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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » FIRE AND EARTH Pitches

   
Author Topic: FIRE AND EARTH Pitches
Meredith
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For no particular reason, I checked the blog for Pitch Wars last night and discovered that as an alternate, I'm supposed to submit a 35-word pitch by the 20th. I've had absolutely no communication from my "mentor" for Pitch Wars, so I guess I'm still flying on my own, here.

I have two possibilities:

Pitch 1:

quote:
Seventeen-year-old Casora is exiled for being a berserker just when her home is invaded. Her desperate search for a cure leads her to Tiaran who just might be the answer to her prayers.
Pitch 2:

quote:
A seventeen-year-old berserker mercenary warrior is sent to rescue the scholarly youngest prince and unexpectedly finds that he may hold the key to curing her berserker curse and allowing her to go home.
Rip, tear, shred, and then help me build them back up. Please.
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MattLeo
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I like the second version better, because it's simpler. I'd even shorten it by dropping "allowing her to go home". The only problem is that it doesn't make it clear that the protag is a girl. Maybe something along these lines:

quote:
When Casora, a seventeen-year-old beserker, is sent to rescue a scholarly young prince, she discovers he may hold the key to lifting her curse.
I think it best not to explain too much in a pitch. A pitch isn't a capsule synopsis, it is an enticement. I think the problem with many of the elevator pitches in the recent contest is that they're too cluttered with detail. I suppose a "shotgun" approach is one way to go about it, but I think simplifying is a better way to go. Rather than move everyone a little bit, move a target audience a lot.

I'm an alternate in Pitch Wars too, by the way. Here's my pitch:

quote:
A short-tempered space captain takes her charismatic ex-husband and his insufferable fiancée on a mission to change the course of galactic history, in a novel that’s pulp-scifi-meets-The-Philadelphia-Story.
Now you've read the book, so you know there's a lot more to it. Ultimately the story is about a woman who thinks of herself as unlovable discovering love in a variety of forms: erotic (with Archie), foster motherhood (with Julie), and friendship (with Igor) and camaraderie (with Evans). I hope that's what will stick with you, but it's too complicated and dubious a pitch. Would you read a story that *promised* that? Instead what I promise is comic conflict. I'm also considering using a variation of the elevator pitch I used in Dr. Bob's contest here:

quote:
A short-tempered space captain always manages to give her charming ex-husband the slip, but this time he's coming for her with something she desperately needs: a job.
Again it's a single point I'm pitching: comical conflict.

So what's the single point you should pitch for FIRE AND EARTH? I'm going with redemption. It might look like this:

quote:
Cursed with mindless bursts of murderous violence, seventeen-year-old exile Casora plies the trade of mercenary. She takes the job of rescuing a bookish prince, and discovers he holds the key to her redemption.
Or something like that.
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Long Writer B8
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I like the last pitch for you that MattLeo gave. It is concise and has an emotional pull to it.
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Grumpy old guy
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I go along with MattLeo too. It names the protagonist, tells me what her problem is and what she has to do to solve it.

Phil.

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JeanLG
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What does the home invasion have to do with her search for a cure?
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by JeanLG:
What does the home invasion have to do with her search for a cure?

Well, her country is invaded, along with a few other things, she goes berserk, unleashing her curse. Once a berserker, it happens again much too easily. Therefore, she can never go home--being a berserker is automatic exile. She turns mercenary and is sent to save Prince Ti--who is more of a scholar than a warrior and is about to be killed in his very first battle. Then she discovers that Ti may possess the key to at least controlling if not curing the berserker curse.

There. I'm sure that's the shortest--and driest--synopsis I've ever written.

Thanks for the ideas. And good luck, MattLeo.

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Meredith
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Oh, and as soon as I complained about not hearing back from my mentor, guess what? Yep. Heard back today with two pages of revision notes.

However, one of her comments is that it was Tiaran's story arc that she fell in love with. So now I'm left with the question: am I on the wrong track completely? Should I be trying to pitch Ti's story?

