Listening through new ears

Hello everyone, sorry we did not get a blog done last week. Lots and lots of changes going on, and it is hard to find the time to write these days. But, this week, I thought I would reflect a little on my experiences attending my 1st ever writing conference.

As you may know, Sarah and I are both members of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).  I recently attended the annual Fall treat of the Wisconsin chapter of SCBWI. It was amazing. I was a little disappointed in myself for not having reread my book before going to the conference. I thought it would give me a clearer sense of an editing strategy when I had the critique session of our first ten pages. In the end, I’m happy I did not reread it. I think it would have made me more emotionally attached to our book and less open to change.  So, for me at least, it was best to listen through new ears and not look through new eyes before starting the first round of edits.

As it is, Sarah and I have decided to make big, big changes to our first draft. We are hoping to have draft #2 done by Christmas. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few things that I learned from the conference:

  1. Simplify, simplify, simplify! For us, this meant cutting out a lot of side characters. Our critique was with author, Sarah Aronson (http://www.saraharonson.com/), who also gave a great talk about subplots. At one point she discussed diagramming how your characters interact,  I did not even bother with the diagram because five minutes into her talk, I realized we needed to cut about half of our secondary characters. However, to give you a pictorial sense of our edit needs, I did one for this blog- see below. In retrospect, I am in awe of the cluttered and excited state our brains were in while writing our 1st draft. We wanted to include every idea that came to us. Figuring out what we like best is going to be fun and maybe some of what we cut will be in a future book one day.
  2. Character driven books vs. plot driven books. The majority of talk was about character driven books, but Sarah Aronson thankfully pointed out during our critique that plenty of successful books have been plot driven with fun stock characters. I have been trying to think of a middle grade book that is primarily character driven. They often have distinct characters, but they are usually are not too complex and their growth is straightforward. I think that approach lends itself to the age of the reader, but maybe I am wrong. Sarah and I can not quite decide if we want a book that is more character or plot driven. Any suggestions or preferences everyone? Can you think of a middle grade novel with a really complex character? I would love to read it if so.
  3. Narrative point of view. Part of the character driven book discussion was a preference for 1st person narration. I prefer 3rd person, but apparently 1st person is more of the trend. First person can feel a little obvious to me at points, and, as one presenter pointed out, very rarely would a child actually describe things the way they are written in books. Do you have a preference in narration, either in your reading or writing habits? Sarah and I are thinking about trying a draft in 1st person. Sarah will excel at this. I’m not so sure if I will be at home with it though, but I think it will be a great exercise to try and write our book from a different point of view. Even if does not work out, I am sure I will learn a lot about our characters in the process.

That’s it for us this week. We look forward to any thoughts you may have on the above editing thoughts or any other tips you would like to pass our way. We are very new to the creative writing world and welcome any and all suggestions.

“Creative Chaos,” by Jane Martyn

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8 thoughts on “Listening through new ears

  1. From someone who is standing at the door, about to enter–wanting to but MAN do I have the time, the insight, the talent?!–the writing world, this slice was helpful and interesting. The writing process is important but the editing and rewriting…with a smidgen of objectivity at the very least… Thanks for this.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Kate! When Sarah and I started writing, a little over a year ago, we had never done any creative writing before, so we understand all the worries you expressed. It’s a long road, full of a lot of work, but we say, go for it! The process is so rewarding…you just have to be really good at reminding yourself of that 🙂

  2. This is a great post – and I’ve only ever flirted with the idea of writing with children. These are great tips for any writer, I think, and I’m so glad you shared them with us!
    I’m not sure of character vs. plot driven. I recently read Center of Everything. Is that character driven?

    Good luck – sounds like you’re enjoying the process as much as the product!

    • Thanks for the kind comment, Dana! I haven’t read Center of Everything but the review it sounds like a character driven book. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about the distinction too much until I went to that conference. I am now thinking about it all the time! 🙂

  3. I am definitely showing my ignorance when I admit I did not even realize how some books are character driven and others are plot driven. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity to have an author help critique my work! Keep writing! One day we will be reading your book!

    • Thanks for the kind comment Jaana! I hadn’t really thought about the character vs. plot driven distinction either. Writing conferences really are amazing. Your brain is always whirring w/ new thoughts and ideas. I can’t recommend one enough if you like writing.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kay! I think as kids get older, they more they are drawn to character driven novels. I think ultimately we’re going to want to have some sort of mix- easier said than done though!

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