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Day 9 of June Setting Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentor Jennifer Hawkins

Monday, 13 June 2016  |  Posted by Nikki Roberti


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 Jennifer Hawkins

Twitter | Website


Jennifer Hawkins writes Young Adult fiction, and she’s passionate about stories sprinkled with magic and romance. She’s an editor for Author Accelerator and a 2016 YARWA Rosemary Award double-finalist. She lives in Houston with her husband, two sons, and lap dog Great Dane, where she sometimes still uses her nursing degree on a per diem basis. When she isn’t working or maxed out on mom duties, you can find her poolside, sipping sweet tea and lost in a good book.

The 500 Word Critique . . .

Young Adult Contemporary 

As the afternoon grows, so do the waves. [While I really like the way you mention the waves in this opening sentence (I love the beach!), the verb feels off. Waves grow larger, yes, but afternoons don’t grow larger, so it seems incongruent. You could rework this by using a verb that makes sense with both. Maybe stretches?] Primo four footers up and down the shore. [What does “primo” mean to your main character? Just a word or two would paint a clearer image. i.e., Primo four-footers so glassy you can see through them, breaking slowly up and down the shore.] The best I’ve seen this side of Malibu in a long time. [This is good. Implies this MC has been surfing for a while, so maybe he/she is an advanced surfer? That could be reflected in the way you describe the primo aspect of the waves above.] But along with some rad waves comes longer lineups. [And how does this make your MC feel? Impatient? Annoyed? I’m not getting a sense of how he/she is feeling about this contrast of positve (bigger waves) and negative (longer lineups). Right now, it’s just fact stating.] Longer lineups means less surfing more frubing. [I’ve never heard this word before, so I looked it up. Urban dictionary tells me this is gross, and I don’t understand how it relates to surfing. I’d suggest using something here that illustrates what this word means to you. Standing around wasting time?] And when the lines hit [lengthen to? Reach?] more people than I’d like to count on a lazy Saturday of surf and sunshine—my happy place is between one to three [Between one to three what? People in line? Or is this the ranking system for the waves? Primo is four, so it’s beyond his/her comfort zone? Then how is four primo? I’m guessing here, because it’s unclear.]I decide to become a sand flea for the rest of the afternoon. [I love the term sand flea. You could add more here to illustrate what it means to be a sand flea, though. I get it, but a little detail would go a long way to paint the setting picture. i.e., I decide to be a sand flea and sprawl out on my (blanket? Towel? Chair? Board?). And where he/she sprawls out would be a nice addition, too, so we’ll know how close to the surf he/she plops down on the sand. Near the ocean? Closer to the boardwalk? Right in the middle?]

Jamie sends me off with a wave of his hand, [Is Jamie annoyed that his surfing buddy is giving up for the day? And “sends me off” implies your MC is going to walk somewhere else, so it would be helpful to know this in the previous sentence about being a sand flea.] board tucked up under his arm, and takes off into the swill for another go. My hand waves in return, [somewhat awkward because it sounds like the hand is its own entity. ‘I wave back’ would sound more natural.] though I’d prefer to give him a one finger salute. Kravitz would have stayed on shore with me. We were so synced, and he’d know I was right. [Right about what? If there was an unspoken conversation here between the MC and Jamie, the reader needs to know what it is. In a way, this also implies that the MC and Jamie are ‘synced’ because they just had an unspoken understanding. I assume Kravitz is no longer around? How does that relate to this exchange with Jamie?]

Whatever. I’m over it. It was a great bonding moment while it lasted. [With Jamie? Or Kravitz?]

