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.
Only the Godless may live while the rest of the world burns, but seventeen-year-old Ella Shepard refuses to let hope burn with it.
After the God war anyone left believing in a deity was branded a Witch and banished from the city Sanctuary. possibly vague wording here -- is the city named Sanctuary, or is there a sanctuary within the city? Paranoid the Witches Again, confusion - is Paranoid the name of a group? are planning a revolt against who? , Chief Pierceson Is this a government leader? A police enforcer? sends his army of Crusaders to kill and burn anyone found outside the city, except the children. Anyone under seventeen is brainwashed and turned into his army of Crusaders, a punishment worse than death. But why banish them if they were going to kill them in the first place? Now they have to hunt them down...
Born outside the city, Ella spends her life running and hiding from the Crusaders, but she’s always had her family by her side. When the soulless like actually soulless? or just really mean people? army kills her parents and takes her younger sister to turn into a heartless killer like them, she will have to decide: follow her family’s original plan to find an underground city of safety or go to the one place she promised to never enter to save her sister’s soul before it’s too late. You need a question mark here. And we need to know more about the soul issue. Are the Crusaders truly and actually soulless? Or is this more a metaphorical statement?
Along the way, a fire-scarred Crusader saves her life making her question everything her parents told her about the merciless soldiers. A boy with a hero complex is this the same person as the Crusader? decides he’s going to protect her, even if she doesn’t want it. And Ella will face her inner demons, discovering how easy it is to turn into the very people she hates. We need to know more about that - sounds like there's an inner conflict at work here too, but it's just tossed on at the end.
Tina and I sneak out of the dilapidated that's a big word to toss out in the first sentence cottage as the sun begins to rise, making our way to the river where I can work on Tina’s fighting skills without our parents’ knowledge. Against my better judgment, I wear the white dress Mom made for my birthday. Yeah that seems flat out silly - 1) fighting in a dress 2) a new white one The soft fabric slides over my skin, blossoming out from my waist and tickling my leg just above my knee where the lacy trim ends. I promise myself I’m going to be good today. The dress will still be glowing like an angel’s gown when I take it off tonight. As usual it’s a promise I break. Unless there's a real plot reason for her to be wearing this dress, it should go.
“Is this how I should stand?” Tina asks from the rocky embankment as I stand knee deep in the murky river with a fishing pole in my hand. I look over at her words.
“Almost. Bend your knees a little bit more and spread your feet further apart.”
“Yeah just like that,” I say paying attention to the water. “Keep doing that.” The line tightens on the pole. I’ve caught something. I reel it in. It takes a lot of energy to get it near me. Whatever it is, it’s big. I hope it tastes good. Lots of choppy sentences here, an it's all telling after the first line or so.
“Did you catch one?” Tina asks. “Mom’s going to be so proud of us when she sees what we’ve done.” This dialogue doesn't feel organic.
I stare at the muddy object swinging in front of my face. “Yeah. I don’t think Mom’s going to be proud we caught an old boot for breakfast,” I say back. Tina grunts in response. I look back to see her squatting with her face scrunched up. “What are you doing?” I laugh.
“You told me this is how I should stand.”
“You look like you’re straining to poop.” I’m still laughing with hands on my knees, trying not to fall into the water. “Bring your butt in and bend your knees a little less.”
Tina doesn’t find my laughter or her situation funny. “You said you were going to teach me to fight.” Decent question, since it's hard to teach someone to fight while you're fishing. She breaks the pose, placing one hand on her hip.
Right now I'd say this ms is starting in the wrong place. I don't have a sense of place, or genre from this first page. I'm also not being pulled in because the MC is making silly decisions (wearing a new, white dress to fish and teach her sister to fight), and it feels like there's nothing at stake here in the opening. These could be any sisters, in just about any setting. Get voice, genre-feel, and some kind of indication of what's going on from the beginning.