Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Dial down kids' excitablity


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to julieorris, whose page is below:
Title: Etta & Otto
Genre: Middle grade, Adventure 
First 250 words: 
Looking at the pile of suitcases lying around her, Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this. 
Granted, her choices were limited…this was her only option. She was excited about spending time with her aunt but nervous about what she would do for a WHOLE SUMMER in Three Trees. She had always enjoyed listening to her dad’s tales about growing up there, but she had visited a few times and knew that her dad was exaggerating…a lot. 
She had spent the last three weeks of 6th grade daydreaming about carefree, summer days at Aunt Etta’s house, but now she was dreading being left there for three whole months! Her parents would be spending the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat) and she would spend the summer watching cows chew grass. And if she was really lucky, she would then watch the grass grow back. 
“Stop procrastinating Etta,” her mom yelled from the driveway. “We have everything you need!” 
“Yeah,” said her dad, “including an entire suitcase of shoes that have no place in the country.” 
“FINE! I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten,” huffed Etta. “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.” She knew she wasn’t being fair to her parents. But she still felt a little like Orphan Annie. 
Five hours later, they entered Three Trees. The sign next to
From an adult's perspective, children seem rather excitable. They are emotional, they are prone to outbursts, they live in extremes, they huff and puff a lot, and the way they choose to act in any given moment is slightly incomprehensible.

From a child's perspective, they are 100%, totally, completely rational human beings. It's adults who are arbitrary and unfair, not adhering to their promises, making exceptions to "rules" whenever they please, and, fundamentally, constantly failing to understand and appreciate how 100% totally rational their children are thank you very much.

In order to write a children's book from a child's perspective, it's super necessary to get back in touch with the child's perspective. Ditch the excitability, think of them like miniature adults who can be somewhat angst-ridden but still have a sense of wonder, and show their emotions through clear observations from their perspective, rather than trying to authentically capture the way their exhortations sound to an adult ear.

In this case, while I think there are some good ingredients in this page (in particular, I love the line "I'm ready to be dropped off and forgotten"), slowing down, letting Etta really observe her surroundings with more specificity, and dialing down the excitability would go a long way toward making this feel like a more authentic middle grade voice.

Here's my redline. I'm going to take a bit more of a heavier hand and invent some things in order to demonstrate what I mean:
Title: Etta & Otto
Genre: Middle grade, Adventure 
First 250 words: 
Looking at the pile of suitcases lying around her, Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this. She was surrounded by suitcases, stuffed full of every article of clothing she owned, and some she had never even realized she possessed.
Granted, Her opportunities for escape were limited… this was her only option. She was excited about spending time with her Aunt Mabel, learning to bake bread and watching old TV shows past her bedtime, but nervous about what she would do for a WHOLE SUMMER how could she survive a whole summer in a dump like Three Trees? Sure, Dad loved to tell whoppers about the gigantic fish he caught in sparkling mountain streams he had always enjoyed listening to her dad’s tales about growing up there, but Etta had visited a few times and knew that her dad was exaggerating…a lot. the only fish anyone was catching were some sad goldfish at the county fair.
Etta had spent the last three weeks of 6th grade daydreaming about carefree, summer days at Aunt Etta’s house, but now she was dreading being left there for three whole months! H Meanwhile, her parents would be spending the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat) while Ettta she would spent the summer watching cows chew grass. And if she was really lucky, she wouldn't die of boredom before she then watched the grass grow back. 
“Stop procrastinating Etta,” her mom yelled from the driveway. “We have everything you need!” 
“Yeah,” said her dad, “including an entire suitcase of shoes that have no place in the country.” 
Etta trudged downstairs, grabbing only her most prized suitcase of clothes, and plopped in the car.FINE! I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten,” huffed Etta. she said “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.” She knew she wasn’t being fair to her parents. But she still felt a little like Orphan Annie. 
Five hours later, they entered Three Trees. The sign next to
Here's a clean version of the redline:
Title: Etta & Otto
Genre: Middle grade, Adventure 
First 250 words: 
Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this. She was surrounded by suitcases, stuffed full of every article of clothing she owned, and some she had never even realized she possessed.
Her opportunities for escape were limited. She was excited about spending time with her Aunt Mabel, learning to bake bread and watching old TV shows past her bedtime, but how could she survive a whole summer in a dump like Three Trees? Sure, Dad loved to tell whoppers about the gigantic fish he caught in sparkling mountain streams growing up there, but Etta had visited a few times and knew that the only fish anyone was catching were some sad goldfish at the county fair.
Meanwhile, her parents would be spending the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat) while Ettta spent the summer watching cows chew grass. And if she was really lucky, she wouldn't die of boredom before she watched the grass grow back. 
“Stop procrastinating Etta,” her mom yelled from the driveway. “We have everything you need!” 
“Yeah,” said her dad, “including an entire suitcase of shoes that have no place in the country.” 
Etta trudged downstairs, grabbing only her most prized suitcase of clothes, and plopped in the car. “I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten,” she said “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.” 
Five hours later, they entered Three Trees. The sign next to
Thanks to julieorris for volunteering!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Poplars (Autumn) by Claude Monet






2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two concepts came to mind when I read this: Show, don't tell; and the concept of narrative distance.

The following lines are more "telling" and take us way out of Etta's head:
She was excited ... but nervous
She had always enjoyed listening to her dad’s tales
[she] knew that her dad was exaggerating
She knew she wasn’t being fair to her parents

But the following lines bring us closer to Etta, and even though this is 3rd person, they capture her voice:
cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat
she would spend the summer watching cows chew grass

While the edit keeps much of the "telling" language, each such phrase is now followed by specific examples that "show," and which also capture Etta's voice. It might be interesting for the author to try writing a few scenes in 1st person, and then bring Etta's voice back into the 3rd person version, to bring us even closer to Etta's strong personality. She seems like such a fun character.

JOHN T. SHEA said...

It might be interesting for the author to try writing a few scenes in 1st person, and then bring Etta's voice back into the 3rd person version, to bring us even closer to Etta's strong personality.”

A good idea, Anonymous! I've found such a technique useful in the past.

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