Opportunity for Writers

I’m putting together a bit of a thing. Does that sound vague? It’s intentional. A secret thing for writers. (This secret thing for writers is not a sales or marketing thing, don’t worry.) Good Story Company is trying to figure out a way to give writers more to do and higher odds at success.

Right now, I’m looking to connect with writers who consider themselves to be in one of these three groups:

  • I have more ideas than time to write them. You aren’t precious about each idea that comes across your imagination. After all, there are so many! If you’re brimming with story worlds and potential projects but don’t want to do the actual sweaty craftsmanship of writing each one, reach out.
  • I’ll write anything, just give me an outline and a deadline. You aren’t precious about each word you write or each draft of a project. They’re all means to an end. Writing’s a business and you just want to get out there. You can write about anything, and write well. You just struggle with the conceptual part.
  • I got voice on top of voice but don’t know what to do with it. Everyone compliments you on your voice, but you haven’t yet made it truly sing on a project that’s gone anywhere. Maybe, with a little guidance, you can shine.

If you’re curious about this even in the slightest, let’s connect. No pressure. Nobody’s taking anything away from you. Nobody’s asking for anything for free. This is not, I repeat, any kind of sales or marketing. I’m just looking for a small group of likeminded writers because I have a vision—and I realize how woo-woo that sounds. For this super vague call-out, I’m looking for writers who think this sounds woo-woo and weird in a good way, not woo-woo and weird in a negative or suspicious way. (This opportunity, at present, is for novelists only, not picture book writers.)

Remember, I’m  your friend. I have loved the hell out of my writers for over a decade. And with one notable exception, I’ve treated you right. So go out on a limb with me here. If you’re already published or represented, especially, I want to hear from you. Nothing is being signed and no ideas are changing hands, except one that, I hope, will change the right handful of writers’ careers.

Email me: mary@goodstorycompany.com

Craft and Business Topics Poll

I’d love to have your thoughts on the topics you’re most interested in learning on this blog and in the other content I’m making. (If you haven’t yet, check out my YouTube videos about various topics!)

Please see the poll below to give me your feedback:

Middle Grade Critique: Workshop Submission #8

Thank you to our last writer of this workshop series, E.S. This is an early draft of a middle grade fantasy.

Get the creepy factor across with action, rather than telling.

The Workshop Submission

It started when the two faceless men knocked at the back door. If I’d known it was them, I would never have answered.

The potential for some solid tension here. The one thing I’d keep an eye out for, however: “I would never have answered” leaves the present moment. There’s this “If I’d only known” vibe. We go into some hazy, undefined future, from which the narrator is writing. It risks pulling the reader out of the moment to wonder, “When are we relative to the present moment?” My preference is to only use tension that’s available in the present. But since we don’t really know what’s going on in the present yet, I’ll allow it. 😉

Usually I wouldn’t have answered. I hate answering the door. It’s never anyone for me, anyway. All I want is to be left alone to mind my own business and have everyone else mind theirs.

“I wouldn’t have answered” and “I hate answering the door” are redundant. Consider this post about writing description. We get even more into the same point with the discussion of minding one’s business. This is also telling about the character, which I’d much rather avoid.

But I figured it was Mom with her arms full of groceries or something, so I answered the door. Because who else would come around the building and through the gate in the fence and past our sorry excuse for a backyard and knock on the back door? Anyone else would go to the front door. And Mom should have been home already, anyway. It was way past the time she usually gets home from work, and she hadn’t even called. She can be a real pain like that.

This is much more relevant to the present moment. I think that Mom not being home yet (tension) meets the element that it’s the back door, not the front door (tension) should be played up from the beginning, eg, “Nobody ever knocks on the back door. Only Mom comes in that way, and Mom would never knock…” Though I do love “our sorry excuse for a backyard” for voice purposes. This could be cherry-picked and used to start the novel.

So I just unlocked the back door and opened it. I expected Mom to come bustling into the kitchen, saying, “Samantha, young lady, have you finished your homework?” and puffing loose hair out of her face. But it wasn’t Mom. It was two tall, faceless men.

The difference between this opening and what the writer currently has is that this opening is in action. Samantha is expecting Mom (neutral) but it’s not Mom (tension!), it’s two faceless men (tension!!!!!!!). Give it to us in the moment. All the discussion of wanting to be left alone and blah blah blah is just telling. Give us the action instead.

