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 Lynnette Labelle
Lynnette Labelle is a freelance editor with over fifteen years of experience. She’s the owner of Labelle’s Writing on the Wall, an editing and coaching service for writers. Her clients range from new writers to New York Times and USA Today best-selling authors like Roni Loren, Rebecca Hamilton, and Cristin Harber. Lynnette works with writers seeking traditional publishing and indie authors. She specializes in substantive/developmental editing, helps writers create hooky query letters and strong synopses, and she teaches several writing classes.
Lynnette is also a romantic suspense author who injects a dark edge into romance. She finaled in the 2015 and 2016 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense Contest, and she won first place in the 2015 Molly Contest (romantic suspense category) offered through the Heart of Denver Romance Writers. She’s been a Pitch Wars mentor since 2015.
She lives in Minnesota with her husband, twin daughters, and pets. Despite her love for fictional blood and gore, she gets weak at the sight of real blood. And spiders give her the creeps!
Lynnette’s 500 Word Critique . . .
It all started with an egg. A purple one, just big enough to fit into the palm of your hand. (The beginning would be stronger if you could avoid using “it” at the start of the first sentence. The next sentence feels like you’re talking to the reader, but it doesn’t tell me much. Hand sizes vary, so this doesn’t show me the egg’s size. Plus, this is telling. Show us the story. Don’t tell us how it all began.) The Queen (Queen doesn’t need a capital Q here, but it works for your style in this genre as long as you keep it consistent.) eyed it suspiciously through the columns of steam curling around her gigantic purple body. (Avoid using adverbs and adjectives. Use strong verbs and nouns instead. This doesn’t apply to colors, but make sure we really need to know the color of something.) Being a leviathan – that is, a ridiculously large, prodigious, and epically enormous sea dragon – she was used to a certain… limit when laying eggs. (If this were YA or adult, I wouldn’t recommend the POV character describe herself or tell us what she is. Would she really think of herself as ridiculously large, for example? However, I have seen this in MG, so you could keep some of this. I’d drop “ridiculously large, prodigious, and epically” though. Enormous sea dragon tells us enough.) Five was fine – perfectly respectable; six, a bit out of the ordinary, but seven? Seven was unimaginable. (You have some voice here. I like it. However, in commercial fiction, semicolons and colons are rarely used. You could try to break this up a bit. Something like… Five was fine. Respectable. Six, a bit out of the ordinary. But seven?) The Queen didn’t (Make sure to use curly apostrophes and quotation marks.) know where this seventh egg had come from, but it wasn’t expected, it definitely wasn’t expected at all. (To make this voicier, you could avoid repeating “expected.” Something like… The Queen didn’t know where this seventh egg had come from, but it wasn’t expected. Not at all.) (However, the first bit about the Queen is a little dry. I’d rather hear what she’s thinking. Something like… Where had this seventh egg come from? It wasn’t expected. Not at all.)
She turned her colossal head towards the center of the underwater plain, where her six other eggs lay snug in their heated stone nest. (This is too self-aware. She isn’t going to think of her head as colossal. If you want us to see this, you’ll need someone else to describe it.) Around them (There are thousands of leviathans around the nests? Just making sure that’s what you meant.), hundreds – no, thousands – of other leviathans curled around heat vents; the enormous chimney-like grey (Too many adjectives here. Mountains are enormous, so that goes without saying. We don’t need their color, especially since many of them are gray. So, the only descriptor I’d keep here is chimney-like.) mountains thrust up into the dark water. (I’m confused. Is she calling the mountains heat vents? How could mountains thrust up into water? The mountains would be above the water, wouldn’t they? Also, you repeated “around” in this sentence and a third time below. Keep the writing fresh.) Scalding clouds of steam spouted from the vents’ mouths, stirring through colonies of ghostly white crabs and eels, and flurrying around the leviathan’s gigantic (Second time using gigantic.) bodies, but none of the colossal (Second time using colossal. Keep the writing fresh.) marine reptiles so much as moved a muscle. (Moved a muscle is cliché. Can you find a fresher way to say this?) (This is a really long sentence. Can you break it up? You can trim it by removing some of the excess descriptions. For example, you don’t need to say “scalding clouds of steam.” You could just say “steam.” We know steam is scalding. We don’t need two adjectives to describe the crabs, if any. And I think by now, the reader knows the leviathans are big, so you don’t need to keep reminding us. I’m also confused as to why the Queen would expect the marine reptiles to move. Is the steam a new thing and she presumed they’d react to it?) Then again, leviathans had scales tough as armor (Cliché.), and could withstand the most crushing pressure, the most scalding (This is the second time using “scalding.” However, I’d recommended removing the first one, so this still works. I pointed it out so you’re aware of the repetition.) heat. A little bit of soot and steam wouldn’t faze them. (As a reader, I’m wondering why I just read about the steam and how the leviathans should’ve reacted only to find out this shouldn’t have been surprising. I would cut all of that to avoid annoying the reader. Only state what’s important and get the story moving. So far, nothing has happened. I have no idea what’s at stake, what the Queen’s goal is, or what will keep her from it. Not that you need to state that immediately, but the story should move forward instead of getting stuck in details and descriptions. Are you sure you’re starting at the right place?)
