Monday, November 9, 2015

#PitchWars Crit: WILDERNESS

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.

Query:

Mia Belmont is strong in empathy this wording feels awkward and drawn to the damaged, but when she tries to establish a peaceful amity with her ex-friend Mercedes, her friendship with Val who is Val? begins to unravel. A reconciliation with Mercedes has the added edge of Hunter coming back into her life like a raging storm. As Mia feels the impact of his attraction, her emotions become an overwhelming tornado she may not escape. You're throwing a lot of names at us right now, without much grounding. We don't know how to feel about these characters, let alone how Mia should feel.

Val Garcia is all about protecting herself and those she loves from the hurt and pain in the world. From the poverty of her old neighborhood, the mental illness that took her mother’s life. not a complete sentence. From the two most self-centered people at Thornegate, and the one who will never love her back. Same problem. I realize what you're going for her but it's not quite working. 

On the Smoky Mountain survival trip, where did this come from? You mention it like we should know what this is - a school trip? a retreat? Val resents Mia's attempt to keep her friendships with Mercedes and Hunter alive and recruits their eager co-leader to be Mia’s love interest. But when Val and Mia disagree on who is worthy of friendship and under what circumstances, the relationship they renounce might be the one between them.

Thank you for considering my 80,000 word contemporary YA, Wilderness. It is The Breakfast Club in the Smoky Mountains with love triangles and a thriller twist and filled with diverse, multicultural characters and a dual narrative.

This query would be better served if you can find a way to use less proper names. You say it's a dual narrative but introduce four named characters. Keep the focus of the query on your narrators.

First Page:

With dual narrators you need to state who is speaking right now.

It’s an overcast day, right before the funeral. I’m on the second story floor at school, sitting on the large sill where the heating vent is, looking out the window to the grey quad below. Outside, grey clouds send down grey flurries, dusting the brick of the quad with grey powder. Everyone’s still in class, so it’s peaceful. Peaceful like death. My sharpened graphite pencil sweeps against my sketchbook in even strokes, shading the outline of the long cement bench that winds around the entire brick quad, the iced-over fountain in the center. I get that you're painting a picture here, but the repetitive use of "grey" looks like lazy writing.

On the other side of the quad is a grassy patch, now brown. The large oak tree in the center is dying. They’ve got it surrounded with yellow crime tape.

That oak tree was planted when they built the school, almost a century ago. It was supposed to symbolize strength. It’s a sad irony. The oak tree is dying because of a virus, Mercedes’ mother died of a virus.

I can’t stand all the grey. I’m sick of winter.

Blowing the graphite dust from my fingers, I choose a cerulean blue pencil so I can put some color in the sky. Add some burgundy texture to the brick. In my drawing, the oak tree will never die. Mrs. Whitman is alive, and Mercedes doesn’t hate me.

In my depiction, The Fallout never happened. Just a note here - with the capitalization of "Fallout" and the repeated use of "grey" it almost sounds like a post-apoc setting. I know "fallout" refers to the friendship evaporating, so perhaps different word choice?

I insert myself into my drawing, on a bench with Mercedes, the two of us kidding around like we used to. Me laughing at the things she used to say. Things that shouldn’t have made me laugh in the first place.

Vaguely, I’m aware of the bell. The sound of classroom doors opening and I know the kids are outside, making tracks in the fresh powder. But I keep coloring and shading, adding depth  into everything. Depth that was probably never there in the first place. In the back of my mind I know I will have to go to Thornegate All-Saints Church, find my parents and listen to a sermon. But the drawing isn’t done, and I’m not ready to say goodbye.

There is a sound of choppy footsteps coming up the stairs. There aren’t any classes up here, just a small auditorium that’s hardly ever used. Only one other person knows my secret place.
“Mia?” My best friend, Val, materializes in front of me. “I knew I’d find you here.” She tucks a strand of her jet-black hair behind her ear. “I take it you skipped class again.”

I shrug. It’s just PE.

The opening isn't bad at all, but the fact that it takes place right after a funeral, and the placement of crime scene tape around the oak tree insinuates things I don't think are true. I'd keep it simpler just by saying it has "caution" tape around it - completely different from crime scene tape.

2 comments:

KathyRYo said...

I like this so much. I feel like I learned so much from reading this critique. I'll keep up with these posts.

New reader by the way: Hello!

Mindy McGinnis said...

I hope these help! I think any writer can learn from these critiques - and hello! :)