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 Addie Thorley
Addie Thorley writes Young Adult historical fiction and fantasy. She has a passion for multicultural stories with exotic locales and anything with magic and KISSING! She works as a professional equestrian and does everything from riding award-winning show horses to training wild mustangs. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and wolf dog, and when she’s not writing or riding, you can find her gallivanting in the woods, walking her dog, and eating cookies. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Addie’s 500 Word Critique . . .
An Elvis, a Marilyn Monroe and a mini-me Elvis walk into a crowded middle school cafeteria. (I would remove the articles before the names, as it sounds kind of clunky with them.)
Sounds like the set-up for a great joke, right?
There was nothing funny about it.
I was sitting on a bench, peeling back a rubbery taco shell to see what squished inside, when the giggling started. My best friend Owen said, “Uh-oh. Incoming.” (Push Owen’s dialogue and reaction harder. “Incoming” makes it sound like Trew’s parents show up in costume all the time. Since Owen is her best friend, he clearly knows that Trew’s parents have an act and it’s not out of the ordinary for them to be dressed up. However, I doubt they show up at school dressed like this, so I would still expect a bigger response. This would be a great opportunity to reveal a bit of Owen’s character/ how he feels about Trew’s wacky parents and also set the scene and ratchet up the tension.)
I turned around to see what was causing all the commotion and saw them walking into the cavernous room. (This sentence kind of flat and anticlimactic. This is the big entrance, and it would be much livelier if you showed us Trew’s horror at seeing her parents arrive in costume (What is she doing/thinking/feeling at this moment?) It would also help if you chose stronger verbs than see/saw and walking. Also, cavernous makes the room sound empty, and a middle school cafeteria definitely isn’t that. Maybe try something like chaotic or jam-packed.)
Dad had on his wedding white jumpsuit covered in bling with peacock feathers running down the legs. His chest toupee fluffed out from a deep V, and his head hair had so much wax in it, it shone like hard plastic in the bright fluorescent lights. Mom wore her pink satin strapless gown, platinum white wig, stick-on mole and bright red lipstick. My four-year-old brother Robby was decked out in an identical kid-size version of Dad’s outfit. (Loving these descriptions, but I think they would be even better with reactions or commentary from Trew sprinkled in, so we get a better feel for her personality and what she thinks about the costumes beyond their basic descriptions. Maybe she cringes and yanks her cardigan tighter/ zips up her Avenger’s hoodie at the sight of her mother showing so much skin. *I haven’t learned enough about Trew at this point to make actual suggestions, so these could be way out of character for her, but the general idea is the same: every description should be filtered through Trew’s eyes and give us an insight into her personality.)
Mom swished her skirt and sang in a breathy voice that sounded like she’d gotten the wind knocked out of her, “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday Miss Trew-ew.” She grabbed me in a hug so tight, I thought my eyeballs might pop right out of my skull. (This threw me off a little because I didn’t realize Trew’s parents had made their way across the cafeteria to where she was sitting. Definitely say something about how they paraded to her table and how her classmates reacted.) Instead one of her fake boobs popped out the top of her dress. (These atrocious fake boobs might be something to mention above when Trew is describing their outfits.)
“Oopsy.” She swatted at it, (Why would she swat at it? Something like grappled for it or fumbled for it would make more sense.) sending it flying into the air. Then the boob hit the hard floor and went bounding. With each bounce, it seemed to gain momentum. My classmates shrieked and took off trying to catch it. (Bahaha! This is hilarious, but I think you could pump up the impact even more by using stronger verbs/ imagery. Be specific and really set the scene. Do they guys on the soccer team shoulder-charge each other trying to catch it? Or maybe some girls pull up their legs and shriek like it’s a mouse. Also, what is Trew feeling/thinking/doing right now? We see her classmates’ reaction, but we need to see hers as well.)
At the teacher table, Mrs. King keyed the mike mic and said, “Shhhh. Everyone sit down.” (I have never seen a microphone in a cafeteria.)
No one sat down.
“What is going on over there?” she yelped. (I don’t think the teacher would yelp. She would be stern and trying to regain control. Also, in order for parents to show up at lunch like this, they would have to get approval, or at the very least clearance to enter the school, so the teacher would probably know what was going on. Perhaps the teacher could announce their special performance. And maybe this is the reason she has a microphone at the ready.)
Mom struck a pose. “Today I’m just blonde all over.” (The way the dialogue is written, this reads like a response to the teacher’s question, “What is going on over there?” and Mom’s answer doesn’t really make sense. If this is part of their act, maybe show her brushing off the teacher or have her announce their performance in honor of Trew’s birthday.)
Dad pouted his lips and sang, “I’m all shook up.”
Why? Why’d they have to bring their act to school? (This would be great place to reveal more about the act [Is it an actual job? When and where do her parents perform? Have they tried to force her to be a part of it?] and how it affects Trew specifically [Is she extra mortified because she’s an introverted computer whiz who hates being in a family of performers? Or maybe she hangs out at the skate park and this will totally ruin the street-cred she’s been trying to build.] Adding specific details will give us a better sense of Trew’s voice and who she is beyond her embarrassment. Again, these random examples may not suit Trew’s personality at all, but add tidbits that do.) I blushed so hot my feet could have burned right through the floor. Which might have been a good thing because then I could disappear forever. Don’t let him to do the…
He did it. The one thing I hoped he wouldn’t, but knew he would. He grasped his cape, pulling it out like a bird’s wings, then put one leg out front and shook himself. All over. (Love this fragment. The short, spare description really works here to highlight how mortified she is.)
Robby stepped into position and rotated his hips like he was swiveling a hula hoop without the hoop.
The normally noisy lunchroom went dead quiet. My classmates’ mouths gaped in surprise. They looked like a school of fish. I closed my eyes and hung my head. (I’m wanting a bit more of a reaction here. Or some interior thoughts. This is the climax of Trew’s embarrassment, and I want to feel like I’m dying with her.)
I looked up to see Houston Kauffman holding the boob in his hand. Of everyone in the entire world, or even the entire school or even the entire lunchroom it had to be Houston Kauffman. He flipped his reddish brown hair back with a toss of his head, then looked at me with those green eyes.
My legs turned more rubbery than the boob. (While this description is funny, Trew is sitting down, so this doesn’t really work. Either have her stand up when her parents arrive or tweak it a bit. Perhaps her tongue could feel more rubbery than the boob and that prevents her from answering.)
Overall, this scene is well written and very entertaining (you made me laugh out loud, so well done!) but we don’t get a good sense of who Trew is (beyond the fact that she’s mortified by her parents, and who isn’t at this age?!) because she doesn’t have dialogue and her thoughts and descriptions aren’t quite specific enough to her character. By adding a few more details filtered through Trew’s eyes, and making sure to show us what she is doing/thinking/feeling at key moments, I think her voice will really shine through. Great job, and best of luck with this!
Thank you, Addie, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice workshops? Come back this afternoon for another critique. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.