Duffy weathered a writers’ conference in Des Moines last week—sort of. The first few pages of her story were critiqued by the Vice President/Senior Editor of Delacorte, which is an imprint of Random House Publishing. She had some favorable things to say about Duffy's story: good descriptions and character development, and then she listed what is not working. For one thing, I have assigned Duffy an age of 13 with a sister, Mandy, who is 16. As I said earlier, their relationship formerly worked well—lots of sharing and fun times together, but not so much any more. Then I have Mandy getting pregnant, and their relationship goes awry. The VP/critique person said the pregnancy event is too loaded an issue for middle grade readers. I do agree, which leads to major questions. Do I replace the pregnancy with another event that scrambles the family, or do I change my intended audience to young adult readers? Other issues were mentioned, but making a decision about my audience seems the highest priority before proceeding any further. Choosing middle grade or young adult will inform the language that I use, the pacing, the length of sentences as well as the age-matching thoughts and events. And, writing to a young adult audience would invite me to use 16-year-old Mandy as the main character/narrator. Much to think about.
I will need a new crisis that first draws the family apart and then unites them in its resolution. Duffy’s father loses his job. I may be able to increase the seriousness of this family issue when they realize they can’t continue paying mortgage and car payments. “Will we have to move?” “Will we be homeless?” “Will I have to go live with someone else?” are questions that could preoccupy Duffy’s thinking.
And I have an idea about how Duffy could contribute to the resolution of that problem in a significant way. I want to pursue that train of thought in the next few days, because Duffy is going to Montreat, North Carolina, Veterans’ Day weekend for another round of critiques at a writers’ retreat. I hope to move her story along another few steps and learn more about the strategy behind fiction writing.
The switch from nonfiction to fiction via the Duffy story has been freeing. (I said that in an earlier blog when I shared about the July internet challenge, so it must be making an impression on me.) What fun to make up words and actions and events and not be confined to facts only. I’ve always said I couldn’t make up anything more interesting than typical human behavior, and I’m still convinced of that, but I am having fun making up Duffy’s life and that of her family.
To move on and be ready for NC, I will be forming a new outline for the story and will soon create a synopsis to take with me. Not too many characters, a plot that builds to a fever pitch, and a satisfying ending. Sound simple? I wish. Maybe the ten years that I have been writing have made me a little wiser. I’ve decided to find the help I need right away. Hopefully I’ll avoid forming bad habits from the get-go. Which proves what I’ve decided about writing in general: there’s never a dull moment, and if the moment looks like it could become dull, write something else, like fiction.