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I need a jump start, please!

My MS has been stalled for quite a while now. I've tried putting it away for the summer, but now I'm dusting it off in the hopes that Townhouse can help me get going again. I know I need help with prose and any other suggestions or criticisms are welcome. 

It's a children's chapter book (5–8 years) and this is the second in a series of standalone stories, loosely based on real-life events. I'm posting the first 3,000 words.

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  • Hi Julie,

    I think your story is charming and it held my interest throughout. At times I struggle with some of the critique submittals to get to the end. But not with yours. Seed is an engaging character. I want to know how she's going to get what she wants. You've done a great job making her sympathetic and interesting to the reader. Love her!

    There are a couple things that put me off track:

    'Nicole rolled her eyes....' seemed out of place. I'm tossed out of Seed's story wondering why the comment about Nicole when Seed is intent on her escape. I gather what you're trying to say is that Seed wants to roll her eyeballs at Ruby but cannot. POV shifts, however, from Seed to Nicole.

    I am also thrown off track with the classroom scene. It seems to come from out of nowhere. Perhaps a foreshadowing? 'Nicole always lets us out before she heads to school?' I'm sure you can do better than that but just give the reader some direction  as to where the story is going. Overall, I find the chickens more interesting than Nicole and Luca. Is your intent to have a story about Seed or one about Nicole and Luca? If both, for me, there needs to be a stronger connection between the stories. The dinosaur bit is interesting but, again, seems a random toss in. I like the correlation but think you need a smoother way to bring it into the story.

    My last comment is that I don't buy the ending. Seed has pushed her old life aside to have these chicks. Is she really going to abandon them at this point? If you want to go in that direction, you may need to establish a much tighter bond between Seed and the other chickens. 

    Overall, I'd like to read more about Seed. You've done a great job making me care about a chicken! Keep at it. It can be quite a good read with some polish.

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    • Hi Connie, 

      Thank you for taking the time to read and critique my MS. You've opened my eyes to some of the mistakes I've made and this is exactly what I needed!  

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    • I love the title for a start. It is interesting having the two stories intertwined. It is difficult writing different points of view and when one is a chicken and one is a person even more so. I generally agree with Connie in her observations. I think that a bit of tweaking to make the switches between points of view clearer would help and I agree that maybe the bond with Gummy needs to be stronger from the start to make it believable that Seed would leave her eggs for her. Overall it was fab!

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      • Hi Kate,

        I'm glad you liked the title and Seed. Your kind words are encouraging. Two POV are tricky, you're right, and I haven't done a very good job with it. Thank you so much for pointing out the parts I need to work on.

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      • Hi Julie - I love Seed. She's a great little character with loads of potential. The only experience I have with chapter books are the Beast/Seaquest adventure stories my kids read when they were younger, so do bare that in mind when reading my comments. I've mostly just applied normal story telling rules to your extract

        As you said you had stalled on the project, I was thinking about the impetus of your story. You have a lovely opening chapter with Seed escaping. This is active with a clear goal. But after this chapter, Seed seems to disappear from the story. We hear reported news that she keeps escaping, and short extracts of her and lion looking after the eggs.

        I'm wondering if you've hamstrung yourself and the story by putting Seed into too passive a situation. She is tied to these eggs. If the eggs are about to hatch, probably about a month has passed with nothing really happening. The story has lost its drive. Even at the close of the final chapter when she races off to find out what has happened to Gummy, we know she has to get back quickly to her eggs or the the chicks will die. So she's still tied to this static situation.

        Obviously I don't know where the story goes from here, and you may pull off the story arc without a problem, but being as you feel stalled, I wonder if this is the right story for Seed. She's a plucky determined little chicken, and I wonder if you need to think about her hero quest and give her a more active plot.

        Remember, children have short attention spans and you need to keep the story moving to keep them engaged.

        Looking at chapter two, you swap POV. I did a google on younger children's books and multiple points of view because I did wonder if changing POV in a chapter book would be too confusing for younger readers. I didn't find much, but one source said limited POV  for children and just one for younger children. So, if you haven't already looked into this, I think it's worth investigating.

        Nicole feels like she could be a good character. I liked her super hero comments. I think you could develop a nice voice for her. But at the moment her story seems to lack direction. She's worried about her friend, but she finds out quite quickly what the problem is. And the story doesn't feel particularly connected to Seeds. Again I think it might be an idea to look at what Nicole's quest is.

        I wonder if you might have two stories here that your trying to shoehorn into one. If you want to keep them as one, perhaps you need to stick to one POV and either have Seed looking into Nicole's life of Nicole looking into Seeds?

        I hope these comments are food for thought and help give you the jump start you're looking for. I think Seeds story has great potential and is well worth pursing. Good luck with it.

