The Mysteries of World Building

I have been working on some projects and getting them sent out to editors and agents in hopes of selling my next book. While my debut was a picture book, many of the works that I am sending out are Middle Grade novels.

Unfortunately, I have been getting the ever fearful silent rejection.

Last year, I got some feedback on a couple of my projects that told me I had too much world building in my stories and that it slowed things down. So I have worked diligently to remedy this problem by stripping down as much of the story as I thought I could to eliminate all this “unnecessary” world building.

So when I received an email with an actual personalized rejection, I was quite surprised that one of the big reasons my story was rejected was world building! Loved my voice. Loved the concept. My craft….not so much.

I have read books and blogs on world building and writing and found many of them helpful. So, what was I missing?

With a picture book, world building seems easier because you have an illustrator who is going to help build that world. (Please note that this is a false concept that I will explain later).

I decided to do a mentor study of how other people built their world in the first 3-5 chapters of their books. I chose a lot of books that I had already read so that I could focus on the craft and not so much the story. I also chose books from authors who had at least written 3 books and started on book 4 or later because they will have logically gotten better with their craft as they practiced it.

It was when I was reading one of Brian McClellan’s stories that things began to click. If you are not familiar with Brian McClellan, he writes epic fantasy and in my humble opinion, is one of the best of the modern writers in regards to craft.

What amazed me in his writing and world building is that he really didn’t do it, or at least forcibly. He introduces three characters in three chapters without really telling you anything about the setting.

The first character is in a bar early in the morning. He does not own the bar, but works for a shady government agency and he uses the bar as a meeting place to train recruits. And most of this is done through self dialogue and his interaction with the bar.

The second character is entering a fort that her regiment has just captured. Again, you get description through her interactions with the world, her senses and dialogue with the people she encounters.

The final character is in a labor camp. You see the world through his eyes as he observes the people around him in anticipation for parole.

In each case, we are not given details about the setting itself. We don’t get to learn about what decorates the walls of the bar or what the floor is made of. We don’t learn how big the fort walls were or even clearly how they are laid out. We don’t learn about what kind of labor is done at the camp or what they eat.

So the question is, how does Brian McClellan build his world?

He uses rich language and dialogue.

Remember how I mentioned illustrators, well, novels have illustrators too! The reader creates the world in the head. They imagine it, and if done well, fill in the gaps.

And that was my epiphany: World building is not setting and description, it is how the character views the world and interacts with it.

To clarify this thought, let’s do a little exercise.

What do you think of when you read the word school?

If everyone were to respond, each description would be different, but they would all have similarities. This is setting.

Now let’s build the world by adding a character: band nerd who is also debate team captain.

Again, everyone immediately defines this character through their own experiences or interactions with such people or through popular conventions as depicted on television or movies. Every person’s idea would be different, but you would also find similarities.

Now let’s add a conflict: our character goes to a prestigious private school that prides itself on academics and our character is the star of the school and the pressure is too much.

For some of you, your initial setting in your mind changed. For some, your character or the way you view your character may have changed. But for everyone, you have began constructing a world from the information that you have.

Right now, we know nothing of the character. We do not know their sex, age, likes/dislikes, their family, their goals, their struggles, where they live, when this takes place, ethnicity, nothing…..but each person has an image in their mind created from their own experiences.

There is no need at this time to tell how big the school is, who teaches third period, the number of doors to the next class, or what color the walls are painted…unless it is necessary to the story.

World building is not about the setting, but how the character views themselves in it and interact with it.

Tracy wiped the water from her chin with her sleeve as she glared at the group of boys huddled together down the hall. She didn’t care what they thought, she would drink from whatever fountain she wanted to and they couldn’t stop her.

Spinning on her heel, she strode down the hall, daring anyone to say anything. Everyone turned away from her gaze, except Sharon, who looked up with a smile as she passed.

Did your view of the school change? Did your view of the character change?

I would hazard a guess that if I were to ask many of you to give a description of the school and the character, there would still be differences, but overall, you likely have the same idea of the world this girl lives in and her struggles, even if you never experienced them.

