Son of a Pitch! The Critique

Annicka/ September 23, 2017/ Agent Search, Critique, Editing, Query, Writing/ 0 comments

So absolutely happy to have had the chance to participate in Son of a Pitch (#sonofapitch on Twitter.) Such great feedback! There’s some great stories out there, too, so I’m happy to be included with awesome writers. All in all, you guys have given me some seriously good advice that I’ve been mulling over all week. Originally I wanted to include my revisions WITH the advice, but I think it might be easier if I post up these critiques — as much for ease of access for myself — with my thoughts and plans for revisions and then do a separate revision post after this. I didn’t expect the post to be so long!

Alright, let’s get down to business (to defeat the Huns!) and take a look at my original submission:

Title: The Unbroken
Category and Genre: Adult Fantasy
Word Count: 108,000

 

Query:
Catori is a peasant. She grew up picking flowers to sell in the streets of Mennos’ main cities and she’s served ale to many a lord in her home town’s tavern. But this barmaid has a dangerous hobby. To protect herself and her family, Catori’s picked up the art of swordplay. Her skill with her blades has earned the admiration of passing travelers, including some with hidden ties to powerful families.

 

When war breaks out following an orc invasion, Catori knows she must help. She leaves her infant son under the patronage of a noble family and joins the Mennosi auxiliary, where she begins to rise through the military ranks on the recommendation of a mysterious hero. Soon she stands at the head of a broken and neglected army against the might of a massive orc army. But enemies lurk under the guise of support. Catori will need friends old and new to end a brutal war and keep her son out of a feud that could end his life.

First 250 Words:
Bitter’s body was lying on a table inside his tent, the same table that only a day before had been covered in various papers including her last letter to him, creased and worn as if he’d read it repeatedly. His armor had been removed and was hanging on a post beside him, just waiting for him to get up and pull it on. It looked almost as if he were sleeping but for the noticeable pallor in his skin and the deep, bloody wound in his stomach.Catori stood just inside the tent, staring. This was the man she loved, the father of her child, the man she was supposed to marry. No—it was his body, but the man had gone. She was half afraid to move closer, as though doing so would cement his death forever, but the lure of him was too strong. It had always been too strong.

With slow, hesitant steps Catori stepped closer. Fresh tears welled in her eyes as she gazed down at her lover. He didn’t look like the Bitter she had known and loved, but it was unmistakably him. His pale skin lacked any color now and his lips were turning grey. Someone had closed his eyes, thankfully. She didn’t think she could handle him staring up at her, unseeing. She reached out and touched his cheek lightly. Yes, he was real. His skin was cool to the touch.

Wow. Yeah, looking at it now that I’ve gotten some feedback, I see the problems here. Eesh. Okay, so let’s look at some feedback from Rena Rocford.

 

Query:

I can see that we’re starting the story when Catori is an adult, so maybe you spend too much time on her as a child, and it should cut to the chase a little sooner. It’s clear that the most important thing about her is not that she grew up picking and selling flowers. Lead with the important stuff: She’s a warrior and a leader.

First 250:

I might try to eliminate some of the passive verbs.

This is where I’ve had some conflict. I’ve had people tell me that taking out the part about her past makes them less invested and interested in the character and therefor less likely to pick up a book about her. Hm. For this I’ll just have to go with the ol’ can’t-win-them-all saying. I’d prefer to cut it down, as Rena suggested.

As for passive writing… I absolutely struggle with this. I don’t know when it developed, but it’s really frustrating. Gah. Okay, so I’ve got more manuscript combing to do. That’s alright, I’ll get there.

 

Onwards! There’s more critiques to be had! This time from Kathy Palm.

 

A mysterious hero? WHO IS HELPING HER AND WHY?

Wait…too vague. I don’t understand what’s happening! A feud? How is her son in danger? What choice does she face…run or her son dies…WHY? AH!
You lose me at the end a bit. I love the barmaid turned great war hero!

Ahh, but see… I don’t want you to know who the mysterious hero is yet. 😉 That’s why he’s mysterious! That’s my only disagreement here. I don’t want to give everything away in the summary, because then why read the book?

