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Day 16 (Part 2) of May’s Voice Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentor Jessica Vitalis

Monday, 23 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 Jessica Vitalis

Website  |  Twitter


I started writing stories in third grade.

By middle school, I’d moved on to poems. One, written in sixth grade (and submitted for an English assignment because why waste a good thing?), was read years later by my homeroom teacher during a high school commencement speech.

When I was asked to write an essay for the Harbrace College Handbook my senior year of college, I toyed with the idea of writing full-time.

Somehow, life got in the way (as it often does) and I instead embarked on a business career that culminated in obtaining an MBA at Columbia Business School. While at CBS, I took a class called “Creativity and Personal Mastery” and was assigned the task of identifying my ideal career.

The result?

Writing, of course!

Armed with this knowledge, I eagerly traded my business card for a library card. I now live in Atlanta, Georgia with my husband, two precocious daughters, two black cats, one adorable dog, and write stories for middle grade readers.

Jessica’s 500 Word Critique . . .

MG Contemporary Science Fiction

Daisy Kincaid knew nothing of time travel. Or of stolen artifacts, secret societies, ancient tombs, or a vial that held the secret to eternal life. She was just a regular girl, leading a not terribly interesting life in Manhattan, trying her very best just to survive the 7th grade. Although it’s often suggested that we open by dropping the reader into action rather than summary, I actually think this opening paragraph is effective. The voice is great––it establishes tension right off the bat, gives us a taste of what’s to come, and at the same time grounds us in the life of an ordinary girl (added bonus that you worked in her age). Nicely done.

But one day in May, two things happened that were a bit out of the ordinary. This transition isn’t working as well as it could. “Out of the ordinary” feels like it should have some special significance, but since you didn’t use ordinary in the first paragraph, it lacks resonance.

First, there was the boy. And second, was that very curious postcard. My sense is that you are trying to build mystery here, but “the boy” and a “postcard” (even a curious postcard) aren’t super compelling and it’s too much telling. My sense is that you’d be better off scrapping these two sentences and transitioning us directly to the action with something like the following: “…survive the 7th grade. But on the third day of May, something curious happened. It was Saturday …” This way, we jump right from this interesting opening to the action.

It was Saturday, her day to open the shop. You may want to consider rewording; note that you’ve used the word “day” three times in a row (DAY in May, SaturDAY, and DAY to open the shop). While it make sense in the story, it’s to early to have this kind of word repetition and could signal lazy writing. (You don’t want to give agents or editors any reason to stop reading). The Kincaid Travel Shoppe on Greenwich Street was her family’s business (or at least her grandmother’s business since she was the only family that Daisy had). Parentheticals are normally a tough way to convey information, but I think you did a nice job––this sounds like how Daisy would think. On Saturdays, Again, Saturday feels repetitive; we’ve heard a couple times now about the day. Grandmother got her hair done for the week, so she trusted Daisy to unlock the big oak doors that lead into the shop’s foyer, and hang out the “Open” sign. If any customers happened to come by, Daisy knew to tell them to wait, have a cup of tea, look over the pamphlets, and their travel would be arranged when Grandmother returned.

Grandmother usually gave her a list of chores to do: dust the oversized travel posters that hung in the main room; file itineraries; or clean the basement (which Daisy hated, the basement was dark and smelled of mildew, and she could have sworn the last time she’d been down there that she’d seen a mouse scurrying about). These are all great details, but there is way too much telling going on. You drop us into the scene in the next paragraph, but that feels too late. Either drop us into the scene right away when she opens the store (which is what you set us up for after the opening paragraph) or at very least drop us into the scene immediately after you explain what she does when customers come by. Another approach you could consider would be to start the second paragraph with something like this: The second Saturday in may started out the same as any other. That way, you could go on to show her bustling around opening the shop, rather than tell us about it. At the same time, the reader would have the sense something was about to change. As an aside, I love the voice in the parenthetical, but you’ll want to be careful not to over-rely on this device; this is already twice in the first page.

She opened the heavy curtains You told us she unlocked the door and hung the sign and had a bunch of specific chores, but you never mentioned opening the curtains. The detail isn’t important enough that you’d want to repeat it, but then again if you are going to walk us through everything she has to do, then it doesn’t resonate for something new to pop up here like we should already know which curtains and that she’s supposed to open them. and was startled to see a boy with his nose pressed against the glass. Nice! He saw Daisy through the window No need to tell us he saw Daisy through the window; that’s obvious. and gestured for her to open the door. She opened it just a crack. It was New York City after all. Great voice here!

“Are you Daisy?” he asked.

“How do you know my name?” She couldn’t say exactly why, but there was something about the boy that made her uneasy. He was wearing very old-fashioned clothes — a dark suit and tie that resembled something out of another time “something out of another time” is repetitive; you already told us his clothes were old-fashioned.— and his brown hair was clipped short, not at all how most boys wore their hair these days. His thick black glasses looked absurdly large on his narrow face. Again, great voice.

“Can you just open the door all the way? We should talk.”

“About what? I don’t know you — and I can’t just let any old boy come into the shop!” I’m not sure this second part of the sentence works. It’s a shop. So, in theory, she should let anyone in.

“Look,” the boy sighed. “I thought we should meet before you start your apprenticeship. I have your dossier here.”

He held up a folder with her name on it.


He waited for Daisy to say something, but she stood there with her arms crossed and stared him down. This is great stuff, but we’re missing Daisy’s reaction. Standing with her arms crossed makes me think she knows about the apprenticeship but doesn’t want anything to do with it. (Which I know from reading on isn’t the case). And we need to know if she knows what a dossier is.

“Never mind,” said the boy finally, shaking his head. “I guess it’s true that you’re difficult!”

And with that, he turned on his heels in a huff and went down the street.

Daisy watched the boy disappear around the corner, and then opened the doors to the shop.

Apprenticeship? Dossier? What was he talking about? Why did he have a file with her name? This internal reaction comes too late. Right now, she’d be fuming that this impertinent stranger called her difficult.

Thanks for sharing your work with me. Overall, I think you’ve got a great voice that matches the fun, mysterious tone of this atmospheric story. As you move foreword with revisions, I’d encourage you to drop us into the scene more quickly, remove repetitive word choices, and let us experience her emotional reaction to this strange boy in real time rather than telling us her thoughts about it after. Best of luck!

Thank you, Jessica, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice workshops? Come backtomorrow 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.


Filed: Workshops


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