With two paragraphs, I built a world for you. Now, for the rest of the book, I can shape that world as our character sees it. Now description should come through her eyes when it matters to her.

Now comes the hard part, putting it into practice.

My suggestion, word choice. Don’t berate the intelligence of your reader. Let them connect with the story by using rich language that they can get. And by rich language, I don’t mean fancy words, but rather, words the reader can visualize and make a connection too.

In the passage I wrote above, water fountain, is the rich word. When Tracy defies the idea of being able to drink from a fountain, the reader will likely immediately associate it with racial segregation which helps paint the picture of when this story might take place, Tracy’s ethnicity, and her struggles.

Empower the reader to feel empathy for your character and see the world through his or her eye’s. This will make your reader visualize the world by shaping it to their own experiences.

After all, why do people complain about how the book is always better than the movie?

I hope that my little epiphany has helped you understand world building a little more.

Never Be Afraid To Be Called A Newbie

Over the last couple of years, as I have grown as a writer, I have seen my own growth. I have also seen people come and go from critique groups, at conferences and retreats, and online as they pursue their dream of writing.

Here is a fact: Writing is wonderful and easy, writing well is not always wonderful and is never really easy.

Because of this, once you have been around for a while, you hear the word “newbie” thrown around. Depending on who is saying it (and hearing it) it has different meanings.

NEWBIE -Noun

  1. General – A newcomer who is inexperienced.
  2. Seasoned Writer – A newcomer who is inexperienced, often said with fondness as the writer reminisces about what it was like to once be a new writer.
  3. Growing Writer – A newcomer who is inexperienced, often said in denial that they were once recently asking the same questions.
  4. Newbie – A newcomer who is inexperienced only does not realize that they are because they write well and these people just don’t “get it.”

When you hear the word, you will quickly fall into one of these definitions. It is a good gauge as to where you are in your writing career.

But this article is for all the Newbies out there. Don’t be ashamed of being a newbie.

Do you want to know why? It really isn’t a secret. ALL of us where newbies at some point and we will often become newbies again in some different manner.

So, embrace it! This is your time to make mistakes, to ask “dumb” questions (and ask a lot of them, it is the best way to grow), and believe in yourself. A word of caution though, if you ask questions, be open to listening. One of the things I tell my first graders is the only dumb question is a wasted question.

Since you are new, you have a whole world to explore and experience!  Try something new. Learn. Grow. Read.

When you hear someone refer to you or your work as “newbie,” though it is hard, don’t take it personally. Use it as a growing experience. Ask questions. What about me is a newbie?

Here is another word of warning: You may not like the answers, especially those from growing authors who may think they are not newbies, but are often still are. They are just nearly newbies? Slightly usedbies? Narcissibies?

The truth is, authors are for the most part caring people who know what it is like to be a newbie. I can not tell you the number of people who have tolerated my newbie questions (and honestly still do).

To all those veteran writers, be careful how you use that word. You may not mean anything by it, but it could hamper someone who is not confident. Define for yourself what it means so that you can use it to help those that need it.

And to all the Narcissibies, grow up. If you answer their questions, you might just learn something yourself.

Pitch and Query

I have been doing a lot of writing and rewriting of late. I have a handful of stories that are close to being ready to send out, but just aren’t polished up enough yet. But I am ready for the next step: the ever dreaded query.

Which means I get to labor just as long on the letter, if not longer, than I did on my picture book story and my fate lies not in my story but these few words I put upon the page. And then I get rejected, over and over, and I start to flash back to high school and not being one of the cool kids and holing up in the library with books because they will never reject me and…..

Okay, we will stop reliving the past and focus on the future.

If you are getting rejected, why might that be? To be honest, it is not any one thing, but a culmination of multiple factors.

