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Day 4 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Mini Workshops with mentors, Laura Brown and Gracie West

Wednesday, 22 August 2018  |  Posted by Lisa Leoni

Welcome to our Mini Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2018 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.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor and Committee Member Laura Brown …

Laura Brown

Laura Brown lives in Massachusetts with her quirky abnormal family, consisting of her husband, young son, and two cats. Hearing loss is a big part of who she is, from her own Hard of Hearing ears, to the characters she creates. She has two books out with Avon, SIGNS OF ATTRACTION and FRIEND (WITH BENEFITS) ZONE. Her upcoming book, A PERFECT MISTAKE, will be published by Lakewater Press summer of 2019.

Laura is co-mentoring Adult with Tif Marcelo.

Mentor bio | Author website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads

Laura’s First Page Critique . . .

Adult Historical Fiction

Chapter 1

Penelope didn’t like surprises.  They were usually things like surprise phone calls from the hospital, or the police, or your mother telling you that yes, she really is moving in with her idiot boyfriend and you need to box up all your childhood memorabilia and somehow find a spot for it in your 2×2 square foot apartment. Nice opening! People who valued surprises as pleasures, Penelope knew, were among the stupidest of the human race. Not a fan of this line. Not only does it run the risk of alienating your reader in the first paragraph, but it takes me away from the rest. I think you can remove this.

Today’s bombshell was no different – (Nitpick: this should be an emdash—and it should touch both words) Penelope’s boss had sprung a public speaking engagement on her. To make things worse, her mother was late again. The first paragraph mentions bigger surprises than these, can you take a moment to let the reader feel why public speaking is bad for Penelope? I’m wanting some show, some depth into your MC. All Penelope wanted was one sympathetic face to focus on before her eyes crossed and she did something colossally stupid. Penelope glanced around the room anxiously, peering through the crowds of people and trying to unsuccessfully spot a short brunette woman in the mass of humanity. I’m confused: is she public speaking or searching for her mother or both? I got lost at the sympathetic face line. I think if you expand and grow the scene that will take care of this confusion.

There were many who answered that description, but their faces swirled together and bore no resemblance to anyone. The crowd had taken on monster-like proportions and seemed likely to steal her soul or suck her blood or laugh at her knock-off shoes. Penelope glanced down nervously. Since this is the first page, can you remove the adverb, show her being nervous. You’ve got that started with her describing the crowd. You could have her glance down and rub one foot on the other. They were very good knock-offs, at least. Haha! She hadn’t even scuffed them yet.

Penelope’s mother had promised she would be here. That meant there was at least a fifty percent chance she would actually show up, and Penelope had hoped against hope that maybe the odds were slightly higher. If Penelope is used to Mom not showing, shouldn’t she be a little more prepared? She turned away from the crowd with a small sigh, and tried to focus.

She surreptitiously another adverb. Adverbs themselves aren’t bad, but they often replace show with tell and can weigh down first pages. Remove whenever possible and only keep the ones where nothing else will work. In this case, I think you can remove the word without losing anything. wiped her sweating palms on her skirt and gave a nervous titter no one could hear. Who knew palms could actually sweat? Penelope had been sure that was just something one read in a book, but here it was, real life, and her palms looked like she had washed her hands and done a highly inadequate job of drying them. Here your voice comes out and it’s great!

“Ready, Pen?” Grinning broadly, Penelope’s boss, Ron, gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder. “You’ll do great. What’s the worst that could happen, anyway?” I’m confused as to why she’s with her boss and looking for her mother. Would mom be coming to this presentation?

“Besides thousands of irreplaceable artifacts being lost to history? Nothing, I suppose.”

The worst that could happen would be that I could give this speech to hundreds of people and they could all walk away without giving us a dime, This should be in either italics or quotes, at first I thought there was a switch to first person. Penelope thought ruefully. The non-profit, privately owned history museum-cum-archive she worked for, The Museum of All Things Known and Unknown, would be flat broke if Penelope and Ron couldn’t convince someone, anyone, to give them some real cash. Penelope was supposed to reel them in with talk of the vast historical treasures the museum held in reserve, and Ron would use her start to pump the crowd for money.

