Welcome to May’s Voice Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected over thirty writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a 500 word sample that the writer chose from his or her manuscript where he or she felt they needed help with their voice. Our hope that these samples will help you with your work and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors.We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.
And now we have …
Pitch Wars Mentor Laura Heffernan
Laura Heffernan is a reality TV addict and women’s fiction writer, represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary. When she’s not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, writing contests, and new experiences. She’s ecstatic to be mentoring PitchWars this year for the second time. Laura lives in the Northeast with her husband and two furry little beasts, where she works as a freelance editor and tries to convince people that cookie dough is a key part of the food pyramid.
Laura’s 500 Word Critique . . .
“I have a phone interview today with a psychic,” Chloe says as JJ shuffles into the kitchen early Friday morning in fuzzy slippers and baby– doll pajamas. Chloe is dressed for work; JJ hasn’t even flicked the crust from the corner of her eyes. I LOVE THIS LINE. GREAT WAY TO SHOW ME HOW JJ THINKS.
JJ shuffles to a cabinet, selects a mug and tea bag, and moves to the stove. She shakes the teapot. Half full.
“Go ahead,” Chloe says.
JJ mutters thanks as she studies Chloe’s face. A smear of iridescent white concealer floats beneath each eye—Chloe’s attempt to hide another night of too much Cabernet and not enough sleep. JJ decides not to mention it. She drops the teabag into her mug, pours the remaining hot water over it, and, still dragging her feet, moves toward the table for milk and honey. YOU’RE SHOWING ME A PRETTY MUNDANE BREAKFAST SCENE, AND I’M WONDERING IF THERE’S SOME REASON I NEED TO SEE JJ MAKING TEA. THE FIRST PART OF THIS PARAGRAPH IS GOOD, BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE I’M GETTING A SENSE OF JJ AS A CHARACTER, BUT THE LAST SENTENCE DOESN’T SEEM NECESSARY (OR COULD AT LEAST BE CUT SIGNIFICANTLY).
Bacon grease and buttered toast waft toward her. She skipped dinner again last night so she could have what’s left in her section of the fridge for lunch today. Embarrassed by her grumbling stomach, she fishes the teabag out of her mug, (DELETE THIS COMMA) and gulps the tea. (I LIKE THAT SHE’S GULPING THE TEA. GOOD WORD CHOICE)
Chloe looks (AVOID USING LOOKS WHENEVER POSSIBLE. THERE ARE STRONGER VERBS TO SHOW THE ACTION. HOW WOULD JJ DESCRIBE WHAT CHLOE IS DOING HERE?) down at her plate: two eggs sunny side up, two slices of buttered toast, three strips of bacon. “Here,” Chloe says, ”get a plate.”
JJ jumps up and grabs a plate out of the dishwasher. Chloe pushes a slice of bacon, one egg and a slice of toast on to JJ’s plate.
“Psychic?” JJ nudges.
“If I tell you about it, you can’t steal the story,” Chloe says. She rises from her seat, places a hand on her midsection to keep her dress from dipping into her plate, and reaches for a paper napkin from the ceramic basket in the center of the table. Plopping heavily back into her chair, she pats the napkin into her lap. (AGAIN, IS THIS ACTION NECESSARY? I’D RATHER READ ABOUT THE PSYCHIC AND STORY STEALING THAN 49 WORDS ABOUT SOMEONE GETTING A NAPKIN.)
“Sorry, that’s what we do,” JJ laughs. (IF SHE’S LAUGHING, THEN THE DIALOGUE NEEDS TO BE A COMPLETE SENTENCE. YOU CAN’T LAUGH WORDS.) “Small town radio reporters read the newspaper and condense those overwritten, windbag stories into sixty seconds or less of scintillating copy. Sometimes we even call the people you’ve already interviewed, record ten seconds of their thoughts and paste that juicy tidbit into the middle of your, I mean, our, story.”
JJ slathers butter on her bread, piles the egg on top, and bites.
Chloe watches, shaking her head. (YOU CAN PROBABLY COMBINE THIS SENTENCE WITH THE ONE ABOVE IF YOU NEED THEM AT ALL.)“I can’t believe you eat so much butter and stay so skinny,” she sighs (A PERSON ALSO CAN’T SIGH A SENTENCE. EITHER YOU NEED A PERIOD AT THE END OF THE DIALOGUE, OR THE TAG SHOULD BE “SAID”. BE SURE TO REVIEW THE RULES FOR PUNCTUATING DIALOGUE AND BEATS V. TAGS BEFORE DOING A FINAL POLISH) and spreads a thin layer of margarine on her toast.
That stuff will kill you,” JJ says, pointing at the margarine. (IT’S OK TO USE DIALOG TAGS WITHOUT THE BEATS. IN FACT, IT’S BETTER TO USE BEATS OR TAGS, NOT BOTH.) “It’s not even real food.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“What’s the story?”
“There’s this woman, Dorothea De Los Santos, who helps cops find missing people.”
“Yeah, I heard about her from Jack Mahoney,” Chloe says, nibbling on a half-slice of toast. (DITTO) “He still has a crush on me.”
Thank you for trusting me to read your sample. There are some areas with where the voice really shines through, like when you’re describing JJ’s early morning movements (and I love the contrast between JJ and Chloe.) However, I worry that your voice gets lost in the minutiae of the characters eating their breakfast. While it’s good to use action to break up the dialogue when it adds meaning to the characters words or give insights, there’s no need to describe every little minute when what’s happening isn’t key. Trimming a bit of the unnecessary description, or replacing with JJ’s thoughts and feelings about what’s happening, while really help make the voice jump off the page. How does she feel about Chloe sharing her breakfast? Is she embarrassed by her growling stomach? How do bacon and eggs taste when she skipped dinner the night before? Bring me more inside JJ’s head so I can experience the world through her eyes, and then you’ll have a voice that really stands out.
This says that it’s new adult fiction, but it reads like WF to me. Even if your characters are in their early 20s, you may want to look at some agents who do WF in addition to New Adult agents. After all, 18-25 year old women are still women. (But keep in mind that I’m looking at 2 pages out of several hundred, so maybe WF isn’t a good fit.)
Overall, I’m very intrigued by what’s happening here. Just give me a little bit more so I’m as drawn into the voice and characters as I am by the plot.
Thank you, Laura, for your critique. That concludes our Pitch Wars 2016 Voice Workshops. Come back for the Pitch Wars Setting Workshops in the month of June. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.