  1. Marketability. This is a business after all. They need to be able to sell your book in quantity. Those quantities differ between different size publishers, so who can market your book makes a difference. Perhaps your book should be with a smaller press that can get behind your story.
  2. Saturation. It may be a great story, but there are already too many similar ones in the market. Or the agent or editor has already has one similar in the works and they don’t want to compete against themselves.
  3. Off Day. Agents and Editors pour through hundreds, if not thousands, of stories every week. Monday-Thursday, they would have checked out your story, but they read it on Friday and Friday was a bad day for them.
  4. Your Query letter is off. Maybe your opening isn’t polished enough. Maybe your pitch fell flat. Maybe you need better comp titles. Maybe your bio doesn’t make a connection.

We know you can’t control 1-3, though you can familiarize yourself enough to understand 1 &2.

So let’s look at what you can control.

When it comes to writing a query, I like the acronym K.I.S.S. Keep It Short & Simple. Think of it like speed dating. You have just a moment to catch someone’s eye.

Whether it is an agent or editor, make a connection. Keep it simple & short. My name is…. How do I know you…. How does this story fit your needs.

Example: My name is Matthew Lasley and we met at the SCBWI Spring Retreat in Alaska. I enjoyed your candor when you spoke about the future of the industry. I believe my story BLAH BLAH BLAH will fit into the super hero line of books you represent at These Guys Make Book.

You have made the connection, now you have to make the sale. Pitch your book. This is hard and is often the area where many of us (—> ME) fails. It is not always because it is written poorly, it may be we do not use our voice, or the character’s voice, or we put the wrong stuff in. Sometimes, we try to be clever…..remember K.I.S.S.

To understand what I mean, let’s look at three examples:

  1. In this 517 word picture book, Super Sam, despite his incredible strength, doesn’t know how to tie his shoes. His trusty sidekick, a tennis ball, has no hands and can not help him to tie his shoes. When he tries to leap tall buildings, he trips and the villain gets away. What is Super Sam to do?
  2. Super Sam has incredible strength and loves to save the day. But when his shoelaces come untied and he stumbles about, things go from bad to worse. This story is written like Scaredy Squirrel with the humor and pacing of Captain Underpants.
  3. Super Sam is super. He is super strong, super smart and super worried because he doesn’t know how to tie his shoes. Too embarrassed to ask for help, his day goes from bad to worse when he trips over his laces and lets the villain get away.

In the first example, we see two big problems. First, details about the book’s format are not necessary. That comes in the next part of your letter. Here, you want to keep it simple and short. This is where the agent or editor decides if they are going to continue reading. This is your idea, let it take the front seat. The second issue (and some will disagree, but it is my pet peeve) don’t end with a question. The only questions that belong are rhetorical, and those should be used sparingly to simply show writing style or establish voice. Let them come up with questions that they want answered. Let them feel involved.

Example 2, while short and sweet, is soulless. There is no voice or character. It is simply a plot. Also, comp titles do not belong here. This is another part of the story format. And if you are going to use comp titles, make sure they are from the right genre.

In Example 3, (while not the greatest…it is only an example) shows the writing style as being short and simple lines. There is a connection made with the character through empathy. Despite how super Super Sam is, he struggles and fails. I can see there is going to be a lesson in this story, so it does not need to be stated, or else it would appear to be didactic. This will lead the agent or editor to ask, how is Super Sam going to solve this problem? What growth are we going to see? How can I connect this to a child? Is there a big enough connection to market the book?

When you write your query, think about how it is going to be marketed. Who is going to read this book? Who is going to buy this book? They are not always the same.

The next part of the query letter is the dirty, technical stuff. This is where you give details about book format, word count, and comp titles. You might even tell who you see the market for your book. Sometimes there might be an unknown or untapped market the agent or editor never realized.

When I wrote my book, Pedro’s Pan, I shared about the local tourist market as well as the  diverse readership that may be found in other regions. Looking back, I totally missed the broader educational market and readership.

The final part of your query letter, the closing; your bio. Who are you? What makes you qualified to tell this story? What accolades or connections to the writing community do you have that shows you know what you are doing?

Remember, K.I.S.S.

