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A Beta Read Please

Hello JT community, I've just drafted a manuscript for a children's chapter book (I think). It's roughly 3200 words. I've tinkered, cut, revised, and edited it only a bazillion times. I've been told it's still too long but I don't know what else I can cut and still have a complete story. I've also been told there are still some grammatical errors in there, but for the life of me, I can't see them anymore.

If anyone would have the time, as well as patience, a good shredding would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

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Replies (13)
  • Hi Roy. Well done for having the courage to post your story - I've only just mustered the courage to do it myself, but it's been fantastic having such brilliant feedback.

    I think you're story of the plucky bat learning to fly is very sweet. I like the friends helping Nosedive, the fact the brother is won round in the end.

    What I did find with the opening is that you introduced a lot of characters really quickly and I found it hard to keep track of who was who and what animal they were initially (especially as Nosedive also gets called by his real name, Basil). Please bear in mind, the last time I read a chapter book was when my son was small and he's now at college, so I know others writing for your age group could advise you better. 

    There were a lot of dialogue words in one section (replied, reported, encouraged, declared) and too many in one clump jarred with me ( be aware, I write fiction for adults and prefer a simple 'said' if anything - expectations may differ for kids stories).

    You could definitely tighten some more, interrogate whether you really need certain explanations, trim words here and there and I don't know what age you're aiming at, but 3000 odd words doesn't seem excessive - I found this if it helps https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=74378.0

    The section where Nosedive is chased by the owl felt rushed to me, actually. Surely, this is an important scene - it shows he really can control his flight. We need to feel the excitement and danger but it went past too quickly to build this.

    I did see the odd missing capital and the formatting is out in sections, but on the whole it read smoothly.

    That's all I can help with really, as I know nothing about chapter books, how much description to use, word choice etc. Hopefully others can advise you better.

    Hope this helps a little and good luck with future rewrites. 

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    • Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for your insights, they are helpful indeed. The age group I'm aiming for is 5 to 8, maybe nine. Interesting that you pointed out the chase scene. I left out a lot of ideas I had for that part to keep the word count down, as I've been told that children's books shouldn't be too long. But the question has always been - what is too long?

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      • Seems like your word count is in the right ball park for your age range, according to that site. You could still pare it down a little,I think. Good to stick to expected word counts if you're hoping to attract a publisher - they'll have set ranges they produce, targeted at holding the attention of young readers and on production costs. Paper is increasingly expensive. Glad to help

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      • Hi Roy, 

        Welcome to Townhouse! I'm also writing a children's chapter book in the same age range. Word count can vary from 2,000 to absolute max 6,000 words, so 3,000 words is perfectly fine. A chapter shouldn't be longer than 500 words, however, so you may have to break up those longer ones.

        I think you have a charming idea and a good theme that kids are sure to identify with. As Lynn said, the beginning of your story is confusing for new readers. I recommend starting with Nosedive in the very first sentence so kids have someone to focus on. Instead of setting the scene first, dive right in (pun intended😁) with action. Could Nosedive be late for storytime? Maybe he's hurrying along hoping not to miss his favorite story. Then he sees the group of animals below (one line of scene-setting) and then somebody shouts "Look out!" as he crashes... 

        Tell the story only from Nosedive's point of view. He's a likable character and I'm sure kids will enjoy his adventures. Before revising yet again, you may want to check out Emma Darwin's blog: this itch of writing. Her tool-kit was recommended to me and I found it a great help in learning POV and how to show not tell. One thing that will happen when you start to show, instead of telling, is that your word count will rise considerably, but don't worry about that for now. Good luck and thanks for sharing! 

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        • Yes, but you'll have to do a massive rewrite anyway to change from telling to showing. To learn how, besides looking at Emma Darwin's tool kit, you could check out other children's writers' posts on here and the feedback they got. 

          As far as POV, I currently have two in my book and I've just been advised by Townhouse to remove one. (I've just posted for feedback too!) There are several examples of chapter books that do have two POV, so you may decide you need two. However, you have large amounts of text where it's unclear as to whose POV you are using. Like the first 3 paragraphs to your story:

          Another day was ending over Buttenhauser's meadow. As the sun set, the forest creatures of both the night and day gathered at the old story tree to watch the full moon rise. Full-moon nights were always exciting because that's when Grandpa Owl would a new story from his book of twilight tales.

          Silvery rays of light fell onto the thick branches of the old tree as Grandpa Owl emerged from his nest. Carrying the big book of stories in his giant gray-feathered wings, he perched on his favorite branch. Everyone grew quiet, wondering what tonight’s story could be. 

          The sound of wildly flapping wings filled the air. "Look out", cried Nelly. "Nosedive is coming!"  The little squirrel scampered to the ground in a flash of red-brown fur. Nosedive's arrival always caused alarm. Because although the young bat could fly, landing was still a problem. 

