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 Mentor Judi Lauren …
Judi is a copy editor and editorial assistant to Lydia Sharp at Entangled Publishing. She also works as a freelance editor and proofreader. Even though she became an official “adult” five years ago, she’s still drawn to writing realistic books for teens that explore a darker side to the teenage years. She has an unnatural obsession with Chicago, Dean Winchester, and Friends (the TV show).You can connect with her on Twitter, @Judi_Lauren or at her website www.judilauren.com.
Judi’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: YA
When your mom is a walking lie detector, you master the art of withholding the truth. [I LOVE this opening line]
Sitting under a shady oak, I grab the closest sack full of herbs and tie it tightly with a twine. A little too tightly. Applying unnecessary force feels [“feels” is a telling word. Something simple like “is” would work] cathartic. Mom’s got to stop canceling my plans every time a high [What is a high holiday? I’m assuming they’re different from standard holidays] holiday rolls around. There are eight of them! My social life won’t survive it. [“won’t survive it” implies that her celebrating these holidays is something she just started. If it isn’t, then I recommend something clearer like “My social life is barely surviving because of it.”] Midsummer—Litha, as witches call it—may be in a few days, but Rick’s graduation party is tonight. Mom knew I’d be missing it when she sent me on a three-day plant harvesting trip to Gram’s cabin in The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, Poconos.
That’s why tonight I’ll drive back to Chornohora and attend Rick’s party against her wishes. If she finds out, the worst she can do is make me work overtime at her pagan supply store. I practically live there already, so what’s a few more hours?
Binding the sacks together, I hoist them onto my right shoulder, two in the front and two in the back for a perfect balance. My phone vibrates in my jeans pocket. I fish it out with my free hand and read the text message from my buddy Tommy: Rick’s confirmed it. Sam will be there tonight. I grin and reply with a smiley face.
Samantha Lawrence is the reason I’m breaking the rules today. As far as I’m concerned, she’s worth the risk. Day one of senior year’s French class, when Sam waltzed over and sat in the chair next to mine, I knew [I would remove “I knew” because it’s telling and the sentence is punchier without it] I was a goner. She threw her long, honey-blond hair over her shoulder and said, “Bonjour.” I’m pretty sure time stopped for a while.
Paul’s coming too. You better not be late, man, [I suggest using this text to introduce the hero’s name, instead of saying “man”] Tommy’s second text says.
My jaw tightens. Paul Carter, that filthy-rich, self-absorbed, gym-dwelling, and hair-gelling moron. He’s got muscles to make Schwarzenegger jealous, a wallet full of cards with six digit limits, and zero brain cells. Naturally, girls fall at his feet. When Sam didn’t, he got interested. [Then why didn’t our hero make his move? Why wait until after graduation? Until after Paul’s making progress?]
I haven’t seen Sam since graduation, with my crazy work schedule and all. Rumor has it Paul’s been making progress in my absence. But tonight, I’ll change his luck. [I recommend stopping the paragraph here. The following sentence is redundant and the paragraph reads stronger without it] And if I incur Mom’s wrath in the process, so be it.
Tucking my phone into my backpack, I head out of the oak grove. White clouds drift across clear skies, and warm summer wind hisses between the rocks. It’s a beautiful day that promises a perfect night for a party.
In the first clearing, the wind snatches my baseball cap and hurls it into the thorny brush. Crap. With a grunt, I place [Maybe use a more vivid verb than “place”] the sacks on the ground and climb into the prickly bushes to get my stupid hat. Then I freeze. Swaying in the breeze beside my worn blue baseball cap are tiny scarlet flowers with fuzzy purple leaves that resemble the wings of a Phoenix. I’ve only ever seen drawings of this flower, but the distinct shape of its leaves can never be confused for any other. [You have an intriguing beginning and a main character with a problem that a lot of people can relate to. The voice is fun and appropriate for YA–great job!]
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Destiny Cole …
Destiny Cole is a YA writer, lover of books, and unapologetic fangirl. She also works in digital marketing and social media.
She writes YA books because she’ll never forget the process she went through to discover who she was, what her passions were (outside of kissing cute boys), and what she wanted to do with her life. A process that she repeated over and over because that’s the great thing about being young: It’s “coming-of-age” not “and then one day she became an adult.”
She did indeed eventually grow up (sort of) and have lived a pretty full life so far! She married a cute Belgian and moved to Europe for almost five years; she’s traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East, even living on the tiny island of Cyprus (near Turkey) for six months; She’s written for economic publications and non-profits and airline schools; and let’s not forget her trilogy… kid trilogy that is! She has three fabulous little blondies and the greatest dog on the planet.
Her writing is represented by Kirsten Carleton at Prospect Agency.
