Welcome to June’s Setting Workshop! From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected over thirty writers to participate. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a 500 word sample chosen by the writers from a place he or she felt needed help with setting. We hope that not only you’ll learn a little bit about setting that you can apply to your own writing, but that you’ll also be able to get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors and their editing styles. 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 Rosalyn Eves
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Rosalyn Eves is a writer of romantic, lyrical, atmospheric young adult fantasy novels. Her first novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, a historical fantasy set at the height of the Austro-Hungarian empire (with magic!) debuts March 2017 from Knopf/Random House.
The 500 Word Critique . . .
Young Adult Fantasy
Now that my brothers are men, shoulders broad and corded with muscle, and I am almost a woman myself, there are moments when I think that they want to hit me. I see it in their eyes after I’ve spoken, or when they look up to see me join them at evening meal. Smash smash smash, their faces say, but their bodies stay still and controlled. (I’m intrigued by the conflict here—I want to know why her brothers resent her and why it’s their growing older that seems to have changed things. The slightly formal language suggests to me that this isn’t contemporary, but I don’t have any sense of where or when this is taking place. I think you can drop a few more hints here, maybe something about their eyes above their beards, or seeing them when she emerges from the women’s tent, etc.)
It’s not all my brothers who want to hurt me, which is good because I have nine of them. It’s mostly Levi and Jude, though the others have little love for me, except for Ruben the firstborn.(These names make me think we’re dealing with a biblical story of Jacob’s sons, which helps ground me a little since I know the story, but I still want more grounding in terms of place and time. I also want to know why the brothers don’t love her, and why Levi and Jude in particular want to hurt her.)
At the moment, Levi and Jude swim somewhere under my feet as they follow me to the surface. (I want a little more transition from the MC’s general reflections to swimming with her brothers—I was initially confused why the MC would be meditating on her brothers while doing something as unusual and potentially threatening as swimming. Because we only have a few setting details to this point, I was picturing a story set in biblical times, where swimming would have been quite unusual. It wasn’t until I got to the end of this paragraph that I realized this is a retelling, rather than a reimagining of the story. Because the setting is so different—and cool!—than what readers might expect, you’ll definitely want to spend some time dropping hints about the dual land/sea world they inhabit). Today we are on herding duty together. We will swim with the flock while they graze from the seaweed forest, and at the end of the day, we will shepherd them safely back to the cave where they spend the night.
I sign to my brothers to return to the surface, that I have something to say to them. (What is she planning to say?) Below the three of us, our flock of stripefish mill about in the seaweed canopy. They are flashes of silver among dusky olive-green leaves that flow and ripple like flags in a breeze, like the way our seaweed tunics – form-fitting on land, but turning loose in water – move against our bodies with the current.(These are some great details. I can visualize this part of the world quite well. I’d like to know what the stripefish are good for. Why do they need herding? And what value do they have?). Each fish is as wide and long as I am. They drift as they look to us, waiting for a direction. Below them twenty, thirty, forty feet, are hundreds more.
I am the first to break into the air, and there is about a second and a half where it is just me and the Ocean. The sun is warm on my face, and the waves lap at my neck as I tread water. Shh, it’s just you and me, says the Ocean. (I like what this paragraph says about the MCs relationship with the Ocean. The repetition of “it’s just you and me” didn’t feel necessary though. If the Ocean speaks to her, maybe it can say something else?) I could stare at its horizon line all day, brilliant blue and endless.
Except – a black shadow of a ship cuts across it, the mast reaching into the sky. I frown, just as Levi and Jude burst to the surface.
“Well, what is it, Jo?” (Is this Joseph reimagined as a girl? I like the gender twist, but since most readers familiar with the story are going to assume that a girl in this story is Jacob’s daughter Dinah, you may want to drop some hints of this earlier. I’ve been picturing this as a YA retelling of the RED TENT, but this changes everything I’ve been understanding so far. :-)) Levi asks, spitting a stream of saltwater in my direction. It lands a hand’s breadth in front of my face, and I blink as it splashes me. Saltwater doesn’t bother my eyes, but no one likes being splashed in the face.
“Crab got your tongue?” Jude asks. But then he catches where my gaze is resting, and he turns to look. Levi spins, too. Both of their faces split into grins.
“A ship,” Levi says.
“A trader,” Jude says.
“Might not be. Might be a slaver,” Levi says. “How’d you know, Jo? Did the Ocean whisper it to you? A word in your ear?” (I love what this dialogue says about her relationship with her brothers—the mocking tone is spot on. I’m curious though—what was Jo planning to talk to them about? From her frown, I’m guessing it isn’t the ship, even though her brothers assume it is.)
I’m really intrigued by the idea of a Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors retelling, especially with a girl at its heart. The setting is very unusual too, and I like that. Because it’s so different, though, you’ll need to make sure to start grounding readers in this world from the very beginning. This doesn’t mean blocks of exposition, but I think you can drop a few hints as early as the first paragraph to signal that this isn’t the story readers might expect.
Thank you, Rosalyn, for your critique. Check back every weekday for the rest of our June Setting Workshop. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.