By Sara Pierce
The city is alive. And it’s trying to kill Shasta Kachtouri.
But he doesn’t know it. After all, it’s hard enough being a newcomer in a school where social tensions are as incomprehensible as city streets; but besides that Shasta’s also got the Sim, a weekly virtual-reality competition, to worry about. Not to mention his chronic panic attacks, which are growing worse. So when strange things start happening at the Academy—mysterious messages, unsolvable puzzles, and mechanical spies—Shasta assumes he’s just hallucinating. That is, until a simple question about the school turns into a harrowing race for his life.
He loses his pursuers in the Lair, a sentient corner of the city that changes its geography to keep him from finding the exit. There he meets Angel, a young girl presumed dead in a factory fire five months ago. She explains the awful truth: not only is the Lair connected to the Academy, but it also grows each minute students spend inside. If Shasta doesn’t find a way to escape the Lair and shut down the school, the Lair will absorb the rest of the city in a matter of weeks. Except now Shasta is also trapped. And even if he can find a way out, he’ll have to dodge assassins, Academy masters, and various school cliques; all while keeping the panic attacks—which are growing more debilitating by the hour—at bay. Time is running out. The Lair is coming.
The Book Doctors: We love how you open this pitch–that the city is not only a character in your story, but a killer who’s trying to snuff out our hero. Speaking of heroes, we really get attached to Shasta. You do a wonderful job of weaving him through this story. And the fact that the city is sentiment is so cool. You’ve got mean teenager cliques, assassins, panic attacks, and a ticking clock. Brava! Now let’s dial down. We don’t know exactly what “social tensions” are. We need more detail, otherwise take it out. The whole of the second sentence is way too long. Because the weekly virtual-reality competition doesn’t seem to play out anywhere else in this pitch, maybe just take this clause out. You only have 250 words, you have to use every single one of them wisely. Don’t tell us about the panic attacks, show us one. It’s very important for us to see that you are capable of effectively rendering this event which has plagued so many people for so many hundreds of years. You don’t want to tell us that something strange is happening, and then show us the strange things. Just show us the strange things. Redundancy is the enemy of every pitch. We want to understand more about the mechanical spies, we don’t exactly see in our minds’ eyes how excellent and awesome and amazing they are. Same with the messages and puzzles. And there’s something off about the whole idea of the simple question turning into the harrowing race for our hero’s life. It’s confusing, and not in a good way. It feels awkward. Show us what’s different about your assassins, Academy Masters, and school cliques. Show us how the panic attacks are escalating. We really like the last two lines. You can almost hear the organ playing three ominous notes at the end. You do a very good job of building tension, showing us what the stakes are. But we’d still like to understand more about how the city is alive. Maybe you could give us a quick couple of images of him trying to leave and the city shutting doors or changing train lines or whatever it is. Because we don’t quite see how cool it is yet. And we want to understand more of what’s going inside our hero, what he is striving to overcome in his inner life, not just that he’s trying to save the world. Very intriguing premise about a living city that can change at will, a creeping evil taking over the world, a sinister Academy, and one young man who’s got to stand up to it all. Needs more details about how the city comes to life, and more intimate portrait of our hero.
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