I showed a first draft of my first chapter of Charlotte to JJ Marsh, friend and writerly ally, just to see what she thought.
“But why would you do that?” you may well ask. “Isn’t Charlotte for your daughter? Does it matter what another professional writer thinks about it?”
My answer is: Yes, it does matter.
I consider myself a writer. I get utter joy and nerdy pleasure out of creating a world on a page, of playing with words, of seeing my characters’ stories unfold. But I also want to improve my craft. I can entertain Ms12 with my stories, and she can tell me when I’m not being consistent with character names or details, but she can’t tell me the kinds of things another professional writer and editor can tell me. That my character motivation isn’t clear. That my wording is clumsy or inaccurate. That I’m not working hard enough. (Oh, alright, I can tell myself that one.)
One of the things JJ pulled me up on (in that very first draft) was interrupting the flow of the action with asides and jokes. It was a very good reminder to stay on target with every scene:
- whose scene is it?
- what’s the scene about?
- what’s the central dramatic question?
That sort of thing.
There’s nothing like going with the comedic flow, of course, and sometimes [spoiler alert] characters’ trousers just drop down because it feels like the right thing to happen at that moment in time, and it might take the story off in a different direction. But, having never written crime fiction for youth before, I have to say staying on target is harder than it looks. Especially when your narrator is a 13-year-old who can’t keep her mouth shut. Couple that with a writing environment that the real world has a habit of encroaching upon, and the temptation to throw in another witticism to keep your spirits up is just a bit too tempting.
I guess that’s why it’s so invaluable to have a writers’ group, or a reliable reader of your drafts.
I have yet to show my writers’ group any of Charlotte, but that’s okay for the moment. I need to plough through, get to the end of the first draft, as is my Mission.
Hand it over to the group… and wait for the whippin’!