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 K.T. Hanna
KT Hanna has a love for words so extreme, a single word can spark entire worlds. Born in Australia, she met her husband in a computer game, moved to the U.S.A. and went into culture shock. Bonus? Not as many creatures specifically out to kill you. When she’s not writing, she freelance edits for Chimera Editing, plays computer games, and chases her daughter, husband, corgi, and cat. No, she doesn’t sleep. She is entirely powered by the number 2, caffeine, and beef jerky.
Note: Still searching for her Tardis
The 500 Word Critique . . .
[I want to start by saying: Toward the end of this section there’s a spark of interest, and if the setting was a bit more tangible, I would be eager to read more. However, knowing this is a thriller, I don’t get any atmospheric feeling from this first page.
I get the feeling it starts in the wrong place, but not knowing the story, I can’t say that with 100% conviction. I’ve gone through and made suggestions anyway, but I do urge you to look at your story and see if this is the best way to start. If this isn’t where it starts, but partway through instead, make sure to try and increase the atmosphere (my suggestions are just suggestions, guidelines that will hopefully help you – I’m not saying this is how it must be done.)]
The jet was black and larger than other aircraft on the strip. The stairs were already down, cool air escaping from within. Chase had flown before, but always shared planes with eighty other souls. This was a private jet and looked expensive as hell. He’d have been more excited had his pilot not been twelve. “How many hundreds of thousands did this cost?”
[Right here you’re telling me things instead of showing them. The jet is black and large doesn’t give me a reference. How large is large? 747 large? 737? Fighter jet? F111?
Sharing a plane with 80 other souls? Is he trying to say that he’s flown on a passenger plane before? Or a military plane? Did he do air raids? Saying that he shared it with eighty other souls tripped me up when I read it, because I just wasn’t sure what that meant.
Private jet and looked expensive as hell. I know you elaborate on what the jet looks like below. I almost want to pull that observation up to here, but I feel this first paragraph is already a little awkward.
If this is a thriller, I want a little more atmosphere here, something that gives a sense of what the danger is.
Chase could barely pick the jet out against the night sky, but its silhouette dwarfed the other cargo planes on the strip. Cool air brushed his face as he ascended the stairs, and he shivered as he entered the craft. He’d flown before, but usually on a passenger plane, and never in anything as opulent as this. Curiosity pushed him. “How much did this cost?”]
Zettabyte ascended the steps. “Hundreds of thousands?” She laughed, stopping at the top. “Try fifteen million.”
He felt his jaw drop. Before he could swallow them, words spewed forth, “And they let a child fly it?”
“How old do you think I am?”
He feared offending her, so joked, “Five?”
She smiled. “Twenty-two.”
“Really?” Disbelief dripped from the word.
“No, I often lie about my age,” Zettabyte said with blatant sarcasm.
“You get that a lot?”
She nodded. “I’m four eleven with freckles. I get carded when buying a movie with sex or violence.” She entered the jet.
[Okay I have to point out, that with all the description you end up giving us of this jet fifteen million is a good estimate, but I don’t understand how anyone would think it would only cost in the hundreds of thousands. I’d recommend getting Chase to perhaps just ask how much it cost?
Your dialogue is quite solid, but I only get a vague sense of either of these character’s personalities. This sort of thing can often come down to style though – so I’ll make a couple of suggestions. If this isn’t the beginning then I’d suggest weighing how well you’ve established them before this, and if it is, then I’d ask you to please use this to establish them for the reader.
Note: I got the impression he’d already gone up the steps… so is she ascending steps inside?
Note 2: Also 22 and getting carded? That’s pretty run of the mill. I’m a LOT older than 22 and I still get carded. So her saying that doesn’t carry an impact for me. She’s barely old enough to not NEED to be carded. Just something to keep in mind for consistency. I made a suggestion below in regards to child’s prices – just a suggestion of course.
Zettabyte leaned against the doorway with a laugh. “Fifteen million.”
Chase felt his jaw drop and the words tumbled out before he could rein them in. “They trust a kid with that sort of asset?”
Her eyebrows drew down sharply, the frown aging her momentarily. “Just how old do you think I am.”
“Five.” He hoped his grin would reinforce the joke and alleviate the sudden tension.
She smiled in response. “Try twenty-two.”
“Wait, let me check my birthdate again.” She rolled her eyes and stood up straight, watching him.
Chase laughed, “Sorry. You get that a lot?”
She nodded and motioned him inside. “I get asked if I want the kids prices at the Zoo.”]
Chase followed. The inside was beautiful, with dark leather seating and cherry wood desks. The seating options consisted of three leather recliners and a seven-foot divan. There were two televisions, one toward the back and the other near the front. Currently, both had an airplane at the center of a map and the weather displayed along the bottom.