Maybe they actually did have faces under all that bristly hair, but it was impossible to tell. Plus their tall furry hats were jammed down so far on their little heads that the hats would’ve covered any faces they had. Their arms and legs look like giant pipe cleaners. Creepy. And not brand new pipe cleaners either.

The rambling here (the long sentence about the tall furry hats) and the humor (though I love humor) undermine the shock or tension of the moment. Two random strangers have shown up at Samantha’s back door, and you ideally, I think, want the reader to be scared. But by making fun of their hats and faces and head shapes, you let the true fear out of the moment. Is she meant to be scared? This would be better for tension. Or is she just going to hang back and poke fun? This would be better for voice but … for the beginning, tension should be king.

That’s all they wrote! Thank you so much for joining me for this workshop series, and thank you to all the writers who have furnished your openings for potential workshop. I’m planning the next one as we speak.

If you’re struggling with your beginning, bring me on board as a novel editor and trusted writing partner.

Young Adult Critique: Workshop Submission #7

Let’s reenter our workshop series, here with a submission from writer C.C. I hope you all had some amazing holiday times with loved ones. Now it’s time to buckle in and head into 2020 writing. And if you want to, you can shout to the world that you’re Too Kidlit To Quit in 2020. 😉

Some beautiful imagery is always nice in a novel opening, but too much can distract.

The Workshop Submission

No one remembers a beginning. Even though a beginning is one of the most important times in an existence. Not the existence, but a specific one.

I worry that this opening is too vague-sounding to really hook readers. I’m not interested in “an existence” in general, or philosophizing about beginnings. I’m interested in getting an actual beginning on the page. This sounds like a bit of throat clearing, with the writer not knowing where to start, I’m afraid.

It was an ocean. Then it was a river. It was whales and sharks. Nautiloids, ammonites, horseshoe crabs—forever it was assumed.

What is the first “it” referenced? What is the last “it” referenced? Specifics are key when starting a story, and here, you refer to two different “it” subjects, but I’m not clear on either. Consider that confusion is not the same as mystery.

But then something shifted. A shrinking. It got colder, then warm again. The salt drained out, replaced with fresh water from mountains far north and from all the rain. The porous limestone banks hold testament to their existence. A scrapbook, a social media before there was a way to capture images for the future to see.

What is the “it” that gets colder? Is this the same “it” or a different it? I feel like the writer is using “it” to stand in for general “things” or “the atmosphere,” but since “it” is used so often, IT is hard to keep IT straight. Also, what is “their” in the limestone sentence? The banks “hold testament to their [own] existence”? I see the grandiose scale that this writer is trying to evoke, but it’s too slippery, I’m afraid, for me to latch onto. I’d much rather start in specific action, in a specific setting, with a specific character. I do see some very lyrical writing here—the writer clearly has a strong sense of the writing itself! But sometimes, by leaning on this strength, they could have a blind spot elsewhere. In this example, a sense of action and character is lacking.

Sturgeon still swim to the salty water to spawn. The armored fish were once as plentiful as the frills on her gills, but thanks to their delicious eggs and their sportsmanship when it came to dying, they’d been hunted to almost extinction. Humanity will be the cause of the sixth major extinction, no doubt.

I really like “their sportsmanship when it came to dying,” this is a really interesting turn of phrase. But who is “her” (the one with the gills)? Is it the sturgeon’s gills? The gills of a main character not yet named? The pronoun really throws me here.

But she’s digressing, trying to get to the topic of humanity. Humans who have changed her river with their farming and industry. Such diligent creatures like the ants who pontoon on the rivers’ surface to float from one side to the other.

It’s amazing how often writers include “notes to self” in their own prose. Here, this writer says that the narrator (I’m guessing this is the “she” here, but whether that’s the same “she” as the one with gills is still unclear) is “digressing,” but I think the writer is aware on some subconscious level that they’re the ones digressing. Always listen to your gut! The inclusion of ants here only muddies things for me. I’m waiting for the focal point, and I’m not seeing one yet, I’m afraid.

It’s not just the topic of humans though that she’s trying to get to. Her mind is like the river. It is always flowing in one direction, yes, but there are cypress knees to get around. Topics come up like bubbling underground springs.

Some truly lovely writing, don’t get me wrong. But, like the river, this opening meanders. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to latch onto, as the reader. My hunch is that this writer hasn’t found their true opening page yet, and that’s totally okay. This provides some nice imagery, and some potential places to start.

