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 Kellye Garrett
Kellye Garrett spent 8 years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the CBS drama Cold Case. People were always surprised to learn what she did for a living—probably because she seemed way too happy to be brainstorming ways to murder people. A former magazine editor, Kellye holds a B.S. in magazine writing from Florida A&M and an MFA in screenwriting from USC’s famed film school. Having moved back to her native New Jersey, she spends her mornings commuting to Manhattan for her job at a leading media company—while still happily brainstorming ways to commit murder. Kellye was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2014, which led to her being repped by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary, and became a mentor last year.
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Kellye’s 500 Word Critique . . .
Mandy recalled a moment last summer, Luke just came out of Lake Roesiger, his hair wet and pushed flat on his head, his broad shoulders flecked with tiny water droplets glistening in the afternoon sun. (Beautiful imagery here and we definitely get a great
sense of your voice but the sentence does feel a bit too long.) He smiled and threatened to throw her in the water. (Show don’t tell. Let us know exactly what he said and her response. The more you can set the scene the more we will be just as
jolted as she is when she’s hit. So give this opening a bit more room to breathe, ESPECIALLY since this is your opening. You want us hooked.) Her heart fluttered at the memory, he was breathtaking. She shook her head todislodge the image, but he
refused to budge. (Love this line, using “he” over “it” is so small but does so much for the sentence and really shows your voice!)
Suddenly she was hit hard from behind, her body thrown over the bench, her face slammed into a locker. (There’s definitely a lyrical quality to your writing but this one feels a bit too much like poetry for me. I think adding the “she was” and “her” will help.) Her cheek burned from hitting the lock, and blood trickled from her lip.
From her A battered and twisted heap on the floor, she groaned in pain. (Totally subjective but I think changing it from “from her” to just “a” and then adding the comma might work well.)
Hands on her hips and glaring from above, Winnie said, “Watch where you’re going, Peterson.” (Another instance of it feeling a bit too much like poetry versus prose. Commas are clearly a big part of your style but I don’t think it works here. I
think the “and” is needed even though it goes against your voice.)
Carefully Mandy touched her face, hands coming away wet and sticky. Great, she thought, just what I need, to attract more attention.
(Not voice-related, but it was a bit jarring for me to jump from her being hurt to Coach Stevens leading them to the nurse’s office. I wanted to be there when Mandy reacted and the expression on Winnie’s smug face when she realizes Coach Stevens saw everything and was calling the principal. Of course, it might not have happened like this but since you aren’t letting us know, the reader has to assume. We should know.)
Coach Stevens led Mandy to the nurse’s office while Winnie followed behind. Principal Farley arrived as Nurse Mills gave her an ice pack big enough to cover her face. (Again, let this play out more on page. What are Mandy and Winnie doing while they are waiting for the principal? It has to be awkward as hell in there! I want to feel that tension.)
“This should help slow the swelling.” the nurse said softly, glancing at the principal.
“Thank you, Miss Mills, would you mind stepping in for Coach Stevens while we get this mess straightened out.” Principal Farley turned his attention to Winnie. “Now Miss Winslow, kindly tell us what happened.”
Winnie said in a falsely sweet voice, “It was an accident, Principal Farley. I didn’t see her standing there.
, yYou know I would never
hurt anyone.” Winnie scrunched up her face and brought tears to her eyes.
Mandy couldn’t believe the rubbish Winnie was spouting (This doesn’t feel like a teenage girl to me. Is that on purpose? Is Mandy the type of teenager who uses words like rubbish and spouting? If so, that’s great because it gives us a sense of who she is and lets us see why she probably doesn’t fit in with other teenagers. But if it isn’t, I suggest changing this. You have your writing voice but don’t forget Mandy’s teenage voice as well), but from the look on Principal Farley’s face, he believed every word. (Again, not voice but why wouldn’t she speak up? Give this more space so we’re in her thoughts and
understand why this poor girl would let someone knock her down and not say anything when it looks like she’ll get away with it.)
The Principal gently patted Winnie on the back. “There there, Miss Winslow,” he said in a soothing voice.
, “I understand. Accidents happen. Might I suggest you pay better attention towhere you are going, we can’t have you injuring yourself next time.” He gave
her a reassuring smile and said, “Now, head on back to class.” (Similar to my earlier note, the Principal has a very formal way of speaking that’s not very conversational. Again, if this is a character trait,then that’s great. But if it’s not, I’d take another pass at his dialogue. Maybe have someone read it out loud and see where you can make tweaks to make it sound a bit more like actual convo.)
Winnie flashed a performance worthy smile and turned to leave. With her back to the principal, she made a fist and glared at Mandy,
as if daring her to dispute the story. Mandy wouldn’t, of course. (Your voice is getting lost a bit once we get to the nurse’s office. It doesn’t feel as lyrical to me.)
Freshman year Winnie began picking on her. At first, Winnie just whispered snide comments in passing; Mandy ignored them easily
enough. But at the beginning of the year, Winnie spread rumors that Mandy was gay. Mandy tried to laugh it off, then she thought about Luke. What if he heard the rumors? What if he believed them? She would never get him to notice her as a girl after that. (As a girl? I’m intrigued by this…expand on it.)
The Coach took a step closer to the bed and asked, “Are you all right?” (Bed? I honestly thought they were sitting in chairs. Definitely go back and set the scene a bit more.) Stevens taught P.E. and Track for the high school. She
’s was a tall thin woman with short gray spiky hair that made her look even taller. She’d been Mandy’s track coach for the past three years and was one of the few teachers Mandy liked. (I’d move this Coach Stevens background should be moved up to when we first meet her. I think if you expand the scene like I suggested, this could fit in well.)
It really is brave to let your work be publicly critiqued so I really admire you. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into Mandy’s world. The first few paragraphs give a great sense of your voice, which has a lyrical quality to it. My only concern is that sometimes it felt too much like poetry versus prose.
Unfortunately, I think once we get to the nurse’s office, we lose your lovely voice. The good thing is that you clearly have a distinct voice so I don’t think it will be hard to add it to those sections, especially once you take some time to expand on what you have. From a non-voice perspective, you have some great ideas here and you set up Winnie and the tension right away, which is great. However, I think the scenes felt a bit too abrupt. Once you inject more of your voice and expand on her emotions and what’s going on, this is going to be amazing!
Thank you, Kellye, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice critiques? Come back later today for one more. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.