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Day Twenty of July’s First Page Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors… Brooks Benjamin & Kara Seal

Monday, 27 July 2015  |  Posted by Nikki Roberti

B 1st page workshop

Welcome to July’s First Page Workshop with some of our past and present PitchWars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected many wonderful writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a first page for one lucky writer. The writers are anonymous. Follow along all month to view the first page critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.

Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …

Brooks Benjamin

BrooksWebsite | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads  

In sixth grade, Brooks Benjamin formed a New Kids on the Block tribute dance crew called the New Kidz. He wasn’t that good at dancing back then. But now he’s got a new crew—his wife and their dog. They live in Tennessee, where he teaches reading and writing and occasionally busts out a few dance moves. He’s still not that good at it. His first novel, MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS will be released by Delacorte/Random House on 4/12/16.


MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS finalBrooks’ first page critique …

The glare of the late November sun threatened to ruin his hot streak. As Michael spun the bumpy surface of the basketball in (his) sixteen-year-old hands, (I totally understand the need to plug the age as soon as possible, but this seems a little forced.) he adjusted his body, forcing the backboard to become a buffer for the intense light. (This is good. It shows he’s been there before, sun in his eyes, straining to stay focused.) Sweat dripped down his face, but he ignored it. He had to stick to his rhythm. He spun the ball one more time, dribbled twice and then let it fly.


Nailed it! (This is a little nit-picky, but I think it’d be stronger without this line. Just the SWISH! and then he goes right back to being focused, no distractions, no thinking, just his ritual and uber basketball instincts.) Number twenty-eight. One more to go and it would be a new personal record.

A breeze blew, cooling his face, and carrying the smell of wood smoke from the chimneys around him. He could practically taste the traditional Saturday night chili his dad was concocting in the kitchen. This last shot–then he’d head in for a huge bowl topped with cheese and saltine crackers. (This is nice, but I wonder if it’d be stronger to add in how he’s not letting distractions, even tasty chili with cheese (which now I’m craving, thanks), throw him off his game.)

Toes on the line, his ritual came without thought—spin the ball four times, dribble twice, shoot. (I really like this line. Almost enough to wonder if it (or some variation of it) would serve as a good first line, maybe. Especially this part: his ritual came without thought. That’s so good!)

Before it got close to its target, he knew it wasn’t going in.

“Damn!” (If it were me (and this is just personal preference), I’d add “Damn!” right after he shoots, before the line above, then take out the line above since it’s telling what you’re showing. He immediately knows it’s not going in, he reacts, then you show us the cause of his reaction.) The ball thudded against the backboard, and rolled toward the Moreno’s driveway. His source of distraction could be found in their backyard. (But was it a distraction? He never hinted at hearing or seeing Jenna. Maybe he’s looking for something to blame the missed shot on. But if he was actually distracted, I think we need to see that earlier on. Maybe when he’s thinking about chili…which I’m still craving.) All he had to do was follow the admittedly amazing, but at this moment annoying and loud, singing voice of his best friend, Jenna.

Michael wiped his brow on his worn, white t-shirt and opened the gate to his backyard, looking for revenge. He could have kissed his little brother–a Nerf gun lay six feet away. Perfect. (Haha! Fun! I already like where this is heading.) 

I really like the setup here. I’ve got a fairly clear understanding of what Michael wants. He’s obviously dedicated to his sport and I’m thinking he could be trying out for the team? Maybe trying to get noticed by some college scouts (maybe hinting to that in the first page or later on would be a better spot to plug Michael’s age)? Whatever it is, you’ve shown that. My suggestion here would be to make sure in every decision he makes (noticing the chili, Jenna, the sun in his eyes), keep having it reflected in this desire he has. The best way for us to connect with a character is to be able to connect with their inner-most desire, not the actions spawned from that desire. I have never seen a basketball game in my life but I still understand what Michael is going through because I can connect it with the specific wants I’ve had (and still have) to be really good at writing, editing, making people laugh, eating chili with cheese, et al.

Kara Seal

Author photoFacebook| Twitter 

Kara Seal has been penning fantastical tales since her crayon wielding days. Along the journey to writing middle grade fiction, she stumbled into a public library job working with youth, which further fueled her passion to write for kids and teens. She lives in Colorado with her husband and two dogs where her head is filled with stories and her house is full of books.



Kara’s first page critique…

Skinny: Day 738 of Weight Watchers

No. You can’t just buy two tickets. That would be easy. I like these opening lines. They grab me.

Let’s say you weigh five hundred pounds and know for a fact you can’t fit into a single seat on the plane. It doesn’t matter. One person equals one ticket. You can thank global terrorism for that one.

I watch the fat woman at the airline gate.

She’s in tears, wailing at the flight attendant. “What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to get home?”

Maybe I should tell her how it works. Two years ago, I was her. Two years ago, I weighed three hundred and thirty pounds. I was too fat to fly.

I would tell her one thing.

You can lose the weight, but you won’t get what you want.

You won’t get home.


What do you make, how do you make it, and why do you make it? I make art. I make clothes. Most people think that fashion can’t be art. Or if can, it’s the Chado Ralph Rucci exhibit locked up at The Met. Hats that are ten feet tall. Coats made of paper and used credit cards. But fashion turns each of us into our own museum. We curate ourselves at the closet door each morning. And for some people, that’s the only creative decision they ever get to make. It’s a pair of khakis and a T-shirt, but to the guy who picks them, it’s an exhibition of style. I’m confused by this paragraph; I don’t know what its purpose is or how it relates to the story. I’m not even certain yet what the story is about, so this paragraph feels very abrupt and out of place. 

This first page is successful in getting me to care about the main character. We find out a little about his/her past (I’m not certain at this point if they are male or female, other than making an assumption based on the title) but that changing herself didn’t get her what she wanted. So there’s a hint of what this story’s conflict will be about. But because this first page is so slim on the details, we don’t get much else. Why is the MC at an airport? Is the MC male or female? How old? These basic details are missing, and if I hadn’t known this was YA from the tag, I’m not sure I would’ve recognized it as such. I do like the voice that’s present, so I think you just need to flesh this out more. Give me a stronger sense of who the MC is and what her main struggle will be in the novel. I know that’s a lot to accomplish on the first page, but what you have is just so sparse it’s difficult to get much of a sense of the story. And I want to know more!


Thank you, Brooks and Kara, for your critique. Interested in more first page critiques? Come back tomorrow for our next two critiques by Pitch Wars mentors, and while you’re here, check out our June posts for our mentors’ query critiques.  And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts August 2 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening August 17.window opening August 17.

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