Summer 2017 Kidlit Notes

As the edges of aspen leaves in our valley begin to flame with gold and dry fields click with grasshoppers, the JHW KidLit Critique Group celebrates our one-year anniversary! What a great year of friendship and feedback we’ve had. Our August meeting was full of energy; book deals announced, writing experiments undertaken, and unprompted comparisons of our writers to Mark Twain and Harper Lee. Just another evening at KidLit Critique!

A few notes from July and August meetings:

In July, Lorna experimented with putting a chapter of her novel into verse form. We talked about the impact it had on her story, and had a broader discussion on why authors might use verse to tell a longer story. White space increases, and every word counts. Rhythms become essential, the voice of the character leaps off the page…when it’s done right. There are many great novels in verse to turn to if you’re interested in reading a few and trying your hand at this form. See a short booklist below and leave your favorites in the comments!

Also in July, we played around with a quick-write prompt from an online writing group called “Teachers Write,” in which author Hena Khan encourages writers to imagine going back in time and renaming themselves, to reflect on why they’d choose that name and write a brief bio for themselves. We thought this prompt would also be useful for brainstorming about a character when you’re still getting to know them in the pages of your book. What are the meanings of their name? Does your character love or hate his or her own name? How do they introduce themselves, do they use any nicknames, or have any been given to them…? Fun to ruminate if you’re feeling stuck and need a little free write to get you going again.

In August, we had a full house of writers with work to share. On the revision side of things, Nanci is re-working her third novel for Harper Collins and beginning a fourth. This manuscript is a re-write of a novel she submitted 10 years ago (the one that landed her an agent), and she’s working on lots of elements including the voice of the main character. One of the big challenges of writing middle grade & YA fiction is nailing the voice, and it can take a lot of work and revision to get it right. Lorna’s continuing work eludes classification; our group can’t decide whether it’s middle grade, YA, or an adult novel with a child protagonist. But the advice of the group is to write it without worrying about the “market.” Someone (I fell down on my note taking duties and didn’t write down who) said: “Fill the tub. Pour everything you want into the tub, and bathe in it.” Yes!

Gina is reworking a YA novel and brought the first few pages to share. We talked about the challenges of making your readers fall in love with a character right away; how to balance those first paragraphs between necessary backstory and what the character’s doing NOW, showing who they are and getting us interested in the story. It’s not easy! One way Andrew refreshes his view on this is to go back and re-read favorite novels, which is always helpful. Andrew also reminded us that “normal conversations have no place on the page,” that we should up the stakes and punch up dialogue when we can. This alone can show a lot about our characters.

Andrew’s new manuscript features characters modeled directly on a literary classic, and we were unanimously in love with the first pages of his new work. More on this when I have permission to tell!

Sheryl brought a new manuscript she’s reworking, and we talked about sounds in picture books (and unofficially hired Andrew to read the audio version of Sheryl’s book when it’s published). We had a new member join us, Jeanie, a seasonal GTNP employee. She has a published picture book called At Marsh and Meadow and comes from a strong writers group in the pacific northwest. Her suggestion to our group is that we have another member read the work we bring, so we can hear how it sounds to others.

Here’s to the fall, to shorter days and the temptation to curl up with a good book or an emerging manuscript. Join us for the September 14th KidLit Group, from 6-8 p.m. Happy writing!

Melissa & Nanci

Great blog post on revision from The Winged Pen: Master your Craft- Editing the Big Picture

Recommended Novels in Verse:
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

Check out Jeanie’s book!