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Day 13 (Part 2) of June Setting Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentor Carrie Callaghan

Friday, 17 June 2016  |  Posted by Brenda Drake


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 Carrie Callaghan

Twitter | Website

carrie headshots 2016-7 (1)Carrie Callaghan lives in Maryland with her family. She loves seasons of all kinds, history, and tea. Her fiction has appeared in Silk Road, The MacGuffin, Mulberry Fork Review, and elsewhere. Carrie is also a senior editor with the Washington Independent Review of books, and is represented by Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon. She’d love to hear from you at www.carriecallaghan.com or on Twitter @carriecallaghan.

The 500 Word Critique . . .

Adult Contemporary Romance

[Thank you for sharing your writing with me!]

The first time I met Cooper Tucker, I wanted nothing more than to punch him in the face. For starters, he had the most pretentious name. [This is an interesting voice, but it gives us little concrete information to grab onto. We can’t see the narrator, Cooper, the place, or the time.] Also, he walked around through [I thought he was walking outside the house, around it] our house like he owned the place [What kind of house? Cape Cod? Farmhouse? Suburban? The use of one specific word will start to ground us instantly. Even better, finish this sentence with a physical description: “with his Nirvana t-shirt tossed over one bare shoulder as he ran his fingers through his just-showered hair”], and usually in a very limited wardrobe[This is arch, so contributes to the voice, but does nothing to show us the scene. Don’t make your reader guess what a very limited wardrobe looks like]. Really, I shouldn’t complain about that, but his sexy body made him creep into my dreams more than I wanted. Not to mention, my first wet dream? Him. Cooper. [Wet dream made me think the narrator was a man. Since this is the first piece of personal information we have about the narrator as a body, not just a voice with emotions, I’d suggest choosing something more concrete and less ambiguous.]

It pissed me off.

Normally, I didn’t mind my older brother [name here]’s friends. They were always outside shooting hoops, sweating and swearing up a storm. Most importantly, they stayed away from me and I kept a large distance from them. Mutual understanding. [Note how few of these words ground us in the physical world. There’s older brother, shooting hoops, and sweat. Those are the only vague images the reader has at this point. Two choices – give this overview or “telling” more physical context, or {my preference} get out of the narrator’s head and give us a scene. This is a scene: “I walked up the driveway and scowled to see Ethan and Cooper bouncing the basketball against the side of the garage. Sweat dripped from their faces, and as I approached, Cooper peeled his shirt from his back. Bastard.”]

Cooper liked to torment me every time he came over. He’d steal all my bras and hide them when I took a shower. If I came within touching distance, he’d flick my ear or swat my ass. His list of nicknames for me was a mile long. Babycakes and Clara-bara were the ones I hated the most.

“There she is! My Zippy.” Cooper’s voice rang out from behind me.

Zippy. That was the nickname I loathed with a furious passion. It involved a wardrobe malfunction, a red lace bra, and me chatting up the millionaires who funded my dad’s business. Cooper could have stopped the fiasco, but the jerk kept his mouth shut. [This sounds like it would be a great scene! If it’s important to the story, show us what happened. Give us physical details that tell us where these people live, how old the narrator is if she’s chatting up her father’s funders, what sort of drinking glasses does her family use when they entertain – Grandma’s crystal champagne flutes? Dad’s pint glasses, one from each airport he traveled through? What does their house look like? Filled with sleek, white furniture, or crammed floor-to-ceiling with books? Only the important details, of course, but give us something.]

“You didn’t tell me he’d be here,” I said, turning around to face Cooper and my brother, Ethan. [When is this? It’s not clear if this dialogue is grounding us in the red bra story, or if it’s supposed to be a continuation of the Mr. Zippy comment, or something else. Again, note the physical words here. There are hardly any, so we have almost no image in our minds. All we know – I think – is that Cooper is behind her.]

Yeah, okay, I knew. But I wanted to give him a hard time about it. Wow, wrong choice of words, Clara.

Ethan wrapped his arms around me. “It’s my wedding and he’s the best man.” [This is dialogue aimed at the reader, not something Ethan is really going to say to his sister on his wedding day.] He ended our embrace, reached into the trunk of my rental car, [Where are they? I thought maybe they were in the family house, since that was the last physical location mentioned, but obviously the rental car is not in the house …] and pulled out my suitcase. “I’m so glad you’re here. Maritza’s on terminator mode and I can’t turn her off.” [That’s a good line of dialogue.]

I smiled at him as I closed the trunk. “How you landed a fiery, extremely gorgeous, Puerto Rican, I have no idea.” [Calling his fiancé a “fiery Puerto Rican” feels a bit like labeling. Would she really think of her future sister-in-law with a label like that? How about instead, “I still don’t get it. She’s way out of your league, Ethan.” And again, we can’t see where this exchange is taking place. The trunk is a good physical clue; do more like that. “I held up a hand to shield the Miami sun from my eyes.” Or “I opened an umbrella. Why he picked Portland in November for his wedding was beyond me.”]

Ethan adjusted his baseball cap. He’d worn one every single day since the age of five. “Same here. I’m just hoping she doesn’t realize I’m way out of her league before the wedding.” He took off toward my parent’s country estate. [What does this look like? “He dragged my suitcase down the gravel driveway toward our parents’ white Georgian-style mansion. Their country home, they called it, but it was more like a palace.”]

A fresh breeze filled the air with the glorious scent of gardenias. The flower pots hung in the wraparound porch, adding to the charm of the white columns and porch swing. [These are nice details, but I can’t tell how far away the narrator is from the house. It sounded like the house was in the distance, since Ethan “took off toward” it.] The home was a recent purchase and far beyond the humble abode we were raised in just a few miles away.

“One suitcase?” Cooper raised his eyebrows. “You’re going to be here for a week and that’s all you brought?”

I avoided eye contact. While I despised him, Cooper took the whole tall, dark, and handsome thing to a new level. His tight Henley shirt showed off his large muscles. He must have kept up on his rigorous work-out routine. I clutched my hands into fists, taking a few breaths. How did he always get me riled up so easily? [What are they standing on? What’s near them? What does she hear? Can she smell his deodorant, or his aftershave, or is it still the flowers in the air? Does the new turf feel soft beneath her feet? Can she pull a leaf off a nearby magnolia tree and shred it while she’s talking to him?]

The magic of books comes from using only words (letters!) to paint a complex picture filled with characters and places. It’s hard, when drafting, to remember that the reader can’t see all the amazing things in your head. Try going through this piece and focusing on the nouns. How many words tell us exactly where we are? Then, what verbs are the characters using to interact with those specific nouns? The magic will happen!

Thank you, Carrie, 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.


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