Son of a Pitch! The Critique
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
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.
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.
I might try to eliminate some of the passive verbs.
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!
I’d put an age here so we know right away what category this is
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Seek out passive voice and destroy! Oh my god, this is just embarrassing. 🙁 I don’t even realize it, either, ugh.
- 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.
- 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!