Day 20 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & First Page Workshop with mentors, RuthAnne Snow and Hayley Stone
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, RuthAnne Snow . . .
RuthAnne Snow was born and raised in Kaysville, Utah. She was a sorority girl in college and social activities director in law school—which was a lot like being back in the sorority. She has interned for the U.S. Senate, worked on policy papers for Congress and the State Department, and once spent a year sorting through emails looking for fraud. It wasn’t nearly as fun as writing fiction. She loves travel, dogs, horror movies, and baking.
RuthAnne’s Query Critique . . .
Devastated by the murder of her stillborn son [this is unnecessarily confusing for a first line – I would strike “stillborn,” the scenario will be made clear in your pages], 19-year-old Princess Lysarra Aphaterrin is hell bent on revenge against the High Priestess who killed him, and whose curse has taken over the kingdom of Nezaria. But the High Priestess’s dark magic and royal guards are coming for Lysarra next, so the princess flees for her life.
Lysarra’s misfortune delivers her straight into the muscled, blade-carrying arms of mercenary Noam Azarthius [this may be personal preference, but I would leave off the last names in a query, especially in a fantasy query where the names are already unfamiliar and cause a break in the flow of reading] amid a dark, sinister forest. The man swears he was sent by Lysarra’s beloved sister, but can she truly trust the handsome stranger? [You have a lot of adjectives here – in two sentences, we’ve got “muscled, blade-carrying,” “mercenary,” “dark, sinister,” “beloved” and “handsome.” Your flow isn’t bad, so take this piece of advice with a grain of salt, but I’d cut a few and give the remaining descriptors more impact.] Then, in a remote village, they meet a renegade witch crone with an astonishing claim: there is a way to reverse the High Priestess’ curse and free Lysarra’s kingdom.
Lysarra’s plans for escape are shattered in the face of icy vengeance. [I have mixed feelings about this line. I get that you want the icy/fiery comparison later, but I don’t think it works. You told the reader in the first sentence that Lysarra wanted revenge, but had to run before she could get it. Now we’re back to the revenge, but it doesn’t feel like a turning point because we already knew that was her first goal. And is “shattered” the right word, when Lysarra is getting a chance at the thing she wanted most of all to begin with?] As they race to save the cursed land, her feelings for Noam grow from suspicious distrust to a fiery passion unlike anything she’s ever known. But will Noam still want her when he learns her most intimate secret – that of her lost child? Putting her trust in him means forgiving herself for the tragedies of her past, and time is running out. Lysarra will stop at nothing to defeat the High Priestess, lest she and her people be doomed forever.
To save Nezaria –to save herself– Lysarra must become a reckoning.
Lysarra must rise.
[Your writing is great, but I think you need to drill down on more specifics to entice an agent to read more/request pages.
- What are the stakes for Lysarra regarding her people and the curse? She wants to defeat the High Priestess, but what obstacles are in her way? “Become a reckoning”/”must rise” are great lines, but they don’t really tell me what your story is about. She wanted revenge, but she had to run to save herself. Now there’s a way for her to reverse the curse, so what is currently preventing her from doing so?
- The romantic stakes are clearer—she’s falling for Noam but she doesn’t trust him—but if this is fundamentally a fantasy novel with strong romantic elements, be careful that your romance doesn’t outshine your fantasy. Right now, this reads more like a romance-with-fantasy-elements to me, which is fine but only if that’s what your book is. And if the two elements do tie together more (Lysarra’s need to free her kingdom and avenge her son/Lysarra’s growing feelings for Noam), I am not getting that from your query at the moment.
Query writing is super hard—an art unto itself, in my opinion—so please don’t let my critique discourage you! But I would focus on the stakes, and it helps to think of it almost like a formula: “When X, Character must Z or Y.” You’ve got “X” (“When Lysarra finds out there is a way to avenge her murdered son and free her people from a magic curse,”) so ask yourself to finish the sentence out loud (“she must…”). Once you’ve got the sentence down, you have a super simple way to explain your stakes to the query reader.]
TITLE UNDECIDED is an adult fantasy with strong romantic elements, complete at 94,000 words. It would appeal to fans of V.E. Schwab’s A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, and Sarah J. Maas’ A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES series.
I received my B.A. in Communication and Theatre from Trinity University, and work as a marketing copywriter. Thank you for your time and consideration. [Very professional ending.]
Next up we have …
Pitch Wars mentor, Hayley Stone . . .
Hayley Stone has lived her entire life in sunny California, where the weather is usually perfect and nothing as exciting as a robot apocalypse ever happens. When not reading or writing, she freelances as an editor and graphic designer, falls in love with video game characters, and analyzes buildings for velociraptor entry points. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in German from California State University, Sacramento.
Her debut novel, MACHINATIONS, released from Hydra/Random House and was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Sci-fi and Fantasy Books of 2016. She loves interacting with fellow readers and writers on Twitter (@hayley_stone).
