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 Sonia Hartl
I’m an author of young adult contemporary stories and a reader of anything I can get my hands on (books, cereal boxes, bumper stickers). Like most writers, I got my start making up stories as a kid. Mostly about penguins and the North Pole. As a teenager I moved on to bad, angsty poetry before creating longer works of fiction. My first manuscript was an impressive 180,000 words, after which I spent a few years writing short fiction to learn how to say more by saying less.
My work has appeared in the The Writers Post Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, and the anthology Bearing North. I’m a member of SCBWI and represented by Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency.
The 500 Word Critique . . .
New Adult Fantasy
Apart from Lea, they showed no sign whatsoever that they had even noticed me entering the office room. That much were they engrossed into their stupid poker game. [This sentence reads a bit wonky to me, maybe reword?] Nina stretched herself like a giant ginger cat and kept sending enigmatic smiles to Lea who showed nothing but the perfect poker face. I could have bet she even tried to play footsie with him. [There are a lot of names being dropped in this opening paragraph, and I have no idea who is who and why they are relevant. The scene hasn’t really been set, I don’t have a good grasp of what this looks and feels like, and it’s pretty much all telling without showing what is going on in the room. Like mentioning that no one noticed your MC except Lea, but no showing of how Lea noticed your MC or showing the other characters ignoring the MC. No details about the office or blocking of the scene. Are all these people seated around a table? How is Nina stretched out if they are all at a table playing poker? I think this opening could be reworked to get in some details and maybe let us spend a minute with your MC, before adding in all these extra characters to sort out. Who is your MC and what makes them worth following? Maybe start there and then start to work in additional characters.]
Old Zack turned around and still sitting at the same table he stretched his extra-long arms to the coffeemaker and fixed coffees for everyone. But me. [Another character, but I still don’t have a good sense of the scene or your MC]
‘Hey, Zack, I would like a coffee, too.’ [This reads a bit stiff to me, like dialogue rather than how people actually speak. People usually speak with contractions, ‘I’d’ instead of ‘I would’]
He didn’t even bother to look at me. Where was his mind? Couldn’t he see me? [Everyone is ignoring your MC and I’m still not getting much of a feel for them. How does this make them feel, being ignored? Internal dialogue is just as important as external, and getting deep inside your MC’s head is one of the advantages of writing in first person.]
With his eyes still peeled on the cards [This reads a bit off to me, maybe reword?] he grabbed a paper cup, filled it with coffee and handed it to me. I took a small sip of the bitter but hot coffee to cool down. My blood started boiling instead. [Lots of telling her as well. Not sure why your MC is being ignored. Not sure why they would drink hot coffee to cool down. Maybe show the anger your MC is feeling about being ignored with more internal feelings and narrative]
Nothing wrong with this scene except for the fact that they were supposed to be working for me, their boss, instead of wasting precious company time. OK, I had no money to pay them, and we had no work, but that was no reason for them to play poker in my face. I wasted no time to let them exactly where I stood on that particular point. I grabbed a chair and set myself at the table with a bang. [This is a good opportunity to show and set the scene, but instead there is a large amount of backstory taking up your most valuable real estate. Also, all these characters in the room kind of faded into the background. There should be reactions, or some understanding for the reader why your MC is being ignored. Not getting a sense of the setting at this point.]
‘Hi, guys, what’s up?‘ [Who is saying this? Action beat or dialogue tag needed here]
No one said a thing, although Lea was still the only one watching me. Kind of pitiful that the only one who gave a sign that he noticed me was also the one I had sex with. Was that a coincidence or what? [Your MC had sex with one of the people in the room, but I’m not getting any idea of how your MC feels about this person. This reads like telling backstory, when I think showing some tension between them could have this read in a much more interesting way]
He winked at me. ‘There’s a new client.’
His words fell like holy water on my head. Oh, baby! That’s good news! [I would use exclamations sparingly, much more effective to show your MC’s excitement] I refrained hard [I feel there could be a better way of saying this. Maybe just cut hard?] from jumping up and down, and smooching him. Very hard. [This seems unnecessary] He smiled snug seeing the amazement in my eyes. [I’m not sure what smiling snug means, but this is hopping into someone else’s head. Stick to the MC’s POV since you are in first. This also reads a bit flat, I wonder if you can show all this] But wait! [This reminds me of infomercials] There was a new client and still they were playing poker? [I’m not sure what they do or why a new client means anything. I’d suggest backing this up and showing this scene rather than telling and really immerse the reader in sensory details, internal thoughts and feelings, setting, blocking, and maybe reducing the number of characters in this opening.]
‘We didn’t want to rush into anything just yet,’ added Nina as she cast a long, languorous [this word feels very thesaurus-y] glance at Lea, maybe way too languorous for an ordinary working day. [If you have an action beat, you don’t need the dialogue tag. You can just have ‘Nina cast a long…’ Also more telling, but missing crucial information, like where do they work, what do they do, why doesn’t anyone seem to like your MC?] Not that I’m jealous or anything, but she dresses way too glamorous for morning working office hours. [What is too glamorous for morning working office hours? Also, morning working office hours is a bit of a mouthful, I think this could be trimmed back.]
‘Besides, Lea told us he could handle it all by himself,’ said Zack and gave Lea a slap on his back. [Just: Zack slapped Lea on his back, no said tag needed]
Lea started working with us only three months ago and they were already pushing all the workload on him. Don’t they know of any shame? [More backstory/telling. Also, have no clue what’s going on. Why is the new client relevant? Why don’t they want to rush? Why are they pushing all the work on Lea? What do they do? Who are all these characters in relation to your MC? What do they do within the company? There are a lot of unanswered questions popping up for me that could be clarified if you unpack this scene and fully develop it. Right now it reads a bit flat since it’s lacking all the details that really bring a story to life]
My blood was running so hot now I could see little wisps of smoke rising to the ceiling. [Is this literal?] I frowned to show them how much I disagreed with their attitude. [I frowned is enough, the rest is unnecessary telling] With the risk of being terribly unpopular, I set my own cards on the table. [When did your MC start playing poker? I thought they walked into the room when the others were playing and was promptly ignored? Also, I thought they’d been pretty peeved the others were playing cards, so when did they decide to join?]
‘You, guys, are well off your mark. New client means no play during the working hours. Or I’ll cut your bonuses.’ [So, why is your MC playing then? This seems really off, and could use some more blocking. We’re also at the end of this scene and I don’t your MC’s name and if they are male, female, or non-binary. I really think this scene needs to be reworked. Cut the telling, backstory, and number of characters in the opening and start with your MC. Let the reader get into their head. Maybe make it more clear where your MC works and what they do. Add in setting details and sensory details. What do things look like, feel like, sound like, smell like, taste like? What’s in the office? Adding in little details about the office will give clues to what kind of company this is. Also, this is labeled as NA, but I’m not getting a feel for why this is NA. It seems like your MC is not only in a corporate setting, but in charge in some capacity, which takes them way out of college. Overall, I think it would be a good idea to swap chapters with other writers, critiquing helps give a good sense of things that work or don’t work in a story. Also going through some first chapters of books in your genre to see what they’ve done well to a hook a reader right into the story and how they immerse readers in full details. Best of luck!]
Thank you, Sonia, 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.