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Day 14 (Part 2) of May’s Voice Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentor J.C. Davis

Thursday, 19 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 J.C. Davis

Website  |  Twitter

As a child, J.C. Davis spent her days inventing secret worlds and finding forgotten places. Busy reading her way through the local library, she never imagined writing books of her own until one day, all grown up, she fell in love with a children’s book and decided to rediscover a few of those secret worlds she’d invented. Ms. Davis’s first book is locked in a drawer guarded by attack trolls. Her second, however, is out on sub and hoping to find a home soon. A programmer by day, Ms. Davis lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, two kids and a pair of hedgehogs with nerdy names. Ms. Davis is an amateur photographer, runs a Harry Potter meet-up group, and is an unrepentant book addict.

Ms. Davis is represented by Mandy Hubbard of the Emerald City Literary Agency.

J.C.’s 500 Word Critique . . .

MG Contemporary

A chorus of greetings met me as I walked down the hall toward Mr. Schipko’s writing class:

You’re first sentence is so important – it’s your first chance to invite the reader into your world, your first promise. A good first sentence should do any of the following (sometimes more than one): establish voice, introduce scene, set a mood, establish character, create a question, show the reader the unusual. Right now I don’t feel like you’re first sentence is doing any of those things. It’s pretty standard and could be from any novel. Can you make it stand out so this sentence could only ever be your novel? I suggest starting with the fact that Liza is a twin and resents not having her own identity (which you establish a few paragraphs down) as that is what sets her apart. Also, it’s hard to tell from just the first 500 words – but what is the inciting incident? Can you begin closer to that? It’s okay to establish how things were before they change, but if you do that, even how things were needs to be a standout. Voice will let you do that. Voice is about word choice, cadence, rhythm, the particular magical meld of consonants and syllables that only you can bring to the story.

“Hey, Ellie!”

“It’s Ellie’s twin!”

“Hey Twin-girl!”

“Hi, Ellie-or-Liza-whichever-one-you-are!”

“Hey you!”

“Howdy, Mitfield twin!”


If you start with the “Mitfield” twin comment you get right to the heart of what bugs her and can leave out the rest so you get to the conflict faster.

Of all the names I answer to, “Mitfield twin” is my least favorite. (How would you feel if people didn’t even try to learn your first name?) Parentheses are unnecessary here.

“Mitfield twin, I said hello!”

Double grrrrrrrrrrrr. The voice sounded familiar. Who was being so obnoxious—

“Guess who?” Unnecessary

A sweaty palm draped over my eyes. I pulled the palm away and spun to face Violet Grigsby, my best friend since first grade.

“Grigsby Pigsby!”

“GRRRRRRRRRR.” (Violet hates to be called “Grigsby Pigsby” as much as Ellie and I hate “The Mitfield Twins.” I’m the only one who’s allowed to use that name without fear of retribution.) Again, the parentheses are unnecessary.

“Oooh, Violet. That outfit is—something.”

“You think it’s too much?” Violet stepped back to let me take in the full effect. I studied her Asian-inspired ensemble; a black silk top with a Mandarin collar embroidered with a pattern of red dragons, over a long black skirt with a knee-high slit. Violet wore red patent-leather platform clogs that added two inches to her height; her long auburn hair was done up in two buns on either side of her head, which were held in place by red chopsticks. Black, large rimmed glasses took up half of her available face-space. Can you pare this down to just a few essential, stand-out details? This is a lot of space devoted to something that isn’t an integral part of the story. These first pages are critical. Be ruthless and pare them down to the images that will pull your reader into the story, rather than slowing them down.

“Since when do you wear glasses?”

“You like them?” Violet plucked the glasses off her face and studied them quizzically. “I wanted to go for a ‘gallery-chic’ look. Something that says ‘I’m in art school now and I’m almost 13.’” Nice way of establishing their age.

“If you wear the glasses today, does that mean you have to commit to them for the next three years?” I asked

“Well, obviously they’re fakes.” Violet shrugged and put them back on. “Do I look sophisticated, though?”

