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Day 5 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Mini Workshops with mentors, Helene Dunbar and Victoria Lee

Thursday, 23 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 Past Mentor Helene Dunbar …

Helene Dunbar

Helene Dunbar is the author of BOOMERANG (2018), BLOOD MAKES NOISE (out fall 2019 from Sourcebooks), and PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS (Sourcebooks 2020) as well as THESE GENTLE WOUNDS (Flux, 2014), and WHAT REMAINS (Flux, 2015). Over the years, she’s worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter and exists on a steady diet of readers’ tears.

Author website | Twitter | Goodreads  | Instagram | Facebook

Helene’s First Page Critique . . .

Young Adult Historical

Chapter 1 – Satan

Northern Norway, early summer 1946

The man strolls down the dirt road in no particular hurry, and I wonder who died to put that smile on his face. [This is an evocative first line, so I think you should set it off]

     It is It’s [this is a style thing, but it’s so early in this page and I want to get to the story, so the lacking contraction slowed me down] chilly tonight, but the sky is clear. The midnight sun sets the fjord on fire and highlights the gold in the bastard’s hair. He’s casually dressed in a brown airman jacket and loose-fitted trousers that billow in the breeze. One of his hands clutches a sixpence-hat, swinging gaily in cadence with his steps. The other is tucked into his trouser pocket.[This preceding section – the descriptions – may or may not be important, but I don’t think that it’s first paragraph important. Particularly because it isn’t about your MC, so the reader has no idea why they should be interested in this.]  I don’t know if he’s armed, but who cares? He’s been drinking [how do we know that?], and that will work in my favor.[why?]

I’m well hidden among the trees lining the road. Their mid-summer foliage tangles together, creating a dense wall of green. When he passes, I follow. The rustle of the wind masks the sound of my steps. Still he must senses me, because he and turns. [Beware of your MC “knowing” things that they can’t really know. They can guess, but unless there is some special knowledge, they won’t know this.]

Peering into the thicket, he sways ever so slightly, but he keeps both feet on the ground. My heart speeds upin anticipation, I guess.[This, on the other hand, they WOULD know, and you don’t want to slow things down. As the reader, I want to know what is happening].  This is it. I would recognize him anywhere [It’s already clear that the MC knows who the man is, I would move this part up, however there is SO much description already in this page, that I would suggest going through and cutting whatever can wait until later]. The slim nose, the smug mouth, and those eyes like the northern fjords. He’s handsome in that Scandinavian way. Fair, lean, tall. Clean cut features that would be pretty on a make a woman look pretty as well[ I think you could just say that he has feminine features]. A cliché of a man, if ever there was one, but what’s not to like?[This sentence doesn’t really make sense. So far we haven’t been told ANYTHING to like, really.]

Fucking Nazi.[huh???]

He doesn’t spot me, turns up his collar, and resumes walking.

I can still feel his eyes on me, though, and as well as the stabs of the sharpened boards as the guards force us closer together. I would never have guessed so many men could fit on a truck bed. [Confused here because the “man” was walking up a road. How did they get on a truck???]

You have a nice turn of phrase, but really consider what NEEDS to be on the first page in order to hook the reader.

Also, this might be a personal thing, but I want to know more about the MC before this point. Gender? Age range? Goal. I feel a little lost.

Thank you, Helene, for your critique!

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Victoria Lee …

Victoria LeeVictoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whisky.

Victoria writes early in the morning, then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work.

Victoria is co-mentoring Adult with RF Kuang.

Mentor bio | Author website | Twitter | Instagram | FacebookGoodreads

Victoria’s Query Critique . . .

Dear Pitch Wars Mentor,

I sincerely appreciate your time, insight, and sage advice on this query. In my adult sci-fi novel set on post-fossil-fuel Earth, a renegade robotics hacker with a quirky startup risks everything when a dangerous cabal threatens her utopia. ***You don’t mention the dangerous cabal anywhere else in the query, but that feels super important. Tell us more!***

Willoy is a frustrated hacker, scratching out a modest existence in a low-level job with a powerful corporation. Desperate to escape her ugly work history and climb out of subsistence tier, she builds experimental robots from junk to create a killer product and secure a status upgrade. ***I think you can probably combine these two sentences to make one punchy sentence. For example: “Disgraced hacker Willoy [lastname]—reluctant employee of xx Corporation, building experimental robots from junk for pittance pay—has finally hit rock bottom. But…[continue into next sentence].” Or something better than that, probably, but you get the idea! The two sentences otherwise say kind of the same thing.*** When her junkbot discovers a dangerous glitch in the city’s sea barricade, she Willoy defies her boss and dispatches her latest invention to effect repairs. But instead of a promotion, she gets the boot and ends up jobless again fired.  

***Actually, you can probably ditch most of the first paragraph, since it’s backstory, and sum it up in a single sentence. For example: “Disgraced hacker and former robot-building corporate peon Willoy is untouchable. She got fired from her last job after she tried sending one of her robots to fix a dangerous glitch in the city’s sea barricade, and Willoy isn’t about to make the same mistake twice.” Then transition into talking about how she has heard about the failure in global systems, but is ignoring it because she’s focusing on her ambition, etc. Leaving my previous comments up there, though, just in case you decide not to take this route.***

No corporation will touch her, so Willoy badgers a brilliant data scientist into partnering to start a robotics company built on his future-predicting algorithms. ***this feels like the kind of detail that just muddies the waters and makes the query confusing. Although specificity is super important in a query, you want to choose only the essential details to focus on!*** The two cofounders drag junkbot across the country to pitch corporations and score a sponsor. While they scrounge for data and spare parts to transform the robot into a minimum viable product to impress backers, the data scientist detects alarming patterns in the failure of global systems. Willoy disregards the discovery, builds an army of junkbots and enlists more geniuses to get their enterprise off the ground. But when the team encounters nanobot swarms, attackers and kidnappers, she must consider whether her reckless drive will launch the company or send it over the volcano’s edge. ***We need more detail about the stakes here. What happens if the global systems fail? What is the risk if Willoy doesn’t help out instead of focusing on her company?***

My debut novel, MINIMUM VIABLE PLANET, is a 96,000 word standalone adult sci-fi thriller of 96,000 words with series potential. It features characters and themes similar to The Murderbot Diaries (Martha Wells) and Bandwidth (Eliot Peper).  ***Nice comps!***

I’m a New England-based techie with a passion for the environment. [publishing credentials removed for mentee hopeful’s privacy] ***Good bio—nice that you focused both on your writing chops as well as your academic experience that makes you well-informed to write the engineering side of the book***

***Overall, I’d focus less on the backstory and the details about junkbots and enlisted geniuses, and instead pull in more of the stakes. What happens if they fail to fix the global systems? Who is the cabal? What is at risk?***

Many thank you for your consideration.

Thank you, Victoria, for your critique!

Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting them 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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