Hayley’s First Page Critique . . .
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
GENRE: New Adult Romance
Oh God, they’re gonna kill me.
Or at the very least, revoke my “Girl-can-do-it-all” membership card. (I suggest cutting this line. It undermines the tension of the phrase “they’re gonna kill me” since it implies a far less serious punishment.)
The glowing blue numbers of the taxi’s dashboard clock mocked me. (This would make for a better opening line as it provokes questions while also cluing the reader into the scene’s setting.) 7:31pm. Late again for the fourth time this month.
Shit, shit, shit! (I would cut this exclamation, and substitute in the “Oh God” line as a thought. No need to belabor the obvious.)
I shifted back and forth in my seat as the taxi shot across two lanes of traffic. Horns blared around us before he screeched to a skidding halt in front of my destination, Sunday night dinner with my roommates at Luminescence. (Being late to a dinner with roommates hardly seems like or death, unless there are already issues within the friend group. If that’s not the case, I recommend taking a hard look at your stakes. Are they high enough?) Fare paid, I slung the strap of my messenger bag over my shoulder, leapt out of the back of the cab and darted through the throngs of people hustling up and down the Manhattan sidewalk. The entrance loomed mere steps away and I quickened my pace. (There’s great movement in this paragraph, aided by a lot of action verbs. That sense of forward momentum does a good job of confirming the protagonist’s panic. My one recommendation would be to consider taking advantage of line breaks to further increase the sense of chaos and speed up the pace.)
“Unph.” (This one be another good spot for a line break. It emphasizes the interruption.) I plowed right into a towering wall of hard muscle, my body buckling with the force of impact. Half way to the ground a firm grasp wrapped around my elbow, pulling me back to firm footing (strange wording in this sentence; simplify and rephrase). Twisting toward him, my eyes landed on the dimpled grin of an insanely attractive guy somewhere near my twenty-five years. I was paying attention now.
“Thanks. Sorry. I, uh-” Oh wow, what blue eyes. (I feel like this should be italicized as a thought.)
“No problem.” His voice drizzled over me like honey on a summer day, warm and smooth. Made me forget why I was even going into the restaurant.
I blinked up at him. Nope. Your friends are waiting. Keep moving girl. (Again, I’m wondering if this would be better italicized instead of included as further narration. As it reads now, it feels more stream of consciousness. This is more of a stylistic decision, but it’s something to keep in mind.)
I rushed in front of him as he entered the revolving door, lodging us in the same tight space. My balance faltered and the door stopped rotating, his hard chest smacking into my back.
“My turn to apologize this time.” The deep voice laced with a hint of laughter (find a different spot to mention his voice laced with laughter; it bogs the sentence down at the moment) rumbled through me, prickling my skin. I sucked in a deep breath to calm myself, taking in the woodsy citrus scent of his cologne, too. (Nice sensory detail!) Damn, he smelled so good. I could have stayed in that tight spot surrounded in the buzzing awareness of sensual masculinity and died a happy woman. (“Buzzing awareness of sensual masculinity” is a mouthful. Be careful about overdescribing.)
“Here, let me.” (There’s a distinct lack of dialogue tags in this opening scene. It’s usually best to have a balance of both action and dialogue tags.) He pressed further into my back. Heat enveloped me, shooting a spark up my spine. His hand brushed past my forearm, pushing against the glass. The door panel lurched forward and I stumbled, clutching the metal bar in front of me just in time.
By the time our rotation gave way to the lobby and broke then tension (watch that you’re not telling when you should be showing), my wits started gathering back up again (this is clunky; consider instead “I was starting to get my wits together.”).
I drew in another breath, straightened my shoulders and met his eyes. Oh. Wow. Eyes like warm blue-green Caribbean waters sparkled at me. (She’s already mentioned his eyes, so this reads as somewhat repetitive, though the description here is more effective. Consider describing some other aspect.)
“I, uh. Thanks.” Jesus. My face flamed crimson. Get it together, Ali.
“The pleasure was all mine.” (Line break here.) Good god. His silky voice set me on fire, tendrils of heat shooting from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I had to get out of there. I smiled up at him, spun on my heel, and fled.
An opening scene needs to do a couple things: establish a main character and setting, introduce a conflict, and set the tone of the story. This opening succeeds in setting a fun, light tone, while also using the restaurant setting (specifically, the rotating door) to great narrative effect. However, I didn’t get a good sense of the main character—who is she? What does she want besides getting to the restaurant on time? Why is that so crucial? Is her reputation as a superwoman on the line? Why should that matter among friends?
This may seem like a lot of questions, but a few of them should be answered right off the bat, or at least hinted at. I need to know more in order to care. As it stands, the stakes simply aren’t there, and as such the story isn’t drawing me in as a reader. With that said, I do think you’re on the right track with the chemistry between your leads, and have done a good job of introducing the love interest quickly.
Good luck with your writing!
Thank you, RuthAnne and Hayley, 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 2nd.