Friday, September 10, 2010

The Scrutiny of the Teenaged Critic

My writing has grown up with my children. When they were little, they loved my picture books, which often featured them as main characters. It was fun to see them so excited about my writing. Then came the early readers, centred around their interests. They weren’t as concerned about being the stars of the stories, but they did begin to voice their opinions, telling me what they liked and didn’t like. Now that I’m writing middle grade novels, they’ve become teenagers, and my most valuable –and harshest—critics. They tell me:

- when they don’t connect with a character

- when the dialogue doesn’t work or isn’t what a kid would say

- when I need to fix a huge plot hole that’s implausible to them

- when they don’t understand the logic or what is happening in the story

These kinds of comments are all a great help. In fact, my latest manuscript is filled with pencilled in comments. Giant question marks. Underlining with notes that say “This sentence is awkward” or “This character’s a girl?” or “Not presented in the right POV.” They’ve become so picky, I’m beginning to think I liked it better when they were five and just said they liked it. Where did they learn all this stuff? Possibly I’ve raised two future editors. Of course, it’s not quite as helpful when they tell me:

- they don’t like a character’s name because it reminds them of someone they don’t like

- in a slightly sarcastic tone, “Since when?” or “I don’t think so.”

- "This whole story would never happen this way, you know" (trying to be kind)

- to hurry up and finish writing because they want to use the computer

As teenagers, they are begging me to write YA. I shudder to think what they’d say if I did. But I think I’ve found my niche. I am so over writing to please them, I’m sticking with middle grade. (Though I’m hoping that they will at least finish reading the book without throwing it down and saying “When are you going to write something normal?”)

-- Andrea


  1. My 13 year old wrote SEVEN pages of critique notes for the last ARC she read (not mine). I shudder to think how she's going to respond when I have her read my current work in progress.

  2. Loved your post. Made me smile. I think a lot of people can relate to you. And I agree. It was much easier when they were little and we were in total control. (Smiles)

  3. My daughter liked my stories in first grade but since then she has such different reading tastes than me that I don't have her read them. But it was fun when she loved them even with huge plotholes!

  4. I think my writing has grown down with my children. I used to write YA but reading with my kids made me learn to appreciate picture books and middle grade. My daughter doesn't like to read my work. She is too afraid she will hurt my feelings.

  5. Kate, I think my kids sometimes hold back on their opinions so they won't hurt my feelings.

    It was fun when they loved everything, Buffy. But I like it more now that they can help me fix those giant plotholes (great word Laura).

    Carmella, 7 pages? Wow. My kids are not that thorough, though they do give me a lot of thoughts and I bounce around ideas with them.

  6. I think MG is perfect for you! I have tried to write picture books because I read SOOOOOO many of them with my boys but I just don't seem to have a knack for it. Maybe someday I'll put the pieces together but I think picture books are just so hard to write.


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