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Day 4 (Part 1) of May’s Voice Workshop with Pitch Wars mentor J.C. Nelson

Thursday, 5 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 J.C. Nelson

J.C. NelsonWebsite  |  Twitter Goodreads

Hey, I’m a 40-something author living in the rainy Pacific Northwest, with an ark’s worth of animals and four kids I love.





Jason’s 500 Word Critique . . .

Adult Speculative Fiction

     His alarm went off at six thirty, but Roth didn’t rouse until an hour later. The reaper flu had him in its  grip again, a yellow, poisonous feeling flooding his bloodstream, making his body and his mind sluggish.
So, I love the yellow, poisonous feeling, but here’s a great place to draw a simile and add some real  character. I don’t know enough about Roth to make suggestions, but things like “moving slower than  molasses in winter” would give his narrative voice a rural feel, while “move slower than the gridlocked traffic on 8th” would be urbane. These are small choices which build together to give us the narrative  voice.
     The joints in his knees and hips screamed with pain as he swung his legs over the bed. He sat on the edge, resting like an old man. From the other room, he heard Simone’s low voice and the boy’s  mono-syllabic response.
     Roth put his head in his hands. It had come again. Three years of his life gone for good. Three nights free of the creature, and then Jake had his close call and it was back. That couldn’t be a coincidence.
     The door cracked open and Simone peered through.
     “Hi. Finally awake. You were really tired.”
     “Yeah,” he said, wiping his face and standing.
Body language here would be great, and give you another opportunity to pick and choose how your narrator speaks.
     “You alright?”
     “Yes. I’m feeling a little ill this morning, that’s all.”
     “Sorry. You want some coffee or no?”
I’d love some beats, some description worked into this so we get a picture of her without you halting the story to tell us all about her.
     “Coffee’s fine,” he answered. “Thanks.”
     She nodded and eased the door closed behind her.
     A little later, Roth sat at the small dining room table trying to convince his reluctant (Another great opportunity to turn your word choice and deepen the voice. If, for instance, he “pleads” with his reluctant stomach, we get one image. If he’s “demanding” that’s another and so on.) stomach to take the bagel he was offering it. His head throbbed with a pain deep in the middle of his brain—that splitting the
hemisphere’s ache, again. The reaper sure left an aftertaste.
Simone puttered about. The clicking of a keyboard sounded
from Jake’s room.
     “A friend of mine works at JZ’s,” Simone told Roth. “She said she’d introduce me to her boss. They might need a waitress. I’m gonna’ meet her in a couple of hours.”
     “That’s great.”
Without body language or a tone or a beat, we can’t interpret this. Could be sarcasm,
could be honest, we just don’t know.
     “Will you drop me off at the diner?” She looked at Jake’s open door and said in a loud voice, “I gotta get my last paycheck.”
So, not to harp, but if you look upwards at all of Roth’s lines, the majority of them are short declaratives. Our mind will associate these with a particular type of person, so make sure that’s your intent. If so, well done.
     As she typed on her phone, Roth eyed the apartment around him. Despite its dingy demeanor, it’d felt like a refuge those first few days. Great sex as a nice diversion (This is an interesting word choice. Great sex for this guy is just a “nice diversion”. So he’s not really liking Simone, my brain says, he’s just using her.  You don’t have to change a thing – just be aware of how the voice you give him builds a picture of his character without you telling us.) and full nights of sleep with no visits from the reaper. Now, it felt small and defeating. The dank walls closed in on him.
You probably would have a stronger paragraph if it just says “Now, the dank walls” because “dank walls” closing in give us a feeling that you are narrating just above it.
      “I’ve got to catch up on some work this evening,” he said.
      “Ok. Come back after?”
I’m going to keep harping – body language and tone. You have your dialogue, but it’s the skeleton of the story. Pick and choose your beats to bring these characters to life.
     He needed some time alone, time to figure out his game plan for Jake. “How about tomorrow night?”
     She frowned. In a tight voice she said, “Fine then. I’ve gotta get ready.”
     She got up and strode down the hall.
     That might have been a mistake, Roth. He couldn’t afford to blow it with her. Which reminded him.
He should check on the kid. He went down to Jake’s room, coffee in hand. Apparently he would have to survive on java today; his body refused solid food.
     The boy was at his small desk, (Great place to add some flare. How small is small? Words like huge, small, and even mammoth or gigantic don’t really give us scale, but the comparisons a narrator chooses to note tell us tons about who he is and what his life has been.  A sci-fi person says “at his desk, no larger than a microgravity pod” while a homeless person might say “at his desk—an overturned trashcan that once held burning tires.” Your choices show us your world!) tapping away on his laptop. Code splattered the screen. Jake turned as Roth stepped up behind him.
     “How are you feeling?” Roth asked.
     “Hung over.” Jake turned back to the screen. No “thank you for saving my life, mister” or “Sorry about last night.”

So, this is a good hook, but it leaves me without an image of the characters – any of them. Go through and judiciously choose the right places to change weak or general words to colorful ones that tell us more about the place, the characters, and their experiences.

Thank you, Jason, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice critiques? Come back later today for our next critique. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.

J.C. Nelson’s Books . . .


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