 

But yes– that second paragraph needs some serious work. I’m actually thinking of taking out anything regarding the feud and her son and just stick to the war. It’s the largest part of the book and it’s where most of the action lies. The issues with her son have a direct impact on her actions, but that plotline isn’t as important. So I’ll strike it.

 

A few more critiques that stuck out to me:

 

I’d put an age here so we know right away what category this is

 

Well, her age won’t help that at all. She’s 16-17 in this book, but she came of age at 14. Coming of age in this world is much sooner than in our own. I’d rather leave her age out entirely. This isn’t a YA book and I don’t want people to think it is based on only her age.

 

This is an interesting start. I’m not sure how I feel about it. Maybe with more emotional impact, I wouldn’t mind. But I’m also left wondering if you’re starting in the right place. Also, the very next paragraph after this needs to have some kind of action, or moving forward, for this to work. Otherwise, this opening death scene drags on a bit long for me.

 

Some rewording will help. That pesky passive voice and all. *sigh* But, you’re in luck– the next paragraph moves on and wraps up the scene. Two new characters are quickly introduced after this and Catori gets in dialogue. However, you have me worried now so I might actually read through that and see if I can shorten it and get to the dialogue faster.

 

I feel like the query starts in the wrong place. If the war is the main focus of the book, start there. Focus only on the opening chapters for the query.

This left me with lots of questions, but mainly I’m wondering how someone whose working 16-hour days to survive in a city also has time for sword-fighting, finding a lover, and having a kid.

Ahhh, see more conflicting advice here. 🙁 I’ve never before had someone tell me that I should focus only on the opening chapters for a query. It’s not a bad idea, but it doesn’t give much insight to the book itself and I thought that was the point of the plot summary. My understanding was that the plot summary should read like a book jacket and make someone — an agent, in this case — want to read more.

 

Also,  there’s a lot of assumptions here that I never touched on. I’m not sure how to get rid of those assumptions without flat out telling the whole story. A lot of why she doesn’t work 16 hour days is backstory and the fact that she’s not from a city, but a small ferry town. I could lead with the fact that she’s a dragonknight’s apprentice at the start of the book, but I thought the barmaid part would be a more interesting point to make. Anyone reading the summary won’t know what a dragonknight’s apprentice is or why that’s so awesome for her, but a barmaid? People know what a barmaid is and it denotes her place in the world– she’s a peasant.

 

Alright! Critiques have been read and thoughts accumulated! Time for a list of things to work on for revisions. This is the hard part, oh god.

Plot Summary:

  1. Cut down on the backstory! Snip out the flower girl bit, calling her a barmaid is enough to denote her status as a peasant, focus in on the more important thing: she’s a warrior.
  2. Mention the conflict sooner. I need to get to the war faster in the summary! It’s the main conflict, so I can’t relegate it only to the second paragraph.
  3. Figure out the stakes for the war. Okay, so I know the stakes, but I need to find a way to narrow it down and write it in a concise sentence or two. Preferably one.
  4. Cut out mention of the feud. It’s just not that relevant to the plot, even if it does grab attention. Not gonna help if all it does is confuse people, right?

Manuscript:

  1. Seek out passive voice and destroy! Oh my god, this is just embarrassing. 🙁 I don’t even realize it, either, ugh.
  2. Make sure the feels don’t drag. I really like starting with an emotional punch to the gut, but I need to make sure it doesn’t drag on too long.
  3. Reword for emotional impact. Kind of ties into the passive voice one, but I think I can do better than that.

I really, really, need to thank all of you for your advice and critiques and encouraging words. This project is like my baby, which is amusing because I’m co-author* — oh god I have a baby with someone. @_@ But no, really, this project means so much to me and I really appreciate the help. I just sort of leaped into this whole querying process without really knowing what to expect — other than a lot of rejection — and it’s so amazing to find people willing to help me through it and better my query and my writing.

Anyway! I welcome any further thoughts and critiques in the comments. If you’re a fellow Son of a Pitch writer, I’d be happy to hear from you, too! I saw some amazing entries, so I’d like to see what others think. I should have a revision post up hopefully by Monday.

*My co-author is totally on board with getting this published & we’ve worked hard together to see it get to this point. We’re both really excited!

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