“Oh, totally.” I nodded, maybe a little too enthusiastically.

“You think I’ll get noticed by some older men?”

I rolled my eyes. “So that’s what this is all about.”

“Why shouldn’t I be thinking about it? We’re finally in school with our kind, Liza. Artist types. No more bozos. I want to get my first kiss by Halloween.”

I laughed. “Yeah, but older ‘men?’ How old are we thinking here? This school only goes to the ninth grade.”

“Then that’s what I’m shooting for,” said Violet. “I’m about to be a teenager, after all.”

“So you’ve mentioned.” Violet and I walked side by side. “Have you seen Piper this morning?”

“Yes, and she looks totally sick,” said Violet. Is sick a word middle-graders still use? I feel like it might be a bit dated. If Violet commonly uses old slang for some reason, then this is fine, otherwise see if you can find a different term.

“Good sick, right?”

Fabulous sick,” said Violet. “She’s got on these white sailor pants and tan platforms, and a black kimono-type top-thing.” Violet shook her head. “Only Piper would have the confidence to pull off white pants on the first day of school.”

Piper Beechwood is Ellie’s best friend. (Besides me, of course—Ellie and I always have and always will be each other’s number one best friend, no questions asked). Parentheses unnecessary.

There’s nothing technically wrong with your first pages. You’ve established your characters, given us a teeny glimpse of conflict, though I don’t think it’s your main conflict. However the pages don’t stand out either. This could be any pair of girls in any school on any first day. What makes them different? Is Violet nervous about her first day of school? If this is an art magnate school – what makes it different from other schools? What would your characters notice right away? Is everyone dressed fabulously? How is Liza dressed? Did she spend hours picking out the right outfit or just throw something together? What is her goal in this chapter? What will keep her from achieving that goal? What is the main conflict? How quickly will you introduce it? Can you do a tiny bit more scene setting and bring the school and other students to life? Bring me into Liza’s world and make me curious enough that I don’t want to leave.


Thank you, J.C., for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice workshops? Come back tomorrow for two 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 J.C. Davis . . .

Cheesus Was Here
Nothing ever happens in tiny Clemency, Texas, until the day a gas clerk finds the image of Baby Jesus inside a Babybel cheese wheel. When more crazy miracles turn up, Clemency turns into a full blown media circus. While everyone else seems ready to accept that God has a dairy fetish, 16-year-old Delaney Delgado hasn’t believed in miracles since her kid sister died. Del’s determined to prove this whole thing is one big hoax and nothing and no one is going to convince her otherwise. Sure her best friend, Gabe, is a pastor’s kid and on the side of the angels, but even Gabe has to admit things look a bit fishy. When Del finds proof the miracles are fake, however, she has to decide whether to disgrace her town and risk losing Gabe’s friendship or support a lie that mocks the miracle her family prayed for and never received.
Coming Summer 2017 from Sky Pony Press

Cadberry’s Letters
A children’s picture book about Cystic Fibrosis for pre-schoolers.


YA anthology The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

Imagining Happy
Published by NewMyths.com eZine, Issue #30, March 2015.

Death Wears Yellow
Published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, September 2014 edition.

The Dragon Keeper’s Daughter
Published in Writing Tomorrow’s February 2014 edition. Available in both print and eBook editions.
Available at Writingtomorrow.com 

The Library at the Center of the World
Published in Spark: A Creative Anthology, second edition. Available in both print and eBook editions.
Available at Sparkanthology.org 

A Jumbled Shelf
published in Ripple Effect an anthology benefiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Edited by Tamela J. Ritter & N. Apythia Morges, with a foreword by Rachel Caine.
Available on Amazon 

  • Great editorial comments with a healthy dose of tough love. This is a writer who really knows her craft.

  • Amazing! Brenda and her wonderful team seem to leaving no stone unturned to help us unfledged, unagented, unpublished writers get as much help as possible. Thank you a bunch, guys!

We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

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