The financial situation at the museum had become so dire that Penelope hadn’t even taken a paycheck in the last month, swallowing Ron’s assurances that she would be compensated in full just as soon as some big donors came through. “They’re going to call today!” was his mantra, but it seemed as if today was more of a conceptual thing than an actual date. I’m intrigued by what is going on with her job and the museum. I’m not sure how that relates to Mom and wonder if getting right to the museum might be stronger. If Mom connects, I’d suggest giving the reader a reason why.

I know I have a lot of notes here, but I think this is a strong opening and with some tweaks could be stronger. I notice that you do not have this double spaced. If that was just for the first page, then okay, but if your entire manuscript is spaced this way, I suggest changing to double space, no additional space between paragraphs. Most agents prefer it this way, it’s easier to read and make notes.

Thank you, Laura, for your critique!

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Past Mentor Gracie West …

Gracie West
Gracie West is a card-carrying member of team INFJ. From her home in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies, she teaches high school mathematics by day and writes YA Contemporary by night. Unencumbered, cadence, and shiver are among her favorite words. A proud PitchWars 2015 alumni, she’s currently drafting her third novel.


Gracie’s Query Critique . . .

Dear Pitch Wars Blog Team,
[Whoa! Positives include amazing premise and vivid writing. But, this is a little over twice as long as it should be. It also lacks focus on the main character’s journey. In order to help pare it down, I’ve tried to leave pieces that follow the “hook/book/bio” formula intact. What’s left is a good start at answering the three key questions all good queries must address: What is the character’s goal? What obstacles are in the way of his goals? What will happen if he doesn’t accomplish his goals? What you’re left with captures the goal/obstacle/stakes cycle of his career in the comics industry. What’s missing are the obstacle/stakes elements associated with building a relationship with Dayna. The good news is that you have about 30 words left with which you can work those in.]
Bard Ross is a nerd. What else could he be when his parents named him after a character from Shakespeare? Dayna is Bard’s childhood friend and the girl of his dreams, but the only thing they have in common is their love of comic books. They read them, argue about them, and even write their own. Bard Ross only wants two things in life: a career in the comics industry, and Dayna—a childhood friend and the girl of his dreams. But Dayna has kept the truth about her family’s past a secret from everyone, even Bard.
When Bard and Dayna meet their idol, famed comic book creator Stanley Jack, he gives them more than his autograph—he gives them a riddle, and a map which leads them into the desert, to a long- buried crate hiding Jack’s unfinished masterpiece, a story years in the making which had become the stuff of legend. They return the comics to Jack, who offers them and ultimately, the internship of their dreams [Be careful! You’ve used the phrase ‘of their dreams’ twice within your query. You want to avoid repetition and cliche, so consider revising.]: write the story’s final issue, because his ailing health and legal battles with his former partners prevent him from completing his legacy.
But Stanley Jack did not tell them the whole story.
He neglected to mention the part where his characters, and now theirs, are real, thinking and feeling beings, trapped in the world created by the writers. Inside Stanley’s home is Room 4W, which contains the device sustaining the comic book characters’ lives.
In Stanley’s fictional Atlas City, the Ditch Digger has discovered the existence of Room 4W and deduced its implications. This revelation means the tragedies of his past which shaped him into a vengeful crime fighter were the fantasies of grown men trying to make money. He snaps and begins a suicidal purge of Atlas City’s criminals. His rampage sparks a more far-reaching consequence: someone else learns the truth about their world and wants out. Now, the characters Bard and Dayna’s will have to work together to stabilize the comic book world before one villain’s attempt to become real tears it apart. In the process, the Ditch Digger discovers there is more to the tragedies of his past than he ever imagined.
This is not the first time one of the comic characters has attempted to escape, and the last time had disastrous consequences for everyone involved, which is why Stanley Jack’s would-be masterpiece was buried in the desert, and why Dayna hasn’t seen her father in years.
Stanley neglected to mention that, as well.
The Sacred Seven is a completed Young Adult Fantasy Novel of 95,000 words. It pays homage to the comic books of the past but is also a look into the evolution of the genre and a challenge to the conventions of the comic industry. It features 90’s nostalgia and comic book ‘Easter eggs’ for adult readers along with characters and action sequences for a YA audience. [Great bio!]
Thank you for your time.
Thank you, Gracie, for your critique!Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting them up until the Pitch Wars submission window opens on August 27. Hope you’ll come back and read some more.

Filed: Workshops

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