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Day 13 (Part 1) of May’s Voice Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentor Sharon Johnston

Wednesday, 18 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 Sharon Johnston

Sharon M. Johnston

Website  |  Twitter

After growing up listening to my father reading fables, folklore and, it’s no surprise I love stories. As soon as I could read, my nose was firmly in a book. I love reading, listening to audio books and writing. I write weird fiction and soulful contemporaries.  My NA SFF, DIVIDED, is out with City Owl Press. I have short stories in anthologies: WORDS WITH HEART, NEVER BE YOUNGER, THE BASICS OF LIFE and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CHESTER LEWIS. My short story Karma was also runner-up in The Australian Literary Review’s short story competition. I regularly co-host Pitch Madness and am also a regular Pitch Wars mentor.

As well as blogging here, I also blog with YAtopia and Aussie Owned & Read, where I contribute to discussions on the love of literature and the publishing industry in general.

I have a gorgeous husband, aka the hottie hubby, and two wonderful boys. Well known for my fantastic taste in shoes, I’ve actually been stalked by women wanting to know where I got my high heels from. I also have a love of fur-babies – cats and guinea pigs specifically.

Sharon’s 500 Word Critique . . .

YA Science Fiction

The smell of icebergs, of eternal winter, crept up my nose. Not many people have been in a location where they are icebergs, so starting with that description is hindering the audience from connecting with the imagery you want to create. But most people know the smell of winter, that crisp smell that is almost a shock to the system. So I would start with: The smell of eternal winter crept up my nose. And if you wanted to keep the icebergs in there you could add: as the wind danced around the icebergs.  The sea beyond sparkled beneath a crust of dying snowflakes, bedazzled like our blinking metropolis. Nice voice in this description.  Nodeen Island floated on huge barges and followed the warmer ocean currents. Non-voice related, but I’m immediately curious to how big the island is and how many people can fit on the island.

Nodeen City was my city, the city of colorless ice, the city stripped of individuality, the city with no soul, lost at sea. I know you’re going for an effect here with the repetition of city, but I would reword ‘my city’ to ‘my home’ and flip it to the start so it’s My home was Nodeen City…. But then I’m also left wondering, if there are other cities on this island, or whether the island is in fact one floating city as the island and the city has the same name. As a reader, I’d like to have that clarified at some point.  Yet garlands of chimes tinkled over the floating island, clandestine, forbidden, to remind us that art, free thinkers and faiths still survived. Beautiful voice here, BUT these contrasts make no sense. If the chimes are there and serve that purpose, then it’s not a city stripped of individuality or without a soul. Lost at sea – yes, colourless – I don’t know as I haven’t read enough of it yet. And how can it be clandestine if everyone can hear them? Be careful on word choice – I love elegant words, but it has to fit right.

“Hey[,] Silver.” Gabe perched on a sonic skateboard, balancing in midair. Gusts of winds coming from the open sea tousled his fur coat and brushed his brown hair every which way.  Instead of telling us about the chimes, you could add a sentence here and show how the wind also move the chimes.

“Huh?” I glimpsed his hazel eyes turning slightly green, but didn’t register his words. Has he spoken more then ‘Hey, Silver’? Because if she hasn’t registered those words it shouldn’t be written in the story, and if he’s said something else, then that should be mentioned too. The smell of the wild reached the island, ready to swallow us up.  You’ve already talked about the smell around them. Maybe go for another sense to highlight? Flurries of flakes bore down on the shore and activated my freeze-or-flight instinct. There are some really cool alliterations in here (which I adore) but it still needs more substance. What freeze-or-flight instincts? What is she reacting to? You’ve shown us nothing to indicate that would be kicking in, and instead you’re telling us that it’s happened.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Anyone in that pretty head of yours?”

“Quiet!” I whispered I’m not a fan of a whisper with a ! like this. I understand that people speak excitedly in a hushed tone, but that’s not a straight whisper, my voice charged with a mix of fear and excitement. “If we get caught it’s the last time you’ll ever see this place again.” What place? You’re leaving the readers behind in this story.

