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 McKelle George
McKelle George is a senior editor at Jolly Fish Press, author of young adult novels, repped by Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates, and member of SCWBI. She has a B.S. in English/Creative Writing from Brigham Young University and an A.A. in Illustration from Snow College. She is a traveler and nomad, an exclusively self-pleasing artist, lover of quiet adventures, and banned book and library advocate.
The 500 Word Critique . . .
New Adult Horror/Post Apocalyptic
Ivy laughed. The smile on Aiden’s face as he recounted his venture outside Quarantine Zone Five momentarily distracted her. He had a way of transforming his nightmarish undertakings into PG adventures. Ivy glanced out from under the weathered tent flap at the other Caretakers. They bustled from one triage tent to another, focused and somber. And here she was flirting with a cute guy. Well, he was the one flirting. She returned her attention to the cut above Aiden’s thick eyebrow and carefully cleaned his forehead so she could examine the wound.
“You almost need stitches this time,” Ivy said.
He glanced over his shoulder toward the four new arrivals heading to the holding area. That was his job – going into the city, finding survivors, and bringing them back – and he was good at it, the best. Most Runners came back empty handed or with one or two people.
“Was worth it.” His dark brown gaze lifted to Ivy from where he sat on the examination cot. Pride filled his eyes. Any shock or trauma he experienced from the horrors he witnessed in the city, he kept hidden.
“Suppose it was.” Ivy grabbed the antibiotic and smeared a dab across the wound. Four survivors were great. It really was, but the one person Ivy was searching for wasn’t among them.
Aiden’s thumb tugged down her chin. Her bottom lip popped out from between her teeth. She hadn’t even realized she’d been chewing on it.
“I didn’t see your dad out there.” Aiden pulled the crinkled picture of him out from his backpack and handed it to her. “I’m sorry.”
She smoothed the corner of the photo before tucking it in her pocket. “You don’t owe me an apology. Not your fault we got separated.” Ivy picked up a butterfly bandage.
“If he’s still alive, I’ll find him.” He probably meant the words to sound confident, but the softness of his tone weakened the statement.
Ivy peered down at Aiden. “My dad is still alive.” She knew it in her heart.
“You sound so certain.”
“Without hope, what’s left?” She hitched an eyebrow at him. It wasn’t unheard of for people to be reunited with loved one. “By the way, I have something for you.”
Aiden glanced around the tent. “What is it?”
“I can’t exactly bring it to work. You’ll have to wait.” She traced her finger over his brow. “This is probably going to leave a scar.”
A quirk of his lip pulled her attention to his mouth again. His top right lip was a little fuller than the left, giving him a sexy ‘resting smirk’ face. In full bloom, his smile was like fresh baked apple pie – delicious and hot.
“I hear girls think scars are sexy,” Aiden said, his voice low
ered and a little gravelly. He wore scars like notches counting down a release date on a prison wall. Every time he went into the city, he returned with fresh injuries.
The thing about setting is that a story with strong plot and characters can always survive a weaker setting—but a strong setting won’t save weak plot and characters. I love the relationship dynamic between Aiden (ooh la la) and Ivy; I also like the seed of conflict you immediately plant by mentioning Ivy’s father. But because this is a critique on setting, I’ll focus on that.
You never want to overload your reader with dense chunks of description, but there are still ways to interweave setting in your character’s actions, thoughts, and mood. Here are the two details you included to describe the setting:
the weathered tent flap/ one triage tent to another sat on the examination cot
It’s not much to go on, but the “weather tent flap” and use of cot makes me think of a type of refugee-esque camp. A little dirty, maybe, strung together. I’m picturing a dirt (possibly muddy?) floor. Also, Ivy uses antibiotic cream and a butterfly bandage—which makes me think this is a more modern/contemporary setting.
Without getting too far off track, consider setting details which would lend itself to movement of their conversation and Ivy’s internal worries: what’s the lighting like in there? Can Ivy see well—what time of day is it? Late? Is she tired? Is it cold—or stuffy and muggy and harder to breathe? What about smell—Aiden may look nice, but after his little venture, he might not smell so sweet. All these tangible factors will in turn influence the emotional timbre, mood, and atmosphere of a scene.
Again, no need to go overboard—but choose a few key moments to provide specific and concrete details. An army canvas sack with a penny-sized hole in one corner and a frayed drawstring, for example, carries heavier weight than just saying “backpack.” And including more senses than sight is a great way to hone in on those specific details.
Good luck—and great story opening!
Thank you, McKelle, 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.