks this way.]. Everything Henry wasn’t.
“Come on,” Lucy said, twisting her long, black hair into a clip. “What’s the use of having a language genius [Oh, here it is. Maybe bring this in before Henry starts using words like “intriguing.” Set up the reader to know and understand your main character up front. This is only the first page, so it could work. But I’d still let the reader know sooner rather than later about Henry’s language skill.] as your friend if he won’t even help you talk to a guy?”
Henry wrinkled his nose. Having Lu for his best friend was usually pretty cool, but not when he got stuck doing dumb wing-girl stuff. “So, if I do this for you, are we gonna get matching BFF necklaces or something?” [I can’t get a handle on the personalities of your characters. Show us who they are by their actions along with their dialogue. Also, I’d give Henry more introspection and visceral responses to this exchange. At the start, I wasn’t sure which one was the main character. Also, your wonderful first line doesn’t deliver. There’s no mention to how it started with tacos. There should be an explanation right after that first line to make it more powerful and hold meaning. What started with tacos? Have Henry remember or have it mentioned by Lucy right away. Are you starting the story in the right spot? Do they need to be in school or can they be where it started with tacos? Just my thoughts. You can disagree if you want. Remember, this is your story, so only take the suggestions you feel resonate with you. Good luck!}