Writing from the forest

It’s a saying I’ve heard countless times, “Oh, she can’t see the forest for the trees.”  In fact, it’s one that I use often.  For example, as a young mom, I often can’t see the forest of LIFE from the saplings constantly clamoring for my attention.   As a writer, it’s something I’ve been guilty of and I’m grateful to the women who’ve now pointed it out on two occasions.  Of course, as freelance editors, they didn’t use that phrase, keeping it much more politically (and grammatically correct).  But as I read each of their respective feedbacks, first in December, and again last week, it’s the phrase that continued to surface.  I realize that I am putting my own literary spin on it here, so let me elaborate.

I spent a good part of 2016, especially the second half of the year trying to educate myself.  I read every article and blog post I could get my hands on.  I combed through Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul with a fine-toothed comb and dove into some excellent webinars.   One of the lessons, repeated in almost everyone, is ‘make sure your main character is the protagonist (hero) of his own story’.  I read it over and over and committed it to memory.  Had you asked, I would’ve checked it off my list with a satisfied ‘Got that!”.  Low and behold, when I received the critique back from the first editor I worked with, that was her most significant piece of advice.  The sweet little boy that my story is about, didn’t save his own story.  I was shocked when I realized how glaringly obvious it was too.  His mom was the hero of his story, and I never saw it coming. I had been so close to my story, that I hadn’t seen the problem that I was certain I avoided.  In the three rounds of revisions that followed, I wrote the mom completely out of the story, then back in, and out again, as I struggled to give all the credit to my sweet boy, after all… it is HIS story.

Another common theme in my Kid Lit education was the importance of the ‘Rule of Three’.   I’m very familiar with it and was something I thought I incorporated well into my WIP (work in progress).  Alas, this last editor had similar advice, from a different perspective.  Guess what she said to me, in regards to the Rule of Three in my story?  It was non-existent!  To share a line from the editorial letter I received last week, “Generally, a protagonist tries three times to get what they want before they succeed.”  To explain it simply, if a dog is trying to jump over a fence, he’ll fall short on his first try, again on his second and third, finding success on his fourth attempt.  I knew this.  Somehow, in my rewriting and revising, I lost it, though. The boy in my story has a problem, and BAM solves it on his first try. Even young children deserve for the stories they read to have enough drama to draw them in and make it exciting.  This lack of struggle translated into a lack conflict, probably creating one of the major issues with my WIP.  When I stepped back from my story, having been ‘too close to the trees again’, I discovered a fluffy story, full of warm and fuzzies… and a dragon… it was confusing, even to me.  Once again, I was blindsided.  So I’m back in revision mode, this time creating conflict.   Thanks for joining me as I unpack these great editorial lessons, rest assured, there are many more to come.  I’d love to hear from you if you have your own experience to share.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

P.S- As I was wrapping up my post for today, I learned of an exciting opportunity from kidlitcollege.org.  ‘Page turns’ is another important concept in children’s literature that deserves its own conversations. It is related to my post from today, however, because conflict creates page turns, so maybe it’s a conversation I’ll have soon.  Ann Whitford Paul (mentioned above) is teaching a KidLit College course at the end of the month Picture Book First Pages and Page Turns.  Sounds like something I need in my life, and I’m sharing in case you do too.

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3 thoughts on “Writing from the forest

  1. Jennifer,

    Loved your post. You’ve learned how to address two issues—how to create conflict and how conflict should be solved. Here are some more tips when writing for kids:

    Introduce the main character in the first paragraph.
    Make the protagonist likable even though she may have faults. Readers should care about this character.
    Establish place or setting in the first or second paragraph.
    Create conflict in the first part of the story.
    Use “said” for dialogue tags. Avoid using fancy tags like she promised, she cried, she shouted.
    Try to incorporate the senses into the story.
    Drive the story with action. Balance action with dialogue.
    Keep the story under 500 words.
    Have the protagonist grow or change by the end of the story.

    Like

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