Monday, October 19, 2015

PitchWars Critique - THE OUTSIDER

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:
Sixteen-year-old Gardner Hightower has special hands. At the briefest touch, he can sour milk, decompose living wood, and even blacken human flesh with gangrene. I like the specific details here.
Born into a unique bloodline refined through selective inbreeding, he is just one of several family members possessing supernatural abilities. However, his power sets him apart from the others because of its destructive nature, having claimed both his mother’s and twin brother’s lives on the night of his birth. Raised by the vindictive patriarch of the clan to believe that he is a monster, he has spent his entire life behind the iron gates of Hightower manor, spared death only because of a prophecy his mother gave as the life bled out of her. Again really nice specific details here.
Everything changes when Gardner’s sister gives another prophecy, this time insisting that their mother lied as a means to protect him and get revenge against his father. Instead of his death resulting in his father’s death, if he survives past his seventeenth birthday, his father is destined to die at Gardner’s hands. WOH! Holy convoluted sentence batman! Also I'm a bit confused between the previous mention of the mother's prophecy and now the sister's prophecy. So much prophecy! Maybe simplify by first stating what the actual prophecy is, and then saying but another prophet says the mother's vision was a lie. Driven from his home, Gardner finds refuge with a travelling circus. But with his father quickly closing in on him and his power spiraling out of control, Gardner  must decide if he should let fate guide his hand or follow his own path in life. Yet in the end, he may not have a choice in the matter. Okay, I'm having a hard time telling where the heart of this  novel is. It seems like maybe most of the story is Gardner with the travelling circus (although I could be wrong). If that is the case then we need less backstory and more of what actually happens when he's with the circus.
THE OUTSIDER is a 62,000 word YA Gothic fantasy novel with strong elements of neo-Victorianism and horror. That word count strikes me as a bit low for a fantasy novel, but that just might be me.


On December twenty-first of my sixteenth year, I woke with the knowledge that something terrible was going to happen. I just wasn’t sure what. I feel like this should be intriguing but it's not really grabbing me. I feel like the whole 'something is going to happen but I don't know what' is the weakness here. Compare this to the opening of THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater (an amazing opening and one of my favorite books as well): "It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die." Not every first sentence has to give you chills (like this one does me) but it should have an extra something more than your average sentence to that really reaches out to the reader and forcibly pulls them into the world of the story.
I stayed in bed for a good twenty minutes after waking, toying with my vague disquiet the same way I used to toy with the gaps left over after my baby teeth had fallen out.  Then, when I grew tired of that and my mental probing did nothing to uncover the source of my unease, I climbed out of bed. This is fine, but again for the opening of a book I'm just not sure that it's strong enough to really grab the reader. Is there a place you could begin the story where your MC is a bit more active?
Breakfast was delivered to my room through an opening in the door, but no matter when I woke, the food was always cold. Even if I sat waiting for the little flap to swing forward on its rusty hinges, the meal was never more than lukewarm by the time it arrived.
Breakfast had been delivered sometime before. Silver dishware on a silver tray, which I carried to the small table that faced the window overlooking the front lawn. Over a cheerless meal of congealed porridge, burnt toast, and strawberry slices, I watched the gardeners working below.
I liked to imagine stories for the workers. I’d given each of them names and elaborate histories, torn from the pages of books. A voracious reader, I devoured every story I could get my hands on. Elliot would bring books for me, and during the midnight hours, I’d sneak into the library on the second floor. Though the built-in shelves were stacked from ceiling to floor with books of all genres, until I’d come along, their only purpose had been to collect dust. I read a great deal in the hours between dusk and dawn.
The stories took me places. Sometimes I’d get lost in a novel, and next thing I’d know, five hours had passed. My only friends were the characters in the books, who couldn’t hurt me and who I couldn’t hurt.  
So the writing here is good overall, but I really feel like this is not the best place to start your story, because nothing is happening yet. Your MC wakes up, lies in bed, has breakfast, and then thinks about his love of books. I have no hint of conflict or what is to come. I get only the vaguest sense of the world. And I get not even the slightest hint of your MC's powers mentioned in the query. I recommend looking for another spot, perhaps a bit further into the story, where the action and inciting event begin. Good luck!  


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