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Grumpy old guy
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Meredith, not having read the story, I can't answer that question definitively. However let me add that, having a reader falling in love with one character's story arc means that you've captured that character very well. Perhaps you need to now invest more effort in Casora's own arc.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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Meredith, grumpy ol' me again. Been thinking, and excuse typo's that result from a very convivial evening.

it occurred to me that you have a great affinity for the character of Tiaran. In effect, you love this character you've created. Nothing wrong with that -- in fact, it's a necessity. What I am supposing is that your attitude to Casora may be more problematic.

My reasoning? Casora has a berserker's curse -- so, she becomes a mercenary. I think that's from your brief synopsis. That's a pretty hard and cold statement.

Now, I've experienced a Berserker rage. I'm descended from Vikings in 8 different family lines that pre-date William the Conqueror. Thank an obsessive genealogist in the family for such trivia. Anyway, I confronted a bully at school one day, went into such a rage and did things that should have been physically impossible for me to do. As a result, for the last 40 years I have turned my back and walked away from fights. No one has been stupid enough to attack me from behind. And, if I didn't actively seek to avoid such confrontations, there'd be a dead body in the streets. I know five ways to hit someone once that is instantly fatal. I don't fight.

The point to all that nonsense? Your MC does what is so predictable -- I'm a Berserker, so I have to fight. Where's the struggle in that? Again I haven't read the story. But, perhaps Casora should be fighting an internal battle against this curse. She may not be able to win without Tiaran's help, but that's not the point -- the decision to fight against it is.

Just some idle thoughts fuelled with fermented grape juice.

Phil.

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Meredith
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Okay, hivemind. Laying aside the plot for the moment (which the mentor liked, btw), the character arcs are something like this:

Casora has been raised from early childhood to be a warrior. It's what's expected of her because she was born with the mark of the berserker curse. It's all she's ever known. At the start of the story she is one of a band of teenage warriors loaned out to an ally of her homeland in order to get actual battle experience. What she really wants at this point is to be called back home and get on with her life, including her duty as part of the Home Guard.
Then several things happen at once and the discipline she's been taught (and the magic charms they all wear) isn't up to the strain. She goes berserk and is therefore automatically exiled. (Berserker here isn't quite exactly what the old Norse meant by it, although it's very similar. There's some magic involved.)
What she thinks she's searching for after that is a way to cure the curse so she can go home. What she finds is a new home with very different expectations, though it takes her a little while to figure that out.
The beginning and ending of the novel, as currently written, tie those two points of seeking and finding her home up neatly.

Tiaran's story arc currently starts in Chapter 5. He's the youngest prince and the one least likely to succeed. He's just no good with a sword, especially compared to his brawny older half brothers. And they're always quick to let him know it. Ti's strength has always been his brain and he's adept at reading political situations. Rather than let him fight in the war, Ti's father intends to use him to marry into an alliance--to a girl Ti can't stand.
Ti runs off to fight in the war anyway--and very nearly gets himself killed, until he's rescued by Casora. From Casora and the others of her band, he learns what it really means to be a warrior and that there's more than just one way to fight--some of which suit him much better than the sword. His political savvy translates to a gift for strategy which he uses to devise a plan that ends the war.
When he gets back home victorious (without Casora at first, because she hasn't figured it out, yet), he's become much more formidable than anyone could have expected. He's more than capable of dealing with his obnoxious brothers and he's become the leader the kingdom needs as heir to the throne.

Oh yeah, and along the way, Ti and Casora fall in love.

Now, what I'm trying to figure out is if there's a way to fit both story arcs into 35 words. Or if I have to pick one--and if so, which.

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Corky
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So they train potential berserkers to fight in spite of the berserker curse and hope magic charms will counter the curse? How's that for playing with fire?

