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 Mentors Abby Cooper and Gail Nall
Gail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail’s middle grade novels include BREAKING THE ICE, YOU’RE INVITED and YOU’RE INVITED TOO (co-authored with Jen Malone), and the upcoming OUT OF TUNE (all through Aladdin/S&S). She is also the author of the young adult novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT (Epic Reads Impulse/HarperCollins). She’s represented by Julia Weber of J.A. Weber Literaturagentur GmbH.
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Abby Cooper lives in Minnesota with her miniature poodle, Louis, and a whole bunch of books. A former teacher and school librarian, her favorite things in the world (besides writing) are getting and giving book recommendations and sharing her love of reading with others. In her spare time, she likes eating cupcakes, running along the Mississippi River, and watching a lot of bad reality TV. Abby is the author of the middle grade novel STICKS AND STONES (FSG/Macmillan, 7/19/16). She’s represented by Rebecca Sherman of Writer’s House.
Gail and Abby’s 500 Word Critique . . .
(In My Vasst Expereence as a Knowledgable but New Witch-lette)
Section 1: Fun Facts and Observachuns
Spells don’t usally turn out the way you want them two. (You nail the voice in the word choice here, which is great! Two suggestions: 1) The spelling mistakes make your character seem younger than she is. While her age isn’t clear in the text, she comes across as about 11 or 12, but the spelling here makes her seem younger than that. I’d also worry about it putting kids off — they tend to have little tolerance if they feel someone is speaking down to them. 2) This bit is in first person, but the rest is in third. This might work if you do these little intros at the start of each chapter (maybe set them off in script or something), but the switch here between tenses felt a little odd.)
There was nothing about the angle of the bright sun or the clouds huffing cheerfully (not sure something can huff cheerfully! 🙂 ) through the blue sky to indicate trouble. But Jellyfish smelled it, a tang in the air like fire, when she reached the barn.
She dug into her pocket and pulled out her wand. It wobbled in her hand. (I like these lines. They’re simple, but they say a lot. If you can aim to write like this throughout the book, you’re golden!)
Be more like Rey, she told herself. A girl to be reckoned with. She, too, was armed with the Force. Of course, it was more like a warped gift. (GREAT voice here! It not only conveys something about character, but it’s also humorous.)
Jelly held her wand high over her shoulder in light saber stance. Then she heaved open the barn door. Gold dust motes danced and sparkled in the disturbed air. The sheep, tucked under the skylight in the middle of the floor, snoozed in a tangled heap.
A waft of sour smelling shavings poured out. Jelly blinked hard as her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. The mess came into focus. Pine shavings were marbled with poop. A bucket of water had overturned on the barn floor, forming a puddle as green as algae. Plaid barn blankets were strewn on the floor and speckled with bits of hay and straw and the scattered seedpods of grain. (These two paragraphs — see the notes at the end.)
The smell made Jelly’s eyes water but she breathed out a sigh of relief.
No villains. It was just sheep trouble. (Great voice!)
She stuffed the wand back in her pocket and stepped over her aunts’ thick line of coarse sea salt that looked like jagged crystals. They were supposed to ward away evil spirits.
The lid to the grain bin yawned open. Jelly tiptoed close and peered inside. Last night when she and her brother had fed the sheep, it was half full. Now neat lap marks gleamed black where the sheep had licked the bottom clean. (See notes at the end.)
Jelly sighed. She wished that her brother had remembered to close the bin last night. Things always went better when she worked alone. (This right here really stands out as great voice, too.)
She plucked a pitchfork off a rusted hook on the wall. Then she lowered the tines to the floor and heaved a pile of shavings back. She gathered another pile and pushed, bracing the handle against her stomach, shoving forward with her legs. She dragged the shavings back until her hair fell in her eyes in stringy clumps and the heavy stench made her lungs burn. (See notes at the end.)
She breathed hard and leaned against her rake. Her heart was pounding and she was only halfway done. But the sooner she was done, the sooner she could go to the beach.
Chumba unburied his head from the sleeping pile of sheep and baaed at her. He yawned and stretched then wandered over. He butted Jelly’s side with his velvety nose, almost tossing her into the dirty shavings.
“Too much of the good stuff, Old Man,” Jelly told him.
(You’ve got some great voice in here! But we worry that it’s getting lost in the writing at times. There are parts — particularly descriptions — that feel overwritten, and that’s where the voice is disappearing. There’s a fine line between creating interesting/pretty prose and overwriting, so you want to be super careful that you don’t cross that line. Because when you do, the character’s voice gets drowned out by Writer Voice, and yeah . . . that’s not good! 🙂 You’ve got a lot going on here, and the voice would pop more if some of the prose was shortened and/or simplified. I’m not saying you can’t use metaphors or lyrical language — please do! Just choose them carefully, use them where they make the most impact, and — most importantly — use them so that they enhance the character. Some suggestions of books that do this really well: Savvy by Ingrid Law, The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. Also, this doesn’t have anything to do with voice, but I wanted to add that it’s not entirely clear what your main character wants or needs in these pages. Might be a good idea to at least hint at that! I think Jelly has the potential to be a great character — I especially loved the way she psyched herself up to enter the barn, wand raised up high. She’s funny and smart and immediately likeable, and you can never go wrong with that! Best of luck with this!)
Thank you, Gail and Abby, for your critique. Interested in more 500 word voice workshops? Come back this afternoon for another critique. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 20 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 3.
Books by Gail Nall . . .
Books for Ages 14+ (with EpicReads Impulse/HarperCollins):