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Day 11 (Part 2) of May’s Voice Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentor Lisa Maxwell

Monday, 16 May 2016  |  Posted by Heather Cashman

voice workshop

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 Lisa Maxwell

Website  |  Twitter

Cameron Whitman Photography

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, I spent the summers reading everything I could get my hands on. My mom often told me to put down the books and go play. I rarely listened.

I liked books so much that I decided to give up the rather sensible idea that I should be a lawyer and decided instead to get a not-so-sensible degree in English.

Then I decided that there couldn’t be anything better than reading books for a living and forcing other people to talk about them with me. So I got another English degree…and another one.

What can I say? I make awesome life choices.

More years than I want to admit later, my family moved to Birmingham, Alabama for my husband’s job. I had two small kids, no local friends, and no full-time job of my own, so I decided to try my hand at writing fiction to fill the hours. I don’t think anyone was more surprised than me to discover that I loved it. Maybe even more than just reading books for a living. Go figure.

I no longer live in Alabama, and I currently teach full-time at a local college, but I’m still writing fiction for teens. I like my stories dark and magical with a splash of romance.

After moving from Ohio to Pennsylvania to Illinois to Alabama (with a short stint in Italy thrown in for good measure), I now live with my family in the DC Metro area. I plan to stay indefinitely.

I’m represented by Kathleen Rushall at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.


Lisa’s 500 Word Critique . . .

 YA Contemporary

Sunscreen is greasier than my brother’s fried chicken. With the volleyball tucked under my arm, I wipe my hands on black cotton shorts. No slippage this serve.

Those newbies across the net have no idea they’re two serves from losing. Even though we’re all trying out for the same team, Zander and I will show them You have ’em below—keep consistent or just have the abbreviated word in actual dialog. how team Top Gun finishes a game.

“Send a rocket, Autumn,” Zander says.

Oh, I intend to. Sand tucks under the curl of my toes. Steady girl. This is your point. I toss the ball up with a spin, then whack it open-handed. A perfect white streak zips toward a boy with orange-tinted skin. He hops instead of jumps, and punches the ball into the net.

“That’s how you do it,” Zander says.

This would be a great place to start indicating her feelings toward him. For instance, when he compliments her, how does she feel? Is the high-five satisfactory? Or does she wish there was a different celebration? We slap a high-five as he races behind the boundary line.

“Game point,” I say. “In it to win it.”

Zander’s beachy curls shuffle, and he shifts left a tad. With the ball resting on his left hand, he plows his right fist under it. The ball dips just beyond the net. That’s his move—drop it in. Since it’s clear later that she has a crush on him, think about infusing this description with how she feels while she watches him—admiration? something more?

Blondie races toward the net, kicking sand up behind her steps. She taps the ball over the net, and I’m there. Waiting. Silly girl. Silly girl. I’d recommend italicizing direct inner thoughts.

As I leap toward the net, my back arches like a ballet dancer in flight. Maybe a different simile here—something that shows her character and interests, rather than ballet? Power radiates through my body, and I smack the ball right between Blondie’s feet. “Game.”

Zander pulls me into a lung-seizing hug. Panic rips through my veins. Oh crap. I wiggle from his grip and inhale a soothing breath. Why the panic here? It’s unclear—just because he hugs her tightly? Or is there a different reason?

“Sorry. Got caught up in the moment.” He flashes that famousclosed-mouth smile, and tiny lines around his mouth highlight pale, pink lips. Plump and kissable.It seems like there’s something here between them, but I think you could build that more into what comes before. Hints of a crush maybe?

We glide across the court side-by-side, high on our win. Spectators mill around the public beach in clusters. Their energy zips beneath my feet, hot and fast.

“Great teamwork,” Coach Briggs says. “Way to read the ball.”

My head swells, like a balloon filled with helium This doesn’t seem like a flattering comparison—it makes me think empty-headed. Joining forces with Zander after we’d collided on the beach last summer will strengthen my winning percentage. We’re two ravenous animals moving in sync toward the prey. Earlier you had the ballet metaphor, but now animals. Trying to keep your figurative language in tune with 1)your character and 2) the other similes and metaphors, so that they have a similar/consistent theme can help establish voice and character.

I follow Zander to the Top Gun beach chairs we ordered online. The back of mine reads “Maverick” and his reads “Goose.” Silly, right? We love ’em This is the first indication that her voice might have an accent. even though the navy blue material will fade from the sweltering, North Carolina sun.

Seconds after I get comfy, two girls from Zander’s fan club saunter toward him. Their boobs burst through bikini tops so small they must have bought ’em in the children’s section.

A groan slips past my lips. He attracts strays after every game, like bees drawn toward nectar. I can’t blame them. With his hypnotizing gray eyes and tan lines in all the right places, I have a fan club membership card of my own.

“I’ll get drinks.” I grab my gingham beach bag, and take off before the boob twins get too close.

Great action-based sequence here! I’d recommend thinking through what you want to accomplish through the metaphors, similes, and other figurative language you use to enliven the action. The goal with any kind of figurative language is to build something more than simple description into the story, and I think if you re-approach it with an eye toward what sorts of descriptions would help to reveal something about Autumn’s character, you’re going to be able to better craft and solidify her voice more consistently.


Thank you, Lisa, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice workshops? Come back tomorrow for more critiques. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.

Books by Lisa Maxwell . . .



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