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 K.T. Hanna
KT Hanna has a love for words so extreme, a single word can spark entire worlds. Born in Australia, she met her husband in a computer game, moved to the U.S.A. and went into culture shock. Bonus? Not as many creatures specifically out to kill you. When she’s not writing, she freelance edits for Chimera Editing, plays computer games, and chases her daughter, husband, corgi, and cat. No, she doesn’t sleep. She is entirely powered by the number 2, caffeine, and beef jerky.
Note: Still searching for her Tardis
K.T.’s 500 Word Critique . . .
Young Adult Horror
Kate sat on the back porch reading her tablet. Peachy scented Yankee Candles illuminated a stack of decorating magazines beside her.
“Have fun?” She sipped from a glass, the ice clinking when she set it down.
“I thought you were going out.”
“He cancelled, had to work late.”
It seemed this boyfriend worked late a lot, but I didn’t say anything.
“I’m going to shower. Carnival dust, ya know? And Bree’s coming over.”
“Mmm mm.” She was reading again.
[Nothing here is resonating with me yet. The voice is jumbled. While the beginning gives us a very sparse mood with the scented candles and back porch, I would suggest fleshing this out just a bit more to ground the reader in characters they do not yet know. Establish your setting, feed in the creepiness in little things. Show us some of your MC’s personality in the way she moves and reacts.
CAVEAT: Any suggestions I make are only that – an offering of one way you could choose to adjust this. It’s not my story – but as I’m trying to assist in showing voice, some of my own for this idea will leak in. Please don’t take what I’m putting down as what must be, but only as an example of one way it could be executed.
Kate sat on the back porch reading her tablet. Peachy scented Yankee Candles illuminated a stack of decorating magazines beside her where they balanced precariously on the rickety side table.
“Did you have fun?” She sipped rum and coke from the glass, the ice clinking when she set it down, briefly glancing up at me.
“I thought you were going out.” Deflection at its best.
“He cancelled, had to work late.”
I blink at her. It seems this boyfriend worked late a lot, but I didn’t bring that up. “Carnival dust all over me. Going to shower. Bree’s coming over.”
“Mm” was all she said, attention back on her reading.
Again, these are just suggestions – but I’d like to see more characterization in this opening passage. If you’re going for atmosphere, which is usually the case with horror, you need to set it from the get go.]
Upstairs, the attic door was open and heat spilled down the narrow stairwell. I had been up there once or twice to carry boxes for Kate. She said they were papers, pictures and personal stuff. An octagon window is in the peak of the roof and a larger one in the back wall. Even in daytime we would need a flashlight to find anything. The attic is a whole third floor. Its gables and floor are still original and unfinished, and have dried out over the years. Kate said it was one of the reasons she bought this two hundred year old behemoth because the condition of the attic showed how well the house was built. I shut the door and pushed till I heard the knob click in the frame.
[There are a couple of things that become obvious in this paragraph. First of all, you need to pick a tense and stick to it. Either first person past, or first person present. As you began the book with first person past, I’d suggest going this route, and any further suggestions I make will be in first person past.
Secondly – why is she in the attic? I thought she was going up for a shower. Is it in the attic? If she’s on her way to the shower, which as you say is the whole third floor, then why is she going via the attic? If you’ve put this here to enable some sort of creepiness, then it’s not working for me, because I’m feeling confusion. Sure, I’d like to know about the attic, but I want to know in context.
Bree would arrive soon and I hurried up the stairs to the second floor. A gust of wind rushed down to greet me, and I knew immediately that it meant the attic door was open. Again. Reluctantly, I climbed to the third floor. The whole floor was taken up by the attic, creaky floorboards, with a tiny octagon of a window at the other end to let in a feeble amount of light. Kate bought the two century old house because of its history, and that the attic showed it had a sound structure. As I pulled the door shut tightly, a shiver ran down my back. I could do without the attic’s demonstration of structure.]
I hated the cabbage rose wall paper in the bathroom. A remnant of someone else’s choosing. Kate said we’d change it but I think she likes it. In fact this whole house is furnished with flea market and garage sale finds. Kate said it was best not to bring bad memories with us. So every room holds used furniture and other people’s cast-offs. The only new item here is a photo of a smiling Kate and me all gussied up because she took me to Fun Shots in celebration of our new life.
[Kate said is used twice in this paragraph, and while not a huge no no, it stuck out when I read it. There are two hints here at the past not being a good thing for Kate and the MC. No bad memories and celebrating new life. I’m also a little confused as to whether the new photo is in the bathroom or just in the house.
I still feel a disconnect from this character. I don’t know their name or their gender (I’ve assumed they’re a she). I have no clue what their relationship is to Kate. Is Kate the mother, sister, friend, lover? I have more of an impression of Kate through he MC’s eyes than of the MC.
