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 Monica Hoffman
Monica M. Hoffman is a Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy author represented by Laurie McLean and Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary. She is an active member of SCBWI and the writing community. She dislikes getting up early, but a good cup of coffee can usually motivate her. She enjoys any movie/book (particularly fantasy and Sci-fi) that can make her cry, laugh, or gets her blood pumping from an adrenaline rush. She’s a Trekkie, Dr. Who, and Star Wars fanatic, and a PC gamer when she’s not writing or reading. You can find her tweets about all things YA lit & entertaining GIFs on Twitter (@mmhoffman14) and Facebook.
The 500 Word Critique . . .
Her “excuse-me’s” fell on deaf ears as she made her way against the current of people. Greasy carnival food smells lingered in the wind. [Perhaps the highlighted sentence should be at the beginning? The first sentence as it stands falls flat. You want to grab the reader from the start and who doesn’t like food?] Natalie’d been to Austin’s Capital City Bluebonnet Festival before, but the sweaty crowd today was mob-like. The Texas sun heated the asphalt like a deep fryer. The “Keep Austin Weird” t-shirt she wore matched the ambience of the crowd. From the true hippies to the hipsters, the crowd moved as one. [I like this opening. The reader knows exactly where the characters is and a little about who the character is and how she fits into her environment. Think about adding a bit more about the types of food smells and how the heat affects her directly. Are there sweet smells of fried funnel cakes or savory aromas from the pork sausage? Is the heat from the asphalt warm the soles of her shoes? What sounds are around your character? What do the booths look like?]
She searched for the right type of perfect piece of art, just of by the right type of artist to take back to the head of the beautification committee at Oak Park Library where she worked. [Why? Is there an event that is happening? Give us more] She’d picked up a handful of business cards, but claustrophobia crept up on her. [I would insert more about what’s happening around her that’s causing her claustrophobia episode. And I feel like she just got there. How long had she been searching?] She needed to find Bianca soon, so they could leave. Her heart pounded against her chest. Her stomach churned. She wiped her clammy hands on her worn blue jeans.
Blowing out in a series of short breaths to gain control, she wove her way through the river of vendors, until she saw the piece of art that made it all worthwhile. The pint size wood carving of a face came to life, a weathered face on the body of a cowboy. It tugged at her. Natalie resisted the urge to run her fingers over it to check for a pulse. [Nice, but I feel there should be more description of the piece of art. This object made her pause and forget her claustrophobia. What about this carving caused your character who’s in a physically stressful situation to stop and breathe? Dig deeper.] Mesmerized by the carving, she didn’t hear the scuffle until it was too late.
A shove from behind knocked her off her feet. She reached for the carving as she was pushed and they both began to descend to hit the asphalt. Natalie heard an expletive as she landed on the street. [What was said? Is it a woman’s voice, a man’s? The more description you put here the better.] Momentarily out of breath, she sprawled on the pavement. [How did this make her feel? Is the pavement rough? Where did this happen, surroundings? Are there people around who witnessed this?]
“You okay?” She heard A gentle baritone voice lured her from her temporary haze. and She glanced up to see and piercing gray eyes stared back at her. [Be care of filter words like “to see” or “she heard”. I would check the entire manuscript for filter words and eliminate most of them.]
Natalie recognized that voice, those eyes. Her college days flashed before her as she remembered Aaron Summers. The flirty guy that relished the debate. [I feel like there should be more here about this Aaron Summers. Obviously he had an impact on her.] He’d filled out since those days. Board shoulders, big biceps. Even through his white t-shirt she saw noticed his cut chest. [Nice imagery here!]
“Oh man. I’m sorry,” a boy uttered. [Can you tell us what this boy looks like? Doesn’t have to be much.]
Aaron offered her his hand. “Can you get up?”
“I think so.” Natalie tested her arm and a sharp sting zipped up her arm. noticing the sting of an abrasion. She looked down at her elbow and noticed the bright red scrap on her elbow. [I can almost feel it!] “Oh no, the carving. Is it okay?”
“Let’s worry about you first.” He scowled over to a group of young teenagers that stood nearby. One of them juggled a dark, leather pigskin between his pale hands. [I’m sure you can do better than this, but try to weave more descriptions of people and her surrounds. It gives the story a more robust feel.] “Guys, there are better places to play football. without getting someone hurt. Find a park somewhere.” The teenagers took off. [This might be a good place to show us what’s going on around them. Noises? Smells? Where is the carving?]
“It’s just a scratch.”
Aaron extended his hand and guided Natalie up. [Wait, I thought he already did this and she is standing. If not, I would cut the first mention of offering his hand.] With his other hand he took the carving.
“Come sit down.” He led her to a chair adjacent to the booth. “Micah, can you take over?” He looked in the opposite direction. [Towards what? Be more specific.]
A bulky, tall, dark-haired man approached smiling. “Sure, you go ahead.” Micah took the carving from him.
Aaron squatted down in front of her. “Let’s see the damage.”
Good job and thank you for sharing your words! I feel overall you did well in nailing down the setting in the beginning. But towards the end, it was brushed over. Think about places within your story where you can focus on things happening around your MC. Use sensory descriptions, reactions by witnesses if possible. Make sure you pull the reader into the MC’s world and keep them there. You can achieve this by providing a lush setting, vivid descriptions of the surroundings and characters who live within the environment you created. And again, watch out for filter words. This is a fast way to pull a reader out of the story. If you Google ‘filter word list’ you will find many websites that provide an exhaustive list you can search and destroy in your own manuscript.
Thank you and happy writing!
Thank you, Monica, 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.