Most projects turn out better when they’ve been critiqued, but this is especially true of stories. Even more so of stories that are meant to be read aloud—which is precisely the purpose of most children’s books.
But after the first few paragraphs of The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock, I began to figure things out as the key to the story’s “fun” became clear: alliteration. The words began to flow, the plot began to roll, and I was able to crank out a complete first draft over the span of about three weeks. With the first draft finished, I considered the hardest work already done.
(Side note: I don’t know why, but even after years of writing, I always go into each project expecting that things will run smoothly after the first draft. I always forget Hemingway’s maxim, which can’t be quoted verbatim in a post about a children’s book: “The first draft of anything is ****.” He’s right, you know. And still, after years of essays, songs, stories, and speeches, I naively begin each first draft hoping to “nail it” the first time. Spoiler alert: it never happens.)
I suppose what made me so pleased about the first draft was that I knew it had several things going for it. It was cute. It was quirky. It was clever.
But I wanted the story to be more than those things—and I didn’t realize what it was missing until someone pointed it out.
The first draft depicted Melvin floundering through each of his misadventures with roughly the same attitude as he had at the beginning, until the story ends and he finds deliverance from his mishaps. But by the end, we don’t see much of a change in Melvin’s “sole” (sorry, I had to).
“It’s a fun adventure story,” my first audience told me, “but there’s no character arc.”
Well, who expects a sock to have a character arc? I thought defensively.
But after a short period, I realized they were right.
It doesn’t matter if your protagonist is a toenail clipper (or “Stew the Missing Screwdriver,” as one of my humorous readers commented)—if it thinks and it talks, it needs to change throughout the story.
Some of the feedback might sting, but if you pick the right people to share it with early on, you can count on the quality of their input.
That being said, sharing your work with an audience for the first time can be absolutely terrifying. So here is a reminder that should empower you to open your work up to feedback:
Let’s face it: every time we write something (other than private journal entries), we subconsciously hope someone will read it. Maybe not today—maybe not even for years—but by putting it down on paper, we have demonstrated that we think our idea is worth documenting. I remember the first song I wrote took years to share with another person—and then I performed it in front of 80. Next it was several hundred. The first time I performed it though, I was utterly petrified—petrified of what other people would think, petrified that my skills weren’t up to standard, petrified of being vulnerable in front of a crowd. But you know what? People loved it. In fact, a number of them even came up to me to say that they also had written songs and felt better about sharing their own work now that they’d seen someone else do it.
This doesn’t mean the work you share will be perfect, but it does mean that more people will respect you for it than you realize. Yes, there will be some who discourage you, which is why I recommend you start with a group of people who have your back. Even if their input feels harsh, you will know that they still respect you and want you to succeed. You may even inspire them to try something new.
And that, my friends, is one of the most rewarding feelings of all.
ALSO. The results from last week’s poll are in! In answer to the question of “What you do when you encounter a new word in a book?”… Everyone said they web search it.
Anybody crack open the ol’ dictionary anymore??
Got kids? Grandkids? Nieces and nephews?
Or are you just plain curious to find out where all the missing socks go? Find out one ambitious sock’s journey by ordering your copy of The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock!
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