Day 1 of June’s Setting Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentor Ashley Hearn
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 Ashley Hearn
Ashley Hearn is a Young Adult author represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis, an intern for Entangled Publishing, and a producer for the Badger Sports Report, the football and basketball coach’s television show for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an addictive coffee drinker, a Gilmore Girls fanatic, and a proud Gryffindor. When she ferrets away enough gas money, she can be found scouring the Georgia and South Carolina Sea Islands for ruined plantations, folk magic, and a fresh story.
The 500 Word Critique . . .
Hauk slipped out of his hut and stood listening. The night was quiet apart from the constant chirruping of cicadas and a few birds calling from the surrounding forest. [I love the detail with the cicadas! Besides engaging my sense of hearing, it draws to mind a specific region!] The guardian had finished her rounds a while ago; she must have turned in by now.
He scanned the camp. The communal fire was out, and the moon barely shone through the clouds, but his eyes were adjusted to the deeper dark inside. [Inside of what?] Like always, he felt quite sure none of the others were sneaking around like him. [Most of your setting, at this point, is observations, but often the most engaging setting details are the ones your character is directly interacting with: the smell of ash in the communal fire pit, the humid nip to the night air, the hut’s rough canvas door…these are the details that don’t just help us picture the world, but make us feel like we’re in it! Would love to see you bring in a few more of these, rather than your character stopping to stare.]
It didn’t stop his heart from pounding as he stole across the encampment. [How big is this encampment? Up until now, I’ve been picturing five or six tents set up around a fire pit, but now I’m thinking it’s much bigger than that. This might be a great place to give us a few world building details.]
Picking out Snow’s hut in the circle of shelters was easy. She never did anything halfway; the strands of river grass were tightly entwined to give them as much privacy as they needed. Hauk paused and listened one last time, before he pushed away the door [what is the door made out of: straw, sheepskin, wood?] and entered.
Inside the close-knit hut the world turned completely black. [what does it smell like? If he can’t see, and it’s totally silent, smell would be a sense he relies on]
“Snow?” Hauk peered into the darkness. “Are you awake?”
There was a rustle of leaves as she got up from her nest. “Barely. I almost gave up on you tonight.”
“I’m sorry, sweetness.” Hauk still couldn’t see her in the darkness, but then her hands slipped around his waist. “The guardian’s so eager this year,” he said.
“She just finished her rounds.” Cupping her head, he kissed her brow. Her short hair felt unfamiliar against his fingers; almost like kissing a stranger. Hauk put his hands on her shoulders instead and pulled her closer. She smelled like home, [We have no idea what home smells like, so this is an abstract description; but if you give us some concrete details such as, “she smelled like home, all salt and brine, and when his mouth…” you not only give us a more accurate description of Snow, but their home as well. These little details are an easy and natural way to build up your world.] and when his mouth found hers it had the familiar taste of spicy liquorice. [love this!] Hauk felt his whole being ease up. She always made him feel safe in his own skin. As if he had been through his final integration, as if he was a man already.
“Doesn’t she have anything better to do?” Snow started to remove his shirt, but stopped midway. “Do you think she knows?”
“About us? No. She would’ve said something.” Wouldn’t she? Hauk didn’t really know. He didn’t even know if what they were doing was wrong. It didn’t feel wrong, but he had never heard about anyone else choosing before their finale rite.
Snow peeled off his shirt and put her arms around him, her hands cold against his skin. They always were, even on warm nights like this. Her name fit her. Hauk had never seen snow, never felt its chill, but this was how he imagined it, like cool, slender fingers on warm skin. [This is a lovely paragraph]
He kissed her again, and she took his hand. Leading him to the sleeping nest, [Again, scale is something I’m having trouble picturing. From details such as ‘close-knit,’ to how she seemed like she was right in front of him soon as she rustled in her nest, made me believe this hut was one tiny little room. You don’t want to over-explain, but clarity is important too!] she stumbled in the darkness, and they giggled. Hearing her laughter made him smile all the way to the place in his heart that was truly him. But they should be quiet.
“Shh! The others may hear us.”
“I’m trying, Hauk, I really am.”
He sank down on the nest of leaves, pulling her with him. The space was narrow, but familiar. They knew how to get comfortable there.
[Overall, I think this is a strong opening, and I certainly want to see where it goes from here! I adore the forbidden-love vibe, and your pacing is snappy. Because the pacing moves fast, I think you have some room to play around with. I would love to see you pull in a few extra senses and concrete details so we can glean a clearer picture of the purpose and scope of this camp. Good luck!]
Thank you, Ashley, 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.