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 Kendra Young
As a child, Kendra wrote her first books on construction paper and bound them together with ribbon, though she can’t remember even one of those early stories. Once a teen and young adult, she jokingly referred to herself as Queen of the First Five Chapters, as that’s where every story seemed to fizzle out. It wasn’t until she was in her mid-thirties, when her family relocated to the West Coast, that she got lost in libraries again and finally managed to type “The End.”
Since finishing that first manuscript, Kendra hasn’t been able to stop new characters from talking to her. Her fascination with all things abnormal comes out in her writing, whether it’s steampunk freak shows, vampires, or ghosts – if it has fangs or goes bump in the night, she’s writing about it.
Kendra now lives back in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her husband, Tim, who’s responsible for making her believe all her writing dreams will come true. Together they have two daughters, Savannah and Tabitha, who both enjoy art and writing as well. By day, Kendra teaches eighth grade Physical Science and U.S. History in an urban middle school where she shares her love of writing and dreaming “big dreams” with her students. And if that weren’t enough, Kendra is also pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Lindenwood University.
Kendra’s 500 Word Critique . . .
MG Fantasy Adventure
A man with wild, Einstein-like hair grabbed Ellis by the arm as he walked into the room. A bit of framing would be beneficial here. I was about three lines down when I stopped reading, because I didn’t know what the setting was, other than a room. “Quick, name the Three Laws of Thermodynamics.”
“Huh?” I’m assuming this is the MC speaking. What’s he doing/thinking/feeling in this moment?
A short bald man in a long white lab coat said, “He only has 30 seconds!”
“But.” Seeing/feeling some of his reactions here would really help punch things up. He’s being grabbed and hassled by men firing science questions at him. What does he do? Back away? Get angry? Showing us his attitude toward the situation is an excellent way to help us connect with the MC and to showcase the MC’s voice.
A third man[,] wearing a khaki vest with a pair of binoculars around his neck[,] joined in. “Give the kid a break. This is not a fair survey question for the general, uneducated public.”
“Wait a minute,” said Ellis. “I am not uneducated. I know the first law is, ‘Matter cannot be created or destroyed[.]‘” This is another great spot to weave in some of the MC’s personality.
Ellis bit his lower lip and worked his brain to remember the second law. He looked down at Jonsi for any help that a talking Scottish terrier could possibly provide on the basics of the physical sciences. I’m also curious why he’s even answering their questions. I don’t feel like he knows them, because of the way the men are being described. Is he in a science competition of some kind? The way you describe this, and the way the MC feels/thinks/acts about it, is another way to use voice to draw in the reader.
Jonsi backed away. “Sorry, dogs don’t do science.” Is the dog speaking? If so, I would make that crystal clear with a dialogue tag, even though you have the action beat, because it’s not something the reader usually expects.
“Okay, okay. Let’s see, the second law is something about spontaneous systems getting disorganized.” What’s Ellis doing/thinking/feeling?
“Correct! We call that disorder or entropy. Very nicely done,” said the bald man. “Public education is not a complete failure.”
Einstein hair said, “Not yet. He still has to name the third law to answer correctly.”
“Ten seconds!” yelled binocular man.
“Third law. Third law. Third law….”
“Five, four, three, two-”
“I have no idea!”
‘One, zero. Time’s up!” You’ve done a good job of mixing up your dialogue, but a couple of dialogue tags or action beats in this exchange would be a help to the reader, while also pulling in more voice (not on every line, of course, but weave it in occasionally).
“I told you, Simmons. I told you. The modern educational system is completely failing our youth with its lack of emphasis on the physical sciences. Therefore, I win the bet.”
“Who are you people?” Ellis said.
“Great Plank’s Law!” said Einstein hair. “I am Dr. William Von Roentgen, Professor Emeritus of Physics.”
The binocular-man bowed low. “I am Dr. Heinrich Parrish, Professor Emeritus of Ornithology.”
The red-faced bald man chimed in. “Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, John Vulcan-Simmons, at your service.” There are a lot of names and titles for the reader to try and keep straight. It might help if we saw/felt more of the MC’s reactions/connections to them, which would punch up the MC’s voice, while also slowing down the reader and giving them more time to get them straight in their mind.
“We know the dog, Jonsi. We’ve been studying him for some time, in fact. Who exactly are you, young man?” said Von Roentgen.
“My name is Ellis Brown; I will be an eighth-grader at Plainville Middle School next fall. I came here to sell tickets and have ended up in an adventure.” I’m making the assumption that Jonsi belongs to Ellis, so disregard this note if that’s incorrect. But if so, three scientists just told Ellis that they’ve been studying his dog for some time, and Ellis doesn’t react to it at all. We need to see/feel how Ellis does.
Vulcan-Simmons said, “I see, Ellis. You seem a bright boy, planning on entering the chemical field of study?”
Ellis said, “No, I never really thought about science.”
“You should my boy, you should.” A dialogue tag would help here. I’m not positive about who is speaking.
Jonsi broke into the conversation. “Gentlemen, General Marrs messaged you may have some solution to the problem we face.” I have to admit I’m confused here. This makes me think it’s not a science competition at all, which I’d originally assumed. Adding in the framing I mentioned above could help.
Von Roentgen answered, “Yes, we’ve been provide a bit of data concerning your problem and have consulted briefly with General Marrs and Mercury Marino. We’ve know of your missing young lady-friend and the problem of Ms. Lucia and the ravens.”
“Really? Then why did we have to endure the line of questioning and quizzing?” asked Jonsi.
“Science!” Vulcan-Simmons said.
“Seriously?” Who said this?
Professor Parrish said, “The pursuit of knowledge in a logical and standardized investigation, my little Canis familiaris friend.”
Jonsi stared for a long time at Parrish and decided it was in everyone’s best interest not to pursue this argument any longer, there was business to attend to. This feels like it’s from the dog’s POV and if so, this is a bit of head-hopping. We need to stay firmly in one POV or the other.
There’s a lot of potential here for your voice to jump off the page if you can weave in more of Ellis and the setting he’s in. Your sentence structure is varied and your dialogue is excellently written for MG. My advice is to let the reader see the MC’s reactions toward then entire situation. As it is now, Ellis is being completely overshadowed by the trio of quirky scientists because we don’t get a sense of who he is or what his attitude is about this entire situation. Unfortunately, this makes him feel like a one-dimensional character when we know he’s not.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get the MC’s own voice on the page when you’re writing in third person, so it can be helpful if you write in first person from the MC’s POV in a separate document and then come back to the story. Seeing your story only through their eyes can often help you connect and weave in their voice.
Thank you, Kendra, 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.