That’s all they wrote! Tune in next week for more workshop.

Struggling with your beginning? Hire me as your novel editor for in-depth developmental advice. You can also sign up for my Crafting Irresistible First Pages webinar with Jane Friedman on January 15th!

Writing Fantasy: The Kiss of Life by Gail Carson Levine

I’m very excited to present this article on writing fantasy, exclusively for Kidlit by Gail Carson Levine.

writing fantasy, gail carson levine, fantasy writing
The key to writing fantasy is relatable detail.

The Magic of Fantasy Writing

The great thing about reading fantasy (and writing fantasy) is that we get to have experiences not available to us in ordinary life. The great thing about writing fantasy is that we’re able to take a deep dive into what those experiences might be like.

As a reader, I feel disappointed when the dive is a belly flop. For example, an invisible force field hitting an invisible, immovable object frustrates me, especially if the hero I’m rooting for is trapped behind the object. How can she engage with it if she doesn’t know what it is? Then, if she does engage and it gives way but I don’t know how, I’m doubly annoyed. I can’t rejoice with her if I don’t understand her triumph.

Here’s a confession: I don’t believe in magic or elves or fairies.

Seven Suggestions for Writing Fantasy

So I know that I face a high bar to persuade at least some readers to buy what I’m laying out. How do we do it? Here are seven suggestions for writing fantasy:

  • Start the fantasy early, before the reader has time to imagine a realistic world. Take Ogre Enchanted, my latest novel, a prequel to Ella Enchanted. My main character, Evie, is a dedicated healer, but her methods wouldn’t survive scrutiny by the American Medical Association. I introduce the magic in the first sentence of the book, when Evie’s friend Wormy forgets to mash her inglebot fungus—there’s no such thing as inglebot. Grimwood, a fever remedy, shows up a page later, and, soon after, pig bladder, which certainly exists, but no one uses it to heal sprains!On page 5, the adolescent giant Oobeeg is mentioned, though he’s too large to fit through Evie’s mother’s front door–a mite of sensory information. Oobeeg is there because his mother’s leg was gashed by an ogre and a healer is needed. Now we have giants and ogres. On page 9, Evie herself is turned into an ogre by the fairy Lucinda of Ella Enchanted fame. Giants, fairies, ogres, and weird medicine. The world taking shape and we’re just on page 9.
  • Writing fantasy elements that develop characters. With Evie’s transformation, I give the reader an understanding of how it might feel to be an ogre. Coarse hair grows on Evie’s hands. Her fingernails are long and filthy. She’s bigger than she was before, so seams have split; her apron is squeezing her stomach; the soles of her shoes are flapping. Significantly, she’s ravenous, even though she had breakfast only a little while earlier. Even more significantly, she calls Wormy’s earlobes “the sweetest part.” Not much later, I let the reader know how easily she gets angry, which is unlike her human self. Rather than an invisible force field, Evie’s ogre side becomes one of her antagonists. The way she deals with it, including what she eats and doesn’t eat, are important in defining her.
  • Set things up beforehand to prepare the reader. Much later in Ogre Enchanted I need Evie to get the better of a dragon, and dragons in this world are vastly bigger than ogres, plus they have flames and flight. It took me a while to figure out how to do this when writing fantasy, but when I did, I introduced on page 82 a historical enmity between dragons and ogres, and I showed the over-the-top reaction of Evie and the ogre band she’s with to the sight of just a dragon’s tooth. When she faces an entire dragon forty pages later, the reader is ready to believe she can survive.
  • Include detail, especially sensory detail. Sensation puts the reader there. Once we’ve made our world solid with sight, sound, touch, and smell, we can’t write an invisible force field, because it won’t fit.Smell isn’t our species’ strongest sense, but it’s uniquely tied to our emotions. In her ogre form, Evie sweats copiously–and stinks. Baths last only briefly. Her ogre side likes the smell, but her human side wants to crawl out of her hairy skin.
  • Make the humans and the creatures relatable. Evie, who craves relief from her isolation from humans, is painfully aware of her looks and her odor. And she can barely tolerate the terror she strikes in people. Anyone who’s ever felt unwanted, even for a moment, suffers with her.Not that appearance is the only way to make readers identify with fantasy writing. They feel for Ella in Ella Enchanted because of her curse of obedience–we’ve all many times had to do what we don’t want to. In my Princess Tale, For Biddle’s Sake, the very flawed fairy Bombina (who loves to turn people into toads) is sympathetic because of her desperate love for a girl named Parsley.
  • Writing fantasy that embraces the reader with touches of wonder. In The Two Princesses of Bamarre, sorcerers are born when lightning strikes marble, which ignites a flame that contains the new sorcerer, who rockets into the sky. Just dreaming up this kind of thing makes me happy, a feeling I hope readers will share.
  • Invent your own creatures. Don’t go with stereotypes. Dragons don’t have to be big, and elves don’t have to be small, as Tolkien proved. At a conference, I once mentored a young writer who had a charming voice. My only criticism about his fantasy writing was that he leaned on stereotypes. When describing a certain wizard, he used direct address to say to the reader, “You know how wizards are.” I don’t. I have my own ideas, but this was his story, and I wanted to meet his wizard.

