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 Jeanmarie Anaya
Jeanmarie is a YA Contemporary writer represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. She’s a University of Michigan grad (Go Blue!) who somehow missed receiving her Hogwarts letter and has never gotten over the disappointment. You can find her on a beach in NYC, with a book in hand, wishing she could surf as well as her daughters.
Jeanmarie’s 500 Word Critique . . .
YA Speculative Fiction
I awake with an unexpected jerk. My mind is in shock from the awful nightmares. My head hurts, as does my left leg. I feel cool rough wood against my chest and the palms of my hands. My hair and clothes are still damp. A rhythmic chugging reverberates through my right ear that is pressed firmly into the floor. For a moment I cannot make out my surroundings, until it soon dawns upon me that I am alert and inside a moving freight train. I actually made it! [Not entirely sure of the voice yet, but I very much like the descriptive quality of the opening. Great details! You might want to knock out that filter word “feel” in the fourth sentence and rework it for more immediate impact. For ex., “Cool, rough wood digs into my chest and the palms of my hands.” Also, consider rewording the “it soon dawns upon me” part. It comes across as “telling” and I think you’ve done a good enough job here (particularly with the rhythmic chugging detail) to indicate that the main character’s on a train. I think it makes more of an impact if you just state the realization itself outright—“I actually made it! I am inside a moving freight train!”, rather than clog up the flow with extra words.]
I lift my head and open my eyes to peer out of the opening of my boxcar. The sky is a deep charcoal, but a gentle glow of early sunlight warms the eastern horizon. [Beautiful line!]
“He’s awake,” says a boy’s voice behind me.
I slowly turn my head to the direction of this voice, wincing at the muscular ache in the side of my neck. Sitting before me are a boy and a girl my age. I don’t recognize either of them and their features are not typically northern. Their skin has a deep brown coloring [You can trim this, and take the passive voice out of it. How about: “Their skin is deep brown.”] and their eyes are like round saucers of milky coffee. [ß-That’s a nice description. 🙂 ] They sit on the other end of the car beside a large crate filled with bushels of corn, with knees against their chests and legs crossed. Only the boy is in valuation attire. [Hmmmm….I’m intrigued. What is valuation attire? I like how you drop this term without explaining it. It compels me to keep reading to find out what’s going on.]
The boy moves to his feet while the girl remains sitting, watching me with her [another thing you can trim: “her.”] scrutinizing eyes. The boy pulls an ear of corn out from the crate and begins peeling off its papery layers. He glances over at the girl and then at me. “Ya’ll hungry?” he asks.
With difficulty, I manage to pull myself up into a sitting position. I look at him [ß– You can trim this out too. It feels like filler, like an unnecessary detail] and nod my head gratefully. After removing a bit of the sticky silk, the boy tosses the ear of corn toward me and I catch it. I murmur a quick thank you and sink my teeth deeply into the cob. The kernels are raw, but they burst with sweetness and I eat ravenously, forgetting my fear. Some juice from the corn trickles down my hand and I catch it hastily with my parched tongue. This is the first stretch of twenty-four hours in my life that I have ever felt the anguish of hunger and homelessness—sufferings that Telios has successfully eliminated. [The last few sentences are fantastic. Love the voice here, the beautiful word choices, and the hints as to the main character’s background. I like it all so much that I almost wish it had come sooner in the opening!]
The boy retrieves another two ears of corn and sits down beside me, handing me one of them. He gestures at the girl and says, “Dominique found a pail on the side of the tracks in your train yard. It’s filled with rainwater. Not much in there, but enough to hold the three of us through the morning. Lucky it rained, huh?” He looks me over as he munches on his corn. He swallows and says, “Didn’t expect to find a northie onboard. What’s your name?”
I answer hoarsely, “Asher Finch.”
The boy looks at the girl and grins, “You hear that Dominique? Finch, like goldfinch!”
This is a great piece with so much potential! Your strength is definitely in your use of descriptive language. I loved the adjectives you used and the images you created to paint the scene. I felt like I was riding in that freight car along with them. Great job there!
I think the genre here is spec fiction, so I’m sure there’s a lot going on underneath the surface that the reader isn’t privy to yet. There’s a hint—the one about Telios—and it’s so intriguing. I’d love to see you expand on that—if only for another line or two. I know it’s early in your opening pages and I’m sure more details will unfold if I continued reading, but that little detail was so good that I wanted more on the spot!
As far as voice goes, I didn’t get a firm sense of it in this opening until I reached the spot where Asher is eating the corn and musing about hunger. This struck me as having the most voice. I got a sense of the character, what his background is like, and what his present position is. With voice, it’s so hard to tell someone how to pull it off. Often it’s just a matter of putting yourself into your character’s shoes and speaking/writing as if you *are* the character. I’ve heard writers liken this to being a “method writer” (much like a method actor) and I quite agree. The deeper you step into your character’s shoes, the more the character’s voice will come across in your writing. For me, voice is about getting in the character’s skin, feeling everything they would feel, and then writing in a way that sounds like the character. What would that character say or think in this situation? And how would they string together the words? What’s their core emotion in that moment and how can I translate it into words that the character would naturally say? Like I said, I think you best pulled this off during the corn-eating moment. The language was beautiful and introspective, and also gave us a hint of Asher’s predicament and world. In fact, consider moving that section sooner in the opening to grab the reader and make an instant connection with Asher. Build upon that area, and the voice will come naturally after that!
Thank you, Jeanmarie, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice workshops? Come back tomorrow for more critiques. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.