After pulling a bulky remote from a compartment, Zettabyte handed it to him. “Master control. Temperature, audio, video, XM radio, and television. You can do everything with this besides fly the jet.” She pointed at the back. “Bathroom’s there.” Her finger shifted to a cabinet along the top. “A hard drive has damn near every television show and movie known to man.” She patted the divan. “I get better sleep on this than my bed. The other chairs swivel so you can use the desks. They recline if you prefer them over the divan.”
[We can assumed he followed. After all he walked up the stairs and presumably came all the way out to this air strip. This has some lovely description in it. Good setting, but some of it could be truncated and smoothed over in order to make it read a little less like a list of what’s in the plane. Also – Just a few more specifics. Don’t say dark – give us a color. Things like that.
My only real problem with the second paragraph above, is that it’s long. I’d separate it up a bit and (as mentioned before) make sure you HAVE to have this. It’s a bit bland and in a thriller I want a sense of something to come – this paragraph gives me nothing like that.
The inside of the aircraft was beautiful. Three black leather reclining loveseats and a seven foot divan made for plenty of seating, and the cherry wood desks in one corner leant the space a hint of seriousness. A television in the front of the large living space, and one in the back both showed crisp displays of the flight path with the plane stationary on its spot. The current weather flickered in the bottom right corner of both screens.
Zettabyte pulled a bulky remote from a compartment handed it to Chase. “Master control. Temperature, audio, video, XM radio, and television. You can do everything with this besides fly the jet.” She pointed at the back. “Bathroom’s there.”
She paused for a moment, lips pursed, eyes flickering toward the divan before she patted it. “I get better sleep on this than my bed. The other chairs swivel so you can use the desks. They recline if you prefer that over the divan.”]
He remained silent, taking it all in.
She went to the back and opened a storage space. “If you need to hide anything from pirates, put it here.”
He smiled. She’s trying to put me at ease.
“Water and soft drinks are in this refrigerated drawer. Snack foods are on the shelf above.” She clapped her hands together. “If you need me, I’m up front. Questions?”
“How’d you become their pilot?”
“I’m one of them,” she said, passing him. “Many of us train to be pilots. I dabbled in it before being recruited. Family trade.” She opened the cockpit door. “I share my father’s love of the sky.”
He shook his head in amazement, “So, you’re also—”
He felt sheepish. “Assassin.”
Zettabyte shook her head, an ornery half-smile turning up the corner of her lip. “No,” she said. “I crash planes and people just happen to be inside ’em.” She winked. “Enjoy the flight.” With that, she entered the cockpit and closed the door behind her.
[He remains silent, but is he watching her? What is he doing? Is he running a hand through his hair? Is he noting the placement of everything with precision?
I also don’t understand how telling him where to hide stuff from pirates would make him feel at ease, so why would he think that? I feel like we need to know more about him, or at least see his thought process here. It appears to be a more distant third person narration from Chase’s point of view, but it’s still his pov, so I need more of him’
So the setting here, especially for the build up at the end of this section is sort of mundane. I want to know something is coming, something shadowy and dark…
He remained silent, taking it all in, watching her every move.
She walked toward the front television and opened a storage space he’d not realized was there by pressing her hand beneath it. “If you have to hide anything from pirates, this is the best spot.”
He smiled, making an effort to be friendly. After all, she appeared to be, but he could never be sure. Curiosity ate at him, niggling in the back of his mind.
“Drinks are in this fridge drawer, snacks in the cupboard above.” She glanced around, nodding slightly before meeting his eyes. “Anything else, I’ll be up front. Questions?”
Chase blinked. “How did you get to be their pilot?”
She shrugged at him as she opened the cockpit door. “I’ve been flying since I can remember. Family trade. I’m one of them.”
He could feel the color drain out of his face. “So you’re…”
But she cut him off, her eyes cold as she answered. “A killer?”
Chase looked away, pushing down the blush he could feel rising. “Assassin.”
He looked up again in time to see her shaking her head, a small smile playing across her lips.
“Not technically.” She said with a grin he wasn’t sure was playful or predatory. “I crash planes and people just happen to be inside them.”
You have some nice description here, a good start to setting up a thriller. But it lacks a bit of atmosphere. Make sure you’re showing and not just telling. It’s important to set the mood of your piece, especially when fear, shock, and suspense are tools the writer needs to tap into.
Use your dialogue areas to show how the people act and react, how their behavior reflects the mood in the story, and how it demonstrates the people that they are.
Since all I’m given is 500 words and I can’t be sure where it takes place in the story, please note that I’ve taken some liberties in order to show examples. Don’t feel like I’m saying this is how it should be – as it’s only how I could demonstrate other ways to build on what you’ve created.
I think once you’ve made tweaks and upped the atmosphere and mood of the piece that it’ll read smoother and be very enjoyable.
Thank you, K.T., 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.