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 Hayley Stone
The 500 Word Critique . . .
Adult Women’s Fiction
“Are you real?” She stared into his blue eyes. “Am I dreaming again?”
“Of course I’m bloody real.” He sat down on the floor. ((What is the texture of the floor? Is it soft carpet, hardwood, linoleum? Since this character complains about the fact of having to sit on the floor right after this, it benefits us to know if it’s genuinely uncomfortable. Not only does it create pathos between the reader and this character, it can also be telling that the character is tired enough to plop down anywhere.)) “I do wish you’d get some furniture in here, I’m fed up of sitting on the floor. I’ve tried to bring a chair through but it doesn’t let me.”
“What doesn’t let you?” Laura was baffled. “What do you mean, you’ve been here nearly every night?”
“The mirror doesn’t let me,” he said matter-of-factly. “Only me and Chester seem to be able to come through.”
“Through the mirror?” Laura wasn’t making any sense of his words. “You came through the mirror?”
((This is a perfect opportunity to describe the mirror in question. Let the reader view it through Laura’s eyes—is it common, everyday? Did she purchase it from a Wal-Mart? Or was it a gift, some kind of inheritance that has always possessed a small aura of mystery? Is it ornate or plain? Does it have a crisp contemporary frame or a splintering wooden one? The way the mirror is described should reflect Laura’s feelings toward it, without outright saying “the mirror made her feel strange,” etc. It’s a technique called objective correlative.))
“Well, of course I came through the mirror.” He looked at her as if she was speaking a different language. “It doesn’t work in the day though and only after midnight.” He didn’t appear to be joking. “It took me a few days and nights to work it all out but I got there in the end.” He smiled at her and she found herself smiling back, convinced that either he was completely insane or she was.
“Shall we have a cup of tea?” It was about the only thing she could think of to say at that moment in the time.
“I’ll make it.” He shot up and dashed into the kitchen. “I’ve realised that I’m not in my time anymore.” He told Laura as she came into the kitchen after him. “My street doesn’t look anything like the one outside and some of the things I’ve seen and heard from people walking past would shock a priest. And the cars? Wow, the cars are amazing, like something from space.” Laura sat at the picnic table shaking her head. ‘Not his time’ she said to herself, well what time was it then? “I’ve worked this kettle thing out though. I have to say it’s amazing and so fast to boil. My Mother would love one of these. She loves her tea does my Mother.” Laura watched as he picked two tea bags out of the box, ripped them open and poured the tea leaves into a cup. “I like the idea of these little bag things.” He said quite innocently. “Just the right amount for the perfect cup but you haven’t got a tea strainer.”
((First, I would break up this paragraph, because it’s a solid chunk of text and hard on the eyes. Second, you could kill two birds with one stone by including details of the kitchen in between the man’s monologuing. The rooms in people’s houses/apartments often reflect their personality. You could show us what Laura is like through the layout of her kitchen. If it’s messy, maybe it’s because she’s too busy to clean it, or simply lazy. If everything has its own spot, she might be a neatnik. You could even include some backstory, like maybe she has some kind of item that is especially sentimental to her. There are endless possibilities.))
“You don’t rip the bags.” Laura stood up, tipped the tea leaves into the bin, got two fresh cups and put new tea bags in. “The tea mashes through the bag, then you take the bag out and add the milk.
“And you keep the milk in these little tiny things?” Ben held up one of the UHT sachets that Laura had been using as she didn’t have a fridge yet. ((The fact that she doesn’t have a fridge is significant and telling. Might want to mention this gaping absence in her kitchen earlier.)) “Why doesn’t it go off? Why haven’t you got a refrigerator? They’re quite a new thing I know but absolutely remarkable. Keeps the milk, cheese and meat fresh for so much longer. Mother won’t have any of these new electric things in the house you know but we have one at work.”
A fun scene! However, for the most part, the lack of setting results in the feeling of too much negative space, as though these characters are simply floating about in an empty room. Paint the scene for us. Give us a few details to latch on to so we know where these characters are, and can more easily picture it.
It’s important to remember that setting can accomplish many things at once: providing an indication of a character’s emotional state, and offering hints about the world or suggestions of backstory. Let the setting description do the heavy-lifting for you, rather than mentioning everything through dialogue. When you have the characters talking about everything they are seeing or doing, it runs the risk of becoming “As You Know, Bob” dialogue.
Thank you, Hayley, 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.