by Lana Krumwiede
People ask me all the time what we do in our writing group, so I thought I’d put together a highlight reel of sorts. This month we had four manuscripts to critique: One picture book, and three chapters from middle grade books. All were unique and enjoyable.
The first manuscript we read was a beautifully written chapter from a middle-grade novel, or perhaps a chapter book. The language was gorgeous and quirky at the same time.The visual images were absolutely luscious! This story reminded us of Alice and Wonderland or The Tale of Despereaux. Most of our suggestions were about small things that we found confusing and ideas for more character development.
Everyone loved the picture book manuscript that was submitted this month. It was very funny and age-appropriate. One of the things we all commented on were the sounds the author used. They were written out in very humorous ways that will make the book a fun read aloud. There was a lot to love about this book—the character was endearing and the action was paced well. One of the suggestions had to do with consistency. Some of the animals were real and some of them were fantastical; we wondered if it would be stronger to have all fantastical animals. Another suggestion was to vary the settings of each scene. Instead of having them all take place on the beach, one could take place in a forest, another in a cave, and so on, which would heighten the visual interest of the story.
Next on the docket was an opening chapter from a middle-grade mystery. The writing flowed well and the narrative was clear—that alone is a major accomplishment for any writer! The suggestions were primarily about how to ratchet up the tension and end the first chapter on a suspenseful note. This is an important point: Getting the tension right is often a second-draft task. In the throes of the first draft, writers often sense that the tension is not quite adequate. Tell yourself it’s okay and don’t let it stop you from completing the first draft. Once you’ve got everything laid out on the table, it’s much easier to sense where the tension needs to be and recognize what you, the author, can utilize as a source of suspense.
The last critique of the night was a chapter from a middle-grade historical novel. It was an action-packed chapter that everyone seemed to enjoy. The author had originally written it in third person, then switched it to first person. There were still a few pesky third-person pronouns that had cleverly avoided detection, which made it confusing to read (but an easy fix for the writer). The other comments had to do with character motivations and making them crystal clear. Not easy to do but very important!