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Junior Editor [1] July 26, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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reading   Attention struggling novelists and short story writers, teachers want your rough drafts. Who needs spit and polish? Who needs refinement and sophistication? Who needs well-rounded characters and incisive description? Well-written novels and novellas have their place on bookshelves, but rough drafts have their place in the classroom.

Recently, I found a novella I had written eight years earlier and left languishing on a shelf. As my daughter grew into middle school, she also grew into the novella. When I discovered the manuscript, I thought it would be fun to get it published finally so I updated the plot a little and wrote in my daughter as one of the protagonists.

I gave the novel to her to read, which she promised to do right after she finished High School Musical. It was not my intention to push her, so several days went by before she picked up the book again. She began to read with a look of serene concentration. Every flip of the page added to the nerve-wracking experience of watching her at her first job as an editor.

The first thing I learned about the experience of having one of my intended audience read the book, was that I wanted to know different things than she did. I wanted to know if she understood the plot. I wanted to know if she could understand the characters clearly and if she could relate to them. I wanted to know what she did not understand about what I wrote. Clarity, I believed, would lead to comprehension and enjoyment of the book.

It turned out comprehension was low on her list of priorities. A casual conversation about her perceptions of what was happening in book demonstrated that she understood the words just fine. I worried that they were too easy and perhaps I had written at too simple a vocabulary level. The story began with a bit of a mystery. Two boys discover crop circles in a nearby wheat field. I determined it would be a field of wheat after doing a little research.

I had discovered that Durham wheat was gown in Arizona and that came as a surprise to me so I included that fact. My daughter, however, did not really care about the details of crops. The description of the news crew covering the discovery of the crop circles caught her attention. Her first comment to me was not about wheat but about how the kids reacted to being on television. Their humor resonated with her in ways I had not expected.

My daughter is very polite and a decent judge of human nature. When she wanted to offer a serious concern she had with the book, she buffered it through my wife. “Your daughter wants you to know that on page twenty-one the characters seemed a little, her word, ‘dorky.’”

It took a little back and forth on this with my patient wife as the intermediary, but apparently, when the characters were looking up at the Tucson skies at night, they named some stars. They mentioned Betelgeuse and Alpha Centauri, for example. Having been a teacher for twenty years, I thought I would slip in some vocabulary stretchers and perhaps a few scientific facts. My daughter caught on to that ploy immediately. She eventually defined ‘dorky’ as meaning ‘showing off a little too much’ and that did not sit well with her.

More tomorrow . . .

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