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 Marty Mayberry
Marty Mayberry writes young adult and adult stories and infuses all of them with romance. When she’s not dreaming up ways to mess with her character’s lives, she works as an RN/Clinical Documentation Specialist. She has a BA in International Affairs in German and an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. She lives in Maine with her husband, children, and three neurotic cats. She’s a member of SCBWI, YARWA, and a PRO member of RWA. Give her a long walk on a powdery beach, an ancient ruin to explore, or a good book, and her life’s complete.
Her young adult sci-fi thriller, PHOENIX RISING, won the 2015 YARWA’s Rosemary Award for speculative fiction.
She’s represented by Jessica Watterson of the Dijkstra Agency.
The 500 Word Critique . . .
Evening featured so prominently in tales I’d heard of the Magic Merchants Market that, at two hours after sunset, I was surprised to find it already bustling with bargain hunters. (To me, these two thoughts don’t correlate. How does evening and the market lead to her being surprised to find it bustling with bargain hunters? If it features prominently, wouldn’t she expect to find it bustling? I wonder if you want to tighten this up and make it more of a hook.) On a tide of people, I was swept into the marketplace with its smells of sweat and perfume, spices and cooked meat (I love that you’re incorporating other senses already! You could actually start with this sentence, since it begins with character, rather than setting. For example: A tide of bargain hunters swept me into the Magic Merchants Marketplace, with its smells of sweat and perfume, spices and cooked meat. The time (2 hours after sunset) doesn’t seem to matter—yet—in this scene.). Every so often (<I’d cut this. I’m not sure you need it and it slows your pace. Jump right into what he/she sees instead.), above faces of every age, I caught sight of Riggam’s pink-tinged hair, and I puzzled over his deception I’d witnessed on the road. (You might want to expand here with a line or two explaining who Riggam is so that his deception has impact in the reader’s mind. This will put him in context and help build the world/scene.)
The aroma of meat buns made my mouth water so hard my jaws ached (great voice here!). Before long, I found myself at a small food stand, which was shaded by a maroon and gold-striped tarp with frayed edges indicating it had likely made the rounds of Magic Merchants Markets in all four kingdoms. I bent to extract the gold coin hidden in my shoe, but was jostled by hungry travelers. At last, the coin threw off a glint of morning light, and I contemplated all it would buy me, beginning with a savory meat bun and ending, most likely, in trade for the kind of magic only to be found here. (I’d love to know what she hopes to buy. Stating it in her internal could help with worldbuilding and set the scene further. You mention magic in the first sentence, but we see no further magic here. This is a chance to insert some. For example: A new wand. An invisibility spell. Or, if I was lucky enough to find it, a thimbleful of ground unicorn horn. I don’t know what fits, obviously, but something like that would add more color and fantasy.). Before I could fully understand what was happening (You could also cut this; it slows your pace. Just jump into the action of someone bumping into her), someone bumped my elbow, slapped my wrist, and caught my coin as it fell. (How about a reaction from the MC here. “Argh. Come back here. Thief. Thief.” A blur of dark blue disappeared into the crowd like a bead of water in a hot pan (excellent description), and the wall of humanity closed, preventing me from pursuing.
Something else, however, did manage to part the crowd. (<You don’t need this; it comes across ?heavy and a little mature for YA; just jump into what’s happening instead of telling us it’s going to happen then showing the action, which slows your pace.) Women, men, girls, boys, and several dogs stutter-stepped back in turn/cut as Riggam shouldered his way toward me, dragging alongside him/could cut; implied by dragging–writhing and cursing–a girl (I’m not sure why you’re setting “writing and cursing” by itself here. This may flow better this way: as Riggam shouldered his way toward me, dragging a writhing and cursing girl about my age dressed in a dark blue robe) around my age dressed in a dark blue robe. The girl was tall, but Riggam was far taller.(I don’t mind telling, per se, but since this crit is about enhancing setting, this could be twisted around to make it more visual for the reader. Something like: Riggam loomed over the girl. He lifted her to face him, her sandaled feet barely grazing the dusty ground.) The girl’s sandaled feet barely grazed the dusty ground.
Riggam stopped in front of me (I think you could cut this; it’s implied since the MC can see it) and commanded the girl to, “Spit it out!” (Commanded is a good word, but his actions could really bring the reader into the scene better with something like this: Riggam shook her, making her head jar. “Spit it out.”) But his captive’s lips only pursed tighter, and her gray eyes flashed with hatred. (you could make this more active: Her gray eyes flashing hatred, she pursed her lips tighter.) Riggam planted the girl on her feet, jutted his chin at me, and said, “You’re a girl. You wrest it from her.” (Great way to tell us the MC’s sex.)
The girl–the criminal!–spat something out into her hand and gnashed her surprisingly white teeth. (I don’t mind the descriptors but be careful only to use those necessary to show necessary information about the characters or scene. Why does it matter that her teeth are surprisingly white? Do many thieves have rotted teeth? Does this detail matter for this scene?)
“Manners,” Riggam admonished. “Remember where you are, thief. Deeds like yours will attract the most malicious kind of magic.” (Like what? Giving an example of what kind of malicious magic could be used against the thief will help build your world and engage the reader. You don’t need much, maybe just a line from the MC citing what sort of magic could be used as punishment.)
The thief’s eyes (went wide/widened) for only an instant (<this slows your pace; it’s assumed that when they widened then narrowed, it was fast) before narrowing and averting their venomous gaze toward me (could be: widened then narrowed, averting their venomous gaze toward me). “I and my boys are hungry,” she said. “And this one looks like she can part with a few Dhen.”
A ripple of guilt ran through me but quickly flared into outrage. “You stole from me!” (Be careful with exclamation marks. Try to show the shouting with body action, which you do nicely with “flared with outrage”. By adding the exclamation point, you’re essentially showing then telling, and you don’t need both. I search my docs and try not to use more than 5 in my entire MS. Instead, I seek ways to show the exclamation instead.) From me, who no longer had a home, had no “boys,¨ or “girls” either, except for those who forced me to live like a slave, more mongrel than daughter. I charged at the thief and snatched wildly (could cut; implied by snatched) at her closed fist. She backhanded me squarely in the mouth, she bit and scratched, but fury numbed my pain. Guarding only my eyes, at last I managed to pry my coin from her fingers.
But it wasn’t a coin. (Excellent hook to end with. It creates mystery.)
Even though I put many comments in this, I believe you have a great beginning already. There are ways you could tighten it up and add more worldbuilding/enhance your scene. I was drawn into your story, and was interested enough I’d read more. All the best. I hope you find my comments helpful.
Thank you, Marty, 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.