Monday, September 25, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: CAMBION

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.


As the product of a union between a human mother and a demon father, sixteen year-old Gabriel “Gabe” Geoffries is what is known as a Cambion; a demonic creature with the potential for near limitless power. Despite this, Gabe has always tried to maintain a normal life. Unfortunately, a normal life is no longer an option when Gabe is attacked by a Fire Elemental, sent to track him down.

So far, so good. You've done a great job of getting the basic idea of your story into the first para, with a decent hook as well. The only thing that raises questions for me is the line about him having "near limitless power." It makes it hard to believe that he would face much in terms of a struggle or obstacles then, plotwise.

Gabe discovers this Fire Elemental was sent by a centuries-old demon named Vanitas that wishes to use Gabe’s power for his own malevolent ends. Which are what? Gabe and those closest to him are able to avoid this looming threat until his mother, Alice, is kidnapped to be used as bait to lure Gabe to Vanitas. With no other choice, Gabe must rescue his mother, knowing he is walking head first into a trap that he may not escape from.

But in order to rescue his mother and defeat Vanitas, Gabe must give into the power within him, Has he struggled against this power before? You say he wants a normal life, but you don't mention that it's a hard decision to make or a struggle to maintain while simultaneously unleashing a great darkness that could threaten his very humanity and consume him. But if Gabe refuses to tap into the full extent of his power not only will Vanitas succeed in claiming Gabe for himself, Gabe will also be forced to watch those he cares about most die.

CAMBION is a young adult contemporary fantasy, complete at about 56,000 words.

I think what we need here is a better feeling of the overall plot in terms of motivation - on Vanitas' end. Why does he want Gabe and his abilities? What is his end goal? Is the end of the world an option? Does he want to enslave humanity? What's at stake here if Gabe fails, other than losing his mother? And we need to know more about Gabe's power - what is it? What can he do? Only bad things? Does he worry about his own nature? Does tapping into his power create problems? These are the kind of questions that need addressed in order to make this something more than a shadow of Percy Jackson.

1st Page:

A bead of sweat trickled down the side of Gabe’s face. He was hot; very hot. Although, most people would be hot if they were holding off a dome of fire that was trying to engulf them, with nothing but their mind. Sentence structure is a little awkward here.

Gabe was trying to maintain his focus, but that was becoming more and more difficult because he had been at it for over an hour and all he wanted to do was sleep. He didn’t think some sleep was unreasonable since it was almost one-thirty in the morning. The fact that he's thinking about sleep takes away from the danger of the fire dome.

“Keep it up, Gabe. Keep it up,” said a tall, skinny man with a mess of salt and pepper hair, who was standing twenty feet away next to a shorter woman with long, blonde hair. Lots of character description and un necessary specifics about how far away they are. This could just be me, because I'm not a fan of character description or over description of movements (or lack of). But I think you need more strength in a first page than details like this.

The blonde-haired woman was biting at her fingernails like a beaver on a log while occasionally glancing over her shoulder as if expecting company. There's only one woman in the room that we know of, you don't have to specify her hair.

“Alice, it’s one-thirty in the morning,” said the man with the salt and pepper hair. “No one is coming to Heuser Park at one-thirty in the morning.” Same comment as above.

“I know, Wylt. I just worry that one of these nights we’re gonna get caught. That dome of fire that Jimmy is using on Gabe isn’t exactly subtle,” Alice said as she continued to bite the nails of one hand while using the other I think we can assume that she's pointing with a hand, and you don't need to say that she's still biting the other. The point of showing nail biting is to illustrate that she's nervous - which, that's a good job of showing instead of telling. However, to say that she's still doing it creates echoes to point at a boy standing about ten feet in front of Gabe as he shot a pillar of fire at Gabe.

Again with specifics about distance, I don't think it's entirely necessary, but it could be my own likes and dislikes coming through. Right now opening with these two boys throwing fire at each other in a practice setting is a good opening, but the writing needs punched up.

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