Here is a bit of an email that I received on my birthday (which was last week and was loverly thanks to my family and friends). This was my first email of the day. It’s about my book MY ANGELICA and I have pulled out a few choice tidbits for your viewing pleasure.
“No wonder we are having such problems with teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the like.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself”
“Kissing, Sex (sic) and naked bodies under blankets should be reserved for adult
When I read this email I was so relieved to see that I–me!–held the keys to so many troubles that kids are having. If I hadn’t written this upper middle grade novel about a 14-yr-old who wants to write a romance (it was published in 1999) . . . well, just think of all the people I have influenced to be evil over the last decade. If I no longer write then the world’s troubles will be over. I’m seriously considering this. Not writing, I mean.
Then there was this comment on a list serv I read. It was last week, too (I think). Here are a few of the lines from one person:
“ . . . edgy is another name for pollution.”
“Life is too short to wallow in “edgy” scenarios.”
“Happy . . . books don’t get the accolades . . . the “edgies” get, but at least I won’t have that on my conscience.”
I am no Laurie Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins I don’t get blacklisted. I don’t get ‘hate’ mail often. But when bizarre statements are made to me or to others, I am always a little stunned. Not that people think that way–I believe we are entitled to think any way we want. But there is a line that can be crossed and many times these people cross it. “I am right. You are wrong.” “You have sold your soul to the devil.” “You are responsible for this because you wrote that.”
Do I cross that same line going in the opposite direction? That’s something for me to think about. I try to let people have their opinions, rarely arguing with them to their faces!
However, and I really mean this, I always want to stay true to myself–and to my novels–as edgy as they may be. I must stay true to them. I want others to think what they want to think, but I don’t want them to impose their belief system on me or my kids or a school full of kids, for that matter.
I believe in getting to choose.
Now, you can choose to read on and see some hints for when you start the revision process. Or you can hang up!
Questions to Ask Yourself as You Revise (1-10)
1. Are you repeating words? Always read out loud so you can hear what you’re saying. Right now I’m going through MILES FROM ORDINARY and I keep seeing the word just. So I’m taking out the extras (I’m a just freak, I think).
2. Are you using so many pronouns that the writing is not clear? This is very important, especially when you’re using third person. Having a friend read over your piece will help you catch this.
3. Are your sentences too choppy? Short sentences can create tension, so you want to remember to vary length so your reader doesn’t end up gasping for air. Unless, of course, you’re writing filth like I do. Then a gasp is a good thing.
4. Are your sentences too long? One thing that always bugs my Caitlynne is when someone writes a super long sentence. “Listen to this, Mom. That was one sentence.” You don’t want to remind your reader that you, the author, are there. So look for problems in your writing that pull your reader out of the story.
5. Is this piece something that you really love? Do you love it so much that the author is coming through? You want to love what you’re working on. Or hate it! Whatever–you want some emotion in your writing. What you don’t want is for the reader to see you peeking around the corner looking at them because you feel so strongly that an old man or woman is now on the page– instead of a kid.
6. Is your character acting his/her age? One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten came from Jim Jacobs at BYU. This is what he said about my book THE CHOSEN ONE. “No one can get inside the head and heart of a thirteen-year-old girl better than Carol Lynch Williams, and I mean no one.” Yes! I’m bragging! Isn’t that such a nice thing to read about your work???? What Jim means is that the thoughts of my characters are always kid thoughts, not old lady thoughts.
7. Is the vocabulary right for the intended audience? Don’t choose the wrong words. Just because your four-year-old says antidisestablishmentarinism (how is that spelled? Am I close?) doesn’t mean ALL four-year-olds do. Don’t be too young, don’t be too old.
8. Are you trying to tell a story or teach a lesson? I once met someone who wanted to save the world. This illustrator was sincere in her belief that she could and that she would. And she just might–but not through books. Kids don’t want to be preached at. Just ask Kyra who felt she was preached at last night.
9. Are you bringing up things that you never use again? Revision is a great time to find that person you mentioned once and never again, to chop out a lengthy description that has nothing to do with the story and to take out clues you thought you’d use and then forgot about.
10. Is the climax of the novel worth the time the reader has taken? I remember finishing one very popular book and getting to the end and being very unhappy. I felt I had wasted my time, that I had been tricked by the author. What you want is for your reader to close the book, hug it close and wish it weren’t over.
So there you go! The first few suggestions for revision–along with some preaching thrown in for good luck! Or to save your soul.