Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Pages: PB / Mother Maple

On a crisp day in the middle of November, little Henry, a sweet hare, was contentedly hopping by.
In the same way that you shouldn't include directions to the illustrator interlinearly with the text, you also shouldn't include them in the text.
Cut "a sweet hare". The fact that Henry's a bunny will be obvious to the child reader from the illustration, and will be intuited by the pre-illustration reader by "hopping". And "sweet" is just an unnecessary use of an adjective. Adjectives (and adverbs likewise) are candy--they're tempting, but they often aren't nearly as fortifying to your writing as a strong noun or verb would be.

I would also advise against "little". It reads as a deliberate attempt to make the main character cute, and that's the wrong approach. Your main character is not someone for your child reader to be entertained by. He is someone for your child reader to identify with-- he is a proxy for your reader, and deserves the same respect.

Unless you're building a very clear narrator's voice (as in Beatrix Potter), it's usually a good idea for the text to treat the main character the way he treats himself. So if Henry thinks of himself as "little" or "sweet", then you could bring that across (though, because most children would rather think of themselves as "big" and other dynamic adjectives, this attitude will not endear Henry to children), but if it's just that you want your reader to think he's "little" or "sweet", calling him that will not convince us. Show not tell.
Just as he hopped past little Marty the Maple Tree, Marty stopped him.
Oh, no.
You've just run into a classic editor peeve-- and I mean pretty much all editors, not just me. Alliterative names.

I know, I know, there's nothing inherently wrong with alliterative names. And there are good examples of successful children's books whose character names alliterate.

But the impulse to name characters in this way is among the most common elements in the writing of amateurs. I know editors who will stop right there--and I'm one of them. So it's a good idea to avoid doing this in your submissions. Give your characters normal names, and wait until an editor wants the manuscript... and then talk to her about changing the names to more alliterative ones.

I would also suggest being careful with the idea of naming inanimate objects. Sometimes this works just fine, and sometimes it will throw the reader. Here I think it would be safest for submission purposes not to name the tree.
"Wait, Henry! Where are you going?" he asked him.
"I'm going to bring gifts of food and water to Mother Maple like we do each year," he told Marty.
Marty knew that every year all the happy hares, plump pigs, and silly squirrels, took gifts of food and water to Mother Maple. She was the tallest tree in the whole meadow. The meadow had many trees but none were as big as Mother Maple.
"Why do you take gifts to Mother Maple each year?" Marty asked Henry.
"Let me tell you a story," Henry told him as he parked his cotton-ball tail next to Marty.
Ok, that's really enough of that. There's no call to populate your story with solely those animals that match the adjectives you've thought of to go with them.

I would suggest that when you revise this story, you go back and think about every word in it-- I guarantee your editor will be doing that-- and think hard about how/whether each word is truly serving the story you want to tell.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! I will definitely take your advice. I actually read about the alliteration "no-no" but thought in small amounts it would be acceptable. The only alliteration that continues through the story was Mother Maple. But I will definitely take out all alliteration and remove most of the adjectives.

No talking inanimate objects huh? Hmm...that will make it difficult. That will mean a total rewrite. I'll try to think of something. Is it true "green" books are also out?

Thanks again!

Editorial Anonymous said...

No, I meant just don't *name* the talking tree.

Anonymous said...

Is this going in a better direction (just as an example…not to go line by line):

Tipper was hopping through the meadow just as the last of the leaves were falling.

"Where are you going? Shouldn't you be getting ready for winter?" one of the trees asked him.

I only changed the name because I know I will somehow manage to us alliteration later by accident.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Yes, better.

Anonymous said...

Many, many thanks for taking the time to give me a little direction!

ae said...

In your third paragraph you say..."She was the tallest tree....and then...There were no other trees..." Omit one of these as they are redundant. Consolidate and eliminate. And move each line forward.

Picture books are the hardest books to write...BUT THE MOST FUN!!

BuffySquirrel said...

Hmm, hares and bunnies are not the same animal. Just so you know :). Hares used to be sacred, and rabbits are food.

Chris Eldin said...

I never knew alliteration was a nuisance.
:-)

PBs are sooo hard (to me!!) Kudos to writers who do this well. I could never figure out how much detail to put. I happily switched to middle grades.

Good luck, author!

Deirdre Mundy said...

>Is it true "green" books are also >out?


Anon- as cliched as it sounds, don't worry so much about 'In' and 'out'-- write what you enjoy, and write the books you would have loved as a child.

By the time you write a book, revise it umpteen times, find an agent, find an editor, and get it published, 'in and out' will be completely different again.

And people don't even KNOW what will be 'In' 5 years from now....

Except 'Good' is always in.....

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ps. EA? I'm still not seeing any 'evil' here....

More 'kind and helpful'.....

Maybe you should add a few cackles, and throw endangered toads into the air as you critique?

Ebony McKenna. said...

"Let me tell you a story," Henry told him as he parked his cotton-ball tail next to Marty.

Just my two cents - You've introduced the characters, then they sit down and one of them is about to tell another story.

Is this the story of Henry or another story Marty is telling? This runs a danger of having your two main characters sitting around talking all the time. If the real story is the story Marty is about to tell, then make that your actual story.

Anonymous said...

Different anonymous here:

"Cotton-ball tail" makes my inner child gag. Maybe this was just me as a kid, but there was nothing I hated more in books than patronizing, cutesy language.