    Writing Fantasy Isn’t Easy, But It’s Worth It

Just saying, all of this isn’t easy. Maybe none of it is. A young writer I know has an ongoing dispute with her brother about which is harder, writing or basketball. Writers know, and it isn’t even close. But it’s a joy to invent worlds with creatures who live under an unknown sun and to invite readers to share the fun.

Find Gail Online:

If you’re struggling with writing fantasy that pulls readers in and doesn’t let them go, hire me as your developmental editor.

Good Story Company Is Hiring!

I have some big plans for 2020, and to that end, I’m hiring!

good story company, storytelling, writers

Marketing Internship

I’m looking to train a marketing intern for this paid internship position. Book marketing is a big issue on every writer’s mind. I have conversation after conversation with writers in my editorial business, on the traditional and indie tracks, all about how to market themselves and their work.

Marketing isn’t just social media or printing bookmarks. And contrary to popular belief, marketing isn’t guaranteed with a book deal, not even for traditionally published writers. And how do writers market themselves before they’re published? Ack!

I’m looking for the right candidate to help me build a marketing extension of the Good Story Company. This will start as a paid internship, and will grow to a half-time or even full time position over time. There will be a heavy teaching and training component, but the right person will come to the table with experience and ideas of their own.

Requirements:

  • Age 18 and over
  • Legally able to work in the United States (unfortunately, for legal reasons, I’m not able to hire from outside of the US)
  • Have 8-10 hours available per week to devote to the internship
  • Be familiar with Slack and the G-Suite of tools
  • Have at least one year of existing experience in marketing—I’m looking to train up the right candidate, but I do want them to bring something to the table (not necessarily in book marketing)

In order to apply for this position, which will start in late January 2020, please submit the following:

  • Your latest and greatest resume
  • A cover letter that details your interest in this position
  • A sample marketing plan for a writer, traditionally published book, or independently published book—if you don’t know how to make one, do a little research online and give it your best shot!

Please send this combination (attachments are okay) to:

mary@kidlit.com

with the subject line “Marketing Internship” by January 10th, 2020, noon Central time. Late submissions will be deleted unread.

Diverse applicants are encouraged, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements! Starting pay for this internship will be $12/hr. This is a remote, web-based internship. I can’t wait to hear from you!

About That Marketing Thing…

I’m also planning a marketing class for writers in early 2020. If you’re interesting in getting on the waiting list or receiving more information, please sign up for the email list for this marketing class here.

Celebrating Nora Pepper Macdonald

As many of you know, two years ago today, I gave birth to my daughter, Nora Pepper. We didn’t know it at the time, but she would come to us with a very rare brain disorder called Ohtahara Syndrome. It would be the reason for her death sixteen days later. In the two years since Nora lived and died, I’ve gone through what feels like an entire lifetime.

Our gorgeous Nora girl. These pictures were taken when she was five days old, before we knew.

Losing Nora was the worst thing my husband, Todd, and I, have ever experienced. Our son, Theo, was 21 months at the time. We suddenly found ourselves reading a lot of picture books about death. An urn showed up in our living room. We went to an event put on by the Children’s Hospital bereavement department and released monarch butterflies. To this day, Theo says, “Sister Nora turned into a butterfly.”

It has been two years, today, since she was born.

Since then, Todd has started two restaurants, then left the traditional chef lifestyle. Now he works an honest-to-goodness 9-5 doing recipe development for a restaurant group in town. He cooks us dinner every night.

My editing business is having the most successful year ever, beyond my wildest imagination. I now work with eight absolutely amazing individuals. I’ve launched another company, a podcast, a forum, and a YouTube channel. There are even more big plans on the horizon.

