Friday, June 8, 2018

ADVICE FROM MY IN-HOUSE CRITIC -- Jane Kelley

When I started writing for kids, I was lucky. My target audience was sitting next to me, drawing pictures of girls with cats. As I scribbled the first draft of my novel, Nature Girl, in a notebook, my daughter Sofia eagerly devoured the pages.

This is great, I thought as I heard her laugh at my character Megan's misadventures with her dog Arp.

Then came the horrible day when Sofia lost interest. I was devastated. "What happened?" I asked her. I didn't expect her to be able to tell me. She was only nine. But her analysis was excellent. She said, "You ran out of story, Mom."

She was right. I fixed that problem. Months went by. I completed the draft and once again asked for her enthusiastic praise--I mean, "feedback."

Before I tell you what she said, I need to explain a little more about the plot. When Nature Girl begins, Megan is miserable. Her best friend Lucy decided not to go on vacation with her because Lucy's mom has cancer. Megan decides to run away and join Lucy. Her adventures hiking part of the Appalachian Trail make her a better person. And so, at the end of the book, after many trials and tribulations, Megan and Lucy are reunited. BRIEFLY. Megan is now so wise and mature that she accepts Lucy's choice to be with her mom. "See you in September," Megan says to her friend.

I was proud of my book's conclusion. Characters had changed. Megan had succeeded in reaching her goal--which was to climb Mount Graylock. She even started to like nature.

"That's a TERRIBLE ending," Sofia said.

I patiently explained the importance of life lessons and making sacrifices to become a better person.

Sofia didn't buy any of that. She said that, after all Megan went through, she had to be with Lucy. Friends want to be together.


Eventually I understood. While showing that Megan had matured was important, it shouldn't be the main priority. I rewrote the ending. Megan was willing to make the sacrifice, but Lucy had a revelation too. Her mom would feel better if Lucy was having fun--with her best friend Megan. 

Now everybody was happy--my characters, my readers, my daughter (because she got to tell her mom was to do), and me. I had learned a valuable lesson. 

Don't think of your reader as your child who needs to be taught a lesson. Think of your reader as your friend.

Nature Girl illustrations by Heather Palisi. 





2 comments:

  1. This is so cool. I have an in-house reader, too. (My mom.) I know EXACTLY how valuable those readers are. Yours had some great advice. Does she still read for you?

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  2. Yes she does! (But I have to pay her now.) My mom was another reader of mine too.

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