The cabbage wallpaper in the bathroom was a remnant of previous owners. Peeled at the corners, Kate insisted it was part of the charm. So much that every furnishing in the house was from a flea market or garage sale to make sure we left those bad memories behind. Nothing of ours, nothing new. Probably a good idea. The initial burst of cold water reminded me that the only new thing in the entire house as that picture we took when we started this. Kate and I all gussied up to celebrate starting our new life.]
After I showered, voices drifted up from the back porch. Bree was here. All I could think as I raced down the stairs was Bree telling Kate about me freaking out in the fortune teller’s tent. Kate’s back was to me when I burst onto the porch and the screen door slammed behind me.
“What’s wrong with you?” Kate turned to face me, her left eyebrow raised in an arch.
“Sorry, I tripped.”
“I think I’ll leave you girls to your secrets.” Kate said. “There’s a pizza in the freezer. I’m calling it a night.” She kissed my forehead and went inside.
[I’m glad we find out here that MC is a girl. I’m assuming that Bree is a good friend. Why would Bree tell Kate (is Kate MC’s mother?) that MC freaked out in the fortune teller’s tent? Also – this fortune teller sort of comes out of left field, even though you do mention that MC was at a carnival earlier, which was sort of an off hand comment. Is Bree from this Carnival? Do they frequent them and therefore she shouldn’t be freaking out about the fortune teller? Does Kate not like the MC going to things like that? And in this case, why? Define the relationships. This is YA, but I can’t tell from the voice because the MC wavers constantly. Establishing that Kate is a guardian or parent would immediately ground us in an age and help lend to voice validity.
We also need setting. Filter in sensory details. This is horror, we WANT to feel that creep. That sense of something not being quite right, even through subtle bits of info at the start.
Voices drifted up from the back porch as I toweled my hair dry. Bree was here. I dropped the towel on the floor and sprinted down the stairs. She wouldn’t tell Kate I freaked out in the fortune teller’s tent, she couldn’t! Kate’s back was to me as I burst onto the porch, the door clanging loudly as I slammed it open.
She turned toward me, raising her left eyebrow in an arch. “What’s wrong with you?”
Wrong with me? I shivered again, stupid damp hair, and shrugged. “Sorry, I tripped.”
“I think I’ll call it a night. There’s pizza in the freezer.” Kate was still watching me, a little too closely. “I’ll leave you girls to your secrets.”]
“I got something you’re going to love.” Bree waved a K-mart bag and grinned.
“Yeah?” I held the screen door open and she plopped down on a kitchen chair. I was pretty sure anything she had in that bag was not something I’d love or she would’ve showed it to me.
“You need a change. You. Are way to serious.” She revealed a box of hair dye. “I think some Enchanted Forest will make you feel magical.”
“Green? No.” I shook my head. “No, no no. My hair will look moldy.”
“Come on. It’ll look great.”
[This does a pretty decent job of establishing the relationship between Bree and MC. I still don’t know the MC’s name, and if this wasn’t listed as YA Horror, I wouldn’t know that the age was YA. I’d like to see a few more physical sensory details here to help us establish the book’s world and give your MC’s voice a bit more depth.
“You’re going to love this.” Bree waved a K-mart bag at me and grinned.
I knew that grin well and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to love whatever she had in that bag, or she would have shown me already. The screen door protested with an eerie screech as I opened it, setting my teeth on edge. “Yeah?”
“You are way too serious. It’s time for a change.” She pulled out a box of hair dye, and that impish smile of hers deepened. “I think Enchanted Forest will make you feel magical.”
“Green?” I shook my head. “No, no, no. My hair will look moldy.”
“Come on. It’ll look great!”
You have an interesting set up that the reader needs a bit more information for.
This can be achieved through the following:
- Name your MC. You have the perfect opening in the beginning. “Henrietta” Kate sipped rum and coke from the glass, the ice clinking when she set it down, briefly glancing up at me. “Did you have fun?
- Watch your tenses.
- Filter in more sensory details to ground us in the world
- Establish relationships sooner to help ground your voice (especially the MC and Kate)
- Give us some more physical sensory details for the MC so that we can see who she is by the way she acts and reacts
- Decide exactly what it is you’re trying to do with this intro. As it is, it might start in the wrong spot, but I can’t tell this from such a small sample.
Good luck with all this! Once you’ve done some polishing and established a stronger voice, this should set the scene much better.
Thank you, K.T., for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice critiques? Come back later today for our next critique. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.
K.T. Hanna’s books…
Releasing May 2
A collection of speculative fiction short stories. The creepy, the strange, and the downright macabre.
K.T. Hanna’s author page: Amazon