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 Kit Frick
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Kit Frick has been living in various parts of NY state since 2000. A triple-threat with a ballpoint pen, she writes poetry and young adult fiction and edits professionally for Black Lawrence Press and Copper Lantern Studio. Her fiction is represented by Erin Harris at Folio/Folio Jr.
Kit holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University and has studied with book editors, copyeditors, and literary agents through NYU’s Center for Publishing. When she’s not working, you can find Kit reading, hanging out with her husband and cats, tinkering with recipes, and revisiting her adolescence through television. (My So-Called Life, 4-eva!)
The 500 Word Critique . . .
Adult Contemporary Romance
Cheese is undoubtedly the most luscious food. It melts sumptuously like sin on a cracker. It has the magical ability to make you forget loser boyfriends and rejection letters. All of them. It is gluttonous, sexy and inexpensive. Convenient! [I love how these opening sentences—which take place entirely within the MC’s mind—set us up for something entirely different than the setting you’re about to establish.] But, as I loomed over stall number three in Brooklyn’s Parker Middle School with multiple reasons why I loved fromage swirled fresh in my mind, I seriously reconsidered my stance on cheese. [OK, so here we are in a middle school bathroom in Brooklyn—not the place we were expecting to find an ode to cheese! The connection is surprising and immediately effective as we read on.]
“Damn Taco Tuesday!” The echo of my voice within the blue tiled bathroom startled me into a fit of laughter. The worn wooden handle on the mop I clung to vibrated between my fingers as I stamped it violently onto the ground. With each investigation I found more splat hidden in a corner, mocking me with cheesy remnants. [Ah-ha! Through these setting-specific details, we learn that the MC is a janitor, tasked with cleaning this middle school bathroom after Taco Tuesday—hence, the cheese connection. This is a (gross, but) fun, unexpected way to establish character through setting. Well done! One note on the word choice: remember that economy of language can sometimes be more effective than elaborate detailing. So, instead of “The worn wooden handle on the mop I clung to vibrated,” you can say, “I clung to the worn mop handle, which vibrated…”] A constant reminder of where I was. A constant reminder of where I never thought I would be. [This is great. Here, we learn more about the MC through her relationship to, and attitude about, the setting.]
The fresh smell of youthful optimism greeted me as I left the horror that was the boys bathroom and secured the door behind me. Large gulps of air purged the toxic mix of chemical and regurgitation from my being.
Random pencils and pieces of paper still littered the hallway after everyone had gone. The smell of promise and hope wafted from the small slits in the tops of rusty lockers. I ran my free fingers along the metal doors and smelt deeper. Perfume and cigarettes dulled the odor of the sick water I pulled behind me in a rolling bucket. [In this paragraph and the one above it, you’re using smell—which is an element of the setting—to draw a contrast between the terrible odor of the bathroom and the atmosphere of the hallway, which the MC perceives to be hopeful, optimistic. You’re absolutely on the right track here, but I think you can do more to make the hallway scene a more specific, rich contrast to the established grossness of the bathroom. For instance, try moving “perfume and cigarettes” up to the first paragraph so we immediately understand how the MC characterizes this smell. You could say, “The fresh smell of youthful optimism—perfume and cigarettes—greeted me…” And what about those “random pencils and pieces of paper” littering the hallway? That’s an accurate description of an after school hallway scene, but how does it contribute to the MC’s perception? How about, “Random pencils and pieces of paper still lined the hall like discarded scraps of adolescent promise and hope, even after the students had gone for the day.” Your setting details will always be strongest when tied to your character / how she sees the world.]
I pictured myself in high school and smiled at that girl with so much confidence. My braided hair and jean jacket held more determination than a kid hiding Snickers bars in his pants at fat camp. [Not specifically setting-related, but just a quick note to be mindful of images that could be triggering for some readers. Instead of the kid at fat camp, how else might you evoke determination?] But, as water spilled on my boots, I quit reflecting before I thought of my twenties and the good memories were overshadowed. By my thirties.
“Already done Vivienne?” Old Carl walked in my direction, his bright smile a sharp contrast to his crooked body.
“I couldn’t let Edie clean it. I still have a strong constitution.” I stuck out my chest in a show of prowess.
“I can’t remember what that feels like anymore.” He limped to the bucket and took it from my rung out hands. “Strong constipation, yes. Constitution, not since the nineties.”
TMI old man.
“Oh Carl.” I patted him on the back, his bony shoulders so sharp they could sever my fingers off if I wasn’t careful. His bones creaked as he wrestled with the wheel on the bucket as it got stuck in the door frame. He cursed low to protect my feminine ears.
“When are you getting out of here girl? I don’t want a pretty thing like you ending up like me.”
That makes two of us. “Well Carl, once the man has been paid off maybe I can do some work related to my degree. But until then I’ll be scrubin them right beside you. I can’t take the chance on some unpaid internship.” [In this final piece of dialogue, we learn why the MC has taken this job that she so clearly despises. Your pacing throughout this passage is spot-on; I love how the information is revealed slowly through the setting. 1) Ode to cheese, in the MC’s mind; 2) Location in the middle school bathroom, revealed through surprising link to cheese; 3) MC’s attitude about the setting / contrast to her past self; 4) Reason why MC is here.]
I think you have a great start here, and you’re already using setting to reveal a lot about character. Well done, and keep going!
Thank you, Kit, 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.