I reached for a crane in my pack and handed it to him. A crane? To me cranes are giant machines using to hoist things up, or a bird. I couldn’t image either of those being in her pack. If it is in fact a piece of art, then you need to put some context around this for the reader. We also have no context around why she is suddenly handing him something.

He stretched toward me, “No. The pink butterflies.”

My butterflies? I smiled but my smile froze on my face. The high of coming to the edge of Nodeen battled with apprehension inside my stomach. It had taken a week of dodging my bodyguard and disobeying my dad to be able to paint the butterflies. They mimicked a meadow of spring flowers. NICE. Textured and three-dimensional, the purple swirls at the center feathered to the edges.

Butterflies. I missed them so much. Just because they’re not around at the moment, or from where they lived before and butterflies are no longer around. There are opportunities like this to sprinkle world building through the story to give readers a better understanding of the world they are reading about. You’re very sparse on this information early. They came late in the season, only to be crushed in a few days by the fierce temperatures. When Gabe said he would glue them on the dome, right in front of the city and under the glare of its inhabitants, I loved him so much I cried, drizzles freezing on my cheeks. It makes no sense that she hands him the crane when you’ve just let us know that Gabe had already told her he would glue the butterflies to the dome. Also – I feel like this last sentence is really long.

Gabe glued my butterflies around the soft metal cranes. Don’t tell us, show us. What does he have with him he’s using to glue them on? How difficult is it to glue them on? If the dome is still under construction and are easily reached, how is it that the butterflies won’t be immediately removed. And it makes no sense that the chimes haven’t been removed. If I’m thinking these things, your readers will probably be thinking these things. Remember your reader knows nothing of the world your story is set in. You have to show them, not tell them, what is going on. And in the showing is your opportunity to put a stamp on your voice with how you describe the action. The dome, a massive artificial bubble made of fiberglass, was still under construction. It was designed to keep us warm and away from the ice blasts piling up on our world, piling, piling up and up over trees, grass and bridges, blotting out life. Nice – really liked this description.

The Geodesic dome rose higher every day, towering, piecing together over our city like cells of a giant beehive. Very nice. Inside, the population had to rub elbows and the closer they stood together the farther apart their hearts grew. Nice

The glass creaked under the pressure of the wind. I startled. I was jumpy, yes, but if someone caught us using precious material and resources for art, they would shove us in a corner of the island. Forgotten. Our existence blotted out just like everything that once was green. Our art forgotten and blotted out, too. Is there just a corner of the island people go to, or is there a prison. Just putting them there (and no-one puts Baby in the corner) doesn’t seem like enough. For me it’s a missed opportunity, and it seems rather plain compared to the voice you’ve been using in this world building so far.

I quite adore the voice you’ve started to create here. Very lyrical. I enjoyed it a lot. However, at times it feels like you’re using certain words because they are lyrical rather than because they align with the story.

Some additional non-voice notes to help with the story (though these are opportunities to add more voice in!)

Overall, from what I can gather, I adore this concept. It’s like a floating dystopian city. But there are some crucial details missing that I should know already. And you can achieve these details with some clever showing. Just little inferences here and there that give us more of an idea of the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the situation. Things that are missing for me:

Who – who has determined that they are on this floating island?

What – what has caused them to be living on the island?

Where – where did they come from before, and where are they going (or are they always going to be floating now)?

When – When did they leave? When do they expect to get where they’re going?

Why – why is art banned?

How – How is it that the people have agreed to this situation? How is it that the art rebellion is taking place? How is it that the art rebellion isn’t immediately being taken down?

Thank you, Sharon, 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.

Books by Sharon M. Johnston . . .

DIVIDED full digitalReaders Favorite Five Stars Review

Available to purchase  in paperback and ebook.
Find Divided on Goodreads
Read a free excerpt here.

Shattered: An Open Heart Novel Book 2 coming US Fall/Winter 2016.


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