Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Writing Bloopers

In my last post, I promised that I'd share a few of the writing mistakes I've made over the years in crafting my books. What puzzles me is not so much that I made these mistakes once upon a time, but that I continue to make them, or at least some of them, even in recent work.

1. When I wrote my picture book Phoebe's Parade, I had an entire full manuscript page devoted to a scene in which all that happens is that Phoebe and her family are eating breakfast and chatting together about the upcoming Fourth of July parade. In a picture book, you have to compress your story into fewer than a thousand words. You can't spend two hundred of those words on breakfast table chitchat.

2. When I wrote my middle-grade novel Dynamite Dinah, Dinah and her best friend Suzanne have a huge row over Dinah's bad behavior during the class play (Dinah is stunned when Suzanne ends up with the leading role in the play, a role that Dinah thinks by rights should have been Dinah's). The whole book has been leading up to this scene. Then in a later chapter, I mention in passing that they've made up their quarrel. What?! If the fight is so crucial, their reconciliation is equally crucial. You can't have such a significant scene happen offstage.

3. When I wrote my recent novel, One Square Inch, in which Cooper is dealing with his mother's mental illness, my editor told me that the book felt as if we as readers were just watching Cooper watching his mother fall apart. Cooper was reactive rather than active. Nobody wants to read a book where we just watch a character watching bad things unfold, as a passive bewildered bystander.

4. In the same book, my editor pointed out to me - this is what I most cringe now to report - that when Cooper comes to his central moment of epiphany (that he has to find some small safe place inside himself to deal with the terrible things in his life that he cannot control), it's Cooper's grandfather who tells this to him. This violates what is probably THE cardinal rule of children's book writing: your main character needs to solve his problems himself; your main character cannot have any kind of "lesson" spelled out to him from an adult authority.

Okay, that's enough confession for one blog post! Fortunately, even though I can't recognize my own blunders as I'm making them, I have a wonderful critique group and I've had wonderful editors who haven't been shy at telling me where and how I've gone wrong. And at least I know enough to listen to them when they do.

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