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 Sonia Hartl
I’m an author of young adult contemporary stories and a reader of anything I can get my hands on (books, cereal boxes, bumper stickers). Like most writers, I got my start making up stories as a kid. Mostly about penguins and the North Pole. As a teenager I moved on to bad, angsty poetry before creating longer works of fiction. My first manuscript was an impressive 180,000 words, after which I spent a few years writing short fiction to learn how to say more by saying less.
My work has appeared in the The Writers Post Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, and the anthology Bearing North. I’m a member of SCBWI and represented by Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency.
Sonia’s 500 Word Critique . . .
YA Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retelling
In the early twilight hours, before the sun chased away the evening shadows, I heard [Adding in filters such as ‘I heard, I saw, I felt’ keeps your reader at a distance from your character. Since this is first person, you want to get as close as possible, and this sentence works better without the filter] a haunting voice that hypnotized me.
The voice was distant, and beautiful, and like a snake slithering towards its prey, the voice swept in, and filled my room. When it found me, the voice entered my thoughts and took control. I’d never heard this voice before, but I knew it belonged to her. [The voice repeats a lot in this small paragraph. I’m also not getting a sense of your MC yet, I feel like I’m getting a better sense of this voice, and your MC is just a passive witness. Maybe open with your MC active in her story before getting into this voice, or have your MC doing something when the voice enters their mind.]
In the last few years, since learning about my curse, I’d wondered how death would find me, but I’d never imagined it would be like this. My instincts told me to reach for the dagger underneath my pillow, but it was all in vain. I no longer had control over my body. [I think the idea of the voice being death is really cool, but I still think your MC could show more here, a bit of personality. Does your MC say anything as the voice invades their mind? How do they feel about this? Are they afraid or resigned or nervous? How can you show feelings? How do feelings give depth to your character? They’re not really taking an active role in the story, so the MC feels like an observer, which is making the voice seem a bit flat.]
Instead the voice lured me to the hall outside by bedroom. Every sense warned me I was heading towards danger, but her haunting cadence, frightening as it was enticing commanded for me to follow. [This is telling, can you maybe show how the voice frightens and entices? What is it saying? Why is your MC compelled to follow? Building some of that up maybe give some characterzation and insight into your MC.]
In the dim light of the hall, I wiped the sleep from my eyes, and I listened carefully to the eerie voice. [Maybe instead of saying your MC is listening to the voice, have the voice actually speak. There isn’t any dialogue in the first 500 words, so it reads like a story is being told rather than being shown how the story unfolds.] Soon a glow of light, like a firefly beaming, appeared in the dark. Together the light and the voice summoned me down the hall. I didn’t know why, or what I would find there, but every spark of light and every shadowy whisper was a command I couldn’t refuse. [What are these sparks of light and shadowy whispers? What are they saying? Why is your MC following? These are all questions I’m having as I read. I think this scene can be slowed down and unpacked a bit, giving the reader a chance to know your MC so they care if he/she is in danger] With fear creeping down my skin, I fought the impulse to surrender, but my thoughts were no longer my own, and having no control I made my way down the hall. [This is a lot of telling, maybe show how his/her thoughts are no longer their own, and what it feels like to lose control. Are they fighting this voice? Or just gliding along with it?]
Underneath my bare feet, the cold wood floors did nothing to ease my fear. The more I listened to the voice, the more I was convinced it was the Raven. [I thought it was death? Also, you’ve mentioned a few times your MC is listening to the voice, but haven’t yet had it speak or give any clue of what it’s saying, so I’m having trouble buying that it’s compelling enough to follow like this.] The anniversary of her curse was approaching, and her voice, I feared was a sign that despite all my efforts to escape it, the curse would claim me as foretold. [This is a lot of backstory in your opening, and a bit confusing. Since the scene hasn’t really been set, and I don’t have a clear sense of your MC, I’m not sure how this is relevant to what is happening. What curse? I thought your MC was already cursed and that is why the voice came for them? Who’s anniversary of a different curse? The voice’s or the Raven? Or are they the same?]
When I reached the end of the hall, my fear turned to panic as I heard her voice coming from the attic. In the years we’d been living in our manor house by the sea, there was one rule we lived by, one rule we never broke – the magic of the attic must never be disturbed. [This feels like more telling, and more backstory. I think a creepy manor house by the sea is cool, but I’m not really experiencing it or getting a good sense of the surroundings or a sense of how your MC feels in this environment. This seems like it could be a rich landscape to explore, and I think setting up the setting and giving the reader a clear sense of your MC would make the voice more compelling. Right now it reads a bit flat because it’s lacking details and an active presence from your MC.]
With my heart pounding, I looked towards the dark stairs leading to the attic. I fought the pull to climb, but taking the first step, and then the other, I soon found myself standing in front of the attic door. [If your MC is fighting this voice, I think it can be shown more and would help make her more active in this scene.] Turning the handle, I was surprised to find the attic unlocked. I pushed the door open, and it creaked as if yawning from a long sleep. Inside, a gust of wind blew in from the open window, and in the middle of the room, shrouded by the eerie overcast light of the September morning, stood the mirror.
Covered in dust and cobwebs the cheval mirror had been locked away, hidden, but not forgotten. The mirror was narrow and tall enough for me to see myself head to toe. [I think this has the potential to be interesting, but I think it’s actually starting the story a bit too late. I think if you back it up and set the scene and show your MC being active when the voice takes over, it might be more compelling. I also think this is lacking sensory details and description of the environment. Your MC reads like they are following an empty voice down blank halls. A bit of dialogue sprinkled in will break up some of this telling-heavy narrative, and also showing your MC trying to fight against the voice will make them more active in a passive scene.]
Thank you, Sonia, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice workshops? Come back this afternoon for another critique. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.