Monday, May 25, 2009

The Most Encouraging Feedback I've Ever Received

A few weeks ago I had one of those moments that spurs me to action. I mentioned it before when I wrote about "Harry Potter" and the flaws I can now see. What I may not have mentioned is that the sum total of my experiences with Harry Potter this time around was the firm conviction, "I can do that! No problem." That experience, but with Terry Brooks books, is what made me start writing in the first place. I looked at the books and realized they were just words on paper, and not strung together very specially different than talking, and I said to my sister Beth, "I can do that." "So do," she said. So I did. (Interestingly, a parallel experience is what launched Tim into vocal music--specifically a cappella.)

So I started writing again. But what I realized is that where I started--writing for 12-14 year old girls--is where my heart still lies. And that that age group in writing worlds is called Upper Middle Grade, not Young Adult (the difference has a great deal more to do with writing style and content than simply age). And that my mother told me 2 years ago that the stories I create would be most interesting to Upper Middle Grade readers.

So I sat down and did the unthinkable. I started "Poison Spindle Problem" again. AGAIN. Why? Because the book is the right kind of story for that age. And I couldn't rewrite it to work. I couldn't bear it. So I took all I've learned about writing and started with a new blank page and Anda looking over my shoulder saying what I was thinking, "Mom, why do you just write that story over and over? Can't you tell a different one?"

Apparently I Can't until I get this one right. I've been trying for a full year now.

But this time, it just flowed--the way things do when you finally get them right.

Until I got stuck, 50 pages in.

So tonight, when I had the kids gathered around my knees anyway, I told them I needed their help. I told them the story to the point where I'm stuck and asked their advice. "See, I think this is what should happen next, but I'm not sure. What do you think?" And I told them my ideas.

Daniel, who I honestly hadn't noticed was sitting and listening, popped up his head when I stopped talking and said, "Read some more, Mom."

So I told him what I thought might happen after that. "And does she turn out to be a good guy or a bad guy?" Dan asked, his eyes wide.

"A good guy," I said.

"Read some more," He said.

He urged me on, his eyes wide and his attention focused, until the very end of the story, which indeed went something different (and far better) than the first version and than I had thought before I started talking.

Dan climbed up into my lap and said. "Now read the next one."

So, at his urging, I started telling the second book in the series. And the motion level in the room started increasing, as Caleb and Anda started walking, and then running, trying to stay focused and get their poor ADD brains to think and create.

By the end of the third book, Dan was saying, "And does she be nice to the old lady?" over the din of both Caleb and Anda simultaneously, breathlessly, telling me what the characters of themselves are doing to solve the problems with the lady locked in the tower and the pirates battling to keep the good guys out, and how they're individually going to break the enchantments that hold the woman captive even after the pirate battle is over. "And then does the dragon come again?" Dan whispered. "Yes," I whispered back, the big kids still running, red in the face, sweating, and living the story. "And is it still a good guy?" Dan whispers back. "Yes," I say. "And it rescues Elizabeth just in time and flies her to a castle where she can have her baby."

Immediately, I get yells from the other kids. "But MOM!" Anda protests in a very teenage voice. "The PHOENIX was supposed to help with that, not the dragon!" I hadn't realized there was a phoenix in my story. "Have you been listening to ANYTHING we've been saying?"

"Well, you're all kind of talking at once," I protest feebly. Not to mention it's MY story. I don't say that. Isn't the point of writing a story for the reader to begin to own it? "I got distracted," I say.

"I thought Caleb got rid of the enchantments!" Caleb chimes in.

"Of course he does!" I say quickly.

"And then Kate, at least, must hold on to the phoenix's tale and follow the dragon," Anda insists.

"Naturally," I say.

"Read the next one now, Mom," Dan says quietly. "Can you read the next one?"

"I'll have to write it first," I say. "Let's go make cookies."


rachel said...

Yeay! Reading this made me happy. I'm glad we still might get to hear all of your stories soon (since we are too far away now to hear them in person, print will have to do :) )

Misty Lynne said...

Tee hee. I can practically picture the whole thing. Aren't kids fun?