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Junior Editor [2] July 27, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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reading   A few days passed and she called me into her bedroom to discuss her concerns. In the novel, a local businessperson sponsored a writing contest. Another character, their teacher, introduced the contest. The students in the class then discussed it. Just like in an online chat room, if you get too many characters discussing something, the flow of the conversation starts to become a little brittle and disjointed.

The fact that too many characters were talking at once had bothered her. The issue was not that the concept was difficult to understand. I was dead wrong on that point. The issue was that if the plot device was important, it should stand independently. The introduction of a new character, consumes emotional energy for a younger reader. My daughter was processing the new characters and their effects on the overall set of relationships. The plot device was background noise that the shifting interpersonal landscape had buried.

As we drove quietly to her summer art program, she read quietly in the back of the car. “Dad. You know the part when they talk about the satellite?” She had reached the part of the novel where the characters witness a rarely seen satellite. The point is essential if the reader is to understand one of the characters. In the novel, the satellite broke into two parts and remained connected by a tether. It turns out she understood that part just fine. In my research, I even found and used the actual names for the two parts of the satellite. This was partially a way to get students to research ahead of the story using the Internet. It was also an attempt to slide in another scientific fact.

“Why are they named ‘Ralph’ and ‘Norton’ in the book?” That question stopped me in my tracks. I might just as well named them ‘Heloise’ and ‘Abelard’ for all she would recognize the names. I explained the old television show ‘The Honeymooners’ but realized that my explanation was already in the novel and that had not helped her. To my credit, I allowed the characters to be equally as baffled then left it. “Dad,” my daughter  offered, “You could have the kids say the satellite should be called ‘Rod’ and ‘Todd’ from ‘The Simpsons.’”

Of course, the scientist the kids were talking to would then be the one who was baffled. This was important for my daughter because it put the kids on an even ground with the adult characters in the book. I had been treating them and their thoughts with respect and seriousness, but a reference to the early days of television pushed her a little off balance and changed the relationship between the characters in the book and the adults they met.

Finally, she reached the end of the book. Along the way, she had given me kudos and praise. She swore she was enjoying the book and I admit I was delighted to see her reading something I had written. With only two pages remaining, I thought my ending would knock the book out of the park. She read the words and simply closed the book or, at least, neatened the bundle of pages. “Well?” I asked.

She was silent for many minutes. “I don’t understand the present he received.” In the epilogue of the novel, the main character receives a gift from a scientist he had helped. I had meant the surprise gift as a remembrance of the adventure they had had together. My daughter thought the writing was confusing and needed to be more exact.

Conclusion tomorrow . . .

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