Monday, October 26, 2015

PitchWars Critique - BLACK BUTTERFLY

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,

BLACK BUTTERFLY is my 60,000 word YA thriller with a young Jason Bournesque Might be cleaner to just say Jason Bourne type character main character who begins the story as an unwitting unreliable narrator and turns into one that manipulates the reader until the shocking end of the story. This is a bit too general to work as a first sentence type pitch for your story. Instead try getting more specific using this pitch formula: When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER(s), they have to OVERCOME CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST. To read more about writing your pitch sentence check out this link.

Black Butterfly, so called for the tattoo on her Her? Okay, did not get from first paragraph that MC is a girl - especially with the Jason Bourne reference. hip, wakes up on the Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel to a country destroyed by terrorist attacks. Except for a snatch of nightmarish memory, she remembers nothing—not even her name—though her body recalls an unsettling repertoire of violent talents. 

Make this it's own paragraph. Off-gridders from upstate New York, Elijah and his mother, Imah, take her in and mend her wounds. Through their friendship, they offer her a sanctuary of kindness that she doesn’t need a memory to know she’s never had. Well... technically yeah she does need a memory to know she never had it. But maybe it's something that feels totally foreign? From them, she learns that most citizens are obeying orders to stay home or in shelters, but they and other activists are headed to Washington, D.C. for a rally. Black Butterfly joins them as they trek by foot down I-95.

Bursts of memories begin to surface, offering insight into Black Butterfly’s dark past. An encounter with Luke, a young man who is part of a mysterious agency, reveals that they both played a role in the attacks. The more she remembers, the more her worst suspicions are confirmed: Black Butterfly is a government spy and has put her new friends’ lives at risk simply by being associated with them. Leaving them behind, she heads to the agency’s headquarters to set things right, no matter what the cost. Or does she? Faced with a choice of starting over or obeying the agency’s strict training, Black Butterfly will keep the reader guessing if she’s on the side of righteousness or evil. I like how you wrapped it up here!

First page:

Thin arms wrap around me, cutting through the heat of flames and betrayal, and lift me in a feat of impossible strength. I don't think this is your strongest choice for an opening sentence - the imagery is vague and I don't know who these thin arms belong to. Maybe cut and start instead with the second sentence. The smell of burning is everywhere. Phantom screams pierce my ears, and the stench of charred flesh stings my nose. The horrors are gone as quick as they come.

The only thing left is a single thought lodged into the void that is my brain: I must complete my mission.

Just a memory. My only memory.

My eyelids flutter open to ash. Covering the ground. Floating on trees. Coating my tongue with a chalky paste. It’s like looking at the world through a screen. An eerie quiet blankets the world, no hum of traffic or squawk of animals to be heard.

As soon as I can think past the terrifying memory of fire, I take a slow breath. The taut muscles of my body are sore, though I remain still. A more persistent, burning pain radiates from the skin on my hip. But it’s my head that hurts the worst.

Hard metal chills my sore back. I’m on a gurney. Outside. In a parking lot. The cloud cover makes it hard to tell what time of day it is, but my best guess is early morning. I don’t know what day it is, or what year for that matter. I grasp for something about myself to hold on to, but my name, my age, my past are all a blank.

Holding my hands up in front of my face, I search them for answers. The thin fingers look delicate but feel strong as I flex them. Underneath the grime the pale skin is youthful, and a chipped but expertly applied French manicure winks out from beneath the soot. A faded scar runs the length of my right ring finger down to my knuckle.

I turn over my hands. The lifeline on my palm is long and deep, and dirty, but it tells me nothing about who I am.

I consider what I do know. The names of the objects around me. Clouds. Tree. Traffic light, which curiously is dark, not even blinking yellow. I can recite the state capitals, all of the countries and their capitals, the order and names of the first 46 presidents of the United States. If I had a knife and fork I would know how to use them. I can load a gun. The odd assortment fills my mind in a flash, but there’s nothing personal there, only detached facts. There are a lot of amnesiac heroines (and heroes) in YA (hey! I even wrote one myself!) and so to make yours stand out, you really need to do something original. This opening with the girl in the middle of disaster and no memory of who she is feels like something I've seen before. Is there another point you could start at - maybe a little further into the story - that might be a little fresher? Overall, though, the writing is good!

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