Theodore the Goofball. This is immediately before he bowled me over into the grass.

Theo is thriving at a Spanish immersion preschool. He’s so funny. Like, so funny. And wise. We read books to him every day. He got a bunk bed this week and ran around the house, squealing with pure glee.

My family is complicated. Three months after Nora died, my father passed away from, as Kurt Vonnegut called it, “cancer of the everything.” But it brought me back in touch with my stepmother and half-sister. Three weeks ago, my stepfather suffered a massive stroke, a life-changing, and potentially life-ending event. But it brought my mother and I—uneasily, tenderly—out of a long estrangement.

And finally, we have Finn.

It’s impossible to have a bad day with Finny’s gorgeous smile.

Finn is a joy. He’s approaching 10 months. He’s always smiling. He has a gleam in his eye. He’s pulling up to stand. To be perfectly honest, if things hadn’t taken the turn they did, Finny-Doodle probably wouldn’t have come into our family.

Now we can’t imagine our lives without him.

Every year, I like to turn Nora’s birthday into a force for life and positivity, since it was the most godawful thing I’ve ever experienced (even though there were surprisingly beautiful things about it). Nora never got the chance to create a measure of good in the world, so I work to keep her memory alive.

The year she died—2017—I asked for donations to the Children’s Hospital Foundation. We were powerless against Nora’s condition, but our family raised over $20,000 to allow Children’s to help other families. Last year—2018—I asked for donations in Nora’s memory to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization that allows families suffering infant loss or stillbirth to receive professional photographs of their brief time together. When they sent me the stack of cards with all the names of those who had donated in Nora’s memory, I shuffled through them all and wept.

This year, I’m directing anybody who wants to do some good in Nora’s memory to the Good Story Grant. My vision is a monetary gift of $2,000 to one or more writers that the Good Story Company is offering for the first time in January/February 2020. The first grant is fully funded, but depending on donations, which have already started to come in, we may be able to offer it more than once a year. The grant is accepting applications now.

The grant’s objective is simple: My team and I will review pitches from writers about how the money will help them get to the next level on a writing project. As long as it has to do with creative writing and there’s some accountability in the form of a timeline, deliverables, and letters of recommendation, we want to hear about it. If you’d like to help me support one or more writers every year, you are welcome to donate here.

Thank you for your support throughout the years. I truly love you, my amazing Kidlit crew, and I can’t believe that you help me live my dream every single day. I’m very sad that Nora isn’t with us, but the last two years have been truly incredible, in no small part because of you, my dear reader.

Announcing the Good Story Grant

I’m going to be honest with you guys. The situation I wrote about last week with an apology for a guest’s overly sales-focused behavior really got under my skin. In defending their actions, they wrote to me: “The reality is that there are always some people, especially writers, who are not used to webinars that sell product and think they are entitled to free content.”

Yes, writers do “think they are entitled to free content.” And they are! Imagine a writing teacher penalizing writers for trying to learn. Writers deserve help to get where they want to go. That has been my mantra for the last decade.

With all of this negativity swirling around, I decided to channel my frustration into something good. And so, I’m announcing the Good Story Grant! That’s right. I’ve been giving writers encouragement and knowledge for my entire career, now I’m straight-up giving money away. 💸💸💸

good story company, storytelling, writers

Good Story Grant

I’m giving away a cash prize of $2,000 to one eligible writer who has a project in mind where money would make a difference. What I want to know is:

  • what the project is
  • what the timeframe is
  • what the deliverable would be

Make your case with a personal essay and two letters of recommendation about you as a writer, or you as a motivated, creative person. Easy peasy. You don’t have to live in the US, but you must be able to accept funds in PayPal and be 18 years old as of the grant deadline.

Please learn more about the Good Story Grant here!

I’m taking applications the end of January, and a winner will be announced on Valentine’s Day because all you need is love, right? (To all supporters of writers: I’m also accepting donations from any interested parties on the page linked above, if you want to help me flesh out this grant or make the Good Story Grant an ongoing—rather than annual—event.)

An Apology

As the season of gratitude approaches, I have too many blessings to count. And one of my biggest blessings is you, dear Kidlit reader. You have been with me for over ten years, along for the ride on the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. You make what I do on the blog (and Good Story Company and YouTube and Good Story Podcast and on every other free avenue that you can find me) worthwhile.

