Am I on the Wrong Track?

My writer’s critique group didn’t go so well for me. Essentially, I was told that the situation I used to get my kids to a point where I could give them their powers was too contrived and it didn’t make any sense.

I can’t honestly say I disagree.

First, some of those kids shouldn’t have been sent to that summer camp. One of them was supposed to be a borderline sociopath, and I was told that no respectable therapist would have put someone like that into a social situation. Another one was supposed to have been sent there because she was caught fooling around with a boy one too many times. Again, her parents would not have sent her to a co-ed camp if that was the case.

Strike one.

Second, the kids are behaving in ways beyond their years. Maybe it’s because I am an OLD MAN, and have lost touch with the way kids talk and behave nowadays. Or maybe, this story would just be better if it was aimed at a slightly older market. I had initially thought they would be in their early teens, but they are getting into sexual situations which (at least in my mind) would be more appropriate for an older audience. I have felt for some time that I was struggling with keeping this at an age-appropriate level, and she confirmed my diagnosis.

Strike two.

Finally, in order to get them to the cabin where they got their powers, I had them go on a backpacking hike. It was just the four kids and one counselor, and they were supposed to take shelter in what they thought was a deserted cabin when a storm blew in out of nowhere. As my friend pointed out to me, a real counselor would have a) checked the weather before leaving; b) had a cell phone or radio in case of emergency; c) had supplies in the pack that would be useful if a problem came up; and d) would never have left a mixed group of kids alone in a cabin while she went for help.

Strike three. You’re OUT!

If you follow me on Facebook, you can tell that I’m not really happy with this news. I understand what she told me, and I agree that it was sloppy writing. But this means that everything I have done so far will need to be redone. And I’m not sure I’m ready to do that.

I do have some (hopefully) good ideas on how I might be able to fix this, but I also have a commitment to finishing this story by the end of September. If I start over I don’t think I’ll be able to do that. Besides, I have been living with these kids in my head for the last seven weeks and I would kind of like to see how this story goes, even if it is poorly written.

So I think I’m going to just keep plugging away while I let some of the ideas for a new beginning percolate in my head. I have known for a while that I was going to have a lot of editing to do before this thing is ready to publish, so nothing has changed. I’ll probably jot down some notes before I forget my new ideas, but I won’t attempt to start the rewrite until I finish the ending.

I think another thing that I’ll be doing is going through each scene and figure out how each of them advances the story. I haven’t had any formal writing courses since high school (25 years ago) so I’m a bit of a klutz when it comes to plotting, but I would like to make sure that this piece is as finely crafted as I can manage. I probably should have spent more time on the outline, but at that point I really didn’t have any idea who these people were and there was no way I could do that kind of in-depth planning.

The story is moving along. The kids have all discovered their powers and are trying to move forward to catch the killer. It won’t be long now before they discover that they weren’t really ready, and things will fall apart again. But they’ll come back from their failure and win in the end. That is what’s supposed to happen, right?

Come back Wednesday for another thrilling episode of Author In Progress. See you then!

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7 Comments

Filed under ROW80, The Writing Experience

7 responses to “Am I on the Wrong Track?

  1. R

    Okay, plausibility of human error or incompetence, as long as it is not abused, is what provides situational elements for the occurrence of a story. If the kid’s therapists, parents, counselors and guides would never make misjudgments or plain out errors, you wouldn’t have a story, they’d all be home having a sandwich and watching a movie.

    A few days ago I read the story of the PR nightmare which hit United Airlines after it was known they’d lost a 10 year-old girl that had been entrusted to them. The airline was criticized for their blatant incompetence and for not having a plan of action to deal with the situation, and also for their callousness when dealing with the parents. The parents, were in turn heavily criticized for entrusting their child to unreliable strangers, for not providing her with a mobile phone and for not following through since they only found out something was wrong when the people who were supposed to pick up their kid called them because she didn’t show up (summer camp). The point is, this happened in real life; caring parents put their child at risk and supposedly competent airline personnel screwed up. I’ve also a couple of real life stories where licensed psychotherapists have had brilliant ideas as to what activities would do their patients good, suggesting “group activities” in the broadest of senses.

    On outline and plotting: it’s good and useful I suppose but it brought to mind Stephen Kings advice on the matter to beginning writers.

  2. R

    Stephen King’s take on plot:

    You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway—is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can—I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). If you can see things this way (or at least try to), we can work together comfortably. If, on the other hand, you decide I’m crazy, that’s fine. You won’t be the first.

    … Plot [and outlines] is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.

    http://www.stephenking.com/library/nonfiction/on_writing:_a_memoir_of_the_craft.html

    • Thank you for this. I suppose it is a sign of my improvement as a writer that I can recognize the weaknesses in a story as I am writing it. I just hope that I can manage to work out those problems and make it better in edits.

  3. First of all, you’re not an OLD MAN, because if you were, then I’d have to be considered and OLD WOMAN, and that I definitely am not. 🙂 Second, you can use all this feedback to shape your story into the one it’s meant to be and to work on developing your craft where needed. If you don’t feel comfortable writing “kids” then either change their ages or learn how kids behave and talk today. Watch kids on tv shows, in public places such as restaurants, trains, etc. and listen to teens and young adults in places like chat rooms and other social media. Listen to their vernacular, watch their gestures, soak in their attitudes.

    As for the editing process, I learned so much with my first novel. I had to revise and edit it many times and am now finally in the final revisions stage. I agree with moving forward for now, while letting your critique partner’s suggestions percolate and create “What if” questions to delve deeper into your characters and the plot. I like your basic premise, and I think YA readers will too. Hang in there. You’re an Author in Progress, remember?

    Anyway, I cannot rave enough about Larry Brooks’ book, “Story Engineering” enough. When you’re ready, check it out and see how your story fares with hitting the major milestones at the appropriate times. I have found his beat sheet an invaluable tool in organizing my next three stories.

    Good luck, and look forward to reading your next update!

    • I do have a copy of Story Engineering, and I thought it was great. But apparently I didn’t read it closely enough to get enough things worked out BEFORE I started writing. I’ll definitely be re-reading the section on the post-draft beat sheet and story engineering for pantsers after I finish the first draft.

  4. I think your idea to finish out the story before doing rewrites is a good one. Sometimes, for me at least, new ideas that make better sense for the beginning come once the ending is figured out. Looking forward to hearing more about your journey!

  5. Or maybe the problem is that these kids are supposed to be delinquent or disturbed in some way, and while I was plenty disturbed growing up, I never was a delinquent. Somehow I need to get into the mindset of a bully who lets his unbridled anger speak for him. And yet make him into a hero by the end of the book. This is going to be tough.

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