Monday, October 12, 2015

PitchWars Critique - TWELVE MINUTES TO

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 Mentor,

When seventeen-year olds Reyna and Morgan came out to their parents, both girls knew they would be met with hesitation. This reads as if Reyna and Morgan have the same parents, but I don't think that's the intention here. Also I feel like you could find a stronger word or phrase than "hesitation"  But neither expected one to be stolen away in the middle of the night. I think you need to name names here. Or specifically came at it from one character's POV. For example: Morgan knew coming out to her parents would be no picnic. And she figured it would be even worse for her friend Reyna. But she never expected Reyna to be stolen away in the middle of the night.

Once Reyna stared into the cold eyes of the man standing above her, she quickly realized waking up in the trunk of a car was only the beginning of her worries.  While physically restrained in a dusty attic, she desperately seeks ways to escape.  But what she doesn’t expect is the road of dark secrets the man takes her on and how it all circles to the family she’d always thought of as perfect. You need to be a bit more specific here. Phrases like "only the beginning of her worries" "road of dark secrets" and "how it all circles to the family" tell me nothing and don't especially make me want to know more. What exactly are the secrets she finds out? Even if you want to not give everything away - at least give something.

Finding herself in the middle of Reyna’s disappearance, How exactly is Morgan in the middle? Morgan works closely with a rookie detective sent to investigate.  While clues begin to point to someone trusted so dearly, she begins to question possible motives.  Again specifically who do the clues point to? But with a sudden appearance that shakes the case to its core, she knows no one will be the same again. This last sentence is nothing but cliches with "shakes to the core" and "no one will be the same". Sometimes these stock phrases can be helpful and even a little unavoidable, but again I think you really need to be more specific. What exactly is at stake? What does Morgan and Reyna have to do or overcome?

TWELVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT is a standalone YA thriller told in alternating POV’s and complete at 70,000 words.  I believe it will appeal to readers who enjoyed the alarming kidnapping saga of April Henry’s GIRL, STOLEN and the deadly family mysteries within Stephanie Kuehn’s COMPLICIT.  Great comps!

My passion for young adult fiction is matched by my career as a high school assistant librarian. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to young adults every day about books. Their perspectives are invaluable to me as both a book lover, as a writer, and as an educator. I see their daily lives – their dramas, struggles, triumphs, and all the details that are so very important at this significant stage. Very nice bio!

The full manuscript is available upon your request. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Chapter One

Friday, 11:48 p.m.

The frantic screams on the other side of the door caused Morgan’s blood to run cold. You really do not want to use a cliche phrase like this in your very first sentence. Try to be more specific. What exactly is she hearing? What exactly is she seeing/feeling?

In spite of the warm breeze floating through the windows in her bedroom, it felt as if all the air around her was being sucked away.  Her heart raced fiercely, the veins in her neck thumped to a violent rhythm. Yes! All this is much better (and specific!) than blood running cold.  

And her mind ordered every muscle in her body not to move. I'd cut this. It distances me from the character and what is happening. A much simpler, "She froze" might serve you better.

Her eyes fixed on the red numbers glowing brightly from the cheap alarm clock on her nightstand.  The voices down the hall grew more frantic by the second, and Morgan was sure that no amount of wishing time to stop would calm them.  The owners were distinctly her father and childhood friend Emmett, but what had caused them to become so rattled was a mystery to her.  This last sentence reads a bit awkwardly. The owners of the voices? Why not just earlier say, "The voices of her father and childhood friend Emmet, grew more frantic by the second."


She slid off the side of her bed, wrinkling the sheets under her legs. She deeply inhaled the late August wind that blew into her room, her body more restless than it had been all day.  The humid air did nothing to help the sweat that beaded across her forehead or the pajamas that stuck to her back and thighs.  As Morgan slowly peered outside her bedroom and down the darkened hall, she briefly feared there wouldn’t be enough oxygen in her lungs to carry her toward her screaming father and friend. Okay, I feel like this paragraph has too much detail. And none of it is telling me anything important or giving any real insight into Morgan. She hears yelling but you still haven't said what the yelling is about. Is she just hearing indistinct animal groans and shouts? Or it is words? She must hear something and that should make her feel something and fear something. That's what I want to know about here, not the sheets wrinkling under her legs and the late August wind.

Sometimes, she thought, there’s never enough oxygen. Yes, this! I like this because it gives me insight into Morgan and how she is actually feeling.

Not much longer than the length of a truck, the distance from her room to the end of the hallway suddenly seemed infinitely longer.  She shuffled her feet along the floor and toward the yelling voices.  She ran her fingers along the walls, taking bits of chipping paint with her.  Just before she reached the end of the hall, she silently cursed herself for not grabbing the flashlight she kept in her nightstand. Okay, I didn't quite get before now that it's nighttime. So Morgan wakes up in the middle of the night to hear yelling? I feel like I want to know that sooner. And maybe get more of a sense of disorientation.

“Morgan!” her father yelled out.  “What took you so long?” 

Her father stood at the opened front door, the silhouette of his body illuminated by the glow of the half moon.  Thunder rumbled nearby, alerting everyone to an incoming midnight storm.  The electric scent grew more intense with each strike of lightning across the night sky.  Worse things were definitely on the way. I like this paragraph except the last sentence which lacks specificity. What worse things? Is this referring to the weather or the shouting or something else?

He paid no attention to the weather as he barely glanced over his shoulder to look at her before he returned his attention to Emmett, who was still on the other side of the door.  Hours earlier, after Emmett’s father demanded she leave his house, convinced she’d become an unexpected influence on his only daughter, Morgan spent the evening at home.  Shamed and discarded.  And with no apologies for his daughter from any member of Emmett’s family, Dominic James felt no sympathy toward the boy standing in front of him. I'm getting a little lost in this paragraph. We have Emmett's father. Emmett's sister. References to Morgan as Dominic James daughter. I think you are dancing around information when you need to say it outright. Morgan was thrown out of Emmett's house because specifically why? And Emmett is here now specifically why? And if Emmett's family did this - not him specifically - then shouldn't Morgan's father be a bit more understanding and adult about the whole thing?

Okay, so I obviously have lots of comments here. I think with first pages the two hardest things are finding the right place to start the story and then using the right blend of giving information to understand the character and backstory while still moving the plot forward. This seems like a great place to start your story - so you did a great job with that! However, that blend of what to tell and what to leave out is not balanced right now and I am left trying to figure out what is happening in a way that feels more frustrating than intriguing. 


  1. Thanks for taking time to make this critique Kate. Looks like I needed more advice/pointers than I initially thought.

    1. Beginnings are really hard to get just right. But they are also super important not only in getting the reader's attention, but also in setting up the rest of your novel. For this reason I am extremely hard on first pages and tend to nitpick endlessly because you really do want it to be the very best it can be.