Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Secret Weapon

As I said yesterday, I’ve just completed a young adult novel which my agent will soon be peddling to publishers.

Hasn’t sold it yet. Of course, he couldn’t have. He won’t even be reading it until after the first of June. If he has nothing better to do than sit around his office waiting for me to send him manuscripts, he couldn’t be very good, right? And he is good. So I’m happy he’s busy and hope some of that busy-ness will rub off on me. After all, he doesn’t get paid until I get paid.

But that’s not what this is about. This is about my secret weapon that makes me feel really good about my chances to sell the book.

Tori teaches fifth grade at the Good Hope School, a wonderful private school right on the beach, about two miles from our home. Last fall she had me come to her class to talk about writing, plot and lots of stuff like that. She really pushed writing with the kids all year.

Anyway, one thing led to another and she suggested I read the novel to the kids as it progressed. So I did.

What a revelation! The kids were great. Every Tuesday and Thursday they’d ask Tori at the start of the day if I’d be coming with more chapters. I always tried to have two at a time for them, which kept me focused and productive. I hated to disappoint them.

When I was finished reading for the day and said, “And that’s all for today,” they’d always let out a group moan, “Aawwww!” Which suggested to me that they liked the story, or at least liked it better than they do, say, math tests. I’ll take that.

They were also really helpful, and not at all shy about letting me know when the day’s offering hadn’t measured up. “Kinda boring,” they said once. You’d better believe I worked my ass off to keep from disappointing them.

And as the story progressed, I was able to gauge how it was going and what I needed to do to clean up those problems. I actually was able to reorganize so that the second half of the story already was written as if I’d made the changes already. I’d explain to them what was going to happen in the rewritten version. When I finished (they applauded at the end, and loved the last line) and started on the second draft, I already had thought out what needed to happen. I tossed the first six chapters and condensed them into three, reworking it so that the same exposition was told in action instead of me talking. Thanks to those kids, the book is WAY better than it was.

And I like to think besides entertaining it was also educational for them. They saw the process of writing a novel, saw the truth that all writing is rewriting, and maybe got an idea of the difference between plot and story.

They will, of course, all be named and thanked in the acknowledgements. They also had plenty of ideas of what should happen next and while I don’t think I used any of them, they helped me see how the reader would perceive the story and how I could use those expectations in building the tale.

The only idea I rejected out of hand was the suggestion that I somehow include a vampire love story in my pirate novel. Sorry, Shania. That just wasn’t in the cards. And Mason and Ryan wanted every chapter to include explosions. That was their answer to everything – blow it up!

All in all, it was one of the best things I've ever done as a writer. I don't see how anyone could ever write a novel without a classroom of smart fifth graders to bounce it off of.

It worked so well for both me and the class that Tori has already given me homework. There will of course be a new class of kids in the fifth grade next fall. And they’ll need a story.

I’m mulling ideas. Not pirates this time. It’s going be about the “curse” on my family.


Beth Ann said...

Well, being a teacher myself, and a lover of books....I cant wait to get my hands on a copy! When will we know it is ready to purchase? :)

Ol' Chumbucket said...

Before we know "when" it's available to purchase, we have to know "if" it will be available to purchase. It won't be before next spring, that's a fact, and I really don't have much hope of before next fall at the earliest. The wheels in the book biz appear to turn exceedingly slowly.