I have to wonder what the cultural motivation would be for that kind of risk--or does it not ever happen (foolproof magic?), and Casora is the victim of over-confidence on the part of her people?

Do you show the curse overcoming the magic, and everyone's reaction (and I mean not just Casora, but those who feel they have no choice but to exile her), in your novel?

If not, you might be able to write a two-part novel with this, with part one being from Casora's pov -- perhaps ending with her finding a place in her band of, what, fellow berserkers? (so it does happen to others?) and most of part two being from Tiaran's pov -- back and forth between them when they finally get together?

Also, because your "berserker" isn't what those who know the term would expect, could you consider a different term (I think I recall you discussing this earlier)? Would it work to just refer to it as "The Curse" or the "Wildcurse" or the "Ragecurse" or somesuch, and stay away from the confusion of terms that you've been getting with "berserker?" Or even refer to it as some kind of "possession" or demon?

I apologize if my comments imply that there's more writing for you to do. It's just that even from your expanded synopsis, some things still aren't clear, and I'm hoping if you know my thoughts, they can be of use to you.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Now, what I'm trying to figure out is if there's a way to fit both story arcs into 35 words. Or if I have to pick one--and if so, which.
If such exercises have any value, it's to learn to make hard choices about what you want to say in limited space, and what you have to let go. You can't do justice to a *single* character arc in 35 words -- much less two.

What you can do effectively in 35 words is describe a *single* problem or goal.

Now the question is, will it be Ti's problem or Casora's? In one sense it doesn't matter which; your job is to describe a problem the reader would like to see the characters grapple with. It may be that when laid out Tiaran's arc is more compelling, but I worry that the way you've structured your book might raise problems with focusing on him in the pitch. If somebody read the opening chapter of your book, with Tiaran some four chapters in the future, they might think you don't know how to get to the point, given that you've sold them on Tiaran's problem as the point.

So I'd focus Casora. But if you must bring in Tiaran, focus on him, e.g.,:


quote:
The pen's mightier, but the sword gets more respect. When bookish Prince Tiaran tries the sword the beserker girl Casora rescues him and shows him it's not the tool that makes a warrior.
Note how this barely shoehorns in Tiaran's problem, which is to go beyond shallow notions of battlefield glory and become the leader his people need. Trying to get Casora's problem in here too is impractical.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Corky:
So they train potential berserkers to fight in spite of the berserker curse and hope magic charms will counter the curse? How's that for playing with fire?


I have to wonder what the cultural motivation would be for that kind of risk--or does it not ever happen (foolproof magic?), and Casora is the victim of over-confidence on the part of her people?

Ah, well. Maybe I need to write the prequel. Like a lot of things societies do that don't make real sense, the reason for this is historical. The origin of the berserker curse was in defense of the homeland, so that's clearly what it's meant to be used for. (Come to think of it, that may not come out clearly enough in the novel.)

BTW, the old Norse (aka Vikings) highly prized berserker warriors. According to legend, one of the kings (Norway, I think) was supposed to have a special guard composed entirely of berserkers. So it's not exactly new.

quote:
Do you show the curse overcoming the magic, and everyone's reaction (and I mean not just Casora, but those who feel they have no choice but to exile her), in your novel?

If not, you might be able to write a two-part novel with this, with part one being from Casora's pov -- perhaps ending with her finding a place in her band of, what, fellow berserkers? (so it does happen to others?) and most of part two being from Tiaran's pov -- back and forth between them when they finally get together?