If anything, it was the smell the leviathans disliked. More than one enormous snout wrinkled when yet another vent vomited a steam cloud delicately scented with eau de rotten eggs and bubbling guts. Still, they did not (Use contractions.) complain. (Do we need all these details? Do they advance the plot? I feel this is killing the pace. I want to know what the story is about and what’s going on. It doesn’t matter if they vomited steam.) It was an honor to be invited here for the ceremony of the eggs. (To tighten, you could call it the egg ceremony.) Only the most trusted leviathans and their riders, the merfolk they had chosen to bond to for life, could be witness to this momentous event. (This is telling and not voicy. Is there another way you can let the reader know these details without dumping them? Maybe you could get inside the Queen’s head and show us what she’s thinking and how this honor makes her feel? Adding emotion like that will help the reader connect to the story.)
Even now, The Queen’s own rider, a tall, muscular merman swimming swam up to her. He was a dignified sort of merperson, (Telling.) Rider (for that was his name) (We don’t need this. We’ll figure out it’s his name.) – all had long, black hair, serious (What do serious eyes look like? Would a middle grader know? Some will, but is there a better way to describe this? Keep your audience in mind.) grey eyes, and a long, rippling fishtail. (Too many adjectives again—long, black, serious, grey, long, rippling—and “long” was repeated. Trim.) If he had spectacles, he’d be the type to adjust them primly on his nose every time he spoke. (Is this an important detail? Would a sea dragon notice this? Would she know of spectacles and dignified sorts? How does she feel about him?)
Another egg has come, the Queen said into his mind, using the mental connection all leviathans shared with their riders.
Nodding, Rider swam to the middle of the vents. (Misuse of the present participle. He can’t nod and swim at the same time. The dialogue should be the start of another paragraph, so I’ll move it.)
“Another egg has come!” (Exclamation points should rarely be used in commercial fiction. They are a form of telling. I don’t see a reason to use one here.) he declared out loud (Try to use invisible dialogue tags like said, asked, and those that show the volume of the voice like shouted, yelled, whispered, mumbled, etc. Declared isn’t one of them, and unless you say he said something into someone else’s mind, we’re going to assume he said it out loud.) to the gathered leviathans and riders.
An excited rumble immediately started; the other leviathans, speaking into their rider’s minds. (How would the Queen know leviathans spoke into their rider’s minds? Can she hear this? If not, she can’t tell us about this.) Was this one a boy, or a girl, they wanted to know. (You’re combining their thoughts with narration. Break this up.) But they didn’t dare ask the Queen directly, not so soon after she’d just laid another egg. She was notoriously snippy in the first few moments after birth. (We’re in her POV. Would she really think this of herself?) Why, she’d once bitten off an entire (Why is this underlined? Did you mean for it to be italicized? We no longer underline to show italics.) a chunk of a young male’s tail when he’d had the nerve to approach her. No one was stupid enough to try that again. No one, but…
The Queen smiled inwardly when the massive blue leviathan on the farthest vent turned his gargantuan head Rider’s way.
I love these creatures and would enjoy reading more about them. However, I feel this beginning is bogged down with details instead of dialogue or action—something that could move the story forward. I feel like we’re in and out of the Queen’s POV. Stay in her POV.
However, we’re in the Queen’s head too long. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn what she’s told us above, but it could be layered in or added between action and dialogue. As for voice, there’s a little bit of it, which I pointed out, but I think you can dig deeper to make this voicier. Get deep into the Queen’s POV. Show us what she’s thinking, feeling, and how her body involuntarily reacts to certain circumstances. The fact that there’s a seventh egg, which isn’t normal, obviously means something to the story, but I don’t feel its importance. Sure, it wasn’t expected, but what does that mean? Is the Queen excited about this? Is she upset? Does she want it destroyed or banished? Will it be her favorite because it’s special? If the egg is a big deal, you need to draw more attention to it and show us how it affects the Queen, our POV character.
I hope this helps.
Thank you, Lynette, 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.