>With an M.F.A. under my belt, I thought my writing education had ended. Then I started writing a young adult novel.
Thankfully, I have a few avid readers of this genre close by. They are actively involved in suggesting characters, plot elements, and magical powers and are reading my first draft chapters. I have asked them to give me pointed feedback on what’s not working. I said I am not testing whether they are good readers. I am testing whether I am a good writer.
I pay close attention to how quickly they read through the pages, when they seem to be stuck, and – horrors – when they set pages down without going on. That’s a clear sign the words aren’t working.
“Don’t write like an adult trying to write for kids,” I was told after one reader admitted to some confusion. I probed. What do you mean? My intrepid reader pointed out a bloated sentence that included the phrase “steadily revealing itself within him over the past five years… ”. My rewrite “felt it change him…” met her approval.
This audience wants a lot of action and movement, so the lesson of the young adult novel is more of the same from the mystery. Plot, plot and more plot. Things need to happen, then more things need to happen. I don’t think I’ve really gotten a handle on this plot business until now. How did I get an M.F.A. without ever really understanding how to create a plot? I blame this on myself: I’m sure that this was addressed but I was more interested in psychological drama, maybe because there was a lot of that going on in my own brain at the time, and I found it fascinating.
Today’s lesson in writing for kids? Avoid lots of internal ruminations, they are boring and frankly, kids get what kids think about stuff. Above all do not repeat and elaborate when a simple, concise sentence tells more, with fewer words.