Who are you and why are you qualified to tell this story? Tell them a little about you. Make it personal.

If you have gotten an agent or editor this far, you want to close strong. Your pitch and connection may have gotten them to consider you. The technicals may have made them consider the market. This last part may be the tipping point of which pile your story goes into.

Example: I live in Anchorage, Alaska where I teach first grade. Even as a kid, I wanted to be a writer, but no matter how good of a storyteller I thought I was, my dyslexia was a constant reminder that I struggled to read and write. I want to to tell stories that empower kids to overcome their struggles. I am a member of SCBWI and published my debut book, Pedro’s Pan, in 2019.

Keep it simple. You don’t need to talk about your kids, your pets, your job, your favorite color, or where you went to school….unless they are directly linked to why you are qualified to tell this story. Note that I shared my struggles with dyslexia as my link to telling this story.

If you so not have writing accolades or awards, don’t worry, the publisher and agent won’t really care if you have shown in this letter that you know what you are doing. Those are icing on the cake. But don’t over do it or embellish, they will know and it will stick to the top of their mouth like day old grocery store frosting.

Listing writing organizations that you are a part of shows that you are not just some Joe Shmoe at home who say his cat do a really funny thing and thinks that should be a story. These organizations are a link to your professionalism.

So the next time you get a batch of rejections, think about how you might tweak your story or your query letter. Remember, the editor/agent pond may be finite, but there are always new fish in the pond.

Wipe away the tears, eat a pint of ice cream (or a piece of good fruit) and do it all over again. And never stop believing that your story will find a home.

 

 

 

Writing With First Graders: A Look Back

Over the last couple of months, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing first graders as they explored reading and writing. I appreciate all who followed my adventure (or came along later and read it), I hope you got something out of it.

My purpose has been to track what I taught and note the similarities and differences there are in writing in first grade and writing as an adult. The basics are pretty much the same, it is our approach that is different.

Sometimes, I think we forget that. Writing doesn’t change, the writer does. Sure, trends and styles and rules change, but the fundamentals of writing doesn’t change. That is because, as humans, we are social animals (just check out how many social platforms there are on the internet today!) and we are hardwired to share information. One of the easiest ways we do that is through storytelling.

What surprised me the most while working with these kids and guiding them on their journey, was the fact of how much I came to realize and learn.

I have been writing for a while….a long while….and it comes somewhat naturally to me. I am a storyteller. I knew the “hows” and the “whats” to writing, but what I didn’t clearly understand was the “whys”.

Why is the middle of a story so much longer and why the rule of three?

No one wants to hear a story without trial. Billy was hungry. He ate a hotdog. The end. 

Life is not easy and is full of trials. We want our characters to suffer and grow. That is how we connect with the character; their struggle.

It had been three days since Billy had last eaten. His stomach had given up growling and sat like a stone in the bottom of an empty well. He watched as people passed by, hoping his pitiful dirty face would convince one of them to stop for a moment and help him out. But no one dared look at him. He scavenged through a trashcan at the corner of the park, hoping that someone might have thrown away a hotdog or even an apple. He was not proud of digging through the garbage, but he was hungry and that overshadowed his pride. As he scrabbled through the trash, a man in a suit reading a newspaper on his lunch break, stood up from the park bench and walked away, leaving behind his wallet. Billy snatched the wallet and began to run. “Mister! You dropped your wallet!” The man turned and saw Billy running towards him, wallet held high. “Thank you young man. Let me reward you.”      Billy grinned as he took bites of his hotdog. It tasted like a million bucks!

The struggle makes you wonder if the character will succeed and want to know what is next. It builds empathy which allows the reader to be engaged in the story. An engaged reader is more important than any lesson you want to teach or story you want to tell.

Why can’t my story be didactic? (Have a moral or teach a lesson)

The truth is it can, but that should not be the point of the story. As you learn and empathize with the character, your character is going to grow and learn, and hopefully you will too.