If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know that I provide content for writers. That’s my passion, and what I do best. You may also know that I don’t do a lot of selling. There has never been an ad on this blog, and the only things I sell are my own projects, whether that’s my book or a webinar or the Manuscript Submission Blueprint. That was a collaboration brought to me by Children’s Book Insider, and I sampled several of their classes before agreeing to make one. I loved it, and I poured my all into the class I created. I’m still very proud of it! I also think it’s offered at a kickass price point that gives a ton of value for your hard-earned dollar.

Keeping this type of integrity in a culture of “monetization” has been hard. I get advertising requests every single day for this blog because it has been around a long time, because a lot of people come to it, and because my email lists and social feeds have a lot of followers. Over and over, I say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Even my own mother keeps asking, “When are you gonna monetize that blog?”

Sorry, Mom! I will not “put the good stuff behind a paywall.” I will not launch a subscription model where I make a quick buck off of you when you forget to cancel for a few months. I feel very strongly about this, and always have. If you read my blog and have never given me one red cent, thank you! Welcome! I’m so happy to have you! My editorial practice is thriving and I’m having my best year ever, with a team of eight wonderful employees. (I know, right?!) Please enjoy the things I share with writers for free. I mean it.

Now. What’s the apology for? Well, a few months ago, a very prominent writing teacher approached me to do a collaboration. My response was in line with my values (the names have been redacted):

I was very grateful to have an opportunity to collaborate with a famous writing teacher. But my audience was and still is my first concern. So in the above response, I wanted to make sure that my writers would be respected, along with their valuable time.

The teacher called me and reassured me over the phone that “the webinar is very content rich and only the last ten minutes are spent selling.” The product was a course from this writer. This teacher said “most people don’t even notice the sales pitch.” We had a great talk and I completely gave this teacher the benefit of the doubt.

But when the webinar rolled around, I’m afraid my expectations were not met. There was valuable content, indeed, and I learned a few things, but there was also a lot of selling. Blatant, in-your-face selling. There was even discussion of the finer points of a financing option. I watched on, very disappointed, but I had been taken off as a presenter for the duration of the webinar, so I literally couldn’t come back on the line. We were on this teacher’s webinar software, not mine. And would I want to interrupt and make a scene? I was in a very uncomfortable position. I felt that my trust had been broken and that I had been taken advantage of, but I was left not knowing how to handle it as it was happening.

The great news is, my readers are smart, tough, savvy, and honest. Almost immediately, I started hearing about how people did not appreciate this webinar. I reassured those who wrote to me directly, and this led to some really good conversations. I am so grateful that my readership trusts me enough to be honest with me, even when they need to tell me something tough. People wrote me some brave emails, and I’m so honored to have gotten to engage with my readers on that level. That means you guys care, and that level of engagement is so hard to find in today’s busy world.

Initially, the writing teacher expected me to send four follow-up emails, but after the content of the webinar, I decided that I didn’t want to engage further. I sent one email, reluctantly, after prodding from their team. But the backlash from my readers kept coming. Even now, almost two weeks later, I’m hearing about it. So I knew I had to take a tougher and more honest stand.

I wrote to Teacher and Co. and gave them a taste of the feedback. I expressed my disappointment and reminded them of our initial conversations about the balance of content and selling. Staying silent about it would’ve been perhaps more diplomatic. After all, I’m not here to start beef or make enemies. That’s why I’m not referring to the teacher or the event by name. The people who attended this webinar and were disappointed will know what I mean. But staying mostly silent while dealing with it behind the scenes did not feel right. It also allows this predatory marketing practice to continue.

So now I’m apologizing to you.

You, my dear reader. Your time, your attention, your support—these precious things mean everything to me. I am sorry to those who joined this webinar and were disappointed. You trusted me, and I steered you in the wrong direction. We all make mistakes sometimes, and all I can hope for is your forgiveness. I was operating on the best information I had at the time.

For those who took this webinar and happened to buy the class, I do want you to enjoy it. I do not want you to regret your decision after this post. I do hope that it’s a valuable resource because—again—I think this writing teacher has a lot of good things to say. I still think this teacher’s book is a valuable resource. (This teacher may not think I’m so hot after this, though!) I hope that the payoff in all of this is that you get some good tools for your toolbox. I can only hope that it has been created with integrity and attention to detail.

Safe to say, it will be a long, long time before I entertain another collaboration.