          Who is doing the thinking here? The owl?

          If the below text is from Belfry's POV, you need to show it all through his eyes. How does Belfry know his parents are worried? Or that Nosedive's friends are feeling guilty? You can show this through dialog or actions, but you can't tell us what others are thinking because Belfry wouldn't know, he can only guess.

          The next morning at dawn, Nosedive's family returned to their cave. Since they hadn't seen him all night, his parents worried when they didn't find Nosedive at home. Belfry didn't worry at all. He was sure that his annoying little brother was still out practice-landing; wearing that silly helmet.

          It was getting late. The sun was already peeking over the horizon and Nosedive still wasn't home. Now Belfry started worrying too. The family went out to alert everyone in the meadow that Nosedive was missing.

          Feeling guilty for having left him alone, Ellis, Nelly and Hopper promised to look for their friend until nightfall, when the bats could take over searching along with Ollie. All the other animals helped look for Nosedive too - even Red. Nosedive's mother worried that her son wouldn't find a safe place to sleep.

          I hope this makes sense, I'm new to critiquing so forgive me if I'm too blunt. Good luck with your rewrite!

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          • Well in the first three paragraphs are the opening scene, in which I tried to convey a sense of tranquility. There is no POV until Nelly sounds the alarm and runs down the tree (or so I thought).

            Rewrite? Ugh,now I know how my son feels when we tell him to do his homework!

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            • I know exactly how you feel, Roy. I've done so many revisions on my ms that I've stopped counting. Feedback is great because of that eye glaze you mentioned. Sometimes it's easier to see someone else's mistakes and then try to apply the advice given to your own MS. So pop over to our children's group and take a peek!  

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            • Hi Roy. I am discovering that writing a publishable book for children is way way harder than writing a nice story for your own kids. However I am finding the feedback on JW invaluable and I am sure you will too. I am no expert, just finding my feet here, so I can only tell you my thoughts from reading it. I think the premise is great. I love the nickname, just the kind of thing a bat’s big brother would call him. I agree that there were maybe too many different characters all at once at the start. I made exactly the same mistake with a story and when I really thought about it (after feedback on here) I realised that about half of them were there for filling and didn’t actually contribute anything to the story. I noticed one or two little grammatical blips but nothing that wouldn’t edit out easily. I think as a first draft it is fab. The basic foundations are there and now it just needs honing and polishing (I am discovering that this means rewriting a million times but keep at it, it’s worth it!)

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              • Hi Roy,

                I agree that it’s a very charming concept, potentially very well received as stories about animals are always appealing to the younger age group. I think this will also appeal to parents who love to have a life lesson built-in, but with the story not too obviously moralising. It will also lend itself very well to illustration.

                What could be helpful is to look at it in terms of hooks or interesting nuggets which would make it shine, making it stand out from other tales, like adding more as well as quirky things. It may be also worthwhile looking at the content rather than each sentence structure. For example the first three sentences are fine in the structure however all they really tell us is that it’s sunset, and that at full moon Grandpa reads stories. This could be done with much more word economy ie made snappy/brisk/less weighty. Likewise there are many parts of the story where we’re given information which we don’t need. Giving ordinary information like somebody settling themselves down to listen doesn’t contribute real info/fun/progression to the story. Giving the mood/scene with just a couple of deft brushstrokes can allow much more of a sense of excitement. It made be, oddly enough, worth expanding it to include much more fun things, interesting bits and then when you have a story that contains some real pearls, going back and chopping out the bits that do not progress the story or are less interesting. It may be worth thinking in groups of sentences/ideas rather than, what’s easy to fall into when editing, looking literally sentence by sentence (as above).

                Grammatically I agree with the others that there are a few obvious errors like punctuation being outside speech marks, capital letters missing but one of the main ones you do consistently is not starting a new paragraph every time someone speaks or when we switch away from the person who has spoken.

                It may also be worthwhile looking at cadence as for example there is one area where the pattern is: speech (of roughly the same number of words), speech tag, repeated several times.

                Have you tried reading it aloud? That will often give an indication of the clunky bits. Better still get someone else to read it aloud because every time they hesitate or have to go back, that is likely to be an area where readers will be doing the same thing.

                I hope that’s helpful. However, it’s just an opinion but I hope some of the points are useful to you at least. Good luck with it and I hope it does well for you.

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                • 'like adding more as well as quirky things' should be  'like adding more humour as well as quirky things'


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                  • Thanks for your input Alison, and especially pin-pointing those pesky grammar mistakes. After so many drafts, the eyes glaze over and things like those tend to become invisible.

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                    • Totally with you on the eye glaze. Difficult to break sometimes.

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