What is the difference? Stories have multiple intertwining arcs. You have plot and character arcs. Some books may have multiples of each. You may have mini arcs than build into larger arcs. When you write to a lesson, character arcs tend not to be developed or you get gaps in the plot, because they may be irrelevant to the lesson.

In my book, Pedro’s Pan, I never intended there to be a moral or lesson to my story. It doesn’t mean there isn’t one, or even multiple. People can take away from it what they want or need, depending on how they engage with the story.

If my story had been written with any lesson in mind, it is likely that 1) it would not have been published, and 2) it would have missed many of the opportunities for people to engage and enjoy it.

When is my story ready?

The truth is, a story is never finished. You can spend the rest of your life improving (or ruining) a story. The universe in your mind is so much greater than you can ever put down on paper.

You are also your biggest critic. You know that you could do a little more. The story could be better. If only…..

The story will be ready before you are. So how do you know? Ask other people. Have them read your story. When you are only making cosmetic changes, don’t fool yourself. Set aside your story for a month or two, then pick it up again and reread it. If it is cosmetic changes still, you are good to go. If you find areas you think you can do better, your story is not ready. Repeat and rewrite as necessary.

The last thing I learned that I want to share is to Share your stories and set your priorities.

Writing should be fun and exciting. I know it can be lonely at time, but the effort is wasted if no one ever gets to read it. Share your work with critique partners and friends. Let them give you strength and support.

Also, prioritize your time and effort. What good is it if you spend your days writing the next great novel or picture book if you miss out what is going on around you. Give yourself a chance to laugh and read and enjoy life. Even God took a day to stop and enjoy His creation.

I hope you enjoyed reading this series and took at least one little thing away that might help you in your writing (or teaching) career. I will follow up in June to find out if any of my kids placed in the contest.

Also look forward to my next writing adventure. You never know where it might turn up!

Writing With First Graders: Writing to a Deadline

This may seem to be a bit of an odd topic for first grade writing, but it is relevant. Oh the stress and the humanity!

Writing to a deadline, whether real or artificial, can actually be good for your writing. It helps you focus and decide what is important enough to go into your writing.

Putting the stress aside, having deadlines for your writing commits you to getting work done. Some of it will be good, some will not. The important thing is that you have reached a goal.

So here are some tips to writing to a deadline:

  1. Set an attainable goal. Whether your deadline is artificial or publisher driven, be realistic in what you can accomplish.
  2. Map it out. Set smaller goals to reach over time that will help you attain your deadline.
  3. Don’t wait until the final hour. When you do this, your work becomes about quantity rather than quality.
  4. Buffer. If you have a month to finish up a work, do it in three weeks. Use that extra week to let your work sit for a few days and then reread it one last time.
  5. Life matters. Make sure you give yourself time to enjoy life. Don’t push aside responsibilities and family and you time for a deadline. Deadlines will come and go, but you only get one chance to live.
  6. Be flexible. Life happens. Know that the best laid plans will always find a way to unravel.
  7. Practice. Set yourself goals, even if there is not a hard deadline. If you act like there is when it doesn’t really matter, when it does, you will be able to handle it better.
  8. Reward yourself. This is the most important tip. When you are done, do something that you enjoy. Release that stress and be proud of what you accomplished. Don’t focus on the problems or shortcomings, be happy for what you did do. (For me, I like to enjoy a bit of cheesecake.)

With a shortened schedule in my class, my three-week deadline became a one-week deadline. Many of the kids have been working hard on their stories, even outside of our class’s writing time. They are excited to see their stories finished.

So my original plan was space out the writing, do a final rewrite and edit, transfer to a story format page (for the contest), illustrate and bind the pages into a book.

New plan: Edit, space out writing (beginning, middle, middle, middle, end) and prep for contest.

Many of the kids have already don the editing and spacing part, so it is on to final edits to correct spelling, basic grammar and neatness.

Prepping for the contest is not unlike your own writing career. Each genre and form of writing has rules. Some are general rules or guidelines, others are industry standards and expectations. If you write outside of the expected parameters, it is unlikely your work will even get looked at. There is a reason that publishers and agents have guidelines for queries or ask specific questions. They want to see if you know the rules for the genre you are writing in.

