Writing For Children Course Week 2: Saved From The Slaughterhouse
My picture book manuscript critique? Was I slaughtered? I will get to that later. First an exercise called ‘Show, don’t tell’: We were asked to write a story for 5 minutes and it had to convey some specific information to the reader. The details were given to us on a slip of paper (eg Boy is called George. He is in Year 5). We were not able to perceptibly quote or ‘tell’ the information; we could only ‘show it’ through the story...
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Deep breaths George, deep breaths.
He shoved the papers so hard into the slots they looked like they were posted through a shredder. But George didn’t care. Just three more houses and he would be there. It was all planned.
Her driveway loomed. He could smell the flowers in her front yard, lilies, and frangipanis. They smelled just like her. He didn’t mean to smell her. He didn’t even mean to look at her. She was Matt’s girl and the library group knew it, the gym class knew it, the chess club knew it. Everybody knew it.
He stopped. The letterbox said “Simmons”. Clearly there was no room in that letterbox for more mail. Someone must have come past earlier and filled it up with junk. It was a good plan.
George stood at the door. He looked at his shoes. He should have worn the ones with the big soles, not these ones with the hole. He rubbed the left shoe with the right and watched his hand knock on the door.
Deep breaths George, deep breaths. You know what to do.
‘Hello sir, I have your mail, it didn’t fit in the letterbox. Is Sasha there? I have my chessboard, we could have a practice game. My mum says I have to be home by 7. Please sir?’
That was the story. What information did you get? Here is a checklist of the details and you can tell me if I nailed it. You can find the answers below.
What was the character’s name?
What was his plan (external motivation)?
What was his ‘occupation’?
Was he tall or short?
What did he do when he was nervous?
What are the conflicts/relationships?
Ok, the critique. The group were emailed my manuscript the week before. They were asked to print it out, write notes on it, and feedback all the thoughts they had. To be honest I had had such a good day and was so looking forward to the session that I was feeling really zen about the whole thing. I was in a not-sweating-the-small-stuff zone, and didn’t even bother stashing vodka in the ink tube of my pen.
The critique was fantastic. And I am not saying that because the group thought the work was fantastic, but because it was fantastic feedback. It was constructive, and helpful. The group solved problems that I couldn’t work out how to solve. They had ideas I hadn’t thought of, and probably would never have. It didn’t matter that the bulk of the group were not published writers, they were experienced readers. And it was a safe place. There was no slaughtering, there was genuine praise teamed with interesting advice.
The biggest problem with the manuscript? I now have a lot of work to do to make the changes. Changing a story's tense is harder than it sounds! The ultimate question that I had for our esteemed leader Cristy Burne was ‘Is this manuscript worth spending the hours on? Could it be good enough to be published - or should I set it aside (eg in the bin) and spend my time working on something else with more potential?’
I knew it was a quirky story – about a pair of eyes that go exploring in the bush – and it would have been understandable if the response was ‘errrr yes, bin, and here is my vodka pen’ but it wasn’t. It was go for it.
So I will.
Answers from above
The slip we received said...
Character name: George
External motivation: To ‘accidentally’ run into Sasha Simmons while on his junk mail run.
Occupation: Year 5 student (might have missed that one?!) and junk mail deliverer!
Tall or short: Short for his age.
Nervous habit: Scuffs his left shoe.
Conflicts/relationships: He knows Sasha from chess club. He loves her but so does his best friend Matt. He needs to get home before dark or his mum will kill him.
The story could start anywhere and say anything as long as that information was somehow conveyed. Remember we only had 5 minutes to write. Clearly there was nothing there that said 'poor George is the biggest dork in the history of dorkography' but I'm afraid thats how he came out on my paper. On all the other deets, how did I go??