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Day 3 (Part 2) of the May Pitch Wars Voice Workshop with Mentor Summer Spence

Wednesday, 4 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 Summer Spence

Summer Spence


Website  |  Twitter

Summer Spence is a YA author living in scenic Utah (and always pining for California, her true home), with degrees in English Literature and Theatre. She began her storytelling career on stage as an actor, where she fell in love with words and the beautiful challenge of creating human beings out of them. Then she figured out she could do that without changing out of her pajamas, and she became a writer! Summer is represented by Heather Flaherty at The Bent Agency.

Summer’s 500 word critique . . .

YA Science Fiction

The sapphire blue dress for my coming-of-age ceremony fit as I expected—soft, smooth, and suffocating. [Great start – an unexpected juxtaposition that lets the reader into the character’s state of mind immediately!] The perfect dress for the perfect healer princess. Or in my case, the perfect imposter. And by the time our five moons had risen, everyone would know the truth.
For the tenth time, I attempted to wind my hair into an elaborate knot, but the long black strands slipped and fell through my shaking fingers. I yanked [strong verb! Helps keep the voice active]  out the remaining hair pins and took a long breath. The scent of roses, sweet and strong, filled my head but did nothing to calm my nerves. I shoved open my balcony doors. Above, two moons already peeked over Shelazon’s western horizon. So little time left. [We are given a little great world building here with the moons – but still in the voice of the character AND it pertains to the immediate problem the character faces. Part of a character’s voice is what they notice in the world around them and how they interact/understand it. Bravo!]
Below my balcony, healers with dark robes and darker expressions roamed the palace patios and gardens. Several of the elders inspected rows of banquet tables smothered in both a food and flower invasion.
[Another great word choice that helps the reader see how the character feels about her situation – this party isn’t welcomed – it’s an invasion. Strong word choices develop characters with strong voices!] On the far side of the gardens, past the gazebo and toward the lake, white floral ropes led to the raised platform where I’d take the oath. A banner, hung crooked across the platform, read, “Wellness and peace to Princess Serenity.” But a lopsided sign was the least of my worries. [Again, small details that the character notices give insight into her character – voice, above all, is about who the character is – and the fact that she takes notice of a crooked banner while she’s struggling with an imminent threat shows the reader that this is a detail-oriented character, but one who still focuses on what’s important.]
The oath would be the end of me.
On one of the patios below my window, Elder Symon paced, arms crossed over his bony chest. The setting sun slashed [another strong verb! Her voice is very active, and this word choice adds awesome tension!] red across his face. He grumbled something to one of the nearby healers. Though it was childish and only asking for pain, I flicked on my bracelet’s audio enhancer so I could hear him. He glanced my way, eyes narrowed. “What a waste, throwing a party for that mongrel.”
I’d grown accustomed to Symon’s hatred, but the word mongrel burned like hot metal down my throat. [Vivid imagery really captures the character’s point of view and feelings about how/where she fits in her world.]
“Shouldn’t you be ready?”
I startled. Behind me, Master Eli, my protector, teacher, and sometimes warden, [a bit of humor! Yay! Introducing other facets of character through word choice with a light touch!] stood in the doorway. He strode toward the desk, crossing in front of the fountain in the center of my room, his posture as stiff as his
forest-green warrior uniform. A band secured his platinum hair in a tight tail and a broadsword loomed over his shoulder. Unlike the healers, who thought of
carrying a sharp pencil as living dangerously, Nadiv warriors accessorized with weapons, the deadlier the better. [More humor, and a nice slice of insight into how she sees others. The categories we put people in can reveal a great deal about our own character!]
Eli inspected the data screen on my desk, probably checking my latest assignment. I glanced back at the palace grounds. So beautiful, so filled with hate.

Below, Elder Matilda stomped past Symon, yanking on tablecloths, slamming down silverware. A tray of sliced meat must have vexed her because she shoved it aside and knocked several pieces to the ground. “Why the king expects us to cater that that unnatural brat—”

A mechanical hum sounded, and a shimmering haze dropped like a sheer curtain over my balcony doors. The outside noises went silent. Master Eli’s hand lingered over the audio shield switch on my wall. “Don’t listen to their poison, Serenity.” [More strong word choices – and these seemingly small phrases do a great deal to build the point of view of the character, and thus, their individual voice!]

This is SUCH A GREAT SAMPLE! The author uses strong, active verbs and vivid imagery to show the reader how Serenity views the world. The words highlighted in purple are great examples of how individual word choices and phrases can build a character, by allowing the reader access directly into the character’s thoughts. Voice is something unique to each character, and the words chosen reveal their point of view – Serenity is intelligent, pragmatic, grounded, tinged with an edgy humor, and what I love most – still revels in lush prose to draw the reader into her world and gain their sympathy.

The author uses very subtly phrasing to elicit an emotional response from the reader and to build mood and tension in the world. I’ve highlighted in yellow several phrases throughout the sample the demonstrate how this is done through the voice of the character.  Words and phrases such as suffocated, elaborate knot, smothered, invasion, hung crooked, ropes, band secured, and tight tail, all conjure up a feeling of being trapped, restrained, and caught, which give the reader a pretty good feeling for the challenges Serenity faces. And all of that is done through the voice of the character, the words she chooses to reveal her world!

Because of the rich voice in this sample, I would read on in a heartbeat! Give me more!

Thank you, Summer, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice critiques? Come back tomorrow 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.

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