In the Summer of 2013 I spent a month deep in the writing of a novel. I hammered away as I locked myself in a marina in Mexico and produced over 54,000 words. It was bliss. My main character was the coolest kid ever, and I loved her as if she were my daughter.
And then I had some friends read it. The major critique could be summed up with the most basic writing feedback ever:
Show me, don’t tell me.
I was guilty of writing this with the ever-knowing voice that can dive deep in the psyche of just about everybody’s head.
The novel was intended as a YA. I think the magic of literature for a young audience is in how it’s often written in first person giving the reader a sense of really being the hero of the story.
Initially in the first 400 words I told the readers our hero was doomed to die, but I didn’t tell them how I planned on killing her. That was the suspense – how. I bring you back the very first short part that launched me in this writing frenzy, and I have two questions for you at the end. Actually, as I re-write the chapters I intend on stealing Rich’s technique and testing each one out on you with questions before writing the next chapter. You don’t know Rich? Check him out, he’s an amazing writer!
Unique was a regular girl. Her eyes were as brown as her hair in a bland-beige kind of way. It wasn’t that people actively ignored her, they just didn’t notice her. They say apples don’t fall far from the tree. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Blanche, Unique’s unique mother was voted most likely to stand out in a crowd of stander-outers.
Unique knew beyond being pre-destined to wearing braces due to an excessive overbite that her destiny was grand. Unique was going places, she was going to leave her mark. This feeling became clear on the night of Sunday May 22 1983. It was just a regular Sunday night during a routine family dinner feasting on Chinese take-out. Stuffed on sweet & sour chicken and garlic spare ribs, each picked a fortune cookie. They broke them in half and started reading their fortunes aloud.
Unique carefully removed her small piece of paper, flattened it and glanced down. She swallowed the words and crumpled the fortune. She buried the crumpled piece of paper in the bottom of the front pocket of her Levi’s. She was goose-bumped over the words. Her family shared their fortunes but nobody took note that Unique never shared hers. It was, after all, a routine night.
She washed the dishes, set them to dry, and cleaned the kitchen while the family retreated to the living room to watch the Sunday Night NBC Movie. Such was the routine. Unique quietly made her way to her bedroom after a quick stop in the bathroom. She closed her door and went to bed.
After a series of bizarre dreams she never woke up.
- What do you think? A first-person re-write? Or just review the whole thing and take away the godsallknowingvoice? Ok, so here we don’t see the inside thinking of the other characters, you’ll have to trust me on this one. But does this seem to require a first person narrative or remain in 3rd?
- Should I tell the readers off the bat she will die? Actually, because of the way I chose to kill her, I had to change this section and remove the line about her never waking up. But I’m pretty sure I alerted the readers ahead of time of her demise. If you were to read this, would you rather not know she dies?