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 Cat Scully
Cat is an illustrator, writer, motion design student, and freelance editor. As illustrator, she’s worked on concept art for film, world maps and chapter headings for books, and storyboards for broadcast. You might have seen her world map designs in Winterspell by Claire Legrand, or Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova. She’s also working on a map for the Seven Forges series by James A. Moore. When she’s not illustrating, she writes horror, SFF, and a bit of WTF for kids, teens, and adults. Because of an internship with Cartoon Network LA in college, she got bit by the broadcast bug, and now she’s studying motion design at the ANVEL in Atlanta, GA, where she’s lucky enough to work with a fabulous crew of people. She also loves to work with authors to develop their MG or YA books at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and is a PitchWars mentor every year. She’s represented by Lane Heymont of the Seymour Agency.
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Cat’s 500 Word Critique . . .
Young Adult Contemporary
I park Calli in (Is Callie a car? Or a person? “I park Calli in” could instead read as “I park Calli and jump out” but it still isn’t saying enough. Does she have trouble with the buckle? Does she have a jammed door? Almost forget her keys? We need more character shone through these things), jump out of the car, and start walking (Again, just walking isn’t enough. If she jumps out of a car, she’s already sprinting). But
walking isn’t enough to (I can’t) outpace (outrun) the memories that nip at my heels (This is a cliché – would be better to say “I can’t outrun the image of Micah’s blue-tinged lips, his gray face, his still chest.” It carries more weight to just say what she can’t outrun or it is too vague), so I jog and then full-out sprint. (Make this more active – I run harder, until sweat prickles between my shoulder blades and beads on my forehead.” Sweat prickles between my shoulder blades and on my forehead, but I push myself harder so I won’t see Micah’s blue-tinged lips, his gray face, his still chest. The chest I couldn’t get to rise again.
I pull up short when I come to the bridge (Reverse this action. “I reach a bridge and pull up short.” We need to see what makes her stop short first because if she’s running in her head, filled with all these memories, she’s going to see something and then it will make her stop, not the other way around.)
The railing has already been replaced with (A new iron guardrail replaced the ?), but that’s not what catches my eye. Calli’s (Again, thought Calli was a car by the sentence structure before so now I’m lost) in the middle of the bridge, leaning over the railing, her feet in the air, arms stretched below her, like she’s trying to bring the water up to her—or maybe force herself down into it (Force or fling?).
“Calli.” (How does she say this? There is a sentence that says her voice is sharper, but is it a whisper, a call out to her from a distance? We need more spacial awareness and atmosphere built here.) My voice is sharper than I
mean it to be (“wanted or meant”), but I’m suddenly (Avoid “suddenly, abruptly, etc.” because if it’s happening now, it’s happening now and this actually detracts from your tension. It’s enough to say “but I’m terrified.” You can even push that farther because you’re telling us she’s terrified, not showing us.) terrified that she’s going to fall over.
She doesn’t pick her head up, doesn’t even flinch, and I wonder if she heard me. I stride to her and grab her shoulder roughly to pull her up. (What is happening around them in the setting? What is happening to her clothes? What is happening to her hair, the birds, the water under the bridge? The scene needs to be fleshed out to let the surrounding atmosphere also build the tension. Just because you’re taking time to show the scene does not mean you’re going to lose your tension. You’re losing tension by speeding too fast through the action and not stopping to let us feel what she’s feeling – that’s where your tension lies. Otherwise she’s just some girl about to jump off a bridge and we have no emotional connection.)
The look on her face guts me. Her eyes are swollen, her cheeks blotchy, her mouth half-open. (“It guts me.” But why? Here, we don’t know their connection, or feel what she is feeling, not deep down. Dig deep into why expression would gut her so thoroughly and you’ll have a killer moment.)
Instinct makes me (I) pull her towards me, makes (wrap) my arms go around her shoulders, but she shoves me away. (What are their expressions here? What are they saying with their body language? Does the setting shift in any way?)
“Nothing. Why would anything be wrong?” Her voice is thick. She smooths at her wild hair with one hand and shivers. (This is hard to accept since the rest of the scene was so tense we believed she was going to fall over or let herself fall. Yet, you pull back here. There could be a bolder choice made in dialogue that impacts how you grab your audience’s attention. Everything was building to this moment. We see a girl on the bridge, she’s about to fall, and she acts nonchalant. Why build it up if there is nothing wrong?)
I pull off my sweatshirt and hold it out to her, but she grabs it and flings it over the bridge. We both watch it land in the water. It floats for a few seconds, then darkens as water seeps into the cotton, and it sinks. (It would be better to jump straight to this. It has more of a shocking impact, almost a sweet release to the huge tension you’re building. We know that she’s off, but now we SEE how! This is great!)
“What the— What’s going on, Calli?”
“I told you. Nothing.”
“It’s obviously not nothing. Why won’t you tell me? Maybe I can help.” (“Nothing’s wrong” is said too many times here – be braver with your dialogue like you were with your action in dropping the sweater over the side.)
“I don’t need help. Not from you.
I’m fine.” (Carries a lot more weight this way)
What is with you? You can’t open up, even a little, even to people who care about you.” (We need more here that indicates what their prior conversations were.)
“Oh, you know all about opening up, don’t you?” Her sneer is laced with venom. (This comes off as cliché – You can say her words are laced with venom, but let’s push that farther. Warp her face, spit the words out literally onto the girl’s face. When people are furious and practically begging for someone to figure out what’s wrong, they often drop passive aggressive hints or body language which would really drive this emotionally home.) “Hiding your scars under t-shirts, pretending you never had a transplant.”
“Fine. You want to see my scar?” I grab my t-shirt, yank it over my head, and ball it up in my hand. The cold bites at my skin, but I ignore it (This is fantastic all on its own)
and take a step closer to Calli. Her eyes widen as she stares at the puckered red line down the center of my chest. I resist the urge to pull my shirt on or at least cover the scar with my arms. I wonder if it’s a sign of weakness to her like it is to me. (Avoid “I thought” “I wonder” and try to tell us this in a different way or it’s too distant from the narrator. Something like, “It isn’t a sign of weakness in her like it is to me.”)
Too much time has passed. Calli hasn’t said anything. Her eyes haven’t moved. I unball my shirt and stick one arm in.
But Calli raises her hand and reaches toward my chest. Her palm lands flat, right over my heart. (I wasn’t sure what’s happening with these last few lines or why the pause matters – Why has too much time passed and why is the clock ticking? We need a bit more too about the heart touch or it’s too vague of an ending to drop off on. There’s only so much space, but when the ending is this vague, it can possibly work against you. You are totally fine to end on “sign of weakness.”)
Thank you, Cat, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice critiques? Come back tomorrow for our next critiques. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.
Thanks so much for hosting this, Brenda, and thanks, Cat, for the awesome critique. You’ve given me some great fuel to tighten this scene and up the tension. Some of the confusion might be cleared up by knowing that this is a scene near the end of the book, so we’ve gotten to know Calli (definitely a girl, but I like the idea of naming a car!) by now. 🙂 I really like your suggestions about where things can be added or cut to increase the tension. And thanks for pointing out the cliches–just when I think I’ve spotted all of them. 🙂