Ouch,! We do need a critic.

Ouch,! We do need a critic.

Writing is all about feelings: yours, the character’s, and the reader’s. It takes fortitude to deal with all this emotion. And then, once you have written the story and been as true as you can be to your own beliefs, respected the reader, and tried to portray honest emotion, there is another aspect of writing that requires emotional courage: the difficult task of accepting criticism.

After the re-writes, it’s time for criticism

There are two extreme reactions to criticism. One is the belief that everything you write is so wonderful that nothing will improve it. I do know a writer who will not allow one word of his prose to be altered–of course, no publisher will publish it either. The other extreme reaction is the belief that what you write is so bad that no one could like it.

Have some faith in your own writing. You must have enough ego to believe your contribution is unique and worthwhile, but not so much that you believe it can’t be improved. If you believe that you are a beginning writer and the critics are correct in saying that the story “needs more work,” tell yourself that you are on a stairway to success and the first step is to write the story. Give yourself credit for having achieved that much. In fact, try to see yourself as always in the process of evolving as a writer. You are never as good as you want to be, and you are probably never as bad as some say you are.

You might not be prepared for the fact that everyone believes they have the right, and sometimes the duty, to criticize your writing. You will be told that you have not been clear enough, subtle enough, bold enough, or delicate enough. Or you have been too bold, too simple, too complex, too “mass-market,” or too “literary.” You will be accused of corrupting the young and not being realistic enough  all this about the same book. You may sometimes feel like the poor sod at the county fair who sticks his head through the hole allowing anyone who wishes to throw pies at him.

Then there are those who feel they can totally obliterate your book if it doesn’t reflect their particular view of the world, be it religious, social, or otherwise. If you write outside the view of such people, they may try to ban your book. Luckily, efforts to ban books usually result in greater distribution and bigger sales.

If you receive a bad review or your editor has marked up every page with withering comments, wait two days before talking to anyone about it (except of course those loved ones who receive your angst). Don’t call the editor. Definitely don’t call the reviewer. Wait. It truly helps enormously to wait. In two days or whatever your particular time table is for cooling down, you will find that the editor did have some good ideas and you will be better able to judge what changes will help your story  and what will not. And besides, in two days you can formulate a stinger of a reply.

From How to Write for Children and Young Adults   Self-Counsel Press


July 2, 2013 Tuesday Tips Talking animals, YS and Children’s novels


Should animals talk in your novel? No, not in my books. Animals have a point of view and are often great characters, but I allow them to be animals and they don’t speak. The protagonist interprets what they their actions mean, and the reader can discern the personality of the animal through the comments of the humans. Megan’s pig Susie is an escape artist and yearns for the wild, open spaces. That’s clear because she constantly breaks out of her pen, but the pig doesn’t talk to the reader. Anthropomorphism is not usual in YA and adult novels, although there are exceptions. Stein does it successfully in The Art of Racing in the Rain where the point of view shifts from the dog to Denny, his human. I keep the animal as an animal and let the other characters in the book point out the personality of the animal. I find horses–Hawkeye in Riding Scared  and Jessie in Cutting it Close–the most difficult to give show personality, probably because they are often so dignified. Dogs, on the other hand, seemed to leap onto the page with  idiosyncratic behaviour. Pigs are fairly quirky as well. It helps to be well acquainted with the animals you are describing, but I draw the line at having them talk. What do you think?

June 25, 2013 OMG the book needs a plot

When I taught research at university, I started by asking the students to try to determine what the problem was the research was trying to solve. The same question applies to organizing a plot for your story. What problem is the protagonist trying to solve?  Once you know that, the protagonist must solve it.

The main character solves the problem. Writers of children’s books are handicapped by the physical restrictions that young people face. It’s hard to have a 12-year-old protagonist solve her own problem when she isn’t allowed out of the house after nine at night, has a limited social world, and few financial resources. It’s tempting to allow her mother, father, or favorite teacher solve her problem for her, but that just isn’t acceptable. The novel is her story; the problem is hers, and she must solve it. She can enlist the aid of adults, but she has to direct the action and deal with the threats that come to her.

It is for this reason that so many stories have protagonists who are isolated for a time: living with friends, away at summer camp, or at home while parents are temporarily away. In Kit Pearson’s novels, the children came from Britain during the war, living with relatives who are not parents–another form of isolation. Whatever seems a reasonable excuse to have your protagonist somewhat isolated from the usual support allows him or her a kind of independence that might not be possible in a close-knit family.

Many authors manage to create this independence while the protagonist lives at home. Parents may be distracted by a problem in the family, or the problem may occur at school or at a recreational facility where parents are not part of the setting.

However you design your story, you need to allow the protagonist to work out his or her own story in a way that shows intelligence, courage, and inventiveness. A story that ends when someone rescues the protagonist will leave the reader feeling flat and unsatisfied. It is a deus ex machina, a rescue by the gods, or perhaps parents, and not acceptable in any story.

From Writing for Children and Young Adults  Self-Counsel Press