Friday, August 2, 2013

Fly On the Wall

Highlights from the Richmond Children's Writers August Meeting

The first manuscript we critiqued this month was a resubmission after significant rewrites. We all noted how much stronger the story was now. This time around, the comments were much different. They had to do with very minor things like formatting issues, tightening a little here and a little there, and whether there might be a better choice for the main character's name. When a manuscript is close to being ready to submit, the type of feedback from readers will begin to change. The suggestions become very nit-picky, very micro. This can be frustrating, but it is a good sign. It means the big story elements are strong and there is nothing left to suggest but very minor changes.

The next manuscript is an excerpt from a young-adult novel that is set in a fantasy version of the Middle Ages. Many of us felt that the emotions and the tension in this section of the novel were well written and very compelling. One comment was that the story needed to be more grounded in the setting. That is, the vocabulary, the clothing, and the details should anchor the story soundly in its setting. This requires extra thought and research, but in a story like this one, it is absolutely necessary.

Next topic: Underwear. Some members of our group think this is a super fun topic for a picture book. Others are not so sure. It's a matter of personal taste. The world is made up of all kinds of people, including some who will enjoy a brief story about undies, and some who would rather read a story about frogs. 
The mixed reaction from the group can be a learning point in itself. It doesn't mean the manuscript is not marketable, but you might have to work a little harder to find the right editor or agent to send it to. Moral of the story: It's important to find just the right fit for underpants. 

The next submission is not really a critique, but a discussion. One of our members has a great idea for a nonfiction children's book, but she is looking for a way to present it in a kid-friendly way. She brought some examples of how this topic has been treated in other books for kids. She floated a few ideas and we discussed the possibilities. This is an area in which she is very knowledgeable and passionate. We all agreed that if she can find a way to capture that passion, young readers will respond to that.

Lastly, we discussed another excerpt from a novel. Parts of the scene were very visual, and we liked that. However, there was one thing in particular, a certain reaction by the protagonist, that seemed out of character. Given his background and his family situation, would he really react that way? These kinds of inconsistencies are hard for the writer to see, but once pointed out, they become glaringly obvious. That's why we need writing buddies!

For your writing pleasure, we offer a fun little writing prompt made up of elements taken from our manuscripts this month:

Write a scene in which a character in a historical setting makes a choice of underwear that is inconsistent with what he or she would normally choose. What motivates that choice?

Now, write away!


  1. Lana,
    This was a great summary!

  2. What a great overview Lana and a good insight as to how to run a critique group.

  3. A “brief story” and “the right fit.” You’re killing me, Lana. ;-)