Friday, June 25, 2010

Learning to Write from my kids

My two big kids are in the target audience for my book, which I just finished and am already into rewriting (which, actually, is my favorite part!).

They've been reading it for me as I've written, and they provided the motivation to dive back into the manuscript and finish it (Anda asked for a printed copy for her 7th birthday, which was this month).

And they've given me the most valuable feedback I could have because they experience the story from a kid's point of view. So where adults might say, "That wouldn't happen--no grown up would let her do that....", the kids say things like, "This part is my favorite. I keep reading it over and over."

That's helpful because then I know exactly what appeals to them.

They're also helpful because they read a BUNCH of children's/teen literature and are also extremely smart, verbal children. So they can relatively eloquently express what they are seeing and experiencing, and, being my own kids, they have no fear of offending me. (Your own kids are the ones who say things like, "That skirt is ugly, mom.").

Anda and Caleb gave me some of the most helpful feedback I've ever received. In addition to the "I keep reading it over and over" comment, they have said things like, "Like most children's books, this one has a boring beginning. But don't worry--a lot of kid's books start boring, so you don't expect the first chapter to be very good." (So I knew to rewrite the beginning--and the kids approved of the new version.) and "The ending isn't very satisfying. Kate needs to fight in the battle. I really want HER to be the one who conquers the bad guy at the end."

You can see why that kind of comment might be helpful!

They also tell me when my fixes are good, which is helpful. And they fix typos and misspellings in the manuscript as they read (and yes, they are good enough with language that I trust my 7 and 8 yo to do that!).

What I mostly get from them is not so much the technicalities of a story ("this is a plot hole" or "you need more description here"), which I have plenty of help with from adept editors in my life, but the experience of reading the story. And THAT is the best help I can get.

So what I've learned by listening to my kids (and then sometimes analyzing why they are having that experience):

It is most satisfying to the kids when the main character is acting to solve problems. Even if she's a kid, the protagonist needs to be the main movement to the solution.

Regardless of how realistic it is for the child protagonist to end up battling an adult antagonist, it MUST be the hero (regardless of their age) who takes out the bad guy in the end of the story--and NOT by accident. There has to be some moment where the hero faces the bad guy and makes some kind of heroic action to conquer them, or the story is not satisfying.

It's okay for adults to act like adults in the story--and for them to have significant roles. But it is imperative that the hero of the story--the kid--be allowed to be as smart as kids are and as able as kids are to themselves (which is MUCH more than adults allow for in real life). When I was a kid, I didn't feel less capable or less smart than the adults around me. The hero of the story can't either. She can be less confident, for sure, and have the same kinds of struggles kids have--but at her core, she needs to be as competent, as smart, and as good at solving problems within her own realistic limitations (not Laura Croft-style battles where the kid physically beats the tar out of the ninja master by sheer strength and skill) as an adult, even if she's afraid to be so.

The parts the kids like best are the parts that are "out of the nursery"--the parts where the hero is on her own, surviving and acting without constant adult supervision (with adult help, sure, but on the hero's terms, not the adults).

The kids also tell me that it is NOT OKAY to blow up a mangy stray dog at the beginning of a book, but it's totally okay to blow up a castle in the middle--and maybe the hero should be inside with the several dozen other people who are in there when it blows up.

Go figure.

I told the kids my goal is to write different than but as well as JK Rowling in her first 3 books--the ones that had adequate editing. Anda told me the other day that the section I had just handed over for her to review was as good as Kathryn Lasky, "Who writes way better than JK Rowling! You just have to play her books when you're done."

I'm really flattered!

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