The shore is littered with beach towels, people, umbrellas. [This is good! It will help ground your reader in the scene if you move it up to that first paragraph.] Trying to navigate through these impromptu campsites is more like trying to walk through a mine field. I step over one towel only to land my foot in some kid’s bucket, which in turn lands three camps over when I kick it off. [You could combine the previous two sentences. i.e., I navigate through the minefield of campsites, stepping over a towel, only to land my foot in…] I turn to miss a bottle stuck in the sand, buried up to its head, [Love this visual! Comes through so crisp. More of this!!] only to knock over someone’s umbrella that’s improperly staked—tourist season starts now. [This could be its own sentence, unless you want to connect it to the improperly staked umbrella. i.e., Tourists always get it wrong. Or something like that, to establish the MC is a local. I’m still just guessing at the MC’s temperament or how he/she is feeling about the beach, the waves, his/her friends, the tourists.] It’s truly hit and miss situation on a crowded weekend. [Hit and miss situation how? Make us undertand how the MC is feeling.] Thankfully, I hit the empty spot near the lifeguard shack—because nobody likes to hang out there [Why? Paint us a picture that makes us understand why nobody likes hanging out there. Is the lifeguard a power-trippy asshat who won’t let anyone have fun?]—and make up some time getting to “the spot” I know is reserved for us. [The same spot by the lifeguard shack?] Thanks to Sai.

Unfortunately, Sai isn’t doing her job so well. People have set up their campsites right up against our mapped out area. Beach towels almost bleeding into one another. Terraforming sand into a grainy-feeling terrycloth land. Umbrella trees sprouting in crimson, lime and teal block any view we would have had. The nearby surfboard rack already full, my spot claimed by someone’s stack of boogie boards. [These are all great details that should come when you’re setting the scene. I’d recommend moving this further up. You could even start with the MC seeking out this spot and finding it occupied, then tell us how it makes him/her feel. As it stands now, the only thing you’d lose is the interaction with Jamie, which could come later.]

And Sai is in some lips deep tangle with Colton Morris on her ocean of terrycloth that abuts my island of green. [What’s green? His/her towel? Why is it an island if it ‘abuts’?] I jab my board into the sand at the end of my towel and try to get it to stand straight. But the sand this far in is too dry, and it leans severely to my right, worse than the Tower of Pisa. It looks like a gravestone that’s been in the ground about a century too long and it’s ready to go out for the count. [I don’t think you need the Tower of Pisa line, unless it relates somehow. The gravestone reference is a very interesting comparison, however. Is this a clue to the reader about how the MC feels about surfing? If so, it’s a great use of objective correlative. You just need to establish that connection in other areas, too. Make us understand that the MC wants to give up surfing because of his/her disconnection (with former friends? People in general?).]

“Sai.” My bag is stuck under her butt. [So his/her bag was always there? Why is it on Sai’s towel?] Sai! Move!” It’s going to take a crowbar to pry them apart. I happen to have a crowbar in the form of a deep, official type voice. “Excuse me, miss, we’ve had complaints about public displays of affection on this beach. There are children all over Playa del Oro, and this is highly inappro—” [This is the first bit of personality we’ve seen of your MC, and the playfulness of it conflicts a little with his/her whatever approach up to this point. Being able to connect to your MC’s feelings and desires from the start is important. I think you could rearrange this scene to put some of the setting details at the outset, and expand on what the MC is feeling to establish a better connection to him/her.]

One tip I learned at a writing workshop that has always helped me: when you create setting, imagine all five of your MC’s senses when the scene begins. You don’t necessarily have to put those in the scene, but know them. It will help you fill in the details of what the setting looks like. In this piece, you’ve got sight pretty much covered (though it would help to expand on some of the details and show what words like ‘primo’ mean to your MC). There is no sound here, other than the quick dialogue. There’s no smell. No taste. No touch. I imagine your MC would hear waves crashing, people laughing, music playing. He/she would smell salty air, suntan oil, food (if someone was barbecuing on the beach). MC would taste ocean water if he/she had been in the ocean already and decided to get out. (It’s not clear if the MC was ever in the ocean at all, or just viewing from the sidelines the whole time.) I imagine he/she would also feel hot sand underfoot, the ocean breeze, the sun beating down. These are all details that could ground the reader in the scene, and you could use those things to reflect how the MC is feeling and show us what the conflict is.


Thank you, Jennifer, 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.

Filed: Workshops

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