That's part of why I started the story where I did. To show Casora going berserk and how she feels about that.

quote:
Also, because your "berserker" isn't what those who know the term would expect, could you consider a different term (I think I recall you discussing this earlier)? Would it work to just refer to it as "The Curse" or the "Wildcurse" or the "Ragecurse" or somesuch, and stay away from the confusion of terms that you've been getting with "berserker?" Or even refer to it as some kind of "possession" or demon?
It's actually very close to what you'd expect. Just, in some ways, a little more (the color of her eyes changes when she's berserk, for example) along with some other quirks that I've added. One of them is that it's supposed to take more than just an average battle to bring out the berserker for the first time(and yes, they have magic charms they think help with that). Once a berserker, though, all bets are off. Even little things can set them off. Also, the berserkers have certain enhanced abilities (increased senses of smell and hearing, for example) even when they're "normal". Actually, that sometimes works to irritate them into going berserk more frequently. [Smile]

quote:
I apologize if my comments imply that there's more writing for you to do. It's just that even from your expanded synopsis, some things still aren't clear, and I'm hoping if you know my thoughts, they can be of use to you.
All comments help. Sometimes just typing these things out helps.
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Meredith
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Something I've realized from typing this out:

Both story arcs have to do with overcoming external expectations to become what the characters want and need to be.

Maybe that's what I need to concentrate on in the pitch?? Right?

*confusion*

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Grumpy old guy
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Meredith, defining their struggle is the first step in understanding the characters.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
Something I've realized from typing this out:

Both story arcs have to do with overcoming external expectations to become what the characters want and need to be.

Maybe that's what I need to concentrate on in the pitch?? Right?

*confusion*

Well, I don't think there is a "right" way to do this. Certainly the theme of defining yourself against external expectations is a compelling (and common) one in YA literature, so you can't go too wrong that way.

But 35 words isn't a lot of space to work that in and both characters. It's necessarily a case of choosing which blind man is holding the most interesting bit of the elephant.

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Meredith
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Okay. Totally new pitch:

quote:
Casora was raised as a warrior. It's all she knows. Tiaran can barely swing a sword, but he was born into palace intrigue. They'll both have to stretch beyond their limits to reach their goals.
Good? Awful?
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Meredith
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Kathleen, can I get a special exemption, please?

I also need to polish the first 250 words by Sunday. Yikes. That's more than 13 lines, though. Can I post it anyway? Please.

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MattLeo
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You are cutting it close, Meredith. Send me your 250 and I'll try to turn around a crit quickly.
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Meredith
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I'm not the one cutting it close. I only got the revision notes from my mentor on Friday. And she wanted me to cut the first eight chapters! I haven't quite done that, but still . . .

The old opening had been polished over more than a year. She only gave me ten days!

Thanks. I'm sending it out now.

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MattLeo
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Critique of the 250 sent -- let me know if you haven't received it yet.

On this pitch:
quote:

Casora was raised as a warrior. It's all she knows. Tiaran can barely swing a sword, but he was born into palace intrigue. They'll both have to stretch beyond their limits to reach their goals.

You've done a yeoman's job of shoehorning the dilemmas of Casora AND Tiaran into 35 words, but it needs more emotional impact and you've got no room to work in. "They'll both have to stretch beyond their limits..." is a bit generic; it goes without saying, so perhaps you can replace it with something more specific to the aspirations of *these* characters.

The problem with this pitch is that it doesn't really give us a sense of what each character wants, much less what they want for each *other*. It's not even clear whether they'll interact, or have independent parallel storylines.

I think the problem is that you're trying to do too much by giving both characters equal billing in only 35 words.

It's a bit silly to demand you restructure your novel for a *pitch* contest. Your coach may be giving you good advice on your novel's structure but now's not the time for that. Who is your coach? I've got Becca.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Critique of the 250 sent -- let me know if you haven't received it yet.

On this pitch:
quote:

Casora was raised as a warrior. It's all she knows. Tiaran can barely swing a sword, but he was born into palace intrigue. They'll both have to stretch beyond their limits to reach their goals.

You've done a yeoman's job of shoehorning the dilemmas of Casora AND Tiaran into 35 words, but it needs more emotional impact and you've got no room to work in. "They'll both have to stretch beyond their limits..." is a bit generic; it goes without saying, so perhaps you can replace it with something more specific to the aspirations of *these* characters.

