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 Michael Mammay
Michael Mammay serves in the army and lives in the southeast. In his spare time he writes adult science fiction and fantasy, usually with explosions. He’s represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary.
You can follow him on Twitter @michaelmammay
Michael’s 500 Word Critique . . .
MG Historical Novel, 1966
Shakespeare was right. The world is a stage, and I’ve been shoved onto it, buck naked, to play a solo I haven’t practiced. At least, that’s how I feel as I plow through the muggy August afternoon on my way to the library, wishing my one and only friend, Anna, hadn’t given herself food poisoning, yet again. Because sitting on the bench in front of the library are the two people who always, always, make me feel like I’m playing out of tune in their perfectly tuned little world.
“Why, Birdie, what a surprise!” Carol puts her hand on her cheek.
“Rose City is pretty small.” I twist one of my braids. “It’s not too unusual to run into someone you know.”
Monique rolls her eyes at me.
Shoot. Out of tune. No matter how hard I try. The Stones “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” blares in my brain.
The writing here is really solid, which is great because it really lets us dive into the voice. I think the first line puts us in the wrong space. Opening with Shakespeare feels a lot like an adult speaking. Really the entire opening line. I know there are MG kids who know Shakespeare, but I’d want to establish that
before jumping in with it. I like the idea of The Stones to set the time period, but again, not sure that’s a kid’s thought. It works for me, because I know the song. Not sure for an MG audience. With that said, I love the music theme you run throughout. It’s clear that music and tune are important to Birdy. Is there a way to use that in the opening line instead of Shakespeare, which creates a bit of a mixed metaphor and gives the feel of an older character? Also I’m really curious about how someone gives herself food poisoning. But that might be a thing that’s addressed later.
“It’s not that I’m surprised to see you. It’s that I’m surprised to see you alone.” Carol tucks a strand of her long honey hair behind her ear. “Where’s Anna?”
“You poor thing. You must be so lonely.” Carol pouts. “Why don’t you come shopping with us?”
Is Carol trying to play in tune with me?
Monique frowns at Carol.
Carol stands and smoothes out her paisley A-line dress. Wow. It’s really short. The glare from her white patent leather go-go boots nearly blinds me. “We were just going to the drugstore.” She stares at Monique. “Come on, we’ll give you advice on makeup.”
The 60s clothes give good setting, but take us a bit out of voice. I’m trying to fit the MC into the world. What I’m getting is that she’s out of tune with the popular girls. But she knows A-line dress and uses it cleanly. Also a risk is the use of terms like A-Line dress and go-go boots without describing them a little to a MG audience. So you’ve got a balance between voice and setting that you have to work here. Enough to show the world to the audience, while still making it seem like it comes from Birdy.
“Yeah…” Monique tugs on the hem of her mini skirt. “Colored girls look groovy in white lipstick.”
“I need some books…” I bite my lower lip. I desperately need more than one friend. All summer I’ve been worrying that Anna and I might not be in the same classes in Junior High School. “But I guess I can go to the library afterwards.”
“Perfect.” Carol walks away. “But if you want to be friends with us, there’s something you have to do.”
Friends. With the most popular girls in school. I dash to catch up.
“When no one’s looking, you have to slip something in your pocket,” Carol says.
“You mean, steal?” I stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Images of police chasing me while the Beatles sing “Help!” flash through my mind.
“Shhh!” The girls shush me in unison like I just hit a sour note.
I really like this. The idea of hitting a sour note bringing her into the girls thinking when she was resisting. I was thinking that maybe Birdy would be more aware of what the girls were doing, how she didn’t fit, but that fear of being a sour note says a lot.
“It’s easy.” Carol smiles. “They’ll never notice.”
“Yeah, we do it all the time.” Monique opens the pharmacy door and motions with her chin for me to enter.
Carol sails in and heads to the makeup aisle at the back of the store. She runs her hand along the tubes of lipstick, then slides one into the pocket of her dress. She turns to me as if to say, “See?”
Monique does likewise.
They turn to me, and I shake my head no.
Monique sticks a tube of lipstick in my hand and nods toward my pocket.
There’s room here as they walk through the pharmacy to add maybe a few details of what a 60s drug store looks like. That might allow you to dial that back a touch in the clothing descriptions.
Overall I think you have a pretty strong sample here, and I’d say you’re looking at tweaks rather than any sort of major overhaul. I’d love for you to establish Birdy a little better in that first paragraph, maybe even giving it two paragraphs before she joins the other girls. I think there’s an opportunity there to get us into the character’s voice a little more, show us how she sees the world. You could use the fact
that she’s going to the library as a tool. Show us what she’s thinking about before she sees the obstacle (the two girls.)
Thank you, Michael, 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.
Thanks, Michael Mammay, for a great critique! Very helpful.
btw-I’m not sure who Heather Cashman is, but I wrote this 500-word submission.