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        • Hi Kate,

          You've put your finger on the problem straight off! Seed needs to sit on those eggs because the story I want to tell is about the egg-laying process and how amazing real chickens are. (and the real Seed)  

          Introducing Luca's subplot (with dinosaur fossils) was my attempt to make the story interesting enough that kids will read it, but I guess I'm off track. Two POV's are hard to pull off and a new writer like me should think twice about it, I agree. I've found several early chapter books that do it well: Ivy and Bean, The Princess in Black and the Goat Boy.

          Thank you so much for your feedback. You've given me a lot to think about. It's encouraging to know that you liked Seed.

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          • Julie, it's good to see the second installment.

            Seed has a lot of potential as a character, and the opening line's "delicious black fly of a secret" is an absolute gem.

            That said, I think you are trying to do too much here, focusing on the wrong parts of the story. In effect, that is the big question: what is the story? You mention that it's about the egg-laying process and how amazing chickens are. But of that process, what is interesting?

            Yes, you're stuck with 21 days of inaction. So that span needs to be skipped over, except the time or two in the middle of it when something comes up, and you allow Seed to fight her own desires. The trick is to make that fight interesting while she stays on her eggs. Or you could have multiple small fights: hearing the others, being bored, being hungry… whatever it takes for her to almost be drawn away, with a stronger pull offset by a greater investment. Even a physically static series of scenes can have growing tension.

            As yet, from what you've given us, I don't see what Nicole's thread is bringing to the story. As you say, you had to make stuff up to make it interesting enough to include. And if I remember our discussions about the first book, you were leaning to only having Lion's POV there…

            Per kate's comment, and your reply to it, I think stepping back into big-picture planning may be the best approach. Decide what the story is about. Then focus exclusively on that arc.

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            • Hi Rick,

              Your advice, as always, is invaluable. Everyone seems to be of the same idea, so I'll eliminate Nicole's POV and concentrate on Seed. Thanks for throwing some ideas out there as how I can make the story work while keeping it realistic.

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              • Sperm will last a couple days, but not more. So if she left the henhouse and didn't go back, 2 chicks would hatch. Have you got another idea?

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                • You suggested, in Nicole's POV, that Seed had escaped several times to the barn, so show that from her side, and the rooster welcoming her back to the fold each time…

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                  • Ha, ha. Come in, my dear. 😳

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                  • If you're looking for more oomph for your plot, it might be worthwhile considering the usual story/character aspects. What does your character want/need? What is the character's flaw that is preventing your character achieving this? What happens to help your character recognise and overcome that flaw. What is the overall theme?

                    Then perhaps you need to consider if the laying of the eggs is the call to action at the start of your story, or the resolution at the end.

                    Time to channel your inner chicken!

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                    • Kate, Yes! These questions give me direction, and with the elimination of Nicole's POV, I have more leeway (As far as word count) to develop Seed's story better. I think I've got my jump start! 😊 Would you be so kind as to do one of your magical edits on my first two chapters as I will be keeping those and I was so looking forward to your help with my prose. Pretty please??  

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                      • Will do.

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                      • I thought your prose was good, Julie. No blatant crafting issues that I noticed. But you did ask for edits so I've scribbled notes all over the attached file. :D

                        I was thinking that sometimes Seed's reactions felt quite human and it would be much more fun if you could give us a chicken equivalent. So, for example, rather than having her heart sink, could her gizzard clench. I thought there were also places where you needed to insert more reactions from Seed. These would be great opportunities to use your chicken knowledge to come up with quirky ways for her react.

                        I think you could use words and images to make Seed's voice really unique and individual. Getting her completely fizzing off the page. Child friendly swearing might be fun. Something like maggoty mealworms as an expression when she's annoyed. You  have that lovely image in your first line about a delicious black fly of a secret. Try inserting more of those. Struggling to come up with any examples but maybe something like: Did these old clucky-pants never think of anything beyond where the next worm was coming from. Get in Seed's head, think like a chicken and then put these on the page.

                        Something I did notice is that you use a lot of questions. I did the same until recently, but then an editor pointed out this wasn't always a good idea. If you state a question, you're telling the reader what to think. eg Why was that here? Whereas, if you say 'that shouldn't be here', you're inviting the reader to wonder why it's there. Making them form the question themselves gets them more engaged with the story. That might not be quite so relevant in a chapter book where you need make things simple for your reader, but it was one of those little crafting gems that fascinate me.

                        Hope my thoughts and the attached help get Seed flapping off the page, but as I said, I thought your prose was good anyway.

                        PS - I don't like the tittle. I think 'dumb' is a very negative word and maybe not good for a chapter book title, and the rhyming was sailing a bit close to the wind. But, I don't know anything about CB titles, so it could just be me.

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                        • Kate, I'm absolutely thrilled with your advice and suggestions. I'm going to start thinking like a chicken right away! 

                          Thank you so much for taking the time to help me. I'm happy to know about the question fix/tip. I saw that I was using too many questions, but I didn't know how to fix it. Your first two sentences regarding my prose have got me doing a smaller Woodstock happy dance next to your Snoopy one.😁 (of course I picked the bird)

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