Wednesday, September 6, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: ONE CALL AWAY

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.


I am seeking representation for my manuscript, One Call Away. It is YA contemporary fiction and is complete at 73,000 words. The story of Pygmalion has been retold in many different ways but never quite like this… Hmm... So normally I say that you should put your title, genre, and word count at the bottom of the query, because there's nothing here that will distinguish you from anyone else. You're someone seeking representation for a book with a title that has a certain number of words in it. However, I like your Pygmalion call out. 

There’s nothing really wrong with Banes Van Wyck other than the fact that he’s lazy. Okay, I actually like this hook better than the Pygmalion reference. I'd do as I usually suggest and move that first para to the bottom. This shows us an unlikeable character from the get-go, and that's interesting. He won’t study. He’s not dating, not that it matters, because the only girl he wants doesn’t even notice him. His friend Addie wants him, but he could have her. Where’s the fun it that? He wants to be popular, but he doesn’t like to socialize. All he really wants to do is play X box. Too bad you can’t get high school credit for it. He honestly sounds like a total effing douchebag. And that's fine. These people exist.

When his grades drop so low that his parents are forced to transfer him from private school to public, he fears that he’ll be the most unpopular Senior not capitalized there. The newbie no one will talk. not a sentence In short, he’s screwed. Desperate for a solution, he turns to his best friend, Charlie.

Desperate for a solution, he turns to his best friend, Charlie. Hmm.... you repeated this line? An aspiring fashion designer, Charlie, comes up with a plan so daring, it just might work. In a makeover a la Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Charlie doesn’t just upgrade Banes’s wardrobe, he makes him hit the gym and the spa, changing his eye color, hair color and his confidence level. With a little coaching on dating etiquette thrown in, Banes is ready to start his new school year.

Success! The plan works perfectly…maybe, a little too perfectly. As the demands of his new found popularity grow, Banes no longer has time for Charlie, leaving him farther and farther behind. Fed up and frustrated, Charlie lashes out, resulting in a tragedy no one can have foreseen. He’s always been there for Banes. Always just one call away…until now.

This is actually a pretty great query. If you can find an agent that is looking for unlikable narrators this could work. I will take a very specific kind of person to be willing to take on this much of an asshole MC, though. Does Banes have any redeeming characteristics whatsoever? If so, they need to be present in the query.

“Oh, no. No, no, nooo,” Charlie groans. “This can’t be happening.” His elegant Southern drawl drips with contempt. Don't tell us his tone is contemptuous. Show us by using contempt in his dialogue. He slides his dark glasses down his nose and raises his perfectly arched eyebrows to indicate that he can’t believe what he’s seeing. This is a show - he raises his eyebrows, which conveys incredulity - followed by a tell - he can't believe what he's seeing. Not a good mix. Also, I'm anti-description, so I have to tell you that most of this opening does not work for me at all. The look of horror on Charlie’s face is comical, but only because I have a vague idea of why it’s there.
     Scrambling for a way to distance myself from the unfolding drama, I glance down at the cup of coffee I’m holding. Starbuck’s Bold. Venti, of course. Not only don’t I feel guilty that it’s my second, I desperately wish I had a third. If I had a family crest, the words on it would read: A day without coffee is a day I’m spending in bed. Probably along with a migraine and a whopping case of withdrawal shakes. I don’t even want to go there in the hypothetical because I can’t imagine anything better than the smell or taste of freshly brewed coffee to start my day. Not what I’d call a religious experience, exactly, but damn, if it doesn’t come close. I’m staring at the cup like it’s going to give me the patience I need to get through this. Like it’s my best friend instead of the outraged boy standing next to me. Not bad. You're showing us that he really doesn't care about whatever his friend is overreacting to, and giving us a glimpse of his personality.
      I can’t help the sigh that escapes me. This is how I start every school day. Every. Single. One.
     My back is against the wall. Literally. It’s the only thing holding me up at this ungodly hour. It’s not even eight o’clock yet and I’m exhausted and bored senseless, reduced to watching the morning sunlight as it filters down, too brightly, through the hallway’s glass roof above us. Glass roof. I roll my eyes. Not only is the roof glass, but the walls are, too.

Not a bad opening, has decent voice. Get that first para under control. Maybe instead of going immediately into the architecture of the school, tell us what Charlie is reacting to.

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