Craft Concerns: Sure I’m showing but let me tell you too…

I’m in the final pages of revision note making on my current middle grade novel WIP, and I’m finding all those things that make me roll my eyes when I see them in submissions. Ideally, I’m able to take off my writer hat, put on my self-editing hat, and catch those mistakes before my work goes to any agent or editor.

Many of these craft concerns are just part of drafting and in some cases are a writer’s own shorthand or red flag to rework a section. My personal red flags include the words: then, and then, feel, smile, see, and hear. To me, they signal that I’m about to tell, or lose a chance to be in scene showing emotion or moving the plot forward with action.

This manuscript is particularly difficult because the narrator is rather intrusive and actually has an important part to play in telling the story. What I’m finding is that I tell AND ALSO show. It’s as if I don’t really trust the characters to have their own voices or actions, nor do I trust the reader to get what I’m trying to say. Instead of just showing and letting the scene stand on its own, I write a little telling intro that goes nowhere before their scene. Like this:

My job now is to rework these scenes. Instead of summing up crucial off-stage moments after the fact or before I also show, I want to make sure that the action is happening on stage and in order. Back to the revision cave.

What are your revision red flags?

What does your character want?

You’ve heard it from critique partners, agents, and editors: “What does your character want?” The adult world is full of desire but what about the world of children and young adults? 

Children and Teens often want passionately. Some are passionate because they are untouched by failure and disappointment; others are passionate because people who are supposed to love and protect them from failure and disappointment– have let them down. 

I’m going to be leading a two part workshop for Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance where we will discuss the importance of a clear desire line in fiction for young readers. This workshop takes place over two Saturdays: February 1 and March 1. We’ll use ancillary writing activities to discover our character’s deepest desires, and explore the differences between positive and negative desires. We’ll have a guided critique of each other’s first chapters and look for ways to make desire more opaque. Before the second session, you’ll get to revise your first chapter then we’ll process what we’ve learned and I’ll share my own revision process and techniques. Take a look at the full workshop description

By the end of our 6 hours together I hope to persuade you that one of the most important things you can do for your story is to clearly define your character’s desire in the first few chapters of your MG or YA novel. Depending on the audience, it is even better if that desire is clearly stated or hinted at in the very first chapter.

When the reader can clearly access the character’s desire:

  • The reader roots for that character from the onset.
  • The reader sympathizes with the character. (Even in the case of an unsympathetic character, the reader will connect with the act of longing.)
  • It is this longing that keeps the reader reading.

If this kind of inquiry into the craft of writing for children and young adults interests you, sign up!

More about me:

Anna J. Boll, author/illustrator and educator, earned an MFA and Picture Book Certificate at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a MSEd at the University of Southern Maine. A winner of the 2013 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, she is represented by Alexandra Penfold. Her poetry is published in Highlights High Five, Babybug, and Ladybug magazines.