The problem with this pitch is that it doesn't really give us a sense of what each character wants, much less what they want for each *other*. It's not even clear whether they'll interact, or have independent parallel storylines.

I think the problem is that you're trying to do too much by giving both characters equal billing in only 35 words.

It's a bit silly to demand you restructure your novel for a *pitch* contest. Your coach may be giving you good advice on your novel's structure but now's not the time for that. Who is your coach? I've got Becca.

My mentor is Marieke.

Yeah. Conflict. That's what's missing from the pitch. These things are evil, I tell you.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
Kathleen, can I get a special exemption, please?

I also need to polish the first 250 words by Sunday. Yikes. That's more than 13 lines, though. Can I post it anyway? Please.

Eek! I'd like to give it to you, but, but...

Could you post just 13 lines and at least get help with that?

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Corky
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How about something like this?
quote:
All Casora knows is her warrior upbringing, so she scorns Prince Tiaran and his palace background. When she rescues him, they are both surprised at how much they can teach each other.
32 words

or "help each other" perhaps?

Edited to add:

I'd offer to read your 250 words, but my email address is defunct, and I don't want to re-register (the only way I can update it).

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
It's a bit silly to demand you restructure your novel for a *pitch* contest. Your coach may be giving you good advice on your novel's structure but now's not the time for that. Who is your coach? I've got Becca.

Well, yes and no. Between you, me, and the lampost, I'm revising a copy, not the master file. I figure at the end of it, I'll at least have learned something--if only how fast I can really do a revision like this. So I will have gotten something out of Pitch Wars even if no agent shows any interest. [Smile]

Also, I may figure out how to write a decent pitch.

Some of her suggestions I agree with. Some are making me stretch--but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Some I've rejected, like changing the focus to the male protagonist. But, you know, once somebody hit me over the head with it, there really was too much world building in those early chapters. Not bad stuff, and not irrelevant, just maybe not moving the story forward fast enough.

Next, of course, I have to start adding back for some of the material I've cut. It's borderline too short right now. But, there always was one character I meant to do more with. That's another stretch as he should be slightly humorous. [Smile]

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MattLeo
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Well, my thinking about excess world building has evolved over the last year. I used to see it as a fault, plain and simple. Now I think it sometimes acts like scaffolding to help you build your story, you just need a fresh eyes to remind you to knock it out when you want the finished product.

As for a decent pitch, 35 words is a *very* challenging limit. It forces you to think differently.

I checked out Marieke's website and the impression I get from the descriptions of her own books is that she favors male characters. There's nothing wrong with this. I personally favor *female* characters. I like writing them, I like spending time in their heads. But it is a bias. If I critiqued FIRE AND EARTH I'd probably request more Casora and less Tiaran, and you can see my bias in my pitch suggestions.

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Meredith
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Okay, is this pitch better?

quote:
Casora was raised as a warrior. Tiaran can barely swing a sword, but he knows palace intrigue. To win the war and make a place for themselves, they'll both have to stretch beyond their limits.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
Okay, is this pitch better?

quote:
Casora was raised as a warrior. Tiaran can barely swing a sword, but he knows palace intrigue. To win the war and make a place for themselves, they'll both have to stretch beyond their limits.

Again, way too generic. Every adventure protagonist has to stretch himself beyond his (perceived) limits. There's that misplaced impression of parallel, non-intersecting story lines too, and from what I understand the relationship between these two is what drives the novel -- and what will pique the interest of potential readers.

What is the gist of their relationship, and how is it different from what we expect? What makes it intriguing?

Casora is what Tiaran in part aspires to be; what his older brothers are (is he the third brother? How fairy tale!). Casora isn't happy with what she is, but she probably thinks it's preferable to being bookish, aristocrat's spare son. So in a sense they both undervalue what Tiaran has to offer; Tiaran can only learn to value his gifts through Casora, and unknown to her he opens a whole new universe of experience to her through his knowledge of culture and especially books. That's always an easy sell to the reading public.

