Wednesday, October 14, 2015

PitchWars Critique - JAMES RHYDER AND THE CAVE OF DREAMS

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,

I'm eager to write to you today as I saw on your profile that you were interested in middle grade fantasy stories (with additional thing here if applicable). I thought you would enjoy my novel James Rhyder and the Cave of Dreams. It's standard to put the title in ALL CAPS. I doubt it would be a deal-breaker for anyone, but it does help your title POP. 

Fourteen-year-old James Rhyder doesn't know anything about dreamwalkers, not even the fact that they are illegal – until James finds out that he is one. 14 might be a bit old for middle grade. Also, I feel like if he doesn't know anything about dreamwalkers then it might be better to explain what exactly they are instead of focusing on the fact that they are illegal.

After the death of his sister and father, James is willing to go anywhere to escape another summer stuck with his estranged mother. When he discovers a mysterious book that leads him to a secret summer camp for 'psions', better known as psychics to the outside world, it seems his luck may have changed. That is until James finds out that his natural ability to see the past, present, and future in his dreams could get him killed.

At first the unusual cabins, lessons, and development of new abilities at Camp Tutis seem like one of James' typically strange dreams. However, when the camp begins being awkward phrasing plagued by a series of attacks from outsiders, James starts to believe there may be more difficult things to deal with at camp than just learning how to control his new powers. 

This suspicion is confirmed when during one of his lessons James receives a cryptic warning from a dying Oracle about his role in what seems like the end of the world. If he can trust his new friends, and learn to control his new found abilities as a psychic James may be able to save this newly discovered world. If he can't, it may be the end of everything. Good last paragraph stating what is at stake.

James Rhyder and the Cave of Dreams, complete at 74,000 words is a MG fantasy novel set against a contemporary background that will appeal to fans of psychic based low fantasy in the vein of Gifts, and The Girl with the Silver Eyes. This word count seems a bit on the high end for MG. 

Overall this query is fairly strong.


Chapter 1

A Thief in Hell Hallow 

A dark blanketing of storm clouds bit into the humid summer night above Hell Hallow. This isn't a bad first sentence, BUT... starting with weather is one of those things that are usually listed as a don't. This sentence especially comes a bit too close to the "it was a dark and stormy night" cliche. Laron was a thin man who despised the natural cold of mountain towns, but tonight would be worth leaving the warmth of his fireplace, if he could find what he was looking for. I like this sentence way better for first sentence. His baggy blue traveling robe played around his softly stepping feet as he walked over the uneven bricks that spanned the old roads which led into town. Laron swore even though all the surrounding mountain paths and streets led into the town, none ever felt like they led out. He shivered involuntarily at this idea as he passed between rows of dilapidated houses which marked the entrance into 'old town' as the locals called it. I think you're spending a bit too much time here on walking through the town instead of moving the plot forward. 

The night felt darker here somehow, and though Laron was sure it was just his imagination he conjured a small ball of green fire from out of seemingly nowhere for peace of mind. This sort of a public display of energy was looked down upon in normal circumstances, however he knew most of the inhabitants of Hell Hallow were like him. Laron passed three other men in dark black cloaks who were in such deep conversation that they did not seem to notice him, before he turned a sharp corner and onto a dirt pathway. Laron wondered as he passed a shop filled with toys for the psion children how the normal people who still lived in the town -though they were getting fewer every passing year- explained all the oddities to their visiting families. Again, this feels like it's moving a bit too slowly. For adult or YA this pacing might work, but MG needs to be tighter and move faster.

Cold snaps of wind broke through the small gaps left by the brick-faced buildings. To the average man these bursts of air may have felt refreshing in the heat of the evening, but Laron's natural ability to control aspects of fire left him especially vulnerable to any types of cold. He learned at a young age having a slight distaste for cold would be perfectly understandable for someone like him, however his nearly debilitating reactions to even the slightest drop in temperature was not natural. The low melodic hum of music reassured him he was nearly to his final destination. I'd cut this whole paragraph. 

He ran the rest of the way up the sloping street and slipped into the uneven entry way of Galway's Pub and Inn just as a large gust shuddered the thick stone door. Laron had been here many times before, and was able to survive and make a meager living due to many of the men who were crowded around the tables. His thin fingers tingled at the thought of how much money he could walk away with on a night like tonight. The temptation to practice his thievery skills on a carelessly placed wallet next to an empty bar stool was almost too much to bear. However, the mission he was on tonight was worth more money than could be kept in a wallet, and he did not wish to risk getting tossed back out into the windy night. Okay, something is finally happening! Get to this paragraph sooner!

“Laron,” called the innkeeper from across the room. “You've got someone waiting for you in the back parlor. Would you like me to show you in or perhaps you'd like something warm to eat before heading back there?”
Scott the Innkeeper was a kind man who had the bad habit of agreeing with everyone about everything. His soft features, bald head, and seemingly constant quotations of poetry made Laron think Scott probably should have been a professor of English somewhere instead of keeping up this little inn in a fairly well hidden town. However, he was happy to have an honest man to watch out for him.

Laron raised a thick crimson eyebrow as Scott crossed the room towards him. “Do I need something to eat first?” he asked quietly.

“I think it might be wise to stay cautious,” Scott responded. His rounded stomach protruded slightly from the split in his white robes as he leaned in. “I know that the people you deal with aren't always trustworthy. But this one seems more shady than usual. I nearly didn't let him in the door when he showed up asking for you. A real dangerous type if you know what I m-mean,” he stuttered. “I'd eat and think about leaving if I were you.”

“I can't turn away a paying customer,” Laron replied with a sigh. “If I walk away every time a person I'm marking acts suspiciously I'd be living on the streets.”

Okay, this picks up toward the end, but I would definitely make some big cuts at the top of this page to improve the pacing. Also, I am a bit concerned that this is a MG novel but I have yet to see your MG main character.

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