Wednesday, September 16, 2015

PitchWars Critique - BLACK STARS FALLING

PitchWars is at its heart about the writing community. And even though at the end of the day Mindy McGinnis and I were only able to choose two mentees, we still wanted a way to give feedback to the many many many others who had been kind enough to share their work with us. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit from this feedback.

I'm happy to say that quite a few people have been generous enough to take us up on this offer! So, through November, Mindy and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Make sure to look for them on both of our blogs as we'll be posting totally different critiques.

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I am now offering manuscript critique services which you can find out more about here.

You'll see my comments in red.


Dear Agent,

They had come down from above without warning. After three days of war, they left behind a devastated and broken world as they vanished once again into the skies. With few clues that they had even existed at all, they were at war with them for three years and yet aren't sure if they even exist? And They don't have a name? questions loomed of who they really were, where they came from and if they’d ever be back. 

I moved this to make this its own paragraph separate from the one above. Just breaks it up a bit. Now, ten years after the attack, eighteen-year-old Piper Sullivan works hard to help rebuild her town and country. But when Piper and her friends are taken early to serve their four-year service for the restructured government, things start to change quickly for them as more questions arise about the past. What things specifically change quickly? What questions specifically arise? Torn away from her family early, Why is she torn away early? she wonders when she will see her dad and brother again as fuel and vehicles are still limited supplies. I'd cut. This doesn't seem like a necessary detail here.

Once in training to do what? Is it army training? Are they prepping to fight the aliens again?, rumors fly about the Resistance, an underground group whose members are causing havoc as they rebel against the government they claim is holding back the rebuilding. This is feeling very dystopian to me, especially with the whole Resistance angle. Dystopian is a very hard sell right now and you need to have something fresh and original to stand out. What happened with the whole aliens thing? I find that a lot more interesting than the resistance, especially since I'm not even sure what exactly they're resisting! Piper and her friends prepare to fight against these pesky rebels, but as she grows close to one of her instructors, Jake Bennett, he reveals secrets that will change her priorities. What secrets? What priorities? She learns that everything in her life since the attack has been a lie. Everything is a lie is such a cliche. Is there a better more specific way to say this? And that her father, a strong and respected leader in their community, is in the middle of the secrets, including why they were taken early. I understand not wanting to give the whole story away in the query, but again you need enough specifics so I have something to hold onto - a little bit of something that makes me go, "oooooh, now that's interesting." Right now everything is so general and vague that I can't find anything to really grab hold of.

Piper chooses to follow Jake, the man she’s fallen in love with and enter a dangerous new world, leaving behind the safety she could have had if she had only kept the lie. Again, this is mush. Piper chooses to go with Jake for reasons instead of staying because reasons, is how this reads. Also (and this is nitpicky) is Jake a man or a teen like her? 

BLACK STARS FALLING Love the title is the first book of this YA Sci-Fi trilogy Okay so this book only works as a trilogy? Or is it a book with series potential. The latter is better because it gives the agent and publisher more options., complete at 77,000 words.

Chapter One

"Piper!" I hear someone yelling into my dream as the scene before me starts to fade away. My body shakes, but I can't understand why.
“Piper, wake up. You’re having another nightmare.” I just googled "worst ways to start a novel" and in the second search result an article from Writers Digest called 5 Bad Story Openers came up. The top 2 ways (according to this article) to not start a story are: 1. A dream 2. Being shaken awake. So does this mean no one ever does this well or that it can never work? No, it doesn't. But it does mean that agents see this a lot. And it's probably gonna earn an eye roll and they're going to be less likely to continue reading. You can start your story in a gazillion different places. Which is awesome but also OMG the options. I get it. It makes sense to start your book with the MC starting the day. It just feels logical. But to agents (and many readers too) it feels too familiar, stale, and cliche. So I'd recommend playing around and seeing if you can find another spot to start your story. For me personally it usually takes a few tries to find the best place for my story to begin, so this is a problem everyone struggles with.  My mind slowly recognizes the familiar voice as I open my eyes. The view in front of me comes into focus, the nightmare of the school bus fully faded away. You seem to be mixing tenses with comes/faded
Luke's sixteen-year-old face This is awkward phrasing. I know you want to get this age detail in, but it doesn't have to be in the first mention of the character is smiling at me as it hovers over mine in the dull morning light. His pale blue eyes that match our dad’s are bright and animated, staring down at me. Cut. You already told us his face is hovering over hers. The scar still visible on his chin as a reminder of that day ten years ago, with his shaggy blond hair tossed around his face. This sentence is awkward. The second half with the shaggy blonde hair stuff seems to be referring to the day ten years ago, instead of that it's making the scar visible. I also think all of this physical character description in here is overkill. Choose one (maybe two) key and telling details. Otherwise it stops the story in its tracks, describing the brother and vaguely alluding to some incident ten years ago that we don't care about because we don't know what she's talking about. "You were yelling in your dreams again." Luke bounces on top of me in my bed, shaking me fully awake in the way only a brother knows how to do.
“Ugh! Get off!" I groan under his weight. "You're too heavy." I take the edge of my pillow and wipe the sweat and tears from my face, pushing away the constant reminder of the past. This is yet another reminder of something the reader doesn't understand. Even a hint of what happened would help to make this more interesting and draw the reader in. It's like if a friend says to you, "Guess what happened to me yesterday?" You're gonna like be like ??? and roll your eyes because who even cares. But if your friend says "Did you hear about that huge accident yesterday with twenty cars piled up? Well guess who was in the middle of it." Then you're gonna drop your iPhone and demand to find out exactly what happened.
He finally rolls off me and sits on the side of my bed, looking down at me with a goofy grin across his face that only he could have this time of the morning. Luke wakes up without an alarm and takes on the day with the full force of energy that has become my brother. I dream of being able to slip my warm covers back over my head and drown out the day until my mind wishes to sleep no longer. This paragraph is a much better character description than above. It tells us about Luke and the MC, and does a nice job of contrasting them.
"Happy birthday," Luke says cheerily as he starts bouncing on my bed once again, trying to shake me out of it. I can't suppress my smile though as I watch his eyes light up; my heart warms deeply to him, knowing how lucky I am to still have him. Even if he does like to wake me up this way every morning. He's sixteen and wakes his sister up every morning by bouncing on her bed? I like the relationship because it's nice to see siblings who aren't bickering, but this seems a bit immature.

So as I mentioned above I do think that you should start your story somewhere else, but what I've read here has potential. A main character with secrets haunting her and a sweet brother for a sidekick definitely has potential to be a fun read. Good luck with it!

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