I'm waiting these days for my editor's reaction to the manuscript for the third chapter book in my forthcoming Franklin School Friends series: Izzy Barr, Running Star, to follow on the heels of Kelsey Green, Reading Queen and Annika Riz, Math Whiz. One thing I know is that Margaret got a VASTLY better manuscript than she would have if my Boulder writing group had not given me quite justifiably scathing critiques of it on the night of our holiday dinner, back in December.
Well, that isn't quite fair. One person did write, "What a lovely book!" and then went on to say that the first- and second-level plots were well balanced, and the treatment of all the characters was compassionate, and the symbolic level was "terrif" - though even she did say that the story needed more "friction" to create dramatic tension. Another said, "The story was so warm and decent it left me with a glow. I even cried twice!" - though she did also said, "This one was a little slow getting started in terms of suspense." But the group's toughest critic said bluntly: "This book lacks tension for me." She said the opening chapter, the place where the author gets her first and best (and perhaps only) chance to draw the reader in, was "pretty passive. It's all backstory and exposition." In other words, I had made the single most common beginner's mistake for opening my story.
And yet. . . down deep, all along I had known this. I had deliberately chosen not to share the opening chapter with my group when we met over Thanksgiving break, because I knew they would say that, and I didn't want to hear it. I thought, okay, the first chapter is sort of slow with a lot of telling, but hey, see how much better the book gets after that!
I was in denial.
No one discusses denial better than dancer/choreographerTwyla Tharpe in her brilliant book, The Creative Habit. There she talks about the trial run of her Billy Joel musical Movin' Out in Chicago. She knew the first act was slow, but hey, the second act was so much stronger! She writes, "One night I went outside and crossed the street to the restaurant where some of the audience goes during intermission. I overheard one waiter tell a couple, 'Don't worry. The second act is much better.' When the waiters in town know the problem and you don't do something about it, that's denial."
So I did what my critique group told me to do, and what I already knew I needed to do except for when I was in denial about needing to do it, and I revised the book and fixed the problem. You want tension? Now I have tension! Thanks, dear friends, for not letting me stay in denial. My readers will be thanking you, too.