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 Beth Hull
Beth Hull is a writer represented by Logan Garrison at the Gernet Company. She graduated from Dominican University of California with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English emphasizing Creative Writing, and earned a Master’s Degree in Linguistics from UC Davis.
The 500 Word Critique . . .
New Adult Fantasy
“I don’t want to go to another school,” Moriah said, taking a seat [this would be the perfect place to say where they are, i.e. “…taking a seat in front of the principal’s desk…” and a great place to incorporate some character-related setting detail, maybe something that hints at the otherworldliness of Moriah and his mother].
[new paragraph]Mother lifted her brows as she turned back to him.
[new paragraph]“If they send me home, you’re going to take me some place else.” [add dialogue tag so it’s clear that this is Moriah speaking] In his nine years of life, they’d bounced around Milwaukee, Cleveland, Lansing, and now Chicago’s South Side. [nice job getting the geography and his age all together. For some reason I missed his age during my first read, though, & I thought he was much older, like in high school] The idea of doing it again made his stomach churn.
[new paragraph]Before Mother could respond, the door opened [what door? where are they? Because it isn’t stated explicitly before this, the reader is pulled out of the narrative to wonder] and a man in relatively casual, if trim, attire [I’m not getting a good picture of this. Better to use specifics, e.g. “jeans and a sweater—something Principal Emerson definitely would not have worn”] approached. Thick muscle gave his green sweater form, and his heavy boots thumped against the ground. [“tile floor” instead of “ground”—make your nouns work for your setting]
“Good morning,” he said, folding into Principal Emerson’s chair. “I’m sure Mr. Martin [Who is this? Is the name necessary? Maybe just say “the receptionist”?] informed you of our principal’s absence.” He angled his head at Moriah. His straight, glossy hair framed his face, and highlighted his tanned skin. Moriah stared at the Aviator sunglasses the newcomer made no attempts to remove. “I will be working with your family today.”
The boy [quick note on POV—if this is close third, he wouldn’t be thinking of himself as “the boy”—better to just use his name. It’s also less confusing for readers because they don’t have to think about it. Don’t worry about repeating his name] fidgeted before blurting out, “Am I in trouble for fighting again?”
Mr. Not-Emerson laced his hands on the desk before a smile split his face. “No,” he replied and turned his attention to Mother. “Mrs. Adams, correct?”
[new paragraph]When Mother, a stickler for propriety, didn’t respond, Moriah glanced over. Her back was ramrod straight. Slowly, she reached under Moriah’s chair, pulling him close, and the screech of wood against tile filled his ears. [nice sound detail]
Mother could be eccentric sometimes, whether in dress or action, but this behavior was beyond her normal oddities.
[new paragraph]“What’s wrong?” Moriah whispered.
The adults ignored him. “Your hair is lovely,” the man said. “I haven’t seen curls like that in ages, Genie.”
“Don’t call me that.” She intoned [punctuation, should be: …that,” she intoned] in the syrupy drawl that hinted at her Southern roots. “How is it you work here?”
“I’ve worked for many schools over the last decade. One in Milwaukee, one in Cleveland.” He waved his hand. “First school in Chicago, though.” His smile was crooked. “You were always too fast,” he said before waiting a beat. “How old are you now, Eugenia?”
“Not a question you ask a woman.”
“Then you’ll tell me more about this young man?”
Her voice took a low timber. “No.”
He laughed. “You’ll answer one of my questions today.”
“Then I am 46 years-old,” she replied stiffly.
“You were forty-six sixty years ago, and that was thirty years after you snuck out of Columbus, Georgia on a freight train. You left behind Jim Crow and the planters, understandably,” he took a long breath before shaking his head, “but also your training. You were a promising Selected. Why’d you throw away our offer?”
“Offer implies free will,” she spat. “Your kind don’t make offers.”
He lowered his chin, letting the dark glasses slip down the bridge of his nose. Moriah’s heart somersaulted as the man’s eyes of blinding white bored into Mother. “You are no longer of age for Selection.” He turned his gaze on Moriah, who shielded his face from the onslaught of brightness. “But he is.” [ooh, I love the punchiness of this as an ending. It would make a perfect chapter break]
[Overall—What this piece has going for it is the mystery and tension between the mom and Mr. Aviators. As far as setting, though, it needs a bit more development. I get that they’re in Chicago, and they’re in a principal’s office that has a desk, chairs, and a tile floor, but other than that, I’ve got nothing. In a way this is great because there is so much you can do here, and while you add in little bits of setting, you can focus on details that better give us insights into Moriah.
I especially would like a few choice details either before or within that first paragraph. Moriah is nervous. What’s a small thing in the office that he could focus on? What’s something that only Moriah would notice? Maybe he’s the kind of kid who would be especially aware of the shape formed by cracks in the tile. Maybe he’d be distracted by a family photo on the principal’s desk because he’s always wanted a big family.
Since there’s so much to work with here, don’t limit yourself to visual setting details. What does the room smell like? What does the man smell like, and does his scent clash with the room, or even better, clash with Moriah’s mother’s scent? Or perhaps the man’s scent matches her too well, given their shared history. What noises does Moriah hear? Especially when he’s waiting and nervous, he might hear sounds of students moving between classes, or the receptionist typing in the other room. What would heighten the tension of the scene and make him feel even more nervous?
I’m not suggesting you work in ALL of these setting details, but pick a few that resound with your style and resound with the scene and characters. Above all, be thinking about what Moriah would notice, because then you’re strengthening both setting and character at the same time. That way, your setting details will support the intriguing scene you’ve written.]
Thank you, Beth, 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.