Destiny’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Young Adult
GENRE: Science Fiction
My best friend Alex looked back at me, wiggled his cocoa dark brown eyebrows [try to stay away from food descriptors] and kept his inner bubba in check. [How does she know this from an eyebrow wiggle? And also, I’m from Texas and Bubba isn’t an aggressive person. He’s a good ol’ boy who likes guns and is the most fun to go out and drink beer with. Maybe consider using a different descriptor?] The wiggle was a necessary distraction. It kept him from going ballistic and me from crying. We’d both heard what the two girls whispered about me as we inched along down the school bus aisle. [So far, the previous sentences don’t set up the tense mood of the scene. Turning and wiggling eyebrows immediately makes you think a joke, and ‘inner bubba’ doesn’t seem to immediately evoke an angry guy trying to hold his temper. I think him squeezing her hand and shooting a dirty look at the girls would set the mood of the scene a bit more and tighten up the paragraph.]
The two junior girls—bitches—repeated their taunt [Consider cushioning the ‘bitches’ line because as is, it’s a little jarring. Maybe “snarky little bitches” something to make it a little less jarring and a lot more voicey]. Louder. [We need more voice here at the beginning of this sentence and a bit closer POV. “If I’m being honest with myself, it’s hardly…] Hardly the worst thing they’ve ever said, but they continued with another dig about my pale skin being icy blue and me being frigid [Teens don’t normally say frigid. Find another descriptor that gives the same connotation but a little more updated]. Followed by tittering. Every kid already seated lifted their heads in unison. I couldn’t bear the unblinking mass of curious eyes, and instead focused on the back of Alex’s head, willing him to turn look back again while I blocked out the snickering.
He did and gave me another eyebrow wiggle. Okay, that one was a bit over the top. I knew Alex was struggling to keep his cool. His dancing eyebrows didn’t match his tight lips and clenched jaw. He flashed me a smile, a phony one for sure, but with good intentions. [There’s a little too much facial action happening on the page and not enough insight into the internal emotions she’s grappling with. We need more emotional grounding. The way the looks make her feel, her physical reaction to the humiliation. We need this scene centered more on her.] I matched it with a forced upturning of the corners of my own mouth. Some moron farted loudly and all the attention on me switched to him.[We need to see her visible relief at this.] We took our seats and Alex visibly relaxed [So we see Alex’s, but not hers.]. I stared past him out the grimy window, letting my facial muscles drop the smile in millimeters while he searched for a particular song to listen to. [Again, we have a physical action with no internal reason for it. We need to feel what she’s feeling.] A few snowflakes started falling as the bus pulled away from our high school [Do these snowflakes evoke a feeling? Great place for a simile right here].
Sweet Alex. He was devotedly protective of me, had been since we were seven, but we were just friends. No racing heart or sweaty palms, at least not on my part. And not that I’d want there to be. Not with Alex. Only in books and teen movies did the girl end up with the dork-turned-dream-guy who had been right there under her nose all along. [This paragraph feels very telling, especially since he didn’t actually do anything to protect her besides some eyebrow wiggles, which is concern, not protection. Consider deleting most of this section and folding it into the narrative in more natural ways.]
He cleared his throat. “So … how about we pray for a snow day tomorrow, Selina? Or would you prefer an alien abduction?” His voice was deep, smooth and low, rich as hot chocolate made with cream—a singer’s voice. [Love this! Great visual.] The tone and silly questions meant he was calm again. [Unnecessary and telling]
I considered the options carefully. I rarely spoke in the close quarters of the bus [Why not? Give a short reason, even if you describe it before. Just a short half-sentence can remind the reader], but I thought of a clever answer and knew Alex would appreciate it. “Stand by, snow storm. Cue clouds.”
The girls across the aisle started giggling, then whispering. Crap, they heard my stage directions. Stupid habit. [Telling. The giggling and the whispering alone would make us know why she’s embarrassed. You can even refer to the “And THIS is why I never talk on the bus…” to tie in the previous paragraph.] Kill me now.
The bus rumbled over a speed bump and the seat ahead punished me with a smack to my knees … well, I definitely deserved that.
I nodded and Alex handed me an earbud. “Good. I’ll cancel the aliens then, and we’ll pray for snow.” [This is good. You can definitely feel their playful bond.]
I’m already loving the friend dynamic you have going on with Alex and Selina as it immediately evokes such an easy-going life-long friendship vibe that’s not always easy to capture, so bravo! What you need to watch for here is getting too technical and not enough in your character’s head. It can’t read too much like a screenplay giving cues to the actor, it needs to be more emotional and the words need to tug at you—especially in a situation like this on the bus when so many readers know what it’s like to be the center of a bullying ring. Pull us into her head more and you’ll whip this scene into shape easy-peasy!
Thank you, Judi and Destiny, 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 2.