Posts Tagged ‘critique groups’

I’ve committed the big “no-no” – multiple viewpoints in junior fiction.

I didn’t start out wanting to break the rules, it just happened. I’ve always written stories for children. I’ve always written them from the traditional single point of view. No dreaded head-hopping for the younger reader here.

Everyone’s heard the horror stories of authors who wrote books for young readers with dual points of view, being cited for their foolishness in the media. I remember reading an article in a children’s literature magazine a couple of years ago, where the critic said it was a pity the story was written from two different viewpoints, because this had “alienated potential readers.”

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The general attitude towards head hopping junior fiction is roundly and rightly frowned upon.

I had no intention of deviating from this rule. Why risk dividing the small number of readers I might be fortunate enough to attract?

Then, in 2005, after attending a couple of weekend workshops with Kate de Goldi I started writing an epic-length story, the Chronicles of Aden Weaver,

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A few years after this, I went to a writer’s class led by the wonderful author and columnist, Lindsey Dawson. One afternoon, I stayed behind after the session. I told Lindsey the essential elements of my story and asked her opinion on how to improve it.

Lindsey went up to the whiteboard. She drew an image which she said had “just come to her.” There were three different strands of helix spiralling up around a central column. Lindsey said that the central column was the plot and the strands circling it were the different characters’ story threads. And she encouraged me to think about the lives of the secondary characters.

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I went home that night, I picked up my pen and started writing. To my surprise, the stories rushed out. Almost as if the other characters had been bursting to tell their sides of the tale.

Then, I wove the new story threads in and out of the old story thread, and it came together in a unique and interesting way. Did I dare show this mutant baby to the rest of the world? I knew they would come out and beat it to death with sticks and clubs.

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When I worked on the first book in the series, ‘The Or’in of Tane Mahuta,’ my critique partners made it clear they did not believe head-hopping worked in junior fiction. I agreed, but what could I do?

Hoping for reprieve, I asked another friend who is an author for his opinion. He said, ‘Shifting POV is generally frowned upon, since the last thing we want is a confused reader.’

Although I wished to be able to adhere to the principle of single pov, I simply felt compelled to stick to at least two ‘heads’ for Book one. I couldn’t make the complex tale work otherwise. I knew I was treading on dangerous ground. Yet, I published my book anyway. And I expect to be lambasted for it at some stage if anyone beyond the circle of my friends ever reads it.

Currently, I’m writing the follow up in the series, ‘The Sasori Empire.’

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At the outset, one of my critique friends suggested that I try writing the sequel from Aden’s point of view. ‘It’s much better because you allow the reader to have the experience of reading the story through Aden’s eyes. There will be more tension and surprises this way especially for your younger target audience.’

I agreed a hundred percent. So with the rough, raw material for book two, I went through the entire manuscript and changed it to a single ‘head.’ Only problem was, I felt as if all the life had been sucked out of the material.

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Deflated, I went to my friend, kiwi author, Donna Blaber, to ask her opinion. Donna is a traditionally published author with 30 books to her credit. She knows her stuff. And she’s familiar with this series, having helped me out by being a beta reader with book one. I told her what I had done with changing everything in book two over to Aden’s pov. And I sent her (on her request) two chapters illustrating the changes.

I waited anxiously for her response.

Two days later, Donna emailed. ‘My thoughts are that the second book should follow in the same vein as the first book, otherwise I think it will be confusing. Save the different style for your next story/series. I (sometimes) give little regard for the so-called ‘rules’ because I believe they are there to be broken. However, in saying that, I think consistency in a series is important.’

I cannot even tell you the relief! This is what my gut instinct was trying to tell me. And don’t you love that freeing type of thinking? I was inspired.

It’s hard to explain. Even though I personally would prefer not to be the author of this Frankenstein: this multiple pov, anthropomorphic, fantasy fiction for ‘tweens, I am. It’s what the story wants. I shall have to take my lashings as they come.

What story wants, it gets. The dreaded, hoary-breathed, two-headed gargoyle of multiple viewpoints is what this story demands. That’s all I can tell you!

