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 Summer Spence
Summer Spence is a YA author living in scenic Utah (and always pining for California, her true home), with degrees in English Literature and Theatre. She began her storytelling career on stage as an actor, where she fell in love with words and the beautiful challenge of creating human beings out of them. Then she figured out she could do that without changing out of her pajamas, and she became a writer! Summer is represented by Heather Flaherty at The Bent Agency.
The 500 Word Critique . . .
Soft grass tickled his bare feet. [Right off the bat, we’re outside and the grass is alive! I can FEEL it! Great start!] He smiled and leaned down to run his hands through the thin blades and search for the perfect stone. Behind him, his older bothers jeered at each other about hitting too hard with sticks, and their mother screamed for them to get back to work on the farm. [BAM. Already we know we’re on a farm and that our MC has different ideas about what to do with his time than his brothers. And… all revealed through setting!]
A breeze rustled the emerald waves of grass while his tanned fingers dug through the flooded earth. The sun beat down on his exposed back, the wrap around his waist half falling off in his desperate search for a magnificent specimen for his experiment. He knew his mother, his father, his grandparents, and his aunts and uncles needed help in the rice fields. All of his cousins, no matter what their age, spent the harvesting season knee deep in murky water, stripping each rice plant of its tiny grains. [Awesome! We got more specific in this paragraph. This is a great example of not dumping everything at once. We learn a little at a time about our setting, and it’s all FRAMED in information that’s important to the scene/story. It’s there for a reason!]
They’d notice him gone, but it was worth it, especially when his small fingers wrapped around a stone smooth as the un-spun silk he saw at markets with his mother. It was gray, like all the others he’d dug up since sunrise. White specks decorated the sides. It was just large enough to sit in the palm of his hand. [these little nuggets of setting reveal a multitude of information: our MC works in the fields and rises with the sun; he pays attention to details – from the speckles on a rock to the silk at market stalls. And he understands his world through comparison. These details of setting also help us to understand where he fits in his world. He’s a young boy, young enough that he still goes to market with his mother, innocent enough that he still relishes in the beauty of simple things. This is using setting not just to help the reader create a visual of the character’s world, but of the world within the character.]
Warmth spilled from his heart and to his stomach. Standing, he slipped the rock into a make shift pocket he’d crafted out of his waist wrap. It nestled against his almost non-existent belly, cool and wet.
Before his mother could call out to him, he took off, running through the rice fields in the opposite direction of his home. The small cluster of wooden shacks weren’t safe enough for his experiment. The forest that his family’s land bordered, however, was isolated enough that no one would find him.
Breath heavy, he dashed through the forest to his favorite spot in the whole world. The large river, which fed their rice fields and fed them fish all year round, met a patch of forest at a bend. It was the closest point near his home to the other side of the river. The forbidden side.
The side where the nạk māyākl lived and the piṣ̄āc tortured any normal human who dared cross into their territory. [These paragraphs are rich with detail – directionals to give the lay of the land, texture and scale for the housing, the isolation of the forest. BUT, they also give a grander scope for comparison. We can feel the sweep of the land, the rush of the river and lush fertile fields. It’s a great way to introduce the layers of the world – both big and small, personal and societal. We also get a taste of the mythology of the world, with the introduction of terms and where they fit in the setting. It paints an ominous and mysterious picture of the forest. I’m definitely intrigued! We know that these legendary monsters are supposed to live in this place, but the boy still feels safe there – in fact, it’s his favorite place! I want to know more!]
No one ever went to his place of play. His parents didn’t know where to look for him, as they’d warned him since he was a baby to never cross the river. Anytime he tried, they’d beat him enough that it hurt, but he could still work the next day.
They would never know of his visits. He was too clever to let anyone follow him.
Which is why when he arrived at his secret camp, he was shocked to discover someone sitting on the bank of the river.
From the back, she appeared normal. Black hair was pinned into an intricate braided bun, while her clothes spoke of someone from the royal family. Her colorful, silk p̄ĥānùng spread across her legs, revealing more of the limbs than he was used to seeing.[These paragraphs give more small details – hints about the everyday life of our MC’s world and culture. I love the detail about her clothing – which is integrated into the natural environment in a lovely contrast – both to him and his status, and to his experience with girls. Love it!]
This piece is a rich example of using setting to do more than just paint a picture of locale. It is integrated into the story and world building. It is what the character sees, what he notices, that tells us what is important to him and reveals his character. It uses both micro and macro elements to give us important information about the story without being overwhelming. The smaller details give the setting life and authenticity, while the more general elements give us a foundation for a world that is alive and rich with reality. I loved reading this piece and would love to spend more time in this world! Bravo
Thank you, Summer, 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.