The questions of whether or not to write this post, and write to the teacher, have been weighing on me for two weeks. I know I can’t feed my family “integrity” for dinner, but I feel a lot better to have been open and honest with you. In life, there’s the easy thing, and the right thing, and they’re often not the same. Thank you so much for hearing me out!

Full disclosure: I was offered a revenue sharing arrangement for this webinar, which is standard for this kind of collaboration. I have declined any royalties and have been paid absolutely nothing. In 2020, I do plan to launch a very specific paid course (for aspiring editors) and an ebook, both of which will be offered for sale. I will also offer a few one-off paid classes for a well-known online learning platform. But all of these are being produced by me—up to my high standards—to be as content-rich as humanly possible. I continue to offer a few paid webinars per year that include manuscript critique as a justification for the payment. Any links you see to content on Amazon or Manuscript Blueprints are affiliate links that give me a small royalty payment—at no additional cost to the reader. I shoulder over $100 of web hosting costs per month to keep several websites running, and this allows me to offset some of that investment. Other than that, I make my living as a freelance editor, by being paid for my services.

Young Adult Critique: Workshop Submission #6

Thank you so much to A.B., who has generously provided the workshop submission for our sixth installment. After the excitement of launching Good Story Company and an unexpected family emergency, I feel good to be back in workshop!

Do people really pain their fingernails in a moving car? Read this opening to find out!

The Workshop Text

Sometimes it seems like all we do is look for the next place to party. All we do is try to escape Elderberry Estates. Our parents live here to hide from all the ugliness of reality but we want the grime, the drama.

Love the first line, but the repetition takes some of the power away. I like the idea that the parents want the safe life and the kids (I’m assuming that’s what we mean by “we”) want the drama. But after the first line, you lapse into telling. This is too much self-awareness right away. Most teens don’t go around saying, “We perform risky behavior to feel more alive” and other stuff like that. You want to show this, rather than tell.

It’s finally summer and we’re road-tripping it out to the coast. Safia is driving so of course I’m sitting shotgun. Ramona, Paz, and Thalia are crowded in the back. Paz is in the middle but she keeps moaning about how she’s going to puke so Thalia switches her. Paz rolls down the window and soon she’s asleep and drooling on Thalia’s shoulder.

Good grounding the reader in time and place. But we get a roll call of four named characters here. It’s overwhelming since we’re just coming into the story. Maybe take some more time here. Instead of introducing them all, let’s introduce one at a time and then layer in some dialogue. Also, the first paragraph promised “the grime, the drama,” and yet a cute little road trip to the beach doesn’t quite strike the same note. Is the word “with” missing after “switches”?

I said if we took my car we had to make a pact so our phones are in the glove box and we’re singing to the radio until it dissolves into static and then we play the license plate game and then we play truth or dare.

A long sentence that sort of meanders. I’m all about voice, but here, the run-on doesn’t really add much stylistically. Road trip stories, even those that feature short road trips, are a challenge, because nothing tends to happen. This is the case here. The characters seem bored, and that’s a tough way to start a novel. Bored characters tend to be boring, I’m afraid.

We get to La Push in time for sunset. The floor of the car is covered in garbage and my foot is asleep and our limbs are overlapping and intermingled. Thalia is braiding strands of Safia’s hair and I’m painting Paz’s toenails and Ro is eating the sandwich that Thalia packed for herself.

I’m not sure we need both “overlapping and intermingled,” since these words play the same role in this sentence. I like the crush of bodies and people here—it tells me there’s a strong friendship. But I’m not getting a sense of these people as individuals. Let’s hear them speak in dialogue.

We tumble out of the car with our arms around each other, holding hands and bumping hips, and the bond of our friendship seems enduring, like nothing can break it, ever. But as Edison spots us and bellows my name and I feel Thalia’s eyes all over my skin, I know it won’t be enough.

The “arms around each other, holding hands and bumping hips” makes the same point as the “intermingled” description above. So we don’t need “the bond of our friendship seems enduring, like nothing can break it, ever” because that’s telling and redundant. It does set up some tension (maybe something will break it), but not clearly enough.

“I know it won’t be enough” here seems to come out of nowhere, and so the sudden tension or static between them doesn’t feel earned yet. We have no idea who Edison is or what this means. I’d add a bit more context so readers can start to understand what the beef is, if there is any. Why they’re going to the beach, what they want from the day, why they can’t be ripped apart, etc. Otherwise, the quality of the writing itself is very strong and voice-driven!

That’s all they wrote! Tune in next week for more workshop!

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