Has your story ever taken you where you didn’t want to go? Ever taken a risk and gone against conventions?

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Keep on creating!

See you in the funny papers,

Yvette K. Carol

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Your intuition knows what to write so get out of the way. ~ Ray Bradbury

The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write, and draw, and build and play and dance and live as only you can. ~ Neil Gaiman

Ultimately, you have to be your own North Star. – James Preller

When you’re a writer, people always recommend you join a critique group. I remember, senior writers used to suggest I join one when I started out, and now, many years down the track, I recommend the same thing to others. But, why?

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1: It’s that right-minded support that lifts us onwards.

One time, at a writing conference, a new author got up for her acceptance speech. Upon receiving a prestigious award, she said, “I wouldn’t be standing there without my critique group.” I remember thinking, does a critique group make that much of a difference? The year was 2011.

At that stage, I still hadn’t found the right group that felt like a fit, so the benefits of the critique group had failed to impact on me. Critique groups were an enigma I didn’t properly understand for the first few years of my attempts to participate. But then, I held a lot of my work back, and only submitted short pieces I was experimenting with rather than committed to. I didn’t trust the process enough at that stage to release into full immersion.

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I started the networking group, “Writing for Children,” through Kristen Lamb’s, Wanatribe site, in 2012, and started to make friends with other writers. We were an instant mutual support system. They felt like family. Through the connections I made there, I met amazing author, Maria Cisneros-Toth. We both wrote for the same genre (Middle-Grade to Tween) and because trust was established, I shared with her my actual primary work-in-progress, ‘The Or’in of Tane Mahuta.’ That was the first time I surrendered fully to the critique process.

Right away Maria embraced my world and my story. Maria told me in no uncertain terms that I could write and she believed in me. Boy, that was just the injection of faith in myself I needed. I set to work with gusto. My confidence blossomed. And later, our critique group of two grew.

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2: It’s working together side-by-side on our stories that builds relationships.

Having a functioning critique group is about having a live support mechanism. A member of my mailing list asked me how I managed to get a supportive network around me. I said you can’t sit back and expect people to come to you; you’ve got to go out and meet them. It’s just like when you go to a party. If you stand in the corner and don’t talk to anyone, you’ll be miserable. The onus is on you to make the first move. Go to social media hubs, like LinkedIn, and Goodreads, and Google+, and participate in conversations on message boards. You soon meet people. You start give-and-take relationships. You treat people the way you want to be treated and friendships naturally grow.

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3: The critique group’s variety of viewpoints and opinions act like a small test group representing the viewing public.

With my story, I had done a lot of “world building,” yet I had lived with the story for such a long time, that a lot of facets of this world were familiar to me and made perfect sense. Showing this unique imaginary realm to my critique group was the first real litmus test. That was when the questions began. Why this? How that? I realized very quickly that in a number of areas, more explanation was needed, more clarity, and in some cases, new solutions.

This slice of the reading community giving you feedback, can be the difference between an idea working in the real world of the reading public, and not. You soon find out what works and what fails, and you get precious feedback on everything.

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4: Giving critique to others hones our own writing skills.

Of course, at the same time, you’re giving critique too. When I did my first course in critiquing children’s fiction with Kate de Goldi, in 2007, Kate told all of us, in no uncertain terms, that learning to critique was as important as the writing. It was a skill we needed to practice, she told us. Learning to pull apart other people’s fiction editorially would hone our own fiction.

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I have come to feel a truly vast appreciation for the benefits of critique. I know what the new author meant when she said in 2011, that she wouldn’t have been standing on that podium if it weren’t for her critique group. I can say my book, ‘The Or’in of Tane Mahuta’ would not be sitting on my bookshelf if it wasn’t for mine.

Do you have similar stories to share of your amazing friends, or your supportive critique groups?

 

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Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“Revision is a personal thing, and it’s easy to become confused with too much input. You have to decide who to trust, but never just blindly do what you are told. Ultimately, you have to be your own North Star, while trying to understand and internalize the things that your readers might be responding to.” ~ James Preller