For my first graders, there were two basic rules: word count had to be between 100-200 words, no more, no less. They also had to draw at least 5 illustrations.

The contest provided preformed pages for the kids to write on. Each student go pages numbered 1-5 and they wrote their story.

Some of the students quickly picked up that we had already spaced our story into five parts, so one part went on each page. Some students tried to fit their whole story on one page, then couldn’t figure out how to do five illustrations.

And then some students changed their story midstream and wanted to write a new idea or did not have a strong middle or ending. I pulled back the stress to let them know that this week was my deadline, but the contest gave them two more weeks. This is why it is important that you give yourself some space and not write to the last hour.

Not one of the stories went over the two hundred word limit, but many came in below the one hundred word limit. For most of the students, it was about adding in details or writing one more sentence.

As they finished and turned in their final product, their faces beamed and they were excited to have written and published their first story. Unknown to them, I copied their stories and created a generic cover (Title and name) for them to decorate later, and bound their book. I will give it to them in a few weeks when all the other students have had a chance to finish theirs and I have submitted their work.

As you finish your manuscript, take time to feel proud about your accomplishment. It is a big deal. You finished what you set out to start. Now it may only be one of many steps, but you did it!

I remember finishing my first real manuscript. It was a 42,000 word middle grade manuscript that will never be published. At the time I did not know that, but even after discovering that, the feeling of pride over accomplishing what I set out to do did not fade.

Hold on to that feeling. Let that power you as you send out your story to find its home or as you write a new one.

Next week I will wrap up this blog series with a look back and some introspective thoughts on the journey my students took, I took as a teacher as well as a writer.

Writing With First Graders: Return to Writing

So the kids were off a week for Spring Break. Many of them had completed a draft of their story. As I reviewed them, some were as short as 4 very short sentences while a few were a couple of pages.

As I reviewed their work, I had to be mindful that I was not grading their work, but finding ways to encourage them.

That is important to you as  a writer yourself. This is not about judgement. Your story is not merited based on how much you wrote. Real merit is found in how well someone else can read and engage with your story.

We began by looking and discussing their stories as a group. I do this by having them tell us their story. Each child is given another child’s story to read as well. The author gets up to tell their story, while the reader takes the story into the hallway. Once the author is done, we quickly recap the character, the problem, solution and setting.

We then invite the reader back in to retell the story. They are allowed to have the story in hand, but I do not ask them to read it out loud. Instead, they recount what they remember about the story. Then we recap the character, the problem, solution and setting.

I kept notes on both so that we could compare the tellings of the stories side by side. I also open up the author to taking questions and record those as well. In the end, the author has information and feedback to help them improve and clarify their writing.

What a lot of the students came to understand is that there is still a lot of information about their story in their head.

While most first graders tend to skip details in their stories, as seasoned writers, we can make the same gaps in our writing.

Example of a first grader: The girl went to the beach. She forgot her swim suit. She bought a swim suit. Then went home.

The story was actually about a girl losing her cat. She had searched for it and was sad, so she went to the beach because the beach makes her happy. She wanted to go swimming, but did not have a bathing suit. So she went to the store to buy one. She went home to change into her swim suit because there was no place to change at the beach. When she got home, she heard her cat meowing under the porch. Her cat came home and she was happy.

Her telling of her story is much better than her writing the story. Her story makes logical sense, but most of the story is irrelevant to her story. We ended up with a second problem (no swim suit).

So we had to figure out what the story was about. What did we need to tell that story?

For her, she needed to understand her plot.

For you and me, it may be something more complex like a flat story arc. We may have a good story, just not a great one.

When I wrote Pedro’s Pan, my issue stemmed from not understanding all the nuances to the  market I was writing too. But even when I did, the story was flat. My character lacked an arc. That was solved by writing the story from a different perspective. The new character POV made a good story into a published story.

Over Spring Break, I took a story I have been working on for a couple of years and again changed which character was going to tell the story.

