Sunday, July 29, 2012

TCWT Critique Contest: Lessons Learned

To become a published novelist, it's not enough to be able to tell a compelling story in novel form. Along the way, there are a million other little skills to learn, such as the art of writing a 3 sentence pitch. (For the record, it's a lot harder than the length of the finished product suggests.)

Teens Can Write Too just held a contest where the prize was a professional critique of the first page of your novel. To enter, a 3 sentence pitch and the first 100 or so words of your novel were required. I entered, and it was an eye-opening experience to try and squash 54 000 words worth of story into a clear and concise 3 sentences. I think/hope I managed well enough.

Here's what I came up with for my YA fantasy WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE:
Caught trying to steal her cousin back from the king’s priests, 17-year-old farmer’s daughter Renata is forced into gladiator training. Determined to get home again, she’ll have to fight, kill, and maybe even lead a mutiny – just to survive. Ren’s ready to quit until she discovers it’s not too late to save her cousin from being sacrificed – if she can summon the strength to fight for both their lives.
I tried to incorporate the tips I'd read about, including:
  1. Minimizing names and using descriptors instead
  2. Showing an active protagonist, with desires and goals
  3. Covering the entire story: inciting incident, middle and climax
And here are the first ~100 words:
When I arrived home from the market, Mother was waiting in for me the doorway, eyes wide.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Rumour has it the High Priest is coming to town.”
I swore. I knew what that meant. Still, I tried to reason with her. “If rumours are just starting, surely we have some time yet. Leta and I don’t need to -”
“You’re going into the attic tonight.” Her tone brooked no dissent.
“Yes Mother.” I dropped my market basket on the kitchen table with a sigh and joined my cousin Leta our room. I hated hiding.
This opening is an edited version of the opening I wrote when I rewrote this story for Camp NaNoWriMo in June. I cut the cliche "It was a day like any other except..." and tried to get right into the meat of the story - what will end up being the biggest issue of the book.

I think I have a shot at being selected for a critique, but I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the contest in any case. It will be educational examining the 3 pitches and openings the judge chose as the best.

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