Through their relationship, these characters discover a whole new way of thinking and being. That kind of discovery, by the way, is the essence of romantic love.

I think you need to frame this through the POV of one of the characters; trying to do both is washing out the focus. I'd make it Casora given the structure of your book, but since you want to please your coach you're probably going to have to frame this around Tiaran.

The points I'd lay out are

(1) Tiaran is dissatisfied because he thinks his country needs a warrior, not a scholar.
(2) Casora, the barbaric beserker girl embodies what Tiaran thinks he should be but
(3) by opening Casora's world to knowledge and culture
(4) he learns to value his own unique gifts and through them
(5) becomes the leader his country needs.

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Meredith
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Okay, I can be taught (I think). The problem is that I really think of this as being the story of both Tiaran and Casora. If I had to pick one as the lead character, it would still be Casora.

Anyway, here's one for each of them:

quote:
Casora was raised to be a warrior, but that wasn't enough to save her country from the raiders. She can't see how rescuing the unwarrior-like youngest prince will change that. She couldn't be more wrong.
quote:
Tiaran must be saved from his first battle by a girl who's a better warrior. To save his country, he'll learn what she can teach--and change her life as much as she changes his.
Which is better? And what's still wrong?

Have I mentioned that I hate short pitches?

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MattLeo
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You're going to strangle me for saying this, but I think your very first pitch is the strongest so ar, although I'd pare it down a bit then highlight the irony:

quote:
Seventeen-year-old warrior Casora is exiled for bearing the berserker curse. Her search for a cure leads her to bookish prince Tiaran, who just might be the answer to her prayers.
Of the two most recent, I like the first better, but it's a bit awkwardly phrased ("unwarrior-like"). Maybe something like this:

quote:
Seventeen year-old Casora is a born warrior, but she couldn't save her people. When she's sent to rescue a young scholar-prince she thinks it's just another job. She couldn't be more wrong.
If we're going with the second one to make coach happy, I have a problem with the passive voice, Maybe more a storytelling style?:

quote:
When Prince Tiaran's first battle goes disastrously wrong, he's saved by the barbarian warrior girl Casora, and they learn from each other how to become the leader each of their peoples needs.

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Meredith
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Okay, here's my mentor's suggestion:

quote:
Though raised as a fearless, faceless warrior, Casora couldn’t stop her homeland’s invasion. Bullied as a hapless princeling, Tiaran can’t escape his political doom. Until they meet on the battlefield, when they’ll make kingdoms crumble.
I'm not sure about the kingdoms crumbling. Maybe shake their foundations a bit. [Smile]

What do you think?

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Corky
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How about "Then they meet on the battlefield, and everything changes."?

or "and change each others' lives."?

The sentence starting with "until" reads awkwardly to me.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Corky:
How about "Then they meet on the battlefield, and everything changes."?

or "and change each others' lives."?

The sentence starting with "until" reads awkwardly to me.

Agreed. Also, "meet on the battlefield" could mean against each other, instead of as allies. I've made a few tweaks, but I think this is basically the one I'm going with.
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MattLeo
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I think it is actually quite good -- except the last sentence doesn't make any sense, because "until" implicitly refers back to something that should have been mentioned, but it's not clear. It's not entirely clear that kingdoms crumbling is a good thing.

quote:
Raised as a warrior, Casora can't stop her homeland’s invasion. Bullied as a bookish princeling, Tiaran can’t escape his political irrelevancy. They meet on the battlefield, and discover what it takes to lead their people.
Note I'm dancing around gender neutrality by using the British-ism "their" as a generic pronoun for person of indeterminate sex.
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Meredith
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Final version:

quote:
Though raised as a fearless, faceless warrior, Casora couldn’t stop her homeland’s invasion. Bullied, hapless princeling Tiaran can’t escape his political doom. When they join forces on the battlefield they’ll rock the foundations of kingdoms.
Thanks everyone.
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