Monday, September 4, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: BEQUEATHED

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. Echoes are highlighted in blue.


“Could I embrace the curse bequeathed upon on me?” Generally, not a good idea to open a query with a line of dialogue. We don't know the context, or care about the person speaking. So it's essentially meaningless.

Seventeen year old Katalina is haunted by graphic nightmares. Nightmares in which she bathes in the blood of violently murdered young girls. Oh my. Doe she do this happily or is she like, disgusted by it in the dream? When her parent’s plural, not possessive send her to visit family in the eternal city of Rome, she unknowingly embarks on a life changing holiday. In the romantic surrounds of Rome, Much simpler to phrase with "There, Katalina meets the brooding and elusive Dominic. Their holiday romance flourishes as Katalina struggles with the ever present insatiable hunger and strange ailments that constantly ravage her body. And what are those, exactly? Is this a new thing, or a lifelong struggle? Seeking answers, Katalina discovers the cause. The curse. Cast by a vengeful witch seven hundred years prior. The curse that catapults the women in her family down a path of eternal darkness and blood lust. Definitely need to know how this manifests, specifically. Does she want to kill and eat people? Drink their blood? Only people? Animals?

Katalina’s and Dominic’s burning desire for each other deepens despite the warnings from their families. Like what? Don't get so involved with a vacation romance, or hey our families want to kill each other, historically speaking What was meant to be a holiday romance turns into a tangled web of secrets of her families This one is possessive, not plural :) grim past and her tortuous future. As Katalina is thrust deeper into the world of the unknown, she is forced to decide her fate. The problem here is that the world is so unknown - even to the reader - that it's not enough to be properly intrigued.

Throw in a dangerously charismatic Vampire, Toby, with his hidden agenda and who plays on the charged atmosphere that crackles between him and Katalina. The powerful Ruling Family of Rome with their questionable motives and Katalina’s holiday turns into a world of betrayal, loyalty and love. Katalina is driven to sacrifice her love for Dominic to save him after he is captured by Toby, whom has deceived them all and reveals he is the original Royal Vampire whose blood turned Katalina’s family into what they are. I actually think this paragraph doesn't work. It's operating more as a summary than a query, and introduced a third (major, plot-moving) character at the very last minute.

Bequeathed is a Young Adult romance/fantasy/paranormal uh-oh - that's a lot of genres 88,000 word completed novel set amongst Rome’s rich history which inspired much of the story. A cross between The Florentine Series by Sylvain Reynard and A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, Bequeathed is filled with romantic tension and suspense blended with fantasy. There we go, that's a better way to get across your elements without making it look like you couldn't pick a genre.

1st Page:

The sickening scent lingers, thick and heavy in the air. The stench lots of "s" words here in this first para, read it aloud and it's awkward reminding me of a field full of rotting vanilla scented flowers. If they're rotting can you really tell they used to be vanilla? My eyes are drawn to the glowing candlelight candlelight, by nature, glows. You don't need to use the descriptor dancing across the ancient stone walls highlighting the many bowls scattered around the darkened room. Terracotta bowls overflowing with the same crimson fluid as my bath. Honestly, I think just say blood. It's blood. I lean back until my skin is flush with the tub, the motion causes ripples to lap at my breasts. The most important element here is missing - how does the MC feel about the fact that she's in a bath full of blood? Is she disgusted, or thrilled?

There’s a slight movement in the corner of the room, a young woman stands with her eyes averted to the floor say "downcast" instead, which implies the aversion and the direction at the same time, her face forlorn. She leans against the wall, hands gripping her full length skirt. A skirt that is smeared in red to match her arms and hands. I follow her tearful gaze. On the stone floor are a dozen dead girls, naked and lying face down. Their long, stained hair matted to their backs.

A blood curdling scream erupts from my lungs as I try to scramble out of the blood filled bath. Hmm... here it is, but it raises the question of why she's so stunned to see these girls. She had to have known the crimson liquid that smelled like rot wasn't anything good, yet she's assuming a relaxed position in the tub. Then she spots the bodies and is like, "Hey! Wait a second!" Not sure if that makes sense.

Chapter One                  

            “Katalina. Katalina.”

            A soft voice pulls me from my dream and I open my eyes to see my younger sister Nicolette. Her long, dark brown hair sits in a messy top knot and I notice she is in her pajamas.

            “What time is it?” I whisper.

            “It’s five. Are you ok?”

“I had a nightmare again,” I sigh as I recall the bloody scene in my dream. These nightmares have been haunting me for a good part of six months, becoming more frequent as my eighteenth birthday approaches. Almost always involving someone being tortured. Not a complete sentence. I remember my very first one in vivid detail, shaken from it for several days, too afraid to fall asleep each night.

            Nicolette looks at me, her eyebrows knitted together. “I heard you screaming. When I came in you were thrashing about, tangled up in your sheets.” Then why was she speaking in a soft voice in order to wake her? Seems like she wouldn't have been heard.

“I’m ok.”

“Do you want me to stay with you?” She yawns.

“Thanks but I’m going get up.”

Nicolette gives me a comforting smile as she closes my bedroom door.

“Don’t tell mom,” I call out after her.

Shivering as I climb out of bed, I wrap the quilt around me. It is uncharacteristically cool for this time of year here in the sunshine state, the quaint city of Brisbane is usually warm and sunny in October. The constant cloud cover seems to have blanketed the sky setting a depressing mood. The cool of outside seeps through the glass as my thoughts get lost amongst the sheets of rain which change direction with each gust of swirling wind. You definitely just told us a lot about the weather. It helps to create mood and set stage, but this is a lot of information. My stomach grumbles and I take that as my cue to get changed and head downstairs. I turn on the coffee machine, the familiar whir is comforting and the aroma of coffee fills the kitchen. I perch myself on the bar stool and sip my steaming mug of coffee just as my mom descends the stairs. I watch her watch me Awkward phrasing as she walks toward me and gently plants a kiss on my cheek. I know in my gut that she heard my screams earlier.

“I had another dream.” I close my eyes momentarily. Don't we always only close our eyes momentarily when we are awake?

Her arms wrap around me holding me tight against her as she rests her cheek on my head. A few moments pass before I feel her sigh and she steps back to look directly at me.

Right now you're making a classic mistake - opening with a dream, or with your character waking up. This is something that has been overdone and cliched to death. The writing isn't bad, but you are starting the story in the wrong place.

1 comment:

Mel said...

Thank you so much for this. I have taken on all that you suggested and changed things around. I can't thank you enough. Is there any chance you would want to read over what I have fixed?