Wednesday, October 14, 2015

#PitchWars Critique: WHAT WE HAVE LEFT

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.


Sixteen-year-old Lilás survived an alien attack and a devastating world war. Her reward? The world government placed her in a strictly controlled orphan town, where they plan to wipe out her emotions, just to see if they can. I was with you right up until that last statement. Just to see if they can? That doesn't work - all characters, good and bad, have to have clear cut motivations for their actions.

Sixteen-year-old Lilás age already stated has heard that the people who go to the town’s clinic come out different. When her friend goes there, and comes out repetitive statement ice-cold and ready to kill the children who threaten the current peace, Lilás is determined to never enter. But in their town of? Sorrow, where there are soldiers at every gate, she has little options. awkward phrasing. Either "no options" or "little choice." Her only hope of escaping is joining the cold-eyed Ace in her carefully calculated plan, which includes three other orphans and a rogue soldier. Is Ace the aforementioned friend? Clarify.

Survival turns deadly when they end up in outlaw territory, and one of Lilás’ companions is willing to sacrifice the rest to known rapists and murderers in order to save himself. Even if Lilás manages to make it to safety away from the outlaws,  Ace’s plans can lead them all to their deaths. Lilás must now determine how much death she can stand to cause for the sake of her own survival. I think we need to know more about Ace's plans and the overall goal here. Are the rebelling, or just escaping? Attacking the town, or simply putting distance between them?

WHAT WE HAVE LEFT is a 90,000-word young adult dystopian science fiction novel with LGBT characters, told from multiple viewpoints. It is a standalone with series potential. Thank you for your time and consideration.

First page:


The biggest lie in history was peace, the biggest joke on those who hoped. Now there’s only Sorrow left. Good opener.

The words Word or words? The actual word sorrow? were everywhere in their town, Sorrow. They were painted on the houses, scribbled onto the desks, murmured amongst the orphans before bed, cut into the correction facility’s walls with pocket knifes.

Lilás traced the words on the wall with her finger while waiting outside of school. There was one large street in Sorrow, cutting the town in half, leading from the main entrance of the school down to the main entrance of the town. You could easily watch over the whole length of the street from the school doors. People moved slowly in Sorrow, dragging their feet, most of them with empty eyes. The town was supposed to be like a large orphanage, one of many after the wars. They said the majority of the residents were children, but the truth was that no one was a child in Sorrow.

Lilás felt trapped whenever she looked out over the town. Everything was so silent and lifeless, and she couldn’t leave. At night, she couldn’t breathe in her windowless room, the walls slowly closing in on her. She wouldn’t go to sleep some nights, afraid the air would run out when her eyes were closed.

She needed to get out of Sorrow. Preferably without being shot by one of the soldiers standing guard at the town gates.

From her position, Lilás spotted Natalie walking down the street, alone. She put out her cigarette, and made it over to her. In this sentence "it" is referring back to the last noun, which is the cigarette. I know you're indicating movement, but it's slightly confusing. The street edged with small shops with some abandoned buildings between them that posed as a reminder of how many had died. Again, possible misinterpretation due to phrasing - can be read not as the number of people that died, but rather the manner in which they did. The square houses for the orphans were set up in straight lines behind the shops, all equally dark and dull.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Tina grabbed her arm, stopping her in her tracks. Lilás turned her hands into fists, reminding herself of the punishment of punching an adult in the face. “You should be at the clinic together with the rest of your class.” Tina put her hands on her hips. She was one of the handlers assigned to the trouble children, and had been Lilás’ handler until she’d convinced the town officials she was perfectly calm and normal. Tina had never bought it, but she’d let her go anyway, happy with one less responsibility.  

Your query needs tightening and focus on whatever the main plot point of the story is, but overall it's well written. Your first page has some great phrasing and a fantastic opening line, but you need to watch out for echoes (high lighted) and possibly misconstrued phrasing. Overall this is quite good, but the genre itself may be working against you.

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