And it was some of my best writing to date. Telling the same story, but changing the driving character helped me write a more complete story. I now had my new voice reacting to the old voice.

But what I think made the story so much better, is it filled in many of the gaps that I could not see. I had to anticipate how another character might react or feel about the actions of my original character.

It is a good practice to change up your focus. After you have written something, turn to viewpoint around and write it from a different character in the story. What would the sidekick think and say? How about your antagonist? What happens if you introduce a completely new character?

You may choose to keep your original POV, but with luck, it will help you enrich and define your main character’s voice.

Next week we will be wrapping up writing our story and preparing to submit it for a writing contest.

I also found out this week that we will be readjusting the groups I have been working with to finish out the year.

I still had three weeks planned, so I will be throwing out some things and cramming other things into the week that I have left.

So next weeks theme: Writing to a deadline!

Writing With First Graders: Editing

This week the kids are off for Spring Break, so I have taken the time to edit their work and look at what they have created.

On Friday, when I collected their work, one kid asked why they were going to have their stories edited. I told them that we were going to look at their stories and make them better. He said, “You mean I have to write it again!”

For kids, the idea of the rewrite is strange, until you have them tell their story out loud. A five sentence story can turn into a five minute story.

As an aspiring or published author, we tend to have the same reaction. We know how to write. right? Our story is good. Why edit?

The problem is that it is difficult to edit your own work. You have the backstory in your head. You don’t see the holes, because to you, the details are there.

To help students in the past to understand this, I gave some of them one minute to write about a picture of a house in the woods that I showed them while the rest waited out in the hall. Then we switched, but I gave the new kids ten pictures to choose from to match it to the writing.

The typical response is that most can not figure out which picture is the match. They can only guess. When the writers come back, their response is that they would have described the house with color better or some other detail.

When someone else reads your work, you never know what perspective they are going to use. You do not know what details are going to be important that you left out.

When they do it again, most kids complain that a minute is not enough time as they try to include more details to help the others pick the correct picture.

Editing does the same. It allows someone else to view your story and give feedback. If you can’t find a group or it is just to hear how a part of story is going, you can record yourself reading the story, then listen to it as you read it. This won’t fix little issues, but can often help you find the little ones.

When looking at editing, the focus you want should be expressed. Do you want someone looking for grammar and punctuation? Maybe the character arc or flow of the story? Maybe you need feedback on word choice or where you an cut?

When I am at this stage of editing, my biggest concern is if the story works. You don’t need a professional editor for this, you can use a good writing friend or critique group. Many writing organizations have critique groups you can join.

And just because I am having them look for gaps in the story flow does not mean they can’t edit grammar or spelling, it just isn’t a concern at the moment and I don’t need them to use our time to talk about it.

If I had spent time editing my students’ work for grammar and spelling, I would not have time to rest over Spring Break.

Target the purpose of your editing, whether you are editing someone else’s work or you are asking someone else to edit your work.

Take the edits for what they are. They are not a personal attack on you or your work. If someone asks a question, don’t feel you have to justify why you wrote something the way you did. Remember, they do not have the benefit of creating the story and holding the answers. It could truly be a gap in your story.

Often, as you reflect on those questions later, you can see where your story maybe isn’t clear enough or a gap you have.

Here is an example from one of my students: ….and they lost their cat. Then they found their cat. The end.

I asked her how they found the cat? They looked. Where? Outside. Where did they find the cat? In the tree. What tree? The one in their neighbor’s yard. (looks at me like I lost my mind) Why didn’t you write that down? I did, see, “Then they found their cat.”

And she thought I had lost my mind before…..

To her, the details were there. Just not on paper.

You may laugh at this gap or think it is outrageous, but since I have started on this writer’s road and critiqued online and in person, gaps as bad as these still happen to good writers. (points finger at self and hides middle grade manuscript)

When the kids come back, we are going to sit down and I will read aloud their story and edits with them so they can hear how to improve their stories. Then we redraft the story.