Dave is a very patient man. We thank him for it.
About a thousand years ago, we posted his pitch for group discussion and analysis. To refresh:
Miracle Maker tells the story of a young woman pursuing her dream of commanding an interstellar warship like her grandfather. Unlike her grandfather, she joins the multi-national United Nations Defense Service rather than her home world's Space Militia, because she wants to escape her family's pity and sorrow over the defects in her genetic enhancements that have drastically shortened her life expectancy. She soon finds that hiding her advantages and weaknesses from the suspicious 'Normals' is harder than she ever anticipated, especially when she's assigned as a junior officer to a ship that encounters action far more frequently than its peers. The pressure to abandon her dream rises as she first falls in love with an officer in her chain of command and then accidentally kills a fellow crew member during a boarding action. Feeling guilty and longing for an ordinary life, she's on the verge of resigning her commission when circumstances force her to take command to save her ship and the lives of her crew and herself. When she succeeds despite very difficult odds, Defense Service Fleet Operations gives her a choice: Resign to be with the man she loves, or realize her dream of command in the face of a grueling war.
Miracle Maker is a 125,000 word science fiction novel intended to appeal to fans of the works of Elizabeth Moon, David Weber, Catherine Asaro, and Lois McMaster Bujold.
Let me start by acknowledging that the comments to this post were very insightful. This pitch is heavy on premise, which means that there is less focus on the plot, which means, as several of you pointed out, that the overall impression is of a thin plot. This is easy to fix. Just toss in a couple of events that highlight the large-scale structure of the plot. This is a particularly important fix because at 125,000 words, you need to give the impression of a plot strong enough to carry that length.
Most people, including me, found the idea of the genetic enhancements gone wrong very interesting. A couple of people pointed to a feeling of dryness or wordiness in the pitch. This is also easy to fix. Cut extra words, and refocus on the conflict. We get a hint of the conflict, but we could use a little more detail. Conflict is always going to be more interesting than setting, premise, back story, or other similar details.
Let's take a closer look.
I love this title for a science fiction story. It makes me think right away that we're going to be playing with notions of morality and ethics in the context of the futuristic world.
tells the story
This is one of those wheelspinning phrases that we run into and pitches and query letters from time to time. Sometimes I get the feeling that the author almost has to alert us, "Okay! Get ready! Here comes the story!" This might be a personal preference, or one of those unique editorial tics, but I would really rather have you just tell me the story without announcing that you're going to tell me the story. And because we're looking at ways to tighten up this pitch, I thought I'd point this out.
of a young woman pursuing her dream of commanding
Good. Right away, we start with the character and a goal.
an interstellar warship like her grandfather.
Things like this leap off the page at me. Does everyone else see it, too? "Like" is a preposition. I understand from the phrase which follows that the author is trying to play with parallelism, but this one just doesn't work for me. Unless her grandfather really is like a warship. Is he? This is sci-fi, after all. Maybe our protagonist is half human, half transport vehicle.
Unlike her grandfather, she joins the multi-national United Nations Defense Service
I think you can cut multinational because we all understand the idea of the United Nations is being multinational. So that's a bit redundant.
rather than her home world's Space Militia, because she wants to escape
This is good. It gives us more insight into her motivation. But really, if you want to tighten up the opening of this pitch, you can just say, "In Miracle Maker, a young woman pursues her dream of commanding an interstellar spaceship, which will also help her escape..."
her family's pity and sorrow
Do you need both pity and sorrow? I recognize that these are two different emotions, but I'm wondering if you need both of them here.
over the defects in her genetic enhancements that have drastically shortened her life expectancy.
This is where it gets really interesting. Genetic enhancements, which should improve life, in her case have substantially harmed her. Also, I like the way this sentence builds in a ticking clock. Whatever it is that she wants to complete in this life, she has to do it quickly, because she has less time than everybody else. We are all engaged in this race, of course, but in her case, the race against death takes on greater immediacy.
She soon finds that hiding her advantages and weaknesses from the suspicious 'Normals' is harder than she ever anticipated, especially when she's assigned as a junior officer to a ship that encounters action far more frequently than its peers.
This whole sentence is vague. We don't know what her advantages are. We don't know what her weaknesses are. I like the hint of conflict between her kind of people and the "normals." But I'd like to know something more about how it manifests. The adverbial clause after the comma would be the ideal place to give us something specific. Give us the details of a particular instance in which either her advantages or her weaknesses create conflict between her and the normals. We already know that she's on a warship, so we don't need further details of her assignment. Our interest has been captivated by the genetic engineering, and I'd like to see that developed a little bit here.
The pressure to abandon her dream rises as she first falls in love with an officer in her chain of command
This reads like a bit of a non sequitur. How does falling in love with an officer result in a need to abandon her dream? If anything, it might provide greater motivation for her to succeed within her job, so that she could stay close to him.
and then accidentally kills a fellow crew member during a boarding action.
This is concrete. It's an actual plot event. We need to see more plot events like this.
Feeling guilty and longing for an ordinary life, she's on the verge of resigning her commission
This seems to restate everything that has come before. You can consider cutting all of this, or cut what came before.
when circumstances force her to take command to save her ship and the lives of her crew and herself.
This is good because it gives us a glimpse of her heroic nature. We want to cheer for her. We want her to get command of the ship, because that is her dream. I'm a little bit concerned about the circumstances. Of course, without knowing more about the plot, it could very well be that these circumstances are an opportunity for her to prove her merit, and lead directly to the conclusion we all want, which is her achieving her goal. This circumstantial ship command isn't necessarily the endpoint. It might just be another means to the end, another step on the path. That impression is bolstered by what follows.
When she succeeds despite very difficult odds, Defense Service Fleet Operations gives her a choice: Resign to be with the man she loves, or realize her dream of command in the face of a grueling war.
I'm a little bit concerned about this choice, because it seems to me that success ought to be rewarded. Also, I'm still not clear on why her love is a problem for anyone in this setting. That probably needs to be explained because it seems to go right to the core of the conflict. Also, who is this guy that she loves? We know he's an officer, but we don't know anything more about him than that. Is he her superior officer on the same ship? If so, how is it that she ends up with command of the ship when he is there? Shouldn't he be the one in charge if he is the ranking officer?
In any event, I think that by focusing on more specific details, more specific plot events, you'll end up with a pitch that feels a lot more dramatic.