SOULSPEAKERS: original pitch
In Sunny’s world, all seventeen-year-olds go before the Staff of Souls to be told their greatest weakness. If they can conquer their weakness within the following year they will become Imbuers, capable of imbuing one object with a magical soul. But when the staff labels Sunny as Cruel, Sunny spirals and loses control of the animation magic all children gain when they discover their greatest strength.
Nevertheless, Sunny is forced to compete in the annual Conqueror’s Trial, designed to make contestants face their weaknesses over and over. Sunny is placed on a team with River, who is Faithless, and Ember, who is Merciless. The three must work together, putting behind them their shared history of romance and betrayal, if they have any chance of surviving, much less conquering their weaknesses.
But as the three fight against the harsh labels they’ve been given, Sunny makes a startling discovery: the Staff of Souls can lie.
I liked a lot of the things happening here, but it's too clunky. There's too much happening. So I cut out the friends (even though they are really important to the plot) and tried again.
SOULSPEAKERS: first revision
Overcome your greatest weakness, save a soul from hell. That’s the most basic tenet of Sunny’s faith. Those who do overcome bind that soul to a magical artifact and gain entrance to the religious order of Imbuers. Long ago the Imbuers were the first line of defense against demon invasion, but in the five hundred years since the demons were locked away for good, Sunny’s world has known peace.
Sunny’s own life, however, is mired in chaos. Two years ago her grandmother was executed for heresy, and her family was banished from the mountain city of the Imbuers. Now she’s back, ready to take on the annual Trial of Champions to show that she’s nothing like her grandmother. If she, too, can become an Imbuer by the end of the trails, she’ll never have to leave her home again.
But when Sunny’s greatest weakness is revealed to be dishonesty, distrust for her family grows. The last thing she needs is to get tangled in her grandmother’s old conspiracies. Against her will, Sunny learns the truth: her grandmother was no heretic, and the demons aren’t as gone as everyone thinks. Sunny must overcome her weakness to protect her people, but the only way to do that is to take on the very label of heretic she so desperately wants to avoid. Tell the truth and she could be executed. Lie, and not only will she never be an Imbuer, but this time the demons might win.
This isn't really any better. I added in way too much background information, so it's still far too clunky.
SOULSPEAKERS: second revision
Sunny has known her greatest strength is honesty since the day she confessed to breaking her grandmother’s heirloom and became an Animator for telling the truth. She is always honest, even at great cost to herself. It was Sunny’s own testimony that sent her grandmother to the execution block and got her family banished from the holy mountain.
But now she’s back, and she has one chance of coming home for good. If she can conquer her greatest weakness she’ll become an Imbuer, capable of rescuing a soul from hell. All she has to do is go before the Staff of Souls and be told her greatest weakness, then do whatever it takes to get over it. There’s just one problem: when Sunny goes before the staff, the label it gives her is Dishonest.
For this final one, I took the first chapter (which I had written at this point) and condensed it into a pitch. I'm still not completely happy with this pitch, since the ending isn't quite as powerful as I'd like it to be, but I think it's much closer than the first two.
Now, as I just mentioned, I've written the first chapter of this book. But I had a really hard time writing any more of that. As it turns out, the unwieldiness of the original pitch was indicative of some major unwieldiness in the plot. I've set this project aside for now, but it taught me something important: sometimes a pitch that won't come together is indicative of a plot that's in trouble.